The Water Diviner

water_diviner_ Connor: Are there any more records about my son?
Jemal: We are Ottomans, not Germans.

An Australian man loses all three of his sons and his wife due to World War I. Russell Crowe stars in and directs this tale of love and loss in Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli. Like most products of an American Education, I couldn’t find Gallipoli on a map and I had no idea there was a big battle there in WWI. Of course, the Turks feel about the British much as the Arabs feel about Americans today-why the hell are you here if you’re not even interested in taking over?

Modern parallels aside, the story is a pretty gripping one. Our hero leaves his home in the middle of nowhere and travels for three months to get to another middle of nowhere. But the architecture is nicer in Istanbul than in the Outback. Russell wanders around, makes friends with the Enemy, falls for a local widow, and finds the bones of his sons. We see the horrible conditions of the battle and the brutality of their deaths in flashbacks that our semi-clairvoyant father shares.

The bad guys are British Army Officers who are sticklers for the rules and fez wearing Turks who want the world to go back to the way it was before the War. Russell meets with opposition, but keeps going forward anyway.

The Water Divener is a good looking film with a lot of great costumes and a lot of great shots of vast open spaces and crowded city streets. There was a pretty poorly done CGI sandstorm, but otherwise the film was free of bad special effects. The actors were all good and the ending was very satisfying. I liked this film a lot.

Russell Crowe is a little older and a little softer around the middle these days, but he’s still Russell Crowe and still worth watching on screen.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window

Spoilers and such.

Basically, this is a book you should read without knowing anything more than the title.

the_100-year-old_man_who_climbed_out_the_window_and_disappeared-jonasson_jonas-18508247-frntl

 

 

The story of a Swedish Forest Gump and how his miraculous luck leads him from one history changing moment to another. The story is broken into two narratives, one that follows the hundred year old Allan Karlsson as he randomly stumbles through a number of adventures dealing with drug dealers and thugs of one sort or another and the other following around a much younger Allan Karlsson as he alters the course of human history.

Along the way he meets gangsters, world leaders, Einstein’s idiot son, a Beauty, an Elephant, and a Police Detective. There are a lot of funny moments. A lot of WTF moments. And a lot of moments that stretch the willing suspension of disbelief. But then, I never needed to believe that Forest really became a millionaire selling shrimp. It is a nice string of coincidences that finds our hero in his happily ever after.

Easily the most unusual aspect of the book is that it’s set in Sweden, features a Swedish hero, and is filled to the gills with absolutely incomprehensible Swedish place names. I listened to the audiobook and to me it sounded like The Swedish Chef from The Muppets whenever a town or proper name was mentioned. This didn’t stop from enjoying the book, just reminded me how little I know about the rest of the world. Alan does travel a good deal and ends up in all kinds of places, but his home is Sweden and it is to Sweden he often returns.

Alan has two superpowers, his amazing luck and his ability to inspire people to underestimate him, and often completely ignore him. This comes in handy when he sweeps the floor at Los Alamos and figures out how to make the Bomb work. It also allows him to make off with a large sum of money when he is a hundred years old.

The 100 Year Old Man was a fun book.

Game of Thrones Season 5

GOT_S5_-_Poster.0There is a certain morbid pleasure that comes from watching a show where you know that any of the characters could, at any moment, die a horrible death. Death is the defining aspect of Game of Thrones. Violent death, well, what other kind is there?

There is a soft kind of logic in Game of Thrones, nothing is ever what it appears to be and you really can’t trust anyone. But there are plenty of times when the show makes no damned sense at all.

There was one death scene in the first few episodes that kind of bothered me. A couple of our heroes were invading a foreign land, and someone had sold the information to their enemies. This is common enough here, it makes sense. Now what didn’t make any damned sense was how the seller of this information was treated. We first see him buried up to his neck in sand with large scorpions crawling about his face. A few minutes later, he is killed in a just for the hell of it kind of manner.

Now this is a puzzling bit of business. If they found his information not worth buying, why go to the trouble of killing him? If they found him a man without honor for selling the information, what kind of honor is there in murdering a helpless man? It was a scene filled with boring exposition, so they use his imminent death to keep our interest. But it was just annoying. His torture and death was purely there so the bad guys could tell us what they were planning on doing. Maybe I’ve been watching too many Everything Wrong Withs, but this is definitely a Sin.

I’m afraid I have also reached some kind of a tipping point. The gorefest that is Game of Thrones is getting to be a bit boring. Yes, people are still killed at every possible opportunity, and a few of them are people we have come to know and care about. But there is still way too much boring bullshit about the Queen of Dragons trying to rule some wide spot in the desert. Who cares? The only thing she has going for her is her dragons, but she seems to have forgotten that she is fire proof and now runs from her fire breathing pets in terror. Really? There is also way too much political intrigue and arranged marriages and all manner of mind numbing details. Some of this stuff would put George Lucas to sleep.

On the positive front we have things coming together. Several of the stories have been running in parallel to each other, but they might as well be taking place in separate universes. Now these far flung bits of the story are being woven together. It doesn’t take an Oracle of Delphi to predict that dragons will be doing battle with ice walkers-but when that might happen is anyone’s guess.

The truth is that it’s all a bit of a let down now. The people we really, really hated are all dead. The ones that are left are mostly shrug inducing in their actions and desires. Oh, there is still The Imp and The Girl, but they spent too little time on stage. I don’t really care much about the Night’s Watch, the New King, Stark’s other daughter, Little Finger, The Lady Knight, and all the endless bits of Court life. So much of the story is just dull. A lot of random people killing each other for random reasons doesn’t really help matters much.

Anyway. I still like Game of Thrones, I just can’t get too excited about it anymore.

T-Shirts, Yeah Why Not?

A famous novelist meets a famous surgeon.
The Surgeon says ‘Oh, you’re a writer? I’ve always thought about writing a book once I retire.’
‘Funny that.’ The Writer says. ‘I’ve always thought about doing a bit of brain surgery when I retire.’

I ran across a couple of videos on YouTube and, as so often happens, found a whole world I didn’t know existed. There are about 50,000 videos that talk about t-shirt marketing and about 2,000 that talk about Teespring. My own experience with t-shirts is limited to owning a couple of dozen and having heated debates at fan clubs about silk screen vs embroidered designs. Watching a couple of these video makes it look like all you have to do is start a campaign and wait for the money to start rolling in.  Well, maybe it isn’t quite that easy.

front (1)This is one my ultra simple designs with a sort of funny bit of writing on it. A bit of common advice in most of the vids I have seen is Don’t Outright Steal anyone else’s design, just Steal Bits of It. So that there are a few dozen variations on themes like ‘I love — and Maybe 3 People…and beer’ or ‘I —, what’s your superpower?’ I first noticed this kind of thing with knock off Christian t-shirts that said things like ‘Got Jesus?’ and Reborn with an altered Recycling logo. Just about any famous logo or trademark you can think of has been turned into some kind of Christian product. I found the idea of Christians outright stealing intellectual property a bit funny. But it seems to be one of the things that sells.

Which brings me back to my opening joke. Selling t-shirts looks easy. The basic steps sound easy enough. Find a niche to sell t-shrits to. Find a design to tweak for that niche or make up your own. Run ads on Twitter or Facebook or Google aimed at your niche and study the data to find the lowest cost ads with the highest percentage of buyers. So, pretty much like selling anything else online. Find people with a shared interest and sell to that interest.

I’m still getting my feet wet and haven’t made any sales yet. Guess I need to watch a few more videos.

Cops As Cold Blooded Killers

n_80744_4When I first heard about Rodney King, I assumed he was a lowlife that was asking for it. When I heard about Micheal Brown last year, I have to admit that I thought pretty much the same thing. Now I’m not so sure.

The last few Cop shooting to hit the news have been flat out murders. In the case of Walter Scott, a black man shot in the back eight times by a white cop, the authorities actually decided to charge the bastard with murder. They should also charge all the cops in Cleveland that treated Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams like Bonnie and Clyde with murder. Anytime a police department fires hundreds of rounds should automatically be a criminal case. Common sense would say killing unarmed people is murder. Even if the people commiting the crime happen to be law enforcement.

Back in the day, I was a rent-a-cop and you made a bit more money if you carried a gun. So I went to a three day class where they taught us the basics of carrying a gun. We were taught one thing over and over again. If you shoot someone, say you were afraid for your life. That’s the Get Out Of Jail Free card. So I have found it amusing over the past few months how many people have recited these words like a mantra after they gun someone down without just cause.

At its root, the problem of cops killing citizens goes back to how we are training people in law enforcement.

If you draw your weapon, use it.

If you shoot, shoot to kill.

If anyone asks, say you were afraid for your life.

Not all cops are killers, but all cops are trained to be killers. So maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that their first instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

Going_Clear_PosterWhen I was in High School I started a self-help phase in my reading that lasted a couple of decades. I started off with a lot of the Classics. How To Make Friends, The Power of Positive Thinking, Acres of Diamonds, and so on.

Along the way I ran across a sub branch of self help books that proclaimed they were more than just ideas, they were real. The Teachings of Don Juan, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Silva Method of Mind Control, and yes, Dianetics. Books about Rolfing, the Feldenkrais Method, and assorted people who channeled minor gods such as Ramtha and Abraham and Seth soon followed. Reading this nonsense was good enough for me. It was fun and interesting, but there was no way in hell I was going to pay someone to take me to the Next Level that could only be reached by using one of their Certified Gurus.

About the same time I was reading these books, a bunch of True Believers down in Jonestown where drinking the Koolaide. I was never a Believer and such things have always baffled me. I felt the same about people bombing subways, releasing poison gas, and flying planes into buildings. So I have no problem with Scientology claiming to be a church. All religion is a form of madness and all of them make a lot of money off their believers. Scientology’s real problem is that it was invented too recently. All the old religions are just as silly as Scientology, but they have been grandfathered in.

HBO’s Going Clear is a collection of interviews and video clips. We have shots of people telling stories about the horrors of being a Scientologist intercut with videos of Tom Cruise and John Travolta smiling and saluting photos of L Ron Hubbard. The Villains in the piece of are a lot of people I’ve never heard of who run Scientology today. Easily the most baffling aspect of Scientology is their obsession with pretending they are the Navy. There are endless shots of people dressed as Naval Officers. I guess they didn’t want to dress as knock off priests and nuns, as countless other religions do. But the whole Navy thing is completely goofy.

The funny bit was all the people who left the church and said: looking back, we were just brainwashed. Looking back??? The whole basis of Scientology is brainwashing! Which, again, is pretty much the basis of all faiths.

I read a book a couple of years ago by a comedian who made fun of religions. But he started off by saying he would not be making fun of one particular religion, since they had a tendency to issue death warrants on people who made fun of them, and he did not wish to be beheaded, blown up, or shot. While there was no mention of Scientology having death squads, they do seem to have a lot of people with way too much time on their hands who harass those who leave the church, pretty much forever.

How do they get away with it? Not too long ago a bunch of people paid money so they could die in a sweat lodge run by a self help writer. Why would anyone do that? Because they believe, of course.

I’ve read several books on Dianetics and L Ron Hubbard, so the Big Reveals in Going Clear-the earth is a trillion year old prison camp, volcanos have magic powers, we are all possessed by alien demons, etc.-were not news to me. The info shown here is nothing new to anyone who has read anything about Scientology. What is new is how much money the group now has and questions as to what they are doing with it.

Going Clear was interesting.

Finding Vivian Maier

finding vivian maier review on ifyourwriteit.com Finding Vivian Maier opens with a number of older people staring off into space. One by one they give a one word description of Vivian. Words like Private and Enigmatic finally came to most of them. Then we see this rather nerdy fellow with an unfortunate haircut and horn rim glasses. He says he was at an auction and he bought a bunch of negatives. He found that he liked what he saw in the images. He bought more negatives and then found even more in a storage unit. He found around a hundred thousand images in undeveloped film and negatives.

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary with a strong mystery undercurrent. Who was she and why did she take a gazillion photos of random strangers? John Maloof, the man who found this stuff, looks through her items and finds that she worked as a nanny. At one point she worked for Phil Donahue, who gives a short interview for the film. There is an ongoing slideshow of her images, audio from a number of cassettes where she recorded her thoughts, and occasional bits of footage from rolls of 8mm film she shot.

As the story develops, we find that Vivian was insane. We know right off that Vivian was a hoarder and soon discover that she loved pretending to be other people. It isn’t clear if she was actually a multiple personality or if she just liked make believe. Vivian liked to speak with a French accent and there are self portraits where she is dressed in much the same fashion as Julia Child from her French Chef days. She clearly had very little empathy for other people and had no problem taking photos or shooting movies of people that might not have wanted her to film them. She was obsessed with keeping her own life private and also obsessed with violating everyone else’s privacy.

What really makes the Vivian Maier story interesting is that she took all these images in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She documented the world in the way that everyone with a cell phone documents the world now. This is a window into a time and place we don’t often see. Finding Vivian Maier showcases the most interesting images. At one point they compare her work to the work of other street photographers and you can see where she was influenced and possibly outright copied the work of her contemporaries.

I’ve never been a huge fan of street photography and capturing images of random strangers was never something that I enjoyed. Vivian had no problem walking up to people and snapping the shutter. She doesn’t smile in many of her self portraits and she was not a big fan of people smiling in general. She was odd, but then, aren’t we all?

Finding Vivian Maier has a very homemade, lack of polish feel to it. Interviews and slideshows and shots of mounds of junk while John shares his thoughts about this or that.

It was a very interesting film. I liked it.

Two Stuffed Pizzas in Chicago

My favorite pizza is usually Neapolitan Style.  Very thin crust and a cracker like crispness.  But that’s not what Chicago Pizza is famous for.  The big item is Stuffed Pizza with thick crust and a two inch tall wall of crust around the edge.  Lots of gooey cheese and lots of options, each costing a couple of dollars, that can be added.  I like sausage.  While in Chicago recently, I tried two pizza restaurants.  Allegretti’s Pizzeria & Ristorante and Giordano’s Pizza.

img_4095 Stuffed Pizza is one of those foods that doesn’t translate well with a photo. The aroma, the mouth feel, and the amazing weight and density can’t be photographed.  Once it is cut and a slice removed it tends to ooze and collapse a bit.  Taking that piece out leaves long strings of white cheese.  It is a bit of fun to eat.

Giordano’s is a chain of pizza joints.  The atmosphere in the one I went to was your basic sports bar with a lot of TVs and posters for local teams and a long wooden bar.  The stuffed pizza takes about 40 minutes to cook, seeing as it’s a very large bit of business.  So we had the Lunch Special, which was two personal sized stuffed pizzas.  Others around us had full sized versions.  I posted a photo on Twitter and Giordano’s like it and gave me a giftcard.  Always fun when something like that happens.  The pizza was very good.  The sausage had a nice flavor and there was a lot of it.

Allegretti’s was just a few blocks from the hotel and it was a hole in the wall kind of place.  Wedged between a couple of small businesses that seem to change on a regular basis, we weren’t even sure that we could dine in, but found that we could.  The dining room was small, the handful of tables covered with red checkered clothes, and the waitress an older woman who took her time in all that she did.  This place also took 40 minutes to cook it’s Stuffed Pizza, but we had more time and ordered a large pizza.  It looked a good deal like the ones from Giordano’s, but the flavor was a lot more intense.  There was less sausage, so maybe I just tasted more sauce and less meat.  The Wife liked Allegretti’s better than Giordano’s.  I thought they were both great.

Of course, we only had the two stuffed pizzas in a city with a bazillion pizza joints, so I don’t know if these were the best or not.  I do know they were damned good pizzas and I’m looking forwarding to cashing in that gift card next time I’m in Chicago.

 

Which Film Will Be The Top Grossing of 2015?

Predictions for the Top Grossing Films of 2015Every year we see a lot of anticipation about upcoming films and a lot of predictions about which ones will ultimately win at the box office. Will it be a sequel in 2015? The Magic 8 Ball says Signs Point To Yes.

2015 has already seen an interesting mix of films people are willing to pay to see. According to Wikipedia, the early out of the gate winners are 5o Shades of Grey and Cinderella. That would be a fun double feature. But 50 Shades current number of $563,862,000 wouldn’t land it the Top Ten Grossing films from 2014. The summer is where the big bucks are, so films with big stars, big special effects, and big budgets are sure to blow the early players out of the water.

Sequels have been the go to resource for Hollywood over the past few years. Seven of the Top Ten Highest Gross Films of last year were sequels with Transformers: Age of Extinction landing at the top spot. Most Predictions for the Top Grossing Films of 2015 are filled with sequel as well. 10 of IMBD‘s top 14 predictions are sequels.

Most people seem to think that The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be the film that wins at the box office. Other odds on favorites are Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.  I have my doubts about the quality of most of these films and I’m not so sure about another trip to the land of Mad Max.

I’m still curious about some of these films. Will JJ Abrams rewrite the history of Star Wars the way he rewrote the history of Star Trek? Will The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 be as sad and depressing as the book? Will Velociraptors turn out to be the perfect pet? And will anyone remember any of these films five minutes after seeing them?

Some Predictions for the Top Grossing Films of 2015 are bound to be right and some will be wrong. For most of these films, the anticipation is going to be the best part anyway.

American Crime

american crime review on if you write it“American Crime” stars Richard Cabral as Hector Tonz, Elvis Nolasco as Carter, Caitlin Gerard as Aubry, Johnny Ortiz as Tony Gutierrez, Benito Martinez as Alonzo Gutierrez, Timothy Hutton as Russ, Felicity Huffman as Barb, W. Earl Brown as Tom and Penelope Ann Miller as Eve. American Crime has a very good cast and it looks good as well.

The title makes me think of mobsters and shotouts on the streets of Chicago in the 1930s. The kind of show where the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys chew on cigars. But that’s not what American Crime is about. The evil gang in the story is the Police Dept that railroads some poor kid and shoots another one down in the street. The only note that rang false here was that they didn’t drill the guy with forty or fifty rounds, they just wounded him. Wow, great special effect.

Like most newer dramas, there are no heroes to be had, just villains in at least fifty shades of gray. Cops and judges who aren’t corrupt, but are outright bastards. Parents who don’t do to a good a job of protecting their kids. Kids who are criminals of one sort or another. The only seemingly innocent people are the strangers played by Extras we see in the background, and I’m none too sure about them.

There’s a murder that connects several stories. This brings in an absentee father and a racist mother who are the dead man’s parents. The dead man’s wife lays in a coma as her parents mainly stand around wringing their hands. On the other side we see the three knuckleheads who are involved in committing the crime and their loved ones. We don’t know what really happened, that’s the mystery here. The Legal System is all about chewing them up and grinding them into dust and has zero interesting in finding out what really happened-all they care about is closing the case-and treating everyone they meet like dirt.

We have one kid who seems to a bit slow in the Special Needs kind of way. But he is shoved through the System with no indication that anyone cares that he’s not firing on all cylinders. He’s our only really sympathetic character, all he did was loan someone a car, which hardly seems like a death penalty offence to me. But he did talk to the Cops, which everyone who have ever watched any cop show every made should know is a huge mistake. Cops are never on your side. And they sure as hell aren’t on anyone’s side in this show.

After the first few episodes I think the best thing that could happen to American Crime’s Modesto would be a nice A-Bomb being dropped on it. It’s downer of a show for sure and if the ratings don’t improve, this experiment in long form drama on network TV might be over before it really gets going.

American Crime airs on ABC.