Quick Rec – The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, based on the book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter) would be an easy movie to dismiss or mock if you were so inclined.  World War II film about aging scholars rescuing and returning art…  Doesn’t Hollywood so like to congratulate itself about its own artistic contributions, etc., etc..  But, with Clooney determined to give us an effective history lesson, and with an all-star cast (Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Bob Balaban) determined to tell a genuine tale, the result is a very fine movie.

It is a story worth telling – the mystery and intrigue of tracking down all the art the Nazis confiscated, the misgivings of some about the allies’ goals for recovering said art, and even the race with the Soviets.  And within the meta-elements of the film, a very interesting study of war-movies.  The gathering of the team, the guys who despise each other at the outset only to become best friends, the showdown in Act III…  At the heart of the story these Monuments Men had very noble goals, but like soldiers everywhere they continued on mostly for each other.  This is a line that goes back from Saving Private Ryan to The Big Red One to The Dirty Dozen.

You leave the theater on a positive note.  After all, we did rescue the art and return it where possible.  The important signposts of Western Civilization  return home.  When President Roosevelt asks Lt. Stokes (Clooney) if it was all worth it, he has a definitive answer.  A little later you may find yourself considering how the same symbols and signposts, the same Western Civilization also led to Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust.  Well, that’s history for you.

Re-reading Gatsby

Sometimes it can be enlightening to revisit a book.  Your tastes and preferences certainly change with more experience.  You can develop more patience for  some aspects of a story or text even as you solidify definite likes and dislikes.

And so every once in awhile I’ll re-read a classic or a favorite from my youth.  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby qualifies as the former more than the latter.  I remember plowing through this book in high school, being vaguely impatient with the pacing and more than a little annoyed with the main characters.  Unsympathetic, selfish and rich and not all that interesting.  Even Gatsby himself, man of mystery seemed pretty boring in his single-mindedness…  In truth, I likely scanned the last third of the book in my younger days – just get through it enough to know the material for the test.  And if it seemed more like a history lesson back then than a study of literature, well, that’s education for you. Continue reading

Quick Rec – Lego Movie

Not a full review here, but another quick recommendation :  The Lego Movie.  Yes, you can add us to the many, many others lauding this clever and funny family show.  Does it help that our kids are really into legos right now, that it’s their go-to creative time pursuit?  Absolutely.  But don’t dismiss our thumbs-up as simple consumer bias…

Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller deserve the accolades for a fun story that gets to the heart of playing with legos – the following directions precisely mode vs. free-build creative mode.  Each has its merits, but to the surprise of no one, the movie favors the latter.  Creativity is the principal theme here – what it means to our kids, how we perceive and value it.  And Lord and Miller so effectively capture childhood perceptions of playing and imagining with broad strokes like the different themed lego-lands the characters visit as well as small details like various sound effects (child-produced) or the artifacts from our mundane world.

And, if all that seems a little uppity, well – the jokes are really, really funny.  There are a lot (and we mean a lot) of them, rapidly delivered, with numerous parenting and pop-culture references squarely aimed at the grown-ups.  Due to the vastness of the lego line, the movie drops in all sorts of famous people and character cameos, and the writers obviously had a ball with these scenes and jokes.

The Lego Movie is easily Top 3 for family movies we’ve seen in the last several years – probably our favorite since The Incredibles.  So we say, take your kids, grand-kids, or nieces/nephews to the cinema and enjoy.

Quick Recs – Sci-fi and Comics

A couple of quick recommendations for readers of science fiction and comic books on a cold February’s day…

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, his first book,  is a military-themed Heinlein-ian story with heart and humor.  The basic premise:  when earth-dwellers reach the age of 75, they have the option go sever all ties with their home and enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces to help protect and advance humanity’s outposts in interstellar space.  Not much is known about what happens when you enlist on Earth, but most agree it involves a significant physical modifications.  You also get the opportunity to settle in one of the colonies once your enlistment is up.

John Perry, a widower from Ohio, signs up, and we follow him on his journey.  Scalzi does a fine job of narrating from the perspective of a man whose lived a full life, confronted by some pretty fantastic dangers and situations.

This is the third book I’ve read in recent years by Scalzi.  The last one, Redshirtscomes with our highest recommendations, and I’m looking forward to picking up his most recent offering, The Human Division, soon.

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23 for Brazil – Feb Edition

The USA’s January camp is behind us, this World Cup year begun with training in Sao Paulo  and an unconvincing victory over South Korea last weekend.  Coach Jurgen has begun his stretch run of evaluation, giving looks to the MLS-based contingent in camp while continuing to watch and track the European and Mexico-based players.

Interesting about Jurgen:  he espouses a lot of new-age philosophy, talks about mindset, attitude, leaving the door open for players.  But when it’s come down to it, he’s been very regimented about bringing players in, having them earn their spots over time.  He’s looked at a lot, but you get the sense he’s much less likely to drop a surprise on us than his predecessors.

That said, we have significant questions about the team’s back-line, the attacking midfield spots, as well as how many forwards should make the roster.  Guys are hurt, guys aren’t playing (or aren’t playing well), and MLS is still a month from kicking off.  We’ll know a lot more when the March 5 friendly in Ukraine rolls around.

For now, though, it’s time to roll out the Beemsville 23:  our picks (not who we think Jurgen will take) for the World Cup, based on numerous scientific factors like watching the players on TV (some more than others), FIFA 2014-PS3 edition, the opinions of soccer writers and podcasters, and the proverbial gut feeling.

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7, 31, and 10.4

7, 31, and 10.4…  7 of course being the current Illini hoops losing streak, the worst in years.  Last night the Orange and Blue got down big to loathsome Iowa – 21 down in fact in the first half.  Texted my brother that they looked football-team bad.  Now that’s saying something…  People where booing in the Hall State Farm Center, which not only ticked off Coach Groce (and yours truly), it seemed to trigger something.

chief_logo_upsideIllinois started playing hard and making some shots, and they roared back.  Went to halftime only down four.  The Illini actually took the lead and built it to five in the second half, but then Iowa countered. And the emotional toll of such a big comeback as well as the now familiar lack of execution in the final 3-4 minutes yielded another defeat.   There were plays to be made at the end, and Illinois couldn’t make them.  Egwu couldn’t quite catch the ball on an in-bounds right in front of the basket (would’ve been a dunk).  Abrams’ contact drawing-drives drew no fouls, while on the other end Marble’s drives (even with no contact) got the whistle.  Classic Big 10 Refs.  Jon Ekey airmailed an open three (he was cramping up from too many minutes).  And down we go.  Again. Continue reading