Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lois Lowry's "The Giver" - Book Review by Robert Steven Mack

We live in a very chaotic world that is constantly changing. And although not all the changes are necessary to a decent and content life, we have adapted ourselves to these changes in such a way that it would be impossible to live without them. What would our life be without x-box and wii…or that futuristic tiny little device call the i-phone? Even television which we have had for more than 60 years has become such an integral part of our lives that people would go crazy if they did not have it. I know I would! Yet, despite all those high-tech gadgets and new things that are supposed to make our life better, nevertheless more new gadgets do not necessarily equate with more knowledge. Still it is not our fault. Most of us have lived with high-tech gadgets most of our life.

Would you care a damn if for as long as you can remember citizens were not allowed to have books? Reading is a source of knowledge. Isn’t it amazing that through all the turmoil and greed, we still have music and color and even the things that have for a long time brought humans the ability to destroy themselves. These things are called emotions: love, hatred, fear, happiness, and pain. Would we live better in a world without color and music? In a very orderly world without emotions and pain were each of us has their own chosen place in the world? The answer is probably “yes.” Still, if you knew what lies beyond it, it can be a hell of a rotten way to live.

“Number the Stars author,” Lois Lowry thought-provoking Newberry Award-winning book "The Giver" is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a futuristic time and place where physical appearance almost never varies. He lives in a world of no color or emotions; nor pain, nor suffering or hunger. It is very orderly world of no choices. Everyone has a certain place in the community. Their mates, kins and jobs are chosen very carefully. And through different stages of childhood one gets more and more advancements. An eight year old, for example, gets a new jacket with pockets, signifying he is old enough to care for his own belongings; a nine gets a bike. A girl of ten would lose her braids and a boy ten would get a manly hair cut. The ceremony of the 12s was the ceremony where they would get their jobs which they would carry all through adulthood.

Jonas waited anxiously for his turn, not expecting anything special. It turned out that he was selected for the greatest job of them all: the Receiver of Memory. He would receive training from a man who calls himself the Giver. He alone holds the memories of the world, suffering and pain and happiness and love. And Jonas soon begins to question the way he has been living all his life: an orderly colorless straight-forward life against love and music and color. He wants a life where you may choose your own future - which is exactly what he does.

“The Giver” is an extremely well-written book you'll remember for years to come. The Giver is the ideal book to anyone who can see beyond. When I first started reading the book I expected a good book but not unlike any other that I had read. And when I started to notice the weird ways of life Jona’s friends and family had, I began to question my first assumption. After reading some more, I wondered whether I would ever put the book down. I did... eventually. Also I was glad to know that the Giver was the first book in a loose trilogy that took place in the same time period. For those who want to know, the books that follow are “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger,” both of which I shall look for!

Book Rating on a scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack - 100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Book and Movie Review by Robert Steven Mack

Oops, J. K. Rowling did it again!
The author of the legendary Harry Potter series gave a new meaning to children's literature. Although her wizarding tales of the young sorceror Harry Potter started out as geared towards younger readers, time will prove this series to be one of the true classics of the 21st century. And here is already some evidence of what J.K. Rowling 's artistically brillant imagination has brought across: Hollywoods most successful film series ever, a wizarding new theme park in Florida, and an international game above all things Quiddich-without magic. I still remember the last two books coming out a couple of years ago. The media made such a fuss about it, and I didn't know what it was about. Yet, I felt there was some secret magic and greatness waiting to be read by me.

Now, as an eleven year old, I have read J.K.Rowling's last book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:" In the "Deathly Hallows," Harry Potter's darkest hour approaches as he nears his 17th birthday. Soon his life, his mind, his friendships, and the world he held so dear to his heart is about to change. Nevermore to be the same! It is hard to believe that seven years have passed since Hagrid had burst through the door and suprised Harry when he revealed to him his true identity and wizarding heritage. Other than that, Harry's days passed relatively normal.

I was saving the book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" Part 1! to read until last week, when the movie came out. That way, I figured, I'd still have something to day-dream about. During that year-and-half gap I had almost forgotten how wonderful J.K. Rowling's writing is. Rowling's pure and relaxing style put me at ease immediately despite the fact that this was the last Harry Potter book. Despite the saddened longing tone of the book I am happy to report that I enjoyed every word of it. Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are out to find and destroy the horeuxes. That's the plot, with a little twist of romance and jealousy. The landscapes are beautifully filmed. Overall, the film has a lonely and distraught atmosphere I would highly invite you to feel yourself. For any Potter fan who has stuck with Harry to the bitter end is sure to have a truly magnificient and unforgettable experience.

Tragedy, Darkness, Loss
The film is much darker than its predecessor, ''Half-Blood Prince,'' perhaps the entire series as a whole. Even the sixth film, despite Dumbledore's tragic death, ends quietly with a sense of strong hope. Just to mention another example, "The Order of the Phoenix" in which Siruis Black's death, among other things, did make it considerably darker, the film and book end happily. Furthermore,"The Order of the Phoenix" is also filled with adventure, excitement, and sheer fun. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," both book and movie alike, has a lonely, much darker tone. The previously introduced Death Eaters are growing stronger and "mud-blood" wizards are fleeing from the Ministry. The entire wizarding civilization is falling apart as the Ministry is infiltrated by the monstrously evil Death-Eaters. Terror reigns and as long as the Ministry has hold of the newspapers, the Daily Prophet and the one other truth teller The Quwibbler, wizards and people will be confused of who the real enemy is. (Only the radio program "Potterwatch" remains loyale) So the blame for all that is foul in the country is put on Harry Potter. And while the world is no longer safe for ''mud-bloods," the muggle world is not safe, either.

On a subconsciously surreal level, Harry Potter's world can be said to mirror our "muggle" world we live in today yet also reminds us of the horrors of yesterday: a world where tribes, religions, and ethnic groups consider themselves superior and others inferior - where hate, ignorance, and revenge spread terror into every corner of the world. Al Quaeda, for example, reminds me of the ''Death-Eaters." Or think of the persecution of Jews seventy years ago in Nazi Germany - like the "mud-bloods" in Harry Potter. The lack of respect for "the other" and the lack of dialogue of many news channels, the persistence of racism, sexism, injustice, and general intolerance that terrorize the world today is reminiscent of all that we see in this latest Harry Potter movie.

The film with its 146 minutes of vibrant settings is an epic and a brilliant one to boot! Despite the PG-13 RATED film's dark tones, it will please you till the day you die! One thing that really stands out in the book is the death of everyone. Some of those had been with Harry from the very begining. For example, there is the sudden compelling death of Mad-Eye Moody and the heart-felt death of Dobby, the free house elf. Even Harry's beloved owl Hedwick dies. All this gloom makes you think what kind of hell our protagonist, Harry, must be in as his whole world is falling apart, disappearing before his very eyes. To be sure, Harry has experienced tragic losses all through his life. First his parents, then Siurus Black, then Dumbledore, followed by the impeccable ''Mad-Eye" Moody, poor Hedwick, and Dobby. So many deaths but with many more deaths yet to come.

Love, Loyalty, Friendship
Notwithstanding darkness, it's always reassuring to know just who Harry's real friends are. As Harry, Ron and Hermione seem to grow more distant from each other over the course of the series, the main thing that divides them here is love, doubt, and jealousy. On an another level, it's always a pleasure to see Neville standing up to the Death-Eaters on the train and Luna Lovegood being seen as helpful as she can be to her former school mates. The film ends with a bang leaving everyone groaning that it is over. As Voldemort gets what he wants, Part 1 comes to a close.

Conclusion: Fear Not
My concluding words of caution are that the film can be quite unwelcoming to newcomers of the Harry Potter series. Hence, my advice is to read the books and watch the previous movies first, unless you might keep wondering why the plot doesn't this make any sense?

Also one final word of encouragement is that if you, like me, are one of those kids who is "underage" (under 13 years of age) and has never seen a PG-13 rated movie in the theaters before, do not worry. As long as you have read the book and know where any scary parts are you might not want to watch on screen, the restrooms are never too crowded and the snack bar should be open. In other words you will be fine! Anyways, I hope you enjoy this film as much as I have enjoyed it. Still, we can only wait until next year to see the epic Finale to the Harry Potter saga.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robert's Book Review: John Grisham's "Theodore Boone - Kidlawyer" by Robert Steven Mack

We all have our dreams of who we want to become once we grow up. Some of us dream of being a policeman, while others will dream of being a heroic firefighter. Perhaps an actor or Pulitzer Prize winning writer. From becoming a 00 secret super spy to becoming the President of the United States - every little boy or girl around the country has a big dream.

Thirteen-year-old Theodore Boone wants be a lawyer; a trial lawyer to be precise because he doesn’t want none of the “boring” desk stuff. No sir, not for him! He won’t wait long either: already he is seeing clients at his parents firm of “Boone and Boone.” The cases that land on his desk are not hard to find. In fact, they find him in the school yard. Every school has its bullies, whose worst enemy is the ant hill and an old movie, the charming little rascals whose main trouble is having trouble not finding any trouble which is practically useless trouble, hence trouble always finds them. So, it’s a winning game for Theo. Then there are the “popular” girls who have finally found a new religion: THE WORSHIP OF THE I-PHONE !!! Then there are just the “normal” kids, normal, normal, still normal. And while you’re trying to get these kids to grow up, there is another kind that you are trying to slow down in their growing-up process.

That’s Theodore Boone! Growing up in a very lawyer-like home watching Perry Mason re-runs every Sunday night, Teddy is encouraged by his lawyer parents to not grow up too fast and to stay away from the court room as much as possible. Still, it becomes irresistible for Theo because the town is holding its first mystery trial in ten years! Theo’s nerves are soothed however when his class makes a field trip to the court house to get a “feel of the action.” Teddy won’t be able to stay away from his life-long dream, especially when he has some information that may change the whole course of the trial.

After twenty years of being America’s top legal novelist, John Grisham has finally introduced his legal writing genius to a younger generation. It definitely struck a chord in me. This is an informative, fun, witty legal thinker for all ages! Fortunately, this is not the last we will ever hear of Theodore Boone either as his mind bolging adventures will continue in Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer 2 that comes out in 2012. Bravo, Mr. Grisham!

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get Smart, Again - Spy-Spoof Movie Reviews by Robert Steven Mack

Would you believe that…this review is about two films that were more or less loosely based on the classic sixties spy spoof tv series Get Smart? Would you believe that I will first review The Nude Bomb and then Get Smart Again? As to The Nude Bomb, the original idea of this film was to relaunch the Get Smart franchise. Instead, it would almost destroy it!

Get Smart (NBC, 1965-1969, CBS, 1969-1970,) was originally the brain child idea of David Melnick and David Susskind, but later passed on to Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. It starred Don Adams, stand-up comedian, television director, and comic genius who spent more than five decades on television entertaining people. As Maxwell Smart Secret Agent 86, Don Adams plays a bumbling, dim-witted, accident prone, yet undeniably cool secret agent working for Control. Control is a top secret government agency formed to fight KAOS, an international terrorist group of not-so-nice people fighting for the meanness of rottenness. The free world’s only hope is CONTROL who is constantly fighting for the “goodness of niceness” because nice is…nicer.

Despite his intellectual limits, Agent 86 always manages to foil KAOS's plans to world domination. Running on his own thin luck, he is accompanied by brilliant Agent 99, a young attractive spy played by lovely and talented Barbara Feldon. Smart reports to The Chief, played by Edward Platt, who, by the way, you can catch in Alfred Hitchcock's ''North by Northwest" and in Disney's ''Pollyanna". The Chief is the frustrated head of Control and often a victim to Max's comic antics. It is said that the only reason why he does not replace Max is that if he leaves the even more dim-witted agent Larrabee, Don Adam's cousin Robert Karvelas, would take his place. Secretary to the Chief, Robert Karvelas was given many bit parts in episodes throughout the series before his big break in the fifth season. In any event, between Smart and Karvelas, the Chief would rather take Maxwell Smart. Reluctantly…

Joining the cast would be Bernie Kopel as Siegfried - Max's reoccurring nemesis, Leonard Strong as Craw (or is it Claw?).Joey Froman plays the great Hawaiian detective Harry Hoo, and Dick Gariter stars as robot Hymie. David Kechem plays Agent 13, whom you might come across as stashed in a trash can, an ice-box or maybe just hanging out with some monkeys on the ship's hold. If you think Number 13 enjoys his job, forget it! Victor French is Agent 44, and Jane Dulo plays 99's mother. Would you believe that the idea to a full length Get Smart film actually goes back to 1966 when the show was still running? Back then, other successful tv shows sparked the idea to make full length feature films. For example, the success of a full-length Batman feature inspired other television shows to release their own movies. Unfortunately, the only one completed thereafter was Munster Go Home which flopped in theaters. As a result all other films were canceled and the proposed Get Smart silver screen spectacular was dormant…for over a decade.

Would you believe….Why the Nude Bomb Bombed at the Box Office
Producing a Get Smart movie was a great original idea until it got into the hands of people who did not want, or did not know how, to recreate the original magic of the Great Smart potion. For one, it might be argued that The Nude Bomb bombed at the box office because it featured hardly any one of the original cast. Don Adams reluctantly returned as Maxwell Smart, Robert Karlvarlas reprised his role as Larabee, and Joey Forman taking over the role agent 13. Barbara Feldom refused to appear. As far as she was concerned, the series was over, and it was time to move on. “Chief” Ed Platt had well, deceased in '74. Although Guest stars Bill Dana and Dana Elcar had roles in the film, their roles were confusingly different from the ones of the original series. In addition, the film makers sprinkled in some 80’s sex and language…not the good kind. Well, you have the typical 80's nudeness that isn't really that Get Smart at all!

Clive Donner, a good director, was not right for Get Smart. He was in charge of the characters, music, and through it all created something that was totally opposite the original series. whereas both Leonard B. Stern and Don Adams lost all creative control that they had during the original series. Indeed Leonard Stern was actually banned from the set!'' To make matters worse, Control was gone and replaced by Pits. Well, that certainly stands out!
Yet, despite many of the short-comings, The Nude Bomb was no Casino Royale (1967 version, see blogsites archives for my review). Clive Donner's direction was good, although Don Adams would have probably done a better job directing a Get Smart film as he directed some of the show’s best episodes. Don Adams said in an interview: "I didn’t really like the script, and I felt that the director, Clive Donner, was wrong for the show. I don’t think that I should have done it in the first place. I probably should have backed out. It had 18 different drafts. It was a hodgepodge of scripts and wasn’t what Get Smart was all about. The best stuff ended upon the cutting room floor. I had no hand in that.''-Don Adams .

Perhaps, the main problem was advertising: To be sure, The Nude Bomb is a hip title, the theme song has an internal value. However, the Nude Bomb was advertised as a Get Smart film. Not surprisingly, when people went to the theaters to see just that, they found nothing of the kind! They saw a different Max. Agent 86 was still a bumbling guy saying Smart's catch phrases. Yet, he was a more concentrated agent who never worked for Control and never knew any agent 99. Would you believe there never was an agent 99? Max never married. It's like he erased his entire past of the world he now lives in. One can imagine, that to the average movie-goer in 1980 this is all rather disappointing. The sentimental viewer must have wondered what happened to everything and everybody that we held so dear, such as the Chief and lovely Agent 99? What happened to Control? (It is mentioned that Control was disbanded in the 70's but not explained why.

Yet, in perhaps another dimension…if you look at The Nude Bomb not as a Get Smart continuance, but as something different, perhaps just a fun crazy spy spoof, then you'll find it quite enjoyable.

Would you believe…Why Get Smart, Again Hit the Spot...
Luckily, in February of 1989 another Get Smart telefilm debuted on ABC. This time the outcome was a little bit different! Get Smart, Again starred Don Adams once again, reprising his role as Maxwell Smart. Also returning was most of the original series cast, such as Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, Dick Gariter returns as Hymie the Robot, Dave Ketchem as ''13", Bernie Kopel as Siegfried, King Moody as side-kick Shtacker, and Robert Karavelas as Larrabbee. The story was dedicated to Edward Platt (1920-1974) as our beloved ''Chief". The events of The Nude Bomb were completely ignored for continuity purposes. Unlike the previous get Smart feature this film was a reunion film and not a reboot: Control was disbanded in the 70's. Max, now acting as protocol officer, gets reactivated when KAOS holds a new threat on the world: a devastating new weather machine, and if demands are not met thinks could get a little different around here.

Get Smart, Again is a joy for the family, not only in terms of capturing original tone series, but also in its loyalty to the original theme - which is absent from the Nude Bomb. It is nice to see the original opening back again. Leonard Stern both wrote and produced this film and the original series director Gary Nelson was back in the director’s seat. Although a great television and film director, I found his direction for this film was slightly uneven. Once again, I wish that Don Adams were allowed to direct. Although all older, the cast was able to deliver incredible performances. The film is littered with hilarity, including sequences like the Hall of Hush and a Hover Cover sequence, where Max fights the KAOS agent without letting Agent 99 know. The film is filled with scenes that will make you laugh and remind you of the magic of the original series. The success of the film later inspired a revival series running in 1995. Unfortunately, I am yet to watch it, as I'm still working it out with my mother Diana and my father Alex. I have not heard the most favorable things about it. Don Adams and Barbara Feldon did reprise their roles, yet they were not the main focus of the series.

Would you believe...I arrived at the Conclusion

I can recommend both The Nude Bomb and Get Smart, Again. When you watch, please keep in mind that The Nude Bomb is not really a Get Smart film. Instead, it is the kind of movie that you might watch at a party complete with popcorn and pizza and any other kind of junk food you eat at a movie night. You either like it or hate it. Get Smart, Again on the other hand is of the more peaceful and relaxing (G rated) kind. As a closing comment, I would like point out how amazing it is that so many people have time and time again fallen in love with Don Adams, Barbara Feldon and just the show itself. Watch Max and Agent 99’s trip into foiling KAOS, facing danger, horror, a broken nose (for Max) - and loving it!

Robert Steven Mack's movie rating on 0-100 scale: The Nude Bomb 94/100 and Get Smart Again 95/100
Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Movie Review of Toy Story 3 by Robert Steven Mack

Ever since their first film Toy Story was released in 1997, Pixar Animation Studios has given us nonstop movie fun by releasing some of Hollywood's most treasured films. These include hits like Cars, Monsters Inc., Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Wall-E, Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, A Bug's Life and others have intrigued us, enchanted us, bewildered us and have become a part of our lives. Pixar’s Toy Story has been selected into the National Film Registry as being culturally, historically, and esthetically significant.

Pixar was actually founded in 1979 and would be working with Lucas film and other companies that would need their services and their know-how in computer graphics. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is yet another early work that did not make Pixar any more famous than it was before. However, about 15 years later, when working with Disney - who would buy the studio in 2006 - on a three-part movie deal, Pixar would release a picture that would make the growing company world-wide famous: Toy Story, the first film ever to be animated entirely by computers!

Since then, Pixar sprouted out movies like Old Faithful sprouts out water when the hourly alarm clock goes off. Disney came out of its unbearable 90's slump; and as the movie itself, it has received uninmaginable, critical acclaim. They subsequently sported a sequel, Theme park attractions, unstoppable press and commercial exploits. There even was a spin-off television series about Buzz Light-Years. Yet for eleven long, hard, miserably cold years -if you'll please excuse my overly exaggerated exasperation- we have waited in suspense for a third installment in the saga of toys.

Luckily, our waiting has not been in vain for it is finally hear: Toy Story 3! Taking place congruently with Andy now 17 years of age and ready for college, he never plays with toys any more. What makes matters worse is that his toys not only feel rejected but fear that they will be thrown away when the Big Day finally dawns; despite Woody's attempts to cheer them up. Indeed, Andy intended to put them in the attic and take Woody to college him, but an apparent mix-up make them all end up at "Sunny Side Day Care". Well, with a handsome, suave, pretty-boy sweeping Barbie off her delicate feet, toddlers transform the toys into anything: drum sticks turn to paint brushes or all flavored lollipop, a teddy bear, whose heart was broken, is practically shattered to pieces when a young girl named Daisy “repairs” him after she misplaced him. She then glued him back together with the wrong sort of glue. After dark, the place transforms into a gruesome concentration camp.

The toys only chance is to escape to freedom. But how? Through laughs, bangs and edge- of-the seat suspense and drama to the final scene so perfectly done that the moment will bring tears to your eyes! One of Pixar's redeeming qualities is spoofing well known classic movies. It is done here again. In fact, it is so well done that I believe even Mel Brooks would have applauded…hmm…”would you believe” Buck Henry, Don Adams? Well how about Joey, your next-door neighbor? Sorry about that Mel! These exquisite spoof moments run the gamut of films such as The Great Escape to classic western clichés, from Science fiction classics - a brief moments of Star Trek fun/StarWars! - to the wacky 70's/80's teen comedy's. So many more moments where bits and pieces of classic movie making brought to us in a fresh, new, exciting way. Although it is most probable that there will be a fourth installment, it was said in an interview that there are no current plans for it. If there is a fourth film it is likely to either feature a prequel story, i.e. an adventure either before this trilogy or one preceding the events in Toy Story 3, a continuation of the original trilogy - example: Andy comes home or has a son, or the return of Bo Peep whose absence in this film was never clearly explained -, or a sequel trilogy where they have an adventure with the complete absence of Andy!

Whatever happens, we will be waiting! Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Crusack, Don Deckles, and many others, Toy Story 3 makes you laugh, cry, root for the good guys and ponder the bad guys, in this classic coming of age story.

Robert Steven Mack's movie rating: 100/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Robert Steven Mack's Book Review of the Week: Project-00 by Dow Kump

Fame and Fortune – so they say – go hand in hand. Still talent and a good script, albeit necessary, are not sufficient ingredients for making a bestseller. Publicity and marketing are essential tools to “spread the word.” Project-00 by Dow Kump is an example of a great story with insufficient publicity. I was lucky enough to fetch one of the few copies in circulation…

It was Saturday when I decided to go to the weekly Library book sale and find some good deals to spend my three dollars with. I bought a total of three books and three movies for 50 cents each, and all of them were extremely good deals. One of the books I acquired was Project-00 by Dow Kump ( Although the story is not unusual and there have been hundreds similar to this story, Project-00 is an exciting, absorbing page-turner. The story is about an intelligent 13-year-old boy who goes on a quest to save the family business in a most unusual manner. Through his adventures, the young man learns the meaning of honesty, loyalty, and the power of keeping your promise. In the end he is forced to choose between is own personal happiness or the endangered lives of others.

It is a shame that this book has not been better well known for it is excellent. In fact, it seems that this book had been out of print for some time, and hence I was lucky to acquire it for a few dimes. What was even more amazing is that I found some writing on the front pages of the book. It said "To J. T. R…, follow your dreams!'' and was signed by the author. What treasure! The book was published by Endeavor Publishing Huntington Beach, California. This serves as further evidence that this book was probably written by a local author without a powerful publicity apparatus behind him.

You can tell that the author Dow Kump enjoyed writing this book from the way in which his vivid imagination carried the story in the most delightful way. As the author enjoyed writing it, I am sure that if only it were in stores and if only it had had the proper publicity others would have enjoyed it too!

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Special Movie Review of the Week: Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) by Robert Steven Mack

A new era in entertainment has approached us in the last decade. The films of today have cast a shadow over the films of yesterday. New actors ascend to the thrones of stardom, while the old stars of yesterday fade away on the horizon.

As in the world around us, everything is changing in the movie industry: the technology, the style…even the Walt Disney Studios, a place where dreams had once come to us in the most vivid and exciting way. With a new kind of Hollywood in place, and that genius Walt Disney not able to lead them through changes, is the Magic Kingdom of Disney doomed? Did it lose its imaginative touch?

I have now the opportunity and great privilege to review one of Disney's newest films: Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton and starring Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts, Helen Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen.

The new story of Alice takes place several years from Alice’s first encounter with Underland, which, as we learn, she misunderstood as Wonderland. Alice, now at 19 years of age, is haunted by her re-occurring dream of a strange place far away that she had been dreaming about for years. Not finding her place in society, she accidentally falls down the “classic” rabbit hole to Wonderland. Yet, times have taken their toll and Alice is welcome to a run-down Wonderland with the Red Queen on the throne ruling with an iron heart and fist. It soon turns out that Alice was brought here to battle the ferocious Jabberwacky in order to win the land back to its rightful owner - the White Queen.

If you recall from my previous review of a 1933 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, I came up with the testable hypothesis that visual effects were not necessary to tell the story of Alice in Wonderland. I said that all ingredients you need are good actors, costumes, and a good story line to drive a film and make a good movie.

That may be so. However, in that very same review I also made a prediction that the new film would filled with visual effects and less rely on real acting and STORY PLOT as the camera would take over the starring role. This made me wary to see the film, but I decided to have a little faith in the Walt Disney production. Although the usage of amazing special and visual effects were humongous, and the use of technology was extremely high; the storywriters did an equally amazing job and came up with an intriguing, original, an exciting story about Alice’s return to Underland. The acting was not bad either.

In other words, I was wrong! My mother, Diana, was positively exalted about the movie: “Alice is a new woman – a daring misfit. She rejects the safe haven of marriage, she is neither the Queen Bee nor her alter ego, the vindictive Red Queen. She decides to seek out new worlds…follow her own dreams and make her own fortune. Wonderful!”

It is interesting that it was Tim Burton - a visual genius, yet arguably a somewhat of a “nutty” director – who made the best Disney film that was not produced by a Disney/Pixar partnership in years! It may be that this film is the only actual sequel to the 1951 Disney film, even though Tim Burton said in an interview that this film was not a sequel but an extension or continuation of the original story. He added that he did not want to go by the usual list of characters and events but wanted to do something a little different. I surmise, it shall however be regarded by many fans as the actual sequel, if there is to a continuation of this film as then it would have to be quite different for it to be successful.

In any event, this is not the Alice in Wonderland that you remember, and it comes as no surprise that this film was one of the highest grossing films in 2010(and of all time!) This is a witty, charming, action-packed adventure with a delightful comic flair about a 19-year old girl who finds herself in the world! Just like Wonderland -or was it Underland? Prior to the release of Alice Disney Studios was not in the best of shapes. If Disney would make the wise decision of making more movies like this one, then perhaps this film has shone the way to a bright future for Disney Studios. Just like Alice had done for Wonderland!

Movie ratings on scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack (100/100), Alex Mack (95/100), Diana Mack (99.7/100)

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Rice and Men by Robert Steven Mack

Check out my video about a cool website I found: it can raise your word power and feed the hungry. Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robert's Movie Review of the Week: "Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? by Robert Steven Mack

I read about it on Wikipedia, and I finally watched it at the Paley Media Center in Los Angeles: Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This is a colorful and enchanting one-hour Hanna-Barbara animated TV Special which originally aired in 1966.

Although an important addition to television history, this piece has unfortunately not been released on DVD, and perhaps one of the only places where you can enjoy this classic might be at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. This Alice television special is a valuable addition to the frolicking series of films based on the classic children’s novel Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll about a young girl that goes on one of the most curious adventures in the history of literature.

The story had been altered slightly and instead of Alice falling down the classic rabbit hole she falls through a television set which is most fitting for the times. Nowadays, it would have been video games! Also, Alice’s tender mice-eating cat Dana was replaced by a yappy playful pup named Fuffy. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the film would be the appearance of Fred Fintstone and Barney Rumpoble from the The Flintstones, voiced by Alan Reed and Mel Blanc, as the two-headed caterpillar. Most peculiarly, an introduction of yet a new character, Hedda Hatter, is voiced by Helda Hooper.

It stars the voices of Janet Waldo as Alice (the voice of Judy Jetson in Hanna-Barbara’s the Jetsons), Pentolope Pitson from the classic Hanna-Barbara animated series Wacky Races and it’s spin-off The Perils of Pentolope Pitson, and Judie McCoy from Judie and the Pussie Cats, yet another addition to the Hanna-Barbara’s legacy. Howard Morris is stars as the playful White Rabbit, writer Bill Dana as the clumsy White Knight, and Sammy Davis Jr. is singing the title song “What’s a nice kid like you doing in place like this?”

It is unfortunate that the Hanna Barbara Special has not been more popular in recent years for it is a truly enjoyable tele-film and would be a real treat for any Hanna Barbara fan or something to just watch for fun by anyone! In any event, I was thrilled to see be able to see this tele-film for I can consider it to be a real television classic.

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Truly democratic: Special Movie Review of the Alice in Wonderland Collection by Robert Steven Mack

As we come to the final round of excitement of the new “Alice in Wonderland” film, I have decided that I shall review more film versions based on Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its timeless sequel Through the Looking Glass. Not surprisingly, this film historical treasure chest has so far been overshadowed by the 1951 animated classic film adaptation produced by Walt Disney who had great admiration for both Lewis Carroll and his two unforgettable novels.

However, Walt Disney was not the only movie maker that was enchanted by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical literature. In fact, the earliest known film version of Alice in Wonderland was produced in 1903 and was just 8 minutes long. Dozens of film, television, and stage adaptations have been created since then. Thanks to the recent release of the new film starring Johnny Depp, a variety of hitherto obscure and unknown treasures of movie history have been released on DVD.

The Alice in Wonderland Classic Film Collection - now in stores - displays fine examples of these films. It is a marvelous collection of art, entertainment, and movie magic. It starts out with a 1915 silent version, which coincidentally was the first feature length adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The film is done with spirit and an almost amateurish style as exemplified by the stage-like look of the scene where Alice comes through the three doors covered by curtains and the stool that holds the key. The surrounding of the scene looks like the back lot of a stage. Other signs of early film making techniques are the size of the trees vis-à-vis the giant mushrooms. Alice appears to be the size of a caterpillar and no taller than a mushroom. The trees in the background are of regular size. Filming wherever they could and just adding a touch of Alice to their chosen surrounding was the simple thing to do for this picture. The pastures, the beaches, the non-professional style of this film may prove what it says on the back cover of the DVD box: “Produced long before CGI, the creatures are all costumed actors and the absence in dialogue creates a surreal, dream-like quality.” In other words, the apparently mundane surroundings as described above may be that of places where Alice has visited in the past, with a sprinkle of Wonderland added!

This early movie is strong evidence and supports the idea that anyone can produce an Alice in Wonderland film. All you really need is some costumes, a few set pieces, and a touch of imagination! This movie was directed by W. W. Yough stars Viola Savoy along with Elmo Lincoln, starring as the first Tarzan in Tarzan of the Apes in 1918. Granted, this film may seem boring and non-significant to movie goers who are not yet familiar with the silent film Tarzan, it is a must-see treasure for any film historian!
The 1915 Alice in Wonderland version is followed by two 7-minutes animated shorts from the original Walt Disney Alice in Cartoonland, produced and directed by Walt Disney in 1925. These short films, generally referred to as an Alice Comedy series, star four-year-old Virginia Davis and Margie Gray respectively in their portrayal of Alice. These two girls are acting, or “pretending” as Walt Disney called it, in front of a white screen with animation added in later. Both shorts follow the adventures of Alice and her hot-tempered, mischievous cat battling the hilarious dunderheads of Cartoonland. It is rumored that the animation in these shorts particularly the first, Rattled by Rats, inspired the evolution of Mickey Mouse and possibly other classic cartoon characters!

Next in the collection comes an animated joyful semi sequel to the original Alice in Wonderland story called Alice of Wonderland in Paris. The story follows Alice, now quite famous for her adventures in Wonderland and dreaming of the adventures that story book heroine Madeline has. With the help of a kind mouse by the name of Francoise she travels to Paris in hopes of meeting Madeline. While Alice dreams of being Madeline, it turns out Madeline dreams of being Alice! Featuring a collection of classic childhood stories, such as “Madeline and the Gipsies “ and “Many Moons” this is a witty and enchanting tale featuring French animation and the voices of Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Who could ask for anything more! Numerous other films were made, and have yet to be made. Watching more film versions is something that I deeply look forward to doing , for many people have gone through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole to true enchantment with the books, the movies, stage and television adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and have been brought to millions of people all over the world.

It is a wonder that not more Alice Comedies have been released on a DVD collection of their own for they would be a fine addition to this collection. In any event, these comedies will bring joy to you and your family at any time!

Robert Steven Mack's movie ratings from scale of 1-100: 1915 silent movie: 93/100; two Disney shorts: 95/100; Alice in Wonderland in Paris: 95/100

copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Robert's Book Review of the Week: Andrew Clement's "A Week in the Woods"

Author Andrew Clements writes a lot of books that center on student-teacher relationships. This is again exemplified in the popular 2002 children’s novel A Week in the Woods; which I consider a note-worthy addition to his school series.

On a cold day in January, rich kid Mark Chemsley IV moves to yet another mansion, meaning that he must temporarily go to Hardy Elementary, a public school, just for the rest of the year. Having a chauffeur hold your door for you to a Rolls Royce and running around wearing custom-made clothes from expensive materials is bound to attract some attention. The impression Mark makes on his teachers is not exactly favorable either, especially the one he makes on his eccentric science teacher, Mr. Maxwell. He takes the boy to be nothing but the usual rich kid slacker that teachers cannot stand. When Mark hears of the “Week in the Woods” nature program that Mr. Maxwell himself has started years ago and that has been a school tradition ever since, Mark soon decides that it is time for a change in appearance! Mark thus goes to Walmart to buy himself some regular clothes and sets out to be rid of his old “rich boy” habits, including being alone and conquering his fear of the dark. By talking right and dressing normally, he is able to be respected by everyone in the school; everyone but Mr. Maxwell. The reason for that becomes apparent: Mark bought the most expensive and most flashy backpack in the school. Disappointed but not willing to give up earning Mr. Maxwell’s trust, Mark Robert Chemsley IV is about to embark on one of the biggest adventures in his life!

The book is split up into two parts: the first part is fast-paced and humorous whereas the second part is both a thrilling adventure story and a coming-of-age drama. Andrew Clement describes every little detail perfectly in this electrifying rags-versus-riches story that will turn pages faster than a speeding bullet!

A final word after reading Lunch Money and A Week in the Woods; Andrew Clements has done it to me again!

books rating on scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack 100(+1)/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert's Special Movie Pick of the Week: Alice in Wonderland (1933)

I wonder what Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland film adaptation will be like to watch on the silver screen? I have not yet seen it, although one thing is for certain: the new film will utilize an extensive array of visual effects.

Walt Disney’s 1951 adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale is undoubtedly the most well-known of the film versions. Although it has not received the best reviews upon its original release, it is celebrated as one of the most beloved Disneyland rides. However, due to the release of the new film, DVD companies released little-known versions of one of the most beloved children’s books. Being a classic movie buff and a film historian, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and bought the first version that really caught my eye.

It was the all-star cast version way back from 1933 and directed by Norman McLeon. This Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass combination included screen legends such as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Charlie Ruggles, Sterling Holloway (who by the way voiced Cheshire Cat in the 1951 Disney version of the film!), Ford Sterling, May Robson, and Edward Everette Horton. I admit that it was funny seeing Cary Grant, one of Hollywood’s greatest leading man, in a turtle suit weeping like baby throughout his entire performance; and Gary Cooper, the great western hero from High Noon playing a bumbling White Knight who can’t even ride a horse. Nevertheless, Edward Everett Horton was perfect as the Mad Hatter, and Charlotte Henry gave a magnificent performance as Alice. There is not much to say for the plot as it was much like the books, although the film is similar to the then contemporary play by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus.

The 1933 Alice-in-Wonderland version is told with costumes, beautiful sets, and superb acting instead of the use of visual effects to make up what you see as it is done in the new Tim Burton film. My big question is whether all of those visual effects are essential to make a good movie - even a story as weird, wacky, and imaginative as Alice in Wonderland? That is exactly what I intend to find out. You will be the judge!

Whatever you may think about old movies, the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland is a fun, witty, wacky experience for any movie-goer!

movie rating on scale 1-100: Robert Steven Mack 100/100
Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Friday, April 2, 2010

Robert's Special Holiday Greetings

Dear Friends, I wish you Happy Holidays - und Frohe Ostern! Robert

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Robert's Movie Review of the Week: "The Nutty Professor" (1963) by Robert Steven Mack

People in the past have described screen legend Jerry Lewis as “the human ape” or “a child who drank one too many Shirley Temples.” Others derided him as just plain silly. Similarly my mother, Diana, was reluctant to see Jerry Lewis’s classic slapstick comedy The Nutty Professor, which he directed and co-wrote until it was confirmed that the film was not a Martin-Lewis combination. It has now become one of her favorite films!

Was Jerry Lewis misjudged? I believe he was. Jerry Lewis is often referred to as a clown, yet it takes a genius to make a film such as this! The Nutty Professor is about a shy, timid, accident-prone college professor who invents a magic potion that turns him into the very opposite: a sort of Jimmy Dean parody. His “cool dude” goal is to win the hand of senior student Stella Perdy. Under the cover, this Jekle-and-Hyde parody covers a number of issues, such as perception and reality.

Lewis did this film as carefully as possible, showing details of society as well as using wit to make us laugh. The Nutty Professor is different from the Martin-Lewis movies. Whereas in the Martin-Lewis films has comedy, slapstick, and an abundance of chaos, Lewis created a sort of serious 1960’s comedy. It reminds me of Groundhog Day - which received the same rating I gave this film. Why is this movie so different? The Nutty Professor was released in 1963, seven years since Martin and Lewis split up. According to my research, Jerry Lewis split up with Martin when critics started claiming that Jerry Lewis was the real talent and that anyone could replace Dean Martin’s straight man role, back in the early 50’s. Lewis vehemently denied that any of this was true and often said in interviews that he could not have made success without Martin. Hollywood or Bust (1956) would prove to be their last film together when the pressure got too hard on Martin and the two got into a damaging fight. And so with that, the great comedy team of Martin and Lewis, a partnership that had gone from their first performance in 1946 in a dusty night club, to the glammer of film, radio, and television.
The Nutty Professor would not be the first that Jerry Lewis would do alone, but it is probably the most remembered. The great comedian is still alive and well for he just completed a voice-over work for the direct-to-video film Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey!(which was released on March 2, 1010). Another film in which he is set to star in is Max Rose,where he is set to play the title character in the film. The Nutty Professor franchise includes a 1996 remake of the original film with the same title starring Eddie Murphy, and a sequel to the remake also starring Eddie Murphy, titled The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps. Interestingly, both Eddie Murphy films were produced by Jerry Lewis.

The pure magic Jerry Lewis is fully displayed in this funny, sexy, hilarious Jekle-Hyde parody that can be shared and enjoyed by friends and family for generations to come!

Movie ratings on scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack – 99/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Monday, March 22, 2010

Robert's Book Pick of the Week: "Lunch Money" by Andrew Clements

Do you like to read a witty book with humor and basaise..a book that has great writing and well-developed characters? Perhaps written by a great author like Andrew Clements? If that is what you are looking for, then "Lunch Money" is the book for you! The moment I saw it in the stores, I knew that this was a good book. It had a plot summary that grabbed me; and when a plot grabs me, there is only one thing that I can do: Buy it!

"Lunch Money" is the story of a talented young sixth-grader by the name Greg Kenton. A born business man, Greg has always been able to come up with profitable ideas to make money. Becoming a family bank at that, Greg has come up with his hottest idea yet: Chucky Comic Co. Greg came up with the billiant idea to sell his own comics at school for 25 cents each. Trouble arises when long time business rival and competitor, the equally talented Mara Shaw, starts selling comics of her own. But the two must soon get over their long-time competition to become partners in business when the school tries to ban the selling of their comic books. It is showdown time between Chunky Comics Co. v.s. the School District - a battle of the minds!

"Lunch Money" is an exciting book that can be read by everyone: from business men and business women, to comic book lovers to kids just wanting to sit down and read a good book!

book rating from scale 0-100: Robert Steven Mack: 100/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Robert's Movie Pick of the Week: "Finian's Rainbow" (1968) - Irish Delight

It was Dick Van Dyke who was to play Finian in the musical adapted from the 1948 Broadway hit “Finian’s Rainbow.” Warner Bros. had purchased the rights to the film back in the early 1950's. Yet, for whatever reason, the studio had never gotten around to this.

That is to say, until 1968! The film was set for release sometime in 1968 and to be directed by 29 year-old Francis Ford Coppula. It was to star Tommy Steele, Petula Clark - who would make her film debute in America- and Dick Van Dyke. However, when the deal with agile Dick Van Dyke fell through, Warner Bros. replaced him with a true Hollywood icon and legend: the one and only, now 69-year-old Fred Astaire! Some people derisively say that Astaire took the role just to cure his arthritis, but I think he took the role because it was the perfect role for him.

The story follows an Irish rogue and his daughter who come to Rainbow Valley in Kentucky right next to Fort Knocks. The man comes to the free world with a dream and a pot of gold! Trouble arises from the ground when a greedy and racist senator detects gold on the land and starts causing 13-shamrock trouble! The film deals with a number of problems such as racism and prejudice and the impact they have on society. Age, on the other hand, does not matter in screen legend Fred Astaire's case in the film for he sings, he dances, and does it extremely well. The only difference from the young Fred Astaire and the old Fred Astaire is that he wears a worn-out hat instead of a topper, a ruddy old cardigan instead of black tails, and instead of a white tie he wears an old scarf that he drapes warmly around his shoulder. This is still Fred Astaire!

With Fred Astaire as Finian, Petula Clark as Finian's daughter Sharon, Tommy Steele as Og, the Leprecon, Don Franks as Sharon’s lover Woody Mahoney, Barbara Hancocks as Susan the Silent and the classic Disney villain, Keenan Wynne as the senator, this film is a sure Irish delight! As this was Fred Astaire's last musical, I think the role he played in this funny and witty musical was just the kind of role he wanted to play. Fred Astaire’s last musical was one of the greatest musicals of its time!

movie rating on scale of 0-100: Robert Steven Mack - 98/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Monday, March 15, 2010

Robert's Special Movie Pick of the Week: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

In a previous book review I commented on the similarities between Percy Jackson’s “The Lightning Thief” and Harry Potter. Since then, I have seen the film adaptation of the children’s novel "The Lightning Thief" and feel I have to explain my initial reasoning. First, Percy Jackson was directed by Chris Columbus, coincidentally also director of the first two Harry Potter films. Hence, I had my suspicions and prejudices that Percy Jackson was to be just another Harry Potter. Also, since the Harry Potter film series will be ended in 2011 (release year of the final HP film), the film series could be seen as a sort of replacement for the audience, yet in competition for viewers. Moreover, Chris Columbus might have seen as being given a second chance at directing a super-natural fantasy film. Indeed, director Chris Columbus stated in an interview that the actors were chosen with sequels in mind.

True or not, when I went to see the film, I was in for a big surprise! Instead of a cookie-cutter Harry Potter from the cupboard, Percy Jackson in the movie was a teenager in High school! Overall, it almost seems as if Chris Columbus created the opposite of his two Harry Potter films: Whereas in the two Harry Potter films, the story is driven more by the characters and the acting, this was not the case in Percy Jackson. Indeed, the plot could have been more developed and the characters could have been better introduced to the viewer. Instead, the movie dives right into the plot. For the reader who has not read the book nor watched the movie, I would like to point out that Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter films are notable for there closer-to-the book approach. Indeed, some Harry Potter movie critics disliked that very fact. In Percy Jackson, on the other hand, there are a number of notable changes in the adaptation from book to film. For example, Percy Jackson's age was changed from age twelve in the book to eighteen in the movie. Another significant change is that in the book it is not until Percy gets to Camp-Half Blood that it is known that PJ is the son of Poseidon. In the movie adaptation, however, it is known from the start that he has this rare demi-god position. I wonder why Chris Columbus chose these changes? Were they purposeful changes to make a point or were they economic necessities?

Whatever you may think of all the above, the visual effects in the movie were truly amazing. While the characters were quite undeveloped, the visual effects seem almost to drive the story! One of the most memorable scenes in the movie was the scene at the Lotus Casino in Las Vegas. Here, thousands of people are seen amusing themselves and playing endless video games that seduce with the charm of luxury. People never wake up because they are eating drugged lotos flowers, half voluntarily and half under pressure. It is scary because they never really know what year it is. It might be a description of some part of American society. In other words, that scene may be more powerful than it was meant to be. On the other hand, if the films crew did intend to capture it, years from now it shall be viewed by scholars and preserved as a historical treasure! I and some fellow viewers also thought that the depiction of the Hollywood sign as “Gateway to Hell” was an interesting way to show Hollywood hopefuls what they are in for! In conclusion, I think that viewers of the first two Harry Potter films will find a certain magic from "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" missing. However, “The Lighting Thief” must be viewed in a different light with qualities of its own. My mother, Diana, called “The Lightning Thief” a “disturbingly good” movie and asked to refrain from rating it until she has seen it a second time.

I can recommend this movie to you. It is an action-packed, humorous and unforgettable film that will be enjoyed for generations to come!

ratings on scale from 0-100: Robert Steven Mack: 96/100, Alex Mack: 95/100, Peter T.: 96/100, Jayne T.: 83/100, Diana Mack: pending a second review; average rating: 92.5/100 (but Diana Mack's rating is pending)

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (with special thanks to my editor Diana Mack)

Robert's Movie-Pick of the Week: Walt Disney's Aladdin (1992)

My theory on the essential characteristics of a truly enjoyable movie is a well-balanced amount of comedy, romance, and action.
The 1992 Disney production of Aladdin has all these elements which make it a joyous comedy-adventure film for the whole family! After years of seeing previews of Aladdin on other Disney DVD's and VHS's, I happily acquired the film at a local library sale for 50 cents only!

In this adaptation of Aladdin, our hero is nothing more than a “worthless peasant,” longing for riches and royalty. Meanwhile, Princess Jasmine of Arabagh, bored in her golden cage, longs for a life of adventure outside the castle walls. One day, while escaping from her palace life, her Highness runs into a peasant of the streets, a thief to boot, who steals for survival. It is, of course, none other than the one and only Aladdin himself and accompanied by his pet monkey Abu. Naturally, it is love at first sight – with all the problems that this unfortunate condition brings…

Once Aladdin discovers that his love interest is the Princess, he is bewildered that the one he fell in love with is royalty. While he longs for her hand, and she longs for his, they both know that they are star-crossed lovers: a princess can only marry royalty and not some worthless street urchin. Alas! Meanwhile, an evil sorcerer named Jafar, royal advisor to the sultan plans to overthrow the government and become Sultan himself. He tries to achieve this with the help of a magic lamp in a Cave of Riches. However, only a man worthy enough, best described as a “diamond in the rough” may enter this wondrous cave. Java knows that this diamond in the rough is no one other than Aladdin! Jafa subsequently tricks Aladdin into going into the cave and get the magic lamp for Jafar. Fortunately, Jafar's plan goes wrong and Aladdin gets to meet the Genie inside the lamp! The rest is history…

While watching the climax of the film, I wondered about how the sequence would look with live action visual effects. I very much enjoyed the comical elements in the movie. Most of the film’s comedy comes from Aladdin’s wise cracking Genie (voiced by Robin Williams). Nevertheless other characters also share a portion of comic relief which casts away the traditionally comic “flatness” from the movie. That is to say, in similar animated films where there are jokes only on one character, and this can sometimes bring a certain flatness to the film.

In any event, the film is a humorous tale of adventure, mystery, and forbidden love that is sure to enchant the whole entire family!

movie rating on scale of 1-100: Robert Steven Mack - 99/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Robert's Book-Pick of the Week: A Spy in the White House - Capital Mysteries #4 by Ron Roy

I have always liked books by Ron Roy, and this book is no exception:

A U.S. president is always on the news, and there is always someone in the world speaking about the Leader of the Free World.

In “A Spy in the White House”, our president is soon to be married to an ordinary citizen about to embark into her historic role as the First Lady in the White House. That is exactly what is about to happen to youth-detective K.C. Corcoran’s mother. As you can imagine news reporters, photographers, and television networks from around the world crowd the president buzzing him questions faster than he can answer them. They ask him questions from A-Z (pun intended), and the president is trying to answer their questions as best he can. However, when a reporter asks the future first-couple where they will be spending the honeymoon, the president refuses to answer on account of privacy. Yet, when the story appears in the newspaper the very next morning -along with the thousand of questions that were asked - the secret location of their honeymoon is revealed. It is feared that there is a security gap in the White House. K.C’s best friend Marshall Li surmises that a bug was planted somewhere in the private chambers of the White House. Mysteriously, nothing was to be found! As the investigation proceeds, K.C. and Marshall question the news reporter who asked the president this personal question as well as printed the answer about the honeymoon location in the paper. The reporter claims that she got that piece of unauthorized information from an anonymous man with a scratchy voice over the phone.

Now it is up to K.C. and her best friend Marshall to find the mystery man. Although this roller-coaster mystery book by Ron Roy is no Hitchcock thriller, it will keep you in suspense of the answer until the very end. Ron Roy did a fine job in writing another enjoyable novel. The characters are well-developed, the story is very intriguing coupled with superb writing. It is a book that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.

ratings on a scale of 1-100: Robert Steven Mack 96/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Robert's Book-Pick of the Week: The Hardy Boys' Casefiles - Witness to Murder

If it were up to me, and me alone, to name the 15 greatest mystery series of all time, I can only say that The Hardy Boys would be very near the top!

I first started reading The Hardy Boys when I was 9 years old. Encouraged by the fact that the first books were written in 1927 - for I am a fan of old works of art -and by the fact that my father, Alex Mack, had also been intrigued by this fascinating group of mind-boggling mystery stories, I loved them! I have collected and read the first twenty-five books up to date. Surprisingly little did I know until recently that the stories were actually changed between 1959 and 1974. For example, they shortened the books from 25 chapters to 20 chapters. In addition, the editors also eliminated certain points at racism, such as the term “negro” were also altered. Despite the fact that I was not reading the original versions of the books, I was happy with what I had! Later I heard of the 1980's books. At first, I was reluctant to read the newer, 1980's books on The Hardy Boys for fear that they would not be as good. Yet, as I started researching the series, I found out that there was a whole new world of Hardy Boys mysteries out there! In fact,there was also series for younger children plus the most recent series The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers. I started to become more and more curious what they were like. But my mind was still not made up.

One day, however, while I was at the library book and film sale and fishing for good deals, I came across two books from The Hardy Boys: The Casefiles mystery series. I had read of this series in my research. It was the series started in the 1980's and dealt with first-degree murder and international espionage. It was a lot more violent than the original series. I decided to buy them along with the other good deals I liked. The two books that I bought were Casefiles#4: The Lazarus Plot and #20: Witness To Murder.

I decided to read Witness to Murder first. I read it none-stop with my eyes literally glued to the page: In this story, 17 year old Joe Hardy has been down ever since the death of his girl friend,Lola Morton, was killed by a terrorist bomb intended for Joe and his 18 year old brother Frank. This is until now, for he falls in love again. A love affair that leads to disastrous results. He falls in love with Annie Shea, the pretty new girl in town, who ran away from her jealous ex-boy friend who died when he was hit accidentally by a car when he and Annie were physically fighting in the parking lot of a mall. Responding to Annie's cries for help, Joe drove to Annie’s plea for help only to be accused of manslaughter. While Joe is out on bail, word comes in that Annie's late ex-boy friend was part of a million-dollar diamond robbery. And Annie too! While Joe continues to deny that Annie could be part of a diamond robbery, Frank who did not like her and was suspicious of Annie from the very beginning, investigates the case more closely.

This was my first Hardy Boy Casefiles book, and I liked it tremendously! I felt like this book gave better detail of the characters than the 1959 series. For instance, you see Joe struggling with his emotions with the shocking death of Lola. Also, he fights with Frank who is suspicious of Annie. With a Shocking ending, this book is among my favorite books. As all Hardy Boys books are!

Book ratings on scale from 1/100: Robert Steven Mack: 100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (with special thanks to my mother Diana and father Alex for letting me stay up late)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Afterlude to The Muppet Movie by Robert Steven Mack

After reading my article about The Muppet Movie, my mother noted the simularities between Doc's dark operations and Kaos of the 60's television series Get Smart. In fact, Mel Brooks, creator of Get Smart, played the German scientist that tried to brian-wash Kermit. Coincidence? He may have thought of this character as a sort of

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack

Robert's Movie-Pick of the Week: The Muppet Movie (1979)

With the Muppets you never know what to expect! Sometimes you will see singing vegetables, or you might see a band of crazed 70’s hippies literally sing a house down! If you ever wondered how this neurotic bunch of fluff conquered America, this movie is a must-see. Here, you will learn how Kermit and his friends started out. From his lowly start as an unknown frog in a pond, the viewer follows Kermit’s slippery road to success as a big time show biz celebrity. In the prelude to the film, we start out watching the Muppets running amock at the prescreening of their film. When all of those hyperactive Muppets finally settle down, Kermit commands them to roll the film:

One f(r)oggy day, a Hollywood talent agent comes to Kermit’s secluded swamp and shows Kermit an advertisement in the newspapers by World Wide Studios (WWS). WWS is in desperate and dire need of frogs wishing to become rich and famous. Kermit then sets out to Hollywood with his green heart set on fame, fortune, and being able to make millions of people happy. Kermit soon meets up with Fozzie Bear, a fame-seeking stand-up comedian who, instead of getting applause, gets jaws! Despite Fozzie’s ostensible lack of talent, he and Kermit strike a deal for an act. Sooner or later, they would become very close friends for the rest of their trip to Hollywood - indeed, for the rest of their lives. Not long after their acquaintance, Kermit and Fozzie encounter Doc Hopper, self-proclaimed President of Doc Hopper’s Fried Frog Legs. Gulp. This man wants Kermit to perform in his television commercials and offers him $500. Kermit, disinclined to sell his soul or legs, refuses Doc Hopper’s offer and leaves in a hurry. But, Doc does not give up easily... Kermit and Fozzie soon meet up with Gonzo, Rolf the Dog, and the lovely Miss Piggy in between several precarious encounters with Doc Hopper and his men - including one where Doc Hopper hires a German scientist to brain-wash Kermit into doing his commercials. Lucky for Kermit that Miss Piggy has a black belt in karate! Pow. After Doc’s many failures in catching Kermit, our villain hires a deadly professional frog killer to hunt poor Kermit down! When the Doc’s timid assistant learns of this, he turns on the Doc to warn Kermit and his friends. But Kermit knows of what comes next. I will only say that we have on our hands a classic show-down!

After watching this hilarious movie, I cannot help wondering if some scenes were deleted from the film. For instance, Kermit never asked Rolf the Dog to join the trip to Hollywood - Rolf just showed up. Also Miss Piggy’s brief disappearance in the film could have been better explained. Despite these jumpy edges, however, with a cast of some of the most celebrated movie icons of silver-screen history – including Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope – as well as catchy songs, funny and witty dialog, and a good moving story The Muppet Movie is a must-see for any movie lover. Directed by James Frawley and released in 1979, this film is Muppet entertainment at its best!

Movie ratings - on a scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack 95/100, Alex Mack 95/100, Diana Mack 82/100; average Mack family rating: 90.6/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (with special thanks to my mother Diana and father Alex for their assistance in editing)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Robert's Book Pick of the Week: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I don’t know how many people told me that Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan was good, but I know that it was a great many. I would have to get it sooner or later, and I finally did.

A 12-year-old boy who goes by the name Percy Jackson finds out that he is a demigod and is therefore sent to a Camp Half-Blood for demigods. Just when Percy is getting adjusted to life at Camp Half-Blood, it is discovered that Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon: God of the Sea or one of the Big Three. He subsequently learns that the Big Three -Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades - made an oath never to have children; therefore it seems illegal for poor Percy to even be alive. With the rest of the demigod children avoiding him as much as possible, matters don’t get better when Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen and Percy is the prime suspect. Percy along with his two friends Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood set out on a quest to find the real culprit and to return the bolt to its rightful owner.

When I read this book I could not help but to notice the similarities between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson: A boy suddenly finding out that he is the son of a god and that gods do indeed exist, is a fairly similar idea to11-year-old Harry Potter finding out that he is a wizard and that wizards do exist. Camp Half-Blood is merely the demigod version of Hogwarts School for Wizards. In addition, the fact that Percy is quite famous from the start, makes him very equivalent to Harry. The only real difference between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson is that HP is a wizard and that PJ is a demigod. Yet, both have supernatural powers that distinguish them from ordinary mortals.
However, Percy Jackson is a lot more funnier than Harry Potter. The comical element in Percy Jackson is reminiscent to the chemistry entailed in The Chronicles of Prydian. Although more than half the comedy is in the writing, the comic moments between Percy and Annabeth reminds the astute reader of Taran and Eliwonli from The Chronicles of Prydian. Although this Percy Jackson does not have the magic of Harry Potter, nor the charm of Pydian, The Lightning Thief will give you a smile and a chuckle, as well as edge-of-the-seat suspense in this action-packed novel. I can’t wait to see the movie!

Book Ratings – on scale from 1-100: Robert Steven Mack: 90/100; Steward Mackinley: 78/100; Johnny McChristmas: 93/100; average ratings: 87/100

Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (with special thanks to my mother Diana and my father Alex for their assistance in editing)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movie-Pick of the Week: Casino Royale (1967) I have heard great things about the 2006 spy film Casino Royal starring Daniel Craig. Therefore, I was surprised to find out that there was a previous film done in 1967. This adaptation of Ian Fleming’s classic James Bond novel was a parody, however, and the fact that it had a cast of Hollywood icons -including Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, David Niven, and Woody Allen - it sounded like something I might want to see. I was not even suspicious of the fact that the film was directed by five different directors! The film starts out with a group of men, including the secret agency chief M on their way to a retired James Bond’s mansion. There they request that due to a number of agent losses he would come out retirement to become an agent once more. While he thinks it over, it is mentioned that he was once madly in love with the infamous Marta Hari; and that at the time of her death the great spy was in such pity at the loss of his love that he quit being a spy and was never to return. Bond refuses even a letter from the Queen of England on account of his lost love but quickly changes his mind when chief M is killed. He then sets out to find and to help smash SMERSH, the band of hit men who are likely responsible. But first he stops at M’s widow’s castle for a fiasco. Back at the secret agency, Bond, now in command, orders that in order to conceal his identity all available agents will now be given the name James Bond. After a number of events, both comical and romantic, Bond soon meets up with his long lost daughter who was born right before her mother Marta Hari was executed. She was to go into her mothers old spy training school to collect data. I am afraid this is all I can say about that, for sooner or later you will lose track of the happenings in the film, and you will sit there bewildered and wondering what happened to James Bond? The end of the film was simply unforgettable however, for after a number of catastrophes, young Marta is kidnapped by SMERSH, who takes her to their headquarters, which they soon find out is located under Casino Royale. At the final chase scene, all of a sudden cowboys are running around in havoc, Indians are dancing, and old silent movie footage runs of policemen getting into a car, and all that inside of poor Casino Royale! I found out the reason for all the chaos on The Making of Casino Royale featured on the DVD Special Features: First, Peter Sellers left, subsequently they had to totally rewrite the script with new actors. Joanna Petit, who young Marta Hari was promised only 3 or 4 weeks on the set, she was there for 8 months, and as for the directors, they just kept coming and going. Starring David Niven as James Bond, this film took almost 2 years to make and quite obviously was out of whack, but has nevertheless a certain flair. While the film was lost on my parents who fell asleep in the middle of silverscreen chaos, I liked it! Movie Ratings on scale from 1 – 100: Robert Steven Mack: 91/100; Diana Mack: 40/100 (due to ????); Alex Mack: 55/100 (due to ????) average Mack family ratings: 62/100 Copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (with special thanks to my mother Diana and father Alex for their assistance in editing)