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My wife and I like to dine out. We like to see movies and shows. We like to read, listen to music, and watch TV. And we like to read reviews of places we've eaten, movies and shows we've seen, books we've read, music we've heard and TV we've watched. Sometimes we agree with the reviewers; often we don't. We've often joked that it would be fun to have our own review column. Well, here's our chance.

When I get a chance, I'm going to separate the books from the movies to make this page easier to navigate.

New reviews are printed are in red.

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See my book Recommendations.

bulletBooks (arranged alphabetically by author and title; note only books that I've read since starting this site are listed; books that are reviewed only at LibraryThing are marked )
bulletDavid Baldacci
bulletCamel Club [Camel Club #1] An interesting premises, but I would have liked to have learned more about some of the other characters. Good enough to make me want to read the sequel.
bulletThe Collectors [Camel Club #2] The second book in the series did give me the opportunity to learn more about some of the characters; however, other characters were absent (or virtually absent) and the personality quirks of one of the more interesting characters were virtually eliminated. Another interesting story, but somehow Baldacci's writing just never manages to grab me as much as I'd like.
bulletStone Cold [Camel Club #3]
bulletTed Bell
bulletHawke [Alexander Hawke #1] I think that Ted Bell wanted to create the next Dirk Pitt or James Bond. Unfortunately, he tried to do too much in his first novel and, as if that didn't create enough of a problem, the book read too much like a first novel. Certain characters seemed way too contrived or stereotypical and certain plot elements seemed to simply vanish (the McGuffin disappeared far too early) or be forgotten about. Bell has some neat ideas; hopefully the next Alexander Hawke novel will be better. I'm willing to give it a try (although I'm not quite sure why...).
bulletAssassin [Alexander Hawke #2] Unfortunately, Ted Bell's writing has not improved much in his second Alexander Hawke novel. He still tries to do too much, to copy too many stock characters, to have his hero too perfect, to have the villain, too evil, etc. If Bell would limit his scope and scale back the number of characters that assist Hawke, the books would be much more enjoyable. For the time being, a Clive Cussler novel (even those that he simply "co-writes") is a much better way to pass the time than an Alexander Hawke novel. I have elected not to keep reading Bell's books (at least until someone tells me that his storytelling has improved).
bulletSteve Berry
bulletThe Amber Room A fairly original "treasure hunt" type of story with interesting characters. One of the "twists" was far too obvious and the climax was a bit too pat and predictable, but this was still an enjoyable read (certainly good enough to make me read Berry's next novel).
bulletThe Romanov Prophecy Unfortunately, this story was not as good as The Amber Room. The characters were not as interesting, and the story seemed far, far less plausible. I'm perfectly willing to go along with a good setup, but the use of prophecy mixed into a geopolitical thriller seemed out of place. Also, the story took far too long to reach the "treasure hunt" portion of the story and, by then, I felt as if the author were racing through and dispensing with the detail that he focused on in the early portions of the book. That said, the book was good enough for me to give Berry's next novel a chance.
bulletThe Third Secret Somehow, this story just took too long to really take off and, once it did, it was over too quickly. Not nearly as much action as in Berry's prior books.
bulletThe Templar Legacy [Cotton Malone #1] Some interesting ideas, that just didn't come together very well.
bulletThe Alexandria Link [Cotton Malone #2] Note that I have written a very long open letter (part 1 at least) to Steve Berry, author of The Alexandria Link, criticizing the book's antiemetic message and tone. I'm working on part 2 of the letter, focusing on the book's incorporation of the Palestinian narrative of history.
bulletJohn Birmingham
bulletWeapons of Choice [The Axis of Time #1] This was an interesting alternate history sort of book that will really appeal to fans of the movie The Final Countdown. In 2021, a multinational naval task force is sent back in time to 1942. The book explores both how WWII might have changed in such an event and how the people from the two times interact with and react to each other. The book began with quite a bit of action; the problem was that the author introduced so many characters, that it was nearly impossible to get a firm grip on who was who and who was doing what. Also, the early action sequences in which 1942 Americans and 2021 Americans are shooting at each other leaves the reader somewhat uncomfortable in who to "cheer" for. The other problem I had is that the author seemed to go a bit overboard in efforts to be sure that his 21st century protagonists were truly a rainbow of people. I certainly believe that by 2021, more women will be involved in the navy, but a reader of Weapons of Choice might be led to believe that the navy has no white males at all. I do plan to read the remaining books in the series.
bulletAmy Borkowsky
bulletAmy's Answering Machine
bulletAndrew Britton
bulletThe American [Ryan Kealey #1] A decent effort for a first book, but I couldn't help but feel that Britton's writing could have used a more assertive editor. For example, several times, the text would read that "he" did something, when the particular scene involved several male characters in the room. Similarly, there were numerous conversations where I could not follow which character was speaking. Other than those sorts of technical problems, the story was interesting, but I found that I just wasn't that interested in the characters. In particular, the relationship between the protagonist and his girlfriend felt hollow. The book did have a interesting (although predictable) ending, but it was good enough that I'll be interested to read the sequel.
bulletRichard Brookhiser
bulletWhat Would the Founders Do Brookhiser attempts to address modern-day issues in light of the writings of America's Founding Fathers to see how they would have approached or responded to those issues. In some areas he succeeds; however, far more often, his conclusions are drawn far too quickly. Moreover, it frequently felt as if Brookhiser were only skimmer the surface of both the Founding Fathers' writings and the issues themselves. Perhaps, Brookhiser was trying to write a simple, broadly appealing book. Unfortunately, in doing so, he missed the opportunity to delve more deeply into the issues and ideas that he set out to examine.
bulletDan Brown
bulletAngels & Demons [Robert Langdon #1] A quick note about Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code: I read a lot. However, in my many years of reading thrillers, few books have grabbed me the way these two books did. They were, quite literally, books that could not be put down. Every so often a book will come along that reminds me how much I really do enjoy reading and reinvigorates my desire to read more (and watch less TV as a consequence). Brown's novels both had this effect. Furthermore, few novels compel me to go to the bookstore or library or online to research some of the information presented by the author. Again, both of Brown's books had this effect as well. I cannot wait for the next Robert Langdon novel. I do not purchase many books in hardback (I do steal hardbacks from my father). Only a few limited "favorite" authors get this "honor". Dan Brown has earned this honor.
bulletThe Da Vinci Code [Roberet Langdon #2] See comments to Angels & Demons.
bulletDeception Point The good news is that the story's resolution was not predictable; the bad news is that it seemed a bit too fantastic (i.e., an awful lot of work to get to a result that seemingly could have been accomplished with far less effort). Nevertheless, I really liked this book, in large part because it did not feel like a story that I'd read a thousand times before.
bulletDigital Fortress This was Brown's first book. While it wasn't bad, it was certainly not good enough to have made me eager to read his other books. I am, thus, very, very glad that I did not read it before Angels & Demons or The Da Vinci Code.
bulletIan Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
bulletThe Rule of Four I decided to read The Rule of Four on the basis of numerous glowing reviews and favorable comparisons to The Da Vinci Code. If you are looking for a literary story of a college student searching for meaning in his life, then this may be the book that you are looking for. If, on the other hand, you enjoyed the puzzles and "historical secrets" of The Da Vinci Code, then you need to look elsewhere to get what you are looking for. I really disliked The Rule of Four for two reasons: First, it was written in a manner that screamed out to me, "Hey look at us, we know how to write in a literary style! Maybe we'll get great reviews!". Second, the promised puzzles and historical interest were barely puzzles at all (certainly not puzzles that the reader had a hope of trying to solve with the protagonists) and the historical interest was, actually, of very minor import. I finished this book only because I very rarely put a book down and because I kept hoping that it would get better. It didn't. Read something else. (By the way, if a "literary version" of The Da Vinci Code is really what you want, try wading through Umberto Eco's Foucoult's Pendulum; just don't say that I didn't warn you...)
bulletSanto Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, & Rob Sitch
bulletMolvania [Jetlag Travel #1] One of the funniest books ever. Seriously. For those who don't know, Molvania is a small, former Soviet republic in eastern Europe. Or so the authors would have you think. The books is a spot-on spoof of a travel guide to this country, with detailed examinations of the people and culture as well as the usual tour-book examinations of where to stay and eat and what to do. The humor is very dry, but laugh-out-loud funny. (Some of my favorite examples include the fact that the Molvanian language has been slow to catch on outside of the country due to the insistence on the use of the triple negative [e.g., "Is it not that the water is not not unsafe to drink?" or the hotel where the staff can provide virtually everything from clean linen to a teenage girl or the public park in the downtown of a "major" city that is underutilized, perhaps because of the large minefield in the middle.) Absolutely hysterical and well-worth reading (even if you only pick it up and read random bits).
bulletTom Clancy
bulletThe Teeth of the Tiger [Jack Ryan #__] I felt like Clancy wrote half a book, and the second half will be published next year...
bulletJames Carroll
bulletConstantine's Sword I don't read much non-fiction; after all, I read plenty of non-fiction at work. But this book was recommended to me following the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. James Carroll, a former Catholic priest became interested in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations following outcry by Jewish groups over the erection of crosses at Auschwitz. Carroll's interest evolved into Constantine's Sword, a book that traces both the aforementioned history as well as Carroll's own religious growth. The book is extremely detailed, superbly written, and clearly heartfelt. Much of the history was not new to me (as a Catholic theologian said at a forum to discuss Anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ, Jews and Catholics of 2,000 years of history; Jews know that history, but Catholic's do not); however, the theological underpinnings from the Catholic perspective were entirely new. Many of the points that Carroll makes were the type that resonated profoundly. I only wish that every Christian who still harbors a degree of Anti-Semitism would read this book and think seriously about some of the theological issues that Carroll raises. Constantine's Sword was one of the most powerful books that I've ever read and I give it the highest recommendation.
bulletLee Child
bulletKilling Floor [Jack Reacher #1] I happened upon Lee Child and his protagonist Jack Reacher after reading a post on Barry Eisler's (author of the John Rain novels) website in which Eisler praised Child's writing and the Jack Reacher series. I'd seen Child's books around, but never paid any attention. So, upon Barry Eisler's recommendation, I read Killing Floor. Now, in addition to John Rain, I have something else to thank Barry Eisler for. Killing Floor is does not fall into the usual genre of thrillers that I choose (more mystery than espionage), but I still loved the book. Jack Reacher is a terrific character and Child is excellent at writing action and in creating either fully developed characters or, when appropriate, huge, larger than life, caricatures and stereotypes. I flew threw Killing Floor and quickly moved on to the next Reacher novel.
bulletDie Trying [Jack Reacher #2] A successful follow-up to Killing Floor. I would have preferred that Child continued to write in first person (which I usually detest; few writers manage to write a good thriller in first person) as the scenes that did not feature Reacher were the weakest of the book.
bulletTripwire [Jack Reacher #3] This novel was much weaker than the first two Jack Reacher novels, perhaps because the portions of the plot involving some peripheral characters just didn't hold my interest the way Reacher does. I did however, enjoy learning much more about Reacher's background and I look forward to Child giving me further glimpses into what makes Reacher who he is.
bulletRunning Blind [Jack Reacher #4] Although I'm not usually a fan of mysteries, I've always been a sucker for a good (really good) serial killer novel. In Running Blind, Lee Child combines an inventive serial killer novel with a great, non-traditional character in Jack Reacher. Maybe I've just read too many of these, but I was able to guess several of the "payoffs" way too early, but it was still fun watching the characters get work there way to the solution. I also enjoyed the way that Child managed to carefully address the open plot elements from Tripwire.
bulletEcho Burning [Jack Reacher #5] While I continue to enjoy Jack Reacher, I found Echo Burning to be a story that just never grabbed me. Perhaps it was too much of a traditional mystery for my taste; perhaps, I just didn't find any of other characters to be very compelling. Plus, I would have liked Reacher to at least remember some of the events of Tripwire and Running Blind but it seemed as if those events no longer registered or weighed upon Reacher. Once the "twist" occurred (too late, unfortunately), the book improved dramatically. I will acknowledge that I even resorted to "method reading" to try to get into Echo Burning (the heat of south Texas is practically a character and, when I was having trouble getting into the story, I decided to read outside in 90+ degree weather; it actually helped a bit).
bulletWithout Fail [Jack Reacher #6] I've read the first six Jack Reacher novels straight through (only taking time out to read the last Harry Potter novel). Without Fail is neither the best nor the worst of the Reacher books. I found the plot to be mostly compelling; however, there were very few opportunities for Reacher to be ... well ... Reacher. The story, despite being grounded as a thriller, was in many ways more of a straight-forward police procedural novel (which I've never been a big fan of). The actual mystery was inventive but I did guess some of the twists fairly early. Nevertheless, while I may not have loved Without Fail, I thoroughly enjoy the character of Jack Reacher and have every intention of reading the rest of the series (although I'm taking another "time out", this time to read Sandworms of Dune).
bulletPersuader [Jack Reacher #7]
bulletThe Enemy [Jack Reacher #8]
bulletOne Shot [Jack Reacher #9]
bulletThe Hard Way [Jack Reacher #10]
bulletBad Luck and Trouble [Jack Reacher #11]
bulletMichael Crichton
bulletState of Fear I like Michael Crichton's novels (from The Andromeda Strain to Jurassic Park and many stops in between). But I did not like State of Fear. First, let me be clear that my dislike of the book has nothing to do with the political viewpoint Crichton expresses (namely that global warming is hogwash used to keep the public in a state of fear now that the cold war and the state of fear that it brought has ended). In the early portions of the novel, I found some of the statistics and information that Crichton offered to be interesting and compelling; he made me think about issues that I had not thought much about. And, given that I tend to respect Crichton's apparent knowledge of science, I was willing to let him "preach" to me a bit. However, as the story wore on (and on and on and on), it became apparent that, despite his claim not to have an agenda, the "story" was merely an excuse for a diatribe against those who support global warming. The story is so thin as to be laughable. Interesting elements that should have been developed are dropped for no good reason. Characters do stupid things (for no good reason). Several times, Crichton seemed to remember that people read his books for the action and adventure, so he offers a few brief action sequences (the finale is so lame [I cannot think of a better word] as to be laughable). If Crichton really wanted to make his point, he should have written a good novel that presented both sides of an issue (weighted in the direction that Crichton prefers, of course) and allowed the reader to draw his own conclusions. Instead, Crichton offers a non-story in hopes that people will feel compelled to come around to his point of view. In fact, Crichton has even been given an award by a petroleum industry group for this diatribe disguised as novel. All-in-all, State of Fear was one of the worst books that I've read in a long, long time. The worst part of this is that I am no longer willing to give Crichton the benefit of the doubt or to consider that he might know what he's talking about. Without good reason, this will probably be the last Crichton "novel" that I read.
bulletClive Cussler
bulletTrojan Odyssey [Dirk Pitt #17] Neither Cussler's best nor his worst. This was, however, the first book to feature the new characters introduced at the end of Valhalla Rising. The book also appears to mark a shift in the course of the Dirk Pitt series. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.
bulletwith Jack Du Brul
bulletDark Watch [Oregon Files #3] The third book in the Oregon Files series confirmed two things: First, Jack Du Brul is a much better writer than Craig Dirgo. Second, the Oregon Files are just not as interesting as the Dirk Pitt and Kirk Austin novels. The best part of Dark Watch was the Mission Impossible sequence near the middle of the book (recall that was also the best part of Golden Buddha, the first book in the series), but it ended far too briefly. The series has so many characters that very few are properly fleshed out. Also, the detailed "problem" identified by some of the villains early in the book is never actually resolved.
bulletSkeleton Coast [Oregon Files #4] Probably a better story than Dark Watch, Skeleton Coast still isn't as interesting as the Dirk Pitt novels. Several of the action sequences were exciting and the cameo at the end of fun (if too brief). However, there were several times when I wanted the story to delve more deeply into some of the ideas and plot avenues. Plus, I couldn't help but feeling that a particular sequence toward the end of the book was a complete ripoff of one of the fun action sequences from the film Sahara (a Dirk Pitt film).
bulletwith Dirk Cussler
bulletBlack Wind [Dirk Pitt #18] Black Wind is the first of the "new" Dirk Pitt novels written by Clive Cussler with his son, Dirk. Apparently, Clive is retiring and Dirk is taking over the series. So, it should come as no surprise that with this novel, Dirk Pitt has been promoted and most of the action falls upon Dirk Pitt (that is, Dirk Pitt, Jr.) The old role of Al Giordano is now effectively split between Dirk's sister Summer and his friend Jack Dahlgren. In fact, Junior is so much like Senior that I mostly forgot that I was reading about the exploits of a different character (at least until the climax of the story, but no spoilers here). In almost all other ways, Black Wind is just like any of the preceding books in the series. (Dirk Pitt, Sr. and Al Giordano do get some "screen time"). I enjoyed the book, although I didn't love it. Too much of it was too much like too many prior books; then again, I keep reading Dirk Pitt novels precisely because they are much like their predecessors and I sometimes like knowing exactly what I'm getting before I open to page 1. In this way, Black Wind did not disappoint. My biggest gripe with the book is that I was hoping to get more deeply into Summer Pitt's character and I certainly hope that she does not remain as a mere sidekick for Dirk in future books.
bulletTreasure of Khan [Dirk Pitt #19] Again, neither the best nor worst in the series. There was less underwater action in this story than most. Also, although the story was "new", for the first time in reading a Dirk Pitt novel, I kept feeling as if nothing was "new" and that I'd encountered each situation before. Also, I would have liked more character development. Oddly, the book focused almost entirely on Dirk (senior) and Al while Dirk (junior) and Summer had only a minor, near-cameo appearance.
bulletwith Craig Dirgo
bulletGolden Buddha [Oregon Files #1] This book was very different from the other NUMA books by Clive Cussler or co-written by Clive Cussler. Golden Buddha is set in the same "universe" as the NUMA books, but does not share any characters (other than those characters who made an appearance in an earlier Dirk Pitt novel from which this series is actually a spinoff). The best way to describe this novel would be a very elaborate episode of Mission: Impossible. Imagine an author taking the time to draw out the complexity of a classic MI mission over the length of a novel rather than 48 minutes of television and you'll have a pretty good idea what Golden Buddha was like. Was it improbable? Of course! Was it fun? Sure was!
bulletSacred Stone [Oregon Files #1] I gave Golden Buddha, the first book in this series, a fairly good review. Unfortunately, I cannot do the same for Sacred Stone. Everything that was enjoyable about Golden Buddha was absent. Instead, the book reads more like a logistics textbook, with the main characters placing their subordinates around like a chess match. In fact, many of the action sequences in the book are simply glossed over so that the others can return to the tedium of logistics (let's put this helicopter over there, and this boat here...). If the next book in the series (if there is one) is not a significant improvement, then the series is dead. Note: The next book in the series was co-written with Jack Du Brul (an author whose books I've really enjoyed) instead of Craig Dirgo.
bulletwith Paul Kemprecos
bulletFire Ice [NUMA Files #3] The Kurt Austin stories just don't hold my interest the way that the Dirk Pitt stories do. Fire Ice was okay, but it was too predictable. Austen's "special assignments team" has virtually nothing to do (especially Gamay Trout...why was she even in this book?).
bulletWhite Death [NUMA Files #4] Between my comments for Fire Ice and Lost City there isn't much more to say about White Death. It is a Kurt Austin novel. Neither better nor worse than any others.
bulletLost City [NUMA Files #5] I continue to read the Kurt Austin books because they are a form of fast-paced, light entertainment. Unfortunately, they never rise to the level of interest and excitement that Cussler seems to reserve for the Dirk Pitt novels. Lost City had its interesting moments, but it never quite rose above being anything other than marginally entertaining. If you're not already a fan of the Kurt Austin series, you can probably find better things to read.
bulletPolar Shift [NUMA Files #6] Once again, not much to add to the reviews for the prior books in the NUMA Files series. In fact, the book was so unremarkable, that I forgot to add it to this website for well over a year.
bulletAlan Dershowitz
bulletThe Case for Israel This was an excellent book, but, unfortunately, it wasn't perfect. Anybody that is interested in Israel (especially the Israeli-Palestinian dispute) should read this book. Even more important, those who would like to defend Israel but who do not feel that they have the background to answer the allegations of Israel-bashers (or pro-Palestinians), then this book will provide you with much of the knowledge (and ammunition) needed. The book is laid out as a series of allegations leveled against Israel, each followed by examples of the allegation and by a rebuttal (often consisting of both history lesson and legal and/or moral arguments). My biggest complaint with Dershowitz's book is that if you do not agree with some of the arguments that he makes in earlier sections, then the arguments raised in later sections may fall flat (for example, some people will never [although they're idiots] agree that Israel was fighting a defensive war in the 1967 Six Day War; if you do not accept this argument, then many of the arguments that are premised on this argument are weakened). Highly recommended!
bulletForrest DeVoe, Jr.
bulletInto the Volcano [Mallory and Morse #1]
bulletChris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook with Jim Drury
bulletSqueeze: Song by Song This is an absolute must-read for any fan of Squeeze. If you're not a fan of Squeeze (shame on you), then this book will be meaningless. The book is a relatively brief biography of the band (focusing on its principal members Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook) broken down into time periods based on the band's studio albums. The heart of the book, however, is interspersed between the biographical entries. Ian Drury, acting as a sort of interviewer offers up songs from each of the albums, one-by-one, and gives Difford and Tilbrook an opportunity to describe the songwriting process, the recording process, how the band felt about the song or each other, and virtually anything else that came to mind. It is absolutely amazing the amount of dysfunction that Difford and Tilbrook apparently experienced and exhibited in such an amazing songwriting partnership. The opportunity to learn what songs really mean and the inspiration behind many of them is priceless for any fan of the band. Unfortunately, the interviews were conducted separately (for reasons that will become obvious as one reads the book). The book also includes lyrics for most of the Squeeze's album tracks. I wish that the book had included a thorough discussion of the songs on the "Difford and Tilbrook" album and on their respective solo work. I also wish that some of the terrific b-sides that Squeeze released would have been included. Nevertheless, for a Squeeze fan, this book is an important addition to the musical collection.
bulletJack Du Brul
bulletDeep Fire Rising [Philip Mercer #6] The sixth Philip Mercer book was not Du Brul's best, but it was entertaining. The series is very similar to Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt books, with the primary difference being that the main character is a mining engineer rather than an underwater expert. Deep Fire Rising was a bit more fantastic than the last few Du Brul works. I do like that Du Brul is willing to allow his bad guys and natural disasters actually be bad; that is, when bad people do bad things, good people may actually be hurt or even die. Too many writers (one of my criticisms with Clive Cussler) will give a huge buildup for the calamity of an event, but then pull their punch and find a way for innocent bystanders to miraculously survive unscathed. This book has several episodes where innocent people die, which gives the story (as fantastic as it may be), a sense of reality.
bulletHavoc [Philip Mercer #7] I'm worried that Du Brul is running out of ideas for Philip Mercer. The story just didn't feel fresh or new or particularly interesting. Only a few of the action scenes felt particularly suspenseful, and the best of these (on a train) spiraled out of control into the "Oh, come on" realm. Worth reading if you're a fan; otherwise, there are better books.
bulletBarry Eisler
bulletRain Fall [John Rain #1] In some ways John Rain, the protagonist of Rain Fall can be seen as a 21st Century Jonathan Hemlock (The Eiger Sanction) or Nicolai Hel (Shibumi). While I didn't find Rain to be as fascinating a character as those, he was interesting and his story enjoyable. I'm looking forward to continuing to read the John Rain books.
bulletHard Rain [John Rain #2] In many ways, Hard Rain is less a sequel to Rain Fall than it is a continuation of that story. Most sequels stand on their own; Hard Rain does not. If you haven't read Rain Fall then you will be absolutely lost for much of Hard Rain. The character of John Rain continues to develop in Hard Rain. He is an enjoyable character whom I certainly would not want angry with me. My largest criticism of Eisler's books is that Japanese/Tokyo travelogue; while it is interesting (and Tokyo is practically a character in the books), it occasionally gets a bit tedious, especially for a reader that has never been to Japan has a hard time envisioning some of the environs being described. But that is a minor criticism for an otherwise very enjoyable series of novels. I've already started reading the next John Rain novel.
bulletRain Storm [John Rain #3] Another fine entry in the John Rain series.
bulletKilling Rain [John Rain #4] A good story; however, I found the sudden "cutaway" to third person narratives about other characters distracting from the first person narrative of the first three books.
bulletThe Last Assassin [John Rain #5] This might have been the best John Rain book so far (although I would still prefer that Eisler drop the third person narrative that he now sprinkles into his books). All through the book I kept wondering how Eisler could possibly provide a satisfactory ending (as frequent readers of this page will note, I am often critical of weak endings), but Eisler surprised me and ended the book just right! Please read the John Rain novels, but please, please, read them in order.
bulletRequiem for an Assassin [John Rain #6] Eisler and Rain keep getting better and better and better. Requiem was a terrific book (although it should probably not be read until all others in the series have been read in order). With the last two John Rain books, Eisler has made the leap into my top echelon of writers and Rain has become one of the top characters. (Interesting side note: I found some of Eisler's views [expressed by Rain] on Iraq and the Bush administration to be very refreshing, especially as so many writers in the genre come to the subject from a position fairly far to the right.) I've enjoyed the John Rain books so much, in fact, that I've gone back and given each of the previous books in the series an additional from my initial reviews. Why? Because the books (and the character) have stayed with me, far more than almost any other current fictional character (probably only Mitch Rapp is in the same category, but Eisler's writing is much stronger). In addition, I'm about to offer Eisler  just about the highest praise that you will ever hear me offer to an espionage writer: Eisler's writing style (in particular his method of developing Rain's character and his ability to put suspense on the page) made me think of Adam Hall and Quiller (and as I've told many, many people for a long, long time, I believe that Adam Hall's Quiller novels are the best espionage books that nobody has ever read). Congratulations, Mr. Eisler on creating a fabulous character! I look forward to your next book. I highly, highly recommend the John Rain series, but please (and I can't stress this enough), read the books in order!
bulletRobert Ferrigno
bulletPrayers for the Assassin An interesting premise (a world in which Islam has taken over much of the former USA which remains at war with the "Bible Belt") that simply didn't work. The story was somewhat interesting, but I kept coming back to the fact that I simply didn't believe the back story that the author had created and which led to the world in which the action occurred.
bulletEric Flint
bullet1632 [Ring of Fire #1] Every now and then a new series really grabs me and Eric Flint's 1632 (Ring of Fire) certainly did so. The setup is simple: A small mining town from West Virginia (circa 1999) is snatched out of time and space (don't worry about why or how, it doesn't matter) and dropped into the middle of Germany in 1631 in the middle of the Thirty Years War (one of the bloodiest conflicts ever). How will the Americans cope with their new surroundings and situation? How will the neighboring Germans cope with these new republicans and their strange machines and stranger beliefs (freedom of religion?!). How will the rest of Europe respond and how will these events change history. A great idea, well told. Bravo. Highly recommended.
bulletRing of Fire [Ring of Fire #3] This short story collection is hard to review simply because it is a short story collection with offerings by several authors. The stories are mostly entertaining, but uneven in pacing, plot, and tone. Clearly worth reading for any fan of the Ring of Fire series, but meaningless to anyone else.
bulletwith David Weber
bullet1633 [Ring of Fire #2] Not quite as good as 1632, the sequel is still a very good story. Now that things have settled down a bit (following the events of 1633), we have more time to meet more characters and see the changes wrought upon Europe in a much broader scale. Once again, highly recommended (at least assuming that you liked 1632).
bulletVince Flynn
bulletMemorial Day [Mitch Rapp #6] I like Mitch Rapp (the main character of this book, the 5th in a series). I particularly like him when he's kicking the proverbial ass of Middle-Eastern terrorists. He does that quite well in Memorial Day. The book was exciting and -- more than most thrillers -- very timely. Some of Rapp's actions allow the reader to reflect in various ways on the recent prison abuse scandals in Iraq and ponder when abuse is acceptable and when is it not. My only complaint with Memorial Day is that it got a bit preachy, especially about the Patriot Act. Anyway, Mitch Rapp is clearly a very entertaining action hero for the 21st century.
bulletConsent to Kill [Mitch Rapp #7] Vince Flynn has become one of my favorite authors and Mitch Rapp one of my favorite characters. Consent to Kill find both at the top of their respective games (well, given that Mitch requires knee surgery, he might not be at the top of his game). Mitch continues to do to the "bad guys" what we all wish we could do to the them. In addition, this novel included several interesting new characters. Finally, Flynn provided a very surprising plot twist that was as gut-wrenching as it was unexpected. Bravo to an author in the thriller genre that is willing to take a chance that will have an emotional impact upon the reader. My main criticism of Flynn remains that, from time to time, he gets a bit "preachy" with his world view.
bulletProtect & Defend [Mitch Rapp #8]
bulletKen Follett
bulletThe Pillars of the Earth
bulletAllen Folsom
bulletThe Exile [Nicholas Marten #1] I had a somewhat strange reaction to this book. The first third is, essentially, a police procedural (albeit a particularly violent one) set in Los Angeles. I ordinarily find police procedurals to be dull; therefore, don't usually make my reading list. However, despite the apparent genre, I found myself unable to put the book down. That doesn't necessarily mean that I was loving the story -- I wasn't -- but, I did find it strangely compelling. The second third of the book is very different; it was much more the type of thriller that I'm used to reading (although it still has some elements of the police procedural). Oddly, the author has several "twists" that are almost expected; however, this did not take away from the suspense of the novel. Finally, the last third of the book is more of a standard thriller; however, it is also the weakest part of the book. Overall, I enjoyed The Exile; however, there are several major (and I mean major) plot elements that just don't quite make sense (like the eventual explanation of why the antagonist personally has to see to the crimes committed in the early part of the book and thus risk the carefully laid plans) that took away from the overall impact of the story. A good book, but not Folsom's best.
bulletThe Machiavelli Covenant [Nicholas Marten #2] This was one of those odd books that was a decently well-written thriller that just couldn't quite make it over the "too implausible" hump. The basic premise to bring together the two protagonists (one in particular) just didn't work for me. Also, I'm not quite sure why Folsom decided to make this a sequel to The Exile as the Nicholas Marten character could have been anybody rather than a returning character. With one exception, most of the open plot elements from The Exile were ignored or only briefly referenced. Folson writes a good thriller (especially his first, The Day After Tomorrow), but The Machiavelli Covenant was a little bit too much thriller-by-the-numbers.
bulletFrederick Forsythe
bulletAvenger Any Frederick Forsythe book is better than most books by most other writers. Avenger was a well-written, interesting book. Unfortunately, it just wasn't as good as many of his better works. (Note: See review of the made for TV movie based on Avenger).
bulletWilliam Goldman (writing as "S. Morgenstern")
bulletThe Silent Gondoliers Entertaining, but not nearly as good as The Princess Bride. A very fast read. But I did laugh out loud -- frequently.
bulletMark Haddon
bulletThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time This is one of those books that is way outside of my usual genre of reading. I was attracted to the book by: (a) the allusion to Sherlock Holmes in the title (I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries [although not mysteries in general]), (b) the look at autism that is the subject matter of the book (some of our best friends have an autistic child), and (c) the number of diagrams, charts, and other unusual non-standard material that I saw as I flipped through the pages. Following the novel (?) use of graphics and other things to add to the story in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, Haddon's use of additional material to supplement the text intrigued me. So, I decided to venture outside my comfort zone and read the book. I'm glad I did. First, it is a very quick read. More importantly, it is a very well-told story that allows a reader a glimpse into the thought process of an autistic teenager. For anyone curious about autism, I recommend the book highly. For those who are only interested in a murder mystery, this book will not be satisfying (the mystery is resolved fairly early in the story, but it, in turn, leads to further complications for the autistic narrator). Finally, for parents of autistic children, this book may hit a little too close to home; that said, I would love to know how realistic the author's portrayal of an autistic teenager really is.
bulletDavid Hagberg
bulletWithout Honor [Kirk McGarvey #1] I've heard great things about the Kirk McGarvey series for quite a while (my father loves the books), but I didn't want to read any until I could start at the beginning and go through them in chronological order. I turns out that my father never read Without Honor. That's a good thing; if he had, it is entirely possible that he would not have read another Kirk McGarvey novel. Had I not had my father's reviews of later books in the series, I might have stopped after Without Honor. I simply did not enjoy this book. It had a very "down" tone and the protagonist never seemed particularly heroic. Moreover, far too much of the story involved McGarvey sitting and listening to other characters tell long, extended stories about events that had occurred twenty years prior to the events of the book. Those events were relevant to the story, but the story telling within was far too dry. It will be interesting to see how further books in the series change the character.
bulletCountdown [Kirk McGarvey #2] Countdown wasn't a great book, but it was much better than Without Honor. McGarvey was much more of an interesting character and, unlike Without Honor, he actually did things in Countdown. The plot may not have worked simply because the Cold War issues at its core were no longer relevant. The book was, however, good enough for me to keep reading McGarvey novels.
bulletCrossfire [Kirk McGarvey #3] So, I'm enjoying the McGarvey novels enough to keep reading them; however, they have not yet grabbed me or elevated themselves into the rarified atmosphere of the truly great series about truly exceptional characters. Crossfire really seemed to be two stories welded together in a way that just didn't really work for me. I would have preferred either story, expanded to stand on its own.
bulletCritical Mass [Kirk McGarvey #4] The best of the McGarvey books so far, but still not in that "elite" category for me. This time, the biggest problem (which plagues way too many thrillers) is the coincidence that is essential to tying the two parts of the story together. On the other hand, I enjoyed the less-than-perfect villain and the introduction of McGarvey's daughter into what will, I presume, be a recurring role in the books. I also particularly enjoy that Hagberg doesn't forget about prior episodes in McGarvey's life and how those episodes continue to weigh upon him or effect his actions and views.
bulletBrian Haig
bulletMortal Allies [Maj. Sean Drummond #2] I didn't enjoy Secret Sanction (the first book in Haig's 'Sean Drummond' series) ... until I got to the closing stages of the book. Unfortunately, I found myself not liking Drummond very much ... until I figured out the character and learned that much of his narration style is part of his schtick. Drummond isn't as dumb as he wants people (including the reader at times) to think he is. So I was much more interested and involved when I read Mortal Allies. Put simply, this was a terrific story revolving around great characters and told in an engaging way. Highly recommended.
bulletThe Kingmaker [Maj. Sean Drummond #3] Maj. Sean Drummond remains a very interesting character. While I enjoyed The Kingmaker, it wasn't quite as good as Mortal Allies, but that would be quite a lot to live up to. My biggest complaint with The Kingmaker revolves around the ending which, frankly, I didn't like. Oh, well. Still a very good story.
bulletPrivate Sector [Maj. Sean Drummond #4] Not as good as either Mortal Allies or The Kingmaker, but still a very entertaining book. This time, the novel throws in a serial killer element to go with thriller and mystery elements. And I enjoyed the fact that Haig remembers characters that he has introduced previously and returns to them where appropriate. Sean Drummond is, now that I know what to expect, becoming one of my favorite characters. (As an example of the sort of dialog that a reader can expect, in one sequence Maj. Drummond's commanding general orders Drummond to report for a new assignment that Drummond wants no part of. Drummond asks if the new assignment is negotiable and the general replies that it is not. To this Drummond asks: "Is your non-negotiability negotiable?") Smart and funny without taking away from the action and excitement. Said another way: Funny without being stupid.
bulletThe President's Assassin [Maj. Sean Drummond #5] This story was much more serious in tone that the prior Sean Drummond books, which took away from the opportunities for the character to wisecrack and play dumb. The story took on more of a police procedural framework than other books in the series. Finally, the "twist" in the plot was easy to guess far before it was revealed. An unfortunate letdown.
bulletMan in the Middle [Lt. Col. Sean Drummond #6] I had two problems with Man in the Middle. First, the story relied upon the relationship between newly-promoted Lt. Col. Sean Drummond and another character. Unfortunately, the relationship never "worked" for me. Second, I saw the twist long, long before it happened (although, I guessed the twist for completely wrong reasons). Thus, I was left with a bit of a disappointed feeling.
bulletSam Harris
bulletLetter to a Christian Nation
bulletBrian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
bulletWhipping Mek [Legends of Dune #1.5] A short story to connect The Butlerian Jihad and The Machine Crusade.
bulletThe Machine Crusade [Legends of Dune #2] I find it tremendously entertaining to read about events in the pre-history of the Dune universe. The authors have done a masterful job of telling the story of how the Dune universe came to be. Readers of the Dune novels know what happened in the past (at least as much as history can be relied upon after thousands of years), but like studying our own history, the "hows and whys" often get lost. This book (and the others in this three-book saga) put faces to this ancient historical events.
bulletThe Faces of a Martyr [Legends of Dune #2.5] A short story to connect The Machine Crusade and The Battle of Corrin. Unfortunately, this "short story" read more like a few bits of deleted material rather than a true story. As part of a larger work, it would have been fine. It just doesn't stand on its own.
bulletThe Battle of Corrin [Legends of Dune #3] While I enjoyed this book, I feel that it was (a) flawed in execution and (b) a weak ending to the trilogy. All but a small few of the main characters of the first two books were dead by this volume and the new characters weren't as interesting. Many plot elements never seemed to be wrapped up and numerous times I found myself thinking, "now why would they did that" or "why not do this, instead?" I also felt that the book needed a few more chapters to tie up a few loose ends; but, then, that is what further sequels are for, I guess. This one is only for the die-hard Dune fans.
bulletHunters of Dune [Dune #7] While I was glad to finally learn what happened to the characters following the cliffhanger that ended Chapterhouse: Dune, as I read Hunters I kept feeling that the story wasn't really progressing. Also, I felt both thrilled and somehow violated when favorite characters from earlier books were brought back to life as gholas. It was cool and creepy at the same time. I am looking forward to see how the entire "universe" is wrapped up in the forthcoming Sandworms of Dune.
bulletFrank Herbert
bulletHeretics of Dune [Dune #5] I remember reading this when it first came out in the early 1980s and finding it to be a somewhat boring and difficult book (not as difficult as God Emperor of Dune...). So, when I decided to re-read books 5 and 6 (Chapterhouse: Dune) in the series prior to reading the newly published book 7 (Hunters of Dune) I wasn't sure if my memory was correct. (I've read the first 3 books in the Dune series several times and God Emperor twice, but I'd only read Heretics and Chapterhouse when they were originally published and, frankly, didn't remember them very well.) Unfortunately, my memory was correct. The book wasn't so difficult now that I'm older, but it was still pretty boring. The action and adventure that drew me to Dune in the first place were mostly lacking from Heretics and Chapterhouse; rather, Herbert spent most of his time having his characters converse and ruminate on certain aspects of humanity. All fine and good, but a little action would have helped. I'm glad that I re-read these books as having failed to do so would have made Hunters of Dune less enjoyable, but books 5 and 6 of the Dune saga simply are not as engaging as the earlier volumes (note that I say engaging, rather than good; the books are very good if the subject matter and storytelling technique are what you want).
bulletChapterhouse: Dune [Dune #6] See the review for Heretics of Dune above.
bulletCharlie Higson
bulletSilverfin [Young Bond #1] This is yet another book that is very difficult to review. For those not aware, Silverfin is the first "Young James Bond" novel. I was highly skeptical when I first heard about this book ("dread" is a word that accurately described my thoughts on the subject). While the book is not a masterpiece, Higson does a good job of evoking Ian Fleming and seems to have a feel for the character of James Bond (or at least the character that grew into James Bond). Thankfully the book does not attempt to move Bond's formative years forward from the 1920s or 1930s. And, even more thankfully, though the book is written for a younger audience, it was not written for children. It has violence (rather brutal) and some disturbing themes. Higson does an excellent job of throwing small "nuggets" to the die-hard James Bond fans who read this book (how Bond came to acquire his first Aston-Martin at a very tender age, for example) while avoiding the pitfalls of many similar types of novels (for example, Higson thankfully resists the urge to have Bond battle a young Auric Goldfinger or Scaramanga; nor does he have Moneypenny show up). Instead, Higson has written a very good "boy's adventure tale" (to quote a line from an a-ha song; if you don't get the relevance, you're not a real Bond aficionado) that helps to begin to explain how James Bond grew into the bastard we know and love (note that Higson's Bond is going to grow up to be Ian Fleming's James Bond, not the superhero of the movies). I am particularly interested to see how younger viewers react to this book as well as how more casual Bond fans react. My biggest complaint? Higson's decision to refer to our hero as "James" instead of "Bond" may work well for the teenage audience, but was jarring to the more experienced Bond fan.
bulletBlood Fever [Young Bond #2] I did not enjoy Blood Fever as much as I did Silverfin. Despite this, Blood Fever is probably the better book. Certainly, it reads more like a James Bond novel. The violence is more pronounced and the actually threats faced by the characters is certainly more "adult" (as are some of the situations either described or implied). This story provides more opportunities for James Bond's growth into the man who walks into the Casino Royale with a 00 number. My problem with the story was that it simply had too many disparate elements that Higson tried to bring together (some successfully, some less so). In addition, the villain's "plot" was not the sort of plot that one expects from a Bond novel. But, as in Blood Fever, Higson does a fine job of throwing in small bits for Bond fans while avoiding the pitfalls attendant to a "young adult" version of James Bond. I look forward to the continuation of the series.
bulletDouble or Die [Young Bond #3] Very evocative depiction of the 1930s London and more glimmers of the man that James will grow into make Double or Die the best Young Bond yet. Higson also managed to throw in a few more references for true Bond aficionados (I particularly liked the reference to the Casino at Royale-les-Eaux). The plot was more believable that either of the prior entries in the series and the use of the Soviet secret police as a nemesis (albeit hidden until the end) was a good plot decision, in particular as that serves to tie the story both the time period and to Bond's primary adversary in the earlier Fleming novels.
bulletHurricane Gold [Young Bond #4]
bulletJames W. Huston
bulletThe Shadows of Power [Kent "Rat" Rathman #1] Somehow, this story just never got going. I never felt like I really knew the main character. The "conspiracy" going on as a secondary story actually turned out to be a disappointment, rather than a revelation when finally explained. I've read previous books by Huston and enjoyed them very much. I'm hoping that this was a one-book aberration.
bulletSecret Justice [Kent "Rat" Rathman #2] I'm not quite sure why I decided to read Secret Justice given my review of The Shadows of Power, the first book in the Kent "Rat" Rathman series. I think that Huston wants Rat to be another Mitch Rapp. He isn't. On the positive side, in Secret Justice, Huston manages to create one of the intricate military plots that revolve, in large part, around "the law" (much as in Huston's first books which looked at the Constitutional power of Congress to issues letters of marquis and reprisal.) So, this time, Rat has much more to do in a much more interesting story. My complaint with Huston is that too often he allowed his own political views to take over this storytelling. When an author is able to concoct an interesting legal conundrum, he owes it to his readers to let them think about the issues without bashing them over the head with the author's view of the right answer. Thus, while I enjoyed the story, there was a bit too much ACLU-bashing for my tastes.
bulletStephen King
bulletCell I am not a Stephen King fan. Nor am I a horror fan. Nevertheless, Cell was a terrific book, very reminiscent of one of the other King books that I loved: The Stand. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was particularly pleased that King never provides an "answer" as to what actually caused the "pulse" but limits his explanations to the theories generated by the characters. This story does not receive four stars for two reasons: First, about midway through, the story took a direction that I wasn't particularly keen on. That isn't to say that the story was bad; far from it. I just wanted to see where King would take the story in a slightly different direction. Second, I was enjoying the story so much, I wanted it to be longer. I wanted another unabridged version of The Stand. Be sure, that you will be seeing Cell on a movie screen someday as the story readily lends itself to screenplay adaptation. Highly recommended.
bulletJeff Long
bulletYear Zero Long fooled me once with The Descent, a book that sounded great but was absolutely awful in the telling and execution. Unfortunately, with Year Zero, Long fooled me again. Once again, the story sounded great. It was anything but. The story was not at all what the description lead me to believe it would be. And the story that Long tells might have been worth reading had the telling of the story been enjoyable. However, at least for me, Long's storytelling technique leaves much -- in fact all -- to be desired. I've been fooled twice now. I will not be fooled again: Long's books are no longer on my reading list.
bulletYaacov Lozowick
bulletRight to Exist
bulletRobert Ludlum
bulletThe Tristan Betrayal I'm not convinced that this book was really written by Ludlum. It was an OK story, but it really did not follow the usual Ludlum style.
bulletThe Ambler Warning Of all of the books written under the name "Robert Ludlum" since his death, The Ambler Warning sounds and reads most like one of Ludlum's books. A few (somewhat nasty) plot holes detract from the overall story, but I did enjoy this book far more than any of the posthumous "Ludlum" novels.
bulletEric Van Lustbader
bulletThe Bourne Legacy [Jason Bourne #4] This is a difficult book to rate. First, it needs to be noted that The Bourne Identity, the book that gave rise to the series of which this is the fourth entry, is my second-favorite book of all time (following only Dune). Thus, I am forced to rate the book both as a sequel to The Bourne Identity (and The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) as well as on a stand-alone basis. As a sequel to the Bourne novels, this book, unfortunately fails, primarily because the character of David Webb/Jason Bourne did not feel quite right. I recognize that he is getting older and has been out of the world of assassination for some time; however, he makes too many mistakes or odd decisions. More importantly, the intense suspense of the Ludlum's novels (especially the first two) is missing. I saw both of the big "twists" in the story long before Lustbader revealed the truth. So, I was disappointed. As a stand-alone novel, I suppose that the book fares a bit better, but, unfortunately, not by much. If you are an absolute fan of the Bourne books, then by all means give The Bourne Legacy a try; similarly, if you like Eric Van Lustbader's books (which I do, especially the Ninja and its sequels), then give it a read. Otherwise, there are better books in the genre with which to spend your time.
bulletThe Bourne Betrayal [Jason Bourne #5]
bulletGeorge R.R. Martin
bulletA Game of Thrones [A Song of Ice and Fire #1] This was, without doubt, the best fantasy book (other than "The Lord of the Rings") that I've read in years. The world feels absolutely "real", the characters are very three-dimensional, the plot is exceptionally intricate. I guess the best way to describe the book would be a fictionalized version of the English Wars of the Roses set in a fantasy setting that might have magic. In fact, the book would be better categorized as historical fiction if the world about which Martin writes actually existed. I can't wait to read the sequels!
bulletA Clash of Kings [A Song of Ice and Fire #2] Like its predecessor in the series, this was simply a fantastic book. My only criticism is that I often wanted parts to move a bit quicker so that I could find out what would happen to certain characters in certain situations. Also, like in the first book, Martin included several plot elements that really surprised me. The first book killed a main character; the second book brought loss closer to home than the reader expects. I can't wait to read the sequels (but I'll admit that I needed to take a bit of a break from the genre before picking up A Storm of Swords).
bulletCharles McCarry
bulletOld Boys [Paul Christopher #__] A very enjoyable novel about a group of old spies out for one last mission. I particularly liked the main character, especially his way of describing his own actions in a "modest" way; in other words, he is very good at what he does, but tries to conceal this to some extent. The book reminded me of Charles McCarry who wrote some of the best American spy novels of all time (especially The Last Supper).
bulletDavid Morrell
bulletThe Covenant of the Flame This was not Morrell's best (although still better that what a lot of thriller writers can put together). Somehow, the characters were not as "deep" as characters in Morrell's better books and many parts of the plot seemed particularly dated (the book was written in 1991). If you're a big Morrell fan, you will probably want to go ahead and read this book; if you're not a Morrell fan (and why not? you should be!), this is not the Morrell title to start with.
bulletThe Protector One of Morrell's better recent efforts. For a change, he knew how to end the story (too many of his books either have a bad ending or take a "left turn" and venture down a story path that the reader doesn't particularly want to follow).
bulletBlue Murder The paperback edition of The Protector includes the short story Blue Murder which "stars" the protagonist of The Protector. It is a very short story that crosses the protection elements of The Protector with more standard mystery fare.
bulletCreepers Based on the flyleaf, I was convinced that I would not like Creepers and only read it because it was by David Morrell (one of my favorite authors, despite some of the reviews above). I was glad that I did read Creepers. Morrell, as always, does a superb job of building suspense. Also, he was able to surprise me several times, which is always a nice ... um ... surprise. My principal criticism of Creepers is that I never felt that I really understood the layout of the interior of the hotel where virtually the entire novel takes place. This is an instance where a map would have been very helpful to the reader.
bulletDouglas Preston
bulletPhilip Pullman
bulletThe Golden Compass [His Dark Materials #1]
bulletJames Rollins
bulletSandstorm [Sigma Force #1] Ordinarily, I never read series books out of order. In this case, however, I read the second book in the series (Map of Bones) first, only because I didn't realize that it was a sequel to Sandstorm. In this (rare) instance, I'm actually glad that I read the second book first because had I read Sandstorm first I might or might not have read Map of Bones but I certainly would not have raced to read it immediately and that would have been a shame (see review for Map of Bones below). Sandstorm was fun, but simply too improbable. Unfortunately, that improbability (not that I mind speculative fiction) took away from the enjoyment of the adventure story. Also, I found that several of the characters never amounted to much more than cardboard cutouts.
bulletMap of Bones [Sigma Force #2] In contrast to Sandstorm, the first book in the Sigma Force series, Map of Bones was a terrific book. I can best describe it as The Da Vinci Code on steroids. The action was often reminiscent of a Clive Cussler novel with some of the historical "fun" from Dan Brown's books (or even some of Jack Du Brul's books). My only criticism is that the description of the room in which the climactic scene occurs was very difficult to picture. I really enjoyed Map of Bones and found myself absolutely flying through it. A terrific "light" read!
bulletBlack Order [Sigma Force #3] Rollins has settled in quite nicely with his Sigma Force novels. For lack of a better comparison, I would put them in the same category as Clive Cussler or Jack Du Brul's novels. Black Order was another fun read.
bulletThe Judas Strain [Sigma Force #4]
bulletJ.K. Rowling
bulletHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [Harry Potter #3] Not much to say about this book. I enjoyed it. The story is much longer and more complex than the first two books in the series.
bulletHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [Harry Potter #4] Probably my favorite Harry Potter book so far. The story is more detailed (and much longer) and the tone has gotten darker as the characters have gotten older. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series.
bulletHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [Harry Potter #5] I both enjoyed and did not enjoy Order of the Phoenix. On the positive side, the story was more complex, more involved, and more "adult" than previous entries in the series. However, the darker tone (especially in the earlier portions of the book), leached some of the "fun" out of the story. Even after four previous books, the scenes at Hogwarts remain fun; so too, do the quidditch matches (at least when not too long). However, the events of the story take some of the fun away which, while appropriate for the plot, nevertheless make it less enjoyable for the reader. I was very pleased, however, with the fact that we finally learn much more about the "wizarding world" as the story progresses.
bulletHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [Harry Potter #6] Another solid entry in the series. However, throughout the book I kept noticing little things that seemed to (even if only slightly) "change the rules" from what we previously thought about the "wizarding world". Not a major criticism, but it did bug me (example: learning to cast spells without speaking even though the need to speak was a major point way back in book #1 [when Snape is casting a counter-curse during the Quidditch match]). Of course, I'm eagerly looking forward to Book #7.
bulletHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [Harry Potter #7] Ending a series is always difficult. Steven King wrote a great piece about this earlier this summer for Entertainment Weekly. So it was with much trepidation that I picked up my copy of the final Harry Potter book. Ignoring my wife, my kids, and most of the world around me for the better part of a day and a half, I read Deathly Hallows more or less straight through. Was it a perfect book? No. Did I wish that Rowling did a few things differently? Sure. Those sentiments aside, Deathly Hallows was probably as good of an ending to the series as a reader could possible expect. I won't give any spoilers other than to say, I was right about two things and wrong about another. I thoroughly enjoyed Deathly Hallows and have absolutely no idea how they will possibly go about making it into a 3 hour movie. Parents should be forewarned that, like the preceding several books, the tone of Deathly Hallows is decidedly dark and characters do die. Combined with the complexity of the story, Deathly Hallows is probably inappropriate for most younger kids; however, if they've been reading the series until now, there will, of course, be no way to keep them from finishing.
bulletRobert J. Sawyer
bulletHominids [Neanderthal Parralax #1] I don't read a whole lot of science fiction. However, when I first saw Hominids its basic premise sounded quite intriguing: As a result of an accident in a quantum computing experiment, our universe is linked to a parallel universe in which Neanderthals, rather than humans, became the dominant intelligent life form on Earth. At its most basic, Hominids is a very interesting look at the interplay between people from wholly divergent cultures that are based on the same set of operative world facts. At the core of Hominids however, is what the best of science fiction aspires to: It is an examination, through the use of science and speculation, on what it truly means to be human. And in that examination, Hominids succeeds masterfully. I suppose that is why the book won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 2003. The characters are wonderfully fascinating, with truly human (or would that be neanderthalian?) flaws. The world that Sawyer creates for the Neanderthals is unlike anything with which we are familiar, yet set in a world with which we are intimately familiar. Plus, looking at our world through the eyes of Ponter Boddit is a marvelous experience. In addition, the discussions among the characters on such topics as the reason for (or against) religion, privacy, gender roles and relations, agrarian versus hunter-gatherer societies, and others are so well-written and well-conceived that the reader doesn't feel that the author is forcing the reader to wade through an esoteric discussion. Instead, the reader feels as if two real people are having a real discussion about real issues that have real meaning and impact upon those characters. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough!
bulletHumans [Neanderthal Parralax #2] Humans wasn't quite as good as Hominids, probably because the situation was no longer quite so new. However, Humans was still a terrific book that took the characters and ideas from Hominids and explored their relationships and concepts with ever greater depth and passion. Another excellent read.
bulletHybrids [Neanderthal Parralax #3] A terrific conclusion to a terrific series. For a while I was afraid that Sawyer had allowed his story to become more of a standard thriller (not that I don't like thrillers), but he pulled the pieces together very nicely. I certainly hope that Hybrids is not the last appearance of Ponter Boddit.
bulletDaniel Silva
bulletThe Kill Artist [Gabriel Allon #1] I felt that the main character -- Gabriel Allon -- was the least well developed character in the book. I hope that future books in the series do a better job of getting inside of this character's head.
bulletThe English Assassin [Gabriel Allon #2] I got to know the character a bit better, and the plot was more interesting.
bulletThe Confessor [Gabriel Allon #3] Silva seems to have finally put all of the pieces in place.
bulletA Death in Venice With each succeeding book, I feel that I get to know Gabriel Allon a bit better. The first half of this book may have been the best of the series; however, the second half (and the ending in particular) was somewhat of a letdown. The book finished with a whimper rather than the bang it needed.
bulletPrince of Fire [Gabriel Allon #4] I'm not sure that I liked where Silva took Gabriel Allon in this novel, but, in hindsight, it was probably the "right" place to take the character. Another fine entry in the series.
bulletThe Messenger [Gabriel Allon #5] Perhaps it was because I was reading this novel during breaks from watching the news coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah war, but I found this book to be quite compelling. In several respects, the story reminded me a bit of The Little Drummer Girl (by John LeCarre). I've gotten to know Gabriel Allon so well by now, that reading about him has become like reading about a dear friend. My early criticisms about not knowing the character have obviously been resolved; much like many people, it simply took a long time to really get to know and understand Allon.
bulletJoe Simpson
bulletTouching the Void I read this book after seeing the film of the same title. I only read the book because my wife read it, absolutely loved it, and really wanted me to read it. She rarely asks me to read a book, so I read this for her. I'm glad that I saw the movie (which I loved) because it allowed me to visualize things that I was not able to visualize just on the basis of the author's words. To me, the book was more intense than the movie, but somehow less compelling -- maybe because I'd already seen the movie and knew how the story ended.
bulletLemony Snicket
bulletA Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning [A Series of Unfortunate Events #1] I enjoyed the movie "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" so much I decided to read The Bad Beginning. For me The Bad Beginning was a bad beginning. Frankly, I did not enjoy it very much; I'm not sure why it has received the praise (and sold as many copies) as it apparently has. The events described are unfortunate. Which raises the following simple questions: Why should I want to read about them? Perhaps the stories improve (why else would they keep selling) and I may read the next two books (the movie encompasses the first three books). I certainly do not recommend these books for younger readers; some of the events (death of parents, sexual predators, and forced marriage) are not the sort of subject matter that many children should be exposed to absent a parent's knowing and involvement.
bulletWill Staeger
bulletPainkiller [W. Cooper #1] W. Cooper is a grizzled anti-hero that is so dislikable, you can't help but like him. The story got off to a slow start (and Staeger seemed to spend too many words showing the reader how many words he could use), but once Staeger settled into his writing and the plot got going, it was a very enjoyable read.
bulletPublic Enemy [W. Cooper #2] Staeger followed up the enjoyable Painkiller with another good yarn. His stories start out with "small" plots that quickly grow into much larger, world-threatening plots that are at the core of many great thrillers. Plus, Cooper and Laramie are continuing to grow, both in their own rights and as interesting characters about whom I want to read even more.
bulletKoshun Takami
bulletBattle Royale Lord of the Flies meets 1984 meets Survivor is the only way to accurately describe this book. Without giving too much away, the book is set in a world in which Japan is a modern, fascist superpower. Each year, several junior high school classes throughout the Japanese empire are randomly chosen to participate in The Program, an insidious exercise in which the students (both male and female) are put on an abandoned island, given weapons, and told that they have three days to kill each other. The last one alive "wins" and if more than one is still living at the end of the allotted time, they will all be killed. The story is absolutely brutal in its telling; Takami does not spare any of the gory details. However, what makes the story more than just a simple bloodbath are the relationships of the students as they plot and plan, each trying to decide his or her place in the "game" and whether they can bring themselves to trust one another or even to "play". An obviously controversial book, it is clearly not for everyone. I, however, thoroughly enjoyed it.
bulletWilliam Terdoslavich
bulletThe Jack Ryan Agenda The author wasn't quite sure whether he was writing a book summarizing Tom Clancy's books and comparing the events in those books to the real world or writing a critique of the political thoughts expressed by Clancy in his books. As to the former, the book was largely successful. As to the latter, the book was not particularly detailed or thought-provoking. Of interest only to die-hard Clancy fans.
bulletDave Thomson & David Sultan
bulletTrue Faith: An Armchair Guide to New Order Only for the New Order fanatic. As a reference work, this was a well-executed project. As a biography or even a discussion of the evolution of the band and its music, the author seemed out of his league. Don't just tell me that a particular song wasn't good -- tell me why. Don't assume that I know each and every song and lyric so well that I can recite them in my sleep. Give me more and assume less.
bulletBrad Thor
bulletThe Lions of Lucerne [Scot Harvath #1] Promising new character from a promising new author.
bulletPath of the Assassin [Scot Harvath #2] Thor still has some rough spots to iron out, but Scot Harvath is a fun character.
bulletState of the Union [Scot Harvath #3] Unfortunately, the weakest of the Scot Harvath books. The plot seemed to be thrown together without the author having asked a lot of important "what if" questions before proceeding with plot developments. The latter portions of the book also seemed to lack the detail of the earlier portions, which gave me the feeling that the author hurried to get through the book, rather than taking his time to fully develop the story and characters. I kept feeling that I needed to read the "director's cut" to see what I'd missed.
bulletBlowback [Scot Harvath #4] This book is best described as Secret Agent meets Indiana Jones. The story was pretty good (certainly more enjoyable than State of the Union) if a bit farfetched. While I liked it, it somehow did not feel like a Scot Harvath novel. I also made the mistake of reading this novel in close proximity to one of Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp books (who, I contend, Scot Harvath most closely resembles). Unfortunately, while Scot Harvath is a good character, he's no Mitch Rapp.
bulletTakedown [Scot Harvath #5] Another enjoyable entry in the Scot Harvath series, I enjoyed Takedown very much. However, more than any other book that I've read recently, this one left me with the feeling that it could have been so much better.
bulletThe First Commandment [Scot Harvath #6]
bulletJ.R.R. Tolkien
bulletThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King There is not much to say about this book; if you liked the movies read the books. If you didn't like the movies, read the books anyway.
bulletCharles Townshend
bulletTerrorism: A Very Short Introduction [Very Short Introduction #78]
bulletHarry Turtledove
bulletIn the Presence of Mine Enemies Many people consider Harry Turtledove to be the master of alternate history. This book proves that he is just that. Any author can write an alternate history; all you need to do is pick a point in time and imagine what differences would have happened had an event occurred differently. The problem is that very few authors present a world that feels plausible, let alone probable. Harry Turtledove's worlds feel absolutely authentic; they feel "right" (or in this case, horribly, terribly "wrong"). The setup is simple: Nazi Germany won World War II. Jump forward to 2009 and the family life of Heinrich Gimpel, a Nazi bureaucrat. In the opening chapter, Gimpel goes about his daily work (he's in charge of overseeing tributes from a defeated America), rides home on the bus with his best friend, and has a nice meal with his family and some friends and relatives. But at the end of dinner, we discover the genius of Turtledove's vision as Gimpel and family reveal to their 10-year old daughter (after the younger daughters have gone to sleep) that she is a Jew, to which she responds that she can't be. This book is not an action thriller and if you read it hoping to see a small band of Jews overthrow the Nazi regime you will be disappointed. But the book does present a terrifying picture of what life could have been like. I don't know if this book would be as powerful to a Gentile. To me, the emotional bond that I felt with the characters was probably greater than any character that I can recall from recent (or even longer) memory. Very highly recommended; just be patient and let the story develop at Turtledove's pace.
bulletDavid Weber & Eric Flint
bullet1633 [Ring of Fire #2] see entry under Eric Flint (with David Weber)
bulletKate Westbrook
bulletThe Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel [Moneypenny Diaries #1] This novel (not yet available in the US) purports to be from the diaries of Miss Jane Moneypenny, erstwhile secretary to M and frequent confidant of James Bond. The novel successfully operates on three fronts: First, it tells us about who Miss Moneypenny is, where she came from, how she wound up in the Secret Service, and her feelings toward M and James Bond. Second, the novel describes an series of incidents from Moneypenny's tenure with the Secret Service (which relate to the mysterious disappearance of her father during World War II). Third, it describes Bond in the wake of the assassination of his wife Teresa di Vicenzo (Tracy Draco). Much of this culminates in an adventure, told from Moneypenny's point of view, in which she assists Bond during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This book is an absolute must for any fan of the James Bond novels. Westbrook (a pseudonym) has gotten the tone just right and has thrown in many interesting little tidbits and factoids for Bond aficionados to play with.
bulletThe Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant [Moneypenny Diaries #2] This novel was much more a novel about Jane Moneypenny than was Guardian Angel. Yes, James Bond makes several appearances, but he is much less the focus of the book. Once again, to the author's credit, she has done a terrific job of melding Ian Fleming's characters and world with real world characters (Kim Philby) and events. The novel also offers some very interesting scenes of life inside the British Secret Service (how exactly did M and Bill Tanner respond to Bond's attempt to assassinate M [as told at the beginning of The Man With the Golden Gun]?). I'm eagerly looking forward to the final (hopefully not!) volume in the series.
bulletCarlos Ruiz Zafon
bulletThe Shadow of the Wind Very literary. I was disappointed by the direction the story took. I thought (and hoped) that the mystery would be either of a sort like that found in The Da Vinci Code or have something to do with the personalities of the Spanish Civil War. Thus, I was disappointed to find a love story. That said, I will acknowledge that I enjoyed the book more and more as I got deeper into the story, but it just never quite rose to the level of interest to keep me hooked. Zafon did do a spectacular job of making me feel as if I'd been to post-WWII Barcelona; his city was as much a character as the people in the book.
bulletDavid Zeman
bulletThe Pinocchio Syndrome This is one of those books that has a great "blurb" for the back cover but then just never delivers. By the end, I really felt as if the author had several ideas and just decided to throw them all into a single pot, mix it up a bit and see if a story evolved. It didn't. Wooden characters marching through a story that just never seemed to catch on. Plus, there were way too many plot devices that served no real purpose other than satisfying the author's "gee whiz, this could be cool" notions. Also, the story had way too many "plot holes" where a reader can't help but think, "that doesn't make sense."

bulletMovies (arranged alphabetically) -- Yeah, I know that I've fallen behind on extended reviews. C'est la vie. Of course, my mini-reviews seem to keep getting longer... Note that the most recently reviewed films are in red. The few movies for which I've done extended reviews are in orange.
bulletAdam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights (DVD) Maybe it's just me; maybe I don't like Adam Sandler's humor. Perhaps this movie didn't tell me the story that I thought it was going to tell me (or that I wanted to see). In any event, I really, really, really disliked this movie.
bulletAfter the Sunset Very similar to, yet much better than The Thomas Crown Affair, After the Sunset is a will they or won't they jewel heist movie. Pierce Brosnan was excellent in a very non-James Bond role (although there were a few bits of very James Bond music) and he had excellent chemistry with co-star Salma Hayek (but then who wouldn't have chemistry with her?). The movie had many expected cliché moments, but it also did a few things differently or in unexpected ways. I really wanted to learn a bit more about how Brosnan's and Hayek's characters met and became master jewel thieves. A few minor complaints to not detract from an otherwise enjoyable film.
bulletAssault on Precinct 13 This was another one of those movies from which I did not expect much and was therefore pleasantly surprised. The suspense was good, the action was well done (without going overboard), and several of the surprises were actually surprising. I was particularly pleased that the writers killed a character that I was sure would survive (and the character should have survived according to every movie cliche...). I have a few basic quibbles with the plot, but then this is an action movie, so some suspension of disbelief is essential.
bulletAvenger (made for TV movie) I only chose to review this made for TV movie because of the review of the book Avenger upon which this movie was based. On the plus side, Sam Elliott was terrific in the lead role; he had both the gravitas and the roughness to play the part. On the down side, the writers of the teleplay decided to change the story. Some of the changes were fine (e.g., moving the climactic scenes from Central America to South Africa) and others were understandable, given that the story had to fit within the framework of a 2-hour TV movie (e.g., abridging the search for the "truth" in Bosnia and some of the planning for the mission). However, other changes made no sense and dramatically weakened the story. The book ended with not one, but two twists. Neither was present in the movie. Also, in the book, the reader realizes the exceptional detail and forethought that the character put into the mission; in the movie, much of the mission seems to play like an action movie in which the character acts on the spur of the moment. Disappointing (although, I'll be curious to see what viewers who have not read the book think).
bulletBad Boys II
bulletBatman Begins I am a big fan of the Batman of the comics, especially the darker version of the character. Thus, I was a big fan of Tim Burton's original Batman (although I never liked Michael Keaton in the role), but I liked each successive Batman movie less and less. Until now. Batman Begins was a terrific character study that just happens to be about a well-known superhero. The fact that Bruce Wayne does not don Batman's costume until well over an hour into the movie should say quite a bit about the focus of the picture. Other critics have spent more time and space discussing how good this movie is; I won't belabor the point. Simply know this: Go see Batman Begins! Even if you're not a Batman fan, this is still a movie worth seeing.
bulletBee Movie While Bee Movie had some entertaining and funny moments, it was just too uneven to be really enjoyable.
bulletBetter Luck Tomorrow (DVD)
bulletBig Fish An enjoyable, yet strange film that is not for everyone. Ewan McGregor was terrific and some of the visuals were stunning. While I do think this was a good film, I don't think that it rises to the level of award-winning film.
bulletBlade: Trinity (DVD) Was this film supposed to have a story? Interesting characters? Even the usually enjoyable Parker Posey was a bit too over-the-top. Not worth the rental or the time that I spent watching.
bulletBorat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan One of the funniest movies in a long, long time. The humor in Borat can be divided into two types: socio-political humor and "potty" humor. Unfortunately, there was a bit too much of the latter and not enough of the former. The potty humor was occasionally very funny (although usually a bit too over the top). On the other hand, the socio-political humor was so very, very funny. I for one did not think that the "Anti-Semitic" humor was harmful (remember that the writer and star is, himself, Jewish); rather, to me it did a great job of skewering those who harbor Anti-Semitic beliefs. A great movie, but not for the easily offended (for this movie will offend).
bulletThe Bourne Supremacy First the caveats: (a) I really enjoyed The Bourne Identity and (b) I really enjoyed the novels upon which these movies are (very loosely) based. That said, I also loved The Bourne Supremacy. Matt Damon may not play the same character that Robert Ludlum penned, but his Jason Bourne is just as interesting. The action is frenetic and the use of moving cameras gives the viewer a sense of being in the midst of the action. I love that, as in the first film, the car chase utilizes a beat-up "clunker" rather than a high-powered sports car. Similarly, many of Bourne's actions feel as if they were scripted by someone that has at least some clue as to espionage tradecraft (although a few errors, such as having a taxi take him directly to a particular address, were glaring). Without offering any spoilers, it is worth noting that one of the two surprises in the film was actually quite surprising. And I like being surprised in an espionage genre movie, because it is, frankly, quite rare. All, in all, this one is definitely worth watching, and definitely on the big screen. (In fact, I fear that the feeling of some of the action sequences -- in particular the foot pursuit in Berlin -- will not translate very well to television screens.) Finally, please note that this movie and the book upon which it is "based" share nothing more than a title and the names of a few characters; there is far less similarity between the book and movie that there was for the book and movie of The Bourne Identity. The novel The Bourne Supremacy is a very good book and, while I recommend it, I do so on the basis of that book and not this movie. In fact, I wish that the producers of the film had found another title to eliminate the confusion that this will inevitably cause.
bulletThe Bourne Ultimatum The Bourne Ultimatum was a terrific way to "end" the Bourne trilogy of films. Once again, the title may be borrowed from Robert Ludlum's novel, but the plot has virtually no similarity. Which is probably a good thing as the novel The Bourne Ultimatum was not one of Ludlum's finer moments. Matt Damon gives another terrific performance in the title role. Some of the action choreography is particularly well done, most notably a meeting and attendant action in a London train station. My only real complaint (I could offer a few technology and plot "gripes", but I'll refrain) was that in at least one of the fight scenes, the director's choice to use a handheld camera made the fight too difficult to follow. I enjoy the sensation that "I'm there" in the middle of the fight, but just as John Woo overuses slow motion, this film overused the handheld camera. I, for one, hope that another Bourne movie is forthcoming in the not too distant future.
bulletBreach A "serious" spy movie. Thankfully, I didn't know much more than the basis of the Robert Hanssen investigation, so the story was new and fresh. Chris Cooper deserves a nomination for his portrayal of Hanssen.
bulletBridget Jones's Diary (DVD) I'm obviously not the intended audience for this film. That's good, because I found it totally, incredibly, and thoroughly boring. I did chuckle a time or three; however, for a movie with this kind of cast and this much "buzz" I anticipated at least a belly laugh or ten, not just the occasional chuckle. If given a choice between this or virtually any other "chick flick", I'd choose to watch the grass grow (and if that option wasn't open, I'd take the other chick flick over Bridget Jones). Yawn.
bulletBrother Bear Why does Disney insist on killing parents? And if that wasn't enough, in "Brother Bear", Disney feels the need to kill a sibling as well. That said, there were some very funny bits and the animation was lovely to look at. The kids loved it, so I guess that's all that really matters.
bulletThe Brothers Grimm I wanted to like this movie; I really did. But, like Van Helsing, the movie just didn't know what is was. Was it an action movie? A comedy? A buddy movie? There wasn't enough to tie together several interesting elements. What a waste. Frankly, I would have preferred a movie that was about the fairy tales that the Grimm Brothers eventually wrote (perhaps showing those tales in their original, more adult versions before being sanitized by the Grimms for children).
bulletBruce Almighty
bulletCars To see this movie is to know, instantly, why Disney was willing to spend lots and lots and lots of money to buy Pixar. Cars is another absolute winner in the in the Pixar stable (feather in the cap? trophy in the case? pick your cliché). Suffice it to say that adults will not be bored or disappointed and kids will love the film. I can't think of a single demographic that won't enjoy Cars. Oh, and for the tech geeks out there, most of the animation was about as good as animation has ever been.
bulletCasanova Sort of a Shakespeare in Love. Fun and enjoyable romantic fluff.
bulletCasino Royale Is that too many stars? Sorry. But Casino Royale deserved that many stars. It deserved Academy Award consideration (heck, it received the best cumulative reviews of the year for a wide-release film according to This is a hard movie for me to review objectively. I have been a huge (no, I mean huge) James Bond fan since the mid-1970s and, while I am huge film of the movies, I am an even bigger fan of the books. So, to finally see the James Bond that Ian Fleming wrote about on the big screen was something that I've been waiting to see for thirty years (am I really that old?). And make no mistake, Daniel Craig's James Bond was absolutely (excepting only the blonde hair) the character that Ian Fleming created, simply advanced in time by 50+ years. In addition, the story was much closer to the novel Casino Royale than have been most of the movies (especially the more recent ones). In fact, the central part of the film was very, very closely based upon the novel with the beginning and end serving as excellent bookends around that central story. It was also great to see Vesper Lynd treated as a character rather than a cardboard "Bond girl". I could write about Casino Royale at length (and perhaps I will someday). For the time being, let me simply state that Casino Royale was a spectacularly good movie and Daniel Craig was a spectacularly good James Bond.
bulletCellular I wondered if this movie would work (much as I wondered about Phone Booth). Like Phone Booth, it did. I enjoyed looking at Kim Bassinger (she's getting older), but I found her performance to be...well...the opposite of "over the top". Her character was too quiet for much of the movie. It also appeared that the director has not seen 24; in other words, the character seems to get around L.A. much quicker than he probably should be able to. The biggest problem with the movie were the few interludes of humor that detracted from the suspense. On the up side, Jason Statham plays the bad guy. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors (he was fabulous in The Transporter) and I really hope that he gets more leading roles.
bulletCharlie and the Chocolate Factory This was a very well done movie that succeeded just right in approaching the beloved original without forcing a viewer to constantly compare new to old. Yes, it is essentially the same story as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but the additional plot elements thrown in that really change the focus of the film so that, paradoxically, this movie is much more about Willy Wonka. Also, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Willa Wonka is very, very different from Gene Wilder's (incidentally, too many people forget the air of crazed malice that Wilder's Wonka evidenced several times in the original) and isn't nearly as creepy as it might appear from some of the trailers. Depp was absolutely fabulous. We took our 5 1/2 year olds and they loved it (there were a few brief "scary" moments for them, but not enough to detract from their enjoyment).
bulletCharlie's Angels: Full Throttle (I will not waste my time with a review of this piece of %$*&@#$%@. To paraphrase from Billy Madison [a truly terrible Adam Sandler movie]: this movie is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in its rambling, incoherent story was it even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in the theater is now dumber for having watched it.)
bulletChicken Little Cute and funny. The kids loved it.
bulletThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe This film looked very good (for the most part), but suffers from several major problems. First, the story is slow. Second, the actors playing the children didn't strike me as terribly good actors (they all seemed a bit wooden). Third, and most problematic for me, the subject matter and its presentation trouble me. For those that may be unaware, The Chronicles of Narnia was written by a very well-respected Christian theologian, C.S. Lewis, and is, essentially, a Christian parable. That's fine. The problem for me [spoiler alert] is the treatment of the death of Aslan (the Christ-figure of the story). Not only is his death depicted in a very brutal manner (query the appropriateness of such in a film that will be seen by many children; then again, I bet that quite of few of them saw The Passion of the Christ ...), but Aslan's killers truly are monsters. As a Jew that has always had to deal with the accusation that it was the Jews who killed Christ, the portrayal of the murderers of the Christ-figure as actual monsters is, to say the least, troubling. I suspect (and hope) that many viewers will not make that connection or even recognize that Aslan represents Christ.
bulletThe Chronicles of Riddick I really enjoyed this movie. In many ways it was a "perfect" science fiction film. Some of the early scenes really reminded me of the Dune universe. The major problem with The Chronicles of Riddick is that there is so much "backstory" to be told and developed, but in two hours, there's not enough time to do much more than touch on things that the viewer wants to see and learn more about. But the story that is told is pure sci-fi fun. If you don't like science fiction, don't bother.
bulletCloverfield For those who aren't familiar with the premise of Cloverfield, it is essentially a Godzilla movie told from the perspective of ordinary people caught up in events and, more importantly, told entirely through a handheld video camera. Not for everyone (and the camera work can be distracting for some). If you haven't seen Cloverfield, before you do so, you might want to check out some of the viral marketing (including MySpace pages for some of the main characters) that fleshes out much of the backstory.
bulletCold Mountain A very good movie, but I couldn't get over the feeling that I was watching very good actors act. Somehow, I was never pulled into the story.
bulletCollateral I enjoyed Collateral, but did not find it to be as great a movie as some have suggested. I thought that both Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx were outstanding. The best thing that I can say about Cruise's performance is that I didn't watch the film and find myself thinking, "Gee, isn't Tom Cruise doing a great job at playing a bad guy?" The story surprised me sufficiently to keep me entertained. Also, much like Phone Booth, this movie did a good job of getting around my preconceived problems with what the story would be (e.g., how can I stay interested in a story that takes place, mostly, in a taxi cab?). As usual, Michael Mann's stylish directorial style adds to the overall impression and "feel" of the film.
bulletControl An "art film" about Ian Curtis, lead singer for the band Joy Division (that morphed into New Order, one of my three favorite bands). The film is done in stark black and white to highlight the dreariness of Manchester, England in the late '70s. The performances are outstanding (especially Sam Reilly as Curtis). I guess the biggest problem with the film is that it is limited by the source material and, given the real-life events, is not a particularly uplifting film. Not a movie for everyone.
bulletThe Constant Gardener Ralph Fiennes is a fabulous actor and he gives a tremendous performance. The story is not a bright, shiny happy tale and if that is what you are hoping for, go see a different movie. The story isn't as complex as most John LeCarre stories, but then I suspect that it was simplified for film. I would not be surprised to see Fiennes' performance nominated for an award next spring.
bulletConstantine I thought that this was going to be more of a horror movie (I haven't read any of the Hellblazer comics upon which it was based), so I was pleasantly surprised. The plot was much more involved than I expected. And I still think that Keanu Reeves is a good actor.
bulletCrank Jason Statham plays a character who is almost the diametric opposite of his character in the Transporter movies or, said differently, if the character in the Transporter movies was a drugged-out bad guy, he would be the protagonist of Crank. Ultimately, I enjoyed Crank, but I did not love it. The director made some odd camera choices (especially right at the beginning of the movie) that I didn't enjoy. Once the action got going (very over the top) the movie was a lot of fun. Plus, it had one of the most original sex scenes in recent memory. Recommended only for those who like quirky, off-beat humor mixed with violence.
bulletThe Da Vinci Code I enjoyed the film version of The Da Vinci Code, but I didn't love it (and I certainly didn't feel about the film the way I felt about the book). On the whole, the film was fairly faithful to the book and didn't shy away from the subject matter of the book as many had feared it would. A few of the more complicated plot elements were simplified (e.g., one cryptex rather than two) and a few subtle changes were made that appeared to be designed to separate the film's villains from the Catholic Church. The biggest change involved the ending and, frankly, I have no idea why the filmmakers felt the need to make the changes that they did. On the "down side", I just never felt that Tom Hanks was Robert Langdon and Audrey Tautou had absolutely no chemistry with Hanks. On the positive side, the film looked great and it was fun to see the places that Dan Brown described so vividly brought to life.
bulletThe Day After Tomorrow This is actually a difficult movie to review. As film goes, this one is certainly not a masterpiece; however, as disaster films go, this one is great. Leave real science (and your notions of whether global warming is real or not) at the door and just watch the movie for fun (and some cool special effects). Roland Emmerich is the best in the business at destroying major cities! Forgot about minor plot issues or sappy storytelling and just watch bad things happen. And tell me that you don't walk out of the theater feeling cold.
bulletDeja Vu A competent thriller that was better than I expected, but which just didn't do enough to engage me. The idea was both interesting and preposterous, but did lead to interesting situations. Somehow, I just felt that there was something missing. Denzel Washington at his "smarmiest".
bulletThe Devil Wears Prada While there were many enjoyable scenes, ultimately the movie was a bit of a letdown.
bulletDodgeball This is a really, really stupid movie. But it is a really, really funny stupid movie. This was one of those rare comedies where the entire audience is laughing out loud for large portions of the film. I don't usually like to see comedies in the theater, but this one was worthwhile. The humor is often juvenile, but so what. It is very, very funny.
bulletDoom (DVD) I have been a fan of the game Doom since it first came out, so I really wanted to like the movie. Alas, while it had some moments, it didn't have enough of them. Certainly not the worst movie of the year, but not worth a sequel unless they do a much better job.
bulletElla Enchanted I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. Think of a cross between The Princess Bride and Shrek and you'll have a good idea of the fantasy world that the characters inhabit. The movie would get four stars if a few of the special effects weren't so glaringly bad.
bulletElf (DVD) Cute and sweet. Probably the first film starring Will Farrell that I've enjoyed.
bulletEnchanted Maybe it's because I watched this movie with my 8-year old daughter who adores Disney princesses, but I have to say that Enchanted was ... well ... enchanting (I know, I know...too easy). The story was great fun and offered entertainment for both the kids and adults. And Amy Adams has star written all over her. I highly recommend Enchanted (not just for kids, either). I have a feeling that when the DVD is released, it will be on the frequent play shelf in our house.
bulletEquilibrium (DVD)
bulletEragon (DVD) I've heard that the book Eragon is very good. I've heard that its sequel Eldest is not. Unforutnately, the movie falls into the latter category. Eragon (the movie) wasn't actually bad; it just wasn't good. Everything felt like something that I'd seen before. The worst part of the movie is that I'm not sure that I want to keep the novel on my reading list. I was disappointed when I missed Eragon in the theater. Thankfully, I saved myself some money and only had to be disappointed at the cost of a Blockbuster rental.
bulletFantastic Four Lots of fun, if not as good as the Spider Man or Batman movies. Not enough superhero action (I guess that will be in the sequel) although I enjoyed the attempts to create real characters. One quibble: On the whole this movie would be fine for younger kids (they won't understand large chunks, but that's OK); however, there is one brief scene in which the violence is a bit over the top and probably too extreme for young children.
bulletFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Decent, but not great. At least we got a bit more character development (especially for Sue Storm).
bulletThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift This movie was better than it had any right to be. Believe it or not, besides the cars and the racing (which were pretty cool; I liked seeing one of the characters drive a Mazda RX-8 like me), the movie actually had characters that were not simply cardboard cutouts. In addition, it was interesting seeing more of the "underbelly" of Tokyo and Japanese society instead of the glossy, polite part of Japan that most films depict.
bulletFinding Nemo I can't imagine how anything else could win the Academy Award for best animated film.
bulletFirewall This was a disappointing movie. The first hour or so was very good. However, for some inexplicable reason, the screenplay writer decided to turn a thinking thriller (i.e., how will Harrison Ford use his brains to stop the bad guys) into a sub-par action flick (i.e., how will Harrison Ford beat the bad guy to a pulp to stop the bad guys). I wanted to see the mental combat between the villain's detailed plan and the hero (supposedly a computer genius).
bulletFlight of the Phoenix I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. Like several other recent films (Phone Booth and Collateral) I wondered whether a film that takes place almost entirely on a single set would hold my attention. Flight of the Phoenix did. This is not an action film per se, although there is some action. On the other hand, it isn't exactly a character drama either. The movie falls into some middle ground (perhaps explaining why so few people apparently went to see it). It was also a pleasant treat to see Dennis Quaid play a slightly different character than he usually does. I certainly recommend Flight of the Phoenix at least as a DVD rental. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the book Flight of the Phoenix upon which this film is based was written by Elleston Trevor who, writing under the name Adam Hall, penned one of the absolute best series of spy novels ever written in the Quiller series. If you enjoy the story of Flight of the Phoenix then I certainly recommend picking up a Quiller novel (several are apparently coming back into print).
bulletFriday Night Lights (DVD) For football fans only (others will simply find the movie a bore). I enjoyed the movie, but it was certainly not the "greatest sports movie ever made" as some have suggested. I didn't feel that I got a very good insight into many of the characters and I felt as if the coach was given a much softer treatment than he probably deserved (did he really rely on a high school student's word as to what his doctor had said about an injury before allowing the kid to play?). I did enjoy the ending (no spoilers here...). I suspect that the book upon which this film was based has a much deeper examination of many of the characters and storylines at which the film only hints or touches on the surface.
bulletThe Game Plan Entertaining and somewhat humorous and touching for kids. For me, The Rock was totally unconvincing as a professional quarterback; linebacker, sure; maybe even a running back, but not a quarterback. Add to that some of the worst football scenes ever filmed and I just couldn't get into the movie. The kid was cute, though.
bulletGarfield: A Tale of Two Kitties I am usually at least marginally entertained by movies aimed at my children. Not so, with Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. While my kids (6½) loved it, I thought that it was one of the worst movies that I'd seen in years.
bulletThe Girl Next Door (DVD) This reminded me a great deal of a 21st-Century version of a John Hughes or John Cusack movie of the Eighties. I really enjoyed Elisha Cuthbert (a very different character from that which she plays on 24; thankfully no cougars were present...). This movie was certainly not a film that will go down in the annals of great movie making, but it did give me an entertaining evening.
bulletThe Golden Compass For those who refuse to see this movie because of its supposed anti-religious themes, all I can say is stop listening to others and go see the movie for yourself. The book on which the film is based may have anti-religious themes (I don't know, I'm reading it now), but those ideas seem to have been wholly exorcised from the book. And even if those themes were still present, shouldn't you make up your own mind about the themes and content rather than relying on someone else to tell you how to think? Then again, that is one of the themes of the film... I thought that The Golden Compass was a beautiful film to watch. As I read the book, I find that the images on the screen did a wonderful job of capturing the author's vision. Also, the performance of newcomer Dakota Blue Richards was outstanding. The film is a bit slow at times, but overall I enjoyed it and hope that it does enough box office business to justify the filming of the rest of the trilogy.
bulletThe Great Raid After watching The Great Raid I feel confident that I could plan a WWII-era commando raid down to the smallest detail. It would have been nice if I also felt that some of the characters were people who I cared about. This movie was really a movie about logistics that just happens to have an action sequence at the end.
bulletHappy Feet A gorgeous movie with a story that ... um ... just didn't work. Parts of the story were fine; however, for a movie primarily aimed at children (or at least families), the direction that the later stages take was troubling. The latter parts of the movie involve some very emotional (sad) scenes that may be too much for some children (not to mention a resolution that will probably be way over the heads of most children). Overall, visually beautiful, but very uneven. Parents should probably see it first to decide if it is appropriate for their children (especially young or sensitive children).
bulletHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Another terrific entry in the Harry Potter series. The best thing about the film is that the director does not shy away from the darker and more adult themes that begin to enter the series with this story. Also, now that we've had several movies to look around Hogwarts and say "Wow" the series is able to focus more on the characters and less on the magic itself.
bulletHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Good story with great visuals and good acting. My only complaint would be that I wanted more. The first two films were long movies that took their time to tell relatively short stories. This movie -- which is based is the first long Harry Potter book -- is the shortest of the three movies. Apparently the director felt the need to cut the story to its most basic elements. Don't get me wrong; his decision works and he delivers a very good movie. However, I wish that he had allowed the viewer to see and hear more of the story.
bulletHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix This was clearly a difficult movie to make. The book upon which it is based is (a) loooooong and (b) complicated (with lots of subplots). Obviously, some material had to be cut. I think that the writers did the best job that they could with the material to craft a movie that made sense, retained the core elements of the book, set the series up for the final two films, and remained enjoyable.
bulletHellboy Visually interesting. The story had holes that you could sail a small aircraft carrier through. I did like that they did a few things that were, to me, at least a bit unexpected.
bulletHero (DVD) I suppose that Hero suffered from a case of overblown expectations. I had heard so many things about it, that it could not possibly live up to them. The film was visually beautiful, although not quite to the degree that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was. The storytelling technique (especially the use of color to delineate each version of the story) was very well done. But all-in-all, I found myself a bit bored. The fights had a sort of "seen it before" feel to them, and the dialog (perhaps due to the subtitles?) seemed stiff. Jet Li's performance was excellent if he was playing the role of a statue; however, if he was supposed to be a person with feelings and emotions, then I missed it.
bulletHidalgo This movie suffered from two main problems: (a) many of the characters wear coverings over their faces, so it is often difficult to recognize and identify some of the secondary characters and (b) some of the events just did not ring close to possible, let alone probable.
bulletHitch Almost everything that Will Smith touches turns to gold. While Hitch may not have been gold, it was at least silver. As romantic comedies go, Hitch was the sort of inoffensive material that even a guy can stomach. The humor was funny without being forced or over-the-top and the characters were actually interesting (mostly). The basis premise is a bit outrageous, but so what... One thing that I particularly liked about Will Smith is that he plays a character that is black rather than a black character. While this may be a subtle difference, to me it makes all the difference in the world. I want to be attracted and interested in the character on the basis of the ... well ... that character's character rather than the color of the character's skin. By the same token, the character need not be defined by skin color nor unplayable by certain actors because of skin color. Will Smith's Hitch character is an interesting, likeable character who happens to be black. I find that to be refreshing. Hitch made for a decent Valentine's "date movie".
bulletHitman I kept thinking that this movie wanted to be the next chapter in the Bourne series (even the music sounded familiar). It's not that Hitman was a bad movie, it certainly had some entertaining scenes; it just didn't seem to make it up to or over the edge to being a good movie. Entertaining fluff.
bulletHome on the Range The kids laughed and enjoyed it. I thought a few of the lines were pretty good.
bulletHostage A pretty good Bruce Willis' action flick. Some of the reviews that I've read criticize the excessive violence. Obviously those reviewers haven't seen the Die Hard movies, let alone Kill Bill. The body count is not anywhere near as high as some reviewers have suggested. I also thought that Willis' performance was quite good (at least as good as can be obtained in an action movie). In fact, most of the real action is limited to the very end of the movie; until then, Willis' role is much more cerebral and anguished than John McClane (that last reference is for the Die Hard fans). I did take issue with a few "plot holes" (one of which really bugged me) and I would have liked a bit more exposition at the end (is a sequel in the works?). There were also a few gaps that I'm hoping will be filled in by deleted scenes on the DVD.
bulletHow to Eat Fried Worms Just fine for kids (clearly the intended audience). Gross, but not too gross (I will admit that I enjoyed watching my wife squirm with each worm that was shown on the screen) and with just enough of a message for kids.
bulletHulk (DVD) Not a typical superhero movie until the end; of course the last 45 minutes or so ruined what could have been a much more interesting movie.
bulletI Am Legend Entertaining, but not as good as some of the buzz. I will say that there were a few very intense scenes. Spoiler alert: When I got home from the movie I had to snuggle with my German Shepherd for a while.
bulletIn America A good film that I just did not "get into"; I kept asking myself why I should particularly care about the story being told to me or the people that were at the heart of the story. Unlike the rest of the audience, my heart strings were not tugged very hard.
bulletThe Incredibles I'm sure that is already a well-worn cliché to say that The Incredibles is incredible. But it is! The movie looks great. It has a terrific story (a perfect homage both to super heroes and to spy movies [especially 1960s era James Bond movies and their spoofs]). The characters are far more real that those played by real actors in non-animated moves. And my 5-year-olds liked it as much as I did (maybe more; they wanted to see it again the next night). This one is definitely worth seeing, especially on the big screen, where the detail in the animation will be evident.
bulletInside Man An intelligent "bank heist" film that managers to stay intelligent (unlike Firewall which turned into a bad action movie). Inside Man is not an action movie; it is about the characters involved in the situation. To that end, the movie succeeds admirably. Director Spike Lee even manages to take on the issue of racism in several scenes without taking away too much from the story itself. I was particularly gratified that the filmmakers gave the viewer a reason to be comfortable with their sympathy for the film's bank robber (Clive Owen). Too many films lead a viewer to cheer for the villain without any real justification.
bulletThe Interpreter One of those rare, thinking person's thrillers with a terrific cast. I ordinarily don't like Sean Penn, but he was terrific (but then who wouldn't be when cast opposite Nicole Kidman?).
bulletIntolerable Cruelty
bulletInto the Blue Fairly straightforward, but enjoyable thriller that stars Jessica Alba...and some other people. Did I mention that it stars Jessica Alba. And if you watch Into the Blue you'll get to see Jessica a bathing suit! No real surprises in the story, but the tale is well told...and it stars Jessica Alba. The underwater photography is absolutely gorgeous...especially when focusing on Jessica Alba. Story Jessica Alba .
bulletInvasion The best thing about Invasion is that it was not the standard-fare horror film that I expected (with very few "jump out, say 'boo'" scenes) and, instead, offered a more intelligent story. A few of the scenes were quite intense and the performances were very good.
bulletInvincible A fairly standard sports tale, well told and well acted. I was pleasantly surprised at the degree to which the director worked to get small details "right" (such as the red white and blue strip on the helmet of the Dallas Cowboys, used only during one season). After the movie, my wife made a great observation about sports movies: If you want your hero to score, simply tell him to run in slow motion and play dramatic music in the background; it works every time!
bulletI, Robot I really enjoyed the way to movie portrayed Chicago circa 2035. Much of it felt "real" (just as the future of Minority Report seemed "right"). I also enjoyed the story, at least until the last half-hour or so. By the time the fight with the robots begins, I found myself thinking that any neat resolution would be just too unrealistic. The resolution wasn't as neat as I feared, but of course we know what heroes do in movies. My biggest gripe about the movie is that the writers couldn't even be bothered to credit Isaac Asimov with having written the three laws of robotics. Anyway, if you like science-fiction, you will enjoy I, Robot.
bulletThe Island Logan's Run meets Coma. Visually interesting, with a few neat action sequences. The actors appear to be having fun (and I certainly had fun watching Scarlett Johansson). Several times, the movie seems to be approaching series issues, but then backs off before forcing to the viewer to think too hard. Fun, but not great.
bulletThe Italian Job
bulletKill Bill, Vol. 1 A terrific homage to spaghetti westerns and samurai movies. Some really terrific fights. Very, very violent, but most of the violence is cartoon-ish rather than intense.
bulletKill Bill, Vol. 2 Very different from Vol. 1. Unlike Vol. 1's reliance on fight scenes to propel the movie, Vol. 2 is a dialog driven piece, and Quentin Tarantino writes great dialog. To me, the most impressive thing, by far, was that Tarantino clearly set up the payoff for the story, yet when it came, it was still a surprise. In hindsight, I realized that I should have expected it. But I didn't, and to me, that is a credit to Tarantino's storytelling technique.
bulletKing Arthur If this movie were called King ____ (fill in the blank) and none of the other characters had recognizable names, it would not have sold as many tickets the first weekend, but it probably would be better received. This is not the story of King Arthur that we all grew up with. Whether it is the "truth" is highly suspect. It is, however, very entertaining. I just found that the need to graft the characters of the Arthurian mythos onto this story of Roman-Saxon-Pict conflict to be unnecessary. The battle scenes alone (well, that and any opportunity to look at Keira Knightly for a few hours) makes the film worth the price of admission.
bulletThe Kingdom The Kingdom wanted to be a political movie that served as an indictment of the cooperation that the US receives from its "ally" Saudi Arabia. And, for the first half of the movie, it was on track to make that point. Then, all of a sudden, the movie became an episode of C.S.I.: Saudi Arabia before finally morphing into an action film. All of this led to a resolution that was too easy and ignored much of the subject matter of the early "political" movie.
bulletKingdom of Heaven This film looked great. The history was a bit suspect, but this shouldn't really matter if the plot is engaging enough. It wasn't. For a story to play fast and loose with history is fine, but the story needs to give the viewer enough so that a viewer can wrap his brain around the history being presented. I will say that the siege scenes were exceptionally well done.
bulletLadder 49 I was afraid that Ladder 49 would be Backdraft 2 -- scene after scene of firefighting (which may be interesting for a while...). Thankfully, Ladder 49 is a story about characters and most of the main characters were well-developed. (A few of the supporting characters were mere props that existed to serve a purpose or an expected role.) The storytelling-style of repeated flashbacks may be a distraction for some viewers, but it didn't bother me.
bulletThe Lake House I can sit through a "chick flick"; really, I can. But it has to have some chemistry between the stars. The Lake House didn't have any chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock (besides, they aren't even on screen together very often). Also, if a film is going to be at all science fiction-based (as this was), then it must -- it must -- make sense. And on this score, The Lake House really failed. I can't explain my thoughts without some spoilers, so if you plan to see the film (don't, please don't), then do not read any further: First, during much of the movie, the director has elected to have Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock "talking" to each other when, in fact, they are supposed to be corresponding through letters; while the "dialogue" may help from a filmmaking perspective (after all reading letters is boring), it made no sense. In the dialogue, the characters have the kind of "back-and-forth" dialogue that would be expected in a face-to-face conversation. But, because they are each only responding to what the other as written, this dialogue is ridiculous. (I guess we must assume that each letter was only one sentence long.) Even more troubling was the question that popped into my mind almost immediately: If Sandra Bullock's character is living two years into Keanu Reeve's future, why does she "wait" for him instead of just picking up a phone book and calling him? Waiting may be more romantic, but it is also stupid. Finally, the big "twist" at the end was not at all unexpected as I saw through it very early in the movie. The Lake House is not worth the price of a Blockbuster rental or even the time that you would spend to watch it; instead, use that hour and a half to do something more productive, like flossing your cat or ironing you lawn.
bulletLara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
bulletThe Last Samurai Another Academy Award worthy movie. I've always been interested in Japanese history and culture, and this movie was a terrific look at Japan in the late 1800s. See this one on the big screen!
bulletThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
bulletLegally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde
bulletThe Legend of Zorro A follow-up to The Mask of Zorro. Unfortunately, nowhere near as good as the prior movie.
bulletLemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events I enjoyed this film very much (enough that I decided to start reading the first book of the series). The look of the film is absolutely wonderful, in a strange and mysterious way. I heard someone describe the look as "neo-retro Victorian Gothic" which of course means that the look is wholly indescribable. Jim Carrey does his best to steal the movie, but I found that Emily Browning and Liam Aiken (as Violet and Klaus, respectively) more than held their own. The story is certainly too dark for younger children and the faux happy ending (which really isn't) did not help and was, in fact, perhaps the low point of the film. Suffice it to say that I didn't find myself cringing when Meryl Streep was on the screen (and she is one of the actresses that will almost always earn a veto from me; that is, if Ms. Streep is in a movie, I won't see it). This was a very good movie, but probably not for everyone. I am eagerly looking forward to the sequel. It should be noted that both my wife and I agreed that Streep's performance was a dead-on impersonation of my mother-in-law.
bulletLive Free or Die Hard A great addition to the Die Hard franchise! I particularly liked that Bruce Willis' John McLane remembered the events of the prior movies (for example, he is asked after a brutal fight whether he's "done this before" and responds, "Yes, but not for a long time"). Also, the movie stays true to McLane's character (and family issues). I didn't think that the villain had the right degree of menace (but my wife disagreed). My major gripe would be that the climactic action sequence (involving an airplane) was simply too far over the top. I'm willing to suspend disbelief, but don't make me throw it out the window and stomp on it.
bulletThe Longest Yard I have always been a big fan of the original version of The Longest Yard, so I was a bit wary of the remake. However, I was very pleased with the result. The story remains very true to the original (as do many of the characters). Little "wink-wink, nod-nod" moments to the original are fun to spot. This new version plays as broader comedy than the original, but it does not go over the top as so many of Adam Sandler's (or Chris Rock's) movies have. My only real complaint is that, while Adam Sandler did an admirable job in the role, to me I could never quite believe that he was a former NFL MVP. He just didn't look the part, especially standing next to Burt Reynolds or throwing a ball to Michael Irvin. But the remake of The Longest Yard was fun.
bulletThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Wow! Wow! Wow! OK, enough of that. This was the best movie of the year. Hands down. No questions. Other movies were good, but there was nothing on the same plane as The Return of the King. A fabulous conclusion to the best film epic of all time.
bulletLoony Tunes: Back in Action (DVD) We rented this movie for our kids. I laughed at a number of things, most of which went over their heads. They seemed to enjoy it far more than I did, but they love Bugs and Daffy...
bulletMadagascar A film that doesn't know who its audience is can be a tough sell and Madagascar is just such a film. My 5 1/2 year old children didn't understand a neurotic hypochondriac giraffe (although I will say that David Schwimmer voiced the part very well). The art was, well, arty, and the story was mostly too adult. The penguins were funny and it's no surprise to see that they will be getting their own shorts.
bulletThe Manchurian Candidate (DVD) I have very fond memories of the original version of The Manchurian Candidate. This remake did not live up to either my memories or my expectation.
bulletMan of the Year One of the stranger movies that I've seen in recent years, this movie seemed like two wholly separate stories that, for some unknown reason, were tacked together. One story is a comedy about a talk show political commentator who runs for and is elected president. There were some terrific scenes in this story and I would have liked to see much more of how the newly-elected president went about doing his job. The other movie was a political thriller involving the unreliability of electronic voting. It would have been a good story if: (a) the method by which the election results were falsified wasn't quite so stupid and (b) it wasn't intruding on a movie about a comedian being elected president. These stories deserved two separate movies rather than one movie that didn't do either story justice. Two failed opportunities do not add up to a good movie.
bulletMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World Boy did this movie make me glad that I was not a naval officer in the Royal Navy in the early 19th Century!
bulletMatrix Reloaded
bulletMatrix Revolutions Boy was this a disappointing end to a great (well, it should have been great) series. Much like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, it may have actually been a good movie, but it wasn't the movie that I wanted it to be.
bulletMiami Vice This is another one of those movies that is difficult to review. First, the disclaimer: I was a huge fan of the Miami Vice TV series; it was one of very few shows of its era that I made an effort to watch (and missed very few episodes). Many of the reviews that I've read for the new film version of Miami Vice suggest that the movie has little in common with the TV series; to me, that is only true if the viewer is only looking at the surface. True enough, the new movie does not have pastel shirts, unconstructed jackets, shoes without socks, or an alligator named Elvis. If that is what the TV series was all about, then the movie does not have much in common with the original material. However, to me, the TV show was about the lengths that the police had to go through to stop the very worst of the drug dealers and suppliers, about living right on the edge, when any moment you could be betrayed or your cover exposed, about trying to keep your feelings in check while "playing" those that you needed in order to get closer to your goal. In that respect, the new film version is very definitely the progeny of the TV series. Miami Vice the movie is much darker than the TV show (but then, how dark could a network TV show be in the mid-80s?) and the violence is much more intense. Surprisingly, Miami Vice was a slower-moving movie with much less action than I had expected. It is also, in a number of instances, quite an "arty" film, from camera angles, to color, to grainy film. All-in-all, I enjoyed Miami Vice very much; however, my review and recommendation is tempered because I'm just not sure how many others will share my view of this movie.
bulletThe Missing (DVD) Yawn. A few interesting bits, but for the most part, this movie left me wondering why Ron Howard felt compelled to tell this particular story among the thousands of others that he could have told.
bulletMission: Impossible III (M:I:III) A fun action movie that actually had time to delve into the lead character's ... er ... character (at least a bit). If you liked the other MI movies, you'll love this one too.
bulletMona Lisa Smile (DVD) One word: Yawn. The movie had two good, albeit way too brief, scenes: Julia Roberts asks her students whether a new artwork was good and they discuss how to view "new" artwork. Later, Julia asks her students to simply look at and think about a piece of modern art. I wish the movie had more discussion of art. That might have proven interesting. The movie wanted to touch lots of issues (female roles, homosexuality, contraception, art), but didn't do a very good job with any of the issues. Also, by making the movie a period piece, it lost some of the impact it might otherwise have had (of course, then the female role issue wouldn't have meant much...).
bulletMr. & Mrs. Smith This movie was great fun and great to look at (I'm not sure whether it was better to just look...). During a scene in the opening minutes of the movie I turned to my wife and quipped that "Jennifer Aniston never stood a chance." I've always thought that Angelina Jolie was pretty, but wow!
bulletMr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (DVD) I had several problems with this film. First, while it takes place in a "happy" place, the film has very much of a sad feel to it. That may be fine for adults, but as the movie appears aimed at kids as much as adults, it just seemed, if not quite wrong, at least off. Second (an admittedly minor), I've never seen Natalie Portman looking less attractive. Bummer. Third, the secondary story about a child without friends who spends much of his time at the toy store was actually kind of creepy, especially as his relationship with Jason Batemen's character developed. Finally, and most importantly, a story about a toy store and a magical eccentric like Mr. Magorium should not be about death, but that is, in essence, what this film is about. I watched this movie in a hotel room with a bunch of kids (ages 8-10 or so). Most were bored; some left, others fell asleep. A few clearly did not understand the story and none seemed to like it much. The movie needed less focus on death and loneliness and more on joy and wonder.
bulletMunich I thought that Munich was the best film of 2005 and I was disappointed that Eric Bana did not receive an Academy Award nomination for his role. I certainly understand how some view this film has being either somewhat anti-Israeli or at least not good for Israel, but I disagree. Without getting into a deep dissertation or analysis of either the film or the moral justifications for the actions undertaken by Israel, a few words on the subject are still appropriate. I do not believe that Spielberg is drawing a moral equivalency between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli responses. Nor do I believe that Spielberg's message is that violence simply begets more violence and should therefore be abandoned. Instead, the message that I took from Munich was that espoused by Golda Meir (actress Lynn Cohen captured the former Prime Minister perfectly) early in the film: Sometimes societies have to compromise who they are and what they stand for in order to protect themselves. But their is a cost to the people charged with such a task. The Israelis question themselves: Are they doing good? Are they becoming like the terrorists? But isn't that sort of thought what makes people human? Compare the second guessing and emotional baggage of the Israelis to the exuberant joy of apparent lack of remorse shown by the Palestinians. That is the difference. One side kills innocents and is not troubled; the other side endeavors to kill only terrorists and suffers a terrible moral burden. Only the "good guys" feel remorse, while the "bad guys" have no hesitation to kill innocents. (Query whether a Palestinian terrorist would have cared that a little girl had run into a room in which a bomb was about to explode?) That is the difference between the terrorists and the Israelis that went after them. Spielberg seems to understand this difference and Eric Bana's performance successfully captures and conveys Spielberg's message.
bulletMy Super Ex-Girlfriend I wanted to like this movie; really, I did. I love Uma Thurman (see my reviews for Kill Bill). But My Super Ex-Girlfriend just didn't work for me. I'm not sure that I can articulate why. It had plenty of funny moments (in particular, the shark being thrown through an apartment window), but it just wasn't funny enough. And the climax and ending seemed very much an afterthought, almost as if the writers just didn't know what to do with the characters and situation that they'd created.
bulletNational Treasure Take virtually any Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie and cross it with The Da Vinci Code and you wind up with National Treasure. While this movie will not win (or even be nominated for any awards), it was fun! And that is what I want in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Enough plot to keep the action moving and the characters interesting without my having time to stop and think about how preposterous some things are. Sit back, relax, and have a good time. Nicholas Cage excels in this type of role (e.g., Con Air and The Rock) and he doesn't disappoint in National Treasure. Plus, Sean Bean has become a perfect English-accented villain (the 2000s version of Alan Rickman?) and he has his "bad guy sneer" turned on full throttle. In a fall movie season without much action, National Treasure was a welcome relief.
bulletNational Treasure: Book of Secrets Another reviewer called this film "dumb fun" and I can't think of a more accurate description. The movie was fun. Unfortunately, the puzzles weren't as clever as in the first film and the director raced through the process of solving the puzzles to get to the action and set pieces. I also felt that there were a number of scenes that were edited out (just what was the clue that told Ben Gates where to go before the climax of the film?).
bulletNext The trailer suggested that Next was a movie Nicholas Cage did just to fulfill a contract obligation. And the opening scenes did nothing to contradict that suggestion. However, a strange thing happened. Next turned into a far better movie than it should have. In fact, I really enjoyed it (my wife loved it). One major quibble: In any movie involving things like time travel or premonition, it is important that the film follow its own internal "rules". Next violates one of those rules in a major way, which left me feeling a bit cheated at the end. (I want to try to guess what's going on and how things will work out, but if the screenwriter cheats, then I can't play the game.) If it weren't for this problem, I would give Next an extra .
bulletNight at the Museum It was cute, but it just fell a bit flat for me.
bulletNightmare Before Christmas (3-D) I couldn't remember what I thought about this movie (which I saw when it was originally released). Now, I remember that I didn't care for it very much. The addition of 3-D was interesting, but didn't really add much. Even my kids were bored.
bulletOnce Upon a Time in Mexico This was very good, but it just wasn't the movie that I wanted it to be; too much story, not enough highly choreographed gunplay
bulletOpen Range I hate westerns. I loved this movie. Worthy of Academy Award attention.
bulletThe Pacifier Cute, but not great. Way too many plot holes for this one to work. I'm not sure exactly the age of the target audience and whether it was too complicated or too simplistic (depending on the target audience). Vin Diesel was, however, very good, and showed that he can play a variety of roles.
bulletThe Parent Trap (1998) (DVD) Another movie that we rented for the kids. I was clearly not the intended audience for this movie. That said, it did a very good job of appealing to its target audience. The performances were very good (young Lindsey Lohan was terrific). I enjoyed the earlier parts of the movie much more than the somewhat slapstick later portions of the film.
bulletPaycheck I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would after the lukewarm reviews it received. To me, the best way to describe it would be a Robert Ludlum story set a few years into the future. If you liked Minority Report you will probably enjoy Paycheck.
bulletPeter Pan (DVD) This movie received wonderful reviews; I'm not sure why. The best word that I can offer to describe it is boring. My wife (who was really looking forward to it) fell asleep in the first 15 minutes. I had to work to stay awake; I'm not sure why I bothered. The story sticks to the original pretty closely, but does play up the adolescent "relationship" between Peter and Wendy. Besides being boring, I thought that most of the special effects were pretty poor. Much of the flying, for example, just didn't look real. A note for parents: This version is not appropriate for younger kids.
bulletThe Phantom of the Opera I have seen the stage production of The Phantom of the Opera 847 times. Well, that may be a wee bit of an overstatement, but it should get the point across that I am very familiar with this show and story. In fact, my wife and I danced to All I Ask of You at our wedding (note to self: When picking a "first dance" song for a wedding, be sure not to choose a song that last for over 7 minutes because you and your new spouse will spend 7 minutes nervously dancing with one another while several hundred very bored guests look on with nothing to do but stare at you). Anyway, my familiarity made this a somewhat difficult movie to watch because I find myself (a) comparing everything to the various stage productions that I've seen and (b) getting impatient for certain numbers that, after 847 viewings/listenings, now bore more.  That said, here are my thoughts: First, if you don't like modern-style Broadway musicals (or rock operas as they are sometimes called), then you will not like The Phantom of the Opera. There is very little dialogue (although there is substantially more than in the stage production). Second, if you go to the movie expecting to see an exact recreation of the stage production, you will be disappointed. However, please do not allow that to stand in your way of seeing this movie. After all, some of the special effects that make the stage production so magical would be meaningless or silly in a movie. Thus, the director had to try a few different things. For example, in the stage production, the descent into the sewers is created by having the Phantom and Christine "descend" a catwalk, the left and right sides of which are alternately raised and lowered to give the illusion of descent. Instead of trying to mimic that effect, the film has a magnificently designed, elaborate series of sewers into which the characters descend. Some numbers translate very well to the screen (my favorite being "All I Ask of You" because of the ability to see agony on the Phantom's face as he watches Christine and Raoul together. Other numbers, notably Masquerade did not work as well, perhaps because the success of numbers like this on the stage rely in large part on so much going on that the viewer cannot possibly take it all in; in the film, the director is forced to provide close ups of parts of the "action" thus depriving the viewer of the overall effect. All in all, though, the film is an absolute visual treat, from the opening "newsreel-like" view of the Opera House, to the costumes, to the Phantom's lair. I also liked the additional nuggets of back story that help explain some of the actions and character motivations that are not present in the stage production. Of course, the major question is how were the performances. To my mind, they were absolutely first rate. Again, if you go to the movie with Sarah Brightman's and Michael Crawford's voices etched indelibly into your head, you will be disappointed. However, the actors were all at least as good as almost all of the performers that I have seen (and Emmy Rossum as Christine is certainly, by far [and I mean, really, really far] and away the best looking Christine that I've laid eyes upon). I particularly liked the actor who played the Phantom because his singing was much more appropriate for the character; too often, performers singing this part forget that the Phantom may be a musical genius but that he has never had formal operatic voice lessons nor had the chance for anyone to actually hear him sing). Gerard Butler's performance brought a vulnerability to the Phantom that I haven't previously seen on the stage. Finally, the film is interspersed with bits of additional footage set in 1919 following the auction that opens the film (and musical). This additional footage leads up to a wonderful epilogue that is not present in the stage production. This is a highly recommended film, but not necessarily highly recommended to everyone.
bulletThe Pink Panther Steve Martin was terrific as Inspector Clouseau. I don't like slapstick, but I've always enjoyed the Pink Panther movies. This one had some very, very funny moments (although it could have used a few more belly laughs). I really appreciated the minor role of Clive Owen as 006. The only failing in the movie was Beyonce. She simply didn't seem to fit the role and is not of the quality of the rest of the cast. I hope that we see more of Steve Martin's Clouseau.
bulletPirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
bulletPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Fun, funny, and exciting. A bit darker than the first film. Plus, Johnny Depp gets to give Captain Jack Sparrow a bit more character (hidden under the Keith Richards swagger).
bulletPirates of the Caribbean: At World's End And ending reminiscent of the last Matrix movie: Just not good enough. Sure, some of the action scenes were fun (but nothing as good as the best action sequences from the first two films) and some of the lines were funny. But overall, the movie just seemed to bog down with not enough interesting things going on.
bulletPitch Black (DVD) This turned out to be a much better movie that I was expecting. The best comparison is Alien; like Alien, Pitch Black is a "horror" movie in a science fiction setting. However, the "horror" was not the usual fare that one is served in a classic horror genre film. In fact, much of film was actually pretty interesting (although a few sequences made me grimace because they were just too obvious; for example, one of the characters has a good idea to help the group out, so of course another character's weakness has to cause the idea to fail). Also, Vin Diesel's character Riddick (the title character of the upcoming movie) is also worth watching. He's a classic anti-hero. Finally, the alien planet (and the "horror" waiting there has just the right creep factor without becoming silly or too horrific to be believable.
bulletPooh's Heffalump Movie This movie was very enjoyable and very sweet. As a general rule, the Winie the Pooh movies have done the best job of consistently achieving just the right tone for their intended audience. I would have rated the movie higher, but at just over 1 hour it felt too short, even for a Pooh movie. But it enchanted both adults and 5-year olds, so the producers obviously did something right.
bulletPoseidon I think that I simply wasn't in the mood for a disaster movie when we saw Poseidon. While I enjoyed the movie, I was a bit bored (maybe because I knew, broadly speaking, what would happen). On the whole, the film looked good and some of the silly stuff from the original movie was done away with (in particular, meeting other passengers who were headed down). There was only a small surprise in terms of which characters did and did not survive.
bulletThe Prince & Me (DVD) Yawn. Unfortunately, Julia Stiles was simply not charismatic (pretty?) enough to carry this film. It had a few genuinely funny moments and a few warm moments. But they were not anywhere near enough to make up for an otherwise predictable, thoroughly boring movie.
bulletRaise Your Voice (DVD) While I now see why Hillary Duff is so appealing to so many people, I will reserve my overall judgments on her until I see her in a movie that has a script that shows her talents. In Raise Your Voice she is very appealing; the movie just wasn't very good.
bulletRambo I enjoyed, but did not love Rambo. A few things to note: First, the first Rambo movie, First Blood, is a favorite of mine (as is the book upon which it is based). Second, David Morrell, author of First Blood (the book) is one of my favorite authors. Third, while I had fun with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III, I never loved those movies and, looking back at them, they are much more stuck in their time than is First Blood. For me, the best part of 2008's Rambo was the seeming return to the original character of John Rambo and a less glamorous view of violence of war. In many ways, Rambo is an anti-war movie, especially given the exceptionally graphic and gory nature of the violence. I suspect that Sylvester Stallone added the gore to drive home the point that war is an angry, ugly, nasty thing, not the glorified vision depicted in Rambo II and Rambo III. For additional insight and thoughts on Rambo, please see my blog where I've reprinted David Morrell's thoughts on the film and offered some additional thoughts on the character of John Rambo and David Morrell.
bulletRatatouille Another excellent film from Pixar (and two in a row that turned out to be much better than seemed possible given the basic premise shown in the initial teasers). Oddly, Ratatouille seemed aimed a bit more at adults (if you can get past talking, cooking rats...). My kids loved the film (my son more so than my daughter), but I wonder how much they really understood some elements of the story (for example, I doubt that my kids understand the importance that restaurant critics can play in the success or failure of a restaurant).
bulletThe Recruit The first half was great; the second half ... well ... watch the first half.
bulletRescue Dawn A very good Vietnam POW film that proves that Christian Bale is one of the finest actors on screen today. The film surprised me in that it wasn't simply a movie about the North Vietnamese torturing American soldiers; nor was it a particularly anti-war film. Instead, the director simply told a true story and let that story, essentially, speak for itself.
bulletRunaway Jury
bulletThe Rundown
bulletSahara This is another movie that is very difficult for me to review. As frequent readers are no doubt aware, I am a huge fan of Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, one of which formed the very rough basis for this movie. Cussler sued to stop the producers from making the movie because he didn't approve of the script. If he was concerned that the film would stray too far from his story or his characters, then he was right to be concerned. The film Sahara is only superficially related to the story from the book and the characters are similarly not those found in the books (especially the peripheral characters like Al Giordino and Jim Sandecker). However, Sahara was an exceptionally well done, exciting, fun and funny action movie. Matthew McConaughey was a terrific action hero; if only his played "Derek Potts" instead of Dirk Pitt...
bulletThe School of Rock
bulletSeabiscuit I hate to say it, but this was practically a perfect movie. So far, this is absolutely the best movie of 2003.
bulletThe Sentinel An OK action movie with two principal faults: First, the "twist" is far too obvious (at least to anyone who reads or watches lots of thrillers). Second, the motivation of the villains is never made clear (and how did they get so many armed villains into the final shootout?). Kiefer Sutherland's character was a bit too close to his Jack Bauer character from 24 and Jack Bauer is far more interesting. (I may be mistaken, but I believe that the line "holster your weapon" is spoken by Kiefer Sutherland in The Sentinel and in the episode of 24 that aired the same week that The Sentinel was released.) I have no idea what purpose Eva Longoria served (other than to put butts in seats).
bulletSerenity I had the privilege of seeing Serenity after spending much of the previous week watching the entire series of Firefly on DVD, so everything from the series was fresh in my mind. This was both good and bad; good in that I was able to appreciate everything in the movie, but bad in that I cannot attest to how well the movie works for someone unfamiliar with Firefly. I think that the movie offers enough background explanation for a novice. I enjoyed Serenity very much, although I did feel that some of the better quirky aspects of Firefly were toned down for this movie (some of the odd Western-style dialog, dress, and lack of technology) and I also found a few characters to be just slightly off from the characters that I'd watched for the last week. However, almost all of that can be attributed to the story being told. Anyone who enjoys science fiction should enjoy this movie. I think that it will be enjoyable for non-science fiction buffs as well, but I'm not sure. I will say that the story surprised me several times, which is always a bonus.
bulletThe Shaggy Dog The kids really enjoyed this movie (boy did they laugh at a few scenes). I was less entertained, but then I wasn't the target audience. My only real complaint with the movie is that the first half hour or so may be difficult for younger children to understand. I will say, however, that Tim Allen does a spectacularly good impression of a dog.
bulletShallow Hall (DVD)
bulletShall We Dance The buildup for this movie made me think that it would be another Something's Gotta Give. It wasn't. It was boring. Jennifer Lopez is pretty. OK. However, her look was way too severe to do much for me. And besides, she doesn't actually have much screen time. Susan Sarandon has never looked less attractive. Maybe this movie lost something in the translation from Japanese; maybe it loses some of its power when viewed by my generation rather than an older generation.
bulletShark Tale This movie had some funny moments, but not enough to rescue it from being a very uneven mess. Visually, the film looks great (very, very colorful); however, the animation must be compared to Finding Nemo and, on that scale, it can't begin to compare. I'm not sure what audience the producers were aiming for, either. As a spoof of the Godfather movies, Shark Tale does not translate very well to children who are the most likely audience for this type of bright, gaudy animated film. I was also a bit bothered by the attempts to "force" some hip-hop into the film; even Will Smith (both in voice and as animated fish) seemed a bit ... um ... underwater? ... at those moments. To me, the best part of the film was clearly the interesting (and visually amusing) characters and how they interact with the undersea city in which they live. But the movie needed more ... something ... for all of this to mean much.
bulletShoot 'Em Up (DVD) A must see for fans of over-the-top, ultra-choreographed violence. Lots of fun, but not for everyone.
bulletShooter Based on Point of Impact, one of my favorite novels (well, at least top 20), Shooter was a good, intelligent action movie. Mark Wahlberg did a decent job of capturing Bob Lee Swagger's personality, even if he didn't quite look the part (and he certainly didn't sound the way I always "heard" Bob Lee's voice). The screenwriters did a decent job of moving parts of the backstory forward in time from Vietnam so that everything still made sense (although I wonder how those changes will be reflected in future movies should the producers choose to make films based on the sequels to Point of Impact). Shooter wasn't as good as Point of Impact (but how many good books are as good on the screen?), but it was a very enjoyable film.
bulletShrek 2 Very, very funny. I'm actually looking forward to seeing it again to try to catch all of the little bits that I missed the first time. Plenty for parents to watch and laugh at if they take their kids.
bulletSideways This movie has received enormous praise and Academy Award nominations. I'm not exactly sure why. A cousin told me that this was the funniest movie he'd ever seen. I laughed several times. Another friend told me that the story was very personal and deep. I found that I did not particularly like, let alone care about, most of the characters. This may be worth renting someday, just to say that you've seen all of the Academy Award-nominated movies, but I think that there are far better ways to spend an evening at the theater.
bulletSky Captain and the World of Tomorrow In a word: Wow! This was one of the coolest looking movies that I've seen in a long time. It was a spot on homage to the pulp serials of the 30's & 40's, much as the Indiana Jones movies were. However, if you can't get beyond the fact that the movie is, at least, partially animated, you will find the look of the film to be distracting. This is the kind of film that makes you completely ignore plot holes; who cares about plot elements with a movie this cool!
bulletSo Close (DVD) So Close is a Hong Kong action thriller with wild, over-the-top, action sequences. The opening sequence, in which one of the protagonists enters an skyscraper, eludes various guards and pursuers, and confronts the target that she has been hired to assassinate is the primary reason to rent this movie (the bit where she jumps up, sticks the heels of her boots into the acoustic tiles of the ceiling, and then shoots down at the guards, was silly, but waaaay cool). Although several more action sequences are entertaining, none rise to the level of the opening. More problematic is the rest of the story. Perhaps it was not translated well; perhaps the viewer needs some additional background that I didn't have. Whatever the case, I felt that I was missing quite a bit of story as the movie progressed. So, if you enjoy seeing some gorgeous Asian women kicking some proverbial butt in well-choreographed fight scenes, So Close may be worth a rent; if not, then this movie will disappoint.
bulletSomething's Gotta Give This is the kind of movie that I love to hate. I went kicking and screaming and, by the time it was over, I wished it was longer still. It was almost a perfect movie. Highly recommended.
bulletSpartan A very good thriller, sorta in the espionage category. Whether you like this film will probably depend on two things: (a) do you like Val Kilmer's relatively "wooden" acting style and/or (b) do you like David Mamet's dialogue style. If you say yes to both, you will love this movie; if you say no to both, stay far away.
bulletSpider-Man 2 First, a disclaimer: I didn't love Spider-Man; for that matter, I never really liked the Spider-Man comics much, either. That said, I must admit that I liked Spider-Man 2 much more than Spider-Man, but it still wasn't as good as I wanted. I think that my problem with both movies (and the comic book, too), is that I don't find the villains interesting enough; in fact, I find them too goofy. However, what I did like about Spider-Man 2, in particular, was the recognition of a "down side" to being a superhero and the toll it takes on the hero's humanity. In this way, more than as an action movie, I enjoyed Spider-Man 2. I found the action, much like in Hulk, to be way too obviously computer generated, which leaves me feeling as if something is missing. I'd much rather see Bruce Willis running through shattered glass and getting bloody feet and face than a computer generated superhero getting pummeled. Many of my friends have taken relatively young kids to Spider-Man 2; I don't think that young kids should see this film because (a) it is violent; (b) there are a great many adult themes that will either confuse young children or cause them to ask questions that adults might not want to discuss. Obviously, each parent should make up their own mind; just don't assume that this is a superhero movie that is simply a bunch of cartoon action. It isn't.
bulletSpider-Man 3 The disclaimer at the beginning of my Spider-Man 2 review still applies. Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 was not able to overcome my general disdain for Spider-Man. I found the movie to be overly long (I recall looking at my watch a few times, and I usually love long movies) and ... well ... boring. The villiains were not interesting. Not enough was made of the potential new love interests. And the internal struggle that Peter Parker goes through just never seemed real.
bulletThe Spiderwick Chronicles Very entertaining and well-done "fantasy" movie that induced just the right degree of fear in my 8-year old kids.
bulletSpirited Away (DVD) One of the best-looking animated movies I've ever seen, Spirited Away also works as a very good, very engaging story, that surprised me a number of times. I don't normally expect animated films to include character development of the sort found in Spirited Away. The Academy Award for best animated film was justly deserved. Be forewarned, however, that (a) this is not a film for kids (just because it's a "cartoon" doesn't mean that little kids should see it) and (b) if you can't get over the fact that the film is animated, then you probably won't allow the movie to engage you the way it did me.
bulletSuperman Returns The early previews for Superman Returns made me seriously doubt whether I would enjoy the movie. Thus, when I not only enjoyed Superman Returns, but really enjoyed it, I was very pleasantly surprised. Brandon Routh did a fine job both as Superman and as Clark Kent, much better than the first trailers suggested he would do. The best thing about Superman Returns, however, may be that it was less a "superhero" movie and more a movie about people (one of whom happens to be a superhero). One warning: My wife and I watched Superman Returns with an eye toward whether our kids (6½) would enjoy it. Through most of the movie, we both felt that they would enjoy it, even if there were big chunks that they might not understand. However, toward the movie's climax, the tone suddenly became very dark and the violence became much more "real". We both agreed at that point that Superman Returns was absolutely inappropriate for our kids.
bulletStardust The best way to describe Stardust would be to say that it is in the same genre as The Princess Bride (one of my favorite movies of all time). Stardust is clearly a fantasy film and will probably not appeal to those who don't like the genre. It is humorous, but not as funny as The Princess Bride. Some critics have suggested that Stardust is not a visually appealing film; I could not disagree more. I thought that Stardust was absolutely beautiful to look at. The performances were outstanding (in particular Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes, not to mention the brief, but wonderful, part played by Robert DeNiro). If you like fantasy or enjoyed The Princess Bride, then please do yourself a favor and see Stardust (and see it on the big screen).
bulletStarsky & Hutch Some very funny bits, but overall this movie was very uneven, had little or no plot, and just didn't work as intended. But the funny bits were funny.
bulletStar Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith This movie was exactly what it needed to be: an examination of why Anakin Skywalker turned into the greatest villain the movies have ever seen. Almost as important, the movie needed to, and succeeded in, setting the stage for the adventures of Luke Skywalker and the characters that we all grew to love in the late 1970s. For the casual fan, there is much to miss in Sith; however, for the fan that knows the original films well, there is much detail to notice and love. For example, when Obi-Wan walks away from the defeated Anakin, he takes Anakin's light saber. This is an important moment because in Episode IV, Obi-Wan gives Luke "his father's" light saber. Similarly, the final moments of the film when we see Luke's aunt and uncle staring off at the Tatooine horizon, much as Luke will do years later, was a touching way of drawing the two sets of films together. I'm not sure that casual fans will love Sith, but I did.
bulletSurf's Up Cute, with good animation (I particularly liked some of the little touches to make it seem more like a reality TV show, like water droplets landing on the "lens" of the "camera"). It seemed an odd choice to use "interviews" like a reality TV show, as my 7-year-olds had a hard time understanding what was going on at some points in the story.
bulletS.W.A.T. Much better than I expected; in fact, it really wasn't the movie that I expected to see.

Take the Lead Warning: Chick Flick ahead! I grudgingly agreed to see this movie. I should have stuck to my principles. Even my wife was disappointed. We wanted Take the Lead to be about a fusion of ballroom dance and urban dance. It wasn't really. The plot was way too predictable and clichéd and the dancing just wasn't interesting enough.

bulletTalladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby It had some very, very moments, but just not enough of them. Some of the "funny" scenes reminded me of Saturday Night Live skits that went on too long and which the writers weren't quite sure how to end.
bulletThe Terminator (DVD) I recall not liking the original The Terminator very much. I decided to watch it again after I started watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which I've been enjoying). I still don't particularly care for The Terminator, although watching it and the actors to compare them to what would come later was interesting. It was amazing how truly bad the special effects were; I suspect most savvy kids with a video camera and Adobe Premiere, could come up with better special effects today.
bulletTerminator 3: Rise of the Machines
bullet300 Visually stunning, with far more story and characterization than I'd anticipated. I really enjoyed 300, although I suspect that it is not for everyone. Don't be scared away, just because of the visuals, however. But if you are put off by war violence, then this is not the film for you.
bulletTimeline I would have liked this a lot more if it had been a half-hour longer and that extra time was devoted to some character development; as it was, the movie had some cool action scenes, but we really didn't care about any of the characters. It was also way too predictable!
bulletTouching the Void Very good, but very difficult to watch (my knee hurt for days, just thinking about the movie).
bulletTorque (DVD) This movie wanted to be The Fast and the Furious. It wasn't. It was bad. Real bad. Writing more would be a waste of my time typing and your time reading.
bulletTransformers I was never a fan of the Transformers toys (they came along after I was done with those kinds of toys) and I never saw the original movie, so I had not idea what to expect. While the entire concept and back story is pretty silly (OK, stupid, actually), the movie still worked at the level of a summer action flick. Don't think too hard, and it's pretty enjoyable. Shia LaBeouf was very good in the lead role and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of Megan Fox. I think that the director made a wise choice in filming the action sequences with a "you're in the middle of the fight" camera style as doing so avoided the problem of watching giant robots fight at a distance and I just don't think that would have worked very well. Also, the movie was quite funny in a few instances (John Tuturro has a few really good moments on camera). I took my 7½-year old son to the movie. He loved it and, with the exception of a bit of foul language, I didn't find anything really inappropriate for him (the sexual references went right by him).
bulletTransporter 2 The stunts in Transporter 2 were more outragous and humorous than in The Transporter (a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed) and the title character spent less time spouting his very interesting rules. A very fun, enjoyable movie, but not as good as the first in the series.
bulletTroy Wow! This was a very cool movie. For me, it worked both as an exciting war movie and as a character-driven drama. Plus, the movie just looked cool. I'm not sure that the face of the actress who portrays Helen could launch more than 50-60 ships, but she is pretty. I was also very impressed with the fight choreography, especially in the fight between Achilles and Hector. This could have been just another sword fight; instead, the actors used spears and shields and moved in a way that was both new and interesting, yet it felt like their moves could have been real. This is the first must-see movie of the Summer of 2004.
bullet2 Fast 2 Furious (DVD)
bulletUltraviolet Milla Jovovich looked great. Many of the fight sequences were very good. Some of the special effects were pretty cool (especially the way her hair and clothes would change color from time to time). However, other special effects looked like something that I could do at home with Bryce and Poser. And the story... Wait, was there a story? Oh, yeah. Well, like I said, Milla Jovovich looked really, really good (too bad she can't act, but then few of the co-stars could act either, so it all balanced out).
bulletUnderworld: Evolution Not as good as the original, but I did enjoy it (or at least I enjoyed looking at Kate Beckinsale in tight leather for 2 hours). If you plan to rent this film, I would suggest renting and watching Underworld immediately before so that the story is fresh in your memory.
bulletUnited 93 Talk about movies that are hard to review... United 93 is all about September 11, 2001, and, in particular, United flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania before reaching its target in Washington. The movie is done in a purposefully unartful manner; that is, the director hasn't created careful artistic shots of people's faces or carefully choreographed action sequences. Instead, the artistic merit of the film is the simple presentation that often gives the viewer the (frightening) feeling that "you are there". For better or worse, I have to compare United 93 with Flight 93 (an A&E made-for-TV-movie). Flight 93 was about the people: the story was told from the point-of-view of the passengers, crew, and their families on the ground. The movie showed us both sides of the telephone conversations as passengers and crew called to talk to their loved ones or authorities on the ground. United 93 shows us passengers talking on the phone, but we only hear snippets of conversation (and we never see their families). Instead, United 93 is more a film about the day itself; the movie spends a good deal of time following the FAA and military as they respond to the unfolding crisis (interestingly, many of the FAA officials and military officers played themselves in United 93). So the viewer has more of an emotional attachment to the people in Flight 93, but United 93 offers the viewer more of an emotional investment in the event. Did I "enjoy" United 93? Not a fair question. Was it an excellent film. Absolutely. I believe that the director achieved his aims with the film. There were several instances, where the entire audience either visually or audibly reacted to a particular moment on the screen and I noticed that virtually everyone in the theater put their popcorn down at about the same moment. Rarely have I seen a movie where virtually the entire audience stays for all of the credits. Rarely have I left a film when nobody (and I mean nobody) from the audience was discussing the movie. This was a very powerful movie; people should carefully consider whether they want to see the film.
bulletVan Helsing I was very disappointed in Van Helsing, a movie I'd been looking forward to for quite a while. The movie looked pretty good (with a few problems), Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale were certainly pleasant to look at, and I even followed the story (I think). The problem was that the story needed more emphasis with a bit less action. More importantly, while I love action movies, an action scene has to make some kind of sense (unless it's a wire-fu movie). Too many of the action scenes in Van Helsing just made me groan and say "yeah, right".
bulletVantage Point The first half of this thriller revisits the same sequence of events from multiple vantage points and follows different characters through the same 20 or so minutes surrounding a assassination attempt. By and large, this part of the film was very successful (although I'm still trying to understand how, exactly, Forest Whitaker was able to keep up with two trained Secret Service agents in a foot chase, while holding his video camera...). The later portions of the movie were more standard thriller fare and didn't work quite as well; in particular, the chase scenes were a bit much (especially when compared to the "realistic" chase scenes from the Bourne movies). I was also disappointed that the conclusion did not provide much of a resolution, especially to explain the motivations of one central character.
bulletV for Vendetta This was a well-executed movie. My principal criticism is that the story did not delve deeply enough into the character of the titular character. However, that should not take away from the excellent (and frightening) view of where society could go if led down the wrong path by a strong leader. It is also worth noting that, despite the suggestions by some, V for Vendetta does not glorify terrorism; in fact, it is important to note that it does not appear that the "terrorist" in the film does not kill anyone other than soldiers, police, and a certain isolated group of individuals (saying more would be a plot spoiler). V does not engage in mindless slaughter of innocents (i.e., no bus bombings, here).
bulletThe Village (DVD) This was a reasonably well-told tale with decent acting (interestingly enough, I found that the younger actors [Bryce Dallas Howard and Adrian Brody in particular] were much better than the older, established actors). However, as a whole, the movie does not hold the suspense that it needs to in order to be successful. Knowing that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan loves to add a twist to his movies, the viewer cannot help but look for the twist. And in The Village the twist is all too obvious, long before it occurs. In fact, I guessed what the twist was before even seeing the film, and I was right. Obviously a thriller with a twist so obvious that it is expected cannot hope to maintain any real suspense.
bulletWalking Tall I didn't expect much, but I hoped that it would be better than I expected and feared that it would be worse. It was exactly what I expected. I don't think that there was an unexpected moment in the entire film (wait, there was one: I was impressed that they cast a mixed-race couple as The Rock's parents). I'm looking forward to the deleted scenes on DVD because I felt like an hour or so of story was deleted in the middle of the movie.
bulletWallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit Very cute and very funny.
bulletWar of the Worlds Wow. My review could stop now and be complete. This movie should be nominated for some awards in the spring (although I doubt it will be). To me, the brilliance of Spielberg's War of the Worlds is its point of view. In virtually every other disaster/alien invasion movie (think Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, etc.) the story is told from the point of view of people that know some or all of what is going on or from the point of view of those fighting to save mankind (the President and fighter pilot in Independence Day; the scientist who predicted the problem in The Day After Tomorrow). In War of the Worlds the story is told from the point of view of the common man; that is, Tom Cruise's character could be you or me and the emotions and trials that he and his family face are the emotions and trials that would confront us in that scenario. That was the chilling brilliance of this movie: How would you react under those hellish circumstances?
bulletWedding Crashers I just didn't find this movie to be anywhere near as funny as most people did. Sorry. (Of course, with the exception of Dodgeball, I don't think I've ever really enjoyed a movie starring Vince Vaughn; I just don't like the creepy characters he plays. I can take him in small doses [Mr. & Mrs. Smith for example], but not as a lead.)
bulletWhale Rider Not my kind of movie, but it was absolutely terrific; worthy of some Academy Award attention.
bulletX-Men: The Last Stand Another enjoyable entry in the X-Men series. I particularly liked the efforts to expand the roster of characters (even to some relatively small roles).
bulletxXx: State of the Union (DVD) Sometimes you have to wonder how certain movies ever get made. This was one of those movies that should never have been made. It was a waste of everything and everybody that was involved in the project. Even the DVD would be better utilized as a coaster.
bulletZoom Zoom was a movie that felt as if more scenes were left on the cutting room floor than actually made it onto the screen. One scene seemed obviously out of place chronologically. As a super-hero movie made for young kids, Zoom scored; however, it could have been a much better movie. I couldn't help but feel that I was missing a lot of plot and dialogue (perhaps there will be a super-extended director's cut?). In addition, I really felt as if most of the cast simply mailed in their performances. But, my 6½-year old twins loved it.

bulletJethro Tull
bulletINXS (with special guest Marty Casey & Lovehammers ) I have been a fan of INXS since Shabooh Shoobah was first released in the US in the early 80s. My wife and I became big fans of Rockstar: INXS last summer (2005). So, when we had the chance to go to Chicago to see INXS with new singer J.D. Fortune, we couldn't pass up the opportunity and I'm glad that we didn't. INXS sounded as good as ever and Fortune gives the impressing that he has been doing this forever. He fit seamlessly into the band. Best of all, the members of INXS appeared to be having fun onstage (a must for a good rock concert). My only complaint was that the show lasted a mere 90 minutes. While I don't expect a Bruce Springsteen-like 3+ hour extravaganza, 90 minutes is too short, especially given the price of a ticket. Opening act Marty Casey & Lovehammers (fronted by the runner-up from Rockstar: INXS) sounded good and proved that songs often have more life to them live (pardon the pun) than they do on an album. Hopefully Casey and crew will learn to control a stage and have fun while performing the way seasoned vets INXS do.
bulletINXS (with special guest Scott Stapp ) I didn't enjoy the Indianapolis INXS concert quite as much as I did the show in Chicago. Perhaps it was because I didn't feel particularly well; perhaps it was because the band didn't seem to be having as much fun as they did in Chicago. In any event, the show was good, the band sounded great, and J.D. Fortune has matured (in just a few months) as the band's new frontman. I would certainly encourage fans (even casual fans) to go see an INXS show. Scott Stapp's music was (with one or two exceptions) unfamiliar to me. While he and his band performed competently, none of the songs really stood out to me or grabbed me. Thus, I can't say whether his performance of his songs was good or not, just that I didn't particularly like what I heard. While he didn't make me want to go into the lobby, he also didn't make me want to stop at the store on my way home to buy his CD.
bulletToto I've been a fan of Toto since the first album (Toto) came out in the late '70s, yet I've never seen the band live. Perhaps that could be because until July 2007, Toto had never played in Indianapolis. Imagine my surprise when a co-worker asked me one morning if I was going to see Toto playing that evening at a venue 5 minutes from my house. Long story short: I went, but I went by myself. Would I have enjoyed the concert more with friends? Of course. But I still enjoyed it. Before the show, I got quite a chuckle out of the average age of the audience. Let's just say that there weren't many people there who hadn't listened to Toto during their heyday in the '80s. The show itself was interesting. Unfortunately, several members of the band weren't on the current tour (Mike Porcaro and David Paich). So, the set list leaned a bit heavily on Steve Lukather's songs and a bit heavily on several later albums that I haven't enjoyed as much (in particular Kingdom of Desire). Oh, well. Even with those problems, the show was still quite enjoyable. I've always known that the members of Toto were very skilled musicians, and this becomes very apparent during live performances. I'm glad that I finally had the chance to see Toto live and certain songs that I've always wanted to hear live caused the appropriate and expected reactions.

bulletRestaurants. Unfortunately, we have not been able to write any reviews for quite some time. We do hope to make our restaurant review page active again; we're just not sure when...

bulletAll Shook Up This show was designed to be for Elvis what Mamma Mia is for Abba. Unfortunately, it didn't work that well. Perhaps my general distaste for Elvis and his music (blasphemy, I know) colored my vision, but In found the story to be disinteresting and, in the second act, particularly odd. Mistaken identities may work well in Shakespeare, but not in rock 'n' roll musicals.
bulletCamelot Believe it or not, this was the first time that I've ever seen Camelot (either on stage or screen). I enjoyed it, although it can't claim it as a favorite. Michael York had wonderful stage presence as Arthur (even if a bit old for the part) and is a terrific actor. The only problem with this was that the performers who played Guinevere and Lancelot had some of the best voices that heard and they made York's voice seem only average at best.
bulletChicago This was the second time that I've seen Chicago on stage. Unfortunately, the first time was better. The actress that played Roxie Hart (the part played by Renee Zelweger in the movie) was very good, but she wasn't great. The actress that played Velma Kelly had absolutely no charisma; she was completely lost on stage when compared to better, more charismatic actors. Gregory Harrison (the "big name") was pleasant enough as the lawyer, but again, he was nothing special, especially with Richard Gere's performance in mind. Finally, the part of Mama was played in a more relaxed, less aggressive manner that detracted from the overall effect of the jailhouse scenes. As always, however, the choreography and dancing were absolutely outstanding.
bulletCirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy I wanted this to be a Cirque du Soleil show and it tried hard to be; unfortunately, it simply wasn't. Parts of Jungle Fantasy were entertaining (the jump rope and balancing act, in particular), but too much felt like a rehash of stuff that I'd seen before. The show might have merited another half-star, but the singing that permeated the show (why, oh why did they feel the need?) was so dreadful that it really took away from the production.
bulletCirque du Soleil: Zumanity Another show that we saw in Las Vegas. I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil (having seen several TV productions as well as a traveling production and La Nouba in Walt Disney World. From the advertisements that we saw for Zumanity, we were under the impression that it was essentially an R-rated Cirque du Soleil production. Said another way, we thought we were going to see a Cirque show with a bit of risqué cabaret thrown in. Instead, we saw a cabaret show with a bit of Cirque. We were very, very disappointed. Worst of all, but for a few acts, the show simply wasn't particularly sexy or titillating.
bulletDirty Rotten Scoundrels [no review] We went to see this show but had to leave at intermission due to babysitter difficulties. Unfortunately, my wife saw none of the show (she was texting family members to find someone to take the babysitter's place) and I was distracted watching my wife. What I did see what OK, but not special. None of the voices seemed to be as good as what I expect in a Broadway touring production.
bulletDisney's On the Record This musical was as disappointing as any that I've seen in a long, long time. With the Disney name in the title, I was expecting something along the lines of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, or Aida. What I got was four talented singers crooning at me for two hours. Don't get me wrong, they were very good. But I didn't need to pay those kind of ticket prices to see them sing. No real costumes, no real set, no real story. Just Disney songs. As if that wasn't bad enough, knowing that it was Disney, we took our 5-year olds to see the show (they adore everything Disney, especially my daughter who loves to sing Disney songs). To say that they were bored would be an understatement. But the worst moment of all, was when the cast finally sang one of my daughter's favorite Disney songs (from Beauty and the Beast) but instead of singing it so that she recognized it, they sang it in several different languages. The tears of disappointment that fell from her eyes were almost too much for me to handle. I hope that someone from Disney reads this review so that they can explain why Disney would intentionally do something that would obviously lead to such brutal disappointment of children. Shame on Disney.
bulletThe Full Monty An excellent musical. Everything about it (with the exception of two forgettable slow songs) was just right. I highly recommend The Full Monty.
bulletThe Graduate It was hard not to compare the lead to Dustin Hoffman, but he did an admirable job of both bringing the character to life in a familiar manner, but also giving his own interpretation. And I got to see Linda Gray nude!
bulletHairspray Very, very funny with terrific signing and great dancing. I enjoyed everything about this production. The weakest performance was the lead, but she was just right for the role. I highly recommend Hairspray (even if you're not a fan of the original movie).
bulletJospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat This was not the best production that I've seen, although, that said, it was still very good (and not as disappointing as the recent version of Mama Mia). Fortunately, I've seen Donny Osmond play Joseph, so Patrick Cassidy seemed quite a few notches down. On the other hand, the actor who played Pharoah was probably the best that I've seen in that role. The staging (especially costumes) was slightly different in this production (the costumes were slightly more "modern" and the sets were a bit more restrained) and I don't think that the changes were beneficial. We took our 6-year-olds to the show and they couldn't stop bouncing and their smiles were absolutely huge. At the end of the performance, Patrick Cassidy briefly donned a yellow Indiana Pacers hat, shouted, "Go Pacers!" and threw the hat into the crowd. I caught it, to the absolute delight of my kids, who, on the way out of the theater each took turns wearing it or walking with each holding it between them. Boy did they get a lot of attention.
bulletJubilee Another disappointing Las Vegas show. This was billed as a classic Las Vegas showgirl show. The showgirls were there, but the show wasn't. Perhaps this sort of entertainment was entertaining in 1950, but it left us both bored and tired (well, maybe we were tired before the show started). As a side note, just seeing topless showgirls walking around doesn't do much for me if they don't appear to be attractive under all those feathers.
bulletLion King Wow! This was absolutely one of the best stage productions that I've ever seen. The costumes were like eye candy...I could stare at them all night. A few of the voices could have been stronger, but with a production this gorgeous, who cares.
bulletMamma Mia   Consider this review to have a great, big, asterisk beside it because to me, Mamma Mia is a four-star musical. It's just that the production that we saw was not. Which is a shame because we took our kids to see it (my 5-year old daughter has been singing along with the lyrics for a year now). However, some of the flaws that my wife and I saw (this was the third time we've seen the musical) were clearly not apparent to first-time viewers (especially given that they are only 5). The voices were simply not of the quality that one expects in a national touring company of a Broadway musical. Also, the energy level in several of the songs ("Does Your Mother Know", in particular) was notably lacking.
bulletMiss Saigon This was the third (fourth?) time that I've seen Miss Saigon and it was clearly one of the best productions. The actor playing The Engineer was second only to Jonathan Pryce (who we saw in London). All of the other performers (except for the actor playing Chris) were probably the best that we've seen in a production of Miss Saigon. If you have not seen this show (a modern retelling of Madame Butterfly by the writers of Les Miserables), then be sure to get tickets next time a professional production comes to town.
bulletMonty Python's Spamalot First a disclaimer: I am not a huge Monty Python fan. I like some Monty Python bits; others fall flat for me. That said, I loved Spamalot. I can't recall laughing that hard in quite some time, and to laugh that hard at a live stage production was really amazing. The story was hilarous, the songs terrific, and the performers were, as a group, among the best I've seen in Indianapolis. I've often commented on good shows with fair performers or great performers with average material. Spamalot paired terrific performers with terrific material. This is definitely a show to see!
bulletMovin' Out I like modern dance, but after a while it can become a bit too much of a good thing (or too much of the same thing). Unless you are intimately familiar with each and every lyric of each Billy Joel song, the "story" (such as it is) may not mean much. I guess that I prefer the Mama Mia approach to putting a story to familiar songs.
bulletMy Fair Lady An excellent production with terrific performances (in particular, the actress playing Eliza), but I couldn't help being a bit bored.
bulletNunsense I did not like this musical. Maybe I missed some of the jokes, but it simply wasn't as funny as I thought it would/should be. Too many of the numbers fell totally flat.
bulletOklahoma I went into the theater expecting to hate this show; it is everything that I don't like in musicals. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, most likely because the full version of the show is much darker than the cheery impression left by the songs that have become a part of the popular musical lexicon. That said, it is still not a story that interests me much, but the production was excellent and the voices were (mostly) quite good.
bulletPeter Pan Yawn. Very well staged, with a few very good voices. Yawn. Somehow, I have trouble believing Cathy Rigby as the boy who never grew up. Yawn. Something about this show (the second time that I've seen it) just doesn't appeal to me. Well done, but yawn.
bulletThe Producers Without question, simply put, hands down, one of the absolute best musicals that I have ever seen. While I am not usually a fan of slapstick comedy, The Producers had me laughing so hard that I could barely contain myself. This musical won a lot of Tony awards for a very good reason. The sets were fabulous, the costumes tremendous (girls as dancing beer steins with pretzels and sausages and gay men that looked, well, gay), and the acting and singing both outstanding. Even if you've seen the 1960s era movie upon which this was based, you owe yourself a visit to the theater. After all, Mel Brooks was able to do and say quite a bit in 2000 that he could never get away with in the 60s. Plus, it's always nice to have a good laugh at the expense of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party! One note of caution: This is not a musical for children; nor is it a musical for the dull-witted, easily offended, neo-Nazis, or prudes. It is, on the other hand, a must see musical for everyone with a sense of humor.
bulletRat Pack: Live at the Sands The performers for this show were terrific. The actor portraying Frank Sinatra had a terrific voice and really had the mannerisms down. The actor portraying Dean Martin didn't have quite the voice of "Frank" but he captured everything that I think of when I think of Dean Martin. I enjoyed the actor who portrayed Sammy Davis, Jr.; however, because I don't know much about Sammy's performance style, I can't say much about how well the actor captured it. Anyway, the show was enjoyable, but more so for fans of those three and their music. I found myself getting restless, not because the show was boring or poorly done, but simply because that style of music tends to bore me after a short while.
bulletThoroughly Modern Millie I did not enjoy Thoroughly Modern Millie; in fact, I have no idea how this show was nominated for, let alone the winner of, numerous Tony awards. And the fault is not in the production or in the performance (at least that we saw). The production was fine (with one very notable exception discussed below): the sets were mostly appealing, the costumes were fine, the choreography was acceptable. Similarly, the performances were fine: the actors were (mostly) pretty good (unfortunately, I thought that the lead was the weakest actor and singer of the entire cast), the voices were fine, and the dancing was acceptable. However, fine and acceptable just isn't good enough. Not for a Tony-award winning show, and not for my fairly expensive tickets. Yet, none of these problems were necessarily fatal for the show; instead, I found myself wholly disinterested in the story, especially the white slavery element. I felt that I was watching a cut-rate retelling of 42nd Street that missed all of the charm. Finally, I can't omit the fact that several songs are sung in Chinese! As if this stupidity wasn't bad enough, the "subtitle" screen that descends from the roof of the stage only worked intermittently (mostly it didn't work) during our performance. Thus, we missed the entire meaning of one complete song. That is absolutely inexcusable.
bulletTuesdays With Morrie This production was exactly what I thought it would be (I haven't read the book, but I did know what it was about). The actors were excellent. I'm just not sure that I really wanted or needed to see this particular story.
bullet25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee If this show had simply been a play I would have enjoyed it much more. It was very, very funny. However, the songs did not seem to advance the story and (especially in one instance) seemed really out of place. I felt as if the writers weren't quite sure whether they were producing a comedy or serious musical. One part worked; one part didn't.
bulletThe Wedding Singer Lots of fun, even if it did go a bit too far over the top toward the end. Very good performances and some exceptionally funny scenes.
bulletWe Will Rock You We saw this show in Las Vegas, so it may have been abridged from the London West End production. I hope that is the case, because what I saw would not deserve the accolades that the show has apparently received. In the production that we saw, the sound was somewhat muddy, especially in the louder, rocking numbers, making the lyrics difficult to make out. Like Movin' Out, this is a show that suffers if you are not already familiar with the lyrics of the original material (in this case the songs of Queen). The story is pure bubblegum nonsense that tries to be fun. Somehow, it just didn't work.
bulletWicked I'd been looking forward to Wicked for a long time, so I guess, after all that build up, it would have been hard for the show to fully live up to expectations. We saw the show in Chicago just after New Year's, with a understudy playing Glinda (Galinda), but if she was the understudy, I can't imagine how good the lead must be, because the actress that we saw was terrific. Anyway, I really liked Wicked, but I felt that the songs were not quite as good as they needed to be to live up to the beautiful staging and terrific acting. There wasn't a single song that I came out of the theater humming to myself and now, a few months later, I can't bring any song to mind, even if I try. That criticism aside, I did enjoy Wicked and would gladly see it again.

bulletI'd like to start writing some TV reviews (especially my thoughts on various reality TV shows), but who has the time? (Or, for that matter, the inclination considering that nobody bothers to read any of this anyway...?)

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This site was last updated 05/15/09