Rudy

Distributed By: TriStar Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            When football season begins, I watch games on television.  Sometimes I listen to them on the radio.  But I can in no way be considered an avid fan of the sport.  Sure, I know things about how the game is played or who is currently playing.  I even know some things about past players.  But I’m not considered an avid fan.  However, when it comes to football movies, it would seem that I have watched quite a few.  For me, one movie in particular stands out.  It’s a movie I can watch every single time it’s on – the uplifting film called Rudy.

            Rudy is based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.  Rudy had always loved football and dreamed of playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish college football team.  Considered too small for football by most, Rudy nevertheless exhibited great heart and determination for the sport, eventually playing defense for his high school football team.  His dreams of playing football for Notre Dame were laughed at by family members and discouraged by high school faculty who pointed out that Rudy’s grades would never earn him a spot at Notre Dame.

            Heartbroken, Rudy settled on a life working at the local steel mill with his family and dreaming of an opportunity to play with Notre Dame until disaster struck.  Rudy’s best friend, Pete, the only man who believed in Rudy’s dreams, was killed in an accident at the mill.  Pete’s death inspires Rudy to pursue his dream and Rudy heads out to South Bend to find out how he can get into Notre Dame College.  It is suggested that if he applies for Holy Cross Junior College, works hard and gets good grades, he might be accepted to Notre Dame eventually.  Rudy puts forth every effort to achieve his goals, studying hard, getting a job working on the Notre Dame football field and sleeping in the grounds department office at night.

            Eventually, all of Rudy’s hard work pays off when he is finally accepted into Notre Dame and earns a spot on the football practice team.  Putting forth his best effort, Rudy helps the regular players practice for their upcoming games, hoping to earn the opportunity to “suit up.”  His drive and determination earns him great respect amongst his teammates and even the regulars begin to see Rudy as an asset to their team.  It is through the effort of these regular players that Rudy is given a chance to suit up and eventually play on field in the last game of his senior year.

            The movie stars Sean Astin in one of the greatest roles (the role of Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy not withstanding) of his career.  Astin does an excellent job portraying Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.  The character’s heart and determination shine through in Astin’s portrayal and you get the feeling that this role may have been just a tad bit personal for the actor.  Rudy contains a variety of well-known actors.  Ned Beatty plays Daniel Ruettiger, Sr., a hard working family man with a love for Notre Dame football.  Charles Dutton is Fortune, head of the Notre Dame football ground crew, friend and supporter of Rudy.  Robert Prosky makes an appearance as Father Cavanaugh, the priest who stands by Rudy, offering him advice on how to get in to Notre Dame and standing by as a counselor when Rudy is at his lowest.  Even the real Daniel Ruettiger gets into the act with a cameo as a fan in the stands during Rudy’s final game.

            Rudy is the inspiring true story of one man’s triumph over insurmountable odds to achieve his lifelong dream.  The movie is uplifting and contains a message – no one’s dreams are completely out of reach as long as you have the drive and determination to persevere.  The movie also gives us another message in the form of a reminder from Fortune when Rudy gripes about his hard work not coming to fruition.  Fortune tells Rudy that even if he doesn’t make the football team, he must remember that he has just earned an education that others would die for at one of the highest ranked learning centers in the country.  Sometimes, even if we fall short of our dreams, it is the road we have traveled to achieve them that earns us the biggest prize. 

            The Special Edition DVD version of Rudy contains some enjoyable special features.  There is a documentary with the real Daniel Ruettiger giving viewers further insight into various scenes throughout the movie.  In a short featurette, Sean Astin discusses what it was like to portray Rudy.  There is a quick documentary about the making of the film, featuring director David Anspaugh, talent files, an isolated musical score and more.

            Football fans will be happy to know that there are some truly amazing football scenes in this film.  The scenes look incredibly real and one wonders just how many bruises the actors were sporting when they finally walked away from the movie.  Some of the rather hard hits will actually have you cringing and some of the scenes in which the teams are playing an actual game will have you perched on the edge of your seat.  However, don’t be fooled – this is less of a football movie and more of a movie about human determination and spirit.  Rudy will definitely appeal to football fans, but any movie aficionado will find something to love about this movie.  I can’t help but watch it every time it’s on.  I know exactly what is going to happen, having seen it more than a dozen times, and yet the film still affects me the same way each time.  Rudy is an amazingly inspirational true story that every movie lover should see. 

Check out Rudy at Amazon!

The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan

Written By: Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller

Published By:  Little A

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I love when I get offered the opportunity to check out a new author and a subject matter that I really haven’t delved into.  I recently found that opportunity with a bundle of books offered up for perusal at Amazon.com.  Most of these were fiction or historical fiction with one exception, The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller.

               In the early 1980s, Enjeela was a young tomboy-ish girl who loved nothing more than climbing trees and rough-housing with her older brother.  Her family was well off, living on a large parcel of land in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Her father was a landlord who worked as an interpreter for the local embassy.  Her mother was a spirited woman with artistic skills.  At the time, her family’s biggest worry was finding an appropriate husband for her oldest sister. 

               And then it happened, civil war and the Soviet invasion.  Gone was the new democracy the country was experiencing.  Women were no longer allowed to be at the forefront of society.  Their opinions were no longer cherished and they were forced once again to remain at home, silenced.  Suddenly her family members started disappearing – moving away, being taken away by the new government leaders or taking their own lives.  Enjeela’s mother, suffering from a heart issue, leaves for medical treatment in India with some of the children.  One of Enjeela’s older brothers, soon to be forced to fight for the Soviets, follows her, leaving Enjeela alone with two sisters, a brother and a disillusioned father, steadily watching his country fall apart.

               Soon, Enjeela’s father realizes it is no longer safe for his children to stay in Kabul.  He enlists the aid of a guide with a rough exterior but a kind heart to take the rest of his family out of Afghanistan.  The journey is long and filled with dangers, not only from the military, but from the landscape itself.  Once a whining, spoiled child, Enjeela begins a journey toward strength and fortitude as she travels toward a freedom and an uncertain future.

               As I began reading The Broken Circle, I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about Afghanistan and its troubled history.  I was getting my education from a woman who had gone through one of the toughest times in its history and somehow made it out stronger than when she began.  Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller writes such a descriptive and somewhat harrowing tale of survival, you find yourself picturing every scene in your mind’s eye and wondering just how you would fare if you had to endure the same journey.

               I was not only captivated by the description of life in Afghanistan before and during the invasion, I was amazed by the fortitude of this family whose love kept them going despite every obstacle they encountered.  The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan is a poignant read, made even more so by current events.  A book definitely worth checking out!

Buy The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan at Amazon!

Our Computer Game Addictions

By Melissa Minners

                It started small…with some Bounce Out and Zuma…nothing I couldn’t handle.   Just a couple of games where you had to match bouncy balls or rocks in a snaky Aztec maze.  They actually used to help me conquer my migraines (as long as I had the sound off).  Then I started playing Bejeweled on the end of a flight back from Los Angeles.  Matching jewels as they fell from the top of the screen was fun and often quite challenging, especially when you were trying to clear rows and create larger, more explosive jewels.  Kind of reminded me of Tetris mixed with Bounce Out, but without all the maneuvering of puzzle pieces and bouncing balls.  I enjoyed that game so much, I went out and bought a copy for my computer.  But I could stop at any time…no problem.  Even with the bonus types of games I found on Bejeweled 3.

                But then, one day, I received a gift on social media.  My cousin sent some coins I could use to play 8 Ball Pool online.  I love playing pool, both real tabletop pool and computer pool, though I am waaay better at computer pool…can’t imagine why (impish grin on my face as I type that last).  I was hooked!  I couldn’t stop playing.  You could play in tournaments.  You could compliment your competition – real competition from all over the world, not a computer pretending to be a person.  As you build up your winnings, you could play in different locales.  And if you were willing to spend some dough (which I, as yet, am not) you could buy new pool cues, new table layouts, more coins, additional cute saying to try on your competition, mini-games and more.  Each day, you can spin the wheel to win more coins or scratch offs used to win more coins.  Every half hour, you get twenty-five free coins.  And you receive awards for winning (besides the coins), potting a certain amount of balls in one shot and more.  After a certain amount of balls potted, you level up.  Depending on the level (bronze, gold, silver, platinum, etc) you compete weekly for prizes.  So much fun!  But when the free money ran out, I went on to other more important things and put the games aside.

                That was until I found free slot machine games on social media!  Uh oh!  Now I’m in trouble!  I am currently playing five different slot games.  I was playing a couple of other slot games, but I’ve settled on these five: Real Casino, Vegas Grand Slots, Heart of Vegas Real Casino Slots, Casears Slots and Old Vegas Slots.  Same concept with all of these – they are slot machine games and you get free coins to play them daily.  If you want more coins, you can buy them.  But there is something different to offer with each game.  Real Casino has a ton of different games to choose from.  They are all of the video slot variety that people have come accustomed to finding in newer casino slot sections.  They also have card games for those who like video poker or blackjack.  And Real Casino offers the most bonus coins of all the various slot machine games I’ve played.  They also have competitions with other players to see who will win the most in a certain time span.  Winning the competition means more coins for you! 

Heart of Vegas Real Casino Slots has games I have actually seen in Atlantic City and Nevada, including The Walking Dead and Amazing Race.  Like Real Casino, they are of the video variety and you can earn free spins and bonuses, but there is a bit if a difference here.  You won’t be able to afford some of these games.  Lowest bid on The Walking Dead is $75,000 and a lot of the jackpot games are that or higher.  Thus, you either have to win big or gather quite a few bonus coins each day, or you can buy enough coins to play those slots.  You can also win free access to new games by playing existing games and scoring big. 

                Vegas Grand Slots are also video slots, but you can win quite a bit with this group of machines.  They have shorter competitions in which to beat other players based on how much you bet and win.  I’ve won quite a few of these.  But if you want games other than slots, you are out of luck here.  I found Caesars Slots by accident and found it to be fun.  You unlock games as you play and earn levels.  These games are also mostly video slots, but there are other games like video poker, roulette, blackjack and classic slots (throwbacks to the pull the handle days).  There is also a Golden Room you can unlock with access to tons more interesting video slots.  And there are various competitions and challenges which can earn you tons more coins.  You can buy more if you want, but I haven’t had to.  And I have been having a ton of fun with this one.  It’s a new experience every day.

                A family member introduced me to Old Vegas Slots.  Here, you can find a mix of what you would see in video slot machine areas and regular slots.  I found an old favorite – the very first slot I ever played in Atlantic City was Red White and Blue and they have it here!  There’s a VIP room, but you have to be a high roller to get in and that’s a bit of a problem.  Unless you are purchasing, chances are you won’t get there.  You see, Old Vegas has a very different payout rate – more like what you would win in a real casino.  Those of you who have been out to Atlantic City will know what I am talking about.  But I do like the variety of games, so I keep coming back. 

                Seeing how addicted I have become to online video games, I decided to ask some of my readers about their online gaming addictions.  Here’s what they had to say: 

Kathy: I have a serious addiction to HayDay, does that count? HAHA.  It is a very silly game played on a phone or computer using an app. Most people play it as part of Facebook. You farm, plant trees, collect stuff to expand, feed animals. Silly, mostly mindless stuff really. The reason I like it is that I am playing it in a group with my sister, my daughter, and two of my nephews. You can help the others in your group so it is a very silly way to spend a few minutes each day playing with family who don’t live close by.

Angela: World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Farmville 2, Overwatch, Everquest 2 – but that one is losing momentum, Skyrim, Destiny, Heroes of the Storm, Gwent, there are too many to list.  Farmville was my weak spot. They were always doing special promotions or such, so there was never a good time to log.

Jag: Facebook – I don’t use it to play but people sent me every five minutes that Candy Crush thing.  And Bejeweled.  That’s pretty addictive.  I’m mostly into challenge games like Age of Empires.

Megan: Hmm I don’t play many games anymore but I’d say on the computer it would likely be The Sims. For that game, it kind of happens in waves, where you get new expansion packs and characters and you play for days straight, then don’t touch it for a while.  And, of course, Minecraft for kids.

Why is minecraft so addictive?  It’s the whole world building of it, I think-that you can make anything you want with the right tools and the interactive element where you can see and play with other users. 

Oh! Five Nights at Freddy’s, too.  So, it started off as an indie horror game with animatronic animals coming to life and you worked as security in a pizza shop and had to do certain things or else the animatronics will kill you/jumpscare you.  So it started off as an indie horror game with animatronic animals coming to life and you worked as security in a pizza shop and had to do certain things or else the animatronics will kill you/jumpscare you.  But its f@#$%#% terrifying. But then again, I’m also a wimp so. 

Mandy: I have to stew on other ideas, but Stardew Valley is the first one that comes to mind. If my 300 in game hours mean anything.

Kristina: I don’t really play on the computer or Facebook but Disney Magic Kingdoms and Dragon Mania Legends I play on my phone and connect to Facebook if that counts.

Barbara: Clash of Clans – it’s an app game, Clash Royal – it’s also an app as well as Disney Kingdoms.  My son and his wife play these games all the time.

Justine: I play Candy Crush, Soda Crush, and Jelly Crush.

Allegra: World of Warcraft and Overwatch.

Melinda: Wizard of Oz and Caesars Casino.

Kelly: Sadly, I’m addicted to Disney Emoji Blitz which is just a phone app game. Same goes for my other addiction, Bejeweled Blitz.

Deb: Criminal Case, Yahtzee and Old Vegas are my addictions… All are on Facebook

How different is Old Vegas from other slot games?  Less payouts… more like the actual slots in a casino.

Din: I got addicted to Lego Star Wars, lol. Finished movies 1-6.  I also got into LOTR Lego.
 

                Great – more games to get addicted to!  Thanks, folks!  If you have an internet game you just can’t seem to get enough of, drop us a line at feedback@g-pop.net, discus it at the G-POP.net discussion board or hit us up at our Facebook page!  Inquiring gaming minds want to know! 

World War Z

An Oral History of the Zombie War

Written By: Max Brooks

Published By: Three Rivers Press

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Some time ago, I was suffering from a sinus infection and decided that, since I couldn’t really do anything but lay in bed, I would watch a movie all of my friends and co-workers were talking about: World War Z.  I really enjoyed the film, so when I discovered that it was based on a novel, I wanted to check it out.  I perused it at my local bookstore and realized the book was very different from the film.  Sometimes, that can be a good thing.  But the price at the time wasn’t, so I passed on the purchase.  Recently, I found the book again at a much more manageable price and decided to buy it.

               Author Max Brooks has been quoted as saying that the only thing that the movie had in common with his book was the central storyline, that of the zombie virus and the fall of the world as we knew it.  I would tend to agree.  The book begins with an introduction by the fictitious author of this oral history, a man who worked with the United Nations on the Postwar Commission Report, but whose content was cut to eliminate the emotional side, focusing on a true after-action report of the events of the Zombie War.  The author decided to write a novel, including the various individuals he spoke with in an effort to outline just what happened before, during and after this cataclysmic event.

               He begins with the warning signs – the rumors of a “rabies” spreading through the human population that reanimates the dead.  No one can truly believe this virus exists in the way that the rumor states.  When they do finally witness the virus in action, a panic ensues.  The various militaries around the world decide to take up arms, many joining forces to fight this re-animated evil spreading through the world.  Finally, the author discusses the recovery effort – the losses, the PTSD, the rebuilding effort and more.

               First, may I say that if you are having a tough time dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, World War Z may not be for you.  There are just too many similarities to the events before and during the zombie outbreak that eerily mirror those of the COVID outbreak.  It is truly disturbing.  One has to work hard to remind themselves that this book was written decades prior to our own outbreak, especially when we read that the zombie virus outbreak was believed to have started in China and they tried to hide it.  We also see similarities with our loss in faith in our government thanks to its response to the virus and the lack of valid information being dispersed to civilians.  And then there is the profiteering, such as the man selling a fake vaccine-like pill that is supposed to stop you from getting the zombie virus…much like Remdesivir was supposed to stop you from getting COVID.

               Once you get past the disturbing similarities to current events, you start to realize how great it is to read the various aspects of the Zombie War through the differing perspectives offered in this novel.  We see things through the eyes of that despicable profiteer who seeks to make money deluding people into thinking he is selling them the cure.  We see things through the eyes of Millennials who have always known instant gratification and now have to fend for themselves, cooking, gathering supplies and just trying to survive a zombie horde.  We see things through the perspective of soldiers who have never had to fight a war like this – after all, you can’t use propaganda against this enemy, or scare it with numbers or big weapons.  The dead have no fear and they have the numbers – infinite amounts of numbers they can create just by biting someone.  And then there are the things that these zombies can do.  The zombies in the movie are superfast.  This is not the case in the novel, but these zombies are just as scary in their abilities – surviving under water at depths that no human can survive, freezing in subzero temps only to reanimate come the thaw, and more.

               I also enjoyed the discussion of the ravages of war as we read the words of those who had to do things they never thought they would to survive like heading to colder climates hoping for a zombie freeze, resorting to cannibalism just to eat as the food supply chain dwindles, taking a military submarine out to sea and remaining underwater for months to save your military families and more.  Then there are the simple ravages of war to the planet – the pollution, the devastation of land and sea due to bombing, regular and nuclear, the fires and more.

               So, to sum things up, Max Brooks was right, the World War Z movie shows very little resemblance to his novel.  And in my opinion, that’s just fine.  I loved the action and adventure of the film, but I think I loved the novel more.  It’s a thinking man’s look at the zombie war from all aspects, not just the action side, but the emotional side.  The idea of creating an oral history of a fictional zombie war seen through perspectives of civilians, military personnel, government officials and more is brilliant and Brooks executed it perfectly.  World War Z is a terrific read!

Buy World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War at Amazon!

World War Z

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                You’re stuck at home nursing a nasty bugger of a sinus infection.  You’re horribly nauseous from the medication the doctor has given you to fight said nasty sinus infection.  But you have discovered that today is the day that you can actually look at a lit screen without wanting to tear your eyes out from the pain or just simply puke.  So what do you do?  Well, of course, you watch the goriest, bloodiest, most violent flesh-eating film you can find.  And that’s what led me to World War Z.

                All my zombie loving friends said I just had to see this film and, when it comes to zombie movies, television series and books, none of those zombie loving friends have ever been wrong.  Still, I questioned the idea of Brad Pitt against the zombies.  But, I was sick and in desperate need of some entertainment, so I figured what the hell.

                World War Z begins with numerous news reports regarding a rabies-like virus that has been spreading.  These pieces are mixed in with other local media and are not truly perceived by anyone to be anything incredibly important except for one American.  Gerry Lane, former United Nations investigator, has been watching the news avidly regarding this outbreak, but, whenever his family asks, insists that he is much happier being at home with them than working for the UN.

                While on a trip through the city of Philadelphia, Lane and his family discover just how worldwide this so-called rabies epidemic truly is.  They are attacked by hundreds of zombies in the city and just barely escape with their lives.  Lane receives a call from UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni who extracts the family from an overrun part of Newark, New Jersey.  Rescued with barely time to spare, they are flown to an offshore US Navy carrier.

                It is here that Lane learns he was brought aboard for one purpose – to aide in a scientific mission to a military installation in South Korea where the first warning of a “zombie” epidemic was transmitted from.  Along for the ride is one of the world’s leading virologists (Elyes Gabel), considered man’s only hope to stop this epidemic.  Unfortunately, having never been on a mission of such nature before, the young scientist accidentally kills himself during a zombie attack upon landing. 

                While he doesn’t have a huge part in this film, the virologist does have one of the most memorable dialogues in the film, offering hope to Gerry Lane before they land: “Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught. But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes the credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths. She’s a bitch.”  A shame he couldn’t live long enough to find any of those crumbs.

                On his own in finding any sort of clue that can bring an end to the epidemic, Lane finds himself traveling halfway around the world, in search of hope.  But, not being a scientist, how can he be sure just exactly what those clues are…and what they will mean for the rest of the world?

                This is not your parents’ zombie movie, my friends.  We all remember the older zombie films, half-decayed creatures that move ever so slowly searching for food.  Except when attacking in hordes, it appeared fairly easy to evade these teeth-gnashing flesh eaters.  Not so in World War Z.  Once these zombies get excited – by noise, the smell of flesh, one of their own being killed – they attack and these bad boys…girls, kids, etc…are insanely fast.  And they don’t just crawl after people or bang on doors.  No, these zombies will do anything to get at you, even throwing themselves off of balconies and the like.  After all, they’re dead – what’s a little 100 foot fall gonna hurt, so long as it doesn’t break their necks or skulls, right?

                Brad Pitt puts in an excellent performance as a man who will do anything for his family, including joining a doomed mission in an effort to keep them safe.  He is actually believable in this action hero/family man role.  And he has great supporting actor assistance in the form of Mireille Enos as his wife; Daniella Kertesz as Segen, a tough as nails Israeli soldier who joins him in his quest; Fanna Mokoena as UN Deputy Secretary-General Umutono; and Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, and Moritz Bleibtreu as World Health Organization researchers.

                From what I have seen of the book upon which the movie was based and what I have heard, World War Z does not exactly follow the book’s storyline, but somewhat adapts part of it.  Who cares?!  This movie is an amazingly action-packed suspense-fest that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end…which, by the way, doesn’t seem like an ending…more like a beginning. 

               Even if they leaves things as they are at the end of the film, I have to say that World War Z is right up there with all the favorite zombie films I have watched in the past.  You know, the ones you can watch over and over again and never get bored with.  That’s the kind of film World War Z is, a fun, gory zombie film that you just can’t get enough of and can be watched again and again without losing any of its flavor.

               So, to close, I still feel sick and am still pretty darn nauseous – although I wasn’t made more so by the blood and guts of the film – but I was highly entertained by this film and would recommend it to all the lovers of the undead out there!

Check out World War Z at Amazon!

Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz

Written By: Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev

Published By: MJF Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Those who know me know I have a great interest in history and have read quite a few books about various eras, locales and wars, including the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Vietnam.  I have read about the horrific experiments performed by Joseph Mengele during WWII, but never of an entire family that survived those experiments relatively whole.  That is, until I read Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz by Yehuda Korena and Eliat Negev.

               Giants is a story about the Ovitz family, a large Romanian family that made their home in the village of Rozavlea.  What made the Ovitz family special was the fact that a majority of the members of the family were dwarfs.  Upon the death of their mother, who had always told them to stick together and they could conquer anything, in an effort to support themselves, the Ovitz family became the Lilliput Troupe.  They traveled far and wide, singing, playing music and performing skits for sold out crowds.  The farm they owned and the land they rented helped supplement things. 

               But soon, Hitler and his Nazi army began to encroach on the Ovitz family’s way of life.  Though the events in Nazi Germany seemed to be a world away, the Ovitz family could no longer deny that it was real.  Their performances were limited as they were Jewish and could not travel in certain areas, and those performances they could put on were small as few could afford to attend.  Eventually, the Nazis came for them. 

               When they were brought to Auschwitz, they believed it was a death sentence.  After all, the dwarf members of the family were not equipped for the kind of heavy labor instituted in the camp for its prisoners.  But the troupe wasn’t counting on Dr. Joseph Mengele who decided they should be kept alive.  The make-up of the Ovitz family intrigued him and he wanted to study how dwarfism seemed to pass over some members but not all.  And so it was for the Ovitz family in Auschwitz, undergoing the terrors of life in the camp and enduring hours upon hours of experiments by Mengele and his assistants.  Yet, somehow, by staying together, they survived.

               Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negeve did an excellent job of researching the Ovitz family.  They only had one surviving member to speak with – Perla Ovitz, youngest of the troupe – and she sometimes changed her stories, either for entertainment’s sake or simply fuzziness of memory.  The duo traveled to the Ovitz hometown and spoke with former neighbors.  They traveled abroad to get a sense of the troupe’s journey during their performing tours and afterwards, en route to Auschwitz.  They traveled to Auschwitz itself to see the conditions in which the Ovitz lived.

                 Giants is a very descriptive book, the authors doing their best to paint the picture of the Ovitz family’s survival through words.  My only criticism would be that, toward the end, some of the points in the book became repetitive.  Especially when discussing the various stories told about the seven dwarfs of Auschwitz by its various prisoners over the years.  That being said, the tale of the survival of this family…sticking together to help ensure that survival is paramount and there is much to be learned from the perseverance of this family in the face of horrific conditions and the threat of death around every corner.  Definitely an interesting and inspirational read.

Buy Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz at Amazon!

The Games of Our Youth: Uno

By Melissa Minners
 

                I was a kid when the card game known as UNO hit the stores and became all the rage.  We played it everywhere – at home, at school, in the park, at parties.  As an adult, I still love the game.  The game has undergone many incarnations since I first started playing, but the classic UNO card game will always be my favorite.

                First developed by Merle Robbins in Reading, Ohio in 1971, the aim of UNO is to be the first player to score five hundred points.  Consisting of 108 cards, featuring numbers of red, yellow, green and blue and specialty cards like Skip, Draw Two, Reverse, Wild and Wild Draw Four, the object of the game is to shed as many cards as you can by the time someone calls “UNO,” meaning that they are down to their last card.  Along the way, each player tries to one-up the others, throwing down cards like Draw Two so the next player has to take more cards, Skip to skip the next player’s turn, Wild to change the color of the discard pot, Wild Draw Four to make the next person pick four cards while changing the color of the discard pot or Reverse to reverse the order of the players. 

If you get down to your last card and don’t call out “UNO” before the rest of the players at the table, you will have to draw two cards.  The same penalty occurs if you falsely call out “UNO.”  Once you have gotten rid of that last card, all of the other players must add up the cards they have left with number cards counted at face value; Skips, Draw Twos and Reverses equaling 20 points and Wild and Wild Draw Fours valuing at 50 points.  The total value of the cards left over in each player’s hand is awarded to the player who ran out of cards in the hand.  The first to reach 500 points is the winner.

The game can last for hours if people really know what they are doing and come up with a fairly good hand.  As a kid, I learned that the more players, the more fun.  As an adult, I learned that UNO is most fun with a decent number of players and a decent number of adult beverages.  Heh, heh.

Years after UNO appeared, various styles of UNO began to be created.  There’s UNO Attack, a game in which you don’t draw cards.  Instead, a card launcher shoots cards out at random moments.  The rules are slightly different in this game.  I’ve never played it and really never wanted to.  UNO Wild Roller allows players to create customized rules and features a Wild Roller lever that must be pulled whenever special Wild Roller cards are played.  There are also variations of play that change the rules a bit for some added flavor.  And there are UNO video games for any variety of platforms and themed UNO card games as well.

But I can honestly say, the original UNO card game will always be my favorite.  I have many fond memories of playing this game with family and friends and hope to create many more with the UNO set I have and carry with me on every vacation.  UNO’s a fun game that I will never outgrow.

Click here to find all things UNO on Amazon.

The Suicide Squad

(Score from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Composed By: John Murphy

Distributed By: Troll Court / Water Tower Music

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               On August 6, 2021, Troll Court/ Water Tower Music released two albums featuring the music of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.  The first album is The Suicide Squad Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring songs heard in the film, what Gunn calls his “curated Mix Tape”.  It features songs from Johnny Cash, Kansas, Louis Prima, Pixies, Jessie Reyez and more.  The second album, The Suicide Squad (Score from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) features musical score by John Murphy.  It is this second album that I had an opportunity to preview.

              First up, what is The Suicide Squad?  Well, it is a group of prison bad guys handpicked by a well-placed intelligence operator to take on jobs no one in the military would be crazy enough to perform.  If they survive, they may receive commuted sentences.  Oh, and did I mention that this handpicked group has something most military members don’t have – superhuman powers

              In this standalone sequel to the 2016 film, Intelligence Officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is back with two new groups of Belle Reve penitentiary inmates, known as Task Force X.  In exchange for lighter sentences, these teams are sent to the South American island nation of Corto Maltese to destroy the Nazi-era laboratory that holds the Project Starfish experiment.  But, just like the mission Waller set up for the original Suicide Squad, there are important facts that Waller “forgot” to reveal to the squad, such as just what Project Starfish is…and who helped create it.

              Next, who is John Murphy?  Born in Liverpool, England, John Murphy is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and film composer who began his musical career in the 1980s, playing in punk bands.  He began composing music for film in the 90s, beginning with his score for Leon the Pig Farmer.  Since then, he has created musical score for such notable films as Snatch, 28 Days Later Sunshine, Miami Vice, The Last House on the Left, Kick-Ass and more.

              In creating the musical score for The Suicide Squad, Murphy has pointed out that the film’s director wanted a score that would be “different: sometimes raw, sometimes epic, sometimes unexpected – but always with attitude.  I’ve heard people say that a good score is one that you don’t notice.  I think that’s bullocks.  We wanted a score that would be noticed.”  For my part, I happen to agree with Murphy.  To me, a good score is one that enhances the visuals of the film, bringing the emotion or action of the scene to newer heights.

              It all begins with So This Is the Famous Suicide Squad, a track that is action packed and raw, featuring electric guitar riffs (performed by Murphy himself) and slamming percussions.  When it came to the more epic tracks…the emotional backstories, secret revelations and such, Murphy decided to write them using guitars and pedals, then converted them into orchestral tracks.  As Murphy explains, “when we recorded the orchestra, I loved hearing all these blaring brass themes and soaring violins that started out as fuzz guitar riffs.”  Some of the standout tracks featuring orchestral sound include Project Starfish, Harley Sings, Bloodsport’s Deal, and my favorites Ratcatcher’s Story and Ratism.  In that last track, the orchestral score is such that you can actually picture Ratcatcher 2 orchestrating the movements of her rats like some sort of vermin maestro. 

              The Suicide Squad (Score From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is one of those albums that will please just about any movie score buff.  There are the jamming, adrenaline pumping action sequence tracks that feature some truly awesome guitar riffs and drum beats.  Then there are the quieter, more subtle orchestral tones like Waller’s Deal.  And then you have those epic, emotionally dramatic orchestral moments looped into the action sound.  This is an album that has it all and I have no doubt in my mind that John Murphy’s score does much to enhance the visuals of the film and what the characters are doing on screen.  Well done, Mr. Murphy!

Buy The Suicide Squad (Score from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) at Amazon!

The Book of Accidents

Written By: Chuck Wendig

Published By: Random House Publishing Group

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Being a huge Star Wars fan, I’ve read almost all of the Star Wars books out there, including Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series.  It was the first time I had read anything by Wendig and, despite the restructuring and storyline changing Disney was imposing on Star Wars, I rather enjoyed the novels.  I saw The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig advertised on a couple of sites I’ve been to and was intrigued, so when I found it available on Netgalley.com, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

               It all begins in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  It is here that Nathan Graves used to call home.  It was his abusive home life that he ran from when he left the town of Ramble Rocks in Bucks County long ago, becoming a police officer in Philadelphia.  But now, Nate’s abusive father, Carl, is dying and he wants his son to have his home for the huge price of one dollar.  Nate doesn’t even want to set foot in the house, but his wife, Maddie, thinks it might be good for their empathic son Oliver.  Here, he can start anew with no judgement from the other kids in his school, Maddie can use some of the acreage to build an art studio and Nate could perhaps find a safer job.

               So, off to Ramble Rocks they go as soon as Carl dies, but something Nate sees just after his father’s death gives him pause about his decision.  It brings back the tales of horror regarding some of the incidents that happened in this town…unexplainable things.  Nate thinks it’s just living in the house he was abused in and so does Maddie…that is until she starts going into fugue states every time she works at her craft. 

               And then there is Oliver, who is not fond of the move, but tries to make it work, until he finds himself on the wrong side of some bullying jocks.  Despite the bullies, Oliver does make some friends – some gamers like himself…and an older kid with a dark demeanor who takes a liking to Oliver disregarding just how different they are.  Still, Oliver finds it hard to feel comfortable around Ramble Rocks and with good reason. 

There is a dark force occupying the area and, as it turns out, Oliver is its prime focus.  It seems that Oliver is fated for a dark ending…one that has happened many a time before.  Will Oliver be a part of the vicious circle the Graves family tends to follow, or will he break the cycle and save them all?

When I read the Aftermath series, I particularly enjoyed the interludes that took you out of the main storyline and offered you glimpses into the lives of others just trying to survive the fall of Emperor Palpatine.  It gave what the heroes of the novels were doing much more purpose.  The Book of Accidents is similar in this aspect.  There are interludes in which you get glimpses into the lives of other citizens of Ramble Rocks and the incidents that befall them.  You never realize how much their fates are intertwined with the heroes of the novel, but once you do, it offers up a pleasant “AHA!” moment.

The Book of Accidents is what I would classify as a horror meets science fiction novel.  You have elements of scifi in the alternate universe sense and the horror, well, there is a serial killer involved and he likes to use different methods to achieve his goal.  But who is he, really?  That’s the mystery you have to solve along with the Graves family as they struggle to survive. 

I was totally captivated by this novel.  Chuck Wendig’s descriptive writing puts you right in the middle of the story.  You can see everything in your mind’s eye as it unfolds.  It also didn’t hurt that I know Bucks County and have traveled their often, so I know the area around which Ramble Rocks is supposed to be situated.  I enjoyed the mystery that links everyone in the interludes as well as the main characters together.  I had pretty much guessed at it by the middle of the novel and was delighted to know I was right toward the end. 

I loved every minute of the journey, including the afterward in which Mr. Wendig discusses the adventures in shaping this novel into the work of art it has become.  I would highly recommend The Book of Accidents to all of my horror and scifi-loving friends.  Definitely well worth the read!

Buy The Book of Accidents at Amazon!

Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End

Author: Chuck Wendig

 Published By: Del Rey Books

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                After completing the first two books in the Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy, I couldn’t wait to read the final book, Empire’s End.  The action and plot twists in the series thus far have been incredibly entertaining and I couldn’t wait to see how Chuck Wendig would end things.

                When we last left our heroes, the remnants of the Empire dealt a heavy blow to the New Republic.  What was supposed to be the end to a lengthy war with the Empire – a treaty of peace between Mon Mothma and Grand Admiral Sloane – during the Liberation Day Celebration on Chandrila turned into a nightmare.  Unbeknownst to Sloane, Gallius Rax had chips implanted into the heads of recently freed Imperial captives being honored at the celebration.  Those chips turned these former heroes into assassins.

                Norra Wexley and her crew are especially affected by this incident.  Norra’s husband was one of the manipulated assassins and he disappeared shortly after Liberation Day.  So did Sloane, much to Norra’s chagrin as she believes Sloane responsible for the deaths of a number of high ranking New Republic officials at the hands of the converted assassins.  Now the hunt is on to find Sloane and now, thanks to a run-in with bounty hunter Mercurial Swift, Norra believes she will finally have her revenge.  Sloane is on Jakku

                But when the crew heads out to Jakku to find Norra, they find a whole lot more – the entire Imperial fleet, much more advanced and expanded than they ever imagined.  Now, it’s up to Norra’s team to get back to Chandrila and warn them about what they’ve found before it’s too late.  But they’ll have to do it without Norra or Jas.  Norra’s desire for vengeance is too great and Jas has found that she can’t let Norra put herself in danger alone.  Even scarier than leaving Norra and Jas in a hostile environment surrounded by the enemy is the fact that the leadership of the New Republic may be unwilling to commit resources to taking the war to the Empire.

                Well, this installment of Aftermath was definitely an adventure.  There’s a lot going on.  First of all, Mon Mothma is down in the ratings election-wise thanks to what took place during Liberation Day.  She is still recovering from those events, having been severely wounded by one of the programmed assassins.  So, when she hears of the Imperial fleet amassed at Jakku, she must tread lightly in order to confirm the information she has received and, even then, she is having a hard time getting the motion passed to commit resources to finally ending this war.  But Han, Leia, Temmin and Sinjir believe that something is going on behind the scenes, some kind of political corruption preventing anything Mon Mothma sets forth from being passed.

                Meanwhile, when Norra finally finds Sloane, she discovers her husband is working with her and that there is something greater at stake.  Gallius Rax has long-standing orders from Emperor Palpatine about the direction he wants his Empire to go in after he is gone.  If Rax follows through with his plans, the Empire as Sloane knows it will be long gone.  Norra finds herself working together with Sloane to defeat Rax, but loses something precious to her in the midst of the battle.  And it is here where we discover why this trilogy was written in the first place.  For Rax has created the First Order and we are now seeing it in its original incarnation.  We see Armitage Hux in his early years, long before The Force Awakens and we understand a little about what drives him.  We also learn why Jakku is riddled with ruins of starships – this is where a battle to end all battles was fought.  Little did the New Republic know that a remnant of the Empire escaped to become something more vicious than it ever was before.

                I enjoyed the storyline immensely, but am annoyed at the reconstruction of the Star Wars Universe as I always knew it.  I understand the need to explain how the First Order came to be, but it’s just not the Star Wars saga I knew – the one revived by Timothy Zahn all those years ago with The Thrawn Trilogy.  For those who might not remember, this was about an Imperial remnant who had been hiding in the Unknown Regions that reappears just in time to harass our heroes.  Leia was also pregnant in that tale – with twins.  You may notice that, though the creators of the new trilogy of films swear they are not following the books that came before, they sure are “borrowing” quite a few ideas from them.  It just annoys me, but this is not a rant, this is a review, so I’ll get back to the reason for this article.

                Chuck Wendig is an excellent writer, creating characters that we find ourselves caring about.  We are totally invested in their welfare and feel the pain of loss when they do, as well as the trill of victory.  We even gain a tad of respect for Rae Sloane in all of this and actually begin to root for her survival.  The interludes interspersed throughout the novel are terrific, bringing us to places outside of the storyline like Tatooine, Kashyyyk (where we witness how Chewie finally finds his son), Christophsis, Devaron and more.  These places have been visited all through the trilogy and Empire’s End gives us a sense of closure for the characters we have met in these places. 

                There is a ton of action and intrigue in Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End.  Action fans will love it whether they are fans of dogfights or hand to hand combat.  If you are a fan of the new trilogy or someone who has only known the new trilogy storyline, the Aftermath Trilogy will offer up a great backstory for all of that.  Fans of the original trilogy and the books that followed will be a tad annoyed, but true Star Wars fans will have fun with the story anyway.  It was definitely a fun read.

Buy Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End at Amazon!

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