David McCullough and his book ‘Truman’

In 1993, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to David McCullough for his 1992 biography of the 33rd president of the United States of America. Truman is the telling of the country upbringing of Harry S. Truman of western Missouri, who ascended to the presidency following a term in the United States Senate before being named to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt ticket before the death of the 32nd US President in office.

Truman 2 - David McCullough(David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize winner for the book Truman).

The late-blooming Harry S. Truman became president  in April 1945 following the death in office of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died after winning an unprecedented fourth term as President of the United States. The United States was embroiled in World War Two. V-E Day would come in May 1945 with Truman as president, as would V-J Day in September of that same year.

Truman 6 - Hirohito(Hirohito is Japan’s longest reigning emporer).

Hirohito was controversial within Japanese circles for surrendering Japan’s interests in continuing to fight the Allied Forces in World War Two following Truman’s ordering of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and then a second atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. The description of these events in Truman were concise, graphic, and of a chilling nature that seemingly cannot the horror and destructive quality of the act that ended the war.

Truman 5 - Nagasaki & Hiroshima(The atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima).

The Truman biography, of course, gets into some of the family history of the 33rd president, including some unflattering thoughts the in-laws of the president had before and even during the presidency. We get a sense in the biography that Truman was the kind of man envisioned by the founders of the United States, a man of the people rather than of the ruling or business elite classes. This argument is made with an awareness that Harry S. Truman had served in the United States Senate.

Truman 3 - Harry S Truman(A painting of former U.S. president Harry S. Truman).

Truman the man and president was immensely popular after forcing the end of World War Two. America was as strong an economic force as it had ever been from the perspectives of employment, wage growth, and growing political prestige in the world. The Truman Doctrine of offering political, military and economic assistance democracies threatened by external or internal authoritarian forces, was soon followed by the Marshall Plan for restoring Western Europe after the war.

Truman 4 - Dewey Beats Truman(The famous photo of Harry S. Truman holding a Chicago Daily Tribune headline that incorrectly proclaimed Thomas E. Dewey the 34rd US President).

The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were just plans that mostly won the public’s support. Rising tensions in Korea would prompt a police action with drafted United States troops, ostensibly backed by the United Nations. The draft was unpopular for it represented, at least to the citizens of the United States. New York Governor and candidate Thomas E. Dewey had been assumed by the media that to win. A whistle stop campaign by train was taken upon by the 33rd president has been chipping away at the lead by the Republican Dewey. The infamously wrong headline by the Chicago Daily Tribune would be extolled by the reelected president.

Truman 7 - Douglas MacArthur(General Douglas MacArthur  commanded the Southwest Pacific Theatre during World War Two while enjoying popularity among the US citizens back in the United States).

The conflict in Korea, which persists into the present day with the two countries of North Korea and South Korea. The presence of war along with a willful personality in the form of General Douglas MacArthur. Insubordination of a provocative nature to the president Harry S. Truman forced the president to progressively seek to increase punishment. Ultimately, Truman fired MacArthur due to it being correct. Eventually the public came to dial back the negative responses to the president. This firing, combined with keeping the handling of the atomic bomb in the hands of civilians, were strong outcomes of the Harry S. Truman presidency.

Harry S. Truman comes across as late to the political scene of Washington, DC. yet in attuned to the needs of the public. The reading for me was quick if not a bit plodding. Overall, my rating is 3.75-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, December 15, 2018

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James Stewart and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’

It isn’t often that a movie from the first half of the twentieth century will make it to our review table, though It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is a worthy selection. The movie reflects a clever retelling of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol in a more current time, though the era is still in the past. It’s A Wonderful Life ages well. We recommend that you see the film.

It's A Wonderful Life 2 - Donna Reed & James Stewart(Donna Reed as Mary Hatch, left, & James Stewart as George Bailey)

James Stewart stars as George Bailey opposite the character Mary Hatch (later Mary Bailey) as portrayed by Donna Reed. The story of George Bailey along with a myriad of disappointments and successes, in part, makes George a reluctant hero for the fictional town of Bedford Falls. George takes over the work of his deceased father, Peter Bailey as portrayed by Samuel S. Hinds, at the family business called Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

It's A Wonderful Life 7 - James Stewart & Samuel S Hinds(James Stewart as George Bailey, left, and Samuel S. Hinds as Peter Bailey).

George sacrificed his own dreams to run the business at the time of his father’s death, sending his brother to college with the money that would have been his to attend school. Both father and son struggled against the miserly banker Henry F. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore. Potter aimed to gain financial control of the town against the interests of the lesser educated and well-to-do, whereas the building and loan was a champion for that very class of people and cause.

It's A Wonderful Life 3 - Lionel Barrymore(Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Henry F. Potter).

Three months after the death of his father, the board atop the Bailey Building and Loan voted to install George as the head of the institution. Without George at the top, George’s drunk paternal uncle likely would be left out of work as the board would then turn to the miser Potter to take control.

It's A Wonderful Life 4 - Thomas Mitchell(Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy).

It was at this point where we see George working through his acceptance that there was no place like home to make the ambitious plans for the future a reality. Mrs. Irene Bailey, George’s mother as portrayed by Beulah Bondi, knew this as well as any when she prodded George to walk to the home of Mary Hatch. It was Mary that was crushing on George as George pined for the love interest named Violet. George would propose to Mary that night.

It's A Wonderful Life 6 - Beulah Bondi & James Stewart(Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Irene Bailey, left, and James Stewart).

All this has been introduced to the audience with the notion that George would need the service of one guardian angel named Clarence Odbody. Clarence Odbody, as portrayed by Henry Travers, sees all of this past with the audience. We know that George would want to commit suicide before the film was out. The stark moment emerges when drunk Uncle Billy was returning the day’s deposits to the Building and Loan one morning when encountering the miserly Mr. Potter. Getting confused by way of drunkenness, the $8,000 in funds under Billy’s control lands in the hands of the Potter.

It's A Wonderful Life 5 - Henry Travers(Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody).

The uplifting outcome one would expect of a Dickens novel, or The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern that directly inspired It’s A Wonderful Life, turns on the intervention of angel seeking wings Clarence Odbody. The turn occurs when, in the midst of George’s grief over the misplaced $8,000 and a bank auditor in town, Clarence grants George a glimpse into the Bedford Falls, ney Pottersville, without the life of one George Bailey.

The true satisfaction of the turn comes from the awareness of the declined decay of the change from the Bedford Falls of George Bailey to the Pottersville of the unborn George Bailey. George as well as the audience see a stark, Dickensian contrast that spurs George to take stock of the wonderful life he has had while saving many through the sacrifice turned to the generous outcomes of his generous spirit. The message of his despondency is transmuted to the joy of a soul saved, a building and loan saved, a brother, family, and town saved. Clarence Odbody gains his wings. The town acts with honor. George finds hope once again and the spirit of Christmas is renewed.

It’s A Wonderful Life presents as an uplifting tale of the human spirit and community. Sure there is symbolism of a political nature within the storytelling. The feel good outcome, the redemption, and the fact that the theft of the $8,000 by Mr. Henry F. Potter are not reconciled are the larger points that I choose to see in my consideration of the film ranking. I give It’s A Wonderful Life a rating of 4.5-out-of-5 stars.

Matt – Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Robert Ludlum and his book ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’

An assassin who recovered some pieces of his memory from amnesia when the terrorist Carlos the Jackal threatens him, his wife, and their two kids? The therapist and the CIA operative who tried to kill the assassin in the first book of the series are drawn into the fray, announcing that Carlos intends to kill the assassin whose only wish is to recover the safety his country owes him after becoming that assassin for that country? Spies of the U.S.S.R. working alongside these two as the brother of the assassin’s wife is trusted to protect the assassin’s wife and kids because he, the brother, shares that he has killed before? This is the setting that Robert Ludlum brought us the 1990 book The Bourne Ultimatum.

Bourne Identity 2(Robert Ludlum).

Many will remember the movie version of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), which starred Matt Damon in the starring role of lead protagonist Jason Bourne, aka David Webb. The story present in the book is completely unrelated to the 2007 movie. Both stories have their merit. The movie leaves us largely where the first book, The Bourne Identity, left us. The third book picks up a few years after The Bourne Supremacy book with Jason Bourne more clearly split into the two consciousnesses of himself, namely David Webb and Jason Bourne. The man must choose between his two personalities into his early 50s as Carlos the Jackal had also aged.

Ludlum‘s book version of The Bourne Ultimatum delves much more fully into the character David Webb into using his skills as Jason Bourne (the assassin) in Manassas, Virginia and then the U.S.S.R. to bring about the death of Carlos the Jackal, who has been seeking to bring about the death of Jason Bourne. There are Mafia ties, Russian spies, and members of the CIA in the mix of choosing between the duty of their agency and/or country and their conscience in discerning between the integrity of Carlos and Jason/David.

Bourne Identity 5(The DVD covers for the 2002, 2004, and 2007 movies starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne).

As suggested by the movie trilogy suggested above, Ludlum wrote three books about the character Jason BourneMatt Damon starred in those three movies, plus a fourth that came later and was not a part of the three books written by Robert LudlumCarlos the Jackal came up in the first book as a significant antagonist, though he factored little into The Bourne Supremacy before clearly returning with a vengeance, both literally and metaphorically, in The Bourne Ultimatum.

Bourne Identity 3(The three books about Jason Bourne as written by Robert Ludlum).

I found The Bourne Ultimatum to be the outstanding book that reflects the best of what Robert Ludlum had in him to write in the spy/thriller genre. I rate The Bourne Ultimatum with The Bourne Identity as the better two books in the series of three books, acknowledging as I do that I found The Bourne Supremacy as a highly satisfying narrative look into some of the backstory needed to draw a fuller portrait of the Jason Bourne/David Webb character. I find it satisfying the know the outcome of the fuller narrative.

My overall ranking for the book The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum was 4.5-stars on a 5-star scale. Find my review of the book The Bourne Identity here. Find my review of the book The Bourne Supremacy here.

Matt – Saturday, December 08, 2018

My Toastmasters journey

Not everyone is a natural storyteller, interpersonal communicator, listener, speaker in public, or speaker through technology. Similarly, leadership that uses communication, the ability to set visions or make decisions, the ability to delegate or execute professional, productive meetings comes naturally to everyone. Taking specific steps to develop skills such as these, among others, led me to join an international organization called Toastmasters in 2016.

Many join Toastmasters seeking personal growth somewhere on that spectrum. Some stay beyond that to help others grow in these points. Still others join for the friendship and social rewards of gathering with or mentoring like minded people on the road to betterment. While all of these are reasons for me to participate with Toastmasters, my journey has been one of taking confidence from the application of speaking and leadership exercise while offering similar feedback to friends and colleagues across the clubs, district, and region I frequent.

My initial decision to explore Toastmasters came as I approached the winter holiday season in 2015. I hadn’t been making the professional impact in my career or workplace that I wanted. It felt like I was getting a bit isolated among my peers at work. The common sense yet hard realization I had come to was that the requirement to change the fundamental narrative of the situation rested with me. I needed to change the perceptions that existed about my ability to grow, influence, and accomplish with limited intervention from others. The skills that Toastmasters offered were natural things to investigate.

I visited a club near my home, finding the people there welcoming and competent. The club was of a smaller size, which meant that my inclination towards shyness or lack of assertiveness would need to be things I could confront early on without feeling overly embarrassed by lacking the things that the people of Toastmasters could help me address. We had a fit after visiting in December. I joined at the first meeting in January of 2016.

Two weeks later, I gave my Icebreaker speech. I was stiff, glued to the lectern, and largely reading from the script that I had written. The club offered expressions of excitement right from the beginning. Members offered me a sense that my first step was exciting for them too. I felt the truth and encouraging words of members that wanted to see me succeed, and more to the point get started with the journey.

Within a year, I had given 10 speeches and earned an educational award. I provided feedback to other speakers and led parts of the meeting. In time for the start of the 2016/2017 Toastmasters year in July, I was elected president of the club.

The club had limited success my first year, yet I learned much about things to do and try. The importance of setting a vision, calling the occasional club executive meeting, and making progress towards a collective goal through my own initiative became clear. The club showed me with firm yet tough feedback that others would not suggest the steps you needed to take. Those folks would offer specific recommendations when asked for specific help. The lessons of these points were taken into the 2017-2018 year when I served as an Area Director within my district.

This role meant that I would help five clubs with the things I had confronted the year before within my club. I started a newsletter for my clubs that highlighted successes as well as things coming up in the next 6-8 weeks. I gave folks clear ways to get in touch with me for questions, advice, or help. I visited clubs multiple times through the year, helping with Open Houses, marketing material, training, feedback, contests, and even press releases. All the things that I didn’t know to do in my year as club president came out as area director. I earned three more educational awards. My home club earned the second highest honor possible within Toastmasters. The District Director awarded me with Area Director of the Year honors. The lessons of my first year of learning to lead bore fruit with my second year of leadership.

I am currently serving as an elected official in my district, namely as Central Division Director. I am supporting five area directors in their journeys of discovery and growth. I am feeling much more confident speaking, leading, and setting vision after listening to the people that I serve. I am learning more about budgeting for an organization as well as the chances to address conflict, change, and growth. Either this Toastmaster year or next, I expect to earn the level of Distinguished Toastmaster. Maybe I will pursue a position on the Trio for me district, though there is time to determine that. For those that are curious, this journey can be one that we share.

Matt – Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Tom Cruise and the film ‘Vanilla Sky’

Interested in a trippy movie with some top-rated movie stars? Do you like the multi-layered revelation structure of a movie like Inception (2010)? Are dream-involved movies of the subconscious mixed with love, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) of interest? Are movies involving dreams of love the hope for better your thing, including the movie What Dreams May Come (1998)? If you’ve answered yes to more than one of the above, then the movie Vanilla Sky (2001) just might be the movie for you.

Vanilla Sky 2 - Tom Cruise & Penelope Cruz(Penélope Cruz as Sophia Serrano, left, and Tom Cruise as David Aames).

Tom Cruise stars opposite Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz in a movie that may have been a bit ahead of its time. Cameron Crowe directed Vanilla Sky, which performed much better with audiences then it did with critics at the time it was released.

Vanilla Sky 3 - Cameron Diaz(Cameron Diaz as Julie Gianni)

Cruise is the clear movie lead who portrays a self-indulgent, vain publishing magnate who inherited his publishing house after the death of his parents in an automobile accident. We first meet the character David Aames as he expresses his so-called friendship with Julie Gianni. The scene is a foreshadowing of the story to be revealed later, which now leads us to David’s friend Brian Shelby, portrayed by Jason Lee.

Vanilla Sky 5 - Jason Lee(Jason Lee as Brian Shelby).

It is Brian, aspiring actor by trade and under the influence of his friend David, who introduces David to Sophia Serrano, played by Penélope Cruz. David feels like he’s in a dream, yet immediately expresses his interest in Sophia at David’s birthday party. Within a small period of screen time, the love triangle of David, Julie, and Sophia is established with Brian as the wannabe love interest for both Julie and Sophia to boot.

Vanilla Sky 4 - Kurt Russell(Kurt Russell as McCabe)

The love triangle continues to play out as we learn that David is under legal suspicion. We see David in a jail circumstance with McCabe, portrayed by Kurt Russell, trying to get David to share the details for an unknown murder that hangs over David’s head. In the course of this, we get some of the backstory for how David came into his publishing empire, in addition to the fact of Thomas Tipp, portrayed by Timothy Spall, supporting David against an aggressive board of directors out to gain control of the publishing house that David controls.

Vanilla Sky 7 - Tom Cruise and Timothy Spall(Tom Cruise as David Aames, left, and Timothy Spall as Thomas Tipp).

All this is background to plot questions that take the audience into questions of physical attraction, friendship, intimacy, loyalty, promises, and the nature of what each of these demands within the context of a relationship. These questions are all part of the larger questions of the movie, especially of what life has to offer as well as your role in seeking it.

Vanilla Sky 6 - Noah Taylor(Noah Taylor as Edmund Ventura).

The questions, after many layers of Vanilla Sky try to speak of questions about mental health, interpersonal relationships, and even the Me Too Movement of a later prominence than the period when this film takes place. In the context of Me Too, Vanilla Sky does not hold up well on all scores. (That is a different blog to be explored later). In the context of the movie, Noah Taylor as Edmund Ventura helps bring clarity to the outer most frame of the movie’s narrative.

Due to the multiple layers of the movie when it was released, my instinct is that many critics of this movie at the time of release inappropriately undervalued the quality of the issues raised and the subject matter explored. Many of the questions indicated were and are socially important. The questions raised in the places where the movie leads are hard, unpleasant, and raise decidedly unpleasant feelings and thoughts in the audience. A 2001 movie audience may not have been ready for these questions. Critics at the time seem to have been.

Blog friend Cobra rates this movie quite highly. My guess is that this has to do with the narrative structure, the emotional questions raised, and the mystery of the layering of the answers to the questions raised. It is with these points in mind that I will rate Vanilla Sky higher that many did at the time of the film’s 2001 release. Acknowledging that the film is challenging in some ways for some audiences is also fair. That all said, I rate this film 3.75-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, December 1. 2018

Robert Ludlum and his book ‘The Bourne Supremacy’

An assassin with amnesia recovering from his memory loss? That spy with mad skills whose accidental love interest became his wife gets kidnapped? The confused intellect of this manipulated man pulled into a battle with an impostor of his skills working in China and the rest of Asia? This is the setting that Robert Ludlum brought us the 1986 book The Bourne Supremacy.

Bourne Identity 2(Robert Ludlum).

Many will remember the movie version of The Bourne Supremacy (2004), which starred Matt Damon in the starring role of lead protagonist Jason Bourne, aka David Webb. The story present in the book is completely unrelated to the 2004 movie. Both stories have their merit, yet go about the business of setting, intrigue, and the notion of developing the story in completely different ways.

Bourne Supremacy 3(Paperback covers for The Bourne Supremacy book).

Ludlum‘s book version of The Bourne Supremacy delved into manipulating the character David Webb into using his skills as Jason Bourne (the assassin) in Asia, where we learned in The Bourne Identity was the place where Webb’s first wife and only child had been killed in a Vietnam War era bombing run. Webb/Bourne is pulled into a scheme of tracking down the impostor Jason Bourne, who through much intrigue we learn is working at a plot per the bidding of People’s Republic of China Communist official Sheng Chou Yang.

Bourne Identity 5(The DVD covers for the 2002, 2004, and 2007 movies starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne).

As suggested by the movie trilogy suggested above, Ludlum wrote three books about the character Jason Bourne. Matt Damon starred in those three movies, plus a fourth that came later and was not a part of the three books written by Robert LudlumCarlos the Jackal came up in the first book as a significant antagonist, though he factored little into The Bourne Supremacy owing to the movement in setting from Europe to Asia.

Bourne Identity 3(The three books about Jason Bourne as written by Robert Ludlum).

I found The Bourne Supremacy to be another outstanding book that reflects the best of what Robert Ludlum had in him to write in the spy/thriller genre. Books of this caliber and quality, mixed with a sense of fighting for a self-morality and conscience that isn’t of a preachy quality that needs to establish the “man’s man” quality that I sense in books my Vince Flynn, is a refreshing experience for me.

Bourne Supremacy 6(The Bourne Supremacy book).

My overall ranking for the book The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum was 4.5-stars on a 5-star scale. Find my review of the book The Bourne Identity here.

Matt – Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review of the film ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

The film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) has arrived at a cinema somewhere near you! Lynn and I saw the movie Wednesday afternoon with a decent fellow audience for what is the second installment in the Fantastic Beasts series movies by J.K. Rowling, with a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016) available here. To warn you ahead of time, this review includes spoilers from the movie. Our recommendation is to see and enjoy the movie, yet read on before or after at your own risk.

Fantastic Beasts COG 3 - Johnny Depp(Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald.)

At the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, we see that Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) had been captured in New York City after posing as the auror Graves to acquire an Obscurus that had been terrorizing that city in the 1920s. Grindelwald, who figures in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, escapes to Paris.

Fantastic Beasts COG 5 - Jude Law(Jude Law as AlbusDumbledore.)

Albus Dumbledore, introduced to the Fantastic Beasts movies in Crimes of Grindelwald, is played by Jude Law. Dumbledore enlists his former student, Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), to intervene against the villain Grindelwald and his plans. It is only later in the film that some of the context for why Dumbledore cannot combat the threat posed by Grindelwald directly.

Fantastic Beasts COG 2 - Dan Fogler & Eddie Redmayne(Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski and Eddie Radmayne as Newt Scamander.)

In roughly 1927, the sequence of the second Fantastic Beasts movie takes on the largely European setting suggested by Grindelwald fleeing to Paris. Albus Dumbledore does not leave London or Hogwarts in the movie, though obviously Paris is a featured setting. It is in Paris that Grindelwald sets about actions intended to raise pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings. Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange and Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone are enlisted in that campaign.

Fantastic Beasts COG 4 - Ezra Miller & Zoë Kravitz(Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone and Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange.)

The storyline with Crimes of Grindelwald calls into question where the lines of love and loyalty exist among characters and family members within the story. Themes explored in the divided wizarding world of the Harry Potter movies are taking their contextual voices within the prequel movies of Fantastic Beasts to a fuller level than seen in the Where to Find Them movie.

Without getting further into the plot of Crimes of Grindelwald, there is much to appreciate about the tension and building story of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. The two stories in this franchise to date are complementing the Harry Potter world that we know without taking things away from it.

Fantastic Beasts COG 6 - Carmen Egojo(Carmen Egojo as Seraphina Picquery.)

We get to see legitimate questions about where the story of Newt Scamander and his brother (Theseus Scamander as played by Callum Turner) are going. We get to see society place pressure on the relationship of Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler), and the wedge it places between these two as well as Queenie and her sister Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston). What is the full nature of the relationship between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, and how did they get the place where it is now and into the future. Will we see more of the Tom Riddle story in the Fantastic Beasts storyline?

Many questions are raised, for sure. Interesting intrigue is also raised for the Crimes of Grindelwald movie of its own accord to suggest that you see it. On a scale of 1-star to 5-stars, I rate this movie highly at 4.5-stars.

Matt – Saturday, November 24, 2018