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Profile for STEPHEN PLETKO > Reviews

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STEPHEN PLETKO "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
Criterion Collection: Scanners [Import]
Price: CDN$ 37.95
15 used & new from CDN$ 18.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are about to experience the outer reaches of future shock", Jan. 4 2015

"I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one...sometimes resulting in nosebleeds, earaches, stomach cramps, nausea. Sometimes other symptoms of a similar nature."

The above comes from this absorbing sci-fi horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg.

What is a scanner? "A freak of nature, born with a certain form of ESP. A derangement of the synapses which we call telepathy."

Cause: Unknown (but eventually revealed in this movie).

Number of Scanners on our planet according to this film: 237

This is a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot outs (including a grotesque scanner duel scene at the end). It has good special effects.

This movie displays Cronenberg's trademark combination of the visceral and the cerebral. As well, it is considered his breakout hit in the U.S.

I must warn you that the plot can be complex so it's imperative to watch closely. Very generally, the plot involves Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a renegade and tyrannical scanner, who is being hunted by another scanner, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack).

This movie spawned sequels and spin-offs. Cronenberg had no involvement with these possibly because they move away from philosophical angles explored by this film.

This movie's budget was three and a half million dollars and its box office earnings, so far, has been over fourteen million.

Finally, the DVD set itself (released in 2014) has 8 extras. All of them are worthy of consideration.

In conclusion, I can't promise that this movie will blow you away but it might just cause your head to explode!!

(1981; 1 hr, 40 min excluding end credits; 2 discs, 12 scenes, wide screen, Criterion Collection, rated `R')

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


The Copernicus Complex: Caleb A. Scharf
The Copernicus Complex: Caleb A. Scharf
by Caleb A. Scharf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.49
27 used & new from CDN$ 5.71

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Earth to Copernicus: "How DARE you call me mediocre!!", Dec 28 2014

"The quest to find our cosmic significance, to resolve the conflict between our Copernican mediocrity and our specialness, will take us from the deepest history of the Earth to its farthest future, to planetary systems across our Galaxy, and from the great universe of astronomy to the microscopic universe of biology.

It's also going to take us to the cutting edge of scientific inquiry into our cosmic origins--an exploration being carried out through mathematical wizardry and cunning observations of nature. And it will lead us to an unwavering examination of the specific circumstances we find ourselves in, our place in the cosmos."

The above comes from the prologue of this book by Caleb Scharf. He is the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. Caleb is also a writer for various science publication such as "New Scientist" and "Scientific American."

For those that don't know, it was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543) who proposed that the Earth revolves around the Sun and is not the center of the universe. Having demoted Earth to mediocrity, he set in motion a scientific revolution.

In this book, Scharf wants to show (as the book's subtitle tells us) "our cosmic significance in a universe of planets and probabilities." Actually, after reading this book, I found the word "significance" in the subtitle to be somewhat misleading. I feel the subtitle should have been "Our cosmic place in a universe of planets and probabilities."

The author covers the entire gamut in his discussion, from microbes within the Earth to life beyond the Earth, to extrasolar planets or exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond. His writing, I found, was engaging and perhaps most important, accessible.

As well, Scharf uses the latest scientific findings to help us reconsider where we stand in the balance between cosmic unusualness and cosmic mediocrity.

Finally, the author eventually gives us his final conclusion with respect to our place in the universe. He actually continues his discussion briefly after he makes his conclusion. I found the material after his conclusion to be quite interesting.

In conclusion, this book tests the limits of the Copernican Principle by asking the following question:

"Is the Earth's (and thus humankind's) position in the universe beyond just ordinary?"

(first published 2014; prologue; 8 chapters; main narrative 230 pages; notes; acknowledgements; index; a note about the author)

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


The Secret Life of the Brain
The Secret Life of the Brain
Price: CDN$ 62.99
18 used & new from CDN$ 33.97

5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!, Dec 21 2014
This review is from: The Secret Life of the Brain (DVD)

What is the brain? It's that part of the central nervous system encased within the skull.

This series explores the new map of nature's most complicated organ that has emerged from modern neuroscience.

There are five parts to this documentary:

(1) The baby's brain (49 min, 30 sec)
(2) The child's brain (51 min)
(3) The teenage brain (51 min, 30 sec)
(4) The adult brain (51 min)
(5) The aging brain (52 min)

The way this program proceeds (and the way medicine proceed generally) is to investigate what goes wrong with the brain at each of these stages of human life. Thus, the viewer learns about such things as premature babies, dyslexia, schizophrenia, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, paralysis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

This five-episode documentary gets its information across through a mixture of personal histories, expert commentary, and excellent animation.

As you can imagination, a documentary on the brain can be quite complicated. What this documentary does is to give the most important information while concentrating on personal histories. The result? The viewer never feels bogged down with technical jargon and gets to focus on the personal histories (which I found to be quite interesting and absorbing).

Note that there are no subtitles but there is closed-captioning.

Finally the DVD set (released in 2002) has one extra: an interview with the director.

In conclusion, this documentary proves that you don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain!!!

(2001; 4 hours, 15 min excluding end material and end credits; 5 episodes; 7 chapters per episode; 3 discs; wide screen, PBS)

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


A Rough Ride To the Future
A Rough Ride To the Future
by James Lovelock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.71
7 used & new from CDN$ 4.37

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We are not yet sufficiently intelligent to control or regulate ourselves or the Earth", Dec 14 2014

"This is not a book about climate change and what we should be doing to [decrease] our carbon footprints - climate change comes into it, and the recent storms and inundations here in the United Kingdom and the cold breath of the polar vortex in North America remind us of that.

What I am excited about, and write about in this book is the extraordinary event that happened around 300 years ago, which put the world into flight to a destination where everything we now know about ourselves, the Earth, and the universe will be different."

The above comes from the introduction of this book by James Lovelock. He is an inventor, author, researcher, environmentalist, and futurist. Lovelock has been the recipient of many scientific awards and other honours. He is 95 years old and lives in southwest England.

Lovelock is best known for the Gaia hypothesis where the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. (Gaia is named after the goddess of Earth in Greek mythology.)

This book is a departure for Lovelock since it does not deal exclusively with climate change.

It's difficult to pick out a central theme to this book despite what the quote above says and even though it begins with a chapter entitled "What this book is about" & ends with a chapter called "So what was it all about" to try and clarify.

Still, the general idea seems to be this:

Evolution has proceeded along at its slow and steady pace, until humanity came along. Equipped with a large brain and agile hands, we became inventors, and the process of evolution suddenly had a new dynamic. Beginning in 1712, an extraordinary invention came along and the rate of change to the planet increased exponentially resulting in the Earth never being the same again. "The emergence of this crucial period [3 centuries ago] may change the Earth and its future as much as did the origin of life more than 3 billion years ago."

Lovelock calls this "evolutionary inflation" and this has ushered in the "Anthropocene epoch." This name refers to "the recent period of the Earth's history when mankind began to exert a noticeable effect on the living environment."

The problem with this book is that while many of Lovelock's ideas are fascinating, the book as a whole fails to match their clarity. There are disconnected chapters. There are even auto biographical tidbits throughout making it clear that Lovelock has had a fascinating life.

I found these discontinuities, although interesting, somewhat distracting. Some people may even find this book a frustrating read.

Finally, two things rescue this book from irrelevance:

(1) It's free of dogma.
(2) It's original. That is, it is packed with ideas that nobody else is saying.

Thus, this book manages to be worth reading despite that it is somewhat rambling and at times, conflicted.

In conclusion, despite some problems, this book provides the reader with some interesting ideas on human beings' contributions to our planet.

(first published 2014; list of illustrations; acknowledgements; introduction; 10 chapters; main narrative 170 pages; appendix; further reading; index)

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


RoboCop (Bilingual)
RoboCop (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Joel Kinnaman
Price: CDN$ 5.00
17 used & new from CDN$ 1.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars They waited over 25 years to make this??, Dec 7 2014
This review is from: RoboCop (Bilingual) (DVD)

This is a sci-fi action movie that is a remake (some say it's not a remake) of the classic 1987 film of the same name.

It is about a police officer named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who becomes a cyborg police officer.

This movie has plenty of action and special effects as well as some big-name actors: Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Unfortunately, this movie fails to make any significant improvements over the 1987 original. There is lack of violence, lack of biting social satire, and lack of character development. It just does not have the playfulness and wit of the original with its many underlying themes.

Some may see it as odd that I mention lack of violence. However, a movie of this type has to be violent especially at the beginning. Why? Because you have to be convinced that a man (in this case, Murphy) has to become a cyborg. In this movie, I was NOT convinced. As a result, the Robocop character seemed to be just a man in a fancy suit. (In the original movie, I was definitely CONVINCED that Murphy should become a cyborg.)

Another reason violence is needed is that you need to feel that Robocop is in danger. If he's not in danger, then the movie becomes boring. This is what happened with me. The movie became boring and as a result I lost interest in it quite fast. (I NEVER lost interest in the original.)

This movie chooses to focus on Murphy's relationship with his family after he becomes Robocop. I felt doing this made the movie drag. (In the original film, Robocop has only flashbacks of this family.)

It takes a skilled actor to show his humanity while in the Robocop costume. I did not feel that humanity coming through with Kinnaman playing Robocop. (In the original movie, the actor who played Robocop, Peter Weller, was able to superbly show his humanity while in the Robocop costume.)

There is no real main theme music in this movie. With the original, the theme music is unforgettable.

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2014) has three extras.

In conclusion, this is a good action movie with equally good special effects and some big-name actors. However, it fails to make any significant improvements over the original 1987 classic.

(2014; 1 hr, 50 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 32 scenes)

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


The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are
The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are
by Matthew Hertenstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.13
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining the power of people prediction!! OR How to become a big hit at your next party!!!, Nov. 30 2014

"At the outset, I stated that [this book] isn't a self-help book that aims to assist you in making accurate predictions in your main goal is to aid you in becoming a more sophisticated observer of others' non-verbal signals and appearance, as well as to show you the predictive capacities of the mind...

We've learned, for example, what TELLS in early life predict autism, how photographs betray others' personalities and aggressive inclinations, how smiling predicts marital stability, how micro-expressions signal deception, and how facial structure predicts companies' profits and even who wins political elections. I hope you' the number of domains in which TELLS can reveal something about past and future events."

The above comes from the concluding chapter of this interesting book by Matthew Hertenstein Ph.D. (psychology). He is now on the faculty of DePauw University (in Indiana).

So, what is a tell? It is "prediction based on observations of brief samples of others' behavior." (Yes, poker players rely on tells--mannerisms that can yield clues about an opponent's cards.) In other words, tells give us the ability to "read" people.

Tells are important because of their capacity for prediction and can help you answer such questions as:

(1) Who should I vote for to lead my city, state, and country?
(2) Is the person I want to ask out on a date interested in men or women?
(3) Is the person I see in a dark alley likely to assault me or help me if I trip and fall?
(4) Did my spouse actually work late last night, or am I being deceived?
(5) Is my infant going to develop autism?

Important to me was that Hertenstein drew on rigorous psychological research and even brain science to get his points across. Books like this can be stuffy and academic sounding but the author writes in such a way that I did not sense this, thus making for an enjoyable read. (To make his book even more enjoyable, Hertenstein has what he calls "Party-Worthy Findings" at the end of each chapter. Here's an example of one: "Most of us are virtually no better than chance at detecting the lies of others.")

Finally, the author reminds us to practice "predictive humility." Reading people via tells is not an exact science. Thus, our predictions may well turn out to be wrong.

In conclusion, this book explains the little clues that can reveal BIG truths about the people around us!! (As well, you may be a big hit at your next party after reading this book!!!)

(first published 2013; introduction; 4 parts or 10 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 180 pages; acknowledgements; notes; references--over 30 pages; credits; index)

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


American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [Import]
American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [Import]
Price: CDN$ 31.66
17 used & new from CDN$ 13.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Do you know the REAL story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?, Nov. 23 2014

"In the early morning hours of June 2, 1899, two men crept along a desolate stretch of train track outside Wilcox, Wyoming. Unable to force their way in [the door of a train car], the bandits packed the door with explosives instead. In an instant, the holdup crew had made off with fifty-thousand dollars in cash, banknotes, and gold [today, worth over a million dollars] in the most spectacular robbery the West had ever seen.

In an era that saw cold-blooded killers like Jesse James and the Young Brothers terrorize the West, this job had all the markings of a different kind of gang: a notorious group of men known as the Wild Bunch. Their leader, Butch Cassidy, was a charismatic thief who had elevated bank and train robbery into an art form.

But the freewheeling world of Butch Cassidy and his sidekick, a moody Easterner with a fast gun, known as the Sundance Kid, was based on a frontier order that was rapidly fading into myth."

The above is what is said by the narrator at the beginning of this absorbing and informative documentary. This is an episode of the series entitled "American Experience."

What this documentary does is give background information on:

(1) Butch Cassidy (real name: Robert Leroy Parker)
(2) The Sundance Kid (real name: Harry Longabaugh)
(3) The Pinkerton National Detective Agency (founded in 1850)

Then it proceeds to tell us how these three eventually intersect.

Finally, I was REALLY impressed by this documentary (released in 2014). It has:

(1) Excellent re-enactments
(2) Excellent research and photography (in the form of newspaper articles, portraits, etc.)
(3) Brief, informative comments by historians, journalists, etc.

In conclusion, in my opinion, this is THE documentary to see if you want to know the REAL story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!!

(2014; 50 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 5 chapters)

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


One Hour Photo (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
One Hour Photo (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 16.78
65 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the world of Sy "the photo guy", Nov. 16 2014

"Family photos depict smiling faces. Births, weddings, holidays, children's birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had lead a joyous, leisurely existence, free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget."

The above comes from this absorbing psychological thriller.

Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Robin Williams, 1949-2014) has developed photographs for the Yorkin family since their son was born. But as their lives become fuller, Sy only seems lonelier, until "Uncle" Sy believes he's an actual part of their family.

When his picture-perfect fantasy collides with an ugly dose of reality, what happens next is--shocking.

Funny man Robin Williams as Sy gives an exquisitely memorable and haunting performance. It's so good that you probably won't believe it is Robin Williams!!

In fact, in 2003 Williams won a Saturn Award (best actor) for his performance.

Photography buffs will probably notice that many of the characters in this movie take their names from noted photographers. Even the hotel at the end of the movie is named after a photographer.

I found that the background music added to each scene.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2002) has seven extras. All of them are good. One of these shows Robin Williams as his comic-genius self.

In conclusion, this is a memorable movie with Robin Williams perhaps in his finest hour!!!

(2002; 1 hr, 30 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 32 scenes; rated "R")

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


Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission
Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission
by Marc Kaufman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.19
28 used & new from CDN$ 24.13

5.0 out of 5 stars How to have the Mars' Curiosity rover mission at your fingertips!!!, Nov. 9 2014

"NASA's Curiosity rover made a precision landing in [planet Mars'] Gale Crater during the summer of 2012, starting a breakthrough journey into...[Mars' ] lowlands and then on to [Mars'] Mount Sharp [or more formally Aeolis Mons]...

The Curiosity mission [still in progress] has discovered a new and different Mars."

The above comes from this fascinating book by Mark Kaufman. He has been a science writer and journalist for 35 years. Kaufman is also a frequent lecturer on the topics of astrobiology and space exploration.

This book consists of the following intermingled together:

(1) Comprehensive text
(2) Visually-stunning colour photographs.

Kaufman was granted exclusive access to major mission scientists and actually witnessed the most ground-breaking red planet discoveries as they happened. It was from this perspective that he's able to unveil the heart, as well as the science, of the Curiosity mission through scintillating text.

This book brings the mission alive with more than 300 detailed, never-before-seen, colour photos, new maps, as well as first-time interviews with mission scientists.

You can actually experience Mars up close in 3D throughout this book using either your smart phone or tablet!! I found this to be an unforgettable, fun, and worthwhile activity.

The last three chapters don't deal with the Curiosity mission directly. They are respectively entitled:

(1) Fourth-planet astrobiology
(2) Humans to Mars
(3) Reflections

Finally, the picture shown on this book's front cover (displayed above by Amazon) is a "selfie" or self-portrait of Curiosity on the surface of Mars.

In conclusion, this is truly an interesting, unique book that takes us inside the Mars' Curiosity mission. What's unique about this mission is that it is:

"a mission of discovery, and that means always looking for what is not known or expected."

(First published 2014; foreword; 14 chapters; main narrative 295 pages; about the author; acknowledgements; illustration credits; map sources; index; Space X)

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


Hawking [Import]
Hawking [Import]
Price: CDN$ 31.66
16 used & new from CDN$ 18.54

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My name now sat alongside Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin", Nov. 1 2014
This review is from: Hawking [Import] (DVD)

"My name is Stephen Hawking. For the past fifty years, I have travelled the world studying and lecturing about time and space. This film is a personal journey through my life, told in my own words. Come with me and I will tell you the story of how I became who I am."

The above is found at the beginning of this extraordinary autobiographical documentary about the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. (He "was born in 1942, exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo.")

I personally have read quite a bit on Hawking but what made this film special to me was that:

(1) It was entirely narrated by Stephen Hawking.
(2) Brief comments were made by such people as his siblings, care giver, school friends, university friends, professors, software experts, biographers, his first wife, physicists (like Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne), and his present and former students.
(3) We actually get to see Hawking in his natural environment and get to actually see the people mentioned in (2) above.

We also learn about his science ("I was writing the rule book for black holes") and the progression of his devastating illness whose spectre is always present.

We also get to see the good and the bad of worldwide celebrity.

Finally, this documentary had an "intimate feel" for me, as if Hawking were talking directly to me.

In conclusion, I feel this is an incredible documentary narrated by a determined scientist who has a strong will to live. In fact, at the end of the documentary he tells us:

"I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm in no hurry to die."

(2013; 1 hr, 30 min; wide screen; 12 scenes; PBS)

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


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