Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Writer: Rebecca Skloot

The Dealio: This is non-fiction that reads like a combination fantasy/sci-fi/mystery novel. And, as a matter of fact, it sorta IS.
In 1953, a young black woman named Henrietta Lacks died. Hey, wait a minute! Why, then, is this book called the 'immortal life'? OK. Here's why: although Henrietta did die, her cells are still with us, in the form of- to many, but not me- the extremely famous research projects, (everything from how cells respond to outer space travel-so, yeah, they've been to the moon- to the development of a vaccine for polio, and so, so, so much more besides),all of which are based upon a cell line known, for generations, only as 'HeLa'.
In this engrossing story, we are led through Henrietta's life, her death, the survivors in her family, how her story inspired a self-admitted 'uninspired student' to learn-and to write about what she learned. There are trips through history- the history of Baltimore, of Johns Hopkins and its original charter- to the Hell which passed for 'care' of the indigent 'problem patients'- those with neurological problems, like epilepsy, and palsy, as well as those who were merely deaf. Every time you think you know where the story is leading you, a sharp right turn appears and off you go into another quadrant of the universe.

The Grading Session: 5.5 pengies out of 5. I am all too aware that my review is sadly inadequate to this powerful, moving and breathtaking story that mingles science with mysticism and moments of great, deliberate cruelty with those of extreme compassion and sacrifice.
As a medical person, I am at once appalled and angry by what this woman went through in the name of ignorant medical treatment. As a woman, I am proud of her contribution to a world she would imprint with her passion and drive to help every person in need she ever met. And, by now, she has immeasurably helped millions she never met. Read this book and tell me I am wrong.
PS: I got the audiobook and the voice characterisations are so outstanding, that I recommend this way of getting into the book. I was hooked 5 minutes into the first CD.

Lessons Learned: So many of us owe so much to those who -mostly anonymously- went before, giving unsparingly of themselves. How humbled am I by their generosity...even if it occurred, often without any knowledge, permission or benefit-financial, physical or mental- to them? More than I can say.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dick Francis

Seems like, these days, I am doing more blogging on losses in the field of literary giants than on actual books or movies. At least to me. Now I have to step up to the keyboard and write a remembrance for Dick Francis. Do I think this man was a genius? Well, yeah- how else to explain that an author took someone like me and actually engaged me, completely, not in one or two books which have strains of horseracing plot running throughout, but, scores of 'em? And don't even get me started on the ones that made it onto the big and little screen.
Mr. Francis, for Sid Halley alone, you treated us to a wondrous and unique world. Thanks for the decades of eclectic, mysterious and engaging stories. You will be missed.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dear John

The Film: Dear John

The Actors: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, etc.

The Dealio: Young Army Special Forces dude, home on leave, meets young lady of his dreams...with a flair for 'doing good' and a much more complicated life than you can imagine. Then 9/11 happens and John Tyree (the 'Dear John' of the title) re-enlists and the couple decides to keep in touch by writing. I liked this whole notion way more when I was the chick doing the writing to my own personal, favorite military dude. However, what was interesting to me was the fact that our hero's dad, a passionate collector of coins, turns out to be autistic. Don't think I am spoiling anything by relating this in a review-it was mentioned in numerous reviews I read, and revealed early on in the movie. Richard Jenkins plays the dad, and I have been a fan of his work ever since I saw his directorial debut at the Trinity Rep in Providence, RI. The play in question? MACBETH! And his was a masterful reimagining of the tale brought into Rooseveltian, WWII sharp focus. This man emits talent with every move and shift in expression. In the movie on the table, for example, he manages to convey the something NQR (not quite right) by a soggily slumped posture, by the close scrutiny of everyone else's reactions, before coming up with one of his own. In one scene, he has left the foreground of the camera's eye completely, and, standing, back to the unfolding scene, manages to communicate more clearly what is happening, than the lead actors, stationed front and centre. Now...that's acting on a magnificent scale. Our two young leads are fine, but there seems to be some haste and casualness about the final denouement. It's as if the lyrical and talented director has had enough of these two, as well, and just wants to figure out a rapid purse string suture type of conclusion.

The Grading Session: 3.98 pengies out of 5. This is not a bad movie on a par with something like Ator The Fighting Eagle. This is just an average movie, so if you want something like that, perhaps as a palate cleanser- here ya go. PS- 100% of the audience, when I went to see this, was female. And 99.9% (I suspect you know who the hold-out was) were weeping and clapping by movie's end. Sigh. What is wrong with me? The soundtrack included two songs I truly love- especially Paperweight- so you know some of the pengies went thataway.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes a marginal book (yes, I did try to read this book, but couldn't move through it in time to finish before the film's release) results in a marginal movie.
Also- what does it say about a film- and the actors- when Richard Jenkins' back is the clear stand out in a scene meant to show the raw pain and emotion of the untimely parting of lovers?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

From Paris With Love

The Flique: From Paris With Love

The Actors: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers,a whole bunch of other peeps.

The Dealio: I have no idea. I think the guys in the leather did something bad. Terrorism? General evil-ity? Whatever. Let me condense the story for ya: John Travolta's bonafide bad dude + JRM's weak and ineffectual (and, here, I am directly addressing his acting. He is, literally, swept from the viewers' consciousness every time Travolta shows up on-screen) wannabe field agent/spy drive really recklessly through Paris. Chinese restaurant, shoot, shoot, shoot. Cocaine shower. High-rise/sweat shop. Shootshootshoot. Tenement, shoot, shoot, explosion, shoot. Orange material,looked like silk, coulda been rayon. Vest, car, explosion. Eiffel Tower, cocaine. Pit bull. Royale wit cheese. More high-speed, reckless driving, dinner, betrayal, shoot, shoot, shoot. Bugs, more betrayal, stolen ring,more high-speed, reckless driving, missile launcher, car crash, shoot shoot. Chess, big gun, bigger gun. Royale wit'cheese.

The Grading Session: 1.93 pengies out of 5, all for Travolta, who seems to be enjoying himself. That makes one of us.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, it is dead easy to realign satellites to follow individual cars-or even people-on a busy street. All you need is this really happening watch. Which I want. I can't manage to realign my bite-even with the help of 3 specialist dentists, whose children will now be able to attend Harvard. I need that watch. Seriously.

JD Salinger

Time to say another farewell to a writer who was as mysterious as his creations. For Franny, Zooey and Seymour Glass, Holden Caulfield and their inventive and non-conformist creator who spoke to the entire misfit nation, while making us believe he was speaking to each of us alone: a tumult of thanks.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Robert B. Parker

Just found out this AM that Robert B. Parker has died. I wanted to mark his passing by acknowledging all the entertainment, enjoyment and intriguing characters he has given me over the decades. Here's a tip of the (Bo Sox baseball) cap to my favorite wiseass PI, Spenser, and to the lovely writer who breathed life into him.
Thanks for the memories. I intend to re-read his best. 'Be fools not to.'