Brand New at the Library!

Monday, March 20, 2017


Breaking away

Movie review: Breaking Away


Reviewed by Gerti

I’ll start by explaining that I checked this movie out of the library because I wanted my daughter to see how lovely the IU Bloomington campus is. I found myself transported back to the late ‘70s, with all the terrible clothing choices and poufy hair, and yet… It was wonderfully nostalgic. Hobart doesn’t have a town/gown tension, but I could easily imagine it in such towns as Valparaiso and South Bend. Film writer Steve Tesich captured that drama perfectly, and Patrick Williams music was memorable. Peter Yates directed the 1979 film.

But what I found most charming was the story of the 4 friends, so-called “cutters”, who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Several of the young actors are now famous, including Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern. The hero of the story, Dave, is virtually unknown (to me) actor Dennis Christopher, who is a delight as a youth obsessed with cycling, and therefore with anything Italian. He worships the Cinzano bicycle racing team, and that manifests itself in a tendency to use Italian when speaking (much to the frustration of his father, who wonders why his son is talking like an “I-tie”) and a newfound love of opera and Italian food. Dave’s mother catches the bug, and uses it to inject a little romance back into her life with her former stone-cutter, now used car salesman husband.

Dave pretends to be an Italian foreign student when he catches the attention of a lovely co-ed at IU, but of course that is doomed to fail. In the final scenes, we see him start speaking French, as another gorgeous foreign student asks his help. But the main drama of the story lies during the Little 500, a bicycle race held in Bloomington which Dave and his friends enter in order to show up the IU cycling team. Dave has a lot of setbacks – the actual Italian team causes him to fall off his bike during another race, so he must rebuild a new, rattier bike his friends have gotten him. He also wrecks during the Little 500, but (the point of the story) his friends rally and even though they’re not great riders, they keep going so that when he’s patched up from his injury, he can get back in and win.


If you can get over the bad quality of the film, the bad hair and the repulsive fashions, “Breaking Away” will charm you. It will remind you of your days trying to “break away” from your parent’s house, and their expectations of you. Some of the parents expect their kids to fail, others to succeed. But the boys here eventually get to the psychological point where it doesn’t matter what their parents think of them – they are going to do what they love. For Dave, it’s finally go to college on the IU campus, where his father once cut the limestone for the impressive buildings. This movie shows how each of us gets past the previous generation, and learns to travel our own paths. A sports film that gets beyond successful cycling and keeps going on sheer heart, just like the boys in the Little 500. Will make you want to head down to Bloomington for the race…    

Friday, March 17, 2017


Hoosiers

Movie Review: Hoosiers 

Reviewed by Gerti

The inspirational 1986 movie “Hoosiers” is a classic, and not just to the people of Indiana. It’s a film that shows the love of simple people for the game of basketball, the premise being that we Indiana-living folks just eat, sleep and breath basketball, and that any road you drive down in the Hoosier state, you’ll see some boy shooting hoops. I don’t know how true that is anymore, certainly not in this part of Indiana, but the movie does live up to the moniker ESPN gave it, as one of the best sports movies of all time. Several performances, including those by Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, as well as the film score by Jerry Goldsmith, are award worthy, even if they didn’t win Oscars.

The plot is based loosely on the 1954 state championship game between little Milan High School and big-time, high-enrollment Muncie. For some reason, the filmmakers (director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo) felt they needed to change the original storyline, and suddenly, the town is named Hickory, and they play South Bend in the finals, not Muncie. The coach’s name is changed too. Hackman plays Norman Dale, who has come to this little Indiana town as his last shot at redemption thanks to the principal at Hickory, an old friend. Apparently, Dale got into trouble before for hitting one of his star college players. The town’s longtime coach has retired, and everybody has an opinion about how the current team of 7 boys should be coached. Dale alienates all the adults, and a few players, too, until the boys apologize and come back (in one of the deleted scenes. Crazy, I know.) But Coach Dale is so good, he takes these boys with a love of the game and turns them into champions by forcing them to do conditioning and learn the basics. They win sectionals, regionals, etc. and then win by a squeak in the championship. Cinderella story = good drama.

Drama is also infused when the townfolks try to fire Coach Dale, but the star player says he won’t play without him. Barbara Hershey appears as a supposed love interest of Coach Dale, but I truly wish they had left that part out. First she hates him, then she loves him. Yawn. It’s been done before. A better story line is that of Dennis Hopper, Shooter, who knows the ins and outs of the game, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of other teams, when he’s sober. He’s been fighting against the bottle (and losing) for years, but Coach Dale gives him a chance to redeem himself, and (hoorah) he kind of does.


This Collector’s Edition has a copy of the real game that took place between Milan and Muncie on the DVD, which is cool. If I really cared about basketball, I’d have watched that, since the final few minutes are supposed to match precisely. The producers were really careful about that. Now why they took the original story and changed all the names, that I don’t understand. You want to be accurate, but then you want it to be fictional. Hoosiers is “the best basketball movie of all time”; I only wish the filmmakers had thrown out the romance and given the “long-shot triumphs” storyline an authentic treatment.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The man from U.N.C.L.E.

Movie review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Reviewed by Gerti


I’ll start by explaining that I’ve seen a number of James Bond movies, but most of those were in college, which was more than a few years ago. I haven’t enjoyed any movies from that shop-worn franchise since the late ‘80s, so it comes as a complete surprise to me how much I enjoyed watching “The Man From UNCLE.” I thought it sounded like the same sort of sexist drivel that constitutes the non-car-chasey parts of the Bond films, yet I found UNCLE much funnier, much more appealing, and can’t wait for the sequel to this movie, if there is one. Yes, please!

This movie reminds me of Bond films, as there are exotic locations, scads of leather-clad thugs who want to do harm to the movies principal actors, and of course, some major enemy baddie of the US to hate. But what makes this Guy Ritchie directed movie different is – the tone. The male principals are Napoleon Solo (played ever so handsomely by Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (played effectively enough by Armie Hammer). I know there are some ladies who would argue with me, but I think where the Bond movies fall down is that, with the exception of Pierce Brosnan, none of the actual 007’s have been attractive. I won’t use the term coined by some of the feminists in the ‘70s to describe such a man, but let’s just call him dateable. The Bond films are implausible to me, because I could never see swooning over (or getting to second base with) any of the guys who played Bond. This movie, however, is a horse of a different color.

Guy Ritchie seems to understand that what will bring in a female audience hungry for adventure is sexy male actors, and this movie has them in spades. I find Cavill to be Grecian in his perfection, and even one of the villians was yummy-enough to watch. Female protagonist Alicia Vikander was also a positive – cute, but not so gorgeous that any viewer would feel intimidated. I loved the large amount of German spoken in the movie, since Vikander is originally working in East Germany as a mechanic. Yes, the movie is set in the cold war, so it’s Capitalism versus Communism, Solo vs. Kuryakin. But to me, it’s brunette versus blonde, as both male leads are attractive in their own way. Wowza!

And the dialogue! This film feels so modern, with the sex-appeal set to sizzle, but without all the overt sleaziness that makes Bond films so distasteful to women. It’s the men who are the sex objects in this flick, and that’s just fine by me! I won’t even bother summarizing the plot, because it’s secondary (or even tertiary) to what really matters in this movie – hot men running around the world being clever. There is even a scene where they argue about fashion! Be still my heart! And for the older ladies, Hugh Grant plays a British agent. Color me satisfied!


Does it all make sense? I don’t really care. Cavill in a finely tailored suit is all I need for hours of enjoyment, and whatever atomic device is being built or stolen, I could give a flying donut’s worth. This movie is eye candy raised to the nth degree, and I thank the director for recognizing women buy movie tickets, too.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Old school

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney


Reviewed by Gerti

I always try to read my kids’ books to make sure they aren’t sending them a bad message in some way. But you really can’t read Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series expecting to find the same sort of inspirational, uplifting message you’d see in a Horatio Alger novel. There is nothing here about working hard, or saving your money. It’s not that sort of thing, nor was it ever intended to be. If anything, the books have terrible messages, like if you don’t want to do chores for your parents, be sure and do them poorly so they won’t ask again!

However, Kinney is good at writing comedy that middle-schoolers and younger will get. He conveys that comedy both in his writing, which is generally clever (although not instructive in a good way) and in his art. Greg Heffley is written as a typical boy, but drawn to look more like Homer Simpson, with his few standing hairs on top of his cartoon-esque head. But the drawings are part of the charm of this series, and “Old School” is a pretty typical offering.

Hapless hero Greg has to deal with any number of bad days here. His mother is on a kick to get the town to unplug, feeling that cell phones and modern technololgy are bad, hence the title. She wants everybody to go “old school”, and gets a group of people to spend their time reviving an old playground that has fallen to seed. Greg turns it into a comic adventure, when he and his study buddy Frew, and a reprobate assigned to do community service (a friend of his older brother’s, of course) escape the work detail, only to be tracked down by his mother’s cellphone technology. Ironic, no?

Even more fun is had thanks to the family’s pet pig (some of the funniest drawings in the book), a new potty training plan for Manny (Greg’s younger brother) that includes going without pants, and his grandfather’s decision to move into the Heffley’s hectic household due to economic conditions. Since Grandpa chooses Greg’s room to sleep in - the pig is in the guest room - Greg is grateful to get away to summer camp at Hardscrabble Farms. That’s where most of the comedy ensues, as Greg and a band of hard-luck campers are forced to endure conditions with Rowley’s father, Mr. Jefferson, as their chaperone.


It’s all pretty funny stuff, but none of it is edifying in any way. But perhaps that’s the way young boys like it. No kid will ever grow up to run a successful software startup thanks to the life lessons found in these books, but they are funny, and hopefully you’ve already taught your kids all the good manners and ethics they need, because they’re not gonna find any positive role models from the peers in this “Wimpy Kids” series. However, the blurb on the book’s back cover does mention that these books are “a big hit with reluctant readers”, and perhaps that’s the point. If your kids don’t like reading “real books”, at least the adventures of dysfunctional Greg and his friends will keep them from watching TV or playing video games for a few hours. And for parents, that at least is a small victory.

Monday, January 23, 2017


A royal night out

Movie review: The Royal Night Out 

Review by Gerti

The movie “A Royal Night Out” turns the Cinderella story on its head. Instead of being the story of ordinary little girls who want to be princesses, and have their wishes fulfilled, this is the story of two little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, who wish very much for at least one night to be ordinary girls. And just like in the classic fairy tale, their wish comes true!

It all happened on the night the Allies claimed victory in Europe, when all of Great Britain was celebrating, and as opposed to standing on the balcony or looking out the windows of Buckingham Palace, the two teenaged girls beg their parents, King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, to go out among the people. Their mother refuses, but the King gives them permission. Their mother was known to be overly strict on many occasions, including the royal couple’s relationship with former King Edward VIII, who resigned because he was in love with unacceptable American divorcee Wallis Simpson. In this case, the Queen arranges for army chaperones for the girls, and expects them to attend a dead-boring party at the Ritz, attended by a lot of old peers. But they want to be with people their own age.

When the chaperones heads are turned by pretty girls at another party, they unwittingly allow the girls too much freedom. First Margaret sneaks out, then Elizabeth. They jump on different buses, and their long night on the town begins. Margaret of course gets hooked up with various military men, one of whom slips a mickey into her drink. Elizabeth tries to keep up and keep track of her younger and more irresponsible sibling, and in the process befriends a disenchanted naval pilot. The pair begin a friendship, and do things Elizabeth would not ordinarily do, like go into questionable clubs and dance together.


The story as told in this film is enchanting. The music is from the era, and among the best parts of the show. But the acting performances, by Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley as the two slumming sisters, are wonderful. Powley especially gives Margaret a lascivious naivete that is charming. Jack Reynor plays Jack, Elizabeth’s AWOL pilot, and he is both handsome and heart-warming as he tells the Princess Royal about staying with his dying friend, which led to his disenchantment with the war effort and the upper class. Rupert Everett is unrecognizable as the king, and Emily Watson plays a very stern and stubborn queen. This is a delightful story of the British royal family in the 1940s, at its most noble and its most human. I cried at various scenes, but found it hard to believe that someone who lives in a glorious palace could ever want to be “ordinary”, even for one night. The director does a great job of conveying the spirit of the 1940s with wonderful costumes, music and sets. This delightful piece of nostalgia and foiled romance provides magical entertainment for the whole family, with a great screenplay written by Trever de Silva and Kevin Hood.

Friday, January 20, 2017


The Litigators by [Grisham, John]

The Litigators by John Grisham


Reviewed by Gerti

I’ve read a good number of John Grisham’s legal dramas. Some, like “The Last Juror”, are amazing. While not up to the absolute genius of that book, “The Litigators” still shows that Grisham could teach a master class in storytelling. His effortless writing is a joy to read, as is his story here of a lawyer at a prestigious firm in Chicago who snaps, gets very drunk, and takes a job with two ambulance chasers. Although Harvard educated, David Zinc is fed up with sitting in a windowless room and doing international bond fund litigation. So after a panic attack, he finds himself a job where he isn’t working 80 hours a week – at the boutique (read, small) firm of Finley & Figg.

Oscar Finley is tired – he’s tired of his wife, and of his dead-end career in law. He wants to get a divorce (and retire) but can’t seem to pull the trigger until the firm gets in way over its head, thanks to his partner, Wally Figg. Wally is a few years younger, and has no problem divorcing wives. In fact, he’s already divorced three or four, and is just about ready to slip into another marriage when he notices that his hooker-cum-girlfriend (can I even say that?) is only interested in the money that may result from a mass tort lawsuit that Wally has filed in federal court.

Thank God for David, who comes into the story a drunken bum but ends up the hero of the tale. When one partner has a heart attack and the other runs away to drink, abandoning him during a very public trial, David does the best he can to save the case, and the law firm’s reputation. His good heart shows through time and again, as he and his wife spend their down time dining with a down-on-their-luck immigrant family whose son has been brain-damaged because of lead poisoning from toy teeth. First David helps the family (and some of their other immigrant friends) get their overdue wages from a local builder who refused to pay them in a timely manner. He then goes after the irresponsible toy manufacturer which made the poison toy teeth and gets the family a settlement that enables them to take care of the poor child and pay off 100s of thousands of dollars in previous medical expenses.


Unlike some of Grisham’s other works where the protagonist is a rat, in “The Litigators”, you cheer for David, and even kind of like his hapless friends, Finley and Figg, as they exhibit very human weaknesses, before triumphing in the end. “The Litigators” has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, and does not resort to the bad writer’s trick of giving every longshot victory to the hero. All the “good guys” have some redeeming qualities, and the bad guys are bad enough to make readers “boo”. “The Litigators” was a delight to read from beginning to end, and I thoroughly enjoyed inhabiting the world of these fascinating characters for the two days it took me to finish the book. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Christmas caramel murder

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke


Reviewed by Gerti

The latest offering from Joanne Fluke, starring her cooking-baking crime solver Hannah Swensen, is a little shorter than her fans may be used to. Oh, it still has the dozen odd recipes that are purportedly from Swensen’s Minnesota-based bakery, called “The Cookie Jar”. And it still has the requisite murder, generally of some evil outsider who has invaded the pleasant Midwestern paradise that is Lake Eden. It even has Swensen’s cat Moishe (thankfully now playing a smaller part in the stories!) and Hannah’s two competing boyfriends, Mike (the hunky cop) and Norman (the thoughtful dentist). What it doesn’t have is bang for your buck. There are only around 150 odd pages of real story here. If you take out the 3 - 6 pages taken up by each recipe, that’s barely a full-length novel.

While I love Fluke’s uncomplicated writing style – her words go down as smoothly as whipped cream on a Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate in the wintertime – I sense that this book was whipped up just as quickly in order to be fed to the Christmas book-buying public. Fluke has cooked up a mystery a year at least since she invented her curly-headed culinary crime solver, with varying degrees of success. Some mysteries fall as flat as a noise-affected soufflé. Others are as rich as a triple-chocolate brownie. I love the idea of combining cookbooks and mysteries, and have to confess that I have copied down and even tried some of the recipes she touts – with varying degrees of success.

But I resent an author is who writes a book solely for the money. Yes, I understand. Every writer has to make a living, and some probably make a better living than others. But I can still dislike it when mass-market authors like Joanne Fluke and Mary Higgins Clark fail to turn in a quality product because they are now writing holiday books to please their publishers. Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter have been doing it for years, getting together to write skinny little Christmas books that frankly aren’t worth reading. What’s next? Robin Cook writing a cutting-edge holiday medical mystery? “Coma at Christmastime”? Yes, it’s a bit of a rant, but I’m entitled. This practice is not fair to faithful readers.


Fluke has written a book that takes only a few hours to read, and maybe that’s a good thing at Christmas, when most people have cards to write and real cookies to bake. But if I had purchased this book, and not just borrowed it from the library, I would have felt ripped off. I see in the backcover blurb that they are now making movies on Hallmark Channel of Fluke’s foodie mysteries, and I’m hoping if she makes enough money out of that venture she’ll go back to writing her mysteries with more substance than fluff. None of her books are going to earn her the Nobel Prize in Literature, let’s face it. But this puny book would hardly get her an “A” for effort as a senior project in English class.