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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: A Review

How lucky are you that you get to read my review of a second movie this week. Not only that, it’s one that’s been out for AGES already. But anyway, King Arthur.

I was most definitely iffy about this one. But again, when you’re in a movie drought, you will take what you can get. It was certainly better than anything else there. (I refuse to see Aliens or whatever the hell it is). Also, I’m a big fan of the Arthur legends. Real talk for a minute? I’m also a fan of hot men, like Charlie Hunnam, taking off their shirts a lot on camera. They probably could have turned off the sound and I would have been fine with that too.

Anyway, this seemed like quite the different take than the other Arthur legends I’ve been aware of. I completely forgot that Uther Pendragon ever existed, despite watching the entire Merlin series, where Uther features most prominently. But I digress.

This tale starts with the takeover by Vortigern (I still hate Jude Law for some reason) as he kills his own wife (played by Katie McGrath who played Morgana in Merlin, I assumed she was going to have a real, evil role in this one, but no such luck) to gain power to eventually kill Uther. Arthur is a small boy and makes his way, not unlike the Disney Hercules, in a boat to be picked up by prostitutes. He’s raised in a brothel, knowing nothing of his true identity, and falls into the role of protector. Save the ladies, piss off the wrong guys, etc. As he’s trying to escape the Black Leg, he gets picked up and forced to try to withdraw the sword from the stone. (How is gets there is perhaps one of the coolest parts of the movie.)

SURPSIE AND AWE! HE DOES IT!

Then the rest of the movie is about Vortigern trying to kill Arthur to have all the power. Arthur gets assisted by a great cast of people, with awesome names like George, Wet Stick, Back Lack, Blue, and the Mage. Now, the Mage is just pure awesome. In another life it might be fun to be her.

The movie ends how you expect it to. No surprise there.

I had really low expectations going into it. The previews looked terrible, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I think a lot of it had to do with the film score. Sometimes that can make or a break a movie.

If you’re looking for a cool rental and you like the King Arthur legends, this one shouldn’t disappoint.

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The Mummy: A Review

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a review of any kind, so why not now? We’re in a bit of a movie drought right now since they don’t generally bring new films during Ramadan. We got lucky though (sort of), because they launched The Mummy midway through. We went to see it, not because we were that excited about it, but because it was something new to watch.

I think I’d only seen one of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, so I didn’t really remember anything about them to think about whether I was supposed to be comparing one to the other. The most I’d done with that series is hit the ride at Universal Studios. I remember it being super cheesy and a “we won’t take ourselves too seriously” kind of movie.

I have no idea what the hell happened with this Mummy movie. Tom Cruise was… Tom Cruise. He plays basically the same character in all of his action movies. This time he was also a grave robber. It was one part super cheese, thank you Jake Johnson (best known in my world for New Girl). The other parts were an attempt at something deep and serious – Cruise’s relationship with Annabelle Wallis‘s character; the danger of looming evil through Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (honestly, it was so obvious and dull); and Tom Cruise’s asshole character having to come to grips with himself. [cue eye roll]

Speaking of eyes – the whole two irises in one eyeball was hella weird and gross.

The worst part? They have clearly left an opening for a sequel.

Movie Review: Allegiant (The Divergent Series)

Full disclosure: I read the book before seeing the movie. Sometimes that doesn’t make much of a difference. However, this time it did.

Going into the movie I expected some differences. It’s hard to take the complexities in a book like Allegiant and adapt them to the screen. What I did not expect was for them to largely ignore the depth of the book in favor of action. Huge parts of the book were left out – characters who had major roles in the book were reduced to tiny parts. Some of the heavy interpersonal relationships and tensions disappeared. We lost a lot of character development.

Speaking of the action, some of the green screens were just terribly obvious. I get that there are limitations when trying to create the torn up landscape of a war-torn Chicago. But this was… poor. The fighting scenes were fairly well-done, but the larger placement shots were not good.

The pace of the movie is very fast. Two hours goes by in a whir. I assume some of that pace is because they skipped the character and story development. Those would definitely have slowed down the progress of the movie. I don’t know if it was worth the cuts, though. I suppose if I hadn’t read the book, I may not have noticed.

Overall, it comes across as very superficial, with so-so visual effects. I would probably still see the movie, just so I could feel that sense of completion. Just don’t expect a lot.

Book Review: United by Cory Booker – Must Read

I didn’t want to read this book. I’ve a general lack of interest in books by politicians. I feel most of them are disingenuous and I assume their books follow suit. However, I’ve been following Cory Booker on social media for probably two years now and done some research of my own on him because he’s a rising star. I thought I’d give his book a chance.

To say that I was impressed would be an huge understatement. First and foremost, the book is believable. I’ve never met Senator Booker in person, but he comes across as trustworthy. Human. Caring. In the Introduction he emphasizes that the book is less about what he’s achieved, and more about the people who helped him do it. Throughout the book he demonstrates just how true that is.

The book is divided into chapters that seem to focus on a particular person and part of his life/political process. His parents and their values feature prominently throughout the book. Lessons like not taking credit for a triple when you were born on 3rd base and reminding him that he was standing on the shoulders of a great many giants who made his life possible. He seems to never have forgotten that.

Each of the steps he’s taken politically, he did at the urging and with the support of Newark community members. He learned a lot of hard lessons on the way, readily admitting that he fell short of where he wanted to be. He asked for the forgiveness of those he harmed as it happened. They gave him that forgiveness and continued to stand by him.

His commitment to public service and the public was probably best exemplified by his 10-day fast to bring about changes at the low-income housing buildings where he lived. The residents in that community had been forgotten and left behind, but Senator Booker wouldn’t stand for it. He got the whole community involved during his fast, holding prayer meetings and strategy sessions. Finally, the mayor of Newark deigned to appear and tae with him. The promises made by the mayor at the time were forgotten, but not by Senator Booker.

Living in Newark, particularly as mayor, Senator Booker witnessed the destruction crime wreaks on the people who live around it. He literally watched people die. He went on ride alongs with the police to better understand the issues they face and the issues the community had with the police. He even tried to stop a fleeing criminal on his own once. Those events touched him deeply and through his words it’s easy to see that continue to affect him today.

Senator Booker never lost sign of the privileges he had and how they affected him as he interacted with the citizens of Newark. Sometimes it blindsided him, how different his world was growing up from those he served. He worked hard to keep that at the forefront of his mind and it prompted him to work to end the injustices faced by black and Hispanic men at the hands of the criminal justice system.

As senator, he’s reached across party lines to get things done. He remembers who elected him and who he serves, pushing him to overlook party politics to make sure the people he represents are taken care of. It may not make him popular among the party, but for him, that’s not what matters. He seems to reflect deeply on his actions and in order to sleep at night, he’s got to do what’s right.

The real reason to read this book is that Cory Booker IS a rising politician. It seems almost guaranteed that he will run for President of the United States one day. As interested as I have always been in politics, I never saw a candidate I was willing to attach myself to. That always bothered me greatly. I was always willing to serve on someone’s staff, but it had to be someone I could believe in. Someone I could trust. Someone I knew would do the right thing, even if it made him or her unpopular.

All that being said, Senator Booker IS someone I would work for. I believe he has the best interests of the American people at heart. I believe that he would stop at nothing to see the right thing done. He has compassion, empathy, and a deep understanding that not all of us have it so good. Those things are critical in a leader.

To Senator Booker, if you read this, I wish you the best of luck in a messy political world. I hope your heart and soul propel you to great things.

Movie Review: Concussion

American football has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. It was the only common ground I could find with my stepfather for a long while (well, that and golf) and even with my dad. When I lived 3,000 miles from my dad, I’d call him up on a Sunday during a Detroit Lions game (so sad me that I’m a fan of theirs) and we’d sit quietly while the plays were in motion and chat during the commercials and between plays about the game. Maybe not the most earth-shattering conversation, but it worked for us.

I did wonder about the players’ health when I watched the weekly recaps of the worst hits in the league. They have always made me cringe. I get that they’re padded up, but there are limits on what pads can do.

“Concussion” is all about what happens to players due to repeated hits to the head. The movie is inspired by the true story of the Nigerian American physician (who Will Smith does not resemble at all) responsible for the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster in 2002. His obsession with why Webster died (not just how) led to the investigation of several other former football player deaths. He concluded that the deaths came about as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – repeated blows to the head suffered during the game.

What struck me was the ridiculousness that it took a non-American who wasn’t even interested in the sport to do something beneficial for the players. It’s gross that we would be willing to sacrifice the lives of so many men for sport. It would have been one thing if the players had known what was happening to them and were willing undertaking the risk (still gross, but not as terrible). But the NFL was actively covering up research to that effect.

People harassed Dr. Omalu for conducting the research and pursuing the investigation. Still, with the support of his wife, he persisted. We are all better for it.

This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you’re a fan of American football. It really makes you think twice about the game. Will Smith turns in a somewhat convincing performance as Omalu. The supporting cast was really great – Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were engaging, intense, and awesome to watch.

Book Review: Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

January was a month for reading – 18 books!! Toward the end of the month I got a hankering (do people even say that anymore?) for reading that was more spiritual in nature. I’d had a lot of thrillers/suspense, fantasy, chick lit and needed to delve into something a little deeper.

I have no idea how I ended up back at Eckhart Tolle. I’ve considered reading some of his stuff before, but something always put me off. Not sure if it was the Oprah book endorsement or the description of the book. I found the audiobook available for free and decided to give it a shot.

Tolle narrates the book and his speech is a little dry and his accent is a little hard to get used to. But his calm tone make the book easy to understand. His concepts aren’t necessarily difficult, but sometimes they take a bit to sink in.

The book is AMAZING. I think there are a lot of us feeling exactly what he details, but not having words to capture our sentiments. We’re tired of the struggle against bullshit and dealing with things that just don’t make any sense to us. We want to live whole lives of meaning, but trying to put that into action while people around us don’t get it is challenging. We feel pushed to respond because of the ego dominance around us. We lose sight of the fact that we can be happier, less stressed out, and peaceful if we just step back and let our minds still.

The book also addresses people who are trying to find their purpose in life. His belief is that the primary purpose in life is to attain stillness – get to a state of BEING – and not let thinking run rampant over our lives. This is what he calls the Inner Purpose. The Outer Purpose is the DOING of our lives.

He gave me new ways to reflect on my life and to find ways to stop reacting to so may situations. Focusing on my breathing, listening for when my ego jumps into a conversation. I’d been working on it before the book, but now I am more aware of what I’m doing. Dropping back and not letting any drive toward feeling superior or like I need to try to defend my ego have made for calmer times.

I’ve already encouraged a few people to read this one. If you’ve read it, what did you think? Did the book change the way you look at your life?

Book Review: An Invisible Client by Victor Methos

While the story of the book is not new (think an updated Erin Brockovich-type tale), it is a modern take on the tale.

I’m drawn to books with strong character elements, and this book delivers. Byron’s relationships drive the book. His partner’s are a reflection of his values and ultimately act as a stepping stone for his grow. His relationship with his law clerk is what pushes him to grow beyond the place he’d created for himself in the world. It is through his relationship with his law clerk and “invisible client” that he grows to a place he never though he could, given his upbringing.

The author makes the book interesting even though the core of the book is about rather uninteresting events. You find yourself turning pages, hoping that the case yields the result you want.

The book is well- and tightly-written and well-edited. There are not extraneous elements; everything win the book has some purpose.

I also really appreciate how accurate this book was from a legal perspective. The rules cited are accurate and the path of the case is realistic. The only thing that struck me as being impossible was the lawyer finishing law school in 2 years. Given the rules the American Bar Association has about how many credits can be taken at a time and the number of hours allowed to work during a semester, this seems like a stretch. However, that doesn’t do much to take away from the book and that would only occur to someone who’s been through the process.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes John Grisham novels or courtroom stories.

Book Review: Unpaved Road: An Iranian Girl’s Real Life Story of Struggle, Deception and Breaking the Rules by Niki Bahara

This book came to me through a friend of a friend, because friend of friend’s mother wrote it. I tend to be a bit skeptical about the quality of any book written by people I may know. It’s definitely not fair and the two books I’ve read that way (including this one) are both really very good.

The first thing I have to say is holy shit. This is a true story and I know that I could never have done half of the things that the author did nor survived what she did. The book starts with her life as a young girl in Iran and her time in Iran goes through the revolution. I was particularly intrigued about life in Iran and the changes that occurred once the Ayatollah came into power. She describes a fun and enjoyable Iran, where she could laugh with her friends and dress how she pleased. By the time she fled Iran, women were being attacked in the streets if they were not dressed “appropriately.” Compared to that, I feel pretty free. I can at least wear capri pants!

I don’t want to give much more of her journey away as it’s really best told by her, in her voice. She paints a very clear picture, full of emotion, and most interesting, her thought processes as she travels from Iran to Iraq and eventually through Sweden to the United States.

I found it informative, interesting, and compelling. It’s definitely worth a read if you want a realistic look at what life was like in Iran during the revolution and what it’s like to try to find a new home when yours is no longer safe.

If true tales are your thing, check this one out.

Book Review: Terms of Use by Scott Allan Morrison

This book will definitely make you re-think your social media use. I’m not saying it’ll push you off of using it altogether, but it shows the dark underbelly of the companies behind it and how we may be getting used/manipulated without knowing it.

The book is about a man called Sergio who’s been into computers his whole life. His latest job is a social media site called Circles (oddly enough, this book is not related to The Cirle by Dave Eggers). It’s like Facebook, but more connected. They want people to use Circles for everything – bank information, everything social, and eventually voting.

However, an executive is murdered after he learns something the company needs to have kept secret in order to move forward into China. Sergio figures out what the executive knew and is determined to pursue the case on his own. His new friend, Malina, insists on helping.

The action is fast-paced and keeps the pages turning. Sergio and Malina escape death over and over, leaving bodies behind them. The characters are interesting and the reader gets to learn a lot about them throughout the book. Everyone’s history plays a role in the final outcome of the book.

If you’re a fan of The Circle, thrillers featuring computer stuff, or smart action, check this book out.

You can also check out my Goodreads review.

Book Review: Cries in the Night: A Low Country Ghost Story by Lori Roberts

Overall I found this book quite enjoyable. I don’t usually read ghost stories, but it was also a mystery which I do usually read. The combination intrigued me.

Two people move into a house, hoping it will be their dream home, only to find they’re not the only ones living there. The author does a great job introducing us to the characters and spreading their story throughout the book. You want them to be happy and figure out what’s going wrong in their home so they can live in peace. It gets surprisingly suspenseful given that they’re dealing with ghosts and not live people.

While the concept of the book was good, it had some difficulties as well. There were inconsistencies in descriptions (for example, the author wrote that the main character and her friend drove to pick up lunch, but in the next few pages they’re walking back from the sandwich shop) and typos which I found a bit distracting. When you have to go back a few pages to see if you’ve missed something, the books loses the rhythm it developed.

Even with the inconsistencies and typos I found it a fun read and would definitely read other works by the author.