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Reviews Written by
Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)
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Criterion Collection: To Be Or Not to Be [Import]
Criterion Collection: To Be Or Not to Be [Import]
Price: CDN$ 32.98
18 used & new from CDN$ 23.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Is this movie a tragical farce or a farcical tragedy??, Dec 31 2013
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What if I told you that a movie exists that:

(1) pits Jack Benny against the Nazis
(2) is a farce set in occupied Warsaw, Poland
(3) has jokes about concentration camps
(4) has the Gestapo itself foiled by an elegant web of implausibility

Yes, such a movie DOES exist. And this is it!!

In this American black comedy set in occupied Poland, the oddly matched Jack Benny (1894 to 1974) and Carole Lombard (1908 to 1942, her last film role) play Joseph Tura (the "world's greatest Shakespearean actor") and his wife, Maria. Furious at the Nazis for invading Poland and thus ruining his career, Tura takes revenge by turning his acting troupe into spies and his dramatic gifts into espionage.

Every scene Jack Benny appears in is comical. In my opinion, the funniest part of the movie is Benny's classic glare when he observes an audience member (a young Robert Stack, 1919 to 2003) sneaking out in the middle of what he considers his greatest scene. (This occurs several times.)

This movie manages successfully to balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and wartime suspense. In other words this is a well-crafted complex satire that's also a screwball masterpiece.

The title refers to the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy (speech a character gives when alone) in William Shakespeare's tragic play "Hamlet."

At the time this movie was released, it was not well-received by the public, many of whom couldn't understand the notion of making fun out of such a real threat as the Nazis. Since then, it has become a comedy classic.

This movie has been digitally restored. It probably looks better than when it was originally released!!

This movie was selected in 1996 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Finally, the DVD set (Criterion Collection, released in 2013) has a second disc full of interesting extras. Also, a booklet is included that contains yet more interesting material.

In conclusion, this is a rare movie that interweaves farce and disaster and does justice to Jack Benny's comedic brilliance.

"Heil Hitler!!"

(1942; 1 hr, 40 min; black and white; full screen; 2 discs; 12 scenes)

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

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Robocop (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
Robocop (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Peter Weller
Offered by moviemars-canada
Price: CDN$ 3.51
31 used & new from CDN$ 1.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Come quietly or there will be...trouble", Dec 21 2013
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"There's a new guy in town. His name's Robocop."

The above is what the creator of Robocop says as he looks over his creation.

In this movie, we get to see how exactly police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) becomes the cyborg, Robocop. He is created just in time since he is now the first defence between the city ("Old Detroit") and a group of thugs determined to take over this city.

Making Robocop's job even tougher, is the fact that corruption extends into the upper echelons of the police hierarchy.

What makes this movie even more interesting is that Robocop still has memories or flashbacks of being fully human. As well, there are subtle themes regarding the media, corruption, privatization, identity, human nature, etc.

Beware that this movie can be quite violent but this violence is counter-balanced with comical elements.

I have to give kudos to Peter Weller's acting. Despite having on some hefty hardware, he still manages to bring out the humanity of Robocop. And Ronny Cox gives a tremendous performance as a corrupt corporate official.

As well, I found that the main background music added to each scene of this movie.

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2001) has only one extra: the original theatrical trailer.

In conclusion, this is a sci-fi action movie that seems to work on several different levels. Also, it could very well show

"the future of law enforcement."

(1987; 1 hr, 37 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 16 scenes; rated 'R')

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

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The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
by Naoki Higashida
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.68
15 used & new from CDN$ 9.18

5.0 out of 5 stars An autistic, thirteen-year-old boy answers 58 questions about autism!!!, Dec 14 2013
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"My big hope is that I can help a bit by explaining, in my own way, what's going on in the minds of people with autism...

I hope that by reading my [answers to the questions] about autism and its mysteries [in this book], you can come to understand that all the obstacles that present themselves [to us people with autism] don't come from our selfishness or from ego. If all of you can grasp this truth about us, we are handed a ray of hope. However hard an autistic life is, however sad it can be, so long as there's hope we can stick at it...

I also hope that, by reading this book, you might become a better friend of someone with autism."

The above comes from the preface and after word of this extremely interesting and unique book by Naoki Higashida. He was born in 1992 and was diagnosed with autism at the age of five. He graduated from high school in 2011 and lives in Kimitsu, Japan. He is an autism advocate, motivational speaker, and the author of several books of fiction and non-fiction.

The person who wrote the excellent introduction to this book states:

"[This book] was a revelatory godsend. Reading [this book] felt as if, for the first time, [my] own [three-year-old autistic] son was talking to [my wife and me] about what was happening inside his head through Naoki's words."

The bulk of this book is written in a question and answer format with 58 questions about autism being answered. Here are some of those questions:

(1) Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?
(2) Why do you ask the same questions over and over?
(3) Why do you do things you shouldn't even when you've told a million times not to?
(4) Why don't you make eye contact when you're talking?
(5) Do you prefer to be on your own?
(6) What's the worst thing about having autism?
(7) What's the reason you jump?
(8) Why do people with autism often cup their ears?
(9) Why do you like spinning?
(10) Why do you flap your fingers and hands in front of your face?

Interspersed among the questions and answers are stories of a few paragraphs in length written by Naoki. I counted seven such stories.

At the end of this book is a superb short story of about twenty pages written by Naoki. Here is the actual foreword to this short story:

"I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you to understand how painful it is when you can't express yourself to the people you love. If this story connects with your heart in some way, then I believe you'll be able to connect back to the hearts of people with autism too."

Finally, the only problem I had is that this book does not list (with page numbers) the questions being asked. Instead, you're forced to thumb through the book to discover these questions. In fact, the entire book is one of discovery as there is no table of contents. (Because of the exceptional and courageous nature of this book, I decided not to forfeit a star from my rating because of this small problem.)

In conclusion, this is truly a unique book--an exceptional book. What does this book prove?

"It offers up proof that locked inside the helpless-seeming autistic body is a mind as curious, subtle, and complex as yours, as mine, as anyone's."

(first translated 2013; first published 2007; introduction; preface; 58 questions with answers; foreword to short story; short story entitled "I'm Right Here;" after word; main narrative 140 pages; a note from the illustrators; about the author; about the translators; about the illustrators; about the type)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>

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An Appetite For Wonder: The Making Of A Scientist
An Appetite For Wonder: The Making Of A Scientist
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.05
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest minds of our time shares how he became the thinker he is, Dec 7 2013
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"I became a secret reader. In the holidays from boarding school, I would sneak up to my bedroom with a book: a guilty truant from the fresh air and the virtuous outdoors. And when I started learning biology properly at school, it was still bookish pursuits that held me. I was drawn to questions that grown-ups would have called philosophical. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? How did it all start?"

The above comes from this tell-all memoir from the author of such best-sellers as "The Selfish Gene" (1976), "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986), "The God Delusion" (2006), and "The Magic of Reality" (2011), RICHARD DAWKINS. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. Dawkins has received numerous honours and awards especially in science. He retired from his position as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 2008.

In 2012, a new genus name called "Dawkinsia" was created in recognition of his contribution to the public understanding of evolutionary science. In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world's top thinker in "Prospect" magazine's poll (of 10,000 readers from over 100 countries).

This book is actually the first book in his two-part memoir. (The second book will be released sometime in 2015). As Dawkins tells us:

"Publication of 'The Selfish Gene' [in 1976] marks the end of the first half of my life."

In this first book, Dawkins tells us everything from his birth in Africa in 1941, his parents, and he even delves a bit into his family tree. Then he moved to England when he was eight. We learn of his early school and family experiences. After this he went to Oxford University in 1959 where many positive influences on his life occurred. This first book, as already mentioned, culminates with the publication of "The Selfish Gene," thought by many to be one of the most important books of the twentieth century.

Along the way, Dawkins tells us his views on such things as religion, critical thinking, how he was entranced with computers, his regrets, etc.

I especially enjoyed the last two chapters of this book. The penultimate chapter deals with the phenomenal "The Selfish Gene" while the final chapter, amongst other things, is a tribute to Charles Darwin, Dawkins' "greatest scientific hero."

Finally, there are three sets of glossy photographs in this book (some in colour, some in black and white). I found that these enhanced the main narrative.

In conclusion, this is the first in a two-set autobiography by one of the greatest minds of our time: Clinton Richard Dawkins.

(first published 2013; 15 chapters; main narrative 295 pages; acknowledgements; text and picture acknowledgements; index; about the author)

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I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids
by Jen Kirkman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.30
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.22

5.0 out of 5 stars A "childfree chick" sets the record straight about not having a child, Nov. 30 2013
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"The way most people feel about loving being a parent is exactly how I feel about NOT being a parent. I love it. And I can't imagine my life any other way. I'm one of those people in an ever-growing movement called childfree by choice."

The above comes from this insightful but funny book by Jen "Jennifah" Kirkman. She has two comedy albums to her credit and writes for and appears as a regular roundtable guest on the talk show "Chelsea Lately" and is one of the stars of the spin-off mockumentary show "After Lately."

What I appreciated about this book is that it blends a somewhat serious subject of being childfree with comedy. The result? A super enjoyable read that is frank and candid.

Kirkman takes us through her life-journey thus far, from living in her childhood bedroom while trying to break into comedy (a good birth-control method) to taking the stage and joining a hit TV show and along the way getting married (that is, married...without children), divorced, and attending (eXcruciating) birthday parties for her parent friends.

Kirkman also addresses some of the big issues about being childfree directed to her by the child-having. For example:

(1) "You'll change your mind!!"
(2) "But you'd be such a good mom!"
(3) "Poor thing, you're going to die alone"
(4) "But if people don't have kids, how will the human race survive?"

Finally, this book has four-letter words peppered throughout it. These are not used excessively.

In conclusion, this book is a beacon of hope (actually, hilarious hope) for anyone whose decision of being childfree has been questioned by others. I leave you with this insightful quote from comedian Rita Rudner:

"My husband and I are either going to buy a dog or have a child. We can't decide whether to ruin our rugs or ruin our lives."

(first published 2013; introduction; 12 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; acknowledgements; about the author)

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

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Lord of the Flies  (The Criterion Collection)
Lord of the Flies (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ James Aubrey
8 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "Kill the pig! Slit her throat! Bash her in!", Nov. 23 2013
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"Which is it better to be? A pack of painted savages...or sensible...Which is better? To have rules and agree, or to hurt and kill."

Then above quote said by one of the main characters is actually the crux of this extremely interesting movie based on the 1954 novel of the same name by William Golding.

The story is actually a simple one. A plane crashes on an uninhabited island. The survivors are a group of privileged preadolescent British schoolboys including some choirboys. They must learn to survive on this island until they are rescued.

We get to see what happens as the boys adapt to their new environment. We also get to observe how the veneer of civilization slowly erodes from them. We get to see how their primitive instincts overtakes the majority of them and how their moral compasses seem to get lost.

This is not just a tale of lost innocence. It's a case study of the behaviour of kids in the wilderness.

This movie was not filmed in a studio somewhere but the director (Peter Brook) and his young cast of school kids really were on a desert island together. (Filming took place entirely in Puerto Rico and on the island of Vieques)

The actors were young amateur actors, few of whom ever acted again.

For those that have read the novel, this film closely follows the trajectory of the book.

This movie was filmed in black and white, adding yet another dimension to it. This particular disc has a newly, restored digital film transfer.

Finally, the DVD set (the Criterion Collection released in 2013) has a long list of excellent extras including audio recordings of William Golding reading from his novel "Lord of the Flies," accompanied by the corresponding scenes from this film. A booklet is also included which has a superb essay about this movie by a film critic and an excerpt from the director's autobiography.

In conclusion, this is truly a unique movie that shows that even innocent schoolboys can be reduced to the level of...savages.

(1963; 1 hr, 30 min; black and white; 2 discs; full screen; 14 scenes)

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

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The Mummy (1959) [Import]
The Mummy (1959) [Import]
DVD ~ Peter Cushing
Offered by thomasvideo
Price: CDN$ 3.70
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5.0 out of 5 stars "He who robs the graves of Egypt dies", Nov. 16 2013
Ce commentaire est de: The Mummy (1959) [Import] (DVD)
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"Return O, Ka, the double. O, Ba, the soul. Pulse strong O, Ab, the heart. Make supple the limbs and strong the sinews. Refill all my soul this heart with tenderness that HE may walk again the land of Klem in all thy strength and beauty and wear once more the Uraeus."

The above comes from this horror movie that reintroduces a classic screen monster.

To tell you the truth I did not think this movie would be very good. I obtained it because it was a Hammer production and it starred Peter Cushing (1913 to 1994) and Christopher Lee, both horror icons of yesteryear.

I was pleasantly surprised. This movie was quite good.

As you can probably partially deduce from the incantation quoted above, an Egyptian mummy (Lee)--the "HE" of the above incantation-- is released on a group of archaeologists (one of them being Cushing) of Victorian England who disturbed the tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux).

What I especially appreciated was the back story of how the mummy actually became the mummy ("the living dead"). As well, I liked all the Egyptian mythology that was introduced.

The acting of Cushing and Lee are first-rate. The background music was quite good. And the reproduction of old Victorian England was superb.

This movie is presented in vivid Technicolour.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2001) has one extra: a theatrical trailer.

In conclusion, this movie blends archaeology and Egyptian mythology with horror to make for one interesting film!!

(1959; 1 hr, 27 min excluding end credits; wide screen, 25 scenes)

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

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The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics as Told through Equations
The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics as Told through Equations
by Dana Mackenzie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.50
22 used & new from CDN$ 12.00

5.0 out of 5 stars 2, 4, 6, 8, which equations do we appreciate??, Nov. 9 2013
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"In this book, I hope to lift the veil of mystery and secrecy that surrounds mathematics and equations, so that those who are interested can see what lies underneath...

The rest of the world, outside of science, does not speak the language of equations, and thus a vast cultural gap has emerged between those who understand them and those who do not. This book is an attempt to build a bridge across that chasm.

It is intended for the reader who would like to understand mathematics on its own terms, and who would like to appreciate mathematics as an art...

The following chapters will try to explain in words--even if words are feeble and inaccurate--what these equations mean and why they are justly treasured by those who know them."

The above comes from the preface and introduction to this interesting book by Dana Mackenzie. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton and was a mathematics professor for thirteen years before becoming a full-time writer and author.

This is a history of mathematics book that uses selected equations to carry its main narrative forward. Little prior mathematical knowledge is demanded.

I appreciated that each chapter gets down to the essentials behind each equation with no unnecessary filler. Thus, this book is never boring.

The equations themselves include those from antiquity (like the world's simplest equation and the laws of levers) all the way to those equations in our own time (such as equations of the photoelectric effect and equations of chaos theory).

How were the equations in this book selected? The author used four main criteria to decide what makes an equation great:

(1) It's inspiring, telling us something we did not know before.
(2) It's concise, saying something simple but powerful.
(3) It's consequential, changing our view of the world.
(4) It's universal in that the equation will remain true forever.

Finally, peppered throughout this book are illustrations and pictures (in colour). I found that all of these illuminated the main narrative.

In conclusion, for those who what a fast, concise history of mathematics as told through its major equations, this is the book for you!!

(first published 2012; preface; introduction; 4 parts or 24 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 215 pages; acknowledgements; bibliography; index)

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

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Dracula
Dracula
DVD ~ Frank Langella
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 17.58
25 used & new from CDN$ 7.63

4.0 out of 5 stars What do garlic and a cross have in common?? They both repel...vampires. SACRILEGE!!, Nov. 2 2013
Ce commentaire est de: Dracula (DVD)
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Most people know the story of Dracula based the novel "Dracula" (1897) by Bram Stoker.

In this particular movie, much of Stoker's original plot was revised to make the film more romantic. And what a film!! This American/British movie is a triumph of:

(1) performance
(2) art direction
(3) atmosphere or mood.

Frank Langella as Dracula gives an electrifying performance. He stalks with the grace of a cat. And Laurence Olivia (1907 to 1989) is in fine form as Van Helsing, Dracula's nemesis.

The background music is just fantastic. (This is not surprising since the musical score is by the great John Williams.)

The special effects were also good for the time.

This movie has a tremendous, exciting ending that you've got to see.

This film is notable for switching the main female character roles. (Dracula purists might be shocked by this.)

This movie won the 1979 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.

The DVD itself (the one released in 2004) has three extras.

Finally, the only problem was that the colour was somewhat washed out. This is a pity since the sets and costumes are just gorgeous and deserved strong, vibrant colours.

In conclusion, this is a more romantic version of the story of Dracula with a mesmerizing performance by Frank Langella!!!

(1979; 1 hr, 45 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 18 scenes; rated 'R')

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

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The Enlightenment Vision: Science, Reason, and the Promise of a Better Future
The Enlightenment Vision: Science, Reason, and the Promise of a Better Future
by Stuart Jordan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.24
39 used & new from CDN$ 1.18

5.0 out of 5 stars "Science and reason, not superstition and/or ideology, are the best means to ensure a better future for people everywhere", Oct. 26 2013
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"This book is primarily a general thesis within an even broader one. [This book] proposes a general thesis that, while the historical Western Enlightenment remains the right vision for a higher stage of human civilization, we have so fallen short of its attainment and will not likely reach the [primary] goal [the development of a better secular world based on science and reason for humankind as a whole] soon or without further struggle.

However, the broader thesis offers a prediction that this goal is likely to be attained and exceeded in currently unpredictable ways by descendants both more intelligent and more empathetic than we are today. Arguments are given in support of these views. No vigorous proof is attempted, nor is one possible, for the future of humanity is ultimately unpredictable. What is written here can then be called an educated guess, but one that I hope to show is a reasonable one."

The above comes from the preface of this extremely interesting book by Stuart Jordan. He has a doctorate in physics & astrophysics and is a Rhoades scholar. Jordan is a retired senior staff scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He is currently president of the Institute for Science and Human Values.

This book evaluates, thus far, how well the Enlightenment vision and its goals have been realized. Jordan presents the positives (such as radical improvements in medicine and technology) and the negatives (like overpopulation and socioeconomic injustice).

As well, this book attempts to assess where the many positive advances and the serious negative problems leave us today, and looks at our prospects for the future.

This book delves into the subjects of science, politics, religion, and economics (towards the end) as they pertain to the Enlightenment vision.

Finally, the book itself is divided into four parts, each part being composed of three chapters. The titles of these parts are as follows:

(1) The Enlightenment Then and Now
(2) Prospects for Progress
(3) Towards a More Humanistic World
(4) Reassessing the Enlightenment

In conclusion, this is a powerful book!! Jordan makes a powerful personal endorsement of the Enlightenment vision, optimistic that it will eventually prevail.

(first published 2012; preface and introduction; 4 parts or 12 chapters; main narrative 230 pages; notes and bibliography; acknowledgments; index)

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

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