Ever since I devoured Dana Fredsti’s thrilling zombie novel Plague Town last April, I’ve been anxiously awaiting its sequel Plague Nation. Thankfully I was rewarded with it earlier this month, and got a chance to start it during my morning commute. I found myself on the edge of my seat, literally so absorbed, that I didn’t even realize I had gotten on the wrong train. Now that’s gripping zombie literature!
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Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi flick “Oblivion” is like the South Park episode “Simpsons Already Did It,” where Butters tries to cause havoc, and is continually foiled when he learns that “The Simpsons did it!” first. With Kosinski’s film though, you might say, “Cinema did it!” repeatedly after the introduction of each well-traveled science fiction theme in the movie.
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Anytime something claims to be the “complete” guide to a subject, I’m immediately skeptical of its “completeness.” Asserting that your piece is the be all and end all resource about a topic is pretty bold, carrying with it an air of arrogance. However that self-assuredness is completely justified in the case of Nicholas Pegg’s 700 plus page tome, The Complete David Bowie, which was recently re-released in an updated and expanded edition by Titan Books.
Pegg’s lengthy introduction celebrates the chameleonic David Bowie for his ability to change appearance, persona, and music to suit changing artistic interests. He comes off as very defensive of Bowie, responding to criticisms that the man lacks attention span and his own unique style. Although Pegg argues quite deftly that Bowie self-identifies more as a performer than a musician, using new types of sound and characters to explore themes of space travel, faith, mental health, and isolation that he’s been grappling with throughout his career. By placing Bowie in this light, Pegg opens a fascinating door to helping you better understand the complicated facets of this enigmatic artist. It’s also the perfect setup for what follows in Pegg’s guide.
Throughout The Complete David Bowie, Pegg uses a shorthand when discussing Bowie’s works, which thankfully he lays out in the beginning of the piece under a section called “How to Use This Book.” Pegg’s volume is as complete as you can possibly get when it comes to Bowie, discussing songs from A-Z, albums, live performances, BBC radio sessions, videos, and Bowie’s work as an actor. There’s a fantastic section called “Dateline” as well, which is literally a 54 page timeline of Bowie’s career covering all aspects of his artistic pursuits.
The two column text format for each page means that this work is jam-packed with juicy details. Everything in Pegg’s book is meticulously researched and written, containing fascinating insight and behind-the-scenes information quelled from multiple sources, including but not limited to interviews with Bowie and his collaborators. For instance in his section on songs, Pegg includes details about different versions of songs, circumstances surrounding their recording, if bootleg copies have surfaced, and even notable covers by other musicians. If that’s not thorough, I don’t know what is.
If you’re a casual Bowie appreciator, beware; you might not have the fortitude to digest a volume of this breadth. However, if you’re a hardcore Bowie fan looking for the Encyclopedia Bowieca, you won’t be disappointed with The Complete David Bowie. The subject matter and its precise presentation will be enough for you to want to read this book cover to cover.
The Complete David Bowie is available in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.
Welcome back to Weekend Movie Preview. Things have been pretty busy for me over the last month or so, which is why you haven’t seen as many of my movie reviews coming out. However I’m trying to get back into the swing of things and hope to deliver you guys with more regular columns. I had such fun at the theater this week, I felt like I just needed to share my thoughts on the new “Evil Dead” and “Jurassic Park 3D.”
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Once again, the White House is under attack for its foreign policies, but this time, it’s not merely disgruntled protesters swarming its gates. In Antoine Fuqua’s action flick “Olympus Has Fallen,” violent terrorists swiftly seize control of The Oval Office in order to stage a large-scale attack on the United States. This heinous act is hinted in the film’s title; a military code phrase confirming the catastrophic news.
Like all great movies in this genre, the country’s fate rests in the hands of one tough sonuvabitch on the inside, who happens to be there at just the right time. Basically it’s “Die Hard while Under Siege at the White House,” which is actually a good thing. “Olympus Has Fallen” borrows from the best parts of both films, while even managing to slightly improve upon their respective formulas.
Our hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a secret service agent who gets reassigned after he makes a tough call in the line of duty. A year and a half later in his boring desk job at the U.S. Treasury, Mike still can’t take his mind off what happened, so when Washington D.C. falls under attack, he seizes the chance to help protect the White House. Where the movie goes from there is pretty predictable: gunfights, giant explosions, humorous banter, and the threat of nuclear missile strikes.
Like “Die Hard,” this film has amusing verbal sparring between the hero and the villain. Sadly, however there aren’t really any iconic lines like John McClane’s famous catchphrase. There are higher stakes for Mike than for John though. Instead of just trying to survive and to stop some robbers, Mike has to evade the enemy, rescue the President, and prevent a nuclear holocaust. Talk about a busy day!
Throughout the movie, Fuqua cuts back and forth to a government situation room led by de facto President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who is in communication with Mike on the inside. In this way it’s very reminiscent of “Under Siege,” except “Olympus Has Fallen” has a much better protagonist. Steven Seagal’s character Casey Ryback in “Under Siege” is a cocky smartass who’s really just helping because he happens to be around, not because he’s a true patriot. Mike Banning on the other hand is a truly amiable guy you can root for, who bleeds red white and blue. Part of Mike’s likability comes from his genuine attachment to the President and his son, and the other piece is Gerard Butler’s well-rounded, nice-guy performance.
Speaking of performances, Aaron Eckhart’s is kind of weak as the cowardly President Asher, but there are fun supporting players like Freeman, Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett, and Dylan McDermott who liven things up. Freeman, especially, is given n some fantastic opportunities to shine, like when he brilliantly dresses down an army general for getting in his face.
As you would expect in any big budget action movie, there are moments which really stretch your suspension of disbelief, including some that are downright ridiculous. These instances are brought into even sharper relief by the film’s awful CGI effects that look like they belong in a last generation video game. Another spot this picture falters is with its development of the villain’s motives. The bad guys are sufficiently evil, mean mofos who you feel no sympathy toward, but you don’t quite get the chance to understand why the leader chose this plan. His background is touched upon briefly in conversation, which just feels too thin.
Despite these shortcomings, “Olympus Has Fallen” is an entertaining action vehicle that’s exploding with patriotism and non-stop excitement. It may be based on a well-established formula, however the movie handles it well. It’s certainly better at being “Die Hard,” than John McClane’s most recent outing.
The documentary “Bully” does a tremendous job of raising awareness about the prevalence of bullying in our nation’s public schools, while also exposing its adverse effects on victims. “Bully” accomplishes this by following a mixture of children and parents from different spots around the country, who have either experienced bullying or are currently trying to combat it.
“Bully” is not for the faint to heart. It’s images and situations are incredibly tough to watch, often driving you outrage. Among the people profiled, are parents who lost their children to suicide provoked by bullying, a boy who is picked on for his appearance, a young woman ostracized for her sexual orientation, and a girl in legal trouble for pulling a weapon on the kids who harassed her.
Each piece is affecting in its own way, although the documentary’s focus on grieving parents is the most compelling. Hearing their stories, you’re moved by the difficulty of their loss and inspired by their crusade to end bullying for other children. Additionally, the boy’s perspective is impactful because you see his parents and administrators floundering to give him the proper support that he needs. What’s really crazy is that the threat to his safety becomes so severe, that the documentary crew intervenes by showing the troubling footage to both parties.
Although “Bully” shines a light on bullying and drives you to anger by showing the lack of action school administrators are willing/able to take in order to stop it, the documentary ignores a couple of major perspectives. First, despite its close attention to several people, the documentary’s subjects are not that geographically diverse. The filmmakers chose all people from middle America, completely ignoring East and West Coast perspectives. Second, it does a lot of finger pointing without discussing positive ways to stop bullying. It would have felt much more well-rounded with interviews from psychologists discussing effective means to curb bullies or strategies from school districts that feel particularly good at keeping their students from engaging in this kind of behavior. At the end “Bully” starts to get there as the parents profiled tell other children how they can help, but this comes a little too late.
After all the controversy surrounding this documentary’s proposed “R” rating, I didn’t find anything in it worthy of that stigma. At points it can be difficult to watch, but only because of the frustrating ways that people treat one another. Definitely worth seeing though regardless of whether you’ve been bullied in school. At the very least you’ll get a good laugh from its use of the song “Teenage Dirtbag.”
My Grade: B+
Films like “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige” use magic as a vehicle for suspense and intrigue, but Don Scardino’s comedy “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” reminds us that this trade doesn’t need to be taken so seriously. In Scardino’s movie, a magician’s calling isn’t to fool you; it’s to inspire your childlike sense of awe and spark your imagination. This gooey idea is one that the picture sets up right in its beginning and continues to reinforce throughout.
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Full disclosure: author Daniel M. Kimmel is my friend, and my colleague in The Boston Online Film Critics Association. However I can honestly say that I would have loved his book Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide, regardless of whether I knew him personally. Kimmel’s debut novel is brilliant satire of the film industry, which also happens to be a hilarious, heartwarming science fiction story about unexpected friendship.
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