Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon – A Book Review

Made up of eight interconnected short stories, Love and Obstacles details various aspects of a Bosnian’s life as he begins in Sarajevo as a child and then, due to horrific warfare, lives in Chicago as an adult.  While each story has moments of great depth and even greater hilarity, I must admit that I found myself largely uninterested for most of the book.

Don’t misunderstand, a few of the stories such as “Szmura’s Room,” “The Bees, Part I,” and “Death of the American Commando” were delightful reads, but I simply had trouble connecting to the others.  I believe this was because many of the stories focus upon the narrator as he strives to further his writing career, and the writer-as-the-main-character has become a bit of a turn-off for me of late.

Competently written with an expansive vocabulary, Hemon is able to offer insight into another perspective of life that most of us cannot imagine.  Furthermore, he understands people—warts and all.  When he focuses on what it is to be an imperfect human—not his character as the writer—he really shines.

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Star Trek – A Movie Review

I suppose I should get his out of the way: I’m not a Kirk and Spock Star Trek guy.  I enjoyed The Next Generation when in high school, but other than that, I wouldn’t call myself a fan.  I certainly never thought much of the previous films.

So with all that being said, J.J. Abrams’ newest addition to the Star Trek mythos delighted me, amazed me, and—dare I say it—even made me a fan.

Within the first five minutes of Star Trek, I experienced more authentic emotion than all of the previous films combined, and it only got better from there.  Although it has a running time of 127 minutes, it felt like I sat in my chair only mere moments.  Star Trek is fast-paced, action-packed, and laden with fantastic special effects.  Moreover, the story actually (for the most part) makes sense and is well-constructed.  The heroes were given ample motivation, and even the villain’s malevolent incentives were integral to the plot (if not always completely understandable).

The best part of Star Trek for me, though, is that each and every major player in the film has charm.  Before Abrams got hold of them, I couldn’t have cared less about any of Kirk’s crew.  But from Chehov to Sulu to Uhura, each and every one of the actors oozed charisma and lured me into investing myself in them.  They are distinctly their own personalities, and they’re a heck of a lot fun to watch in action (especially Simon Pegg as Scotty).

The true victory, however, is that Abrams took two characters who had frankly been done to death and made them fresh, magnetic, and appealing.  I never in a million years thought I’d find Spock and Kirk “cool,” but they are now indubitably just that!

Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk is arrogant, tough, funny, and incredibly compelling.  They were smart to start the film the way they did, because it makes us root for Kirk before we’ve even met him.  I wanted this underdog to succeed, even if he’d probably irritate me to no end in real life.  Pine pulls off Kirk’s overconfidence in a supremely amiable manner, and good for him, because otherwise the character wouldn’t have worked.

And I have to be honest—I previously thought Spock might have been the lamest character ever.  There was nothing remotely identifiable about him until Zachary Quinto took hold of the half-Vulcan and gave him a surprisingly robust edge.  Quinto’s Spock is far more human than he would like, full of rage and emotion, and you can literally see Quinto restraining Spock’s emotions as they fight for release.  His Spock is sarcastic, tense, and even dangerous.  And yet, even with all of these qualities, Quinto makes him likable—even vulnerable.  Again, because of how Spock is introduced to us, we can’t help but root for him as well.

I think that’s the real success of the film—they make us root for the crew of the Enterprise.  They make us care about the characters.  They make us want to see more of Spock and Kirk vying to one-up the other, even if eventually on friendly terms.  Most importantly—they make us want to see more of these two in action.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I cannot recommend Star Trek highly enough.  Even if you never enjoyed Star Trek before, I know you’ll walk out of the theater cheering for this crew.  And best of all?  While Abrams didn’t eradicate the past Star Trek movies, he made sure that the audience can’t know what will happen next for young Kirk and Spock.  He didn’t erase the past, but he muddied the future.  I know that I, for one, am looking forward to the next Star Trek movie, and I never thought I’d utter those words in a million years.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – A Movie Review

Wolverine disappointed, and that’s even with already low expectations.

It started out well enough (but for a goofy child screaming in rage at the sky).  The opening credits were very cool, detailing James (Wolverine) and Victor’s participation in every major war since the late 1800s.  Then it progressively got worse.

Here’s the main problem: they tamed Wolverine.  In the X-Men movies, he was the wild card.  He was the animal, the one willing to go as far as needed.  In Wolverine, James/Logan is caged and made to be the one with the conscience among men far more bloodthirsty.  They took away the danger and unpredictability that makes Wolverine engaging.

I like Hugh Jackman.  He seems like a decent person who really cares about the fans and it saddens me that he failed to deliver a movie that I know he wanted us to like.  However, for Wolverine to have worked, it had to be darker than even The Dark Knight.  Instead, they tried to make James/Logan a good man with flashes of savagery (instead of a savage with flashes of goodness).  All this effectively did was transform Wolverine into the most boring character in his own movie who screams a lot.  And I do mean a lot.

Moreover, what really disappoints is that they had the recipe figured out well enough in the first two X-Men movies.  Wolverine wasn’t perfect in those, but he was far more accurate than what we got in this movie.  In the X-Men movies, he was snarky, hateful, and downright rude.  He might leave you in a fight to pursue his own goals.  Heck, he might even punch you if you made him mad enough.  In Wolverine, he’s the voice of reason among madmen, and that didn’t make one bit of sense to me.

Okay, I went off on a rant.  Let’s get back to the movie.  Some high points were Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (Deadpool).  Though Reynolds’ scenes were brief, his perfectly delivered sarcasm and physicality stole the show.  I found myself far more interested in him than Wolverine.  Kevin Durand’s lovable and detestable turn as Fred Dukes (Blob) thoroughly entertained as well.  Finally, Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed (Sabretooth) delivered the only somewhat soulful performance in the film.  Schreiber’s character had a depth and charisma that James/Logan sorely lacked.  Keep in mind, it wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing, which was by-and-large what we got.

I’m afraid there were many low points.  The dialogue was just plain goofy and poorly delivered.  The clichés were numerous, including the walking away from the fire, walking into the sun, a motorcycle chase, and screaming into the sky (there was also a scene stolen almost exactly from First Blood).  For such an expensive film, the special effects looked rather cheap.  Furthermore, something about Wolverine’s claws didn’t seem right to me, and I later found out they were digital—go figure.  Also, Wolverine was far too slavish to the X-Men movies when concerning William Stryker.  He was fine as a plot tool in X:2, but I’d seen all I wanted of him in that film.  Connecting his dots in Wolverine became distracting and the time spent on him should have been spent rounding out James/Logan.  Finally, James/Logan was among the least interesting characters in the film.  They took away his edge and tried to make him a romantic lead, yet they didn’t bother explaining how he and Kayla fell in love nor did they develop that relationship on screen enough for me to believe James/Logan actually loved her beyond simple words.  This was a problem considering his “love” for Kayla was unbelievably his only motivation.

***SPOILER ALERT***

One last note about what didn’t work: I hated—HATED—their explanation for why Wolverine lost his memory.  Adamantium bullets to the brain?  Seriously?  This premise insults basic logic.  I’m supposed to buy that an adamantium bullet could pierce Wolverine’s adamantium skull?  Why?  Why wouldn’t they cancel each other out?  He clanged his adamantium claws together and they didn’t slice each other in half, so why should a bullet be able to puncture his skull?  Consequently, Stryker said the brain would heal, but his memories would not.  What?  What does that mean?  That makes no sense at all.  Also, we never saw the adamantium bullets pop out after the brain healed; are they still in there?  Does Wolverine have two bullet holes in his adamantium-laced skull now?  Even if the brain and the skull healed, the metal wouldn’t reform.  I’m sorry if I’m nitpicking, but the loss of Wolverine’s memory is integral to the character and they offered such an unreasonable account for it … it frankly angers me.  It’s just lazy writing and shows no respect for the audience.

***END SPOILER ALERT***

I understand they wanted to make a “popcorn” movie, but Wolverine tried to do so much with so many mutants and so little character development that it failed to entertain.  As with any story, the audience must care about the character before they can get lost in the movie, no matter how action-packed, and Wolverine failed to hunt down my interest.

Mother’s Day – My May News and Views Short Story

“Mother’s Day” features Ursula Buckley, an elderly woman suffering from arthritic knees.  She can hear her dog, Lady, and Lady’s newborn pups beneath her trailer during a torrential thunderstorm, and their panic at the flooding den they all inhabit breaks Ursula’s heart.   But why isn’t Lady getting them out?  And if Lady can’t help them, what can Ursula possibly do?  Will Ursula risk her own life to save her dog and the puppies?

Find out by reading “Mother’s Day” in this month’s issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

“Mother’s Day” can be found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.

News & Views for the Young at Heart is at virtually any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also pick it up at the following locations:

-Sud’s Subaru
-Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
-Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
-Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
-Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
-Kmart behind Kep’s Restaurant on IAA Drive
-Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
-Kroger on Oakland Avenue
-Schnucks
-Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
-Borders
-Kroger on Main Street
-Bloomington Public Library
-Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:

-CVS Pharmacies
-Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
-Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
-Hospital lobbies
-Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
-Kmart in Morton
-Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
-Peoria Heights Library

The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.

Comments or questions are always welcome.  Get in touch at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.