Walk the Line

Walk the Line focuses on the life of Johnny Cash, and his relationship with June Carter. Johnny Cash is expertly played by Joaquin Phoenix. Reese Witherspoon won an academy award for her performance as June Carter.

While the movie is a little long, at two and a quarter hours, it covers multiple decades. We start with Johnny Cash as a boy growing up on a cotton farm, and follow his rise to stardom. Along the way we meet his future wife, June Carter, as their paths criss cross. We also gain insight into Cash's dysfunctional relationship with his father.

In this type of biographical portrayal, it is always great to see the nostalgia of yesteryear. Walk the Line does not disappoint, with the scenery, costumes, and cars all adding realism to the film.

I'm going to make a major disclaimer here: I don't really listen to Johnny Cash's music. Despite my lack of interest in Cash's brand of Southern rockabilly, I did enjoy the songs very much. They support the plot, and we avoid the feeling of a bunch of songs loosely connected by a weak story (like in an Elvis movie).

The movie also accurately portrays the life of Cash- good and bad. The story reminds me of Ray Charles, as told in the film Ray. Both Cash and Ray struggle their way to the top, only to end up emotionally scarred, and morally corrupt when they arrive.

I recommend Walk the Line to anyone wanting to see Cash's rise to stardom, and the constant struggle to stay there. I suspect that Cash fans will enjoy this at least a little more.

Overall Grade: A-


I-CON 25 Pictures 2

James Lynch

And the goodies keep on coming!

I-CON 25 Pictures

By James Lynch

This past weekend was I-CON 25 at SUNY Stony Brook. I'll be doing a write-up that will be posted at Green Man Review and linked to here, or posted here. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the convention. Enjoy!


The Lions of Lucerne (2002)

The Lions of Lucerne is the debut novel from Brad Thor, and was published in 2002. Thor had previously been involved with a television program of travel. He uses his extensive knowledge of locations to enhance this novel. This novel is the start of a growing series, currently six novels strong.

The hero is Scot Harvath. He is works as a Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential security detail. His qualifications include being an ex-Navy SEAL, and he is about as hard as they come. He is in optimal physical condition, can handle just about any weapon, and his bare hands are quite deadly. In short, he makes some other action heroes look like wimps, although Thor still keeps him believable throughout.

The plot focuses on that the President has been kidnapped. Oh, and Harvath, morally sworn to protect the President at all costs, while trying to pick up the trail, is on his own government’s junk list. Let’s just say he has to “color outside the lines” in order to get the job done and keep himself alive.

If you want an action novel, this is it. This is one of the few novels that can match Dan Brown’s breakneck action speed. This thing is truly “pedal to the metal” from cover to cover. It doesn’t let up even on the last page! There are also enough tech toys sprinkled in to keep any subscriber of Popular Mechanics intrigued.

The whole plot is so intricate, it takes quite a bit of effort to unravel the entire thing as layer upon layer get peeled back. It was quite enjoyable, and could even be read twice to take it all in. Adding to the realism are the locations, both American, and European. We can feel the locales, and they are described by an author that has actually been there, and not just from a guidebook.
I enjoyed The Lions of Lucerne very much. The plot twists and turns kept me reading, and it was difficult to put it down. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series. Expect them to be reviewed in the near future!

Overall Grade: A

For all of our reviews By Brad Thor, click here.



We've put together a nice collection of content over the last few months. However, there has been a downside that it is a little difficult to naviagate the Armchair Critic to get to the older content.

Read a movie review you like? Want to read another? Well, before the only way was to wade through the archives. Quite honestly few do; it is the internet equivalent of going down to the stacks in your local library. Unless you're really looking for something, it's simply not worth the effort.

Well, this is the age of Web2.0. For everyone's convenience, if you look in the upper right hand corner of any Armchair page, you'll see that we've included links to a page that will list for you our reviews in the categories of books, movies and music. Of course, you can click directly from there to the review.

We'll do our best to keep this updated as well.

Consider this a growth step as we move from a blog to a more full featured web site!


Just Like Heaven

Movie, 2005
Reese Witherspoon stars in Just Like Heaven, a charming romantic comedy. This film is a twist on the genre in that it combines elements of a ghost movie.

Witherspoon plays Dr. Elizabeth, a very qualified and super devoted Emergency Medicine physician in a busy San Francisco hospital. She is highly career motivated, and always puts her patient's needs before hers. On the verge of transitioning from a resident to an attending physician, she hardly has time to do her laundry, let alone explore her romantic side.

Without giving too much away, Witherspoon ends up as a ghost with unresolved issues. As Scrooge does on Christmas Eve, Witherspoon is given a chance to look at her life up until that point from a new perspective, and attempt to grow from the experience.

The movie is very well paced. From the bonus features on the DVD, we can see several scenes that the director kept out of the film to keep the plot moving. Just Like Heaven does a wonderful job of motoring along.

The film is also strong visually with the use of many San Francisco locations. This also lends a feeling of authenticity to Just Like Heaven.

I also enjoyed the antics of the bookstore spiritual "expert." This contributes to the comedic counterpoint and keeps the tragedy of the film from becoming too serious.

What's keeping the grade down? The movie is a little too predictable at certain points. I was able to guess the whole direction and outcome about a third into the film. I'm not sure if others will, but it became less intriguing from that point forward.

While the plot has few twists and turns, this is an enjoyable movie. Just Like Heaven showcases why Reese Witherspoon is the new darling of Hollywood. Cuddle up with your significant other with a bowl of popcorn and just enjoy.

Overall Grade: A-


The Brotherhood of War: The Aviators

The Aviators is the 8th novel in the "Brotherhood of War" series by W.E.B. Griffin. In order the books in the series are:
-The Lieutenants
-The Captains
-The Majors
-The Colonels
-The Berets
-The Generals
-The New Breed
-The Aviators
-Special Ops

The Brotherhood of War series was written throughout the 1980's (although the last book came out years later as a tag on). The novels are closely knit, and don't stand alone, and should be read in order.

The novels follow the careers of a handful of US Army officers through roughly two decades. It starts in the closing days of World War II, and progresses to the middle of the Vietnam Conflict. I got a real sense of day to day army living, as well as the importance of politics in advancing a military career. It is masterfully plotted as the characters paths cross multiple times. There is also plenty of nostalgia and "Americana" thrown in to keep the whole enterprise interesting from the cars, the old airlines, and the product references sprinkled throughout. It is also well done as the characters, as more senior officers, recall their more youthful endeavors, which we, the audience, know from the earlier novels. By the end of the whole thing, many of the characters have the feeling of an old friend of the family.

What is even more fascinating, is that the novels also impart a fair amount of military history. The novels show us the closing days of the European theater of WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the lesser known Congo Rebellion. Even more intriguing, the novels chronicle the transformation of the US Army into a much more mobile fighting force able to respond and adapt more quickly. The two intertwined, and sometimes competing themes behind the transformation are Special Forces (focused on in The Berets and The New Breed), and the rise of Army Aviation (focused on in The Aviators).

The Aviators focuses on a Captain John Oliver who becomes General Bellmon's assistant. We know the General, and his entire family well from previous novels. While Captain Oliver is officially the "aide-de-camp," they more affectionately refer to the position as the "dog robber." The Aviators gives us an account of the Captain's role in greasing the gears for the General as they attempt to create an Army air mobile division, against the Air Force's opposition.

Like a retired uncle of senior military rank, Griffin masterfully spins a tale of these officer's lives against the backdrop of the army's evolution. What results is a classic American tale with enough historical accuracy that leaves me wondering if perhaps most of it really is true. Short of signing up for a tour of duty, this may be the most inside of the Army that most of us will get. This is the grittiest inside story of the army that I have read to date. Clear your bookshelf and enjoy!

Overall Grade: A


Lord of War

In Lord of War, Nicholas Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer. He decides to get out of the family restaurant business in Brooklyn, and seek his fortune by selling arms across the world's conflicts.

This is all based on a true story. We follow Yuri, and his brother Vitaly (played by Jared Leto) over twenty years, and through conflicts across South America, Europe, and Africa. The locations are excellent, believable and well done.

There are some great scenes, such as when they need to rename a freighter to conceal its identity from investigating officials. The part when Cage gets upset that his shipment of arms is not needed because of "peace talks" was also well done. There is also a counterpoint love story with Yuri's wife, Ava, played by Bridget Moynahan. His wife generally turns a blind eye to her husband's arm dealing profession, as long as he produces his stellar income.

It's often not quite so easy to adapt a story over a long time period, to a single film. At times I wanted more detail, and others, I wanted to move along more quickly. In the end, the History Channel version of this topic, as a documentary, would have been more informative, and probably at least as entertaining. Consider this movie if you are a Nicholas Cage fan. Others may want to pass.

Overall Grade: B-


Eliza Carthy, Rough Music (Topic Records, 2005)

Despite her young age, Eliza Carthy has already thrust herself into the highest ranks of the English folk music scene. The daughter of legendary folk musicians Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, she is equally comfortable performing with her parents in the group Waterson Carthy and as a solo artist. Carthy has tried a lot of different things on her solo albums, from working with a full electric band on Angels and Cigarettes to trying out different combinations of performers on the more purely folk Anglicana. On her latest album Rough Music, Carthy enlists the services of a backing band which named themselves the Ratcatchers. Ben Ivitsky (viola and guitar), John Boden (fiddle and double bass), and John Spiers (melodeon) complement Carthy's vocals and fiddle perfectly, and the result is Carthy's strongest solo record to date. Most of the material is traditional, excepting one original song "Mohair" and a cover of Billy Bragg's "King James Version." Carthy has always had an excellent voice, and the songs on Rough Music meet her previous standards, but she and the Ratcatchers shine the brightest on the instrumentals. The standout track is "Cobbler's Hornpipe," a 3/2 hornpipe from the north of England played like an energetic Scandinavian polska. Rough Music is a fine example of how traditional music can sound fresh, exciting, and even innovative when performed by a combination of creative and talented musicians who have a great chemistry together.

Overall grade: B+


I reviewed the Ray Bradbury collection of poems They Have Not Seen The Stars for Green Man Review. To read the review, click here and enjoy!

Jim Lynch


Beth Orton, Comfort of Strangers (Astralwerks, 2006)

Beth Orton first emerged with Trailer Park in 1997, and quickly gained a loyal following for her dark songs and her haunting voice. On 1999's Central Reservation and 2002's Daybreaker, Orton continued to develop and improve not just as a singer, but as an artist and as a songwriter. Those two albums rank among my favorite recordings of the past decade. With the release of her new album Comfort of Strangers, Orton finds her career at something of a crossroads. Her singing voice, once almost magical in its ability to convey raw emotion, now shows some clear signs of wear. Fortunately, Orton's artistic instincts remain very much intact, enabling Comfort of Strangers to hold its own with her previous efforts.

Orton continues to write lyrics about love and loss. Her sense of melody has gotten better with age, and her observations of the workings of the human heart remain as keen as ever. The instrumentation for Comfort of Strangers is considerably more scaled back than on Orton's previous efforts, though, with three people doing almost all of the work. Beth sings and plays acoustic guitar, but also makes her first recorded appearances on piano, electric guitar, and harmonica. Producer Jim O'Rourke plays bass, piano, and some guitar, and does a fine job of filling the musical spaces when needed but also leaving some of the spaces empty. The real star performer on the album is Tim Barnes, whose subtle drumming and percussion really shine throughout the disc. The sparseness marks a departure from Orton's usual style, but Comfort of Strangers generally works best the more that it deviates from the previous albums, particularly with uptempo songs like "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Shopping Trolley." Sadly, the more emotional material feels like it's missing something. Even the experience of listening to as a beautiful a song as "Safe In Your Arms" is tempered by the knowledge that Orton's voice could have made that song a classic a few years ago.

Long-time Beth Orton fans will probably have to listen to the album a few times to let it grow on them. I personally had a hard time getting past the difference in her voice, because I always saw that as Orton's greatest selling point, but admittedly that is not entirely fair to her as an artist. Comfort of Strangers does have its strengths, though, and shows Beth Orton to be maturing performer who still has quite a bit to offer musically.

Overall grade: B+


Reviewed by James Lynch

The roleplaying gaming community contains a noxious breed of player known as a munchkin. These players are absolutely self-centered, doing everything possible to advance themselves. Munchkins argue passionately for any rule that helps them while protesting anything that hurts them. Munchkins may kill any creature, or even player, that they thinks will help reach them reach the next level. They steal from and betray their teammates to get ahead. And thanks to the wonderful folks at Steve Jackson Games, they have their own hysterical series of games: Munchkin (for the D&D genre), Star Munchkin (for outer space), Munchkin Fu (for kung fu and gun-fu), Munchkin Bites (for the Goth/World of Darkness fans) and Super Munchkin (for superheroes). I’ll start by reviewing the original Munchkin, and then discuss the other versions of this game.

At the start of Munchkin, you’re a level 1 human, with no race or class, out to beat the other players by reaching level 10. You start with four cards – two Door cards (which include monsters, monster enhancers, race cards, class cards) and two Treasure cards (these include items, cards to go up a level immediately, and others) – and you can play whatever you can to improve yourself. Items often have a bonus to combat, but you can only use one set of headgear, two hands’ worth of items, one set of armor, and one set of footgear at a time; anything you can’t use is carried (though you can only carry one Big item at a time), and some items can only be used by certain races. Players can sell 1,000 gold pieces’ worth of items to go up a level. Races have benefits (Dwarves can carry any number of big items) and sometimes penalties (Halflings have a penalty to run away). Classes have quite different benefits for players: Thieves can steal small items from other players and backstab them, while Fighters can win ties and discard cards for a bonus in combat. Unless a card says otherwise, players can only have one Race and Class at a time; they can switch cards at any time (“I don’t wanna be an Elf anymore), even during combat. You may also have a hireling, who provide benefits (and can wind up getting killed for a level.)

Each turn, a player kicks down the door to face the top card from the Door deck. If it’s a monster, combat begins. (I describe combat below.) If it’s a Curse, it affects the player if it can and then gets discarded. If it’s a Race or Class card, they go into the player’s hand. If no monster was encountered, players can either Loot The Room (draw another Door card face down) or Look For Trouble (play and fight a monster from their hand).

On the surface, combat is pretty simple. The player adds up their level and bonuses from items and compares that to the monster’s level (plus bonuses or penalties the monster has). If they player’s total is higher, the player kills the monster, goes up a level (or two for tougher monsters), and gets a number of treasures on the monster card. If the monster is higher, the player can invite one other player to help them. If the monster is still stronger, the player(s) can try and run away by rolling a 5 or 6 on a die. If the player escapes, the turn ends. If the player doesn’t escape, the player suffers the Bad Stuff on the monster card; this can range from losing levels or items, to dying (which lets other players loot the body and costs the deceased player everything but their level, race, and class).

Combat is seldom simple because of the other players. They can play any number of monster enhancers to make a monster tougher. (Someone may be able to beat the Lame Goblin, but an Ancient Enraged Undead Lame Goblin is quite a bit tougher.) They can play Curses from their hands to cost a player levels or items during combat. Thieves can backstab a player by discarding cards to penalize the fighting player. And the dreaded Wandering Monster cards can add other monsters to the combat! And to get another player to help you is a process of negotiation, as potential helpers will probably want some (if not all) of the treasures in exchange for assistance (except Elves, who go up a level when they help someone win a combat).

The different versions of Munchkin follow these basic rules, but with their own additions. Star Munchkin had Rooms, Sidekicks (Hirelings than can be sacrificed to automatically escape a combat), and the devastating –aser multi-part weapon. Munchkin Fu introduces Styles to the mix, and Munchkin Bites and Super Munchkin have Powers to help combat. Expansions provide new monsters, cards, and rules. (So far Super Munchkin is the only game without an expansion, but that’s expected in the fall.) Epic Rules let players play to level 20 and become far more powerful from levels 11-19. And all the games can be mixed together (the Munchkin Blender expansion facilitates this), which can lead to a Third-Breed Cyborg Halfling Werewolf Yakuza with a Monkey With A Costume Like Yours and Pantyhose of Giant Strength. And more!

All of the Munchkin games are tremendous fun. The goofy cards are a great parody of their genres, supplemented by the wondrous artwork of John Kovalic (or, for Munchkin Fu, the art of Greg Hyland). The rush to level 10 can get quite cutthroat, and no combination can guarantee victory. One game, three of us were at level 9 for several rounds, and the player who was at level 6 wound up winning!

I recommend getting the Munchkin game and expansions for your favorite genre, get a few friends together, and prepare to race to that wonderful level 10!

Overall Grade: A+



My latest project for Green Man Review is finally complete. It concerns the Finnish band Värttinä, whose music I've really admired for quite some time now. First, I review their new album Miero, which came out in January. Miero is the lastest of many strong efforts from the band, and earns an A- grade.

Also, and more importantly, a couple of weeks ago I got to spend twenty minutes on the phone with Värttinä's bouzouki and sax player Janne Lappalainen. While the rest of the band is back in Finland promoting the new record, Janne has been busy in Toronto overseeing the final touches to the theatrical production of Lord of the Rings, which premieres on March 23. Värttinä composed several pieces for the show, and in my introduction to the interview I try to explain why their connection to Tolkien's work is actually quite natural.


By Dawn's Early Light

By Dawn's Early Light is a global thriller written by David Hagberg. The author has in depth military knowledge as he is a former Air Force cryptographer. Hagberg has written several novels.

By Dawn's Early Light features a plot based on an alternate view of current events. The "what if" is that Pakistan has a hydrogen bomb, and they are not afraid to use it on their Indian neighbors, or anyone else that wants to get in the way of their regional domination.

The global plot unfolds across several continents and oceans like a well executed battle plan. There are enough Special Forces and submarines involved to keep anyone with a military interest yelling "hoora" by the end of novel. The action is vivid, and well descibed. You're very glad that the USS Seawolf sub with its heroic crew is on our side!

Speaking of the end, the very last section presents quite an enigma. It appears to set the stage for a sequel, but there is none. If anyone knows the meaning, or cares to speculate, go ahead and post it in the comments below...

In conclusion, I enjoyed By Dawn's Early Light very much. This is the first novel I have read of Hagberg's body of work. I can promise you, it will not be the last.

Overall Grade: A

Also reviewed by this author:
Eden's Gate
Joshua's Hammer



Elizabethtown is movie of the romantic comedy genre. It stars Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst.

Bloom plays an upwardly mobile sneaker designer who just made the most expensive blunder in the history of the business to the tune of a cool billion. Dunst is a kind hearted stewardess who befriends Bloom on a plane ride. The plot develops as Bloom flies to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to wrap up his recently deceased father's affairs.

The film has several notable scenes. These include their all night phone call, and the meeting with "the boss." The highlight of Elizabethtown is the cross country roadtrip towards the end with quite a bit of Americana thrown in. For the record, I had an atlas out trying to map out his route (I-40, I think).

What's holding back this film? First and foremost, like several other films I've seen recently, it really needed some serious editing. The first half of Elizabethtown is so painfully slow it put me to sleep the first time I saw it. If your DVD player can playback at 2x with audio, this is THE film to use it on. Quite frankly, on some scenes like the drawn out eulogies, it's not even fast enough. The other lesser weakness is that too many items were left undone. Maybe they were setting us up for a sequel, but the film should still stand on its own. What about his job? Can he fulfill his father's last wishes? What happens to the relationship? Perhaps if we had substantially trimmed it from the start we could have finished the tale to the point of some completion. As it stands, I was significantly unsettled at the end with no real conclusions.

I will summarize Elizabethtown as boredom, punctuated by brief excellence, but ending with an unresolved plot. This was one movie I made sure to return to Blockbuster before I owned it!

Overall Grade: C+

Swimming With Sharks

Swimming With Sharks is a 1994 movie starring Kevin Spacey, and Frank Whaley. While it gets billing as "hysterical," and a comedy, it is a dark one at best. Let's start off by saying I didn't laugh at all.

The plot revolves around Whaley as the new assistant to Spacey. Spacey is the all important Hollywood studio VP who "can make it happen." Whaley is his "boy" who does everything from make the coffee, answer the phones, and set up a rendevous with lady friend for Spacey. Spacey plays what is the embodiment of every jerk boss you can imagine, times at least ten! I can't remember seeing Spacey in this type of role, and it was an interesting change.

Well, this can't go on forever, and one day, the "young pup" loses it, and all hell breaks loose. What results is a fascinating character study into the boss-employee relationship, and the politics of Hollywood.

While I did enjoy Swimming With Sharks, don't count on too many laughs. It's just too serious for that. Oh, and bosses...get your own coffee!

Overall Grade: B+


Day of Wrath

Day of Wrath a novel that most definitely deserves the designation of a global thriller. This is the first novel I have read from author Larry Bond. Bond first got notiriety after collaborating with Tom Clancy on Red Storm Rising. A former naval intelligence officer, he is obviously well versed in the going ons of all the military branches. This comprehensive knowledge of the military comes through in the entire novel.

The main characters in Day of Wrath are Helen Grey and Peter Thorn. Grey is a special agent working for the FBI. Thorn is a lieutenant colonel connected to special ops. They worked together previously in a prior Bond novel, The Enemy Within. Of course, there is the romantic interest between the two.

The novel opens with the investigation of a Russian airplane crash with some American colleagues on board. It becomes apparent early on that this is no routine investigation. Before too long, Grey and Thorn realize that they will have to break more than a few rules to solve their most challenging case yet.

The drama unfolds across Europe, the US, and the Middle East. The evil mastermind behind the doomsday plot is a Saudi prince who has as much money as hatred. The plan involves "sleeper cells," improvised bombs, and international smuggling. If this sounds a lot like 9/11, you're absolutely right. The real shocker is that the book was published in 1998!

The novel is well paced, and strongly written. The dialogue and scenarios are accurate, and believable. The far flung locations are richly described without being pverly verbose.

What was written as a cautionary tale, is now a fictional recount of an alternate 9/11. I wish more people in our government had heeded the warnings of Day of Wrath before that awful day. Expect to read some more reviews of Larry Bond's work soon. It is only fitting that I designate Day of Wrath with our highest grade.

Overall Grade:A+

See also our review of Dangerous Ground by the same author.