[REVIEW] The Wolverine (Unrated, Extended Cut)

The WolverineThis review is meant as a companion piece to my review of the theatrical release of The Wolverine. I strongly suggest you click through and read that review before continuing with this one.

With that out of the way, let me tell you all the ways I like The Wolverine.

I saw The Wolverine four times in the theater and pre-ordered my copy of the Blu-Ray well in advance. Not only do I think it’s the best Wolverine/X-Men movie ever made, but I consider it one of the best superhero movies ever made. It’s an excellent distillation and update of the classic miniseries that teamed up longtime X-Men scribe Chris Claremont with the now-insane artist Frank Miller. I think The Wolverine is great, and pretty much perfect the way it is. I could watch it over and over again. I have watched it over and over again. If you haven’t seen it yet, get thee to your Netflix queue and rectify that immediately.

Which brings us to a bonus: an unrated, extended cut of the movie, available exclusively on Blu-Ray in a four-disc set that also includes a 3D disc pretty much no one can use for anything other than a coaster. From here on out when I refer to The Wolverine, I’m talking about this new cut of the film and not the theatrical release. Let there be no confusion between them, because although they are largely the same movie, there are also some deviations that make watching the film a different experience.

If I had any complaint about the original cut of the film was that it was PG-13 and, as a result, lacked the sort of blood and carnage one would hope for in a Wolverine movie. It’s true the comics don’t exactly drip with blood, either, but once you’ve had your appetite for the red stuff whetted by something like X-Men Origins: Wolverine — Uncaged Edition, you really do want more.

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[REVIEW] Restaurant Man

Restaurant Man, by Joe BastianichI am willing to bet most people, prior to the advent of the American version of MasterChef, did not have any idea who Joe Bastianich is. Sure, they knew the name Bastianich, as Lidia Bastianich had made a name for herself on television as the Italian-food equivalent of Julia Child, but her son was far less well known. And there’s a reason for this: Joe Bastianich works in a field where he’s essentially invisible, and that field is restaurant ownership.

We’ve all eaten out, some of us more than others, and I doubt many of us have spent much time at all thinking about who owns the place, how the tablecloths get on the table and who orders the food to stock the kitchen. Occasionally someone will get hot and bothered and demand to speak with the manager, but for the most part we go out to eat and the restaurant sort of exists as its own thing, apart from the people who make it run. The most human part of the whole experience is the server who brings the food to the table. But as it happens, owning and running a restaurant is akin to fighting a daily war and to be successful at it one must be as hard-nosed a pragmatist as one can possibly be. It’s really no wonder most restaurants fail.

Like I say, these days Joe Bastianich is a celebrity in his own right thanks to television, but his real life begins and ends with the string of restaurants he owns in New York and Las Vegas. This is where he lives and breathes the business of food, and this experience stretches all the way back to his childhood, where he learned from his mother and father what it takes to run a successful restaurant. He terms the kind of person his father was (and he is) Restaurant Man, and Restaurant Man is as cheap as hell, but as generous as a doting grandparent. He’s ruthless when it comes to pennies, but kind to his patrons. He has to be this way because to do otherwise is to invite financial ruin. Even the much-vaunted Gordon Ramsay, Bastianich’s fellow judge on MasterChef, has learned it’s hard, hard work to run a restaurant, let alone more than one.

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My stories

Chicago FireA couple of years ago, when NBC announced their new fall lineup, there was one show that stood out to me. It was called Chicago Fire, and immediately I was sour on it. Maybe I was ticked off because Dick Wolf, the co-creator of the show, had done such a screw-job on Law & Order, one of my favorite programs, or maybe it was because bad firefighter movies had soured me on the idea of any show featuring said firefighters.

My wife was not so down on the whole concept, so she endeavored to watch Chicago Fire without me. Unfortunately the Season Pass on our TiVo got tangled up with some other programs set to record (it only has two tuners), and she was forced to stop watching the show. And that might have been the end of it if I hadn’t started watching Chicago PD. I have a crush on one of the actresses on that show, so I had to watch, only to discover that both Chicago PD and Chicago Fire were going to have a closely tied continuity, with characters from each appearing on the other show. So I set the ol’ box to record Chicago Fire, starting with an episode about a major blackout and the chaos that ensued.

I watched the episode and wasn’t totally down on it, which I suppose we can consider a breakthrough. There was a lot going on that I didn’t understand at all and it was hard to tell who was whom and what their relationships were to each other, but in subsequent weeks there promised to be still more crossovers with Chicago PD so I kept watching.

And then I started liking it.

I’m not exactly certain when it happened. I think it was in the episode when the firefighters present a local school with a new library they built. I was moved to the verge of tears by the emotion of the scene, and I kept thinking about it during the week between episodes. Then the next installment moved me again and I was hooked. When the opportunity came up to use Comcast’s Xfinity app on my Xbox 360 to watch all the second-season episodes I missed, I took it. Binge-watch time, everyone.

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[REVIEW] Hard Rain

Hard Rain, by Barry EislerIt’s been a while since last we checked in with John Rain, the protagonist of a string of novels by self-publishing advocate Barry Eisler. Though he had some success as a traditionally published author prior to his rebirth as one of self-publishing’s most ardent proponents, I will freely admit that I was unfamiliar with his work until that point. As he has had a great deal of success with his repackaged thrillers, as well as new material, I felt it was worthwhile to dip into his back catalogue and see what there was to see.

The first book in the series was called Rain Fall, and introduced us to John Rain. He is a half-Japanese, half-American assassin, trained by the CIA in the art of killing and now operating under his own authority. Though his roots are set firmly in the Vietnam War, he has evolved beyond guns-and-guts and specializes in a particular kind of death: one that appears to be by natural causes. Rain Fall opened with Rain using a device to reset one of his victims’ pacemaker, causing heart failure on a crowded train. From this we got a solid idea of how he operates.

There were other sides to Rain, of course. He’s not just a cold-blooded killing machine, despite his status as an expert and deadly judoka. He enjoys jazz music and fine whiskeys, and when we find him he’s living a pretty good, if solitary, life in Tokyo as just another guy in a city of millions. As one might expect, of course, he gets into some trouble. A seemingly simple hit drags him into a web of lies and danger. A beautiful woman is involved, as are secrets worth killing for. Though Eisler did not reinvent the wheel with Rain Fall, it’s still an entertaining book and worth checking out if you’re in the mood for that sort of tale.

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[REVIEW] Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films

Bronson's Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films, by Paul TalbotI may not be fully on board with the whole self-publishing thing — I still believe it’s a crapshoot with even worse odds than traditional publishing — but there’s one thing I’ve been vocally positive about from the very beginning, and that’s the wonderful variety of books to come from this revolution. Books that never, ever in a million years would have found homes with traditional publishers can now reach audiences. Sometimes that’s a terrible thing (Bigfoot porn), but other times it’s fantastic. A case in the latter point is under discussion here: Bronson’s Loose!: The Making of the Death Wish Films, by Paul Talbot.

There’s not a person in this world who could convince me that Bronson’s Loose! ever had a chance in the traditional publishing world. For one thing, it’s kind of short (176 pages), and for another it’s about the Death Wish films, movies that upright and proper cineastes would rather behave don’t exist. I can’t imagine anyone taking the time to even do the research necessary to render up a history of the Death Wish series, but I am very grateful Talbot chose to do so.

Much of Bronson’s Loose! consists of oral history, as Talbot was able to secure interviews with a number of the people involved in the making of these pictures. Certain people couldn’t be spoken to, of course, as Bronson was long dead, as were J. Lee Thompson and Jill Ireland, among others. Those he did get interviews with — such as Michael Winner, who directed the first three films — are full of terrific anecdotes. Holes do remain among the living, as he was unable to secure talks with either of Menahem Golan or Yoram Globus, the Israeli cousins responsible for turning Death Wish into a franchise, but there’s enough straightforward research in the book that their absence is not a deal-breaker.

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