Daily Archives: October 27, 2013

The Way Way Back – movie review

If you missed this comedy when it came out in July 2013, it is worth seeing on-line or via DVD. It is the story of a 14 year old boy Duncan (played by Liam James) who has to endure going on a summer vacation with his divorced mother and her new boyfriend (played by Steve Carell).

Steve Carell is noted for playing very likable characters such as his roles in “Date Night” and the T.V. show “The Office”. That’s why it will come as a shock to see him as a character who is basically  nasty with no redeeming features.

The movie accurately captures the overwhelming awkwardness of the average 14 year old boy. Too many comedies about high school students show them as completely self-assured and suave. Duncan, on the other hand is shy, tongue tied around girls, and easily embarrassed.  In one scene they all go out on Carell’s boat and Duncan is forced to be the only one to wear a life jacket which is mortifying for someone trying to look cool for the girls.

Duncan eventually gets a job at a local water park with the double entendre name “Water Wizz”.  The laid-back manager (played excellently by Sam Rockwell) takes him under his wing and together with the other park employees is able to change Duncan’s way of feeling about himself.

This is a feel good movie that will leave you with a smile, while also making you remember that the days of being a teenager weren’t really all that great.

Turbulence book review

Turbulence by Samit Basu published in 2013  is a fun science fiction novel set in modern day India. After taking the long plane ride from London to Delhi, some of the passengers discover over the next few weeks that they have developed special powers. The individual powers vary tremendously and have to do with whatever they happened to be dreaming about while sleeping on the plane.

Predictably, they end up splitting into two groups depending upon whether or not they want to use their power to help people, or for their own selfish ends.

This is a good book with a lot of action sequences, that never takes itself too seriously. The most interesting part is seeing what types of powers the people have developed. One of the more dangerous characters is a little girl who can take on the power of a T.V. anime character.  She is frightening since she does not realize how deadly she really is. There is also an aspiring  actress whose new power is that everyone she meets immediately likes her. It does not seem like much of a superpower, but turns out to be one of the most useful powers of all in a crowded urban environment.

This is a fast-moving fun read.

The Big Crowd -book review

The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker – published in 2013 is a historical novel set in New York City in the period just before and after World War II. It combines real and fictional characters. The main character is the flamboyant mayor Charlie O’Kane. He is closely based on the real-life William O’Dwyer who was New York City’s last Irish born mayor.

The book accurately portrays the energy and contrasts of New York at that time. Right after World War II, the Mayor of New York was theoretically the most powerful person in the most powerful city in the most powerful  country on Earth. But despite the supposed power, this was a time when the city was also run behind the scenes by other groups of  men. Union bosses, mobsters, and  policemen with their own agendas all vie for power against the likes of the real estate developer Robert Moses and Catholic Cardinal Spellman.

The book is told mostly from the perspective of Tom O’Kane the mayor’s brother. Tom loves his brother, but is concerned with the people who seem to be getting left behind in the great city’s progress. The longshoremen, the Negro population, the people in the Bronx who happen to be living where the new highways are going all have no place in the New York of the future.

The book contrasts Tom, who cares deeply about the underclasses, but can never do much for them, with the mayor, who argues that to make a change you first need to get the power, and to do that you have to make deals with a lot of different devils.

The author states that, “my goal was to depict New York in all the gaudy glory of its postwar heyday, and to sift to the bottom of what today remains some of its worst and mysterious public scandals.” In this well written riveting tale of New York, he has succeeded.

The Windup Girl – book review

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – was published in 2009 and is a science fiction novel set in the future. The Earth’s polar ice caps have melted completely and the balance of power in the world has shifted to the Far East,  and the kingdom of Thailand is now the most powerful country. The world’s oil reserves are completely depleted, and people are back to relying on animal power, or even energy stored in specialized devices such as metal springs to run everything.

With the ensuing chaos countries fight each other with biological weapons that destroy not people, but the enemy countries crops, leaving most of the world’s population with not enough food. The source of Thailand’s power comes from the fact that their scientists have found ways to protect its crops against the biological plagues.

The hero of the story is an American who has been sent to Thailand to spy and try to find out the Thai scientists secrets. There he meets and falls in love with the beautiful  “windup girl” She is a genetically engineered being. In many ways she is superior to regular humans, but moves in jerky motions unless she moves very slowly. Thus, she often seems like a life-sized windup toy.

The mark of a good science fiction writer is being able to create a completely unique environment and yet have all the characters and situations within that environment seem believable. Paolo Bacigalupi has done this in an excellent work of science fiction. You not only believe in the characters, but come to like and care for them and what happens to their futuristic world.