Movie Review: Born in China (Four Stars)


North American release poster

Movie Review: Born in China, directed by Lu Chuan

Four Stars

Excellent cinematography. The narration was a bit too much. Much of the editing told the story without the attempts at explanation, humor or philosophy by the narrator.

I remember Disney True-Life Adventure movies sixty years ago. These are much better. Disneynature still meddles but it’s less obvious.

Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick (Five Stars)


Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick

Five Stars

“The Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.”

Outstanding treatment of a sensitive and controversial topic: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction South, specifically Richmond, VA. Appropriately, the protagonist is a white teen boy caught in conflicting currents of loyalties, commitments and aspirations. The reader is swept along with his ambivalence (and occasional stupidity) as he treads this murky maze.

“Those who survive in Richmond reinvent themselves as circumstances dictate.”

Best map (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Map of Richmond, 1867) in any book ever, including famous fantasy trilogies.  Magnifying-glass-worthy detail. (Yes, maps are a big deal to me.)

“Of course, he’d have asked, but while the girls were standing in front of him, he’d been too flustered to think.”

Excellent use of inner voice and vocabulary to establish both the age and view point of the protagonist, Shad. That he has dyslexia is revealed without using the modern term.

“If the world had ended at that very moment with Shad singing “Glory, hallelujah” in a shed full of coloreds, he’d have gone to his maker with a smile on his face.”

There were southern whites–rich and poor– who opposed slavery. Likewise Reconstruction hardened many whites’ prejudice against blacks. Westrick explores both. Even better, she plumbs Continue reading

Book Review: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland (Four Stars)


Book Review: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Four Stars

“I’m not at all sure if you know that I’m alive.”

So she was/is. One hundred years old, and still living in Paris, which was the point when she wrote this book sixty years ago. She was a big Hollywood deal before most of us were born.

This short book is a chatty, personal memoir of her moving to Paris and marrying a Frenchman in the 1950s. Paris then–France then–clutched the tatters of its legacy as the center of the world, politically and in fashion. Though she still lives there; she probably doesn’t recognize today’s Paris.

“If you are loved by the French as a whole, you really feel loved.

Her adjustment to France and the French made for many humorous episodes which she relates in a conversational style. She suffered many of the misconceptions of fellow Americans and committed many gaffes, but no faux pas. (The significant difference is explained therein.)

What does every Frenchman have? A liver. And how he cares for it makes for a humorous tale in itself.

She learned, “The importance of tact, restraint, subtlety, and the avoidance of banality.”

Book Review: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols (Five Stars)


Book Review: Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s secret campaign against Joseph McCarthy by David A. Nichols

Five Stars

“Always take your job seriously, never yourself.” DDE

This is what history is supposed to be. Minutely researched, but cogently told. Facts clearly delineated from opinion. Yes, Nichols has and expresses his opinions, but he does not disguise them as facts.

“We can’t defeat communism by destroying the things in which we believe.” DDE

This book is only 400 pages, not 800 like the fashionable historical biographies being peddled today. The footnotes equal a third of the text.

“Eisenhower’s penchant for camouflage contributed to the myth that he would rather play golf than pay attention to weighty matters.” Nichols

Eisenhower may have been the last progressive Republican, of the ilk of Continue reading

Movie Review: The Case for Christ, directed by Jon Gunn (Four Stars)


theatrical release poster

Movie Review: The Case for Christ, directed by Jon Gunn

Four Stars

“There is no ‘what if’ with God.”

Better than the book, which I read and reviewed in 2003. The movie had a plot (several); the book was a set of investigations by then-atheist Lee Strobel into the truth behind Christianity. The book rests almost entirely on assertions from authority; the movie explores experience, feelings and motivation.

“You didn’t want to see [the truth].”

For what was obviously a low-budget film, Case was well-plotted and well-acted. The sub-plots add credibility and depth to Strobel’s search.

“I want whatever is next.”

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)


Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading

Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)


Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson

Four Stars

“A man can do but little. Enough if that little be right.”

I’ve read this book before–long, long ago. Knowing the story, but having it told anew was a treat. Perhaps the height of Anderson’s skill as a storyteller. A slightly different take on time travel, but aren’t they all?

“Scientific information is only a glimmer on the surface of a mystery.”

Written in 1971, it grappled with the increasingly dangerous Cold War, which is remote to modern readers as World War One was to Anderson. “Try to understand your world in 1951.” Most of us have trouble imagining our world today; we don’t even try to learn the past, with Santayana’s forecast result.

“We need all the diversity, all the assorted ways of living and thinking, we can get. Inside of limits, true.”

His protagonist creates an instrument “built to his specification in 1980, to take advantage of the superb solid-state electronics then available.” Before you chuckle, consider Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel Continue reading

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen (Four Stars)


theatrical release poster

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen

Four Stars

“I don’t want to survive; I want to live.”

Non-fiction descriptions of the ravages of slavery on America always beat the fictionalized accounts, no matter how dramatic. Twelve Years a Slave (on which this movie is based) and The Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave are more vivid and hit harder than even the melodrama of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s more famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“No man of conscience can take the lash to another day in and day out without doing damage to himself.”

This 2013 award-winning production of Solomon Northup’s 1840 ordeal loses none of its power for its modest budget and straight forward story telling. Brutal but realistic … unfortunately.

“Slavery is an evil that should befall none.”

Movie Review: Facing Darkness, directed by Arthur Rasco (Four Stars)


theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Facing Darkness, directed by Arthur Rasco

Four Stars

“Faith does not keep you safe,” Dr. Kent Brantly

A Samaritan’s Purse documentary about the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia and especially their staff who caught it. SP and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) were the only international agencies, neither sponsored by a government fighting the outbreak for the longest time.

“We don’t flee the fire; we run toward the fire. Jesus didn’t run away,” Franklin Graham

Popular response to this one-night showing was so good, that an encore showing is scheduled for April 10. Check local listings or the movie website.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son …” (John 3:16)