Fellow Milwaukeean Also Undorses Brothers

John Nolte, formerly of the northwest side like yours truly and now of Big Hollywood, agrees with my assessment of the forthcoming Brothers:

The budget for ”Brothers,” per director Jim Sheridan, is $25 million, which probably doesn’t include marketing for promotion and … well, tell me again how Hollywood is driven by profit and not ideology? We’re a month away from 2010 so it’s hard to argue “Brothers” went into production before everyone was well aware that every single war film flopped miserably.

But who does the snob Sheridan choose to blame in advance should his war-themed film flop? Not his own bonehead decision to jump into a genre with a 100% failure rate, not the investors who dove in with him … no, he blames We The American People….

The Secret

How does a couple not on the guest list bypass White House security to get into the premises to mingle with the President and all the President’s men? However does one get through a tight net composed of the Secret Service, the military, and “You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the FBI”?

By being swarthy, communicating with terrorists, and arguing for Jihad when told they’re not on the list. Same as everyone else.

Somehow, this thought was more wry and amusing before I wrote it. Sorry.

Book Report: Hannibal: The Novel by Ross Leckie (1996)

Well, after reading Scipio Africanus: Greater than Napoleon, of course I picked up this book, a novel about Scipio’s adversary which I’d picked up a while back.

The book is an interesting combination of first person narrative with historical fact in that the battles are in the right order makes a pretty compelling read. We get bits from Hannibal’s childhood as the son of Hamilcar Barca and his growth into the leader of the Carthaginian army in Europe. It talks a bit about his disdain for politics and whatnot and intimates at the hard drilling between battles and the preparations that the general had to make.

Unfortunately, the book stalls a bit after the Battle of Cannae; we don’t get much about what Hannibal did in the 15 years he spend in Italy after the battle. The Battle of Zama seems an afterthought. Then the book ends with Hannibal’s death in exile.

The author made this the first of a trilogy; I would have figured out how to do it, but I guess the second are from Scipio’s point of view and the third is simply titled Carthage. The author lets us know how well researched the book is by including quotes in the original Greek throughout. So I’m sure he’s researched it quite a bit, but one cannot take the events in any novel as true. I won’t cite it in a paper.

Pretty good read if you’re into the history of the period and want something more narrative than scholarly.

Books mentioned in this review:

The Value Proposition of Magazines

Lileks finds a value proposition in printed magazines versus online versions:

Some of the happiest moments of my life consisted simply of sitting in an airplane reading the Economist, lost in the big thick glossy parade of news and stories from everywhere, assembled with skill, and presented without a slime trail of ignorant comments at the end.

Another, of course, is that they lack PointRoll-intruding, Trojan-sharing, and memory-leaking advertisements.

One wonders if printed magazines will enjoy a resurgence based on a backlash against those detriments. Probably not.

Book Report: Homes and Other Black Holes by Dave Barry (1988)

I liked this book. It involved a lot of aspects of home buying, moving, and whatnot with which I’ve recently been reacquainted. Also, it’s old school Dave Barry, written when he was young, married to his first wife, and before he became a brand. You know how you can tell? Is his name above the title or below it? There you go. As Amazon shows below, this book was later rebadged with his name above the title (Dave Barry’s Homes and Other Black Holes).

Additionally, behold how I make a brief cameo in the book:

Barfits Noggles

Hard to argue with that.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: America on Six Rubles a Day by Yakov Smirnoff (1987, 1993)

I enjoyed Yakov Smirnoff’s humor back in the old days (those 1980s again) when his America vs. the USSR and incredulous immigrant schtick brought a unique perspective to being an American. This book recreates a bunch of those moments, and since I can remember what that was like, I can still laugh with it. Since I’m seeing the USA of today turn into that USSR of his humor, it’s not humor without sadness.

I know Mr. Smirnoff has continued to work the comedy thing, so I have to wonder how much I’ll enjoy the contemporary Yakov. Since I’m in Springfield, where Professor Smirnoff teaches at MSU and near where he has a theater at Branson, I’ll find out, certainly. I might even run into him on the street someday.

So consider this review a preliminary suck-up.

Books mentioned in this review:

Warm and Fuzzy To The Right (Left) Mindset

It didn’t sound like the sort of film I’d see since I’m not dating/married to a girl who would want to see it, but this review of the film Amreeka doesn’t make it sound like it delivers warm and fuzzies to people of a certain mindset:

The two arrive at the Illinois home of her sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass of “The Visitor”) shortly after the start of the war in Iraq, as anti-Arab paranoia runs high.

Was anti-Arab paranoia peaking in 2003? I would have put whatever anti-Arab paranoia at its peak in 2001 or 2002. Also, I’d like to wonder who diagnosed suspicion of Middle Eastern people after an attack by Middle Eastern people on Americans as clinical paranoia.

A film reviewer, no doubt.

Book Report: Millennium by Ben Bova (1976)

This isn’t the book for the Kris Kristofferson film of the same name or for the Lance Henrikson television show of the same name. Instead, it’s a book written in 1996 about the state of the world and a close call for a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR except for a lunar rebellion that takes control of the warring sides’ incomplete ABM satellite networks.

It’s a pretty good read, and a strange extrapolation about the turn of the century from 1976. Space travel has really gone well, with waystation space platforms and lunar colonies in place for over a decade by the book’s setting. However, no great push to correct software written about the time of the book. Also, the Soviet Union remains a strong force in the world and the UN is a force for good.

A good science fiction book if you can put yourself into the now alternate-universe where it takes place.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Scipio Africanus: Greater than Napoleon by B.H. Liddell Hart (1926, 1994)

When I read the selected works of Cicero earlier this year, Cicero kept telling me about the Roman age of heroes and of Scipio. So when my beautiful wife and I were killing some time in Patten Books a couple months back, I found this volume for $6. That alone should tell you how far gone I am into my current Roman history sort of phase (for me, 4 books in a couple of months is a pretty determined phase). SIX DOLLARS I spent on this book. And enjoyed it.

So if you’re like me and don’t really know who Scipio was, he’s the guy who beat Hannibal. In Carthage.

Now, if you remember your trivia, Hannibal took elephants over the Alps. Of course, since you remember the Roman empire and not the Carthaginian empire, you probably think it went badly for Hannibal. Not so. He trashed the Romans and then moved into Italy and maintained an army near Rome for 15 years. He might have stayed for another 15 or worked toward actually attacking Rome if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid, Scipio.

Scipio, like Hannibal, was the son of a commander who died in Spain. After some bravery and heroics, he got himself named commander of the Roman forces in Spain and then managed to throw the Romans out of Spain, cross into Africa, and march on Carthage. It was at this point Carthage withdrew Hannibal from Italy and the two met in the Battle of Zama. Wherein Scipio beat the master strategist and earned the title Africanus.

Without Scipio, the author argues, there would have been no later Roman republic and Roman empire. However, he’s forgotten in popular memory now because he didn’t bring bears across the Strait of Gibraltar or some other novelty.

With a subtitle like “Greater than Napoleon” (added to the new edition), you can tell that the author writes approvingly of the subject. Personally, I approve of that narrative type. I’d rather read some swashbuckling account of the person under study than a well-footnoted smug bit where you get as much of the professor’s disdain as anything else.

So the book is a good read and a very good bit of military history, back in an age where men were men, usually from the age of 13 to their deaths at 30.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Treason Game by Nick Carter (1982)

I read this book pretty soon after Missouri Deathwatch, so it posed stark relief. The professional wordsmith who cranked out this entry kept it pretty fresh and quick moving.

In this book, Nick Carter goes against AXE itself when a Soviet spymaster comes to town and shoots Nick. In the hospital, another attempt is made on Nick after his boss visits. Why does AXE want the Killmaster dead? Nick delves into it, discovering that the Soviet is part of a plot to infiltrate American nuclear facilities as part of a nuclear arms treaty mission. And more. With the help of a sexy reporter, Nick goes against the cops, against AXE, and against the President’s orders to discover the truth and save America. Even if he has to commit treason to do it.

It’s quality paperback pulp from the 1980s with only a couple of repeated stock descriptions of Carter’s arsenal. This series is worth revisiting when I get around to it and after I hit the Friends of the Christian County book fair again. That place is lousy with the pulp.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Jinx by Susan Shank (2008)

At first, I thought this book was going to be a mash-up between a pulp paperback thriller and a romance novel. The cover looks violent. The back mentions the title character was trained in a mercenary camp. The first chapter features her infiltrating rebel-held territory for the second night to make a deal with a rebel leader and ends up in a mixed martial arts fight with a couple of mercenaries.

But then it turns completely on that and becomes a bit more of a romance novel. The character changes into a photojournalist at the mercy of her feminine nature and under the protection of the males in the book, even going so far as striking out on her own a couple times to ill effect and the merciful rescue of the handsome mercenary she’s trying to resist.

Also, it ends abruptly.

Maybe it’s a good romance adventure or something, but that genre ain’t my bag, baby, and I was disappointed. In my defense, I picked up the book because Shank (which sounds like the pseudonym on a pulp thriller, so understand one of the reasons I bought a romance novel) lives in the area. The book is a little amateur, or maybe that’s just because I’m not familiar with romance, but on the plus side, it’s not hack work like some of the pulp series books I’ve read recently. Keeping the main character tough as she’s pitched would have made for a better book, but perhaps not one fitting the genre.

Now I better read some Ray Chandler or Andrew Sugar to rinse.

Books mentioned in this review:

It Takes A Democrat To Appoint a Non-Ogre

Sotomayor is not a reactionary ogre like Scalia or Roberts. She’s a glamorous celebrity!

    Apparently, no one told Sonia Sotomayor that Supreme Court justices are supposed to be circumspect, emerging from their marble palace mainly to dispense legal wisdom to law schools, judges’ conferences and lawyers’ meetings.

    Since becoming the first Hispanic justice, Sotomayor has mamboed with movie stars, exchanged smooches with musicians at the White House and thrown out the first pitch for her beloved New York Yankees. A famous jazz composer even wrote a song about her: “Wise Latina Woman.”

    In short, Sotomayor has become a celebrity — all without having made a single major decision at the nation’s highest court.

    It’s not that other justices don’t have their own particular glamour.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — both opera lovers — recently had roles in the opening performance of “Ariadne auf Naxos” for the Washington National Opera. Other justices have done tours to promote their books.

    But that kind of fame rarely reaches the man on the street.

Remember, man on the street means peasant. Do you feel touched, peasant?

I especially like this bit:

    In short, Sotomayor has become a celebrity — all without having made a single major decision at the nation’s highest court.

Celebrity and powerful position without any actual accomplishment. Does it sound like anyone else we know?

Book Report: How to Talk Football by Arthur Pincus (1984, 1995)

After a couple years of watching the game religiously, I think I have enough insight into how it works to talk football. Okay, I don’t have enough insight into the muscle memory mechanics of it to instruct how to block or how to turn the hips to fool a cornerback, but enough to talk it. As such, this book is really just a little refresher course on it except for the biographies of great past football players at the end. Red Grange, Jim Brown, et al.. This sort of thing makes the book for me because all the hype for the modern players and all the tipping of the hat to these guys, it’s good to learn what they did to make them household names fifty years ago.

Books mentioned in this review:

Wherein Brian Says FU Back To Hollywood

I was treated to this trailer on Veteran’s Day when I treated my wife to what turned out to be an anti-Iraq War film Men Who Stare At Goats:

You know, it could have been a good drama. Soldier dies in combat, and his ne’er-do-well brother straightens out and grows up as he sort of steps into the role of father-figure for his nieces and eventually the lover for the widow. Then, the MIA soldier returns. I could see it being chock full of drama as they deal with the emotional situations.


In the trailer, the eventual seduction takes place over a joint and the movie-normal “I’m not too straight to toke” trope. And the soldier returns home apparently an angry, psychotic fellow who cannot relate to his family and wants to hurt them or commit suicide by cop.

Frankly, through the trailer and my own predilections, the Iraq soldier is the most sympathetic character. But he’s just an archetype to endanger the pot-smoking, non soldier lovers in the film.

I booed the trailer in the theater.

Instead of a dramatic film with real emotion, I think Lionsgate has gone for the sure Oscar award-winning, Cannes Palm D’or, and Nobel Prize for Cinema route. Which probably won’t make any money, but they’re making art. All-too-predictable, comfortable-to-the-artists and offensive-to-the-plebes art. Hey, Hollywood: <expletive deleted>.

UPDATE: I originally identified the soldier as serving in Iraq, but I guess it’s supposed to be Afghanistan. MfBJN regrets this error and retracts everything. Well, everything except the words including the letters I-R-A-Q.

Book Report: There Are Aligators In Our Sewers & Other American Credos by Paul Dickson & Joseph C. Goulden (1983)

My goodness, if you’ve ever wanted to read a book composed of 88% bullet points, look no further. I’d hoped this book would be a thoughtful exploration of things Americans believe, but this is no Jan Harold Brunvand book. The authors have modeled it upon a book by H.L. Mencken from the 1920s. It lists, sorted by chapter, a variety of things they say Americans believe ca. 1983. A few of the credos have parenthetical notes to pooh pooh the rubes who believe it, but most are just bullet points of statements such as “That it does not bother a lobster to be boiled alive.”

The end of the book has an actual chapter of paragraphs talking about modern fables, i.e., urban legends. It even includes outlines of a couple of them (not in actual outlines, you know, but I could see why you would expect it with this book). Then there’s an extensive index to the bullets.

It’s a quick read and a good nightstand book with easy places to break off, but seriously, in the 21st century, you get more from Snopes.com and its thousands of pop-under ads.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell (2000)

This book follows the story of the sons of a tribal chief in prehistoric England. The oldest brother is banished; the lame brother hides in the old temples and gets visions. The protagonist middle brother falls in love and gets his tribal scars of manhood. The oldest brother returns and slays the father, assuming tribal leadership and selling the middle brother as a slave. The middle brother’s girl is used and then runs off to a rivalling tribe to become the sorceress there. The lame brother gets painfully healed and grows in stature as a religious visionary whose goal is to reunite the Sun and the Moon, banishing winter. To that end, he leads the middle brother into a series of plots and programs to build the great temple–Stonehenge.

It’s a long convoluted tale, and the reader does not really get a sense of where they’re all going. I found the book close to Warriors of the Way, but without actual divine intervention. Cornwell spends a lot of time going into a lot of detail with the sacrifices, which I could have done without. Also, since it’s clear that Cornwell is making it all up, it lacks the historical detail interest that I take from the Sharpe series.

Ultimately, I was disappointed.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Murdercon by Richard Purtill (1982)

This book was sold by Doubleday Science Fiction, but really it’s a mystery set at a science fiction convention. The book is thus very reminiscient of Murder at the ABA.

In it, a professor who has written some science fiction becomes embroiled in a series of murders that seem to revolve around a rare science fiction pulp magazine.

Not a bad read, ultimately. It’s an old science fiction book, though, in its pacing and printing. Do you know what I mean?

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: Star Trek: Dark Victory by William Shatner with Judy and Gar Reeves-Stevens (1999)

Another Star Trek book “by” William Shatner (see also Star Trek: The Return). This one is the middle of a trilogy, so I’m in a world of challenge already. I’ve missed much of the set-up and back story, and brother, that book must have taken plenty. Not only do we have nods to all of the Star Trek series to that time (even Voyager), but the book deals with the universe from the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of the original series, so there are doubles of some of the characters in play.

In the book, Kirk chases his alter-ego, the emperor from the dark universe. Then Kirk’s new bride, a Klingon-Romulan hybrid(!), is endangered. Then they go off in space.

Come on, does the plot really matter? We’re here to see an episode with familiar characters, and we get it. We also get a little of space origins philosophy and a bit of nature/nurture stuff with the alternate universe musings, but it doesn’t detract from the story too much. At least no one is writing papers on it and holding conferences about it instead of, I don’t know, leading with his phaser.

Okay book, but you should really be careful about plucking a book from the middle of a trilogy. I should be, but probably won’t take care in the future, either.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: SOBs: Gulag War by Jack Hild (1985)

Now this is premium 80s pulp fiction. The bad guys are obvious, and everyone aside from a few academics and maybe Teddy Kennedy agreed the Soviets were the bad guys. In this book, the mercenary band Soldiers of Barrabas (SOBs, you see) go into Siberia to rescue a dissident scientist.

The book deals with the way which the team gets into Russia–through a phony computer deal that lands them in a tank factory. They steal a plane and fly to Siberia, engaging in a fight for their lives as they try to find on emaciated political prisoner from a haystack.

It moves quickly, lights on some of the characters, and jumps between scenes to create adequate suspense. The author isn’t afraid to sacrifice series characters to make a point that there are bullets flying and this is war-ish.

Good stuff. I look forward to others in the series. I see they’re going for $30 each on Amazon, but I know somewhere where I can get them for a quarter (nyah, nyah!).

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961, 1987)

As you might recollect, this book was made into two films. One was made in the Eastern bloc the year I was born; the other starred George Clooney and was made in 2002. I haven’t seen either, but I remember it was a big deal because it represented something of the pinnacle of Eastern European science fiction.

The result is a mixture of Event Horizon, The Forge of God, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. All it lacks is aliens bare of anything but a bowler.

To recap: a scientist rockets out to a scientific station orbiting the planet Solaris, which has an ocean which might be a sentient thing inscrutible to humans. The scientist finds out that his mentor has committed suicide, and that his two fellow residents of the space station fear phantasms apparently spawned by the ocean below. Soon, his ex-girlfriend who committed suicide begins to appear to him.

Gimlet said, “i liked lem’s idea that alien intelligence is probably incomprehensible to us, and vice versa.” I tell you what, kids, it’s not just the alien intelligence that is incomprehensible to me. The actions of the people on the station don’t rise above the level of “healthy cyphers” either. Instead of huddling together, one locks himself in the lab with whatever phantasm the ocean spawned for him, the second drinks himself blind and pops up sometimes to counsel the protagonist, and the protagonist goes to the library and researches 80 years of scholarship regarding the planet while musing about his relationship with his ex. Who is there, partly, recreated from his memories by the ocean below.

Instead of trying to communicate through the avatars, the scientists try to dispose of them (we’re told) and go mad. We’re not told what they’re supposed to represent, what the others’ phantasms are, or anything like that. No, the scientists, when they come together, theorize and then make up experiments. Then, the book sort of ends when the protagonist’s phantasm gets some degree of self-awareness and ‘kills’ itself.

Frankly, it’s not the sort of book that I prefer to read, and I only got out of it the ability to say I’ve read it and that I’ve grappled with the author’s point. I had more trouble grappling with the author’s writing, though. You cannot blame the substance on the translator.

So if you’re a Serious Student of Eastern European or Science Fiction Literature, it’s probably for you. Otherwise, stick to the Star Trek novels.

Books mentioned in this review: