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Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
by Terence Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.31
9 used & new from CDN$ 30.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One word describes this book: SPECTACULAR!!!!, March 16 2013

"In addition to being one of the greatest scientific instruments of all time, the Hubble Space Telescope's [HST] has given humanity a spectacular legacy of beautiful images of the universe. The best of these are displayed--and explained--in this book."

The above is found in the introduction of this mesmerizing and informative book by Terence Dickinson. He is the author of fifteen astronomy books. He was at one time staff astronomer at planetariums in Toronto and Rochester, New York. Dickinson has received numerous awards including the New York Academy of Sciences' Book of the Year Award. He has an asteroid named after him.

This book is divided into two intermingled parts: (1) images or photographs (2) text.

The images are fantastic. They are of the HST's greatest discoveries and latest images. This book contains more than 300 HST colour image. Note that a few images are not from the HST.

The text contains very comprehensive descriptions and explanations with supportive interpretive illustrations. All descriptions and explanations are grounded in science. I, personally, learned quite a bit from reading this text.

The quotation that begins this review is an example of a brief description that is located at the beginning of the introduction. Such a description is found at the beginning of each chapter:

(1) "The flagship of NASA's Great Observatory program, the [HST] is one of the most ambitious, legendary, and nail-biting science endeavours in human history. The payoff has been immeasurable: Hubble has given us the universe."

(2) "The universe was a different place in 1990, the year the [HST] was launched. The most powerful telescopes on Earth could see only halfway across the universe. Astronomers didn't know whether planets orbited other stars. Even the age of the universe was uncertain by a large margin."

(3) "Astronomy is a pre-eminently a visual science. Astronomers cannot collect rocks for analysis...or test chemical reactions in a lab. Everything must be deduced from the light that is emitted or reflected from far away in space."

(4) "Our Galaxy's industry is making stars. If we could view our Galaxy from high above [its]...stellar disk, it would resemble a sprawling city with a bright downtown hub, burgeoning suburbs of Sun-like stars, and avenues of young blue stars and nebulas. Interspersed are the raw materials for making stars: huge clouds of cold hydrogen gas laced with dust."

(5) "Stars are the universe's basic building blocks and, in many ways, are fundamental to the existence of planets and life in the universe. Over billions of years, they have collected themselves into a hierarchy of structures, star clusters, galaxies, and immense clusters of galaxies."

(6) "When [most stars'] nuclear fusion fuel is exhausted , they slowly fade to black. But...there are exceptions to this scenario. Some stars, particularly the most massive ones, end with a bang or a series of violent death throes. The death of a star occasionally produces a detonation so powerful, it can be seen halfway across the universe."

(7) "As spectacular as it looks in Hubble's views, the universe remains largely hidden from us. Its 10 billion trillion stars are the only truly luminous form of matter in the cosmos. They are essentially lights draped over an unseen structure. All the stars and galaxies represent only a fraction of the mass of the entire assembly. The rest of the scaffolding is made up of a mysterious substance called dark matter."

(8) "Galaxies are the majestic city-states of the universe. Astronomers estimate there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. Yet less than a century ago, astronomers knew of just one galaxy: our Milky Way."

(9) "Although the [HST] was designed to probe the most distant reaches of the universe, it also provides exquisitely sharp views of the Earth's companion worlds in the solar system."

(10) "Hubble's cosmic portfolio is full of grand views of familiar celestial objects: galaxies, nebulas, planets, and myriad stars. But some Hubble images are downright bizarre...Among the strangest pictures are those of events that come and go unexpectedly. Many of these we've never seen or not seen clearly, until Hubble's sharp vision was turned on them."

Finally, this book is like a one-volume library of Hubble's achievements and a complete record of the HST's enormous contribution to astronomy.

In conclusion, I can't say it enough. This book is SPECTACULAR! I cannot thank award-winning astronomy writer Terence Dickinson enough for providing to the citizens of planet Earth this informative, captivating, astonishing, and beautiful book of the Hubble Space Telescope's greatest discoveries and latest Images!!

(first published 2012; acknowledgements; introduction; 10 chapters; main narrative 295 pages; resources; index; photo credits; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Auroras: Fire in the Sky
Auroras: Fire in the Sky
by Dan Bortolotti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
28 used & new from CDN$ 5.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about "nature's light show", March 9 2013
Ce commentaire est de: Auroras: Fire in the Sky (Hardcover)

"Of all nature's visual spectacles, none uses a larger canvas than the aurora. On dark, clear nights, its ribbons unfurl over the entire dome of the sky, painting it with brushstrokes of green, yellow, pink, and red."

The above begins this interesting and beautiful book by Dan Bortolotti and Yuichi Takasaka. Bortolotti, responsible for this book's text, is a non-fiction author and a contributor to several Canadian magazines. (Appropriately, he lives in Aurora, Ontario, Canada.) Takasaka was the principle photographer for this book. His ambition was to be a wildlife photographer but when he moved to northern Canada, he discovered the wonder of auroras. Besides his photography, he provides guided aurora-viewing tours through his company.

So, what is an aurora? It is "a complex interaction between charged particles from the Sun, the Earth's magnetic field, and the nitrogen & oxygen in the atmosphere." But those who are romantic describe auroras as "one of nature's most dynamic displays."

This book consists of (1) text and (2) photographs of auroras, both intermingled together.

The fact-filled yet accessible text describes the mythology, science, and beauty of the aurora. The writing is quite good and I learned a lot.

The photographs can be described in one word: magnificent. There are the gorgeous colour images by Takasaka but there are also some NASA photographs and even a few pictures by polar explorers and European artists.

One of my favourite photographs has the following caption:

"In this image [of an aurora], taken near Whitehorse, Yukon, [Canada, the planet] Jupiter is low on the horizon to the left of center and can be seen reflected in the lake, Above and to the right are the bright disk of [the planet] Saturn and the V-shaped portion of the constellation Taurus."

Finally, the photograph on this book's front cover (displayed above by Amazon) shows a ribbon-like aurora swirling over ship's masts in a northern British Columbia (a province of Canada) harbour.

In conclusion, if you've never seen the aurora (or even if you have), I recommend viewing and reading this book. You'll be amazed at how "science meets splendour!!"

(first published 2011; foreword; 6 chapters; main narrative 140 pages; resources; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Angels and Demons (Bilingual)
Angels and Demons (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Ayelet Zurer
Offered by pathfinder1st
Price: CDN$ 12.43
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Religion is flawed but only because man is flawed", March 2 2013
Ce commentaire est de: Angels and Demons (Bilingual) (DVD)

"We will destroy your four pillars. We will brand your preferiti and sacrifice them on the altars of science then bring your Church down upon you. Vatican City will be consumed by light. A shining star at the end of the Path of Illumination."

The above comes from this thrilling movie that was directed (and co-produced) by Ron Howard. This movie is based on Dan Brown's novel of the same name. (Brown was also co-executive producer of this movie.)

This film is a sequel to the movie "The Da Vinci Code" (2006). (Note that Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) was actually written after Brown's novel "Angels & Demons" (2000)).

The quotation that opens this review is actually a message sent to the Vatican from a secret and ancient scientific organization called the "Illuminati." This organization wants to kill the four favourite cardinals (or senior priests) considered to be Pope (the "preferiti"). As well, the Illuminati want to destroy Vatican City in a blaze of light using a bomb--not just an ordinary bomb but an "antimatter" bomb. Note that:

(ordinary matter) + (antimatter) = (annihilation)

At his point, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks reprising his role) is summoned by the Vatican. His along with a woman scientist's (Ayelet Zurer) mission is to save the four preferiti and locate the antimatter bomb.

I liked this movie because I found it to be an interesting blend of the ancient with cutting-edge science. This movie is also beautifully filmed with equally beautiful background music.

One word of caution: you have to pay careful attention when watching this movie. If you don't, you will likely get lost, and the rest of the movie will not make sense.

There is no stand-out performance in this movie. However, Tom Hanks effectively advances the plot and Ewan McGregor gives a decent performance as an ambitious priest.

This movie was filmed in Rome, the U.K., and in studios in California.

So far, this movie has grossed about four hundred and eighty-five million dollars. (This is pretty good considering that it cost one hundred and fifty million to make.)

"The Da Vinci Code" was banned in many countries but this movie was banned in only one country--Samoa.

Finally, the DVD itself (the "theatrical edition" released in 2009) has five extras. The most interesting extra, at least for me, is entitled "CERN: Pushing the frontiers of knowledge" (15 minutes). This looks at one of the world's largest and most respected scientific research centers. (CERN stands for the "European Organization of Nuclear Research.")

CERN is especially important for two reasons:

(1) It is the birthplace of the World Wide Web.
(2) In 2012, its "Large Hadron Collider," an "atom smasher," is thought to have discovered what the media calls "the God particle." (This particle is mentioned in this movie.)

In conclusion, this is a thrilling movie that definitely entertains!!

(2009; 2 hr, 10 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 28 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Universe Within
The Universe Within
by Neil Turok
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
13 used & new from CDN$ 1.83

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science is important--VERY important--to society, Feb. 23 2013
Ce commentaire est de: The Universe Within (Paperback)

"In this book, I try to connect our progress towards discovering the physical basis of reality with our own character as human beings...

My goal is to celebrate our ability to understand the universe, to recognize it as something that can draw us together, and to contemplate what it might mean for our future."

The above comes from this interesting book by Neil Turok. Turok, born in South Africa, is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. He is now Director of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. (Located at the Perimeter Institute are the Distinguished Research Chair of respected theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and the Stephen Hawking Centre.)

This book is actually the transcript of a lecture entitled "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos." broadcast in November 2012 as part of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation Radio's "Ideas" series. The lecture itself is actually a "Massey Lecture," named after former Canadian Governor General, Vincent Massey. These Massey Lectures provide a forum on radio where major contemporary thinkers can address important issues of our time.

In this book, Turok explores those major scientific discoveries of the past three centuries--from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the strange world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. He notes that each new discovery has gradually over time resulted in new technologies that have deeply influenced society.

He continues to argue that we are about to enter the "quantum revolution" that will replace our current digital age. (For example, we will eventually have "quantum computers.") In order to face this new future world of the quantum, Turok calls for reinventing the way advanced knowledge is both developed and shared as well as utilizing the untapped intellectual talent in places such as Africa.

I especially enjoyed the second half of this book's penultimate chapter where he explains the terms of a formula that summarizes all the known laws of physics. Why is this formula important? Turok tells us:

"The formula tells us that the world [and the universe] operates according to simple, powerful principles that we [humans] can understand. And in this, it tells us who we are: creators of explanatory knowledge. It is this ability that has brought us to where we are and will determine our future."

In the last chapter, Turok discusses "the future of this world of ours."

Near the book's center are fourteen mostly colour photographs.

Finally, I did find a few problems. Here are three of them:

(1) I mentioned that this book has colour photographs. These photographs are not mentioned in the main narrative. I'm saying this because one of these photographs contains the actual formula of physics I mentioned above. If you're reading the main narrative about this formula and are unaware of what the actual formula looks like, you may get frustrated. (I actually read a major review of this book where the reviewer was angry that he did not know what the actual formula looked like because he was unaware that it was with the colour photographs.)

The reader should be told when to refer to these colour photographs at the appropriate time in the main narrative.

(2) Turok tells us that in string theory, particles are "little quantum pieces of string." Strings of what? We're never told. (A "string" in string theory is actually an one-dimensional vibrating thread of energy.)

(3) Turok tells us that "I see the idea of a "multiverse"...representing a loss of confidence in the prospects for basic science." This is a strange statement. The idea of a multiverse has nothing to do with a "loss of confidence" but comes from the mathematics.

In conclusion, if you take anything away from this book, it should be:

"Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come."

(first published 2012; author's note; 5 chapters; main narrative 255 pages; notes; further reading; permissions; acknowledgements; index; the CBC Massey lectures series)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Da Vinci Code (2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual)
The Da Vinci Code (2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Tom Hanks
Offered by info50725
Price: CDN$ 10.00
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.71

5.0 out of 5 stars "Why does it have to be human or divine? Maybe human is divine", Feb. 16 2013

Some of the negative reactions for this movie (and the book it's based on) came from The Vatican, American Catholic Bishops, Peru, People's Republic of China (which eventually banned it), Pakistan (banned), Philippines (called for a ban), Thailand (called for a ban), Singapore (called for a ban), Samoa (banned), India (called for a ban), Sri Lanka (banned), Lebanon (banned).

Most critics hated this movie.

Therefore, this is just one bad movie, right? Well, not so fast.

Consider this:

This movie earned two hundred and thirty million dollars in its opening weekend. So far, it has brought in over seven hundred and fifty million (well over its budget costs of one hundred and twenty five million).

This is a mystery movie directed by Ron Howard (who also co-produced). It was adapted from the international bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) by Dan Brown (who also was co-executive producer of this movie).

Both Harvard religious symbolist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) become accidentally involved in a quest for the legendary Holy Grail (cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper). Both, as well, are pursued by French police Captain Fache (Jean Reno).

Also searching for the Grail is a secret group within the Opus Dei (an institution of the Roman Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness), who wish to keep the true Grail a secret since the revelation of this secret would probably destroy Christianity. One person (actually enforcer) who especially wants the true secret to be kept is an albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany).

On their quest for the Grail, both Langdon and Neveu have to consult with noted British Grail historian Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). Also, along the way they encounter anagrams (rearranging the letters of a word or phrase), puzzles, mathematical numbers, paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, etc.

All actors do descent jobs in their roles but I have to give special kudos to Paul Bettany as the albino monk Silas.

This movie has it all: mystery, action, good background music, and suspense.

One of the few critics who gave this movie a good rating was Roger Ebert. He said, "This movie works, it's involving, intriguing, and constantly seems on the edge of startling revelations." I enthusiastically agree with this statement.

Finally, the DVD set (special edition released in 2006) has ten behind-the-scenes featurettes on the second disc. (I found on the back of the DVD case that Tom Hanks name is excluded from the credits!!)

Oh, I almost forgot. Dan Brown walked away with a cool six million dollars when the film rights for this movie were purchased from him!!!

In conclusion, this is actually quite a good movie. If you don't want to read the novel it's based on, I strongly recommend viewing this movie. I leave you with one of the key anagrams found in this movie for you to decipher:

"O, Draconian devil. Oh, lame saint."

(2006; 2hr, 20 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 24 scenes; 2 discs)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.60
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book written from the cancer capital of the world, "Tumorville", Feb. 9 2013
Ce commentaire est de: Mortality (Hardcover)

"To his friends, Christopher will be remembered for his...humour and for a staggering almost punishing memory...And to all of us, his readers, Christopher...will be remembered for the words he left behind. [The words in this book, his] last ones, free as they are of sentiment or self-pity, are among"

The above comes from the foreword of this book published posthumously by Christopher Hitchens (born 1949). Hitchens was a contributing editor to the popular magazines "Vanity Fair," "Slate," and the "Atlantic," among other publications. He was also the author of many books such as the international bestseller "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

This book is composed of seven essays by Hitchens which first appeared in the popular magazine "Vanity Fair." They concern his struggle with esophageal cancer in which he was diagnosed during his 2010 book tour. (The actual diagnosis occurred in June, 2010 and he succumbed to his illness on Dec. 15, 2011. "The end was unexpected.")

Also included is an eighth chapter of unfinished "fragmentary jottings" and an After Word by Hitchens' second wife and widow.

The essays consider such things as:

(1) his fear of losing his ability to write
(2) the torture of chemotherapy
(3) an analysis of the well-known statement "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger"
(4) the joy of conversation
(5) the very meaning of life itself

What I particularly enjoyed was his dissection of a posting by a religious zealot concerning Hitchens' esophageal cancer. Hitchens tells us that,

"You haven't lived...until you have read contributions...on the websites of the faithful."

One of many things this zealot gets wrong was calling Hitchens an atheist. He was not an atheist.

Yes, there is even humour in this book!

I was going to give this book a lower rating than I did but then I considered that the eloquent words in this book were written by a dying intellect who preferred "to confront death with both eyes open" and refused "to cower in the face of the unknown."

Finally, I feel it's fitting to mention some of the names of the people who paid tribute to Hitchens after his death:

(1) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (2) British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (3) American writer and neuroscientist Sam Harris (4) Director of the National Institutes of Health and former head of the Human Gnome Project Francis Collins (5) philosopher Daniel Dennett (6) physicist Lawrence Krauss (7) actor Sean Penn

In Oct. 2012, Hitchens was posthumously awarded the John Lennon Prize.

In summary, this is a unique book of which I learned quite a bit. I leave you with the words Richard Dawkins said of Christopher Hitchens:

"He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones."

(first published 2012; foreword; 8 chapters; main narrative 95 pages; after word; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


NEW Coriolanus (DVD)
NEW Coriolanus (DVD)
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 25.04
22 used & new from CDN$ 7.80

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare's last tragedy: an overlooked gem made into an unforgettable movie OR William Shakespeare's 'Rambo', Feb. 2 2013
Ce commentaire est de: NEW Coriolanus (DVD) (DVD)

This is a film adaptation of William Shakespeare's (1564 to 1616) play of the same name, written circa 1608. (The play itself was written during Shakespeare's greatest period, 1599 to 1608). This movie is also the directorial debut of actor Ralph Fiennes (who also co-produced).

Even though this movie is based on a "Roman" or "political" play, serious viewers will discover that it so much more. I found that it stayed with me long after I saw it.

This movie is set in a modern day version of Rome. It is essentially the story of warrior Caius Marcius (note that his last name is derived from the Roman god of war), later Caius Marcius Coriolanus, whose honour, pride, and sense of social rank essentially dominates his life and interferes with his ability to function effectively when he's not on the battlefield.

One of the great attributes of this movie and the play is that it does not have many characters and thus is easy to follow. The major characters are as follows:

(1) Caius Marcius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes): a valiant warrior and patrician (nobleman) with a non-overbearing wife. "A soldier to Cato's wish" and a modest hero who "hath deserved worthily of his country" but who lacks tact and refuses to placate "the mutable, rank-scented many."
(2) Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave): his overbearing mother. "In anger, Juno-like."
(3) Menenius Agrippa (Brian Cox): "a humorous patrician" and an old and true friend of Coriolanus who is trusted by the plebeians (lower class).
(4) Comenius (John Kani): a fellow general of Coriolanus.
(5) Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jesson): tribunes or representatives of the common people or plebians and Coriolanus' political enemies. "A pair of strange ones."
(6) Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler): general of Rome's enemies and rival in glory to Coriolanus.

This movie is "visceral and visually stunning." (It was filmed in Serbia, Montenegro, and the UK.) I found that the background music added to each scene.

All actors do good jobs in their roles but I have to give special kudos to both Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave for their exceptional performances.

For those that may have difficulty with Elizabethan language, I would recommend first reading a plot outline of the actual play in order to get the full impact of this movie.

The actual DVD (the one released in 2012) has two worthy extras.

Finally, this is the only movie version of this play that I am aware of.


This movie is a worthy addition to the Bard's cinematic canon.

(2011; 2 hr excluding end credits; wide screen; 18 scenes; rated "R")

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Outbreak (Sous-titres franais) (Bilingual)
Outbreak (Sous-titres franais) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Diana Bellamy
Price: CDN$ 9.93
5 used & new from CDN$ 6.67

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The single biggest threat to man's continued dominance on the planet is the virus", Jan. 26 2013

"While fiction, [this story] is based on scientific possibility. In fact, the most frightening aspect of [this] story is the real possibility of such a contagion developing in the world at any given moment."

The above is from an extra on the DVD that accompanies this incredibly entertaining movie.

This disaster film focuses on the outbreak of a fictional, deadly virus (called "Motaba") that originates in the jungles of what was then called Zaire, Africa. This virus makes its way via a host to the United States.

Then we are shown how far U.S. military agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly contagion.

So as not to get confused, its essential that you understand words such as host, strain, antiserum, antibodies, and mutation. Also, this is a movie not to be watched casually. You must watch it carefully in order to understand and follow the action.

This movie contains some big names: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Patrick Dempsey. All actors do good jobs in their roles but I felt that Hoffman did an especially good job as a maverick army virologist.

What's really eerie is that a few months after this film was released, a real-life outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus occurred in Zaire!

Finally, the actual DVD (released in 2009) has only one interesting extra: production notes. (This is where the above quotation that begins this review comes from. The quotation that titles this review was uttered by a Nobel Prize winner.)

In conclusion, this movie is about "a fresh, brand new virus." And what's scary--it could happen!!

(1995; 2 hr excluding end credits; wide screen/full screen; 40 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Hell's Angels
Hell's Angels
DVD ~ Ben Lyon
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 26.67
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "War doesn't change brings out what people really are", Jan. 19 2013
Ce commentaire est de: Hell's Angels (DVD)

I wanted to view this movie because of all of the hype that surrounds it. Here is some of it:

(1) It was directed by eccentric billionaire and aeronautics mogul Howard Hughes (1905 to 1976). (More correctly, Howard Hughes, Jr. was one of the directors of this movie, the other two were unaccredited. Also, Hughes produced this movie.)

(2) Its title. "Hell's Angels" is the name of today's infamous biker gang.

(3) Some of the pilots used while actually filming this movie accidentally lost their lives.

(4) This movie suffered from an inflated budget. It was the most expensive film ever made for its time.

(5) A lawsuit was filed by Hughes against a competitor film released the same year.

(6) This movie is regarded as one of the first sound blockbuster action movies. (It was originally shot as a silent movie but Hughes retooled it over a long period of time to have sound and talking.)

(7) Finally, this movie is regarded as introducing legendary actress Jean Harlow (1911 to 1937) to the screen in her first major film role.

To tell you the truth, I thought this film would be a mediocre attempt by a bored billionaire to try to make a decent movie. So, did this movie live up to its hype? Surprisingly, YES (at least for me).

Set before and during the beginning of World War One (which began in July of 1914), this is the story of three Oxford University friends: two British brothers, womanizer Monte & straight-lace Roy Rutledge (Ben Lyon, 1901 to 1979 & James Hall, 1900 to 1940) and one German, Karl (John Darrow).

When all three are drafted to fight as combat pilots on opposing sides of the war, each has to choose between obedience to his country and his conscience. Throughout the movie, Roy (Hall) thinks that floozy Helen (Harlow) loves him.

Two scenes standout in this movie. First, there is the zeppelin (a rigid airship, also called a dirigible or blimp) scene (filmed in colour). And then there is the dogfight scene between R.F.C. (Royal Flying Corps) biplanes (an airplane with two sets of wings, one above the other) and German fighter biplanes. This dogfight scene was so well done that aviation enthusiasts regularly reference the quality and authenticity of World War One aviation in this film. I must say, I have to enthusiastically agree with them.

There is also a pistol duel (that's right, a duel!) in this movie that's filmed in colour.

The majority of this movie is filmed in black & white but Hughes made use of colour (as mentioned above) in certain scenes. I found this technique to be quite interesting. See if you can figure out why certain scenes were filmed in colour.

Despite what the critics say, I thought that the acting was good. There is one exception though: Jean Harlow. Perhaps I'm being unfair here because she was only age eighteen at the time and this was here first major film role.

Harlow does have a prophetic line in this movie: "Life's short, and I wanna live while I'm alive." She passed away at age 26.

This movie is a lavish period adventure. It has many underlying themes such as:

(1) friendship and loyalty (2) duty to one's country (3) brotherly love (4) the horrors of war (5) the importance of camaraderie

I found that surprisingly that the special effects were quite good (with no CGI).

This film was restored by the UCLA film and television archive. I must say that they did a terrific job.

The only problem some people may have with this film is that it is not filmed as one continuous movie (which is taken for granted today) but instead is filmed as a series of sequences. Some viewers may be distracted by this.

Finally, this DVD (the one released in 2004) has no extras. Be aware that this movie when released had a 10 minutes intermission but the intermission lasts for about 3 minutes on this particular DVD.

In conclusion, this movie is a terrific period piece that, in my opinion, was quite well-done. You may feel like a billion dollars after seeing it!!

(1930; 2 hr, 8 min; 18 scenes; full screen)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes
Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes
by Bill McGuire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.96
23 used & new from CDN$ 7.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Reawakening the slumbering giant beneath our feet, Jan. 12 2013

"This [book] is NOT intended as a speculative rant based upon...hearsay, unfounded data, and unverifiable observation, but a straightforward presentation of what we know about how [the Earth's] climate and the geosphere [or the solid Earth] interact, combined with informed discussion about what implications such knowledge may hold for the [Earth's] future.

Inevitably, some conjecture is involved, but firmly sound, peer-reviewed science."

The above extract comes from the preface of this fantastically informative book by Bill McGuire. He is Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College, London. McGuire is also a science author and broadcaster.

The author tells us that the theme of his book is the "potentially hazardous response of the Earth's crust [to anthropogenic or human-caused warming] or "how abrupt and rapid climate changes drive the responses of the solid Earth."

And what are these Earth responses? As the subtitle of this book states, these responses are earthquakes, tsunamis (or tidal waves), and volcanoes. There are also other responses detailed in this book.

Using evidence accumulated from studies of the Earth's history as well as evidence from current observations and modeling, McGuire argues that we ignore at our own risk the threats posed by climate change and the waking giant (that is, the Earth) beneath our feet.

Here is this book's final paragraph:

"Through our climate-changing activities we are loading the dice in favour of increased geological mayhem at a time when we can most do without it. Unless there is a dramatic and...unexpected turnaround in the way in which the human race manages itself and the planet, then future prospects for our civilization look increasingly grim. At a time when:

[1] an additional 220,000 people are lining up at the global soup kitchen each...night and
[2] when the debilitating effects of anthropogenic climate change are insinuating themselves increasingly into every nook and granny of our world and our lives [then:]

the last thing we need is for the giant beneath our feet to reawaken."

There are almost thirty black-and-white illustrations peppered throughout this book. One of my favourite illustrations in the form of a graph has the title "Average monthly Arctic sea ice extent May 1979-2011." The first sentence of this illustration's caption reads as follows:

"Recent drastic changes suggest that the days of the Arctic sea ice are numbered."

Finally, the photograph on this book's cover (displayed above by Amazon) shows Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, March 13, 2011, two days after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the area.

In conclusion, this is a tremendously informative book that indicates that "we could be on track to bequeath our children, and their children, not only a hotter world, but also a more geologically dangerous one."

(first published 2012; preface; list of illustrations; 7 chapters; main narrative 270 pages; selected sources and further reading; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


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