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Capsule Reviews, October 2014

Better late than never, I guess… (and you may note a subtle theme in the last half of this.)

Amye Rosenberg, Lily Pig’s Book of Colors (Golden Press, 1987)

Lily Pig rejoices over her birthday cake on the cover.

I should mention that since I wrote this review almost eight months ago, the Bean’s enthusiasm has not flagged one bit.
photo credit: childrensclassics.com.au

The Bean has been lagging behind with colors as he sprints ahead with letters and counting, but that doesn’t stop him from being enchanted with this book. Daddy isn’t, as much, because Lily Pig is drawn, well, downright creepy. I kicked this one up half a star because the Bean asks for it on a fairly regular basis, but this is one I wouldn’t mind seeing get lost behind the bookshelf. ** ½

* * *

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Tappy’s Team (2002[?]): Pigs on the Wing

Nicole O’Neill, Tappy’s Team (Modern Publishing, 2002[?])

Tappy steps up to the plate on the book's cover.

Sorry, I’m fresh out of pork baseball puns right now.
photo credit: Open Library

This one the Bean isn’t one hundred percent sure about yet. I’m actually writing this review three or four months after we picked it up; it took quite a while to grow on him, but he’s asked for it at storytime once or twice in the last couple of weeks. I’m not one hundred percent sure about it, either; I like where O’Neill wants to go with this, and on the last page she does end up getting there, but the path she takes to get there doesn’t quite match up with the endpoint. Still, that is easily remedied with a bit of dialogue after the book about Tappy’s behavior. Give it a look at the library before deciding whether you want to add it to the shelf at home. ** ½

Warrior (2011): The Best Fight Film Ever Made

Warrior (Gavin O’Connor, 2011)

Half the face of each protagonist adorns the French version of the movie poster.

Family Fights First.
photo credit: johnrieber.com

That the ending of Warrior is predictable from the moment the two sequences that set up our two main characters have finished is entirely irrelevant to one’s enjoyment of this sublime piece of cinema, or at least it should be. Warrior is a simple story, simply told, that is carried on the backs of those two lead characters, and the acting ability of the actors who play them. There are many other things to enjoy about this movie indeed (even if you’re not an MMA fan, or even a sports fan in general, and I am living testament to this), but the centerpiece is the perfect performances by Joel Edgerton (The Thing) and Tom Hardy (Inception). Neither of them has carried a major role before; both are usually found in minor supporting roles. I predict that, after Warrior, that will change rapidly.

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An Na Yu Wu Lin (Anna in Kung Fu Land) (2003): The Dark Tournament!!

An Na Yu Wu Lin (Anna in Kung Fu Land) (Wai Man Yip, 2003)

Ekin Cheng and Miriam Wah dominate the movie's poster.

An endless parade of competitors.
photo credit: hkmovieposter.blogspot.com

There is something about the “guy with a girlfriend falls for someone else and gets stuck in the middle” plot that really nags at me. It’s a dick move on the guy’s part, needless to say, and for a writer (in this case The Great Magician‘s Ho Leung Lau) to use it as comedy fodder always strikes me not only as lazy, but as a way to set yourself up with a very unlikable hero and two leading ladies who have the capacity to devolve quickly into jealous, nagging shrews. So as soon as Ken (Vampire Effect‘s Ekin Cheng) gets back from Japan, where he’s just recruited Anna (Three…Extremes‘ Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) for a martial arts tournament he’s setting up in part by offering her up one of the hottest screen kisses in recent memory and we find he’s got a girlfriend… ugh. And yet somehow, and despite the fact that I went into this with pretty low expectations given both its place in my sorted Netflix queue (in the bottom 20%) and its rating on IMDB as I write this (4.5), I ended up… not hating it. It’s certainly not the best piece of moviemaking I’ve seen this month, but it was relatively charming, high up in the eye candy department, and has good enough comic timing to keep me chuckling throughout.

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When We Were Kings (1996): Stumble in the Jungle

When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996)

[originally posted 18Jun2001]

A close-up of Muhammad Ali's sweaty face adorns the movie poster.

Float like a butterfly, sweat like a pig.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Taylor Hackford, the director behind such interesting and absorbing fare as An Officer and a Gentleman and Dolores Claiborne, bankrolled this film and allowed Leon Gast to direct. One assumes Gast took them helm because he’d already done a documentary about B. B. King’s attachment to the events in question twenty-odd years before. Big mistake.
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Winning Horseracing Handicapping (1999): Lesson 1: Title for Clarity

Chuck Badone, Winning Horseracing Handicapping 2/E (Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, 1999)

[originally posted 27Mar2001]

A series of photographs depicting track life adorn the cover of the trade paperback.

Playing the ponies, losing less money: a fine combination.
photo credit: ebay

Badone, the selections guru at the newly-opened Lone Star Park, wrote a book on handicapping long ago, during his days of giving seminars at Turf Paradise. When Lone Star opened, they reprinted the book with a number of revisions from Badone, as a kind of new-fan primer. Too bad they kept the grammatically painful title, but other than that, there’s little that will steer you wrong here.

If you’ve already read the basic handicapping texts, you’re not going to find terribly much here you haven’t read before, though Badone does put a few things into new perspectives. This book isn’t aimed at the well-read horseplayer, however, but at the new patron. Badone lays his material out quickly and easily, but without the pedantry that mars a number of books for beginning handicappers. He’s extremely easy to read, and his section on class changes is the easiest-to-understand I’ve ever read (not to mention one of the most solid; it’s not Jim Quinn’s Class of the Field, but for the beginning player, it’s great stuff). Highly recommended for casual and new fans of Thoroughbred racing. *** ½

Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001): Hardtrack

Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Random House, 2001)

[originally posted 16Apr2001]

A photo of the horse and his connections adorns the cover of the hardback.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
photo credit: awesomestories.com

On the back cover of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand’s fellow racing writer William Nack calls it “…a marvelous narrative of nonfiction that reads like a novel.” That superlative is starting to read like a cliché these days, but for Hillenbrand’s book it fits. The reason is that Hillenbrand eschews footnotes; even the small superscript numbers we’re used to seeing have gone the way of the great Auk here. This is not to say that the notes don’t exist; they’re arranged at the end by page number, with a quick clip of the text and the appropriate endnote. Don’t let the lack of little numbers lead you to believe Hillenbrand didn’t do her research.
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