Sunday, June 29, 2014

Killing The Squirrel

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Book Description from Amazon
Pete Johnson is a small town boy made good in Manhattan. As a happy-go-lucky advertising copywriter, Pete thinks his life is a giddy recipe for single-guy perfection. He’s got an entertaining job, good money, buddies, booze, football on the tube, bars aplenty, women to pursue, and a hell of a town to turn upside down. Good-hearted, hardworking, hard playing, instinctive, and quick of wit, Pete is well armed to make a long, successful run at big city life. 
The unraveling enters on tip toes and Pete is well into it before he realizes that his life is moving too fast into a turn. As he scrambles to gain control, it becomes apparent that the rural upbringing that he left in the dust was never quite as gone, or as benign, as he believed it to be. It’s coming after him. 
Propped up by his buddies, distracted by buffoons at the office, prodded by a lunatic, and soothed by the prospect of real love, Pete reluctantly bumbles into a suckhole of murder, lust, deceit and tragedy that threatens to pull him under. 
I got this book for free 2 weeks ago; currently it's $5.99 on Kindle. Sometimes the best books in life are free. This novel is one of the most satisfying Amazon Kindle freebies I have read, the 7th best read out of the 75 so far.

The author finished writing the book in 2003 but it was never published until April 2014 on Kindle. The book is not available in print.

The bulk of the story is set in 1995 - 1997, when "repressed memory" cases were constantly in the news. I really like the author's writing style and his brilliance in coining phrases that put a smile on my face while reading; several made me laugh out loud. The first half is full of fun and funny stuff. The rest is heartbreaking when the mystery and his family's secrets start to unfold.

It's a bit long at 419 pages but you won't notice the length because you won't be able to put it down. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Running Man

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1987 Sci-fi thriller LOOSELY based on a 1982 story by Stephen King published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
Los Angeles in the year 2017 has become a police state in the wake of the global economy's total collapse. The Running Man is the top-rated TV show, where condemned criminals are given a chance for freedom by running through a gauntlet of heavily armed killers known as "Stalkers". Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, an ex-cop wrongly convicted of the massacre of unarmed civilians. He's joined in the deadly game by fellow prisoners Yaphet Kotto and Maria Conchita Alonso as they try to survive Stalkers Subzero (Toru Tanaka), Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). The all-star cast includes rockers Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa as revolutionaries, and Richard Dawson of The Family Feud as the show's smarmy host. Directed by TV's Starsky, Paul Michael Glaser.
Before THE HUNGER GAMES and BATTLE ROYALE, there was THE RUNNING MAN. I like all three but specially THE RUNNING MAN; whether you prefer cheesecake or beefcake, no problemo, because you'll get both in this movie. And lots of laugh. And gore. And Arnold's thick accent and arms. And the dancers. And Dweezil Zappa.

The Running Man Is Way Better, And Worse, Than You RememberThe Running Man Is Way Better, And Worse, Than You Remember
 Dweezil Zappa                                   The dancers

I have several 80s movies on my Netflix and Amazon streaming lists. I just love the 80s. The music, the movies, the food, the hair, the clothes. OK, not clothes and hair. Heheh. Anyway, here's to Rewinding The 80s!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Falling Together

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Book Description from Amazon
It's been six years since Pen Calloway watched Cat and Will, her best friends from college, walk out of her life. Through the birth of her daughter, the death of her father, and the vicissitudes of single motherhood, she has never stopped missing them. When, after years of silence, Cat—the bewitching, charismatic center of their group—urgently requests that the three meet at their college reunion, Pen can't refuse. But instead of a happy reconciliation, what awaits is a collision of past and present that sends Pen and Will on a journey around the world, with Pen's five-year-old daughter and Cat's hostile husband in tow. And as Pen and Will struggle to uncover the truth about Cat, they find more than they bargained for: startling truths about who they were before and who they are now.
I liked Marisa de los Santos's previous 2 novels, LOVE WALKED IN and BELONG TO ME. Her writing style is rather flowery, or poetic to some. She is a poet after all.

The theme once again is relationships, friendship, and family. Although all 3 main characters, Pen, Will, and Cat are flawed and a tad annoying, I still liked the book. The last third is almost like a travelogue describing in detail the places they went to trying to locate the missing Cat who actually didn't want to be found. There's also a lot of Filipino food and family traditions in the last third.

The author's Amazon page has a few photos of the Philippine tourist spots mentioned in the novel and she explains why she made her characters travel to the Philippines.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mamoru Oshii's Avalon

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Product Description
From Mamoru Oshii, the acclaimed director of GHOST IN THE SHELL, AVALON is a mesmerizing sci-fi thriller with explosive action and state-of-the-art visual effects in the stunning style of THE MATRIX! In the not-so-distant future, desperate young people risk everything to play "Avalon" -- an illegal and potentially lethal virtual war game where addicted combatants earn points and wealth. For one of the game’s greatest warriors, the "noble soldier" Ash, the search for Avalon’s legendary game stage Class Real will either lead to an entirely higher level of existence -- or be a journey from which she will never return! With awe-inspiring visuals and an intriguing futuristic story, lose yourself in the excitement of this amazing cinematic adventure!
Mamoru Oshii's Avalon is one of my top favorite sci-fi movies of all time. I've seen it countless of times and have never gotten tired of it. I don't play virtual reality games nor did I know they are still popular so I was surprised to learn that early this year Facebook bought for $2 billion a virtual reality company, Oculus Rift VR. The news prompted me to watch Avalon for the umpteenth time. I still love it!

The 2001 live action anime-like virtual reality game themed movie is filmed in Polish with Polish actors and directed by Japanese Mamoru Oshii. The incomparable animation, CGI, and digital effects are done by Japanese artists. The story and visual effects are IMHO way superior to The Matrix.

The story is set in a dystopian future where young people spend their time playing virtual games both for fun and to earn money. The top players are able to cash in their accumulated points and they buy good food, books, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. Ash, the top player tries to locate a player named Bishop who topped her record just the day before. The character Bishop and the desire to find what happened to her former teammate Murphy, who became catatonic when he reached Class Real level, challenge her to learn more about the game and to eventually reach the final level, Avalon.

The English-dubbed movie is currently streaming on Netflix but I don't recommend it. The dubbing is atrocious. Although I really ship this movie, the DVD available here in the US is unsatisfactory for these reasons:
  • The original color is sepia which would have been beautiful but Miramax and the Weinstein brothers added a bright orange tint to the whole movie. This is unfortunate because the vision of Oshii and the artistry that was painstakingly done by the Japanese artists were significantly diminished.
  • Miramax and the brothers added dialog where there are none. I think this is condescending of these brothers to think that the audience will not understand the movie with long scenes sans dialog early in the movie. The ignorant brothers practically put spoilers that early. My advice is to completely ignore the subtitles on scenes without dialog to be able to peel the layers of the story as the movie progresses. You won't miss a thing by ignoring it and it will make you better appreciate the movie. I assure you.
Avalon DVD is available on Amazon

the beautiful Ash

BTW, I also love the original soundtrack and bought a copy from a Japanese online store many years ago. Sorry, I couldn't find the website anymore and it's not available on Amazon.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Foreign Language TV

I know, this blog is for fiction books and movies only but I couldn't resist. One show is good and the other is just plain ugly. 

Let's begin with the good first. 

ROOMMATE is a Korean reality show featuring actors, actresses, a model, a mixed martial arts fighter, young and one not so young idols (band members), and a comedian. They have not lived with other people before. There are 30 year old actors who still live with their parents and some who live in tiny boarding houses together with their fellow actors or band members. It's a 50, almost 2-hour, episode reality (although most likely scripted) TV, one episode shown every Sunday night and is currently on its 6th episode; 44 more to go. I've seen all 6 including the latest one which is still in its raw form, meaning there are no English subtitles yet. Oh, how I wish I understand Korean language. 

I'm not a fan of reality shows, except for Duck Dynasty which to me is LOL hilarious. I got reined in to watch ROOMMATE when I saw that 2 of my faves are in the cast, Lee DongWook, a movie and TV actor, and Park Bom of the girl band 2NE1. That's them on the rightmost.

 Lee Dong Wook, actor                          Park Bom, 2NE1

Although the show is not a hit in Korea, it is becoming a favorite if not an obsession with international viewers. The producers are encouraging the roommates to "fall in love" and the lucky couple will be awarded a trip somewhere after the show ends. Park Bom already has fans rooting for their respective teams, BoDong with Lee DongWook and BoMin with Park MinWoo. Hahaha. 

Me, I just love it specially the funny moments and showing the Koreans just like other Asians are somehow different from American or other western nationals. The very young ones are very respectful of their elders. Except for the annoying comedian, most of them are good people, so far. You can watch the episodes on Drama Fever or other streaming services. 

The Ugly.

THE LEGAL WIFE is a 98-episode Filipino TV drama about 2 female best friends and their love for one undeserving weasel. Ugh! One of the girls is married to him. Her husband and her bestie had an affair producing a bastard. It's a very tired story line but the writing and presentation could have been innovative or improved from the usual. The writers chose a very very very lazy "contrived to the max" way to show the conflict. The dialog is peppered with : "are you okay?" "okay naman ako", maybe 6 to 10 times uttered in a 25 minute episode, it drove me nuts, I fast forwarded most of the episodes; sometimes I just read the written synopsis if the episode is more of the same. I know I didn't miss much because the story goes around and around without moving on. It's ridiculously long drawn-out and utterly bad. It's a lost opportunity for Filipino TV dramas. 

I got interested to watch [from a Filipino website] because almost every day my Facebook feed is filled with posts about it, one from a very religious spinster wishing the bad girl miscarries or dies or has a serious accident and I wanted to know why. There are also numerous links of funny parodies on my Facebook feed. I got hooked in out of curiosity. It is a chore to watch, it's really ugly and I'm renaming the teleserye Gross Contrivances of the Clichéd KindThe 22 -28 minute episodes are shown 5 weeknights. This week is the final week, thank you Lord! 

The infamous confrontation scene

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Son

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Book Description
The author of the best-selling Harry Hole series now gives us an electrifying stand-alone novel set inside Oslo’s maze of especially venal, high-level corruption. Sonny Lofthus is a strangely charismatic and complacent young man. Sonny’s been in prison for a dozen years, nearly half his life. The inmates who seek out his uncanny abilities to soothe leave his cell feeling absolved. They don’t know or care that Sonny has a serious heroin habit—or where or how he gets his uninterrupted supply of the drug. Or that he’s serving time for other peoples’ crimes.            
Sonny took the first steps toward addiction when his father took his own life rather than face exposure as a corrupt cop. Now Sonny is the seemingly malleable center of a whole infrastructure of corruption: prison staff, police, lawyers, a desperate priest—all of them focused on keeping him high and in jail. And all of them under the thumb of the Twin, Oslo’s crime overlord. As long as Sonny gets his dope, he’s happy to play the criminal and the prison’s in-house savior. 
But when he learns a stunning, long-hidden secret concerning his father, he makes a brilliantly executed escape from prison—and from the person he’d let himself become—and begins hunting down those responsible for the crimes against him . . . The darkly looming question is: Who will get to him first—the criminals or the cops?

I've read all but 2 of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-lah) series and one stand-alone novel, Headhunters. I rated them 3 and 4 stars.

I first heard about this Norwegian author when I watched more than a year ago the movie Headhunters [currently streaming on Netflix] which I really liked and read the book it is based on. I so loved the book and read all Harry Hole series translated into English, 8 in all.

THE SON is the first of his books that I rated 5 stars. As the book description says, it is electrifying; it's unputdownable. Sonny, referred to frequently as "the son" is a Christ-like character - taking the punishment for other people's crimes/sins in exchange for unlimited heroin supply while in prison. He is calm, doesn't talk much, a great listener, and has a touch that "heals" someone's soul. He is such a lovable person with a zen-like coolness about him, making me want to hug him. I rooted for him in his bloody killing spree to avenge his father's death. Yeah, kill 'em all Sonny! And he did them in spectacular, meticulous manner, they're almost works of art. Although I guessed early on the "mole" he was after, it didn't diminish my enthusiasm and love for the book.

Highly recommended if you don't mind gore, blood, and violence.