Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Your standard Wes Anderson fare.  If you don’t know what that means, this is a good movie to find out.

You know exactly what you’re getting into when you see a Wes Anderson film.  ”The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no exception.  There is whimsy.  Lots and lots of whimsy.  There are eccentric characters by the hotel full.  There is scene after scene of painstakingly designed sets.  And there’s a lot of dialogue dispensed deadpanedly.  Deadpanedly is now a word.

This particular film is pretty straight forward plot wise.  Man runs upscale hotel.  Man loves the old widows that visits the hotel.  One widow dies and leaves him a valuable painting.  Her family fights to keep painting.  Man steals painting.  Man is framed for widow’s murder.  Man goes to jail.  Man escapes from jail.  Man goes to retrieve stolen painting.  Man discovers painting holds a secret.  Man inherits fortune.  I guess I should say it’s straight forward for a Wes Anderson movie.  And that’s just the basics.

I enjoy how Wes Anderson wraps this movie up at the beginning and then unfolds it.  It begins with a woman visiting a monument to a famous writer and then that gets wrapped up into the writer talking about his career and that gets wrapped up into the writer meeting a man who owns the Grand Budapest Hotel and that gets wrapped up into the owner talking about how he came to inherit the hotel and that gets wrapped up into the main plot.  Then, after the main plot is resolved, everything gets unpacked again and the credits roll.  So “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is actually a story within a story within a story within a story.  A recursive function, if you will.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is entertaining throughout.  There was a persistent smile on my face throughout.  The great thing about a Wes Anderson film is that he always gives you something to look at.  Often more than one something at the same time.  It’s like a main course and a desert served together.  This movie also stars every actor that has ever appeared in another Wes Anderson movie.  Part of the fun is wondering when your favorite actor will finally appear.

I wouldn’t say this is Wes Anderson’s best film, but it’s certainly up there.  I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend it to a person who isn’t a fan of Wes Anderson movies, but I’d certainly recommend it as a first entry for anyone who has never been exposed to Wes Anderson’s particular film making style.

Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife, It’s Heartbleed!

Another day, another massive security breach on the Interwebs.  This time it’s a bug in the SSL software that only most of the entire Internet uses to ensure secure transactions.  And it’s only been like this for two years or so.  There is a handy list of the most common websites and whether or not they were affected over at Mashable.  This is a pretty serious bug and you should follow the advice an change your passwords ASAP.

I have developed a very simple quiz for you to determine if your data has at all been compromised.  Just answer these simple questions.  Do you own a device that connects to the internet?  If you answered either yes or no to that question, your data has been compromised and you should take immediate action to remedy this.  I recommend a nice glass of scotch.

Seriously, it’s that bad.  Take that in.  Experian, one of only three of the credit bureaus in the U.S., had 200 million identities stolen.  And not really even stolen, but bought.  No bugs in software, no hacking effort, just some shady dude asking Experian for data and Experian saying, “My you look like a fine upstanding citizen, here you go!” But don’t worry, 200 million is only almost the entire adult population of the country.  So the odds are not 100% that your identity is among them.

So yes, the only real viable solution to our data driven world is to drink a little.  There is good news, though.  Given the enormity of the data that has been stolen and the, thankfully, small number of criminals in the world, there is a very good chance that your stolen data will never actually be used by anyone and it will just end up languishing on a hard drive in Russia for all of eternity.  Horray?

Book Review: The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Jean-Paul’s rating : 2/5 stars

I have a work friend who occasionally recommends a book to me.  These books are invariably bad.  Many times I just ignore his recommendations, but this time the book was on Project Gutenberg so I figured what the heck.  I am happy to report his 100% crappy book recommendation streak is still going strong.  After talking to him, he claimed to like it because it was a difficult read, which it was, and because it had an ending that he wasn’t able to predict.  I pointed out that there wasn’t really anything to predict and his inferences into what occurred were only inferences and never explicitly stated in the book.

I should point out that the actual title of the book is actually “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself:  With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Author”.  This is certainly the longest title for a book I’ve ever read but it’s also fairly appropriate.  The book is split up into three parts.

The first part of the book is a relation of facts as seen by the editor surrounding the life of brothers George and Robert Cowlan.  It quickly relates events from their parents’ marriage and divorce, through their younger years growing up, George with the carefree father and Robert with the strictly Calvinist mother and Reverend who may or may not be Robert’s actual father.  It then describes their young adult years in which Robert torments George by following him around and being a complete douche.  It ends with the apparent murder of George by Robert and his inheritance of all of Roberts lands and his eventual flight from justice.  This part is somewhat interesting, but there are no establishing points to go from.  A lot of the motivations from the first part are fleshed out in the second part, but it doesn’t exactly make for an exciting read when split apart like this.  What you get out of it is that George is the good brother and Robert is the bad brother.

Part two is the actual memoir referred to in the title which belongs to Robert and was found after his death.  It tells the exact same story as part one only from Robert’s point of view and in excruciating detail.  We get more into George’s strict Calvinist upbringing and his attempts to prove his predestination into heaven, the Reverend’s acceptance of Robert’s predestination, Robert’s falling in with a person (who is obviously the devil) that convinces Robert to help him purge humanity of unworthy souls, and Robert’s real or imagined descent into madness as he is haunted by demons wherever he goes.  So yeah, Robert actually thinks he’s doing good and George is the evil one.  Perceptions of good versus evil, the wackiness of Calvinism and religion in general, blah, blah, blah.  So see, there are actual themes in this book, but you have long past even pretended to care about them because it took hundreds of pages to tie them together.

Part three is fairly useless, but does leave a lot of parts one and two open to interpretation which is kind of cool.  The editor of part one is back and he’s talking about how they found the manuscript on the body of a person who hanged himself.  So Robert actually killed himself.  This is kind of cool only because you end up having to question everything Robert did.  Was the devil even real or was this all in his imagination?  It’s very Fight Clubby.  Only without any satisfying resolution.

Another weird thing about the book that really bothered me was the Scottish brogue.  Your upper-class Scots speak proper English while the servant class speaks like a much more unintelligible version of a bad Mike Myers Scottish character.  This makes it very difficult to read, which is fine; reading accents can be quite interesting.  What bothers me is how Hogg goes in and out of it sometimes for the same character.  Maybe this is on purpose and was meant as a hint into the madness of Robert.  It is very disconcerting, though, to be reading this pages and pages long soliloquy by one of Robert’s servants written all in brogue that magically transforms into standard English.

Yep, this book can be skipped.  What little entertainment there is is not nearly worth the effort of sloughing through the rest of the book.  Although it is on Project Gutenberg so at least you can get it for free.

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Possibly the best Marvel offering since the original “Ironman” movie.  A decent plot with lots of action and a stunning amount of violence.

There’s just something about Captain America that sets him apart from your everyday comic book superhero movie fare.  It certainly helps that there is none of the gross nationalism that you’d expect from someone named Captain America.  He doesn’t fight for America, he doesn’t fight for SHIELD, he just fights for what he believes is right.  When you do that, things can get messy, but you do the best you can with what you have as you navigate the grey areas of superherodom.  All that to say that Captain America has a humanity that isn’t really present in any of the other superheroes.

Those of you that watch the ever so mediocre “Agents of SHIELD” television show probably were able to catch the tie-in between the last episode of the show and this movie.  They did something similar with the last Thor movie but after the fact.  This time, the events of the TV show predict the opening scene of “The Winter Soldier” and the movie looks to actually drive the plot of the TV series.  This is the only time that something like this has ever been attempted as far as I know and it’s an interesting set of bonus material for the fandom without getting in the way of either the TV show or the movies.

Now to finally get to the movie itself.  It was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.  The plot was well crafted with twists that I did not expect, though the Winter Soldier reveal kind of fell flat for me.  It was probably one of those things that you have to be a fan of the comic books to really get.  The action in the movie is top-notch and well choreographed.  And, in a surprising turn for a Marvel movie, there is a gratuitous amount of violence in it, with a kill count that would make “Game of Thrones” proud.

If you like the comic book movies, you’ll love this one so don’t delay.  I believe “The Winter Soldier” would even be enjoyable for those that aren’t really into the whole comic book scene.  It works pretty well as a solo project.  Also, if someone could explain what the heck the ending credits preview was all about I’d appreciate it.

Here Comes The BOOM!

ACASignups.net, which has been absolutely awesome at projecting Affordable Care Act sign ups, and the Obama administration are showing that over 7 million people have signed up for individual insurance through the exchanges as of the March 31st deadline.  That surpasses the Congressional Budget Office’s original 7 million person projection by a hair or two.  The grand total of private individual insurance sign ups is somewhere between 14.6 M and 22.1 M.

This can not be seen as anything other than an amazing success.  Of course, you have the usual nay-sayers, the same people who kept on insisting that Mitt Romney was going to win the last election despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that he wasn’t, who exclaim very loudly and often that the numbers are all wrong.  To be fair, there are still some legitimate questions, but they are minor and will do nothing to take away from the awesomeness of hitting this milestone.

This must be the worst April Fool’s joke ever for ACA naysayers, those that called it a disaster, that said it would bankrupt the country, those that vigorously attempted to thwart the legislation at every turn.  April 1st, 2014 marks the beginning of tens of millions of Americans having affordable, comprehensive healthcare for the first time ever.  No longer can they be driven to bankruptcy because of an accident or a disease.  No longer will they have to decide between getting the healthcare they desperately need and the food they must eat.  No longer will people be tied down to their jobs because of the health care it provides.  Goodbye and good riddance to those barbarous days and hello to a still flawed but markedly better future.

1500 Thread Count Sheets, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Groupon recently sent me a Groupon Goods offer for 1500 thread count sheets and I was all like, “Hey, I need a new set of sheets!”, so I checked it out.  They were offering a full set of sheets for somewhere around $80 which seemed reasonable, but not really knowing what 1500 thread count sheets are going for, I did what just about every shopper does and checked Amazon to see what they were selling comparable sheets for.  I found a nice set of chocolate colored, Italian (whatever that means) 1500 count, 100% Egyptian sheets for $26.  Sold American!

Two days later (Amazon Prime, for those people who absolutely can not wait four days), my sheets arrived.  I pick up the box and it is incredibly light.  My first thought is they sent me a single sheet instead of the full set.  Upon opening the box, however, it is indeed a full set of sheets.  The whole set feels like it weighs like one of my normal fitted sheets.

Eager to try the sheets out, I put them on my bed immediately.  The feeling is difficult to describe.  It’s more like a lack of feeling.  Sleeping on top of the fitted sheet gives the impression of sleeping on air with only the resistance of the mattress to realize you are on a solid surface.  With the flat sheet and comforter above, it is more like an invisible weight placed on top of you and you can wrap yourself up as tightly in this cocoon as you desire.  My only complaint are the pillow covers which are slightly too large for my pillows which causes them to bunch up some, so I have to be sure to arrange the pillow so the extra material is in the back of the pillow lest a flap of downy softness tickle my nose in the middle of the night.

It remains to be seen how well the sheets hold up in the wash.  I have a feeling it will not be very well given their daintiness.  Those with experience in these things, are all 1500 thread count sheets like this?  If so, I consider you a horrible friend for not informing me of such earlier.

Book Review: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Wherever your life’s travels take you, never share a vehicle with anyone named Gulliver for doom is sure to visit you.  I am pretty sure this advise will serve you well.

Earth: the final frontier.  These are the voyages of Lemuel Gulliver.  His on and off again mission: to satire English life in the 18th century, to use imaginary beings to point out the faults of mankind, to baldly criticise those in power except for royalty which either Jonathan Swift was totally fine with or they were too prickly of a target for his barbs.

As you can probably tell, reading “Gulliver’s Travels” reminded me of “Star Trek”.  And, as you can probably tell from my rating, we’re talking season one of TNG.  Ugh.  Through a series of voyages, Gulliver finds himself on a variety of uncharted islands inhabited by previously undiscovered intelligent species.  The only thing missing is him making funtime with the native women.

My guess would be that the biggest problem with this book is time.  While some of the material covered is timeless, the time Gulliver spends with the Liliputians and the Brobdingnags comes across as very stale because of the temporality of the topics.  Add to that the fact that writing about really short humans (the Liliputians) and really tall humans (the Brobdingnags) is no longer terribly original and you find yourself with some tedious reading to get through.  This part is not all bad though.  Swift’s description of the Brobdingnags especially really makes you reflect on the concepts of beauty as he attempts to convey the hideousness of massive pores and freckles or the repulsive nature of a 72 foot tall woman’s breast.

Gulliver’s travels do get slightly more interesting from there.  His next stop is the flying island of Laputa which is inhabited by people who pursue science purely for science sake and the preposterousness that can come from that.  It isn’t exactly good satire, but it’s at least entertaining to read Gulliver describing all the ridiculous experiments that Laputans dedicate themselves to the detriment of their daily responsibilities to society.  The only other interesting part in this adventure is Gulliver’s reflections on immortality as he meets the immortals of Glubbdrubdrib who live forever but still age normally.

Gulliver’s final travels find him on the island inhabited by Yahoos (primitive men) and Houyhnhnms (intelligent horses).  This adventure was actually enjoyable to read.  The Houyhnhnmns are the only non-human in appearance race and he uses them to portray Swift’s ideal lifestyle for humanity.  That he uses a non-human race reflects Swift’s belief of the unlikelihood of humans to ever reach that idea.

Oh, I should also mention my love of the paragraph.  Paragraphs break up stories nicely and provide bite sized chunks of information to digest.  Swift hates paragraphs.  They go on for pages in this book.  This may or may not be on purpose.  There is a fake foreword from the editor who spends some length describing how Gulliver uses meticulous detail in describing even the most non-interesting events and how he had to force Gulliver to pare down his descriptions of things.  At the onset of the book, I found the caveat that Gulliver is a horrible storyteller amusing.  After finishing the book, I think Swift may just have been an asshole.

I Totally Voted For Myself

One of the judicial vacancies (Reyes if you’re interested) had two people running who both had a few “not recommended” decisions by various bar associations and, for some reason, had a write in spot, so of course I wrote myself in!  Many of the other vacancy spots didn’t have a write in so I’m not sure why this one was special.  The vagaries of the voting ballot.

If I were a little more forward thinking, I could have had all of my friends vote for me as well.  Given that I was the 47th person to vote for my precinct today, I don’t think it would have taken that many votes to put me in contention.  Yep, that’s right, I was 47th in a pool of around 1000.  The workers joked to me that they bet that they can hit 50 before the night is done.  Ah, democracy.

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: Everything IS awesome.  A perfect kids movie with good comedy and an honest to goodness moral to the story.

“The LEGO Movie” is one of those movies that you can watch again and again.  And if you have kids, you WILL be watching it again and again.  The only down side to this is not being able to get the “Everything is Awesome” song out of your head.  But that only requires one viewing.

And speaking of the “Everything is Awesome” song, I have never experienced a situation where I went from disliking a song to really liking it after hearing it in the movie.  It is an incredibly stupid pop song, but it snaps in perfectly inside the movie.  This is a welcome change to the inorganic nature that often comes with original songs in movies.

Yes, this is basically an hour and a half long LEGO commercial, but the artistry and imagery in the movie are so perfect you can believe they were ripped straight from a child’s imagination and the LEGOs are just the medium the child had chosen.  And really, LEGOs are a unique medium perfect for the fertile imagination of a child.  The idea of that imagination is used as fuel for the plot of the movie which pits those who want to always follow the directions against those who want to build as they wish.

The movie also teaches an important lesson which is rare for a children’s movie.  That lesson is there is no wrong way to play with LEGOs.  Yes, really.  Like I said, it’s a LEGO commercial.  But that can be applied to life in general.  Sometimes you need to play by the rules and follow the directions and sometimes you shouldn’t and see where it takes you.  Words to live by.

This Is Why I Hate St. Patrick’s Day

Stupid people are stupid.  The link goes to a blog that follows crime reports in Boystown.  It’s a special St. Patrick’s edition of all the crime from the Saturday into Sunday that is St. Patrick’s Day Weekend.  It is both comedic and sad.

There is no better way to see the true character of a person than to see that person drunk.  ”In vino veritas” as the Italians say.  If a person acts like an asshole when they are drunk, you can be pretty sure that person is an asshole when they are sober but better able to hide it.  And, boy, do the assholes come out of the woodwork this weekend.  There’s nothing wrong with getting drunk.  There’s plenty wrong with using your drunkeness as an excuse to act stupid.

St. Patrick’s Day weekend must be one of the worst to work as a first responder.  Every dispatch message reads like this: Disturbance in progress, white male, 20s, wearing green.  Fun.