Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer reading? Get lost in "The Labyrinth" by Dorian Zari

Amazon Link
Dan, a suicidal painter, is having trouble convincing his shrink that he’s not blind but sees through everything. Which he can. And that somewhere in the world, he has a soul mate. Which he does. Three in fact, each with a debilitating superhuman sense:  Zack, who drowns the tastes of the world in booze, Carly, a stripper who buries smells in cocaine and Sarah, a "deaf" cellist who can hear everything but silence.

When the four become aware of each other, they set out to meet. But something else wants to find them too: a monster in a suit and sunglasses calling itself the Guardian. After barely surviving their first encounters with it, their journey turns into a race against time across Europe.

Their only hope comes when Dan inadvertently has a flashback to a previous life in which he faced the Guardian. They realize that to survive, they have to relive their fatal encounters with the monster for a chance to discover its weaknesses. But remembering an entirely different life has a cost.

Armed with the new found knowledge of who they and the Guardian really are, the four hope their impending clash will be the last.

Yet even if they succeed they have to face the sinister reality of what having a soul mate truly means.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Godzilla (2014) - No King of the Monsters. Grade G

Godzilla (2014) is no King of the Monsters. 

Legendary Pictures has produced and Warner Brothers and Toho (the film company responsible for approximately 28 Godzilla films) have released the latest incarnation of Godzilla with much promise and hype.  With mega stars like Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai"), Juliette Binochet ("The English Patient"), David Strathaim ("Good Night and Good Luck"), the movie promised way more than it was able to realize.  None of these actors were the stars of the film and most of them had slightly more screen time than that devoted to cameo appearances or guest starring or "also starring" roles. 

The trailers to this film suggested that at least Cranston would have a major role in this film.  However, unfortunately, Cranston is last seen in this move a mere 30 minutes into this 2 hour film.  This blog will not contain any plot summary.

I know at its core this is a "monster movie" which requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief.  However, even giving that to this film, there are so many holes in this plot its difficult to make it to the end. 

One glaring example is a scene where our hero, Ford Brody (son of Bryan Cranston's character) is about to conduct a HALO jump with members of the special forces from an altitude of 30,000 feet.  Never mind the fact that Brody is a special munitions disposal officer who may not have any experience in HALO jumps.  Also, never mind that this jump is taking place from a C-130 cargo plane.  Never mind that seconds before the jump, Ford is talking with his fellow soldiers in the cargo bay of the plane with no oxygen assistance.  Never mind that all of the soldiers are not tethered to anything in the plane but are at first sitting on a bench and then standing in the bay when the bay door is opened.  The director of the film at least had the soldiers secure their oxygen masks seconds before the door is open.  Despite this, once the door is opened, there is no rush of air - leading me to believe that the cargo bay was never pressurized which must mean that the jump team must have had Godzilla-like lung capacity.  Once the cargo bay door is opened, there is no air resistance and the team merely jumps out of the plane in a hodge podge fashion. 

The redesign of Godzilla is an improvement from the 1998 film fiasco.  The 2014 design of Godzilla is true to form of the Toho design with an upright Godzilla along with spikes on his back that glow when he shoots radioactive rays from this mouth.  (That signature ray is used only twice in the film.) 

The fight scenes in the film are extremely disappointing.  The film uses a tactic of only showing the fight scene up close and personal for a few minutes and then either flash forwarding to the aftermath with no explanation of what happened or to continue the fight sequence from the vantage point of a character watching it from "news coverage" from a small screen television.  I understand that CGI is expensive but this is hardly the solution.  (It reminds me of the massive battle scene build up in "Kingdom of Heaven" at the pinnacle battle in the siege of Jerusalem only to having the battle scene abruptly end with a cut shot to its aftermath.) 

Godzilla's roar is highly altered from Toho's signature roar and any close up of Godzilla is limited and short in duration.

Having recently seen Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) which is the American version of the 1954 film, the plot, score and appearance of Godzilla was more deftly handled in the original than in this outing. 

Despite this negative review, it appears that there will be at least a sequel to the 2014 film.  I sincerely hope its better than this send up.

Although the CGI - when it is on the screen for any duration - is good, the plot and storyline of this movie leaves much to be desired and leaves me longing for the 1956 version.

Duck and hide from this film and if you need a monster movie fix, check out the original.

Thank you for reading this blog and I will strive to post more.  This is my initial blog and I certainly hope you found it enjoyable.  I will continue to polish my prose as I move along with additional blogs.

Until next time, please keep a seat reserved for me and keep watching. 


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sometimes in war there are no hero's, only survivors. And everyone "survives" differently afterwards.....

Sean Davis' "Wax Bullet War" is taking a special place on my book shelf.  There are plenty of books that have already been written.  Take out all of the fictional books written by people who never served in the military, let alone served in a war zone.  Your list got much smaller.  Now take out the books that are non-fictional, but use the book to showcase the heroics of a person or group of people.  Your list is much more manageable.  Take what's left and pull out the ones dealing with the Iraq war, told from a soldiers point of view that shows what really happens before, during, and after the war - with warts and all showing.  You will probably be left with "Wax Bullet War."

 Davis does an excellent job of capturing all of the little nuances about being sent into a combat zone, specifically as a member of a "Reserve Unit" or National Guard Unit.  I can speak to this from a unique perspective - I was activated by the Marine Reserves for Desert Storm.  Reading this book brought back many emotions in me - one of which was the realization that even 20 years later, many things just haven't changed.  Troops are still being asked to perform dangerous missions with substandard equipment, poor planning, non-existent intel (one of the missions given to Davis consists of a PowerPoint slide with shapes and lines that really just depicted a general idea of what they were supposed to accomplish).  This "office style" type of leadership would be laughable, except real soldiers are involved.  The person who sends out these young men into harms way has the daunting task of pressing the "print" button, and telling someone to make it happen.  Those with the skin in the game usually don't take their parts in the play so lightly.

I appreciate that Davis does not go out of his way to portray himself as a hero or a victim in "Wax Bullet War."  As he states in the book, he knew what he was getting himself into.  This is where people who write about wars who have never been there miss the point, because they just don't get this mindset.  Civilians who have never been asked to sacrifice for people they don't even know will never "get" the people who give up material wealth, some of the best years of their youth, and possibly their lives for an idea and people that they have been thrown together with as part of a "unit."

Davis has accomplished the daunting feat of putting all of his raw emotions into words allowing the reader to share in his feelings, while at the same time keeping the focus on what was going on around him.  This is captured beautifully when dealing with the parts before, during, and especially after Davis' time in country. 

I can't write a review that can truly capture the essence of this book, even knowing exactly where the author is coming from.  It may be that I am not an artist (as the author is) to be able to paint the picture of how I feel about this book using only words.  I can only tell you that this is a book I recommend highly and should be on every shelf of readers who want to how a war time experience can affect a person on many different levels.  While traveling in Norfolk, Virginia I had "Wax Bullet War" with me sitting on the table.  A man with a Navy hat on walked up to me a said "That is an excellent book" and walked away.  I finished it that night, and that Sailor knew a good book when he read one.

I write this next statement and truly hope Sean Davis reads this, because I know he will understand:

From all of the soldiers across generations who are carrying scars that will never be seen, can not be shown  can not be "fixed" with a surgery or procedure, and will not be recognized with a medal of purple and the profile of our first president - thank you for putting pen to paper and beautifully describing what many of us would like to express to our loved ones but can't put it into words.

Amazon Link

GoodReads Link

Friday, June 6, 2014

Author Interview with "Managing for Success: Practical Advice for Managers" author Steve Smith!

Amazon Link
MnM Blog - I get the sense that you are really trying to help others, especially new managers, in your book “Managing for Success:  Practical Advice for Managers.”  Where did this drive to help others come from?

Steve - My drive to help others came from my realization that most people are bad at managing, despite being good at the technical aspects of their job. Without management training, they do more to de-motivate than to motivate their staff members. I know one manager who asked his people if they were taking “stupid” pills. One scientist came to me for advice after his manager told him “I wish I had never promoted you” in a room full of people. My book is for new and experienced managers and supervisors who want to learn how to be better, and will admit they need help.

MnM Blog - You mention that you have worked in different companies through the years.  Without naming the company (unless you wish) – which period of your career would you say “stretched” your knowledge and abilities in a good way?

Steve - Yes, I worked for 15 companies. This in itself is not a great honor, but there were reasons for every move. I left my first job out of collage at The Upjohn Company because career growth was so slow. I left Abbott Labs for the opportunity to start my own market research department at American Critical Care, a small cardiovascular drug company. This was a great company and establishing a new department stretched my technical and management abilities. I left only because we were sold to Dupont and moved to the East Coast. After that, I moved around a lot, mainly because of bad management. Finally I moved to Dow Pharmaceutical Sciences here in Petaluma California where I had a chance to build a sales, marketing and business development department. This was another great company that stretched my abilities because I wore many different hats (marketing, in and out-licensing, market research, strategic planning) and we were growing rapidly. This was a challenging job and great fun, and I stayed there until I retired. California is not a bad place to end your career!

MnM blog - What part of writing a book do you wish you knew more about before you started?

Steve - There are so many parts to writing a book that, if I knew them in advance, I may not have written the book!  Organizing the material, finding a good editor, a good name, a good cover, an ISBN number, and much more. But the hardest part of all is marketing the book- creating awareness so people know it exists, getting reviews, a website, etc. There are a ton of books out there and writing the book is just half the battle.

MnM Blog - What is next on the horizon for you – personally and in your writing career?

Steve - After working on this book for four years, I’m now focusing on creating awareness among managers and supervisors so they know what it can do for them if they are willing to open their minds.  And, I’m supposed to be retired, so we will travel more and focus on the things we really enjoy- following the 80/20 rule. This summer we will spend a month in Provence, France.

MnM Blog - What two books do you consider “must reads” for anyone in business / management?

Steve - My favorite book (old but wonderful) is Work and the Nature of Man by Fredrick Herzberg wherein he presents his two-factor theory (motivation vs. hygiene factors).  Another favorite is The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch. Ideas from both of these authors heavily influenced my book. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

To err is "Human", unless you are destined for a greater destiny.

Amazon Link
If you believe in reincarnation, Zen must have done some bad things in his previous life.  Why do I say that, since he did return as a human instead of a worm?  Well, to start, the guy's wife has an open affair with the housekeeper and he is not allowed to return home until everything is sparkling clean - like around midnight.  Next, his dreams of being an engineer is dangled in front of him as he cleans the building engineers work in - with vivid descriptions of bathroom cleanings.  One of his friends vanishes, and another dies of the pandemic virus that is dropping people like flies.

Maybe a worm would have been a better choice.  That is - until Zen receives a mysterious text with some coordinates and is met by a couple of strangers.

In the course of a week, Zen's entire view of reality will be turned on its head as he is discovers that maybe being "just Zen" is really a gift.  But is Zen ready to reach out and take hold of his destiny?

"Human" by Milan Bakrania is a work of fantasy that follows the journey of Zen through India and way beyond.  This work has ambitious goals, but the journey for the reader is at times almost as difficult as Zen's.  The book is written in parts that are to be read like a diary, parts from Zen's point of view with conversation in broken English (with plenty of "cussing" with *'s for vowels), but then sofisticated thoughts and narration in language that one probably wouldn't find from a cleaner working in India.  Zen goes from wondering about how badly he smells and talking about bowel movements to reading books on geothermal engineering wondering why he didn't get his big break.  Maybe he could start with a shower.....

Bakrania set his goals to be very lofty in this novel, encouraging the reader to pass it on to others who may need help reaching their dreams (or even considering doing physical harm to themselves).  For even a seasoned author, trying to motivate someone to change through a fantasy novel while still pulling off the story and characters would be a tough task.  For an author just trying to break into the field, it might have been a goal that may have been a little beyond the reach.  I think the author would have been better served sticking with the story and allowing the reader to pull out of it the meaning they wanted instead of trying so hard to guide the reader to think a specific way and losing the flow of the story along the way.

For those that like fantasy with a message, however, this author would be a good one to watch as he grows in his craft.

Amazon Link                                 Goodreads Link                     Barnes & Nobles