Netflix Instant Satire: Fido, Team America, Galaxy Quest

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Fido (2006) / Zombie Satire

Fido Horror Comedy on Netflix

Zombies movies are overdone. Even sarcastic ones. But Fido is still worth watching. It’s set in a world that has a handle on its zombie problem. Zombies can be tamed and essentially controlled with a hi-tech collar. Zombies are kept as pets, servants, and for manual labor. Killing zombies and keeping them around trained is perfectly normal. So this isn’t so much about an unexpected zombie attack. It’s simply about life with zombies.

The main character is a young boy named Timmy who has a pet zombie named Fido. There you go. The 1950’s-esqe world grows a little tiresome but it also adds to the humor. The film is a good mix of old and original zombie concepts. Plus it’s fun to think about a functioning world with zombies. Rather than the usual dystopian tales.

For Halloween season, this is a good pick. The humor keeps it from being too scary. Yet there is enough gore to satisfy a horror fan.

Runtime: 92 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: The wit of Sean Of The Dead with more gore.


Team America: World Police (2004) / Animated Satire

Team America on Netflix

Continuing the theme is a movie whose entire premise is based on satire. Team America does little other than parody action movies and the state of politics at that time. And that’s what makes it great.

Nothing about the film is politically correct. And little is subtle. One of the more memorable scenes for me was the montage. Some of the lyrics, “If you want to go from beginner to a pro, you need a montage”. Classy.

This in-your-face humor isn’t typically my style but I actually quite enjoyed Team America.

Runtime: 97 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Over-the-top satirical take on action movies and Bush politics.


Galaxy Quest (1999) / Sci-Fi Satire

Galaxy Quest on Netflix

Galaxy Quest works off the premise of real aliens mistaking sci-fi tv actors for actual heroes in space. Sure, it’s predictable. But the great cast work well off each other. And it’s enjoyable straight through.

There’s quite a few big names here with Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sigourney Weaver. But thankfully the movie doesn’t get muddled. In the movie, they all play washed-up actors on an old sci-fi tv show (think: Star Trek). They are all tired of playing these characters but still make an appearance at a sci-fi convention. It is there they are approached by a real space team in trouble! Oh now!

Sure it’s a predictable plot but it’s a good-natured one and you will smile.

Runtime: 102 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Sci-fi actors need to save the planet, for real this time.

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Netflix Instant Picks: Dirty Dancing, Twin Peaks, Rounders

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Dirty Dancing (1987) / Romance Dance

Dirt Dancing on Netflix

When I was younger, I thought this was just a movie about dancing. The actual plot of class differences went right over my head. Although it seemed to be a common theme in the 1980’s. Movies like Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink both dealt with teenagers, hormones, and the class system in the United States. But Dirty Dancing has a twist. Literally. It has become the quintessential dance movie.

For the teen dance genre, this movie has it all. Forbidden love, social issues, an abortion, family relationships, dance montages, and a coming of age story at the center of it all.

The cast is perfect. It’s unfortunate Jennifer Grey didn’t make it farther than she did. But this was certainly Patrick Swayze’s break-through film. Although the plot gets a bit convoluted it pulls through. And that’s why this movie is a classic.

Runtime: 105 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: The classic teen dance romance


Twin Peaks (1990) / TV Mystery

Twin Peaks on Netflix

The television series Twin Peaks didn’t grab my attention until college. And even then it was just a show I had vaguely heard about. Curious, I rented the first season from my local video store and marathoned it over a weekend. At the time, Season 2 wasn’t available. Thankfully it is now.

It’s not a surprise that a David Lynch created tv series would become a cult classic. This show is everything you’d expect it to be. Creepy, mysterious, witty, and confusing. All in good ways of course.

Twin Peaks has definitely become something bigger than the show. There are numerous related events in NYC. From bingo to live performances of bands playing the soundtrack. But now the show that started everything is can be easily streamed. Even if it doesn’t exactly meet your interests, I recommend watching a few episodes just to experience what is definitely a cult classic.

Runtime: 2 Seasons
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: An FBI agent investigates the death of Laura Palmer in a small town.


Rounders (1998) / Gambling Drama

Rounders on Netflix

It should be noted that I am a big fan of Edward Norton. So I am definitely biased when it comes to his movies.

In Rounders, good ole Matt Damon pairs up with gambling-addict Norton. The basic plot is these two need to come up with $15K in less than a week. That may sound overdone. But the two actors work well off of each other. And no scene is unnecessarily dramatic. Norton plays the troublemaker while Damon is a law student with a soft spot.

It can be predictable in parts but I do recommend riding it out. If you’re into gambling movies that don’t take place in Vegas, this is the one for you.

Runtime: 120 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Two card sharks need to get five thousand dollars in five days.
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Books Recap: Graphic Memoirs + Sci-Fi + Comics + Sports

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Graphic Memoirs: Stitches, Marbles

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Stitches told the story of Small growing up with his family. There was not much love or communication in their household growing up. The title comes from a surgery he undergoes as a child. The art was done well and fitting to the story. It is not a story I would have wanted to read without the illustrations. As a reader, the story itself didn’t quite keep my attention. There seemed to be a lot of emotions left out. Small tells the story of what happens to him. But doesn’t show us how he felt about everything that happened. It seemed flat.

On the other hand, Marbles was fantastic! The full title is Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. Forney goes into a lot of detail about her experience dealing with Bipolar Disorder. The book actually begins with her going to a therapist and being diagnosed. She then tells and shows the reader exactly how severe her mood swings were. The story follows her three-year journey of finding the correct combination of medications to control her moods.

Although I have never experienced mania, I am familiar with depression. Forney’s illustrations and words were some of the most accurate descriptions I’ve encountered of what depression feels like. Outside of that, she also ventures to explain the association with artists and psychological disorders. This reference section is extremely intriguing. She’s also not afraid to admit her fear of losing creativity in the process of managing her moods. The story is well-written, emotional, and informative. I definitely recommend.

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 2/5
Summary: David tells you the incomprehensible experiences of his childhood but show any feeling.

Title: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
Author: Ellen Forney
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: 5/5
Summary: Ellen details her battle with Bipolar Disorder and the related fears she has as an artist.

Sci-Fi / Fantasy: Jumper, Bad Monkeys, Jennifer Morgue

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

Jumper by Steven Gould is a fantastic take on classic sci-fi teleportation. What keeps it interesting is that the main character is an 18-year old kid. Although his actions grew annoying to me after a while. That was only because they were realistic actions of an 18-year old. What would you do if you could teleport anywhere in the world, where you’ve already been? You can’t jump through time. But you still have a lot of freedom. Would you rob a bank? Would 18-year old you consider robbing a bank? I thought so. The story turns into a meddling revenge plot at the end. But, of course, these are still the realistic actions of an 18-year old. So I can’t fault Gould too much. The writing style holds solid through the entire book. And you do find yourself sympathizing with the main character throughout all of it. I recommend this as a really fun read that is more adventure than sci-fi.

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff is one of those “where is this going” type of sci-fi stories. The plot involves a secret organization actively practicing vigilante justice. There may or may not be a conspiracy against the main character. The story is told in a way that you’re not supposed to know who is on what side. But the open-ended ending is still fulfilling. And the entire story is enjoyable.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross is part of the series The Laundry Files. I have not read any other books in the series. But I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Think of this story as James Bond in a fantasy world. Actual, fantasy. Demons and the like. But there is a strong mix of both. You can read one without liking the other. Especially since it’s a bit of a satire of the spy genre. It was a little more fantasy than my liking but I still really enjoyed the story and it’s characters.

Title: Jumper
Author: Steven Gould
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
Rating: 4/5
Summary: An 18-year old guy discovers he can teleport around the world and behaves as an 18-year old guy would.

Title: Bad Monkeys
Author: Matt Ruff
Genre: Adventure/Conspiracy
Rating: 3/5
Summary: A conspiracy story that we never learn who is in on it but it’s a fun ride anyway.

Title: Jennifer Morgue
Author: Charles Stross
Genre: Fantasy/Spy
Rating: 4/5
Summary: James Bond pairs up with a demon to save the world.

Comics: Saga, Locke & Key

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

Saga written by Brian K Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples didn’t hook me right away. But mid-way through the second volume, it did. The story line, plot, and interesting cast of characters all make this a must-read. And that’s without even mentioning the incredible art! The story line revolves around saving a child who was born from parents of warring races. And it’s told from the child’s point of view. That changes things up. I definitely recommend reading this if you’re into space opera type stuff. Or beautiful/gruesome illustrations.

Locke & Key written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez is very heavy. Honestly, at the end of the first one I wasn’t sure if I should continue. But then lots of people encouraged that I finish the series. Stating that it was clearly worth it. So I will. I currently have the rest of the volumes reserved at the library. The first volume seemed like it was setting up the story. The narration change was interesting. I wasn’t expecting to hear the same story from different sides. But it was helpful as a reader to get a full understanding of each character. The story is very dark. The art is very dark. But also beautiful. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Title: Saga
Author: Brian K Vaugh; Fiona Staples
Genre: Space Opera Comic
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Everyone is trying to kill the child born from two warring races

Title: Locke & Key
Author: Joe Hill; Gabriel Rodriguez
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A family torn apart by a death… After the first volume, I’m actually not sure where the story is going.

Quick Reads: A Season of Saturdays, Famous Baby

A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games by Michael Weinreb is a fantastic, brief, account of College Football. I like that the book is organized to take you through the sport via 14 big games. Other events are talked about in each chapter, but within the context of that particular game. It surprisingly works well. Of course, the book begins with the first American football game, ever, Rutgers V. Princeton. The author is originally a Penn State fan, so there are biases toward the team and the B1G. No complaints from me. It is easy reading even if you don’t know everything about the sport. The history of the universities and corruption within is also very interesting. It’s light reading and not too long, I’d recommend for any level of college football fan.

Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo has a really fun premise but convoluted plot lines drag everything down. The main plot involves a mommy blogger, whose “baby” is now 18-years old and is leaving the house. Looking for more blog fodder, the mother then talks her dying mother into moving into the web-cam-fitted house. But the daughter takes things into her hands and kidnaps Grandma. I wish I could say hilarity ensues, but it doesn’t. This book is very easy reading; I finished it in three hours. But it’s confusing because it reads as a sequel. The author tells how the daughter’s childhood was affected by her mother’s blog. But the reader is never shown those tales. It comes off clumsy and there wasn’t much of a pay-off in the end.

Title: A Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games
Author: Michael Weinreb
Genre: Non-Fiction/Sports
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Discusses the history of college football (universities, coaches, teams) within the context of 14 key games.

Title: Famous Baby
Author: Karen Rizzo
Genre: “Summer Reads”
Rating: 1/5
Summary: A mommy blogger tries to exploit her mother after exploiting her daughter. Lots of tell, no show.
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Netflix Instant Picks: Jesus Camp + Baron Munchausen

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Jesus Camp (2006) / Documentary

Netflix Instant Picks Jesus Camp Documentary

This documentary follows pastor Becky Fisher, the founder of Kids on Fire Bible camp in North Dakota. The film does not have an in-your-face agenda. But doesn’t portray the experience very positively either. It stands out that these children are being indoctrinated to follow the religion. They are being told how to think about the world; instead of learning for themselves.

The film looked a lot at the political leanings of this Christian group. It was filmmed during a time when George Bush was in office. And most of the film is surrounded by the news of picking a new Supreme Court judge. The children are told that Bush is saving this country. And that they, too, can save this country if they convert enough people. Not that they should attend college and go into politics. But simply by praying.

However, with the film not having a blatant agenda, it also felt pretty dry & boring. I learned that, according to the film, 75% of home schooled children are Evangelical Christians. And also, according to the film, there are Christian tourists that visit mega-churches in places like Colorado City. Interesting but not life-changing.

Runtime: 84 min
Leslie Rating: 2/5
Summary: Dry documentary that films the happenings of an Evangelical summer camp.


Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) / Family

Netflix Instant Picks Honey I Shrunk the Kids

This Disney classic features the wacky inventor dad who accidentally shrinks his kids. The plot is right there in the title. But as a kid, the idea of being shrunk seemed so… neat. Using a Cheerio as a life preserver. Sliding down blades of grass. This family adventure movie is a whole lot of fun. Sure, you know what is going to happen when, but as far as Disney live-action goes, this really is a classic one that holds up well.

Starring: Rick Moranis
Runtime: 93 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: The kids get shrunken down to microscopic levels and the parents have to save them


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) / Fantasy Adventure

Netflix Instant Picks Baron Munchausen

Director Terry Gilliam puts this film together like no one else could. The surreal and beautiful world includes adventures in a hot air balloon to the moon and being swallowed by a giant sea monster. Are these stories true? Of course they are. Baron Munchausen swears by it.

Every character is witty & charming. All the sets are quirky. This is a bit of an “out there” movie as any good fantasy adventure should be. Like most of Gilliam’s works, you either really like it, or you don’t.

Starring: John Neville, Robin Williams
Runtime: 127 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Terry Gilliam brings Munchausen’s tall-tales to life in this well-done fairy tale.
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Netflix Instant Picks: My Girl (1 & 2) + Hitch

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My Girl (1991) / Coming of Age

Netflix Instant Picks My Girl

Coming off the success of Home Alone, Macaulay Culkin is just one of the stars in this coming of age story about two 11-year olds over the course of a summer. Of course it’s Anna Chlumsky who steals the show. Chlumsky, as Vada Sultenfuss, grows up in a funeral home run by her father (Aykroyd). Her senile grandmother also lives with them. Her mother passed away during Vada’s birth. And her father has just starting to kinda-date a new woman (Curtis). That’s the set-up for what turns into a very well-done emotional tale. I really wish more movies took the risk this one did.

Vada and Thomas J (Culkin) are best friends and outcasts. Both are teased by some of the other kids. But they have a sweet & strong friendship. There are hijinks and some predictability. But not a ton. There are some scenes for a writing class Vada takes. Later on this serves to help show her emotional growth. It works really well.

The ending… well, I can’t spoil it. I distinctly remember thinking “that can’t be it? that can’t be happening?” Which is exactly what Vada was thinking. And really helped you feel connected. This was also pretty traumatizing for me as a child watching this movie. And for that reason I think all children should watch this movie. And adults. Pretty much everyone.

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Anna Chlumsky
Runtime: 102 min
Leslie Rating: 5/5
Summary: Coming of age story about a girl, her best friend, and one summer. You will cry.


My Girl 2 (1994) / Coming of Age Sequel

Netflix Instant Picks My Girl 2

Pumping this out in a record three years after the original, this sequel definitely doesn’t hold up to the first one. But it doesn’t completely fall flat either. Unfortunately, it just follows the traditional plot of a coming of age story. Your emotions aren’t jerked around. You might smirk a few times at something feel-good. But you never feel quite as connected to the main character as before.

This time around, Vada takes a trip to California to stay with a relative. At the same time, she turns into a Nancy Drew to try to track down information about her mother (who died at Vada’s birth). Of course she has another boy-friend to pal around with. The story is fine. But it’s predictable and loses the ‘magic’ the first one had. Not the worst follow-up, but not a must-see by any means.

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Anna Chlumsky
Runtime: 98 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Predictable sequel to a classic coming of age story


Hitch (2005) / Romantic Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Hitch

Generally, I don’t enjoy romcoms. So for me to think one was okay, is a pretty high regard. Hitch was a standable romcom as they go. Will Smith plays a dating coach who is very good at what he does. So good, a journalist starts investigating him under the assumption it’s a scam. You’ll never guess what happens between the dating coach and the journalist…

Sure, it’s predictable. But a fun predictable. The story is still interesting and good natured. Nothing is over the top. Smith performs well for the role.

Starring: Will Smith
Runtime: 118 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A dating coach is being investigated by a reporter and they, of course, fall in love.
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July Books To Read: The Dresden Files, Bill Bryson, A City of Thieves

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The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files: Storm Front & Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Many friends recommended this series so I finally decided to check it out. It sounds like it fits my interests. The main character is a wizard named Harry Dresden. I guess Harry is a popular wizard name. But Dresden is different, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Essentially book 1, Storm Front runs like a P.I. novel. Dresden runs a private investigation service but also works with the police department at times. Since he is involved in wizardry, the department are skeptical of him. Even to the point of basically accusing him of the plot-point murder. Everyone is against him. Everyone thinks he did it. As an introduction to a character, it’s a weird one. So he spends the whole time trying to prove his innocence. It’s weird.

As a character, Dresden is a mess. Your stereotypical bachelor. He is a super powerful wizard! But can’t take care of himself. He can’t clean, pay his bills on time, or even eat & sleep without someone reminding him to do it. He just keeps falling apart.

This wouldn’t be annoying except this caricature behavior didn’t change in the slightest from Book 1 to Book 4, Summer Knight. After not liking the first book, I was told to jump straight to book four. The first three weren’t edited very well and the later books pull together the bigger plot. I was told that would make it more interesting.

Four books later and Dresden is still sitting in his dark apartment because he forgot to pay his electric bill. Sometimes he cares about money, but sometimes he doesn’t. His personal behavior is inconsistent and frustrating. I get it. He’s so smart and powerful yet he can’t pay his bills. I just don’t like that it is such a defining characteristic of him. Why doesn’t he get another job? How do other wizards make money? I want to see Harry Dresden create a budget.

Admittedly, Summer Knight wasn’t nearly as predictable as Storm Front. I was able to see that there is an over-arching plot. Unfortunately, I just don’t care about it. I can see the appeal here, but overall it’s just not my type of story. I did enjoy in this one that he was able to bring an outsider into the wizard world. And this book seemed to be less The World V. Harry Dresden. That made it easier to read.

I do not plan to read the rest of the books. I wish Butcher would write an essay about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Harry Dresden is a different kind of wizard. Kinda. Not really.

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

It’s unfortunate I have to say this, but this book has completely turned me off from Bryson’s writing. I have no further interest to read anything he writes. Being young isn’t an excuse to be a fat-shaming, arrogant, pretentious, racist asshole. His humor in this is so over the top, at first I thought it was a satire. But nope, it’s just an American calling all other Americans dumb.

According to Bill Bryson, all tourists are idiots. Although he, of course, wasn’t one of those tourists. All fat people are food experts, but he wasn’t one of those greedy food grubs. All Americans are idiots but he’s not an one because he lives in Great Britain.

The hypocracy in this book is too much to count. Aside from his “I’m perfect, you’re the problem” attitude. He steps on his own toes a lot. There’s a whole paragraph dedicated to him as a kid persuading their father to visit a tourist attraction. His dad gives in then also buys them toys in the gift shop, though begrudgingly. Later Bryson dedicates a paragraph to how his father thought anyone who stopped at roadside attractions were idiots and never paid for anything because he was so cheap.

After about 30 pages, I had grown accustomed to Bryson being a curmudgeon. Then he went too far, even for me. And then this brash attitude continued the rest of the book. Here’s a direct quote from The Lost Continent:

“I share a birthday with Eisenhower myself,” the lady with the bluish hair went on, still loudly, consolidating her position in front of me with a twitch of her ample butt. “And I’ve got a cousin who shares a birthday with Harry Truman.”
I toyed for a moment with the idea of grabbing the woman by both ears and driving her forehead into my knee, but instead passed into the next room.

Here is another paragraph of Bryson at a roadside cafe in Vermont judging a husband and wife, wanting to hit their child:

Poor guy! And on top of that here he was married to a woman who was slovenly and indiscreet, and had a butt like a barn door. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.

Please tell me this is a satire.

It’s not a satire. So I bailed on the book after 200 pages. I read all of his trip through the Eastern part of the United States. I just couldn’t bare to read what he had to say about the West. Actually I started it but the first bit was just mocking Nebraska and I couldn’t take it anymore. The saddest part is his mocking is so repetitive. I mean, there’s only so many ways to make fun of hicks & southerners. Bryson exhausted them after the first few pages. The rest of the book are just the same jokes over and over.

Aside from Bryson’s horrific writing style, the book itself was laid out oddly. Comparing it to A Walk in the Woods, he never explains why he’s taking this trip. He never explains the route. He skims over a lot of his travels. He dedicates about 100 pages to the south (because there’s plenty to complain about) and barely 10 pages to all of New England.

Even his incorporation of facts, practically what he’s known for now, was scarce. Any interesting information he gave was immediately buried under him berating everyone and everything.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel Memoir
Rating: 0/5
Summary: A misanthrope travels around the US complaining about everything repeatedly.

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager. And most of the historical references are correct. The story itself is fictional. But it’s a good one.

We are immediately introduced to the two main characters: Benioff’s grandfather Lev and Kolya, as they meet in a prison. Instead of being executed, they are sent off to see a colonel. And are given the mission to find a dozen eggs in a week. This begins the story.

City of Thieves is most certainly a coming of age story. Excluding the war context, two teenage boys are given the punishment of having to scour the country-side to run an odd errand in a certain period of time. It’s been done before. And it’s predictable. However, the journey is absolutely worth it. As a reader, going along on this literal and figurative journey with Lev and Kolya really is an entertaining ride. I say that with caution because this is a war story, some parts are gruesome. Most parts are not happy. But I have read worse on the subject.

This is the first book by Benioff I’ve read and I enjoyed his writing style. It’s an easy read. And the scenes are pretty theatrical. But not overly simplified. Besides, he really seemed to put in some effort to the historical accuracy. Granted, I haven’t read many books on the Russian perspective of the war. So this was a good change for me. Most of the places he references are real. And the descriptions of hunger and loss felt very real.

There are a few things that help keep this story fresh. It is a war book but not about the front lines. It is about the people who were left behind. Boys too young to go out to the war. Doctors without supplies. Women conflicted between loyalty and survival. Also, it is based on true events. Sure there are exaggerations and dramatizations. But some parts of it are real, and that alone is pretty amazing.

I should also point out that I’m a sucker for coming of age tales, so this story was definitely right up my alley.

Author: David Benioff
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A teenager’s life during the Siege of Leningrad.
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Netflix Instant Picks: Wayne’s World, What About Bob?, Short Circuit 2

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Wayne’s World (1992) / Schtick Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks wayne's world

Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!

Oh Mike Meyers. Pre-Austin Powers Mike Meyers. SNL Mike Meyers. This movie has it everything you could want a SNL spin-off movie. The iconic Bohemian Rhapsody scene. Lots of buzzwords (schwing!). A goofy plot. Breaking the fourth wall. So much stuff and it all works.

No one in this movie takes themselves seriously, which is why it works so darn well.

Starring: Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey
Runtime: 94 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: SNL spin-off that knows exactly what it is


What About Bob? (1992) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks what about bob

This 90’s movie pairs Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss as a perfect team. Dreyfuss plays the stuffy psychotherapist, Murray (Bob) the obsessive-compulsive patient. Bob does not take it very well when he learns his therapist will be gone on vacation with his family for a month. He shows up at his doctor’s vacation home… and hilarity ensues.

In predictable nature, Dreyfuss warms up to Murray by the end of the movie. But it still plays out well and has solid good banter.

Starring: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss
Runtime: 99 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: A patient follows his therapist on vacation


Short Circuit 2 (1988) / Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Short Circuit 2

There are few classic 80’s movies + sequels better than the Short Circuit series. Thankfully they only made two of them but both are definitely worth watching. Enjoy being uncomfortable while Fisher Stevens plays a stereotypically exaggerated Indian immigrant… The 80’s, right?

In the first movie, we learn that Johnny 5 was a trained killing machine for the military. After some plot device happened, he becomes alive! And is just a nice friendly robot that everyone is trying to steal or destroy. The second movie is basically the same plot.

I’m not quite sure how well the movie holds up as actual entertainment. I’d say it’s more of a good/bad movie. But a classic nonetheless.

Starring: Fisher Stevens
Runtime: 111 min
Leslie Rating: 3/5
Summary: Robot, Johnny 5, has to survive being almost sold, getting involved in a street gang, and being kidnapped.
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June Books To Read: The Martian, Spousnomics, Tell-Tale Brain

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I’ve started writing individual thoughts for books to read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

This novel has quite a few things going on. The plot is that of an adventure sci-fi story. A mission goes awry and a NASA crew leaves behind one of their astronauts on Mars. He is stranded on the red planet and needs to figure out how to survive/escape. Fortunately for him, he is an engineer & a botanist. Unfortunately for us, the writing comes off as a DIY blog written by an engineer who just happens to be living on Mars.

It is an exciting story. There are explosions. And near-death situations. Space is scary (although the main character never seems to be scared). This isn’t a story about aliens or monsters. But, a la Gravity, is about being alone in space. The absolute only person that is on a planet. It is crazy to think about. That’s probably why the main character rarely thinks about it. He also rarely expresses any emotion that isn’t the excitement of a 15-year old girl or sarcasm.

The problem is the narrative. The novel’s first sixty pages or so are told in a diary format. This is the astronaut’s log. So we get to learn about everything after he’s already done it. Brilliant strategy for a first-time author. This means all Weir had to do was tell the reader what happened. Instead of showing what happened, like good writers are supposed to do. (Here is an example)

The reader never feels suspense if one of his macguyver-esque schemes was going to work or not, because the beginning of every diary entry gives it away. “I didn’t blow up! Now let me tell you what I did.” This is easy writing but not very interesting as a reader. To make matters worse, Weir changes the narrative numerous times. Abruptly, the story switches to the third-person at NASA headquarters. I’m guessing the author didn’t think the whole “diary” narrative through but didn’t want to go back and change everything. It switches between the astronaut first-person and the NASA third-person a lot, especially towards the end. Then, for no real reason, there are a few paragraphs that are about the astronaut but in the third person. It was very odd to read.

Again, the plot is great and creative. They are going to make this a movie and I can definitely see why. I actually think I would love the movie. See, a big part of the book is the Macguyver-esque solutions the main character comes up with to survive. It is believable since he is an engineer-botanist. And if you too are an engineer-botanist, you would love this book. But I’m not. So, I don’t need a technical manual to growing potatoes or creating water. It is neat and interesting. But half of the book is basically non-fiction. It’s not suspenseful or even interesting. It’s also easy writing because it makes for lots and lots of filler.

But still the plot is so good! Which doesn’t make up for the fact that the main character has zero depth to him. It’s amazing because the reader is with this stranded astronaut on Mars for over a year. A year! Yet, he never talks about holidays in an emotional context. Thanksgiving is mentioned because he finds potatoes to eats. He doesn’t actually talk about feeling lonely on Thanksgiving.

There is no mention of his birthday. No talk about missing his friends or family. Everything is a joke to him. I don’t even know if he was single or married. He joked about wanting to get laid. But never discussed wanting human contact. Never mentioned being sad in an emotional way. There were statements, “It’s very lonely here.” But again, this is the author simply telling us the character is lonely. We never see him sulking around the ship. Or reminiscing while looking out the window.

I wanted the main character to survive because he’s a human being but there was definitely no emotional connection there. I will bring up Gravity again because I felt the emotional aspect there was a bit forced. But after reading this, I realize that a survival story needs that to work.

Fortunately, I’m certain Hollywood will trim down some of the technical engineering stuff & throw in a love interest somewhere.

Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Sci Fi
Rating: 2/5
Summary: An engineer astronaut is lost on Mars and Macguyver’s his way to survive.

They Called Me God by Doug Harvey

Doug Harvey is one of three umpires in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I did not know that until I read They Called Me God. I’m a sucker for memoirs and this was no exception. It was definitely geared more towards a baseball fan, as there were some aspects of the game I wasn’t really sure about. But it’s more so about his life and early baseball. That is definitely fascinating.

The writing was a bit simplistic and repetitive but I get it. The guy’s an umpire not a writer. His personality does come through in the writing. He seemed like a very loyal/fair person. Sometimes to an extreme but he never apologizes.

There were lots of aspects of the profession that were interesting to learn about. And he definitely has an unique story to share. Even if you’re not a baseball person, I still recommend this.

Author: Doug Harvey & Peter Golenbock
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Memoir of one of baseball’s greatest umpires.

Spousonomics

After I finished Spousonomics, I learned they reprinted it with a different title, It’s Not You, It’s The Dishes. Dumb name. I doubt I would have read it with that on the cover. Thankfully I didn’t see that one because I really did enjoy this book.

It is sort of marriage self-help but the economics angle really changes things up. I’m not anywhere near married right now and still found the book helpful. You can think of most of the situations in relation to standard human interaction. Many of these things come up in every day life all the time. Loss-aversion. The hot-cold empathy gap. It doesn’t just have to be for economists. It’s an interesting different way of thinking about relationships.

Honestly, I’m giving the book a good rating mainly because it taught me the term “limerence”. Which is essentially that “crazy in love” feeling. Or “butterflies.” Or that “magical first kiss.” I never knew it had an actual name!

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, Spousonomics is a light-read interesting book bringing economics into real-life situations.

Author: Paula Szuchman & Jenny Anderson
Genre: Non-Fiction / Relationships / Economics
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Interesting take on personal interactions with an economics angle.

Tell-Tale Brain

I am such a sucker for these neuropsychology books. I’ve read several now. One of them actually cited Tell-Tale Brain so I was looking forward to reading it. It got a little bit heavy toward the end. But over-all is quite readable for someone with zero neurology background.

There were so many fascinating topics discussed! The book starts out talking about Phantom Limb Syndrome. This is when an amputee can still feel their amputated limb. Sometimes it itches or it is in pain. They don’t visually see an arm where there is not one. But they do truly feel it. Parts of the brain truly think the limb is still there. The author was one of the first to discover a therapy to help with this.

He discovered that you could place a mirror next to a patient so it would reflect the real arm. This way it visually looks like there are two arms. Surprisingly, this actually tricks the brain! Many patients, especially over time, said that when seeing the other arm in the mirror, the pain in the “limb” would ease. Or disappear completely. Incredible! Our brains are weird!

One of the other super interesting conditions mentioned is Blindsight. Now, I had heard of this before. But hadn’t actually realized how it worked. The author describes a situation where he is sitting with a patient who is completely blind. He shines a small light and asks the blind patient to point to where the light is. Even though the patient cannot visually see the light, they correctly identify the position of the light most of the time. Far more times than to be considered “a lucky guess.”

This is explained in the book; I’ll paraphrase a bit. When viewing something, that information goes on a journey through our brains to our eyes where the image is actually shown to us. Of course this happens so fast we don’t even know it. When blind, part of this journey is no longer working, but some of it is. The brain can still see and process the information. It’s just that it cannot pass that information along to the eyes.

There are many other weird/interesting stories about the weird/interesting things our brains do. I really enjoy this topic and recommend the book if you do too.

Author: V. S. Ramachandran
Genre: Non-Fiction / Neuro-psychology
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Interesting studies of how weird our brain really is
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Netflix Instant Picks: The Avengers, Dredd, Goon

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The Avengers (2012) / Comic Adventure

Netflix Instant Picks The Avengers

Over the weekend, I watched the second Captain America movie in theaters. Having never seen the first one, I surprisingly enjoyed it. I’m pretty new to the marvel universe. While I like graphic novels and comics, I’m still not really into DC or Marvel’s superhero universe.

When watching any of these movies, I have nothing to compare to them to, which means I typically enjoy them for the fun action adventure movies they are. Since I really enjoyed the Captain America story, I thought it would be make sense to follow that up with The Avengers.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best idea. Scarlett Johnasson is amazing as Black Widow. She’s truly the only character I liked. I still can’t get over Robin (as in How I Met Your Mother character) being cast in a movie like this. I know she has little screen time but I just really can’t take her seriously.

For whatever reason, this combination of characters just didn’t work for me. I turned the movie off about an hour into it. There is a huge fight between Iron Man and Thor (even though they’re on the same side) that totally killed all interest for me. I also didn’t like Loki being the villain.

My personal preferences aside, if you want a superhero action movie this is definitely a good pick. You’ll get Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
Runtime: 143 min
Leslie Rating: 2/5
Summary: Marvel action flick with a decent superhero round up


Dredd (2012) / Action Future

Netflix Instant Picks Dredd

Want to watch a totally dumb action explosion shooting movie? Here it is! This movie has it all. A by-the-book invincible police officer (called judges in this world). A rookie officer being trained. The projects. A futuristic world. Mass murder. Machine guns. And a happy ending. There’s not even a love story to interfere with the explosions.

This movie remake knows exactly what it is and it does it well. There is little plot. Lots of violence. And it ends right when it should.

Starring: Karl Urban
Runtime: 95 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Futuristic world where cops are ‘judges’ (judge, jury, & executioner) and they take their jobs very seriously


Goon (2011) / Sports Comedy

Netflix Instant Picks Goon

Watching Goon is a perfect way to celebrate the NHL play-offs. Sean William Scott plays his role as a bruiser hockey player perfectly. He wasn’t picked by the team for his game skills, he was picked specifically to fight.

There is enough of a plot to keep the story going along. He is paired up with a roommate who needs some inspiration to get back into the swing of the game. There is also a bit of a love interest. Plus just the right amount of comedy without it becoming too ‘low hanging fruit’ humor. (Even though there are plenty of 69 jokes, the number of his jersey).

Warning: The end scene involves a broken ankle and can be a bit cringe-worthy. So be prepared if you get grossed out by things like that. Try to watch the scene if you can though, it’s a solid ending.

Fun sports movie that knows what it is and doesn’t try too hard doing it. Even if you don’t like hockey or sports, you’ll enjoy this.

Starring: Sean William Scott
Runtime: 91 min
Leslie Rating: 4/5
Summary: Light-hearted sports comedy about a hockey player picked solely for his fighting skills.
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April Books To Read Recap: The Scar Boys, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, Kurt Vonnegut

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I’ve started writing individual thoughts for books to read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World: A Novel by Rachel Cantor

This is Cantor’s first novel. There is some serious potential here and I hope she continues writing. I am looking forward to what she comes up with next. With that said, there is definite room for improvement with story development.

The writing style and pacing is fantastic! But the plot device and elements were rather weak for me. Part of this is personal preference that I just can’t get into Jewish mysticism stories. Remember how much I disliked Yiddish Police Men’s Union?

At it’s heart, this is a fun, wacky time travel book. The main characters are kids but it’s not kid oriented. Cantor creates a world that could be very interesting but doesn’t develop it enough to really pull us in. I would have loved to know the actual reasons for the different factions and all the fighting. I kept waiting for an explanation but it never came.

The story also did this strange thing where it solved a problem that never existed. As is possible with time travel books but it was strange to put in. One of the characters “saved the world” before we saw that it ever needed saving.

I do recommend this book as a light, fun read. But mainly suggest you keep an eye out for Rachel Cantor in the future.

Author: Rachel Cantor
Genre: Time Travel/Sci Fi
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Strong writing, great style, undeveloped plot & world.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

As an enjoyer of Vonnegut’s novels, I was looking forward to finally reading this one. His satire, as always, is on point. I loved how it was written in a “Welcome to the Western World” handbook style. However, towards the end of the book this grew tiresome. The illustrations also started out hilarious then just grew overboard. Yes, I understand that’s the point and Vonnegut does it well.

The humor never stops but I did find myself getting bored of the whole thing about three-quarters way through. The plot was too open, the characters too wacky, the satire too strong. Maybe this just wasn’t quite the Vonnegut book for me.

I did love that the plot revolves around a writer going to a festival. His works were mainly published in dirty magazines as filler. The descriptions of his stories were wonderful. I liked what should have been the plot. But then things unraveled pretty quickly toward the end and I just couldn’t keep up. So it goes.

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Fiction; Satire
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Typical Vonnegut.

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

Also reviewed in my Weekly Updates.

Trust me, don’t let the words “coming of age” or “young adult” scare you. I loved this book. I read it in a day.

The beginning involves the main character being tied to a tree (kids!) then struck by lightning and practically burned to death. We get an insight into how difficult his life was afterwards, as he was literally scarred from the incident.

Then he makes a friend and they create “the greatest punk rock band you’ve never heard of”. This part of the story is predictable. The bassist is a girl, someone in the band sleeps with her (this isn’t a spoiler). There is some tension. Friendships end. Friendships rekindle. It’s typical and original all at the same time.

It’s setting was interesting for me, Westchester; suburbs of NYC. Since it is set in the 1970’s/1980’s time period, there were fun descriptions of the NYC punk scene during that time. The band, of course, goes to CBGB’s. They get their van illegally inspected in the Bronx. That stuff was fun for me.

The ending isn’t completely predictable but things do come full circle. Everyone grows but without a sappy, sentimental ending. It doesn’t quite end happy, but it ends as it should.

Author: Len Vlahos
Genre: Coming of age; Young Adult
Rating: 4/5
Summary: Lively coming of age story about high schooler’s who form a punk band. Oh yeah, the main character was struck by lightning and almost burned alive.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is not a book I would typically read. But one of my favorite friends said it described motherhood very well, so I was curious. I actually enjoyed the depictions of a SAHM of two. It was subtle but weaved into the story well. As someone childless myself, I haven’t thought about how shopping for clothes would be different with a child with you.

Unfortunately, some of this made the main character come off as stuck up. Pretentious. Condescending. A downright bitch. Reading Sisterland reminded me a lot of reading Big Brother by Lionel Shriver . Both novels revolve around sibling tension. Both main characters have a sibling who is doing nothing with their life, though has lots of potential. This sibling is childless, single, selfish; essentially a train wreck. Oh, and of course both siblings are fat. Because, you know, if you’re fat then you definitely can’t have anything skinny people can have.

To be fair, the end of Sisterland puts a sort of balance to the fat shaming. But it wasn’t enough for me.

The plot device is the psychic powers the sisters have and their prediction of a major earthquake. It at least kept me interested in the story. However, it really is only a device because the story is essentially about the lives of these two sisters. The main character is just a terrible person all the way through. I mean, she’s supposed to be, but it made it a bit of a drab read.

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Fiction; Family
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Good writing, interesting ESP plot, weak characters

DNF’s

I started but did not finish Art of Happiness by Dalai Llama & Howard C. Cutler and Double Feature by Owen King. As I previously mentioned, these two just weren’t worth the time.

Art of Happiness is more of a memoir from an American psychiatrist. It’s mostly about his therapy, his life stories, and some case studies. With bits and pieces of his discussions with the Dalai Lama thrown in there for good measure.

My only caveat with Double Feature was it’s formatting. Also, I’m not a filmmaker. Much how Cormac McCarthy’s lack of quotation marks defines his style. Owen King’s style is defined by the lack of paragraph breaks; especially after dialogue. Maybe okay in theory, but in practice this creates large walls of text on every page. I just couldn’t do it.

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