March 2009 Archives

Into the Sun

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Into the Sun


Since 2003, the films of Steven Seagal have gone straight to video in this country following the theatrical release of the box office and artistic flop Half Past Dead. Now, I'm the first to admit that Mr. Seagal is not the most talented dramatic actor working in cinema today. But when he first broke through as a martial arts/action film star in the late 80s, through the combination of sheer physical presence and skills (nobody snapped wrists better), as well as the good luck to work with genuinely talented writers and directors (including Andrew Davis, who went on to do 1993's The Fugitive), Seagal had appeared in a number of impressive, well produced and exciting action/adventure films. (Seagal's best include 1988's Above the Law and 1992's Under Siege, both directed by Davis, as well as 1995's Davis-less-but-still-good Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and 1991's Out For Justice.)

But for the past six years, Seagal has mostly starred (and co-produced/co-written) in several direct-to-DVD films filmed in various international locales (Eastern Europe seems to be a frequent location, though South Africa and Asia have also been used), with moderate (lower budgeted) production values. And he's made some stinkers: it's a chore to sit through 2005's Submerged and last year's awful Kill Switch (the latter released just after Seagal's pretty good suspense thriller Pistol Whipped, which was filmed in and around Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford, among other locations in Connecticut) for example. However, when a good one does come along, like 2005's Into the Sun, it's a cause for celebration.

Set in Japan, Into the Sun follows the exploits of former CIA agent Travis Hunter (Seagal), who's brought back into the agency and has to investigate the assassination of Toyko's governor. But the plot goes all over the place as Our Hero discovers that the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Tongs have teamed up to take over the lucrative narcotics trade and, oh, yeah, wipe out anybody (including the governor) that gets in their way. Lots of sword and knife fights (and blood; this isn't for the kids) in this one, but what struck me the most was the downbeat, but energetic, tone of the film. Hunter and his allies eventually overcome the odds, but at great emotional loss to themselves. (I should point out that quite a few sympathetic characters are killed off in this one, so be careful who you become attached to.) Also, there's a sense that Japan's acceptance of "Western ways" (punk music, drugs, fashion, disrespect for older traditions) has corrupted the country internally.

That's a lot to read in an action film, but colorful villains, some good fight sequences, outstanding photography, a fine supporting cast (besides several Japanese actors from John Woo and Akira Kurosawa's films, look for Ghostbusters' William Atherton as Hunter's boss) and an outstandingly violent and bloody climax, help buoy the film from becoming too pretentious . Credit must go to director "pink", who handles the film's pacing with some style. And despite the awkward romantic scenes he has with his younger co-star Kanako Yamaguchi, Seagal (who, yes, is slightly slower and heavier, but aren't we all?) gives a more-engaged-than-usual performance. Probably because the star got to revisit his old neighborhood from his stay in Japan during the 70s, as well as co-writing the script, Seagal seems more involved than he's been in his recent films.

Although a far cry from his 90s heyday, Into the Sun is essential viewing for fans of both martial arts action films and Steven Seagal. Here's hoping (though I'm already hearing bad things about it) that his latest direct-to-DVD film, Against the Dark, Seagal's first straight horror film, will elevate the star back to his former glory. Into the Sun proves it's not impossible.
-Ed

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All In a Day

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Click for availability and more information All In a Day, by Cynthia Rylant

All In a Day by Cynthia Rylant is a beautiful picture book to read aloud about the wonders each new day brings. The black, white and yellow paper cut illustrations by Nikki McClure bring to mind the recent Caldecott winner The House in the Night. The simple rhyming text carries a larger message of making each day count and the hope of each day. The reader follows a young boy as he plants a seed, waters a garden, feeds the chickens, watches the sun go by and takes a walk with a grownup. All may not go well, and each day may bring a few pitfalls and surprises, but "you can make a wish, and start again, you can find your way back home". A nice read for Earth Day or any day for all ages with the message "live it well, make it count, fill it up with you. The day's all yours, it's waiting now...see what you can do".
-Deirdre

The Composer is Dead

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Click for availability and more information The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket

An introduction to the orchestra as only Lemony Snicket (author of the humorous A Series of Unfortunate Events) can provide. A composer is dead ("decomposing"--according to Snicket) and an investigator is questioning all the instruments in the orchestra about the murder to find out "whodunit". As the instruments are interrogated as to where they were on the night in question, readers are introduced to the sections of the orchestra. The humor is better appreciated by older children and adults. For example, in response to being accused of murder, the "star" violins claim such an idea preposterous because if they "killed the composer, [they] would have to find work at square dances or in romantic restaurants". Great illustrations by Carson Ellis will look familiar to fans of Mysterious Benedict Society. A bonus to this fun mystery is an audio version featuring Snicket narrating the story and music performed by the San Francisco symphony. Ages 5 and up.
-Deirdre

I'll Pass for Your Comrade

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Click for availability and more information I'll Pass for Your Comrade, by Anita Silvey

March is Women's History Month and I'll Pass for Your Comrade by Anita Silvey is a great look at women soldiers in the Civil War. At a time when women could not serve in the military, they fought for the right to do their part during the war. Some women were laundresses and there were also women nurses for the Union Army, organized by Dorothea Dix. Others were Daughters of the Regiment, described as "mascots" who drilled with the men and who were there to provide moral support for the soldiers, often taking part in the battles. But the heart of this book is a look at the women who took the risk to disguise themselves as men to enlist and be a soldier with the troops. It is a look at who these women were and why these women enlisted. Some, like Martha Parks Lindley and Malinda Blalock, disguised themselves to be with their husbands during the war. Lindley became "Jim Smith" and continued on in the war two years after her husband was discharged. Blalock and her husband fought first for the South and then for the North, and Blalock left the war only temporarily to have her baby before returning to their unit. Author Anita Silvey tells many of the stories of these women--the stories of sisters who enlisted with their brothers, women who were searching for their loved ones. But it also tells of the women who secretly enlisted just to have the chance to fight as a soldier, the right to fight for their country. The photos of many women are included in the book and these and additional war photos bring the Civil War to life for the reader. Grades 5 and up.
-Deirdre

Moscow Rules

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Click for availability and more information Moscow Rules , by Daniel Silva

Fans of Daniel Silva's series of international thrillers featuring Gabriel Allon will be tremendously rewarded with yet another thoroughly engaging tale of intrigue with his latest book Moscow Rules. In this adventure, Allon is pulled from his Italian honeymoon into a web of treacherous international arms dealing, which could have dire implications for the state of Israel. Evil and manipulating Russians are at the center of this deadly business and they operate with the new "Moscow Rules" of the post-Soviet era. Silva's "Author Notes" and "Acknowledgements" at the end of the book show readers that the author has done his homework well and incorporated many true scenarios into Moscow Rules. This book is highly recommended not only for fans of the character Gabriel Allon, but also for those who enjoy an excellent thriller filled with Twenty First century political issues.
-Roy

Dial-A-Ghost

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Click for availability and more information Dial-A-Ghost, by Eva Ibbotson
 
Ghosts outnumber the living in this comic tale of orphan Oliver Smith, who inherits Helton Hall only to find he has cousins who want to get their greedy hands on the estate. Using the Dial-a-Ghost Agency, they plot to scare Oliver out of his inheritance with a family of shrieker ghosts. Only that's not exactly what happens!
-Deirdre

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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