Finding Vivian Maier is an intriguing documentary about an elderly Chicago woman who died in 2009 and left behind a storage locker filled with personal effects. Among them were more than 125,000 photographic negatives, color slides, 8mm movie films, and self-recorded tapes. Vivian, it turns out, was an extraordinary amateur photographer whose workespecially her urban street photographycompares favorably with that of the best professionals of the 20th century. Yet she never published, exhibited, sold, or shared her work with anyone. She labored her whole life as a nanny, caring for the children of affluent families. And she was mysterious. She never dated or married, never discussed her own family or background, and sometimes used an alias. What were her secrets? Why did she hide her talents? John Maloof, the young man who discovered Vivian's artwork, explores her life in this startling but ultimately puzzling film.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel is a stylish comedy written and directed by Wes Anderson. Like his previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, it combines elaborate art direction with quirky characters, a starry cast, and a lively plot. It's placed in a fictional world based on 1930s Eastern Europe during the rise of fascism. Ralph Fiennes stars as the conniving concierge of an ostentatious hotel catering to Old Europe aristocracy. Tony Revolori co-stars as the Lobby Boy, a lowly assistant who gradually gains the concierge's trust. The sudden death of a wealthy widow (played by an almost-unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) throws them into conflict with her greedy heirs and the changing political climate. The brilliance of this picture is its odd combination of absurdity, fantasy, and realism. It's like a cartoon that really happened. It also avoids gross-out humor and respects its characters' humanity.
12 Years a Slave fully deserves its Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay of 2013. It's based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a free black Northerner who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, and Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar for her supporting role as a young slave frequently used and abused by her master. British director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley pull no punches in bringing this harrowing drama to the screen. When its authenticity is hard to watch, the camera does not waver, giving these skilled actors time to wear their roles like skin. Northup's ordeal is a rare first-person account of slavery authored by an educated black man who was born a free American before falling into America's holocaust.
The Monuments Men is a worthy World War II drama about a U.S. Army unit recruited to save art, cultural artifacts, and important buildings from destruction or theft. Based on a true story, it stars George Clooney as the unit's inspirational leader. The skilled cast includes Bob Balaban, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. With that lineup, only clumsy writing or direction could bomb this picture. But Clooney was the co-writer and director, and he tells the story well. Although cramming a year's worth of action into two hours of screen time is a challenge, the real people who tackled this mission were hurried, too, as they scrambled to rescue artifacts from the desperate Germans and reparations-minded Russians. Clooney persuasively argues that preserving art and culture is a vital wartime goalone that the U.S. Army forgot 58 years later when it entered Baghdad.
>> See more mini-reviews, including Her ... August: Osage County ... Lone Survivor ... The Wolf of Wall Street ... American Hustle ... Inside Llewyn Davis ... Nebraska ... The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ... All Is Lost ... Ender's Game ... Captain Phillips ... The Fifth Estate ... Gravity ... Elysium ... Blue Jasmine ... Despicable Me 2 ... The Heat ... Oblivion ... The Place Beyond the Pines ... Much Ado About Nothing ... Star Trek Into Darkness ... The Great Gatsby ... The Company You Keep ... 42 ... Oz, The Great and Powerful ... On the Road ... and many more!
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Fuji X20 Review
Read my in-depth review of the new Fujifilm X20 compact digital camera on the Maximum PC magazine website. Access is free!
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Index to Tom's Articles
Here's an index to more than 350 of Tom's articles in Microprocessor Report and Networking Report, the insider's guides to microprocessors and networking semiconductors. Learn about embedded processors, microcontrollers, digital-signal processors, and other chip-related topics. (Subscription required for most articles.)
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Scramble Text With ROTator
ROTator is a Java applet that lets you encode and decode text in the popular Internet format known as "ROT 13." Lots of other programs do that, too, but Tom's ROTator applet goes further by allowing you to encode and decode text in any rotational letter-substitution format. With ROTator, you can shift the letters left or right, and you can shift them by any number of letters from ROT 1 to ROT 26.
Here is an index to more than 180 of Tom's computer articles from BYTE Magazine published from 1992 to 1998. (BYTE ceased publication in June 1998.) Most articles are still available online and include the original photographs, figures, and screen shots.
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- Shutterbug Articles. More than a dozen of Tom's photography articles from Shutterbug magazine are now online. Learn how to personalize your film speed, banish dust from your darkroom, make professional-looking postcards, find the best deals on used cameras, create special effects with open flash, and more.
- Tom's Oscar Contest. An annual tradition for 25 years, Tom's Oscar Contest is both entertaining and challenging. Hundreds of people have tried to guess who will win an Oscar in each Academy Award category. Competing against them is the computer brain of Tom's famed OscarCalc program, which sometimes wins the contest and always places near the top.
- The Death of BYTE Magazine. In 1998, after 23 years of operation, BYTE Magazine was shut down by its new owner, CMP Media. A year later, CMP launched BYTE.com as a very different web-only publication. To learn the inside story about what happened to the world's second personal computer magazine, see Tom's Unofficial BYTE FAQ: The Death of BYTE Magazine.
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