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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recently viewed: "Destry Rides Again"

Destry Rides Again

Destry Rides Again

1939 is sometimes thought of as the greatest movie year (Gone With The Wind, Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, etc).  It also saw Destry Rides Again, a semi comic western, based upon a Max Brand novel.  We get 31 year old Jimmy Stewart (still early in his career) and 38 year old Marlene Dietrich (already looking somewhat hard to my eyes, and coming off a series of box office bombs).

Stewart is "Thomas Jefferson Destry", the son of a famous lawman, who has decided to forgo guns (they didn't prevent his father from being shot in the back).  He's asked to come to the lawless town of Bottleneck by the sheriff (and former town drunk, appointed by the corrupt mayor) to be a deputy.  Upon his arrival, he becomes somewhat of a laughing stock, but quickly understands the situation and begins to take charge. He has to match wits with the villain (Brian Donlevy, intent on controlling the valley and charging ranchers a toll when they drive their cattle to market).  Dietrich is "Frenchy", the saloon girl and mistress to Donlevy, helping in his crooked poker games.

There's humor (a big fight between Dietrich and Una Merkel, wife to Russain Mischa Auer, who provides much of the comic relief) and we get Dietrich singing "See What The Boys in The Backroom'll Have".  There's some romance between Stewart and Dietrich, though she doesn't get him in the end.

A fun western, and a worthy entry in the list of great movies in 1939.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Recently read: _Rise of Endymion_

Rise of Endymion

Rise of Endymion

Several years after starting it, I finally got around to finishing Simmons' Hyperion saga (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and Rise of Endymion). The final book finds Raul Endymion, the android M. Bettik and the girl Aenea still hiding on the real Earth (moved to some location by the "lions, tigers and bears") from the agents of the Pax (the nearly all powerful Catholic Chruch) and the Technocore.  Aenea has grown, and is showing signs of being the "messiah" who may cause the end of the Pax, and the "resurrection" (though the cruciform) which is much of the source of the Church's power.  What is special about Aenea's blood? (as she starts sharing it with her followers in a ritual of communion).  Why does she send Raul off on his separate trip, while knowing that they will meet again?  What is the Technocore's real purpose?  Why does the Church hate the Ousters so much?

While we get answers to these questions, I suppose I wasn't that eager to know them, or else I would have finished the series earlier.  While Simmons' universe seems full of wonders (the jellyfish like lifeforms in the gas giant, the Chinese cities carved into mountain peaks, the Treeships, etc.) at some point you would like the universe he's bulit to make logical sense, and ultimately it doesn't. I end up with a feeling that he's thrown things in to trigger the reader's sense of wonder, without really thinking if it holds together.  There's no real explanation of why Aenea is so wonderful (she often seems to be holding information back from Raul, which sometimes seems cruel).  The back and forth time steps sort of makes sense, but seems an easy out (and there's really is no good explanation for the Shrike).

Recently read: "Prayers for Rain" by Dennis Lehane

Prayers for Rain

Prayers for Rain

The first "Kenzie/Gennaro" novel I read was the fourth book (Gone, Baby, Gone) which ended with the longtime friends and partners (and relatively new lovers) splitting up.  I then went back and caught up on the characters back story with the first three books.  Prayers for Rain is the fifth book, and deals with some of the aftermath of Gone, Baby, Gone.  Ptraick Kenzie, missing Angie Gennaro desperately, has lost his enthusiasm for the PI game.  He begins to investigate the apparently suicide of former client Karen Nichols (who reached out once to him when he was "too busy" to return her call), though no one seems interested (including her mother and step father).  After finding a few oddities, he gets Gennaro (now working for a big security firm) to help out some on the side.

They find what appears to be a cold blooded, brilliant mastermind, who is manipulating those he meets by finding out their weak points.  Is this the missing step brother of Karen Nichols?  How does he know so much information about his victims?  Angie and Patrick, along with help from their fearsome friend Buba Rogowski, decide that they can't let the case go. 

As with all of their cases, there ends up being gunfire, with a final shootout at the villain's underground lair.  We do get a full Gennaro/Kenzie reunion, as they both realize that the other may have been right before.  There's a family reunion with some happiness, but also a coda when we find out that we might not have know who the real villain was.

Recently read: "Rising Tides: Destroyermen" by Taylor Anderson

Rising Tides: Destroyermen

Rising Tides: Destroyermen

The fifth novel in Anderson's series chronicling the exploits of the crew of the U.S.S. Walker in this alternate Pacific.  There's a lull in the ongoing conflict with the Grik, as the raptor like creatures regroup and begin to learn new fighting techniques.  Captain Reddy steams to this Earth's Hawaiian islands, home of a small quasi British Empire, which is dominated by the Honorable New Britain Company (who's agents kidnapped Lt. Sandra Tucker, whom Reddy is in love with).  The Empire is also at odds with the Holy Dominion, which are descended from displaced Spaniards, practicing some sort of bloody Catholicism.

We get a couple of climaxes here (one a naval battle, the other concerning a volcano) and while there's several major setbacks, there's also much forward progress (and good news for Reddy at the book's end)

Anderson has continued to open up his universe, and has so far juggled the multiplying plot threads well.  I do worry that we won't get an end to the major conflict in book six (he's already signed a contract for books 7-9)