Tags: reviews

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Going to the Movies

This past weekend, I decided to go out to a movie. It's something I haven't done since March 2020, for obvious reasons. I went to see Those Who Wish Me Dead, the new Angelina Jolie action flick. This is the type of movie I'll usually wait for it to arrive on pay-per-view or Netflix. However, I really wanted to Get Out, so I Got Out.

I attended the 5:45 PM Saturday show at Hollywood Blvd Cinemas, a local brew-and-chew theater. COVID restrictions are still in place, so the theater was only at half-capacity. Staffing and menu selection was also reduced accordingly; however I was pleased with the service and quality. The movie was quite good as well. Overall, a nice outing.

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The C Word, or Love During a Pandemic

The C WordThe C Word by Mindy Klasky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am not usually a reader of romance novels, but when I heard of the concept of Mindy Klasy's novel "The C Word" I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did - it made a masked-because-of-COVID-airline flight go quickly and painlessly.

Katie McIntyre is a sportswriter, and Jason Price is a star baseball pitcher. They have a passionate hookup which was supposed to be a one-and-done thing. Alas, it's mid-March 2020 and COVID has other ideas. (Also, it's a romance novel, not a short story!) For a variety of plausible reasons, the two end up in a long-distance but fake relationship. They also tell each other a lie about themselves, which of course ends up biting both in the butt.

The hows and whys of their story are interesting reading, and a reminder of what everybody just went through. About 50 pages before the end, I thought I knew how the author was going to conclude the book. I was wrong - she did something different and really very good. Overall, I highly recommend the book.



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Review of Invisible Women

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for MenInvisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a fascinating, dense and at times infuriating book. The author Caroline Criado Perez, bombards the reader with statistic after statistic showing that, not only is the modern world built for men, much of the data we collect about that world either ignores or discounts the differences between men and women. Every paragraph, it seems, has a concrete example, such as, there are no female crash test dummies. Sometimes, scaled-down male dummies are used, but given women's different bone density and muscle distribution, even that's not helpful. Nor are there any pregnant crash test dummies, yet car accidents are the leading cause of fetal death.

In many of the instances Perez cites, sex-specific data isn't gathered. One of the outcomes is that problems, such as heart attacks in females, are described as having "atypical symptoms." Except since females are 50% of the population, there's nothing "atypical" about that. Mind-blowing and infuriating stuff like that flows like water out of a firehose through the pages of this book.

I said the book is dense - it's more textbook than beach read. However, it's an important and eye-opening read for both sexes.



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Promising Young Woman

Last night I watched the new movie Promising Young Woman on pay-per-view. I did so because the star, Carey Mulligan, was on CBS Sunday Morning this week. She said the movie had been criticized because her character was too harsh. I watched the movie and disagree, but I understand why the statement was made.

Promising Young Woman is a basic revenge plot. As such plots go, the body count is very low. The revenge is (mostly) mental and morally justified. What's interesting about the movie is what it's not. It's not a standard B-movie. It's intended to take a serious look at a problem (date rape). It's also shot in very bright and well-lit scenes - again the exact opposite of the B-movie convention.

I think by avoiding the cartoonish violence levels of the typical revenge movie it forced a deeper examination of justice vs. revenge. I highly recommend the movie.

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I Care A Lot and Heist Movie Morality

Over the weekend, I watched the Netflix movie I Care a Lot. It's a movie about a corrupt lawyer who uses the legal guardianship system to rob elderly people. One of my friends posted about how they thought the movie was awful. I think it's an example of "heist movie morals."

First, let's get something out of the way. Although Rosamund Pike, the lead actress, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, it's not funny and definitely not a musical. However, I found it a fascinating bit of nastiness.

So, in a heist movie, we have a group of crooks who are trying to steal something from a well-protected place. The crooks may be sympathetic or not, but they are, in the end, crooks, doing bad things. Yet we the audience are rooting for them, largely because the point of the story is to see if they can pull it off.

In this movie, Pike's character runs afoul of a mobster played by Peter Dinklage. The movie is told mostly through the POV of Pike, so we're nominally rooting for her. What we're rooting for is to see if she can pull off the heist - to see if she's a good enough crook. What makes it interesting is that she's a creature of the courtroom and the boardroom, not the mean criminal streets. We're not supposed to like her, and I for one did not.

In fact, we're supposed to like the Dinklage character. He may be a crook, but he's the one who's been wronged. I think we're also supposed to see Pike's fatal flaw, which is she underestimates her opponents. She's repeatedly given warnings which she ignores. (Her girlfriend is the voice of reason in these matters.)

I don't want to spoil the movie, but the final scene fits exactly within the character created by Pike. (Any spoilers I'll save for the comments.)

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Death By The Bay

Death by the BayDeath by the Bay by Patricia Skalka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I've been a fan of Patricia Skalka since we met at a library event where she was selling her first Dave Cubiak novel. When I found out she'd put out a fifth book I immediately bought it. Like the other four, I found this novel highly entertaining.

The first four books had an overarching theme of the redemption of Dave Cubiak. This book starts out several years after the events of the first four, and Cubiak, the county sheriff, is married with a new child. He's at a local hotel having lunch with a friend when an elderly doctor, presenting at a medical conference, dies of a heart attack. This should be a routine happening, but something seems off, so Cubiak keeps looking.

Well, these books are mysteries so of course something is off - badly off - and Cubiak's on the case. The majority of the action happens in southern Door County, which is not the tourist area. I found that a nice touch, and I very much enjoyed the characters portrayed by Skalka. The bottom line is that this is a very good read.



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New Years - Battle of the Bulge Edition

When I was a small boy, too young to stay at home by myself, my parents went out for New Year's Eve. I stayed with my grandparents. For some reason, WGN seemed to think that the movie The Battle of the Bulge was the thing to show. When the (shortened for TV) movie was over, they'd cut to a hotel ballroom where Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians would ring in the New Year in the Central Time Zone. Guy's long dead, but I decided to revise the tradition and watch Battle of the Bulge last night. As history, it's not very good, even by Hollywood standards. As a movie it's quite good.

Let's get the history out of the way first. The movie was filmed in Spain, so even when they remember to put snow on the ground it doesn't look very much like Belgium. Also, they couldn't get Sherman or King Tiger tanks, so they used American tanks, specifically M-24 Chafees (which were at least around in WWII) and post-war M47 Pattons with German markings painted on them. All the tanks were provided with drivers and support crew by the Spanish Army from their then-current inventory.

Composite characters are used, which for the Germans obfuscates moral responsibility for the Malmedy massacre. Lastly, the plot makes it look like the Germans were much closer to victory then they were. This point is probably what caused Dwight Eisenhower to come out of retirement and hold a news conference complaining about the movie. To be fair, the moviemakers knew they weren't filming history - there's a written disclaimer in the end credits.

But as a piece of entertainment, the movie was quite good. Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw and Charles Bronson chewed a lot of scenery, Telly Savalas (who got special billing in the credits) played a fairly complex character and the (albeit historically inaccurate) battle scenes were well done. My on-demand copy was the long version that played in theaters, and included a pre-credit musical overture, a musical intermission, and a musical "exit music" after the final credits. Overall, an interesting way to see out the year 2020. This entry was originally posted at https://chris-gerrib.dreamwidth.org/750009.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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The Avengers

The Avengers: A Jewish War StoryThe Avengers: A Jewish War Story by Rich Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I had read and enjoyed Rich Cohen's "The Last Pirate of New York." I saw the description of this (earlier) book and decided to give it a try. I really enjoyed it.

The Avengers of the title were a trio of Lithuanian Jews, one of whom was his grandmother's niece. They were living in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when WWII broke out, and the trio, teenagers, were caught up in events. They quickly signed up for the local resistance, and were among the last people to get clear of the Vilnius ghetto when the Germans liquidated it.

They spent a year in the forests of Lithuania killing Germans and Lithuanian collaborators, then migrated to Israel. In Israel, one of the trio, Abba Kovner, became a key staff officer in the 1947 Israeli Army. The author met the trio when he was 10, a story he tells in the book's prologue.

The Gerrib family, (not Jewish) is from Lithuania and a few years back I visited the country. I unknowingly traipsed over some of the sites mentioned in the book.

I found the book very interesting and emotional. One gets the story of the Jews of Europe dying nobly. Here one gets the other side of the story, of them fighting to the grave. Also here, one gets an understanding of the Jews who didn't fight and why. I have a couple of quibbles with the book; namely maps would have been helpful and I think the author by relying on oral history gets some military terminology wrong. However, I found the book highly readable and I recommend it greatly.




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Chicago's Great Fire

Chicago's Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American CityChicago's Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City by Carl Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


As a long-time Chicago-area resident and history buff, when I heard about Carl Smith's book on the Great Fire of Chicago, I was very curious. I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity and bought a copy.

The book is an eminently readable and straightforward account of the fire and the subsequent rebuilding of Chicago. It also provides enough of the history of pre-fire Chicago to bring the non-historian up to speed. The book is lavishly illustrated and addresses a pet peeve of mine, namely maps.

A surprising number of histories don't have maps, and many of the ones that do use reproductions of historical maps or not well-drawn modern ones. This book has several maps, all modern and easily readable with the key locations clearly marked. I found that helpful.

In general, the book is well-researched and well-laid out, providing information clearly and where it makes logical sense. The prose is workmanlike, which means it doesn't get in the way of the story. Overall, a highly entertaining book.



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Sky on Fire

Sky On FireSky On Fire by Jesse Greyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I met the author at a writers' conference a few years ago. This is the first thing of hers that I've read, and I found it highly enjoyable with several unique perspectives.

The first such unique perspective was the setting. Jesse Grayson lives in Gold Coast, a city of a half-million or so on Australia's east coast. That's where she set her novel, which is not the typical setting for the apocalypse to occur. It also allowed her to create a very strong sense of place. Having said that, as an American, some of the Aussie language was confusing at first. For example, type of shoe Americans call a flip-flop Aussies call a thong. But I eventually figured it out.

The second unique perspective was the characters. In typical end-of-the-world fare, the main characters have highly functional families. Dante Jones, our narrator, is living with his mother, a diabetic narcissist, who is frankly abusing him. (Mostly emotionally, but occasionally physically.) She is quite frankly not the kind of person you'd want around at all, let alone in a crisis.

The last unique perspective was the nature of the disasters that were befalling Dante. Although society is clearly under massive stress due to solar flares and radiation-induced mutations, for the first third of the book it still sort of functions. Passports are useful, school is in session, and at society somewhat functions. Then the big one hits, and things go downhill from there.

Despite the grim nature of the end of the world, I found the story very entertaining. It was a quick read with some compelling action and characters. I look forward to more from this author.



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