Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Marilyn Armstrong:

Written by me, with input from Garry, published on HEAD IN A VICE. A movie review for you.

Originally posted on Head In A Vice:

movie blogathon poster

Today we have my favourite husband & wife blogging team offering us their thoughts on a movie for the ‘Recommended By‘ blogathon. Marilyn & Garry Armstrong have been visiting my site since pretty much its inception, and since they don’t like the horror genre, I always appreciate them visiting. Marilyn runs her blog Serendipity and Garry helps her out when he fancies it, and since he has worked with more famous people than the rest of us could ever dream of meeting, when they offer to join in my projects I am always delighted to have them. Without further ado, offering their thoughts on one of the most popular movies of recent times (and great to see them go against the general consensus!) are Marilyn & Garry from Serendipity.

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TIME AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is about a lot more than time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh, cry, and think. If you are of a certain age, it will also make you remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan per se, though I have liked several of his books and stories. I never have a problem with his writing. He’s a great writer, but I don’t always like his subject matter. Horror is not among my favorite genres.

11-22-63 king

This is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, it merely grazes the outer edge of familiar King territory. 11/22/63 is science fiction. It is as good a book on time travel as I’ve ever read. Considering that I have read everything about time travel I could find, that’s a big statement.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. My husband, is not a King fan — except for his stories about baseball and the Red Sox — was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were perfect and like poetry, deserved to be read aloud.

The story is rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King’s books, if you are a science fiction and/or time travel fan, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. King’s version of time travel is history-centric, omitting the technical details. I’m fine with this approach. He uses the classical dodge via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy. It lets him move his characters without explaining how it works. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many of us feel this is the best book King has written, bar none. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities. Stephen King gives us emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and does it without taking any short cuts through the complexities he creates. It’s an amazing book.

If you like science fiction reader, history, or are just looking for an exceptionally well-written book, you should read 11/22/63. It’s too good to miss.

11/22/63 is available from Amazon right now for just $2.99. It includes a 13-minute film, written and narrated by Stephen King and enhanced with historic footage from CBS News, that will take you back—as King’s novel does—to Kennedy era America.

UNDER THE DOME – SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING NOTHING

Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

The popular television series on CBS, Under the Dome is based on a novel by Stephen King. It premiered on CBS network on June 24, 2013.

under-the-dome-big-jimThe series takes place in Chester’s Mill, Maine. It’s a small, thoroughly unpleasant little town that finds itself cut off by an invisible dome — a barrier — which everyone refreshingly calls “The Dome.”

The town’s citizen’s attribute sentience to the dome. The Dome knows. Which is good, because no one else in Chester’s Mill knows anything.

The dome appears for no (apparent) reason, after which no one can leave — no matter how much we wish they would. Nor can anyone from outside enter. There’s no communication with the “outside” world except when the scriptwriters say so.

As of September 1, 2014, 23 episodes of Under the Dome have aired. Approximately 10 episodes too many.

This is a show that started out with a lot of promise. I love science fiction and ever since King wrote 11/23/1963, I’ve been inclined to cut him a lot of slack. Anyone who can write such magnificent prose deserves it.

The show became extremely popular. The producers, unwilling to put the milk cow out to pasture while she was still producing so many gallons of the white stuff decided to keep the show going. What was supposed to be a single season story with a beginning, middle, and end has become an endless melodrama. Everyone runs around like chicken little.

“The sky is falling,” and sure enough, it falls for a while. Then it stops. No harm done. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe better.big jim again

“Oh MY GOD, Big Jim is killing everyone.” Sure enough, he kills a lot of people — but most people who die in this town come back. Actors have contracts, you know. You can’t just go killing them off, so in Chester’s Mill, death is a plot point, not an end.

“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, the plague is here! We’re running out of food! We will all starve! We’ll have to eat each other.”

The plague was (of course) averted and no, they will not run out of food, though cannibalism might liven up the story. Everyone runs around in a panic, on the verge of hysteria. There is much flailing and ranting at the dome. Its power, what it means. Never mind, it doesn’t matter.

And nothing happens. Not really. Relationships change in very tiny increments, dead people show back up with such predictability that even if someone would (please, please) shoot Big Jim — it is the only thing left to look forward to — it wouldn’t matter. He would be back in a show or two. Maybe even during the same episode.

They really should have stuck to the plan. It has become a prime time soap opera. You can miss any number of episodes, but when you tune in again, nothing has changed. Nothing ever changes. Or ever will change.

Garry is more patient than me. He still hopes something will happen. Like, they will explain what the dome is, why it’s there. They will then execute Big Jim, kill him deader than dead. After which, they will run the credits and say bye-bye.

Garry is such an optimist.

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in July 2014 by Audible, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.

BELLWETHERS AMONG US – WHERE THEY GO, WE FOLLOW

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. Finished it the other day. Each time I read it — this is the 4th or 5th time — I learn something new.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no visible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, the other sheep do too. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know it’s following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A few to walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history doesn’t make sense. But if you add in a few critical bellwethers, it all comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.

CHICAGO “NOW”

AKA Chicago XXXVI, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Chicago, the band, has done something most older bands are reluctant to do.  They have put out a new studio album of original music entitled “Chicago NOW.” Legendary bands with staying power such as Chicago make their living off their faithful fans at live performances and sales of older albums.  They know that only a select handful of older bands can actually sell new singles and albums.  The buying public for new music is mainly in the 13 to 34 age bracket and many of them tend to stream music rather than actually buy it.  The main buyers of CDs are in the 45 and over crowd but they are buying “catalog” music, or that is to say, classics from their favorite artists of the past.

Studio time can be expensive, both in terms of the studio cost and the lost concert performance time.  A touring band like Chicago, who spends most of the year on the road, does not like the idea of stopping for an extended length of time.  But Chicago is not ready to stop composing and recording, so how do they tour and record?  The answer came with a new recording system they call “The Rig.”  They have pushed the technology forward with a portable system so good, they record as they travel.  Much of Chicago NOW was done in hotel rooms across the country and around the world.

Founding member and trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, took charge of the project to put out a new album without stopping the show, so to speak.  Each composer of a song got to act as producer for his entry to the album and various band members helped with arrangements as well as select musicians from outside the group.  The group not only recorded on the move, they did not all have to be there at once.  Members would record their parts at different times.  Hank Linderman, a long time studio engineer, was the coordinating producer.  A “collaboration portal” was set up and tracks were sent at all times, from Chicago and contributing musicians.  The result is a stunning contribution to the Chicago catalog and worthy of their best early efforts.

The title track, released as a download prior to the album début, has now worked it way into the current tour performances.  Written by Greg Barnhill and Chicago band member Jason Scheff, the number was produced and arranged by Scheff.  It is an energetic start to the album.  Scheff also contributed “Love Lives On” and is co-composer to founding member Robert Lamm’s  song, “Crazy Happy.”

While the horns section technically remains in tact with founding members Lee Loughnane on trumpet and James Pankow on trombone, founding member and woodwind player Walt Parazaider appears in the videos but in fact only played on three of the recordings.  Now at age 69, a variety of health issues in recent years has limited Parazaider’s time on the road.  Long time fill-in Ray Herrmann is also credited on three of the songs, though he is not listed as a band member.  While Herrmannn is now a frequent performer, the audience does not always realize it.  From a distance he somewhat resembles Walt.  Other sax players contributed to the album as well.

Guitar player Keith Howland sings the song he composed with Scheff and drummer Tris Imboden, “Nice Girl.”  He also contributes, along with Imboden to Lamm’s “Free at Last.”  As expected, Lamm leads the way on this album, being credited with lead vocals on six of the songs and background vocals on others.

Previously, I wrote about “America” released last fall. It appears on this album.  Lou Pardini drives home the song and the social commentary on lead vocal and keyboards.  Also on percussion for the band is Walfredo Reyes, Jr., a more recent addition to the Chicago lineup, a talented nine guys.

Chicago

Chicago in Chicago, August 2014

RICHARD BEN SAPIR – THE FAR ARENA

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

FarArena

I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!