Monthly Archives: June 2015

Book Review: A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

“A Mercy” tells a strange tale in a strange way.  It is a short book and it is broken into titleless chapters.  Each change in chapters is also a change in voice with one of the characters taking over the storytelling.  It is a very jarring way to introduce new characters.  You end up a little bit lost as you try to figure out who’s talking and how they fit into the larger narrative.  As you get to know the characters and recognize their unique voices you end up feeling like you know them, like they are a part of you.  I am not sure if this is because of how the story is told or because of Morrison’s gift of writing.

The story takes place in colonial America around 1690 and revolves around the lives and happenings of individuals residing in a single household.  What you end up getting is six, maybe seven, different stories all coalescing into one narrative.  Most of the voices are female and most of the voices are also slaves of one variety or another.  The main character is Florens, a slave of the farm owner, Jacob Vaark.  Every odd chapter is told from Florens’ point of view with every other individual on the farm taking one of the even chapters.

The story begins with Florrens expressing her feelings to an absent and nameless blacksmith as she travels alone to his house to seek his help in curing a case of smallpox that has visited the Vaark farm.  The smallpox breakout is the plot device used to wrap up the stories of all of the characters.  We jump back and forth in time as we discover how each character came to find themselves on the Vaark farm and how all of the interpersonal relations were established.  Throughout, Morrison incorporates a variety of themes in the story including slavery, abandonment, religion, society, and being a woman in colonial America (hint: It ain’t pretty).

This is not an easy read but it is a quick read and very engaging.  You should really pick up this book.  I can’t recall ever reading a story set in America before the United States were formed so that makes this story unique as well.  Slavery existed.  Indentured servitude existed.  But there were also free black men.  You have this strange amalgam of systems that eventually coalesced into the slavery we all know and hate.  It was interesting times.  And by interesting I mean horrible.  Horrible, horrible times.

Book Review: Edge Of Eternity by Ken Follett

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

And we’re done with Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy.  “Edge of Eternity” picks up where “Winter of the World” left off.  We follow the same families as the previous books, but this time the events are bookended by the rise of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I feel like a broken record at this point because book three has all of the same strong points and weak points as the previous two books.  The historical portions of the book are quite interesting at times but the interpersonal relationships leave room for much improvement.

More obviously than the other two books, “Edge of Eternity” is innately political.  This should come as little surprise considering Follett actually lived through all of the events and so has more to say about them.  For instance, while he does an ok job of portraying the conservative viewpoints of Nixon, Regan, et al., his disagreement with that viewpoint shines through more than in previous books.  It’s hard to live through the Civil Rights era and not have an unbiased view of the wrongs committed.  It’s also a bit welcome, though, as his previous books in the trilogy always seemed a little too “Yay, America!” while not really covering the serious shortcomings of the country at the times.

Ken Follett’s times are also partially my times as well and I have to say, seeing non-historical characters in historical situations that I’m more familiar with is disconcerting in a way that’s hard to describe.  It’s almost as if he’s stealing a bit of history.  Sure, he’s doing the same thing in the other books, but somehow having a fake Senator seems less serious a sin than having a fake person sleeping with John F. Kennedy.  Or maybe it’s just because it’s much more sensationalist and lazy than the other sins.  I’m not sure what it is, but it bugs me.

I’m glad the trilogy was over.  They were all decent enough reads,  but it’s hard to recommend them to anyone.  Really, if you’re at all interested in any of the times covered by the books, you’re probably better off getting recommendations on an actual history book instead of Follett’s historical fiction books.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Enjoyable, mindless, light-hearted, bone crunching, blood splattering fun.  Sure, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense, but so what?

Dinosaurs still rule the box office.  And rightfully so.  Having learned none of the lessons from the Jurassic Park theme park, now we have Jurassic World.  Bigger.  Better.  More dinosaur-y.  What could possibly go wrong?  A lot.

There is lots of stupid in this movie, but it washes over you like a warm Caribbean wave.  You’re too busy looking at all the pretty to notice the jellyfish.  Sure, the super-intelligent genetically modified super-dinosaur just happens to exhibit all of its super-intelligence at precisely the right moment.  Sure, the genetic makeup of said dinosaur is top-secret for vague and pointless reasons.  Sure, an island with a massive tourist attraction would have more than one helicopter and one pilot.  Sure, you probably wouldn’t allow kayakers down a lazy river full of dinosaurs no matter how docile they are.  Sure, the setup for the inevitable sequel is mind numbingly silly yet awesome sounding.  Ignore it.  Feel the waves.  They’re more plentiful than the jellyfish.

Chris Pratt?  Awesome.  I was a little worried after seeing the coming attractions.  They made him seem wooden and outside of his environment.  That did not translate to the movie at all.  Chris Pratt plays Starlord, I mean Andy Dwyer, I mean Owen, an affable dinosaur trainer who is teaching a pack of velociraptors to hunt on his command.  Ok, so Chris Pratt doesn’t really have a lot of range beyond affable.  He plays it so well, though, and you can do a lot with affable.  He is joined by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the stick in the mud who both runs the park and is watching her two nephews who inevitably get sucked into the middle of all the dinosaur mayhem.  Pratt and Howard have some decent chemistry with each other as an opposites-attract couple.

I don’t think “Jurassic World” lives up to its groundbreaking forefather “Jurassic Park”, but it is a fun ride for what it is.  It’s a lot of rehash with a few new ideas thrown it and that all makes it just entertaining enough to make it a movie worth seeing.  With its record-breaking success, expect to see a whole lot more dinosaurs in the future.  The dino-wars are not far in the future.

Movie Review: San Andreas

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Return of the disaster movie!  Some great disaster sequences that are totally scientifically accurate!*  Yes, it’s a little corny, but it’s a good kind of corny.

*Scientific accuracy may vary.

“San Andreas” begins with a teenager driving alone down what I can only assume is Highway 1.  She’s searching for things in the back seat, texting on her phone, and all your usual distracted driving faux pas while ominously large vehicles pass her in the other direction.  Then a rock slide comes out of nowhere and hurtles her and her car down the side of a cliff.  Enter Ray (Dwane Johnson) via helicopter to save the day!  Does she get rescued?  You’ll have to see the movie to find out!

With that opening scene, “San Andreas” quickly establishes that this is meant to be more of a tongue-in-cheek type of movie than one to be taken seriously.  It is fun and a little irreverent and pays painstakingly close detail to the minutest scientific detail.*

*Of Bizaaroworld.

So yeah, not terribly scientifically accurate.  But who cares if Hoover Dam is completely destroyed by a slightly higher than moderate earthquake?  You get to see Hoover Dam destroyed!  And who cares if two of the cities with the best earthquake preventative building codes get basically flattened?  You get to see Los Angeles and San Francisco flattened!  And who cares if a tsunami appears out of thin air where no tsunami would ever form?  You get to see a tsunami roll over San Francisco!  All of that and Dwane Johnson forsaking his job and dooming hundreds to die by stealing a rescue helicopter to rescue his ex-wife and then his daughter.  Classic.

Yes, there are better movies out there, but “San Andreas” is fun.  As a bonus, the daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is a tough cookie and not some damsel in distress.  After an initial rescue by a love interest, it’s mostly her who keeps him alive and not vice versa.