Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview

When the announcements of the film, The Interview, first began hitting the media, I dismissed it as something I would see later on cable.

I've seen Seth Rogan and James Franco paired in two other films, Pineapple Express - which I found hilarious, and This Is the End - which was funny in much of the film but too gross for me in places. So I thought, oh well, I'll see this sometime down the road...

And then came the hackers, their blackmail, the major theater chains pulling out of their scheduled showings, and I grew furious.

After all, I'm an American and we as a country are all in this together.  Our liberty is what sets our nation apart from much of the rest of the world. To me the most important is our freedom of speech.  As an author, I also value the freedom to create without censorship.  I will fight, seriously, to keep our liberty, because that is our birthright, for which generations of my family, including the latest one, fought (and still fight) to maintain.

All of that being said (written), yesterday, I plunked down in front of the old PC and watched The Interview.

It surprised me...

The Interview is hilarious.  I laughed aloud, well a better word would be guffawed, in several places.  Sure, there were plenty of really, AND I MEAN REALLY, gross jokes, with lots of vulgar language.  So what, I'm a grownup - nothing I haven't seen or heard before.

Bottom line, this is a satire of the first order.  It's huge and overblown with comic reactions of epic proportions.  Its entire premise is sublimely ridiculous. The cast is spotless from the stars to the smallest roles. The script is killer - wonderfully written, even with some of the jokes and bits that did not appeal to me.

I don't remember a recent film that had me laughing as hard as this one.

But I do remember a classic film that gave me the same experience - Charlie Chaplin's satire on Hitler, The Great Dictator.  Sure, that one was a balance of satire and pathos, but the funny parts were hysterical and I laughed and laughed.

Films like the Interview and the Great Dictator serve a dual purpose, they make us laugh, and bring the autocratic dictators down to the level of hapless human beings - make them look more vulnerable instead of invincible. (And that may well be why the hackers objected...)

Besides, if the North Koreans thought this one was so bad, what did they think of Team America - World Police? I loved the infamous all puppet movie which slammed the father of the current leader of North Korea (as well as Bin Laden). As a romance writer I was amazed at marionettes making love onscreen, bare wood naked...

The hackers may have achieved a victory in delaying major distribution of the Interview, but it will be short lived if I know my country.  We get angry when someone tries to take away our liberty - get a common cause and fight back. We Americans began our history by being defiant and determined.  It appears we still have those virtues.

It will be interesting to see how many folks have viewed the film online.  I know the first few days in the smaller theaters have been selling out.

By all means, if you love to laugh, see the Interview.  I promise you will have a good time.

And if you want to strike a chord supporting our freedom of speech, see the Interview.

In the end, you will probably wonder, "How could such a silly movie set off such a furor?"

Most of all, remember, laughter truly is healing.  We all need a good laugh these days.

Kudos to the folks who gave us the Interview and even to the hackers whose actions got our defiance up and ready.

Until next time...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy

I remember when this movie was first shown in the theaters.  There was hype and praise for this film, a product of the Disney/Marvel Comics partnership, such as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, etc.

Never having read the comics I didn't know what the fuss was all about. I have to say this one surprised me in a very good way.

The Guardians of the Galaxy is about a group of five outcasts who band together haphazardly to fight for a common cause.

They truly are a disparate group.  There is the humanoid, Peter Quill, Drax the Destroyer (who looks human but we don't know WHAT he is), Gamora (a green-skinned female who has been tortured and turned into a walking weapon), Rocket, a genetically engineered Raccoon-like creature with quite a vocabulary and an attitude to match, and finally Rocket's sidekick, Groot - a tall, walking, talking (in a limited fashion) plant. (I am Groot.)

In the beginning, Rocket and Groot are a team. They have issues with Peter Quill as do Drax and Gamora. But they all end up forming an alliance to go after their mutual enemy.

This is a rollicking adventure with colorful, BIG special effects, vast numbers of aliens with different DNA, recognizable actors (for the most part), all set to the music of the 1970s, which is played on a cassette tape player.

Guardians of the Galaxy is filled with wry humor and references to other movies and pop culture.  It is a hoot, pure and simple.  I watched it a second time to make sure I got all the jokes.  I laughed too much the first time and missed some lines.

The Guardians are played by the following:

Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill - an Earthman who was kidnapped as a young boy with his backpack (hence the cassette player and tapes).  In many ways he has never grown up.  He calls himself "Starlord" and insists he is a bandit.

Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer - a muscle-bound blue and red hued alien who at first speaks in monosyllables and monotone, but warms up to the gang after a few mutual battles.

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora - a green-skinned alien with scars from her mistreatment and a serious outlook until Peter pulls her into his world.  Saldana exhibits the fighting skills she showed us in Columbiana and the Star Trek films.

Bradley Cooper plays Rocket - well, that is, this actor, a very attractive man, is the voice of Rocket.  He is hilarious with the wise-cracking lines and off hand remarks.

Vin Diesel plays Groot - and similar to Cooper, he is the voice of Groot, who is the most sympathetic and wise character of the entire film.

Look for John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, and Glenn Close in small parts. And as found in other Marvel films, Benicio Del Toro returns as The Collector. I laughed myself silly with The Collector's items, particularly when his place of business met with an unfortunate accident...One of his specimens, Latka the Russian Space dog, kept licking him in his face.  (If you don't know who that is, the Soviets sent up dogs in the beginning of their space program..and of course the poor dogs did not return.  In the old television comedy, "Designing Women" one of the main characters found out about poor Latka still floating out in space and insisted people should go bring her home...)

I could have told the Soviets that any civilization who mistreated dogs would go the way of the dodo bird.

Anyway, when Latka, wearing her spacesuit with CCCP on it, is licking The Collector in the face, a voice from across the room says something like, "you let her lick you in the face? Oh, man, that's gross..." The voice turned out to belong to Howard the Duck - remember him, anybody?

Now see what you miss when you don't watch the credits through to the end?

Seriously, I had the best time watching this movie and am sure I'll be watching it again.

For a good time, check this one out.  The music is wonderful, it's a colorful action-packed two hours filled with humor and comic book villains.  What's not to like?

Until next time...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ascension - SyFy Network's Latest

SyFy has been promoting its three night mini-series Ascension for several weeks.  Produced by some of the same  people who gave us Battlestar Galactica, arguably one of the best science fiction series ever to grace television, it was eagerly anticipated.

Ascension premiered this last Monday with the two subsequent episodes airing Tuesday and Wednesday. An avid fan of science fiction and Battlestar Galactica, I set my dvr and watched it as well.

The basic premise of the story is in 1963 before his death, President Kennedy authorized a deep space mission.  After all they "had the technology" (oh yeah?) so why not do it.  The story goes that they built and launched this enormous spaceship, basically a contained city with 350 people aboard originally.  It is a self-contained society, allowed to grow to no more than 600 citizens at any time.  Adolescents are injected with birth control devices.  Males and females are compared for genetic compatibility.  When someone dies, a new compatible couple is allowed to have a child.  The names of the fortunate parents to be are drawn, lottery style.  Men and women are matched with no consideration of their feelings. The lucky couple(s) get their implants removed and get down to the business of repopulating.

The look of the ship's interior, the clothing styles, even the electronics are all early 1960s styles.  The social strata is also 1960s style with women NOT in positions of authority.  Instead the most prized position for women is that of "stewardess" which involves doing "favors" for highly placed men to gain influence and baubles.

There are two classes of people on the Ascension, those who live in the upper decks and are in power - and then those of the lower decks who are the laborers, the attendants for the livestock, the butchers, etc.  People do rise to the upper decks but only with great effort or great aptitude.

In the first episode, a prominent young woman is found murdered in the water reservoir which has an artificial beach right out of "Beach Blanket Bingo" with sand and tropical plants. The Executive Officer Gault, himself a product of the lower decks, is ordered to investigate.  His investigative techniques are right out of Raymond Chandler books as well as Agatha Christie's.  Their cultural development stopped when they left Earth.  They are mired in the world of the 1960s. This is the third generation on the Ascension and it is 2014 for the rest of us.

The first episode keeps up the fantasy.  But the second drops the first bomb...All is not what it seems on the Ascension.  The reveal makes a lot of sense if you think of the early 1960s technology and society. It is then that the viewer realizes the true nature of this voyage and the inhumane cynicism that fostered it.

I won't reveal the secrets here. To say I was shocked is a bit of an overstatement.  I did shake my head and sigh, though.

That's not to say I quit watching.  I was fascinated to see how it would turn out. As I thought it might, many questions went unanswered and many mysteries unsolved.  I suspect there might be more episodes of Ascension, there were certainly enough cliff hangers to lead to more at the end of the third episode.

This one is more thought-provoking than recent SyFy series such as Z Nation, or Helix, and much less visceral (less gory).  But in its way it is the ugliest to date, at least from my perspective.

I read that the network has hired a new program director to weed out the drek and produce better quality shows, harking back to the Battlestar Galactica days.  Their recent line up has had some good entries between the quirky entries and the "reality" entries such as Face Off.  But for the true science fiction fan, there has been little for which to cheer.

If more episodes of Ascension are made I will watch it.  It is a cut above most recent SyFy series.

Ascension is a step in the right direction, but it is no Battlestar Galactica.

Next time I will post a review of the delightful film, Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm still chuckling over that one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BBC's Broadchurch vs. Fox's Gracepoint

America's Fox network produced a version of BBC's hugely successful mini-series, Broadchurch.  The series held audiences in the UK spellbound and dominated the nation's media during its run.

Fox network's version is called Gracepoint.  It is set in a mythical town in Washington State.  It's a seacoast town with a limited tourist season, just like Broadchurch in England.

Filmed in British Columbia, Gracepoint has more of the look of a British town than an American one.  The buildings look different from most American towns.

I loved Broadchurch and put up a post raving about it while it ran on BBC America. When Gracepoint was announced I met the prospect with both excitement and dread.  It was adapted for American audiences with a different cast with the exception of the star, David Tennant, who played the lead detective in both versions.

In Broadchurch he was a detective of Scottish origin, complete with the brogue.  In Gracepoint, he was American Emmett Carver, sounding like an American from somewhere north of the southern states. The rest of the cast was different in each version.

Gracepoint had ten episodes, while Broadchurch had only eight.  And yet, as a viewer who had seen and loved Broadchurch, I could find very little difference between the two. Gracepoint had a few "filler" scenes that Broadchurch lacked.  They served to delve a bit deeper into some of the characters, particularly the murder victim's father, played by the wonderful Michael Pena. Everything else was basically the same. The dialogue was almost verbatim, except where cultural differences made that impossible.

By the last episode of Gracepoint, I was ready for it to be over...I knew what was coming and I was not disappointed...

And Then ... They threw in a twist at the end.  The same person confessed to the murder of twelve year old Danny, and was jailed for it, revealing secret pedophilia as the motive.  The murderer's family was shattered with a long road ahead to recovery.

As the citizens of the town of Gracepoint participated in a bonfire memorial on the beach where Danny was found, detective Emmett Carver watched with the wife of the confessed murderer.  She left, unable to take it, saying she didn't belong there...okay, that's close to the original...but then, Carver was on his i-phone and ran over an interview he'd recorded...he realized that the confessed murderer, while causing the death indirectly, did not strike the fatal blow.  The story ended with Carver looking off in the distance as he realized the true identity of the murderer.

Now this was done as the BBC announced an upcoming second season of Broadchurch, which had the teaser of David Tennant, as the British detective, saying "I already solved the murder.  Why am I still in Broadchurch?"

Hmmmmmmm...can we guess what will happen? Well, to a point, but I guarantee there will be obstacles and many surprises along the way.

Whichever version you watch either the BBC's or Fox Network's, this is an engrossing series, which takes you on a journey with surprising results.  Both versions are atmospheric, serious dramas, with the prejudices of small-town life accentuated.

I recommend either one or both. They are both indicative of the quality of production that television can achieve yet frequently does not.

The second season of Broadchurch is scheduled to air beginning in early January on BBC America.

I bet Fox will follow up next year with Gracepoint.

Catch one or the other.  You won't be sorry.

And speaking of BBC America, they recently completed airing a series on their Dramaville slot, called The Game.  It was the story of MI-5 (their version of the CIA) and dealing with Soviet infiltration during the Cold War.  This one was also full of twists and turns with a most surprising end.  It's still available on demand and should be out on video soon for rental.

STARZ is currently running a series entitled The Missing.  The lead actors were recently nominated for several acting awards.  It is also a gripping drama about a couple whose young child was abducted.  It takes place in 2006 when he was taken and also in the present day, when he is still missing. Check it out.

Okay, enough downers...anybody seen a good comedy lately? And no, I don't mean the one about killing the leader of North Korea...

Take care and enjoy the holiday season.

Until next time...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I

This morning the stars aligned and fate worked out so that I actually got to a movie in a theatre...What a concept! A fan of The Hunger Games franchise, I wanted very much to see Mockingjay.  So, this morning at 10:00 am with the rest of the seniors I went to see it.

This film, with the biggest box office sales of any film this holiday season so far, is a faithful adaptation of the book (the first half, anyway.) Like Harry Potter and Twilight, the last Hunger Games film will be be made into two.  I guess it's a matter of earnings, although it leaves the fans of the books waiting for the final resolution.

The filmmakers in this case ended the action in the middle of a horrendous scene.  So I guess we fans are supposed to be all prepped for the next one due out next year about the same time.  As a fan, even though I know what will happen I have to say, "GAH!!!!!"

Of course the writer in me says, "remember to end the scene on a cliff-hanger, Grasshopper.  That way the reader will turn the page and read more of the story.  Of course, Master Yoda"...(mixing my media there.)

Though I came prepared to cry in one scene, I did not.  Instead I was filled with righteous anger at the injustice, sort of like Katniss.  And it is the spark that lights her revolutionary fire. From that point, the film becomes the story of a fight against a walled-off privileged few who live off the sweat of everyone else's brows.

In some respects as the action takes place in the drab districts among poor people, often dressed in monotones, the film isn't as colorful a picture as its predecessors. But this is not a "bright, happy" little film. After all, there are no singing/dancing snowmen cavorting around, or princesses in formal gowns. Besides, I'd sooner look at a pile of burned bodies in tones of white, grey, and black.  It's stark and realistic, and again fuels the fire of resentment against President Snow and the Capitol City dwellers.

This is the story of a burgeoning revolution against the privileged citizenry of the Capitol - where everyone is outlandishly well dressed, ridiculously coiffed and painted.  Indeed, I have heard Effie Trinket's (Elizabeth Banks) look compared to Japan's Kabuki players.  In Mockingjay, Effie is a refugee from the Capitol, damned by her close association with Katniss.  She is lucky to escape with her life, as poor Cinna did not.
In District 13, her new refuge, she tries to enliven her look, but only has a few pieces with which to work.  So she opts for the neutral look of the other residents, wearing self-wound tignons of black or dark grey, that give her the look of Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) before her shows were filmed in color.

As you can imagine, the images of the hedonistic Capitol City folk, in their garish clothes, placing bets on which tributes will die in the Hunger Games, while representatives chosen by lottery from all the outlying districts, fight to the death on live TV is sickening enough.  It goes to follow that those people working themselves to death in the districts might get just a tad peeved. The first two films have led to this conclusion.

This film is a spot-on adaptation of the book.  The cast including all of the original players all do excellent jobs in their roles.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a finely nuanced performance which breathes life into the character Katniss.  You feel her pain and burn with her indignation.  You also experience her fear at the ending.

Donald Sutherland makes an evil villain as President Snow.  In a career of wonderful villains, it is perhaps his most chilling.

Josh Hutcherson as the tortured Peeta, gives a much more wrenching performance in this one than in the two previous films.

Also noteworthy are Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson as Heymitch, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, the games master, in his last role.  In fact, this film is dedicated to him.

Look for newcomer to the franchise, Natalie Dormer as Desideria, the film chronicler of Katniss and the Mockingjay movement.  You may recognize her as the princess who wed evil King Joffrey in an ill-fated wedding on Game of Thrones, although she looks quite different.

Julianne Moore, award winning actress (she played Sarah Palin on HBO's film "Game Change" among many other roles), plays President Coin, who holds sway over District 13 and coordinates the revolution.  She is a determined woman filled with zeal to destroy those who destroyed her family and her life. She does an excellent job in the role, ably playing a woman who masks her pain in fervor.

If you haven't seen any of the previous films or read the books, you should rent the videos to understand what exactly is happening and why. I promise you, it will be well worth it.

And yes, I look forward to Mockingjay, Part 2.  It's nice to be reminded that I have always been a rebel, anxious to fight against inequality and injustice where I find it.  You go, Katniss!

Until next time, go to a movie.  If I can do it, anybody can...

p.s. Nothing derogatory is meant against the wonderful Disney film, Frozen.  I loved that one.  It's just a very different kind of entertainment from the Hunger Games films.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gone Girl - The Book

I thought it would be appropriate to mark my return to blogging with a review of Gillian Flynn's book Gone Girl.

In an upcoming blog post, a guest blogger will review the film made of this book.  But I thought I'd jump in and review the book first.

Author Gillian Flynn has crafted an intriguing story of two people in a marriage.  She uses the clever device of doing each chapter in the point of view of either the husband, Nick, or the wife, Amy. Each chapter is told as a first person narrative, which brings the reader the deep point of view of the character.

Nick, a boy from Missouri, met and married wealthy, famous, Amy, a native Manhattanite.  This book is their story.  In the beginning, we find that Amy is missing. Nick comes home one afternoon and finds the house in slight disarray - an ironing board set up with a dress hanging up beside it and an iron (turned on) on the board.  There is an ottoman overturned and other small things wrong. What has happened to Amy?

Nick's chapters written in the present time are alternated with excerpts from Amy's diary, written in the past.

As is the norm with these kind of situations, he soon becomes a suspect in whatever has happened to Amy.  When the local police gather forensic evidence of their home, they find evidence of a substantial pool of blood that someone tried to eradicate.  It proves to be Amy's.  The investigation turns ugly.  The public turns against Nick, thanks in part to a female talk show host who is a blond vigilante on the air.  Sound like anyone we know? On her show the suspect is ALWAYS considered guilty unless proved otherwise.

Bit by bit, we learn Nick's story.  In the middle of the book, the reader learns the truth about Amy, though the authorities and the public in the story do not.  Believe me it was not a let-down to know the truth midway.  If anything, it held me more riveted to the story than before.

This is a cleverly constructed psychological study of damaged people by a gifted writer. Honestly, even while I was finishing the first draft of my own novel, I couldn't wait to pick up the Kindle and read more of Gone Girl.

If you like intelligent mystery, this one definitely is for you.

It's available in all formats.

Great job, Ms. Glynn.

Purchase Link:

Barnes and Noble

Look for the movie review on this blog coming soon.

I plan to see Mockingjay, Part 1 in the next few days.  Look for a review of that film here in the near future.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Z Nation and the Zunami

Yes, I know this is quite a turn from the sublimely lovely film "Winter's Tale," but hey the work of a pop culture diva is nothing if not diverse.

Face it boys and girls, zombies are a happenin' thang in our pop culture these days.  Everywhere you go you see the walking dead...well maybe that's an exaggeration and it is only a week after Halloween which could explain the undead onslaught.  Okay, but zombies pervade our pop culture.

In fact a local university beat the existing collegiate record for the most participants of a university reenacting Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video last night.  They had literally thousands of dancers putting on the King of Pop's famous moves.  It even got local news I said, they're everywhere!!

So a week ago tonight on Z Nation, the Sy Fy Channel's homage to the staggering dead, the one that gave us ZNado, came up with the dreaded Zunami, as in Zombie Tsunami, or an ongoing never-ending horde of Zombies trampling the countryside looking for lunch.

In the story, they had scavenged the US from the Canadian border down to Kansas.  An enormous dust cloud announced their approach. I have to say on the flat fields of Kansas, the humans could see them coming from quite a distance. Of course the zombies could also see their prey, hardly a win-win situation for our heroes.

The humans ran to the local mortuary and each hid in the morgue in the refrigerated trays where the corpses were kept in happier times.  I have to admit it was very creepy to watch those shut up on the trays having to lie still and make no noise while the Zs grunted, shuffled, and looked for their next meal.

Most of the live ones survived the Zunami.  I wonder what will happen on tonight's episode...Killer bee zombies?  Who knows...

I wanted to mention a couple of movies that got excellent reviews in our local paper.

"Interstellar" starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway with a host of popular actors in the cast, got a very good review in our local paper.  Which is a rare feat.  But it does sound intriguing and the special effects look incredible.  If you like thought provoking science fiction - the adult kind without transformers, this one might well be for you.

"Birdman" starring Michael Keaton is another well-lauded film opening today.  In it, he plays an actor who in his youth played the Birdman, a popular super hero.  Alas, as he has aged, he has fallen on hard times. Anybody remember when Keaton played Batman? While close to some aspects of his life the film is hardly biographical.  It has gotten wonderful reviews from several sources.  If you're going to see a movie this weekend, consider "Birdman" and do me a favor, let me know how it is...I don't get to the movies anymore, not until they come to video.

Special notice, the third film in the "Hunger Games" franchise - "The Mockingjay, Part. 1" opens in two weeks.

Enjoy our wonderful pop culture - this is a great time for movies when many big ones open to make the Oscar race in time and/or rake in the revenue from all those holiday movie-goers.

Take advantage!

Til next time...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter's Tale

Last night I stumbled upon a film, Winter's Tale, on HBO. It was an enchanting surprise.  Well cast with Colin Farrell as Peter Lake, the reluctant hero, facing Russell Crowe as the villain, it is an amazing production. Akiva Goldsman wrote the screenplay for the Mark Helprin novel of the same name, and directed the film.

It's 1916 in New York City.  Peter Lake is an enigma.  He was found unconscious in a boat that drifted to shore by a native American played by the wonderful Graham Greene.  Along the way Peter discovers he has an aptitude for two things - repairing all manner of mechanical devices and theft.

His only possession is a magical white horse, known only as "Horse," who conveys to him what he should do.  When they are about to flee evil Russell Crowe and his minions, the horse stops in front of a snow covered mansion and won't budge.  So Peter gets off to make one more score before leaving the area.

The mansion's only occupant is a beautiful young woman, named Beverly Penn,who turns out to be dying of "consumption" what we know as tuberculosis. She is frail and ethereally beautiful.  Played by Jessica Brown Findlay, Beverly is a memorable character.

Peter falls immediately in love with her and vows to protect her on her remaining life journey. Beverly tells him that when we die, when our lives, no matter how many or how few are over, we fly to the heavens and become stars.  She chants the name of many stars.  A habit he gains in the future.

I won't spoil everything for you but will say, Peter is not successful in keeping her alive.  When she dies, he cannot revive her.  Even though her baby sister Willa has shown him the special bed she has prepared in their greenhouse where the princess can be revived with her true love's kiss.

The film then jumps from 1916 to 2014.  Peter appears again with no memory of who he is.  It turns out his real purpose was saving another red-haired girl, instead of Beverly.  Bit by bit he remembers and finds her.

Along the way, he meets elderly Willa, played by the still beautiful Eva Marie Saint.

The ending of the film is a gorgeous fantasy, one that will stay with me for a long time, I think.

There is one bad bit with the magical horse where the bad guys try to capture him, but Peter frees him and saves him.

I have to tell you I was sobbing by the end, not because it was so awful, but because it was so beautiful.  Of course the fact I take care of a 93 year old may have played into that reaction as well.

Look for Will Smith, in a surprising turn as Lucifer - yep, I mean THE Lucifer.

This is the best film I've seen in a long time.  It's currently running on HBO, but is also available for rental from your favorite vendor.

Check this one out.  It is a spellbinding work of art.

Until next time...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boardwalk Empire - So long, Nucky

I have to admit, I have been a reluctant fan of the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, sort of a love/hate relationship. It got increasingly violent over the years as Enoch Thompson (Nucky) descended more and more into the world of the big time gangster.

Steve Buscemi was excellent in the role.  He won Golden Globe awards and an Emmy or two for his portrayal of the crime boss. His incredible portrayal of the complicated Nucky Thompson kept me coming back for more.

The saga of the criminalization of Atlantic City began post World War I (before 1920) and continued into the early 1930s just before prohibition was repealed.  With a rich cast of characters, it brought to glaring life the world we have only seen in very old movies.

Every season there were plot twists, stunning surprises, and often main characters were killed without warning.  In the final season, many of the main characters met their final judgment.  For some of them it did not lead immediately to their death, but it substantially changed their situation.

Also, the season was told partly in flashback which showed Nucky as a child and an upright young man who ultimately gave in to corruption at the hands of the most powerful man in Atlantic City.  The theme of the season? "Every man has his price" - with a bit of "Karma is a bitch" - thrown in for good measure.

Nucky's downfall was due to something he did as an upright young man.  He gave a lovely thirteen-year-old girl to the richest, most powerful man in town, simply because the Commodore (as he was known) wanted her. The story line began in the first season of the series. Only Nucky's participation in it was kept hidden until the finale.

That one action destroyed all of their lives, Nucky's, Gillian's (the girl), and the Commodore, who ultimately died as an elderly bedridden man by Gillian's hand.

And though the likes of Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz were after Nucky, instructing their gang to kill him, in the end it was Gillian's (and the Commodore's) grandson, Tommy, who pulled the trigger.

This series played like a Greek tragedy, staged as a tawdry carnival with all the vices displayed to the tinny music of the era.  And in the end they all paid their dues to Karma.

This was a well done, evocative series, that left me pensive and sad at the wasted lives and opportunities.
I won't miss it since it ended so well, tying up the story lines.

The previous seasons are available on video.  I am sure the final season will be available soon.  It was an incredible cast with more plot twists than Game of Thrones. If you enjoy early cinema noir portrayed by a very talented cast, this one is for you.

Until next time...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (Live-Die-Repeat)

After a busy couple of weeks, I finally got around to watching a movie worth reviewing.  A lover of science fiction I noted when EDGE OF TOMORROW was originally released.  It stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blount with an outstanding supporting cast of such notables as Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton.

The premise is a smug Major (Cruise) who has finagled his way out of combat is stripped of his rank and thrust into the front lines by General Brigham (Gleeson).  There the new private is put under Master Sergeant Farrell (Paxton, who is all but unrecognizable in the role).  Farrell is the epitome of a combat hardened Master Sergeant.  He brooks neither smart remarks nor cowardice.  His soldiers fight to the death or live to fight another day - no exceptions.  Naturally Cage (Cruise) learns hard lessons fast.

The enemies are a horde of aliens commanded by a creature who can control time itself and knows the future.

On Cage's first foray into battle he dies almost immediately.  He then wakes up back at the post where his first day repeats.  Naturally when he goes into battle, he avoids his original death and lives a few moments longer.   Before his death the second time, he witnesses Rita (Blount), a proclaimed hero of the war, in action. Fascinated by her immediately, when he dies and goes back the next time, he actively seeks her out.

She offers to train him because he has the ability to die and come back - a rarity she shares with him. Together they pool their gathered knowledge and find a way to win the war.

Okay, the premise is a difficult one to maintain.  I remember a famous comedy of twenty years ago that repeated the same day over and over with progressively longer stretches of the same dialogue repeated each time.  While the critics raved about the comedic performances in this film, I fell asleep in the theater nodding off repeatedly, only to have my friends awaken me when it was over.  I was never so bored in my life.

While Edge of Tomorrow is repetitious at times, there is enough action and change to make it exciting.  This movie races to its climax.

There are battles aplenty but the viscera is kept to a minimum - always a refreshing change.  (I've been watching too many zombie films and television programs.)

The special effects are excellent.  The performances are good.  All in all it is an exciting film and well worth a viewing, particularly for fans of science fiction.

Check it out.  You just might like it.

Tonight marks the series finale of BOARDWALK EMPIRE.  This is a series that has held my attention since it first aired.  I have a love/hate relationship with it, but it has kept me interested. Look for my series review coming in the next few days.

Until then, take care and watch a movie, read a book, listen to some music, or watch your favorite TV shows.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Zombies - Tornado - ZNado - 'Nuff Said"

Just a quickie today.  As most of you know, I am a fan of the SyFy network.  I regularly watch two or three of their programs. I also watch their movies, including those of the Sharknado franchise.

Currently, I am recording one of their programs on Friday nights because it is on the same time as something else I watch.  It's a little farce entitled - ZNation.

As you might guess, it's another Zombie Apocalypse program.  This one has a slightly different premise.  A band of militant survivors are trying to travel across the country to California. They are charged with taking a particularly unpleasant man across the US and must protect him from harm.  He was injected with an experimental anti-zombie serum at a medical facility on the east coast, just before they were overrun with marauding zombies.  Though he sustained several nasty bites, he survived and did not become one of the Zs.  So he is the hope of all mankind.

There's also a poor man left alone at a military station in the region of the far north.  He is the only survivor of the Z attack on the facility - well he and a half-grown husky puppy.  Luckily it's a huge base with enormous stores of supplies. So they eat prime beef most nights cooked on a charcoal grill.  The man maintains the high powered radio that reaches across the country.  He broadcasts to the survivors out there as "Citizen Z." Some of the quasi-military groups are in contact with him as well.  He can direct them via satellite views of areas to determine where it's passable and where it's not on the roadways.  He can also access the weather satellite as we learned in last week's episode.

SyFy had to do this...I guess it was inevitable...the advertising tag line for this episode was the title of my blog post - "Zombies - Tornado - ZNado - 'Nuff Said."

Yep, you got it.  Instead of picking up sharks at sea, these monster tornadoes picked up roving bands of Zombies and dropped them on the remaining human populace.  When the main characters saw the Zombies come flying out of the funnel clouds one of them said - "Is that what I think it is?" To whit the female lead replied - "At least it ain't sharks..."

I don't know why I find this so funny - I guess it's the ridiculous improbability of it all coupled with the tongue-in-cheek acting style.  Whatever it is, I guffawed when I saw the episode.

I fear we may be in for a spate of 'Nado pictures...what about "Tea Party'Nado" (that's downright scary!!!) "ISIS'Nado" (frightening in its own way) Congress'Nado (perhaps the scariest of them all) or "Republican'Nado", and for equal time depending on your personal preferences - "Democrat'Nado." 

The mind boggles.

And to think this was all started by some flying sharks devouring a bunch of once prominent celebrities...

Oh well, we can all use a good laugh.

On the serious side, I have finished the first half of my current novel in progress!!!

And bigger news, my blog has achieved 10,000+ views now - not taking the world by storm, but it exceeds my expectations. Thank you.


Hasta la Vista (remember my DNA is 4% Iberian peninsula...)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Ancestry - What a surprise!

The results of my DNA testing are in...and to say I was surprised is seriously underplaying my reaction.  Ancestry I have owned my whole life turns out was wrong.  My father is angry, claiming it must be a con game.  However, the testing was done by reputable people and I must honor the findings.

My results are as follows:

37% Irish
30% Western Europe (includes France, Germany, and Northern Italy)
18% British Isles
7% Scandinavian (really?!!)
4% Finland/Northwestern Russia (what?)
4% Iberian Peninsula (Spain/Portugal - huh?)

First of all, we were always told my father's grandmother's family was originally from Sicily.  I have 0% of Italian/Greek as was classified on the test.  I did test positive for the area of western Europe that includes northern Italy, however.  Maybe the Sicilian part was wrong...

It was long thought in my mother's family that her father was Dutch and Native American.  I did not register either one in the DNA analysis.  Of course, his mother died giving birth to him.  His father was a lifelong alcoholic, so no telling what he told my grandfather about his heritage.

As to the Scandinavian bit, I was told by the company that tested my DNA, many people of Irish ancestry, or ancestors in northern England, Scotland, or Wales have varying percentages of Scandinavian ancestors.  After all, the Norse men raided for 500+ years, raping, pillaging, enslaving, and sometimes marrying their captives.  Don't worry, I've already got my Viking helmet on order, complete with flaxen, I still root for the Dallas Cowboys, but I gotta represent the family. (I refuse, however to eat ludafisk or sleep on furs.)

"Lord, protect us from the fury of the north men."

For the Finland/Northwestern Russia DNA findings I am completely at a loss.  Nobody in the family has ever admitted to such ancestors. 

The same for the Iberian peninsula.  Not that I mind that.  I've always loved the music and dance from Spain.  Plus, I'm a big fan of Brazilian music (sung in Portuguese.)

I knew already about the ties to Great Britain.  That side of my family has traced the family tree way back. I've been told I am a direct descendant from Captain Kidd and a relation to James Hargreaves, who invented the spinning jenny and mechanized the woolen mills in England, bringing the industrial age to the country. He was my grandmother's great-uncle.

I always figured I was part Irish, but had no idea it was so much of my ancestry.  That's okay with me.  That is the part of the analysis that I like the best. Now I can legitimately wear green on St. Patrick's Day...(I draw the line at green beer.)

The rest of it, lacking the southern Italy and Native American connection, is a bit of a shock.  But I'm learning to live with it. I can still cook a mean pot of meat sauce for spaghetti and bake a good lasagna.  I still love Native American art and will continue to collect it.

All in all, it has been a most interesting experience despite the results.  A friend asked me what it was like to think you are one thing most of your life and find out you're something else. 

It's a disappointment in some ways, but a revelation in others.  I am still working through it.  And it has made me want to start researching the family tree to see if I can find some of these outliers in my background.

Since I found out about the Scandinavian heritage and the way it came to be, I have been sad, thinking of those women who endured the raids.

In closing I would like to say, no matter where I came from, I am still the person I've always been.  It was a revelation to learn of my hidden ancestors.

This was a good experience, one that I would recommend to anyone.

Take care.

Have a great evening.

The Irish/frenchgermannorthernitalian/british/finn/scandinavian/russianportuguese/spaniard.

Do I look like a viking to you?

Hasta Luego!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Homeland - Season 4

Showtime premiered the fourth season of its much lauded series, Homeland, last Sunday.  A follower of the series from its first season, I was fascinated to see where it would go this year.

Season 3 ended with the death of its tortured hero, Sgt. Brody, held by Muslim extremists for years, turned and sent back to his homeland to commit acts of violence.  It has always been a fascinating, convoluted storyline, which you have to follow closely.

Actually, I slept through part of it Sunday night, so I watched it again on demand this morning.  My sleeping through it had little to do with the episode and more to do with my current stressers which tend to make me tired.

In season 4, we find Carrie Mathieson (played by Claire Danes) in Kabul as the CIA station chief.  She orders a strike on what she thinks is good intel, which results in disaster for the US.  Yes, they took out the terrorist leader, but he was at a wedding with many guests in attendance, most of whom were killed.  Thus, pictures of dead women and children were laid out in the media and on YouTube.

Somehow the American source of the intel is outed on television, attacked by an angry mob in Pakistan and murdered - also posted on YouTube.  Thus, Carrie has another cause, another obsession which she will not let go.  That has been her character's mode of operation for the duration of the series.  She has a mental disorder which makes her dangerous if not medicated, but also makes her able to focus so much that she can ferret out the situation with relative ease.

Trouble is, she is socially inept as well as the world's worst mother.  She was pregnant by Sgt. Brody when he was executed by the Muslim radicals who once held him prisoner.  In season 4, she is the mother of a cute red-headed, blue-eyed baby girl.  She cannot cope with motherhood - doesn't even want to hold her baby and farms her out to her sister - a busy physician with two children of her own. The infant in the part looks a bit like Damian Lewis, the British actor who played Brody.  Carrie cannot seem to make a connection to her own child, even though she admits she loved her father. There was a tense scene in which she is bathing her child and almost drowns her, looking on dispassionately until she comes to her senses. 

This show has NEVER been for the faint of heart.

It is a dark, intelligent, compelling story, most relevant with today's issues in the middle East.

If you like a fascinating story, this one is for you.

It airs on Showtime at 9:00 Eastern time on Sunday nights.  Check it out.

Until next time...

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Tonight on the Fox network, at 9:00 pm EDT, a new series, Gracepoint, premiers.  It's a ten part mystery series, based on the critically acclaimed BBC series, Broadchurch.  The American version stars David Tennant, the British star of Broadchurch (and my favorite Doctor from the Doctor Who series.)

Gracepoint takes place in a mythical northern California coastal town.  In the opening episode, the body of a 12 year old boy is found on the beach.  The story unfolds from there.

Although based on Broadchurch, the network is advertising promos announcing that Gracepoint is a different story.  And sure enough, Broadchurch had eight episodes.  Gracepoint has ten. The network is implying that the story is a bit different as is the identity of the murderer.  We'll see.

If you like a good mystery, do not miss the series.  The original was mesmerizing and held my interest so much that when it ended I ordered the video.

Look for a taut, confounding story filled with false clues.  You'll be drawn to it if it is like the BBC version.

I'm looking forward to watching it tonight!

Blessings and have a happy autumn.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Outlander / Godzilla

No, I'm not insane, merely distracted. (That's what I tell myself anyway.)  I've been meaning to write a review of the latest Godzilla film that's now out on video.  And after last night's season finale for Outlander, I want to at least comment on it.

So first to Outlander.  The Starz network has done a brilliant job translating the first book in this best selling series to television.  It's a quality production all the way and a pleasure to watch.  The season finale ended last night on a HUGE any good continuing series.

It's due to be back in early April and I for one will be waiting. 

Okay on to Godzilla (known to the Japanese as Gojira...)  Does anybody remember the line from the version starring Matthew Broderick? The plucky young would-be reporter gets the info on the monster currently attacking NYC and her smarmy anchorman boss steals it, going on the air calling the monster Godzilla.  For which the plucky young lady screams at the tv, "It's Gojira, you moron!!!"

Don't get me wrong, I loved this most recent incarnation of Godzilla, but at times felt like screaming "it's Gojira, you moron!!" to the television screen. Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe, actually does call him Gojira in this film. Of course everyone else calls him Godzilla.

Bryan Cranston opens the film as the harried engineer working at a Japanese nuclear facility where his wife, played by Juliette Binoche, works.  There is a terrible accident in which she is killed and he is crazed for the rest of his life determined to find out why.

Thus begins this saga of the King of Monsters.  Poor Gojira/Godzilla is always misunderstood by the puny humans around him.  Turns out, he's really the good guy, protecting humanity from the real monsters, these spider/rodan/batwing(at least the male) creatures who feed on radiation.  The original Godzilla film was produced in Japan as a cautionary tale against the use of radioactivity which caused Godzilla to mutate into the giant creature he is.  In the US we had a series of movie monsters created by "the bomb", too, most notably the giant ants (or aints if you're from the south) in "Them!" I wonder what happened to the little girl who screamed out the title, "THEEEEEEEMMMM!"  I bet she's even older than I am...geez, the mind shudders at the thought.

Back to the point, this Godzilla movie is the usual fare, lots of stomping over cities and people.  Only this time, the monsters attack Honolulu first causing a tsunami realistically portrayed.  There's a brave dog running from the wave but you don't see what happens to him.  I was upset by that.  I mean you expect people to get crushed, but not a dog.  Geez.

Then in an almost Biblical turn, the monsters head for Las Vegas and lay waste to the modern Gomorrah.  It seems all the US's radioactive waste is buried out in the desert near there.  So the spider beings are attracted to that.

Did I mention there's a male spider monster AND a female one? She is wingless but almost twice the size of the male.  Plus, she's carrying eggs....gross shots of those.

The special effects are spectacular.  I wish I'd seen it in a movie theater, but it's still impressive on my flat screen. There is a huge accident with a speeding train that gets grabbed by one of the bad monsters.  The train is flaming like an inferno and is stripped off a high bridge in a scene reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter.

Anyhow they keep moving until they end up in San Francisco where Godzilla fights both spider monsters.  The spider monsters are completely uncaring about the cityscape and decimate parts of San Francisco, including a huge chunk of Chinatown.  That is where the final battle is fought.  Great shot of Godzilla roaring with his head between Chinese lanterns that are strung between buildings.

Godzilla wins in the end and roars before he walks into the sea and disappears.  Of course he's a hero at the end and the stunned populace watches him walk out to sea, knowing he'll return when he's needed.  Very Japanese version in the end.  That's the way he was viewed in their films.  I mean sure he stomped towns and cities but always in a good cause when he fought other monsters like King Kong, Mothra (remember the little high voice twin women who would sing to Mothra to wake him?)

If such movies are your cup of tea, you'll like this Godzilla.  It's got enough action to satisfy anyone who likes action movies.  There are wonderful actors in small parts.

Rent it, have fun, eat some popcorn.  It will remind you of going to movies as a least it did me.

I've probably lost all credibility as an author with this review, but hey, I am what I am, a pop culture diva and Godzilla is nothing if not pop culture.

Relax, I'll review something serious several good books lined up for you.

Take care, and avoid all giant radioactive spiderbats.  They have no sense of humor.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Genghalia, meet the Roosevelts

I originally intended to post a RAVE review of Ken Burns' new mini-series "The Roosevelts" which is airing for two hours every night this week on your local PBS channel.  He is the genius who brought us "The Civil War", "Jazz", and "Baseball" to name a few of his previous series for PBS.
But then I also wanted to talk about my own identity search...

So first, The Roosevelts.

I watched the first episode last night.  As you may have guessed, I'm a history buff, always have been and always will be.  Most of my fiction is historical (or is that hysterical? - Naaaaahhhh, don't digress.)

ANYWAY, "The Roosevelts" lives up to the hype.  I've seen many of the reviews claiming it's Burns' best one yet.  I concur.  It is an excellent series, well researched and presented in an unvarnished manner - i.e. showing these three people as they really were, warts and all.

The series follows Teddy Roosevelt, his niece Eleanor Roosevelt, and her distant cousin whom she eventually married, Franklin Roosevelt.  Their individual stories are the stuff of legends, but taken altogether, they become an amazing American saga of an incredible family.

Of course Teddy Roosevelt died decades before I was born.  Franklin Roosevelt died several years before I was born.  But I had the  privilege to come to know Eleanor Roosevelt from afar.  She died when I was thirteen.  I was so taken with her work for the poor and the disenfranchised she inspired me into my adult life.  Also, she was an amazing woman who faced great adversity and used it as impetus to make her stronger.

This is a common trait among all three of these people.  They each knew tragedy and sadness enough to break them. But it never did.  Instead they became stronger, reaching goals many would have said were impossible for them to meet.

I may be prejudiced, but I think FDR was our greatest 20th century American president.  I hate to think how the country would have survived the Great Depression, much less World War II without his leadership. That this man who could not walk worked a schedule that would have killed a lesser being and ran the country through its greatest economic disaster to date, and served as commander-in-chief until the last four months of WWII was a miracle in itself.

These three people were larger than life, sometimes with hubris that large as well.  They were fascinating and are realistically seen in Burns' new work.

Watch won't be sorry.  We need inspiration in our current world situation.  You just might find it in these three remarkable people.


I've had a bug in my ear for several months.  I've been wanting to get my ancestral DNA researched.  Like most of us, I only know my heritage back for three or four generations.  Admittedly, I am a mutt (a mixture of several nationalities) - but that's the norm for Americans these days.

Besides as an amateur historian, I know there's a strong possibility that some of my ancient forebears went to some interesting places - I am Italian and those Romans got around...

I've been teasing my dad that we might have Mongol blood.  I told a friend I might even be related to Genghis Khan (or maybe Khan Noonian Singh) she asked me what would I call myself, Genghivita? (among others) I chose Genghalia...

Anyhow, I ordered the kit and yesterday did the deed.

First you have to spit into a that may sound easy, but it took me five times to get enough spit into that little have to fill it to a black wavy line.  I hate to think what anybody would have said to walk in on me spitting into the tube, checking the level, and swearing before I spat again. (oooooohhhh, I get to use spat - good word!) The only witnesses were my Shi Tzus who after an initial head cocking went back to sleep, supremely disinterested in the whole process. Honestly they're that way about most events unless food is involved.

When you have reached the desired level of spittal, you unscrew the funnel from the tube and screw on a new tube to the existing one.  Once they are screwed together tightly enough, the new tube releases a liquid into the tube with your DNA.  You have to shake it five times (I do believe in spooks - I do believe in spooks - I do believe in spooks...) Then you place the whole connected tube into a plastic bag provided in the kit, seal it shut with it's own adhesive band, put it in the postage paid, preaddressed box and drop it in the mail.  Then you get to sit and wait for the results.

So now it's out of my hands...I will sit and wait to receive the email telling me my countries or origin...while I yearn for something exotic, it will probably come out English, Italian, German, with just a hint of Native American...which means my ancestors fought each other a LOT.

Oh well, at least I'll know.  But if it turns out I'm part Norwegian, I flatly refuse to eat ludafisk...tried it once and put it on the same level as poi (sorry Hawaii)...I'm Italian enough not to eat either of those concoctions again...

I'll let you know the reveal ...

Take care and enjoy our rich and varied Pop Culture - made so by the many nationalities who came to our wonderful country and blended together.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Devisive, Derisive, But Dressed Like a Lady

Joan Rivers left us yesterday.  Actually she left us last week, but was kept on life support in the hope of recovery.  Her situation just points out how tenuous our lives can be, reminding us to live each day to the fullest.

Some folks out there won't read this blog because they never liked Ms. Rivers.  That's okay.  She wasn't in the business to make people like her.

There are comedians who operate from a base of pain.  These are the especially brilliant ones, the fast on their feet thinkers with the snappy one-liners that seemingly materialize out of the air. The recently deceased Robin Williams for one - his icon Jonathan Winters for another.  Ms. Rivers fits into that category as well.

She had a hell of a life but still she kept going using her pain as impetus to spark her razor remarks.

In her youth she wanted to be an actress.  In an interview she once said her whole family was funny.  When she went to the theatrical agents' offices, she would tell their secretaries jokes in the hope they would let her see the boss.  Finally one day, one of the secretaries told her "you're very funny.  Have you thought about doing stand-up?"  Hungry, working office temp jobs, Joan took the secretary's advice and a star was born.

I remember her through the years.  Sometimes when I was younger I was offended by the things she said.  I dismissed her as insensitive and willing to make fun of anybody to get attention.

But then, she came to QVC, the premier shopping channel.  For the last twenty years, she sold her line of jewelry, clothing, and cosmetic products.  She was funny on the air, but very sweet with the way she handled the customers who called to talk to her on the air.

She began with copies of imperial Russian jewelry.  Her family was of Russian ancestry and prized some of their pieces from that period.  Joan had a fondness for Faberge eggs - gorgeous creations meant for the ruling family by the world renown jeweler.  The surviving original ones are in museums and storied private collections.  Many are considered to be priceless. She had copies of the eggs made as jewelry, or objects to decorate the home.  They were beautiful.

She had a symbol she kept with her throughout her career.  A bumblebee - and why is that? Because anatomically a bumblebee should not be able to fly, but somehow it does.  It was a symbol for her that anything is possible.  She put out a long line of bejeweled bee jewelry that was very popular.  Each new design sold out in its initial showing.  I have to admit I have a few of them.  I like the idea that anything is possible, because I believe it is.

Her company grew and started making women's clothing and accessories.  Everything something she would wear.  She was usually on the Best Dressed List each year.  She was very successful on QVC.

There was another aspect of her which I admired.  She loved her dogs.  In the beginning, she brought her Yorkies with her to the set and they appeared in the shows with her when she sold her merchandise.  Then one by one, they passed on from old age.  And she did not bring any others with her.  She mourned her little Spike many years after he passed away.  I can relate to that.

I saw her earlier last month on what I believe was her last appearance on QVC.  I noticed how frail she was looking, how much smaller she seemed.  Honestly, having worked with elderly people in my career, I wondered then about her health.

I think the key to Joan Rivers was she was much harder on herself than she was anyone else.  She had a sensitive side in her treatment of her little dogs, her grandchild, and the ladies who called in to talk to her on QVC. Often the ladies would have a sad story to tell about getting the bee pin for someone who was seriously ill, for example.  Ms. Rivers was genuine in her response each time.

She'll be missed in the theaters and clubs she played to sold-out houses.  She will be missed on the Red Carpet, on the WE network where she had a show with her only child, Melissa. She will be missed on QVC by the legions of fans of her jewelry and clothes which made each of them feel like a lady on the Best Dressed List.

Goodnight, Joan, thank you for the outrageous laughs and lovely moments.

Rest well.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Loving Meg by Skye Taylor

Popular author Skye Taylor has followed her introductory novel of the Camerons of Tide's Way series, Falling for Zoe, with another wonderful novel, Loving Meg.

This one is the story of a female Marine veteran of the war in Afghanistan.  Like so many others, she returned to her husband and children, wounded in spirit and sound in body.  She cannot forget some of her experiences.  Her bomb sniffing dog was killed when he got to close to a device. 

Her husband, Ben, trains dogs as service dogs for the police and for individuals.  He is asked to try to rehabilitate a police K-9, whose handler was killed in front of him.  The dog, Kip, has never recovered and shows little interest in the world around him. Ben is the last resort for saving Kip from his depression.

Meg wants nothing to do with the dog as he reminds her of the dog she lost.  She is also confused about the kiss she shared with her commanding officer as he tried to comfort her when the dog was killed.  She is not able to deal with the situation.

Ben wants to help his wife and the dog as well.  But he hasn't a clue about where to begin.  The story tells of the journey of the couple and the dog, how they find redemption.

This is a good, riveting story, by an excellent storyteller.  Keep the tissues handy, especially if you're a dog lover.  You'll probably need them.


When Meg Cameron joined the Marines to get an education, she never counted on being deployed to a war zone. Now that she’s home, both she and her husband Ben are struggling with the toll war, separation, and regrets have taken on their marriage. Meg is tormented by guilt over the death of a military dog and the kiss she shared with her commanding officer as he comforted her.  Her husband, Ben, is the love of her life, how could he possibly forgive her if he knew the truth?

Ben Cameron is just happy that his brave, beautiful wife is home safely with him and their young sons.  Everything is fine – at first. In bed he and Meg are perfect together, until the nightmares come and she calls out a name that’s not his.  She’s hurting and he doesn’t understand, but he’s trying. If only she would talk to him about what’s bothering her.

Then there’s Kip a police K-9 who lost his handler and his spirit to a perp with a gun. Ben has been asked to help rehabilitate the grieving animal. Ben wants to help these two wounded warriors find peace, and convince Meg to trust him with her nightmares, but as Meg debates returning to active duty, a move that would surely take her back into harms way again, Ben’s frustrations and fears climb. What if her pain and confusion take her back into harms way again and he lost her forever?

Links to purchase:

Barnes & Noble

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Search for Mrs Claus

As strange as it may seem, the holidays will be coming up sooner than some of us would like.  We're moving into the early autumn.  Can Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas be far behind?

Normally I'm not in the mood for Christmas until much later in the year.  But I just read a charming holiday novel entitled The Search for Mrs Claus by Courtney Daisey.

In this novel, Santa Claus is forced by ancient prophecy to seek his bride only one week each year.  If he fails, it will be another year before he can resume his search. She has to meet certain requirements and he has certain restrictions under which he must conduct his search.

He decides to spend his week in Quebec.  It is a perfect setting, cold and snow-covered.  On the first day of his quest he meets Sophie Laurent, assistant sous chef, pastry chef, and part-time lounge singer.  There is an electric connection between them from the first meeting. Both are attracted to each other.

There follows a warm, sweet courtship, in which they grow to know each other better.  The attraction builds until he is in danger of breaking the biggest restriction to his search.  Will he make it to the end of his search this time? Is Sophie the one true love he is meant to find?

This lovely confection of a novel would make a great Hallmark Channel Film.

It's a must for all fans of clean romance.


Each year Nicholas Claus searches for the one woman who will fulfill the prophecy foretold

before his time: the one who will become his bride. Has he finally found his future Mrs. Claus

in a young pastry chef from Quebec? With the help of a spunky elf named Kringle, Nick plays the

dating game to win the heart of Sophie Laurent. Will Sophie and Nick be able to earn the love of

the other or will their desires shatter the prophecy and any hope of being together? Humor,

love, and the magic of Christmas all come together to guide Nick and Sophie down the same

path and find love where neither expected it.

Product Details
Links to purchase: 

Barnes & Noble


Monday, August 25, 2014

Good night, True Blood

Inevitably, even the best of things come to a close.  Last night, we bade farewell to the town of Bon Temps and its denizens, both human and supernatural. As a cable series, it has had a long run - seven seasons.  HBO, the network which aired True Blood, is now announcing this is the final season of Boardwalk Empire as well as The Newsroom.  Neither of which lasted as long as our TB buds.

The last two seasons of TB were harrowing, lots of carnage and seemingly insurmountable odds to turn it all around.  It has always been a roller coaster ride but it graduated from the one in kiddieland to the granddaddy of them all in thrills and chills. 

As a writer I know a bit about what you need for a good story.  You need a hook in the beginning to keep the reader(or tv viewer) interested.  That makes them want to come back.  Then you keep putting in hooks at the ends of some of the chapters (or episodes) to make them anticipate the next one.  You need characters to which the audience can relate - real, recognizable emotions and interactions.  You need to build a fictional world that will draw the audience deeper into the story.  Again, you need real, recognizable characters and situations.  If you have that, doesn't matter if your character is a vampire, a werewolf, a fae, or a plain old human - your audience will be drawn into the story and come back for more.

When your audience learns to care about your characters, you've struck the mother lode.  I'll let you in on a little secret, most writers (at least the ones I know personally) are intimately involved with their characters.  The authors live with these people in their heads, usually banging on the inside of their foreheads demanding to be let out...So the authors care about their characters, their creations, their literary children.  It's obvious that the writers, executive producers, cast, and crew of TB cared about their characters as well.

The final episode did the best thing for all those characters - they wrapped up all the storylines nice and neatly.  No character's situation was left hanging.  That's the way to end a good novel.

Of course, if you're going to do a sequel or a spin-off you  have to leave something to build your new creation.

There was no hint of that with the characters in Bon Temps.  Looks like last night was well and truly it.

This final season has been particularly hard on the series' regulars - several of them met the true death unexpectedly and horribly.  In a sense it wrapped up the story, but that old roller coaster ride got steeper and harder to take when it plunged down into the abyss. Yet even one of them had her story resolved last night and she was able to ascend to the next world after being bound to the earth.

The finale was filled with danger, excitement, comedy, and extreme pathos.  Sort of the emotional seven-year run of TB encapsulated in one last burst of glory.

I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it and wants to - so I won't go into plot details.

I will say the worst moment in TB history came for me last night.  It wasn't unexpected and it was completely in character for the ones involved.  But, lordy, it made me SOB...I sat there gulping and grabbing for my Puffs-with-lotion by the handful.  Of course, in true TB fashion, only a minute later I was howling with laughter at the next bit. My shih tzus viewed me from the floor with worried expressions.

The conclusion was more than satisfactory.  Everyone got what was coming to them in a good way or not...Everyone, except the true villain of the piece, was happy, radiant even at the end of the episode.  The villain got her just desserts and got them for eternity...That was a funny bit, too.

So like in a good novel, we know that although we will make no new visits to the town of Bon Temps, the citizens (like the "heart" in Celine Dion's song) will go on with their lives or afterlives whichever the case may be.

Author Charlaine Harris made one final appearance in the series based on her books.  Look for her manning the production console at the filming of the infomercial...that's all I'm sayin'.  It was a quick shot, but long enough to recognize her.

To the cast and crew of True Blood - thank you for seven glorious years of keeping us all spellbound and coming back for more.  And thank you to the writers and producers for providing us "Trubies" with a most satisfactory ending. 

Sorry, Ms. Harris, but I liked the resolution of the series better than the one in the books.

I wonder if Game of Thrones will make it seven years?  Shoot, honey, with all the written material (I don't know how many books are out now, but they're each as thick as a medium sized town's phone book in the past) - that show may go on forever...

Bonne Nuit, Bon Temps - go gently into that good night. 

We'll revisit you on video and remember the good times.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Take Me There by the Louis Romanos Quartet

I haven't reviewed any music on this blog, not because I don't like music, I do, I love it in fact.  My tastes are eclectic.  Some things I like are not necessarily what is popular today.  So I've stayed away from music as a reviewer.

But a friend of mine introduced me to the new CD Take Me There by the Louis Romanos Quartet.  It was love at first hearing.

All original songs, the CD is a beautiful work.  I'm hard pressed to name a favorite cut.  All of the music is distinctive and unique.

These are talented musicians who come together to make sublime music.  It has a hint of smooth jazz, of spiritual music (i.e. some contemporary Native American music like that of Carlos Nakai), and an ethereal quality all its own.

If you like listening to music after a stressful day, this one's for you.  It is lovely, calming music that will take you to another place as your cares melt away...

Honestly, I haven't heard such evocative tunes in many years.  This music transcends your daily cares and woes, taking you away to a place of serenity.

I predict great things for these talented men.

Check out the link below to hear selections from the album and to purchase it. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams - Manic Genius

Robin Williams was an original - granted he was influenced by some who came before him, but he took from them and added his own flair.

Spectacularly breaking onto the TV scene in the 1970s as Mork from the Planet Ork, his character was silly but unique.  The best bits were the ones he improvised as the rest of the cast learned to be ready for whatever he might do.  The classic bits from the show came when his long-time idol, Jonathan Winters, appeared on the show as Mork and Mindy's son.  For some reason the Ork folks are born old and grow younger...what a concept!!!

Anyway, the audiences were treated to improvisation like no other, from two of the world's best practitioners of the art. We tuned in to laugh and worship at the altar of grand comedic timing.  The old saying is true.  Timing IS everything in comedy.  What's more it cannot be taught.  It is an instinctive ability.  You've either got it or you don't.  If you don't, best forget a career in stand-up. It's like having an ear for music or not...

Williams did not just do comedy.  He was a well-rounded actor, capable of playing a wide range of roles.  Contrast the magnificent drag impersonation in "Mrs. Doubtfire" to the cold, calculating, superior serial killer in "Insomnia."  Like the queen of drag, RuPaul, Williams was more than believable as a female.  It was a stellar performance, in a warm-hearted family movie.

In "Insomnia" he was frightening in his role, keeping pace with the great Al Pacino and Hillary Swank.  His performance gave me the shivers as much as Anthony Hopkin's did in "Silence of the Lambs."  Williams was totally real in his role with no semblance to the comic performer we knew.

I liked him in "Good Will Hunting", "The World According to Garp", "Dead Poet's Society", and especially "Patch Adams" where he got to play a caring doctor who sought to help those who were in need.

He was wonderful in "Good Morning, Vietnam", "Awakenings", and as the Genie in Disney's "Aladdin."

If you want to rouse me out of a sound sleep, play Williams' classic line "Good morning, Vietnam!!!!" I'll be wide awake.

Williams was a classically trained actor, graduating from the Julliard School in NYC, who had a far ranging talent.  At the time Williams was a student, the late John Houseman only recommended two young actors for their advanced studies program.  One was the late Christopher Reeve.  The other was Robin Williams.

Houseman was known as an exacting teacher/director, much like the character he played in "The Paper Chase."  That he only selected two students speaks volumes about the talent he saw in them.

Of all the things that impressed me about Robin Williams, it was his brain that worked at warp speed.  Manic in his delivery of improv, it was incredible to watch his brain function at a speed few people could dream about, much less achieve.

If you ever saw him on any late night talk show, you know what I mean.

I don't know the cause of the despair that led him to his final act, but I do know the result.  The world has been left a sadder place.

Robin, thank you for the glimpse of supernova brain power you gave us and for all the years when you made us laugh or cry or shrink down in our seats from fear. 

We will miss you.

Rest in peace.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Starz new series - Outlander based on Diana Gabaldon's books

I got an early look at Starz new series - Outlander on demand the other night.  It's due to premier tonight on Starz.  If you don't have access to the cable channel, try this link:

 At the very least you should get a preview of the first episode.

Diana Gabaldon wrote the bestselling Outlander several years ago, followed with a number of successful sequels.  It was a revelation to romance readers at the time.  A wonderful story of time travel, it spanned backward from World War II to the year 1743 in which the Highland clans were in constant battle with the English.

The first episode is true to the novel.  As a Charlaine Harris fan AND a big fan of HBO's True Blood, I am constantly disappointed and then glad in some cases that they deviate so far from the books.

It's nice to see a great book portrayed on television as it was written, at least in the first episode.  I'll reserve my judgment until after the season is over...HBO has done this to me, turned me into a cynic -both with True Blood and now with The Leftovers.  I may never trust a cable network again.

No, I'm not making a big deal out of nothing...this is just the sort of tactic to make an author cringe. Imagine what they could do with my sweet little Regency - turn it into Seventy-Five shades of Treachery - starring a blond bimbo with a Brooklyn accent and Joe Manganiello (oh...that last one is a good idea...)

Back to Outlander - I thoroughly enjoyed the premier episode.  The cast is perfect.  Caitriona Balfe plays Claire Randall, the married combat nurse who stumbles back through time while on a second honeymoon with her husband in the highlands of Scotland. She is well-cast as Claire.

Running afoul of an enraged English colonel bent on rape, who happens to be her husband's famous ancestor, she is found by Jamie Fraser, a highlander riding with a raiding party from his clan, played by the devastatingly handsome Sam Heughan.  He is a perfect Jamie. I predict a big future for him as women in the audience discover him.  He could be Outlander's Eric Northman..(you Trubies out there know what I'm talking about.) Come to think of it, he shares a certain facial bone structure with Alexander Skarsgard.

Thus, Claire's adventure begins.  She ingratiates herself to the clan by tending Jamie's dislocated shoulder and his other wounds.  More and more she and Jamie are attracted to each other, while back in the future her husband begins his search for her.

Shot in Scotland, the scenery is gorgeous.  The music which was uncredited is the traditional combination of pipes, drums, and strings.  It adds authenticity to an already well researched production.  The look of the show from the costumes to the sets to the props and weapons is accurate and impressive.  That is also something from the book.  Ms. Gabaldon excels at research, filling her work with historic accuracy.

If you like a good historical romance that does not run smooth, this one's for you.

Besides, they had one of my very favorite scenes from the book.  Claire is up in their room in 1940's Scotland, wearing a nightgown and robe and brushing her hair.  Her husband walks back to the small hotel and sees a man wearing full highlander regalia standing under the streetlight in rapt attention at the vision of Claire through the upstairs window.  Her husband approaches the man intent on warning him away from Claire when the man suddenly the ghost he is...


Seriously, check this one out.  You won't be disappointed...You won't understand the Gaelic dialogue, but hey, you don't really have to...

Until next time.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Divergent - The Movie

Well, my long wait is over.  I reviewed the Divergent trilogy in books a while back just before the film hit the theaters.  And now the film has just been released on video.  I should say the first film, based on the first book.

Veronica Roth, the author of the trilogy, is listed as Executive Producer in the credits.  I'm glad because the film closely follows the book.

Divergent is the story of Beatrice Pryor, a young woman, who like all students at her age is tested for which faction of five best fits her.  Then they undergo a public choosing ceremony and basically can choose the one they want.  She has been raised in the Abnegation faction, one of self effacement and helping others.  Abnegation members spend very limited time in front of a mirror.  To stand gazing at oneself would place more importance on self rather than others.  Beatrice has been a good member of Abnegation, helping to feed the hungry and assisting the ill with her parents who are council members of their faction.

But when they are out and about she has watched the members of the Dauntless faction running through the streets, laughing, looking far more free than she is.  Dauntless is the quasi-military faction - the one that polices their city.

Set in a post-war Chicago in which there is ample evidence of the horror of war, they are penned in the city with a huge wall.  Lake Michigan is dried to the sandy bottom.  There is little vegetation and few vehicles.  For most people their only transportation is the old elevated train system.  Dauntless members wait until it has started and run after it, bravely jumping aboard and jumping off while it is in full motion.

When Beatrice is tested, she shows aptitude for Abnegation and for Dauntless - something rarely seen in this world.  Those whose test results show aptitude for more than one faction are called Divergent.  They are weeded out and studied or destroyed as too dangerous for the dystopian system.  Fortunately for Beatrice the person doing the testing is sympathetic and marks down Abnegation only on her test results.  She tells Beatrice not to say anything to her parents or anyone else.  She warns the frightened girl that she must not let anyone know she is divergent.

After her brother has chosen the Erudite faction (the intelligentsia) and shocked his parents, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, leaving them stunned.  They both go immediately to their new faction, the motto of the society being "faction over family."

Thus begins a new life for Beatrice, who changes her name for Dauntless to Tris.  Initiation and training is rough in this fighting faction.  No exemptions are given for females.  They live, train, and fight just like the men.  For Tris especially it is a revelation that is not always pleasant.

Her trainer is Four, with whom she ultimately develops a special relationship.

I could go on and on, but need to get back to the movie.  This is truly a filmed version of the book, no major plot differences or new characters thrown into the mix.

The film was shot in Chicago, the seedier parts, with CGI making it a partially ruined wasteland.  Beyond the wall is where the food is grown to feed the citizens.  Tended by the Amity faction, few people are allowed to leave the walls to go there.  But it can be seen beyond the walls, the only green haven in view.

It boasts a wonderful cast.  Shailene Woodley, who has been popping up in several recent movies since her wonderful work in George Clooney's film, The Descendants, plays Tris.  She is a beautiful young woman who looks much too frail to be in Dauntless.  But Tris' strength is her bravery not her physical power.

Theo James plays Four, Tris' trainer and ultimate love interest.  Four has his own secrets and is a troubled young man with quite a history.

Kate Winslett plays Jenine, the coldly arrogant villain of the piece.  It is Jenine who is responsible for ordering all Divergents to be reported and dealt with accordingly.

Jai Courtney plays Eric, the vicious leader of Dauntless, who can and does turn on his own faction members.

Tris' parents are played by Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd. 

All of the cast does a wonderful job, following the characters as written, and adding to the richness of the story.

Divergent has abundant action scenes showing life from the Dauntless point of view. 

If you don't like heights there are a couple of scenes that might get to you.  Remember Dauntless members are brave to the point of uber recklessness.  If you fail, you are not a true Dauntless member.  But there is one scene with Tris that is incredibly exhilarating and foreshadows the climax of the trilogy.  That's all I'm sayin'....

I'm afraid from watching the film that I would definitely be a divergent, most of us probably would.  I think I would be an Erudite Abnegation least in this life.

But I don't think I'd like to live in that society...there's absolutely no pop culture!  No wonder everybody's getting antsy living in those conditions...

Seriously, this is a wonderful film, full of action and strong emotions.  It is a thrill ride with mystery and secrets to be revealed later in the trilogy of films.  It is a fascinating world, but I'm so glad I don't live in it.

Check it out!

Until next time...