The Monuments Men Movie Review

Monuments Men Movie ReviewThe opening scene of The Monuments Men gave me chills. It opens with the priests at the Saint Bavo Cathedral frantically packing up the panels of the Ghent Altar Piece and driving them away just ahead of the advancing Nazis. This scene also made me wonder how many people are able to identify this work. Not being aware of its importance in Western culture pretty much takes away any chilling effect. My elitism aside, the film mostly goes downhill from here.

Like The Internship, I took the risk of watching this film because of my interest in the background material. I enjoy history (I’m a sucker for WWII flicks) and I have more than a passing interest in art. The story begins with Frank Stokes (George Clooney) pitching FDR on a plan to put together a platoon of art types to go to the European Front in an attempt to rescue the great art that Hitler has methodically stolen and stashed away. A reluctant and skeptical FDR relents when Stokes makes the appeal that the only way you can completely destroy a people is to destroy their history and their achievements. This becomes one of the main themes of the film and is also intended to serve as the main vehicle of suspense.

Since all of the young artists and academics are currently off fighting in the war, Stokes has no choice but to round up a motley band of middle-aged recruits—academics, curators, and artists. This is one of those films with an all-star cast that pretty much goes to waste. You’ve got Clooney in the lead for heaven’s sake. There’s also Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett. Blanchett probably has the best line in the movie. A running joke around Damon’s character is that one of his qualifications for the assignment is that he claims to speak French. However, the French tell him, less than politely, to speak English.

Blanchett’s character is a curator at The Louvre and after the liberation of Paris is thrown in jail, charged with being a collaborator. Damon manages to get her free on the condition that she assists with locating the treasures stolen from The Louvre. She is reluctant to offer her assistance. I mean c’mon? She didn’t put up a struggle with the Nazis, but she’s resisting the Americans? During a moment of frustration with her obstinacy, Damon informs her that if it weren’t for the Americans she would be speaking German. She retorts that at least she would still be speaking French! Good one.

If you’re looking for a blood and guts WWII movie along the lines of The Longest Day, The Big Red One, or Saving Private Ryan then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Stokes’ platoon always seems to come upon the major battle grounds of the war long after the initial skirmishes. They arrive on the European continent after the beaches of Normandy are firmly under allied control. They do manage to catch up with the vanguard to be at the Battle of Bulge in time for Christmas. Two of the loveable members of the platoon do meet their demise. It is war after all and sacrifices have to be made.

Casting Murray and Goodman along with Bob Balaban as the comedic foil for Murray’s ribbing was bound to give The Moments Men a Hogan’s Heroes feel. And the actors used to portray historical figures such as FDR, Hitler, Goering, and Truman are all caricatures from central casting. Hitler looks like Charlie Chaplin playing him in The Great Dictator. The zany background music further contributes to the wackiness. Not sure if this was an intended effect, but I found it cringe-worthy.

I do give the production high marks for the quality of the art reproductions. They’re very convincing and seeing them all stacked up in abandoned mineral mines really hammers home the enormity of Hitler’s greed and the depths of his insanity. We also see the “deviant” art by artists such as Picasso set a blaze by SS troops with flame throwers during the final days of the Reich.

The climax is the rescue of the panels of the Ghent Altar Piece (yes, it did fall into Nazi hands) with the dreaded Soviets closing in with their own evil designs on the masterpieces. Again, more stereotypes here with the Russians portrayed as brutish and uncultured.

The Monuments Men does raise some important issues including the enormity of Hitler’s greed. Apparently, over five million works of not only art, but also vast quantities of gold bullion and even everyday items such as place settings and knickknacks were also uncovered in the Nazi stash. To see row after row of the bounty piled up is startling. The ultimate question is asked of Stokes during a debriefing session stateside by a Harry Truman caricature: was the mission to rescue the great art worth it? The answer, of course, is obvious. Despite portraying a little-known, but important event from WWII and raising some important issues, The Monuments Men, on final assessment, is a masterpiece in boredom.

A Touch of Humor

Humor In Writing ImageI’m always on the lookout for something that makes me laugh, or at least causes an involuntary grin. My favorite occurrences of humor are the ones I encounter in the wild. That would translate into real life. I think the most uncontrollable belly laughs I’ve experienced are the ones where I’ve been goofing around with family, friends, or co-workers. A close second of course, has been from the entertainment world and this includes TV, movies, radio, recordings, and books. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a comedy club or went to see a well-known comedian perform live. I should add that to my bucket list.

When it comes to humor in written work, I’m all for it. My favorite journalists and op-ed writers are the ones that get to the heart of a story or issue but also bring some humor to their writing on occasion. I even appreciate a funny aside in non-fiction work that for the most part concerns itself with dry topics. Running across a humorous quip or funny anecdote in a computer programming book can make my entire month. That sort of thing takes courage on the part of both author and editor.

Humor in works of fiction is the next best thing to encountering it live – at least for me. I admire writers that do humor well. Charles Dickens is probably at the top of most readers’ list for a masterful use of humor in his work. I know he’s at the top of mine. The Pickwick Papers is loaded with humorous incidents and wry authorial asides. The comments that Sam Weller peppers many of his observations with are ingenious. Herman Melville had me cracking up in various places in Moby-Dick. The two scenes that stand out for me as most humorous are the minister climbing up to the pulpit in the seafarer’s chapel like a sailor ascending a rope ladder to a crow’s nest and Queequeg on his deathbed giving detailed instructions for the crafting of his coffin, which he then no longer required after he benefits from a miraculous recovery. And this is a miniscule sample.

It’s not that I’m a diehard fan of humorous stories and novels. I’m a fan of writing that portrays life in all its wonders, and as such, also includes a fair dose of tragedy and heartbreak. It’s humor that eases some of the pain we all experience and it also puts things in their proper perspective. We humans can be a pathetic lot, with grand dreams that many times go nowhere or get dashed, and we can be downright foolish a large portion of the time. But I think we’re more to be admired than pitied when you stop to consider the obstacles thrown in our path and despite it all, we continue to strive to succeed and make a difference. This is where humor springs from and it is also what makes us lovable.

Reading Kindle eBooks sans Kindle

Amazon Kindle eReader
If you’ve read any of the books in my “Sudoku Player” series, you’d know that I’m always up for a good tech mystery along with the process involved in tracking down the solution. However, as of the date of this post, my books are only available from the Amazon Kindle Store. That means they’re only available in digital form–not yet in print format.

The Dilemma: you’ve found a Kindle eBook that you’d like to read, (hopefully, either “Asylum House Call” or “The Sudoku Player”) but you don’t own a Kindle reader. Short of coughing up $199 for a low-end Kindle Fire, what are your options?

You could certainly scour the aftermarket for used Kindles and you’ll find many there for under $100; almost like new. But with a few easy steps you can read a Kindle eBook without spending a penny on eReader hardware. And what’s even better; you can have an almost identical reading experience to having an Amazon Kindle in your hands. Along these lines, I’ve summarized the available free options below. Hopefully, you’ll find one that satisfies your needs.

Amazon Cloud Reader

A great all-purpose Kindle Reader application that runs in a Web browser is the Amazon Cloud Reader. Since it runs in a browser, it works across the major computer operating systems: Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. You can install it from the Amazon Read Anywhere Page. (Please refer back to this page for all of the reading platforms listed below).

PC, Mac or Laptop

We’ve already looked at the Amazon Cloud Reader and this is a great option for reading Kindle eBooks within a browser regardless of operating system. The other option is to download and install the Kindle Reader App for a specific OS: Windows or Mac (use the link above and select your preferred OS). The major difference, and debatable advantage of going this route over the Amazon Cloud Reader, is that you get more of a native Kindle eReader experience. But you’re still reading on a computer. I don’t now about you, but I don’t enjoy reading books on a computer. I find it too tiring. That’s why I suggest you investigate the options for reading Kindle eBooks on mobile devices listed below.

Mobile Devices

If you want to replicate the Kindle reading experience as close to the original as technology allows, then installing the Kindle app for your particular device is what I recommend. There are apps for all the major mobile operating systems including Windows Phone and Blackberry and of course Android and Apple iOS. There are separate apps for phones and tablets. You can download them from Amazon to your computer, but the more straightforward route is to do it directly from your mobile device, at least for Android and iOS. My preferred eBook reading platform is the Kindle iPod Touch app running on an ancient iPod Touch (second gen).

The only mobile device that isn’t directly supported by Amazon is the Barnes and Noble Nook–more of a competing eReader to the Amazon Kindle than a mobile device. However, you can sideload Kindle eBooks that don’t have Digital Rights Management (DRM) enabled onto a Nook. In theory, you can probably install the Android Kindle App onto a Nook since it’s running a version of the Android OS.


Of course, you could always purchase a Kindle–new or used. The Kindle Fire is more of a general purpose Android Tablet rather than a dedicated eReader like the earlier generations of Kindles. As a result, it can perform double-duty as an eReader and tablet device on which you can avail yourself of the same suite of apps available from the Google Play Store for Android phones and tablets and the Apple iTunes for iOS devices. You can find used Kindles from both as well as on

The Internship Movie Review

The Internship DVD on Amazon.comMy wife and I set aside one evening a week, either Friday or Saturday, to potentially watch a movie from Xfinity On-Demand. I say potentially, since things can go in either direction. Various factors hold sway over us actually sitting down and clicking the on-screen “Buy” button. First, there can be no Wizards games being broadcast during Prime Time during the NBA season on the night in question–these have priority. Second, neither one of us can be too tired to stay awake during the entire movie. This is a huge waste of entertainment dollars. And third, and most importantly, we both must be in agreement on what to watch. A breakdown in negotiations on what to watch is the number one contributor to us turning off the TV and going our separate ways on a Friday evening.

The sad truth is that my wife and I don’t have similar tastes in movies, or TV shows for that matter. The only reason Xfinity (Comcast) gets any more of our money beyond the exorbitant amount they extort from us each month for basic Cable, Phone, and Internet is due to an informal chit system my wife and I employ. It’s a system based on a combination of negotiation, strong arm tactics, and compromise (total capitulation). I’ve been conditioned to take one (or many) for the team and watch movies that make me cringe in order to cash in my chits to watch films on my “must watch” list. This has allowed me to view high-quality works such as “The Place Beyond The Pines”, “Dallas Buyers’ Club”, and “Bad Grandpa”. My latest sacrifice for the team involved sitting through “The Internship”.

“The Internship” was roundly panned by both critics and audiences on, so I went in with lowered expectations. But sometimes this is a good position to operate from. You can always get surprised, right? I was also hoping that my background in technology and being a regular user of Google’s myriad platforms and apps would allow me to tease out interesting tidbits from the film that others might overlook. And the prospect of getting a glimpse inside the Googleplex might be interesting. That was the hope anyway.

[Warning: The following review contains minor spoilers…but does it really matter?]

The plot of the movie involves two out of work watch salesmen, Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson), who manage to land positions as summer interns at Google by goofing their way through a Skype interview. Their age and quirkiness causes one of the managers at Google to lobby for their inclusion in the program. The film portrays Billy and Nick as “over the hill,” which doesn’t bode well if being in your mid-forties constitutes being old and out of touch.

There is a funny scene early on when their boss, played by John Goodman, informs them that he’s shuttering the business because no one wears watches any more. As proof, Goodman asks his elderly secretary what time it is. She promptly pulls out her cellphone to check the time. It seems watches are now just worn as expensive status symbols or in environments and occupations where bringing along a smartphone is impractical such as underwater or free-falling from an airplane.

The film is a cookie cutter, formula buddy pic and could have been alternately titled: “The Wedding Crashers Crash The Googleplex”—just much less funny. The comedic sendups are broadcast a mile away such as when Billy and Nick first arrive at the Plex and attempt to ask directions from a Google driverless car. The drama and comedy in the film comes from Billy and Nick being matched up with much younger team members to take on a series of five challenges as part of the competition to determine who will receive coveted jobs at Google. Of course, our heroes BS and stumble their way through the ones requiring technical skill. The challenges that they prove capable of are the ones involving “soft” people skills. I think it’s insulting that they stereotype technically talented (read nerdy) young people as devoid of social skills. It’s even more offensive and false to characterize people in their forties as clueless about computers and technology. These days, almost everyone, regardless of vintage, has some proficiency with technology.

If there’s a message to be taken from “The Internship” it’s that the job market is shrinking. And it’s close to vanishing for those without advanced technical skills such as software development and technical sales. And if you’re unskilled and “old” then you’re done for, unless of course, you’re extremely cunning and fortunate like Billy and Nick. To some extent, I think this is true—not the cunning and scheming part—that only happens in bad movies.

There’s a lot of discussion right now about retraining unemployed workers from the manufacturing and services industries for many of the technical jobs that currently go wanting. I think this is a noble effort, but I think the reality is much less hopeful. Not everyone can become a software developer regardless of how much training he receives. The challenge in the coming years will be how to integrate workers with marginal or obsolete skills back into the US economy. Not effectively addressing this issue will have dire consequences for everyone.

The last challenge that Billy’s and Nick’s team is presented with, and the one that sent them over the finish line to victory, is the sales challenge. It’s again, another setup where the outcome is known from the start. The team was attempting to sell Google’s advertising services (AdWords, Maps, etc.) to a local pizza parlor. The youngsters predictably stumbled in their presentations to the old school owner and used tech jargon that made their pitches sound about as appealing as an IRS audit. Billy and Nick then swoop in and save the day by establishing a rapport with the owner by discussing the delicate flavors in his marinara sauce. They go in for the kill when they stoke his excitement by proposing to bring his unique product to a larger audience using Google products. Deal closed!

I could relate to this final challenge since I attempted, for the most part unsuccessfully, to sell similar services to local businesses. No manner of rapport building and education was enough for me to overcome the degree of ignorance and flat out reluctance on the part of these folks to spend a penny beyond the status quo to help their businesses. I decided my time and skills could be more profitably directed elsewhere.

Bottomline: “The Internship” was entertaining for the time and $4.99 spent. I got a firsthand glimpse into the Googleplex and a sense if its culture, though not sure how accurately the culture was depicted. You can get a better sense of Google’s culture by observing how they treat their users and their customers (Advertisers). In a way, it seems like “The Internship” is a promotional (propaganda) film endorsed by Google.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, makes two cameos in the film. I only spotted the one at the end. I had to use Google to find the other one at the beginning. But perhaps most importantly, my wife proclaimed “The Internship” one of the best films she’s seen in a while. Just more credits in the On-Demand bank for me. I’m saving up to have enough to watch “Nebraska”.

What’s an Author Platform?

author-platform-smWho knew that the writing part of the self-publishing game would be the easy part? Writing a full-length novel is a popular item on many a bucket list and it wasn’t that long ago that this remained one of the items unchecked when finally kicking the proverbial pail. Swimming with dolphins and running a marathon have typically had better odds for getting accomplished.

But with the advent of digital self-publishing and its subsequent explosion all that has changed. Independent authors are releasing new works at a staggering rate with some authors publishing a novel every 1-3 months. I’ll never be in that league, but it’s certainly a message that I need to pick up the pace.

Of course, with so many eBooks in the Amazon Kindle Store, it’s next to impossible to get noticed.

To make matters worse, if you don’t sell at a healthy clip, then your book will sink to the bottommost depths. What’s required in order to achieve visibility is to actively promote your work. That and have a significant backlist. These two points are hammered home on a daily basis on the self-publishing forums and blogs.

Promotion encompasses a wide variety of strategies and when you factor them all in, from social media to giveaways to paid promotions, it becomes overwhelming in a hurry. Promotion used to be something that was handled by a traditional publishing house – provided they deemed you worthy of the effort and expense. Indie authors are completely on their own in all aspects of publishing. It’s the “self” and “indie” parts in full evidence.

The foundation for these promotion strategies begins with the book listings on Amazon and other eBook sites and the corresponding author profile pages associated with them. From here, it quickly branches out to social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and all the rest.

For now, I’ve decided to leave social media alone and place my focus on this blog. I think it holds the best chance of connecting with prospective readers and as a result, I’ve decided to make it the cornerstone of my author platform. The other pieces, such as a Facebook page, can be added in later if I develop a following that warrants a dedicated page (the term “following” makes me cringe – conjures up images of a cult).

Why do I think a blog makes the most sense?

Well, since I’m attempting to get you interested in reading what I write, I think drawing you in with my blog posts should be a start. Sure, you can sample the “Look Inside” feature of my books on Amazon, and I recommend that you do that, but blogging provides an author with the opportunity to stretch out and delve further into topics treated in his/her books. It’s also a way for you to get to know my writing style, and hopefully, get a feel for my sense of humor. It’s not for everyone.

One thing I don’t want this blog to be about is writing and the self-publishing industry.

There are enough blogs and websites on these topics for those who are interested. I think those interested in reading my books most likely aren’t interested in the publishing business. That’s not to say that I won’t on occasion wax philosophic on the process of writing or share my views on the self-publishing industry, but they will be few and far between. Book and movie reviews are another story and I hope to share the ones I feel you may be interested in.

The emphasis will be on technology-related issues and trends, but I’m certainly not limiting myself to this area. Though my Sudoku Player series has a political backdrop, I’m not interested in promoting my political views here or in my books for that matter. That’s an area that ends badly for everyone. I believe we’re all in this together regardless of whatever mess we find ourselves in, regardless of who is to blame. There’s more to be gained from cooperation than from contention. I suppose I just let one of my political beliefs slip. My apologies, it won’t happen again – promise.

I look forward to seeing where my writing takes me. I also look forward to gaining readers – one reader at a time. Yep, it’s a slow process and I’ve got my work cut out for me.