Category Archives: media consumption

Do pictures never lie?

The easiest thing in the world to alter is a photograph.

It was easy long before Photoshop and other image-manipulation softwares. It was even easy before computers.

It all depends on how the photographer frames the shot. You can make five people on a single row look like a larger attendance by just shooting directly from behind those five people. It’s a human thing to “continue” a photo from what’s seen to what’s implied beyond it. The average viewer will see those five people, shoulder to shoulder, and assume there are more people on either side. It’s just how we humans are wired.

You can make a large crowd look like a small crowd, depending on where you stand (or kneel or climb) to take the photo. You can do things like this without ever actually “posing” the picture, which a real photojournalist would never do. You don’t ask people to move or reposition themselves in a photo that’s supposed to be an “in action” or in media res shot. (If it’s a staged shot, all bets are off.)

The photographer’s framing decisions are paramount. Suppose there’s a pretty good attendance at a meeting, and the speaker is being well received, but there’s this one guy who is frowning. Choose to frame the photo with that guy in a strong position, and it implies that the speaker was, in fact, NOT well received. Or you can do the opposite, obviously: Focus on the small cheering section while the rest of the group boos.

Or consider protest scenes. If the photographer chooses to focus on a few people who are destroying things or fighting back against the police, it implies that the whole situation was like that. Even though the truth may be that those were a half-dozen bad actors among a peaceful crowd of hundreds of protestors.

Or even a more personal, small thing: Selfies. Chances are that the person we see in a selfie may look quite different in person. Sometimes that’s because of theatrical makeup, of course. (Who doesn’t know how to change your appearance by using highlights and shadows and distractions?) But even a simple thing like how you angle your head and choose your lighting can visually erase double chins, enlarge eyes, soften features… (There’s a reason so many selfies have heads at those few particular angles.¬†ūüėĬ†I do it myself.)

Maybe everybody already knows this. But it bothers me more than ever these days. The old truism used to be “A photo never lies.” That’s no longer true, if it ever was. A lot of us still tend to think, on some unconscious level, “It has to be true, there’s the evidence right in front of your eyes.”

This is on my mind because I was scrolling through an old friend’s FB feed and came across a photo of 45’s inauguration crowd that looked completely, utterly, different from the ones I’ve seen before. It was posted as “evidence,” obviously, that the mainstream media was lying about the crowd size.

That photo looked completely real. Even looking closely, I couldn’t tell whether it had been altered. (Sometimes you can tell.) It buffaloed me so bad that I had to go search for inauguration photos from a dozen or so sources, and even then it was difficult to determine. Heck, maybe the ones I’d been seeing, from mostly mainstream or liberal sources, weren’t accurate either.

What’s the point here? Basically, that you can only trust photos if you trust the source providing the photos to be presenting an accurate image. And that photos can lie, smoothly and believably. And that if the particular thing we’re outraged about at the moment relies heavily on a image, it’s worth taking a long, hard look at that image.

Never base an outrage on the “evidence” of a single photo.

Never, ever assume that a photo is telling or indicating the whole truth. The choice of framing and selecting which photos to use can change people’s perceptions of reality.

Which is exactly the position we find ourselves in right now, living in two entirely different versions of the United States.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under media consumption, personal, photography

Top 15 Comedies Ever! (IMO, anyway)

Yeah, I sorta fell off the earth there for a couple of weeks, but I think I’m kinda back now. Knock on wood. And how better to celebrate the return than with the long-delayed rollout of my personal Top 15 Comedies? So here we go….

* 15. ¬†Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009. I had no real expectations going into this movie and was basically blown away. From ¬†the stop-action animation to the perfection of the voice casting to the utter delight of the story itself… I don’t really see how you could ask for more in a non-live-action comedy. If you haven’t seen this, or skipped it as “a children’s movie,” do yourself a favor and watch it.

* 14. Beetlejuice, 1988. There’s just something about this movie that is absolutely delightfully funny. And kinda gross. ¬†But really really funny. A recently deceased couple brings in a “specialist” (Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice) to run their awful relatives out of their now-abandoned house. Nuttiness ensues. And you’ll never hear “The Banana Boat Song” again without wanting to dance around a table…. or float!

* 13. Tropic Thunder, 2008. Apparently Tropic Thunder ¬†is one of those movies that you love or hate. Some people near to me ¬†really don’t like ¬†it, finding it gross and offensive. ¬†While ¬†I’m usually among the first to take offense, this movie just kills me. ¬†I laugh so hard every time I watch it that I nearly need an oxygen tent. ¬†Everybody in it is hysterically funny, from the people you’d expect like Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Danny McBride, to the much less expected like Tom Cruise and especially Robert Downey Jr. RDJ plays the controversial role of an award-winning white Australian actor playing a black ¬†American soldier in Vietnam, and he absolutely nails it. I could say more, but just go watch the movie. ¬†You’ll ¬†love it unless you hate it. LOL

* 12. Fargo, 1996. In which Frances McDormand became one of my acting heroes as massively pregnant Minnesota sheriff Marge Gunderson. And the always terrific William H. Macy is perfection as the put-upon husband who waffles ¬†about a crime involving his wife. Steve Buscemi is his usual excellent nervous bad guy. It’s a Coen Brothers movie, what can I say?

* 11. Groundhog Day, 1993. One of those rare movies that gets better every time you see it. Bill Murray (in his best work, IMO) is a local weatherman doomed to relive Groundhog Day endlessly until he figures something out. It’s sweet and snarky and hysterically funny, and I love ¬†it.

* 10. Toy Story. Here’s my one big cheat: I’m making Toy Story 1, 2 and 3 a single entry, because I don’t see how anyone could possibly rate one over the others. These movies are pure genius from start to finish, and if you don’t laugh until you cry… and then cry until you can’t see … you basically don’t have a heart. And should ¬†maybe get that checked out.

* 9. Tootsie, 1982. Yeah, it’s aged a bit. And the idea of a man in drag maybe isn’t as funny as it once was. But this is still a terrific piece of comedy with an outstanding cast from top to bottom. I laughed so hard at it in 1982 that I nearly ruptured myself. ūüėÄ Maybe it’s ¬†not quite as funny now, but it’s still sweet and a wonderful piece of ensemble comedy acting. ¬†“I’m just afraid you’re going to burn in hell for all this.” “You WERE A TOMATO! A tomato doesn’t have logic!” “… I was a better man with you, as a woman, … than I ever was with a woman, as a man.” ¬†God bless you, Dustin Hoffman.

* 8. Some Like It Hot, 1959. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, on the run from the mob, dress in drag and join an all-female band going on the road. With Marilyn Monroe. Hilarity ensues, but some of the best involves Jack Lemmon’s female and male characters and eccentric millionaire Osgood Fielding III. Which leads to one of the best conversations ever…

Jerry: Oh no you don’t! Osgood, I’m gonna level with you. We can’t get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Jerry: Well, in the first place, I’m not a natural blonde.
Osgood: Doesn’t matter.
Jerry: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
Osgood: I don’t care.
Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Jerry: [tragically] I can never have children!
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Jerry: But you don’t understand, Osgood! Ohh… ¬†[Jerry finally gives up and pulls off his wig]
Jerry: [normal voice] I’m a man!
Osgood: [shrugs] Well, nobody’s perfect!

* 7. The Birdcage, 1996. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay nightclub owner and his diva partner who agree to pretend to be straight for a long weekend so that their adult son can bring home his fiancee and her uber-conservative parents for a visit. Hank Azaria steals large chunks of the show as the gay couple’s Guatemalan houseboy. Based roughly on the French “La Cage aux Folles.” Ultimately, it’s a movie about family and love, and I can watch it over and over. “I pierced the toast!!”

* 6. Zoolander, 2001. Another ¬†guilty pleasure, but this movie and it’s dumb-bunny fashionistas just slays me. I laugh so hard at the “walk off” that it actually hurts. “I’m pretty sure there’s more to life than being really, ¬†really ridiculously good-looking…” “So join now, ’cause at the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, we teach you that there’s more to life than just being really, really, really good looking. Right kids?” And who could forget, “BLUE STEEL!”

* 5. Galaxy Quest, 1999. Imdb decribes it as “The alumni cast of a cult TV show have to play their roles as the real thing when an alien race needs their help.” But y’know, that just doesn’t begin to cover the awesome crazy nutty perfection of this movie. Anybody who’s ever been a fan, or been to a con, or loved something science-fictional with a love that defies explanation adores this movies. Most of us, anyway. From Tim Allen’s drunken captain to Sigourney Weaver as the (of course) communications officer in a mini-dress who can’t do anything else, to Tony Shalhoub’s slow but genius engineer to (especially) Alan Rickman as the generic facial prosthetic alien science officer, every single cast member is perfect. The adventures are funny and rollicking and just nutty enough… And there’s heart, big unexpected heart. “By Grabthar’s hammer… you shall be …. avenged!”

* 4. The Big Lebowski, 1998. I’m not sure it’s possible to give a pocket capsule of this masterpiece’s plot. ¬†Suffice it to say that a case of mistaken identity results in the spoilage of a rug that really tied the room together. And it goes on from there. Jeff Bridges is masterful as The Dude, and his bowling buddies John Goodman and Steve Buscemi are ¬†horrendously perfect. Add Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a flunky-like flunky and John Turturro in possibly the best ¬†tiny part ever in a movie, as the rabid bowler Jesus (“Nobody fucks ¬†with the Jesus.” and you’ve got a big old steaming pile of awesome. “Careful, man! There’s a beverage here!”

* 3. Ghostbusters, ¬†1984. The one, the only, the original… often copied, never duplicated. Jeez, but I love this movie. The classic trio of Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold ¬†Ramis take on the ghosts of New York, including one very irritated demi-god named Zuul, and the end of the world turns out to include a really really big Marshmallow Man. The classic lines are endless. “I’ve been slimed.” “There is no Dana, ¬†there is only Zuul.” “That’s a big Twinkie.” “This chick is TOAST!” “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!” “Sorry… ¬†I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.” “We came, we saw, ¬†we kicked its ass!” And of course, the ever-important, “Don’t cross the streams!”

* 2. Raising Arizona, 1987. Seems the higher up the list I go, the more I hit things that are either loved or hated. ¬†This was my very favorite comedy for many years. Nicholas Cage (never one of my favorites) and Holly Hunter (always a favorite) are a sad-sack, down-on-their-luck couple who can’t have a baby. Then a local bazillionaire’s wife has quints and a wonderful, terrible plan is concocted. With five babies, they surely won’t miss one. And so begins the nutty, quasi-apocalyptic adventure of “Raising Arizona.” Another one from the Coen Brothers (I’m seeing a trend.) Another one with great lines: “Turn to the right…. turn to the left…” “You’re young and you got your health. What you want with a job?” “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.” “Son, you got a panty on your head.” “Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.” “Now get up there and get me a toddler!”

* 1. Airplane, 1980. Everyone on the plane is sick except the one passenger who is afraid to fly. Mwahahahahahaha!

C’mon, do I really have to say anything? This is possibly the funniest 90 minutes in history, and it’s still funny 32 years later. If this movie doesn’t make you laugh, something is seriously wrong with your tickle box. ¬†;D

“Stewardess, I speak jive.”

“And Leon is getting laaaarrrrggggeeeeerrrrr!”

“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

“Joey, have you ever been in a … Turkish prison?”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking. (smoking… sniffing glue… amphetamines)”

“I am serious… ¬†and don’t call me Shirley.”

“This? Why I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl…”

And now I’ve had enough second-hand giggles to hold me for a day or two. Hope you’ve enjoyed this. And share some of your favorite comedies in comments! Agree, disagree, open up new things I haven’t considered. And thanks for hanging around here, at least for a while.

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Just for Laughs, Part 2

Okay, just for the sake of having something to talk about, from here on out my choices will be numbered. Yep, an old-fashioned countdown.

To be honest, I’ve rearranged this Top 25 at least a dozen times, and might very well do it again before I hit the Publish button. Consider yourself warned!

Without further ado, in reverse order, numbers 25-16.

* 25. The Philadelphia Story = 1940. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart may be the best comedic trio ever in this witty, stylish, utterly funny movie about a spoiled rich girl who doesn’t know exactly who she wants to marry. For those who recognize the name, here’s where Tracy Lord originated. If you can get through this ¬†one without giggles, especially little sister Dinah, you’re one tough cookie.

* 24. The Great Dictator – 1940. Charlie Chaplin at his peace-mongering best as a lowly Jew who turns out to be a doppleganger for a certain poorly thought-of dictator. An awesome movie… ¬†and very funny.

* 23. Legally Blonde – 2001. Maybe somewhat politically incorrect for the uber feminist, but I love Reese Witherspoon in this movie, and how she proves a woman can be fashionable AND smart. And her dog is a hoot.

* 22. Dr. Strangelove – 1964. Peter Sellers leads a stellar cast in showing us why we should learn to stop worrying and love the bomb. An anti-nuclear comedy with one of the best lines in all moviedom: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.”

* 21. The Princess Bride – 1987. It’s inconceiveable that anyone out there hasn’t seen this thoroughly wonderful and wonderfully funny movie, but if that describes you, then go, right now. Watch it. I’ll wait. A fabulous deadpan fairy tale with everything you could imagine in it – pirates, princesses, giants, wizards, swordsmen, chases, battles, sword fights … even some kissing. Very little kissing. Go, watch, you’ll love it or my name isn’t Inigo Montoya.

* 20. O Brother Where Art Thou? – 2000. Homer’s Odyssey set in the Depression Era Deep South, with George Clooney, ¬†John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as possibly the most inept set of prison escapees ever. Worth not only watching, but rewatching. And you’ll be humming the music of the Soggy Bottom Boys for days afterward.

* 19. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975. Killer rabbits. Tim the Enchanter. Soggy women lying about in ditches. ¬†“Help, help I’m being oppressed!” Behold the violence inherent in the system. African swallows. Singing knights and dancing maidens in Camelot, which is a deeply silly place. Bring me a shrubbery! All this and more. Be there and join the minority who can find a quote from this movie that is suitable for every single thing that ever happens. She turned me into a newt… I got over it.

* 18. Men in Black – 1997. Will Smith is a funny guy, don’t get me wrong, but this movie is absolutely stolen by Tommy Lee Jones. You WILL believe that Elvis is an alien. Good for a laugh every single time.

* 17. Bull Durham – 1988. Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and the hilarious Tim Robbins in a comedy about baseball and love and baseball and camraderie and baseball. Watch this once and it’ll change forever the way you watch pitchers pitch.

* 16. Best in Show – 2000. Another Christopher Guest fake documentary starring the usual cast of amazing actors, this time as owners, trainers, competitors at a national dog show. Don’t even get me started: I can’t THINK about it without a fit of helpless giggles.

And that’s 16 through 25. Look for 1-15 in an internet notice near you sometime soon!

And tell me what makes you laugh! I’d love to hear.

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, personal

Just for Laughs, Part 1

Some online friends of my husbands are doing an online poll of greatest comedies ever, and it got me started thinking about movies that claim to be comedies. I have a sort of odd reaction to many of them, because I really don’t find many so-called “comedies” of the past 30 years or so to be funny. Gross, yes. Sophomoric, absolutely. Annoying, beyond a doubt, but not funny.

For a movie to make my list, it has to have made me laugh out loud at least once, preferably more. In the interest of fairnness, I’ll admit that I like witty comedy and have limited patience with very broad slapstick. Never could understand the appeal ¬†of the Three Stooges, although I love The Marx Brothers.

So without further ado, here’s the second half of my list of 50 favorite comedies. These are in no particular order. I’ll get to the Top 25 in a day or two.

* Rocky Horror Picture Show – 1975. Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick. What can I say? If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Most singable comedy EVAH.

* Victor/Victoria – 1982. Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston. Julie Andrews as a woman pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman. Worth every minute of the watching just for the fantastic performance of Robert Preston.

* Wag the Dog – 1997. Robert deNiro, Dustin Hoffman. Blackly cynical, fascinating and hysterical movie about politics and entertainment, and where’s the line. If, in fact, there is a line any more.

* You Can’t Take It With You – 1938. Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore. A zany concoction about possibly the most wonderful ¬†family ever. ¬†Directed by Frank Capra.

* A Mighty Wind – 2003. Another Christopher Guest mockumentary with the usual cast of mind-boggling comics. This one is about the preparation for a 1960s folk music reunion. It’s not a full-out funny as “Best in Show” or “Waiting for Guffman,” but the more you know about ’60s folkies the funnier it is.

* A Day at the Races – 1937. The Marx Brothers. At the races. Do I really need to say any more?

* A Shot in the Dark – 1964. The second of the Pink Panther movies and my personal favorite, with Clouseau (Peter Sellers) investigating a murder and driving his boss (the wonderful Herbert Lom as Chief Dreyfus) insane. It is crazy funny, even if a bit dated now.

* Arsenic & Old Lace – 1944. Frank Capra again, directing a very funny Cary Grant and an assortment of pros from the theatrical version of the play, which had run for a while. Grant’s Mortimer Brewster discovers (through a crazy series of events, of course) that his two elderly aunts have been poisoning “nice elderly gentlemen” with their elderberry wine. The dizzy old ladies are the best part of the movie, in my mind, but Cary Grant has never been funnier.

* Babe – 1995. James Cromwell and a cast of hundreds of barnyard animals. I haven’t seen this one again since I saw it on the big screen, but I know I was utterly charmed by the ¬†little pig and the rest of the talking animals. ¬†“That’ll do, Pig,” has been a stand-by phrase in our family ever since.

* Be Kind Rewind – 2008. Jack Black, Mos Def. Two non-too-clever friends set out to refilm the contents of a video rental store. You’ll have to watch it to see why. A charming and oddly sweet movie, and I loved it.

* Burn After Reading – 2008. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, ¬†Frances McDormand. Basically the polar opposite of “Be Kind Rewind,” but oh, so, cynically funny. Pitt and Clooney are obviously having a complete blast, and the Coen Brothers know how to do skewed screwball ¬†comedy.

* Duck Soup – 1933. The Marx Brothers. I rest my case.

* Ed Wood Р1994. Johnny Depp in the title role as arguably the worst director ever to make movies. Includes  a bittersweetly funny performance by Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.

* Election – 1999. Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon. A viciously funny take on one poor teacher’s journey as he undertakes to get involved in high school student elections. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll laugh some more.

* Elf – 2003. On the whole, I’m not a Will ¬†Ferrell fan. I find most of his ¬†characterizations to be too over-the-top to actually be funny. But as a human raised among Santa’s elves, he hits every note perfectly. ¬†Much credit goes to director Jon Favreau to keeping under control a movie that could easily have spiralled into utter stupidity.

* A Fish Called Wanda – 1988. John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin. I still find this tall tale of theft and double-crossing to be one of the funniest movies ever, but I made the mistake of watching it with my daughter once and she found parts of it horrifying. So… I kinda don’t watch it any more, but I still think that Kevin Kline’s burglar is a work of genius. Cleese co-wrote the script. You’ll never look at a fish tank or a little yappy dog the same way ever again.

* In & Out – 1997. Kevin Kline (again!) as a teacher in a small Midwestern town, on the verge of marriage, who is accidentally outed on live TV by a deliriously happy former student who just won a major acting award. After that, it’s a comedy of errors and gender questioning. Tom Selleck is perfect as the man in love with Kevin Kline’s character. This movie always keeps me laughing and leaves me with a smile. It didn’t do much box office on release, but that’s just goes to show that you can’t ¬†trust the public. Highly recommended.

* Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – 2005. Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer. This quirky crime movie is not a comedy. But it is so freaking funny. Both Downey and Kilmer are beyond entertaining. This just makes me giggle.

* This ¬†Is Spinal Tap – 1984. If you’ve ever said, “Turn it up to 11,” you owe a debt to this movie. A fake documentary/parody about Spinal Tap, “the world’s loudest band,” this stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and a mob of other people whose faces, comedy and voices we’ve all known for decades. It’s funniest if you know something about bands of the 70s.

* The Rabbit of Seville – Can’t give you a date or anything else for this one, but if you’ve ever seen Bugs Bunny giving Elmer Fudd a shave and haircut set to opera, you’ve seen it. ¬†I paused and wondered for a while whether to name this one or “What’s Opera, Doc?” with Wagner (“Kill ¬†the wabbit, kill the wabbit….”) or “Long-Haired Hare” in which Bugs pretends to be an opera director and torments a singer something fierce. I’ll just leave it with this… ¬†If you really, desperately need a laugh, you could do worse than to invite Bugs Bunny in for a visit.

* Trading Places – 1983. Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy. Both of these guys are an acquired taste for me, and they can get to be way too much pretty fast (see ANY “Big Momma” movie, for example). But this classic story, directed by John Landis, uses them both to their very best effect. Dan Ackroyd’s snobby millionaire is forced to change places with Eddie Murphy’s poor con artist, and both comics play it for gold.

* Waiting for Guffman – 1996. Christopher Guest, Michael Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, et al. Another midwestern town, where a tiny community theater group has received word that a famous Broadway producer will be visiting their next show. Insanity and really bad theater ensue. I love these guys. They make everything funny.

* Young Frankenstein – 1974. Mel Brooks directs the story of the famous doctor’s grandson, ¬†who takes a walk in Grandpa’s shoes. With Gene Wilder as the doctor, Peter Boyle as the monster, pop-eyed Marty Feldman as Igor and Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Cloris Leachman representing for the ladies. Moments to remember: “Roll in ze hay, roll in ze hay” “Puttin’ on the Ritz” “Could be worse. Could be raining.” And more.

Wow. ¬†That took a while to do. Not sure if I’ll do the top 25 in one post or two, but that’s a question for another day. What comedies to you enjoy? Sharing is good for the soul. ;D

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

What Goes Around Comes Around

I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical nonfiction lately, and one thing that’s struck me is how the U.S. tends to go through fairly regular cycles of progressive vs. conservative thinking. Here, from “Asleep,” is some interesting data from the 1920s and thereafter.

“Most historians now consider the 1920s an extension of the Progressive Era. The movement began with the antitrust laws that promised to rein in some of the business megamonopolies, but it soon grew into the progress laws and ideals that aimed for a more ¬†modern, safer and healthier lifestyle. Legislation like mandatory milk and meat inspections, restrictions on tenement housing, improved working conditions, and child labor laws passed. The movement then morphed into legislation concerning civil responsibility, granting Native Americans citizenship, and allowing women to vote….”

At the same time Warren G. Harding, widely considered the most corrupt president, died in office. The Teapot Dome Scandal and many others bloomed in the aftermath of his death.

Again, from Crosby’s “Asleep,” comes the ¬†pointed corollaries of all this progress. Immigration became a hot-button issue. The Ku Klux Klan spread like a cancer through the country. Bills were proposed to overturn American’s open-door ¬†policy and stop immigration. A conservative backlash called for the country to return to its “original” religious and ethnic mix. Particularly hated and discriminated against were Italians, Irish, Germans, Puerto Ricans and the migration of American blacks toward Northern cities.

This all ended, of course, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. “Most historians agree it was a complicated combination of factors like consumerism, market speculations, easy credit and business monopolies.”

Sound at all familiar?

By pure chance, the next book I read was set during the era of the Civil  Rights movement, when so many of these factors rose up again. And now, we see them again, and again.

* The destructiveness of consumerism and uncontrolled big business.

* Rampant fear of ¬†“the other,” whether immigrants or people with different lifestyle choices, ¬†or even the old familiar ‘BlackMexicanAsianArab.’

*  The spread of hate groups.  The Klan may be underground, but its brethren  are fully with us.  Westboro Church, anyone?

* Wars to keep us (we the people) distracted from real problems.

* Angry youth.

* Destructive drug use.

It all goes around and comes around, and probably has been since earliest pre-history. Does that mean we give up,  knowing that the cycle appears to be never-ending?

No. We live and seek joy and try to love even our least loveable neighbors. We lend a hand whenever we can,  turn our backs  on selfishness, fear and hatred.

Because no matter what happens before or after, all  each of us us guaranteed is this one existence. What a shame to waste it on fear and hatred and sadness. Somewhere the sun is shining.  Delight in  the day.

P.S. My daughter says I’m too optimistic. My husband probably agrees. But still… smile, laugh, see the beauty rather than the ugliness.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, personal

“The American Plague” and “Asleep”: Reviews

in 1878, yellow fever struck Memphis, Tennessee, then a vibrant and booming town of about 5,000 souls. By the time it left, that autumn, at least one out of every five Memphians was dead, countless more debilitated by the fast-moving and rapidly shifting disease.

All told, more Memphians died in that one summer of yellow fever than the number of Americans who had been killed in Chicago’s Great Fire, San Francisco Great Earthquake, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s Great Flood COMBINED.

And then it was gone, and the reeling medical community had no more idea of where it had gone than of where it had come from. Memphis was far from the only place struck by yellow fever that year, but it was the largest single place and bore the most grievous injuries. Was yellow fever a bacterial sickness? Was it viral? Was it spread by poor sanitation? By contact? By air? No one knew, and the medical community, such as it was, was dying just as quickly as everyone else.

The weather cooled. Fall arrived, and Memphis was left to pick up the shattered pieces. Imagine a town in which one of every five citizens – men, women, children, rich, poor, black, white – one of five had died.

Molly Caldwell Crosby takes up the incredible story of the Memphis yellow fever epidemic in her newish book, “The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History.” Crosby is a deft and entertaining writer, wrapping statistical minutae inside fascinating human stories. And her book only begins with the Memphis epidemic.

From there, the story moves to Cuba and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Of the roughly 3,000 U.S. soldiers who died in that war in Cuba, only about 400 died of war-related injuries. The rest were victims of disease, including malaria and, especially, yellow fever.

About two-thirds of Crosby’s book focuses on the amazingly dedicated work of U.S. Army doctors, led by Major Walter Reed, to try and find the cause of yellow fever. This, while continuing to treat all the men ¬†(and some women) who succumbed to the disease.

Crosby tells the story tightly and with enough interest that it kept me up late for several nights trying to finish it. If you enjoy a good piece of popular history that reads as fascinatingly as any thriller, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

“Asleep,” Crosby’s second recent nonfiction book, doesn’t quite live up to the promise of “The American Plague.” The subject matter is interesting enough – the recurrent outbreaks throughout history of encephalitis lethargica, the “sleeping sickness” that sometimes seems to parallel flu outbreaks.

Unfortunately, although the topic is fascinating, the way the information is communicated leaves something to be desired. Where “The American Plague” was tight, fast and engaging, “Asleep” is loosely jointed, surprisingly slow-moving, and easy to lose interest in. Which really irritated me, because I was completely looking forward to this book. Oh well.

So, in short:

“The American Plague” by Molly Caldwell Crosby. A++ Would read again. Highly recommended.

*Asleep” by Molly Caldwell Crosby. C+ Probably won’t read again.

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, Uncategorized

Oh, The Horror, Part 2

And now, back to the scary scary stuff! Woohoo!

Actually, probably not so scary by most people’s standards, but I’m returning to the list ¬†of movies that have scared *me,* one way or another, through the years.

And for the sake of complete honesty, I’ll start with a couple that aren’t actually so awfully horrifying. In fact, they’re more funny than scary, but I enjoyed them just the same. “Tremors” and “Army of Darkness.” Both of these are gory, but they’re just so damn gleeful that it’s impossible to take them seriously. Another one along the same lines is “Shaun of the Dead,” which gave me the giggles but gave my daughter the serious creeps and she refuses to watch it again. So your mileage may vary on these. Oh, and “The Frighteners,” a very early Peter Jackson movie that’s light on the horror and heavier on the silly.

* The Stand, 1994. The is the TV miniseries version, but I think they got it pretty well. “The Stand,” the book, scared the beejeezus out of me the first time I read it and still does. The opening scenario of the experimental flu virus that “gets loose” is enough to keep me awake at nights, moreso now than ever.

* Prophecy, 1995. I first watched this because it’s a Viggo movie. Hey, I’m not too proud to admit it. But it’s kinda grown on me. It has some of my favorite angels ever, both good and bad. And the best Lucifer on film, and I don’t say that ¬†just because it’s Viggo. LOL He’s creepy in an entirely different way than I’d ever imagined, and I like to be surprised.

* The Craft, 1996. This one’s a guilty pleasure. I only watched it to see if they got anything at all about the Craft correct, and the answer is, not so much. But it’s kinda fun watching girls wreak havoc. Hey, ¬†I never said I wasn’t shallow. ūüėÄ

* From Dusk Til Dawn, 1996. You will believe George Clooney and Harvey Keitel, of all people, can fight vampires. And you will believe that Santanico Pandemonium could turn the straightest of ¬†straights into something more… open-minded.

* American History X, 1998, while not technically a horror movie, is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever watched. ¬†It made me queasy and I felt like somebody had been punching me in the gut when it was over. I honestly can’t recommend it, but I think everybody in the United States should be forced to watch it. How’s that for a mixed signal?

* The Ring, 2002. I honestly can’t believe I watched this. This is the one with the drippy chick in the well, right? It was more or less a BOO movie. I guess I just expected more from Naomi Watts, an actress I generally enjoy. I guess if you had to remake this, you’d have to do it with haunted DVDs, right?

* Dark Water, 2005. This one gets no love, basically. But I thought it was quite creepy, my favorite kind of scary movie. And well acted, by Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Tim Roth.

* The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 2005. I really enjoyed this one because it’s set up unlike anything you’d expect. It focuses on the lawyer hired to represent a priest accused ¬†of negligent homicide because of the death of a young woman during an exorcism. During the course of the trial, the story of the girl’s problems and the attempted exorcism is revealed. The priest is played by Tom Wilkinson, a fine British actor, and his lawyer is played by Laura Linney. Good movie.

* Bug, 2006. Yeah, now this one is creepy and unnerving. Ashley Judd and some dude I don’t remember are a sort of odd couple stuck together in a cheap motel room. He’s a war vet and she’s just sad and lonely. And then there’s a bug infestation. Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s real, or maybe it’s a shared hallucination, but either way it’s entirely claustrophobic and unnerving to watch.

* The Host, 2006. A Korean horror movie with subtitles ¬†that’s kinda entertaining but I didn’t see what the big deal was.

* Silence of the Lambs. Watch it. I can say no more.

* I Am Legend, 2006. The second half of this movie devolves into a fairly standard monster ¬†movie, but the first half is possibly the best, most moving, most affecting depiction of the mental and emotional devastation of loneliness I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

* The Orphanage, 2007. A Spanish movie about ghosts that is truly disturbing. At least I thought so. But then, I also loved ¬†the Nicole Kidman movie “The Others,” so take it however you want.

* Sweeney Todd, 2007. Okay, technically it’s a musical rather than a horror movie, but come on… murderer upstairs and chick making meat pies out of his victims downstairs. That’s pretty awful, I’d say. And hey, Johnny Depp can sing. Who knew?

* Let the Right One In, 2008, the Swedish original. Very haunting. Very disturbing. The U.S. remake in 2010, “Let Me In,” is also good, but I recommend the original.

* The Road, 2009. A man tries to keep himself and, especially, his young son, alive in a post-apocalyptic world as they search for some remnant of civilization. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s devastating novel, this movie is just as wrenching. I highly recommend it, but not ¬†when you’re depressed already.

* Testament, 1983. I saved this one for last because it might be the one that has haunted me the most of all the scary movies I’ve seen. “Testament” is the story of a family trying to hold together and survive in the aftermath of a nuclear tragedy. ¬†If you’ve ever been tempted to dismiss the horrifying aftermath of nuclear fallout (say, for instance, you watched the TV show “Jericho,” which I enjoyed but boy did they sugarcoat the reality of nuclear aftermath), this movie will change your mind forever. I personally think this should be required viewing in every high school. But that’s just my opinion.

Now, tell me what I missed! ūüėÄ

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Piecemeal

I have turquoise paint on my fingertips and that makes me strangely happy.

Random bits and pieces today. Tomorrow I’ll return with the rest of the horror movie list.

* A year ago, I joined Curves. I was doing really well at exercising three times a week until around Thanksgiving. I tend to lose focus at the holidays. Maybe it’s SAD or something. Whatever. Was just getting out of it when January and February hit with one vacation trip, three cases of random “itis,” a month of deafness from ear infection, followed by the death of my father-in-law and one of my husband’s aunts, the near-fatal choking of a brother-in-law, and to cap it all off, my daughter’s special white cat, which she’s had for 14 years or so, had to be put down. Sheesh.

So, back to Curves. One bit of good news among all this stress was that I did my one-year check with Curves, and even with missing three months at the end of the year, I lost 18 pounds and 18 inches over the year. So go me, right? Yeah, I think so. And I’ll try to do better this year.

* My husband’s been playing David Bowie music for the past several days, as part of a thing he’s doing for an online group. And I’m reminded of how much I really liked Bowie. I liked that he never got in a rut. I liked that he was always willing to re-invent himself rather that be bored or boring.

I admire that. Wish I had the guts to re-invent myself now and then.

Also, I have a shameless love for “A Space Oddity.” I managed to get into into the uber-Christian house somehow, as a 45, and played it over and over in my room. It was like watching a movie. For many years, that was the only David Bowie performance I ever heard, and I’ll always love it. Ground Control to Major Tom…

* Thanks for the scary movie recommendations. One I’ve wanted to see for quite a while is “Cape Fear.” ¬†Glad it sounds as good and creepy as I thought.

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, personal

Oh, the Horror! Part 1

I like scary movies. Sometimes. Some kinds of scary movies. I’ve been thinking about movies that I actually found scary, and it’s not as many as you might think.

First, here’s how I categorize scary movies:

1 – The “BOO” movie. These are the ones that count on surprising you to make you jump. You know those horrible videos that make the rounds on the internet, where you’re told to watch something harmless “VERY” closely and you’ll see some small thing, like an animal or a ghost or whatever? So you’re watching closely and suddenly some awful monster image shrieks into the screen and scares the bejeezus out of you? That’s a BOO scare.

I hate those. If I think it’s nothing but a BOO movie, I ¬†won’t watch it.

2 – The Gross-Out movie. These are the movies that count on gore, death, gory death, close-ups of mutilations and gory tortures and the like and call it scary. No. Not scary. Gross and disgusting, yes. Vomitous, yes. I’m looking at you, “Saw” and “Hostel” and all your kin. Those things aren’t horror movies, they’re just sickening.

If I think it’s a gross-out¬†movie, I won’t watch it.

Which leaves 3 – the Scary Movie. I define scary as something that involves tension, characters I care about, an element of creepiness or the unexplainable, and something that makes me want to hide behind a pillow or watch between my fingers.

Before I move on into the movies, I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen a movie that scared me as much as two short stories have. If you want to understand what real horror is, I recommend “It’s a Good Life,” by Jerome Bixby and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.

The first movie I can remember ¬†being really scared by was the 1941 “Wolfman.” When I was just a little girl, it was showing on TV one day. All I remember is ¬†hiding behind my Uncle Dock on the couch and being scared.

In 1958, “The Blob” showed in one of the theaters in Amory (yes, there were more than one back then). My Mom and my Aunt Bob went to see it and they took me and my two-years-older cousin with them. I would have been about 3 at the time, and all I remember from that was being scared and hiding under my Mom’s legs. Oh, and the theater floor was really sticky. Some things never change.

The next movie I can remember really being terrified by wasn’t technically a horror movie at all. Sometime in the early ’60s I saw on TV the 1953 version of “The Great Houdini,” starring Tony Curtis. I was so totally freaked out by his magic tricks and especially the thought of being trapped underwater that I had nightmares for weeks. That was weird.

After that came a long dry spell of uber-religiousity and no movies except what made it onto TV. I learned to love Alfred Hitchcock and found “Lifeboat,” “Rear Window” and “The Birds” to be nicely chilling. The first horror movie I saw on the big screen after that was “Halloween” in 1978. Holy cow. I was scared witless! I still think the original “Halloween” is the scariest of that whole bunch and never needed to be remade. I saw “Halloween” in Cincinnati on a weekend night when flash flooding was slamming the area and my friends and I had to drive back to West Virginia in the foggy rain in the middle of the night after watching “Halloween.” Yeah, it was a seminal experience. LOL

The next year, I was so terrified by the TV ads for “Alien” that I had nightmares and was afraid to go see the movie itself. When I finally worked up the nerve, it was, in fact, scary as all get-out. I still find it scary, and ¬†I’ve probably seen it four times now. Just for the fun of it, ¬†here’s ¬†a list of movies I’ve found worthy of being called a “scary movie.”

* The Shining, until the end when it did something so different from the book that it jarred me entirely out of the mood.

* The Thing (1982), which has a wonderful tense and paranoid feeling going on until the special effects monkeys got out of the box and spoiled it with silly monsters.

* Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, 1932. “One of us, one of us…”

* Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956. I think this one is more or less a perfect horror movie. No monsters. No explosions. No gore. Just sheer nail-biting tension and queasy fear.

* Village of the Damned, 1960. Who could watch those sinister all-alike children and not be creeped out?

* The Innocents, 1961. Arguably the best ghost story movie ever made. Based on “The Turn of the Screw.”

* Carnival of Souls, 1962. I only saw this movie last year for the first time, and I have to say that it’s weird and creepy. It probably wouldn’t be scary or surprising to a contemporary movie fan, but for its time it was out there. Way out there.

* The Haunting, 1963. Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House,” this movie still has power to scare the pants off the unwary. It was remade sometime in the ’90s, I think, but that version is wretched. The original still holds power to mesmerize, to draw you in and leave you as heart-thumping terrified as the unfortunate people who come to stay in a haunted house. This would still go on my list of Top Ten Scariest Movies Ever.

* Scariest movie I never saw: “Night of the Living Dead.” When it came out in 1968, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it. One of my cousins, who was just a bit older than me, went to see it and then told me the whole thing! Aaaargh! So I got the nightmares without even seeing the movie. Still haven’t seen it. Probably never will.

* The Wicker Man, 1973. The makers battled studios and everyone to get this made the way they wanted it, and it’s a creepy masterpiece. Do NOT be fooled by the remake with Nicholas Cage. *shudder* “The Wicker Man” depicts a modern man running headlong into an ancient and isolated way of life, and it remains eerie, with a surprising, maybe even shocking, ending.

* Carrie, 1976. Needless to say, this one hit a little too close to home for a chick who grew up in an uber-religious setting. Man, did I feel for Carrie. Her rage was frighteningly cathartic.

* The Omen, 1976. “All for you, Damien!” Need I say more? This one has a bit more ¬†gore than is absolutely necessary, but it’s fairly easy to see it coming and close your eyes.

* An American Werewolf in London, 1980. This one is a bit more gory than I like, but it carries it off with such wit and charm that it’s impossible not to like it. And really good music. ūüėÄ

* Poltergeist, 1982. The tree. Need I say more? Okay. The clown doll. Yeah. Go calm down. I’ll wait here for you.

* Cujo, in 1983, reminded me anew that I was terrified of big  dogs. Dammit, Stephen King, that was not necessary!

* Aliens, 1986. Ripley in the orange mecha suit facing down the queen monster. ¬†I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so empowered as by that scene. And I love Ripley, totally.

* Prison. A 1988 haunted prison movie that I bet you’ve never even heard of. I wouldn’t have either, except that my crazed fandom of Viggo Mortensen drove me to search it out. It’s a decent scary movie, directed by Renny Harlin.

* Jacob’s Ladder, 1990. One of the rare movies that affect me and my husband equally strongly. We couldn’t even talk after it was over, just walked out to the car in a daze and drove… somewhere… in a daze. Emotionally wrenching, the exterior horror elements of demons and whatnot never overpower the interior horror that the main cast members are going through. Another for my Top Ten list.

* The same year, “Misery.” Kathy Bates is awesomely terrifying as the “very best fan” of a stranded writer. *shudder*

* The Reflecting Skin, 1990. This post-World War II story twines the stories of a younger brother who’s become fascinated by the idea of vampires and an older brother who’s home from the Pacific following the deaths of their parents. Child abuse, vampirism, lonely love and the aftermath of bombing in the Pacific mingle to make an eerie, tragic story. Hard to find. This is another Viggo movie.

* The Kingdom. This was released ¬†as an eight-part TV series in Denmark in 1994. Directed by Lars Von Trier, it’s eccentric, haunting, funny, terrifying … everything you could want from a horror movie. If you can, watch the Danish original. There was an American remake later, with Stephen King, and while it’s okay I find it’s not nearly a effective as the original. Even with subtitles.

Ooops, out of time. Will finish this later, maybe  tomorrow.

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Hey Hey We’re the Monkees!

The out-of-the blue death of Davy Jones this week got me thinking about The Monkees and how much I loved them. I did. Still do. Had a major crush on Peter, but I thought they were all terrific. Davy, in fact, was my least favorite Monkee, at least until I found out he’d been a jockey.

More love.

The Monkees were a formative part of my youth. Such “radical” music as Dylan, Marley or The Beatles would never have been allowed in our house, but The Monkees came across as silly and harmless, except for their long hair and music, and I was able to sneak them under the parental radar. I just about wore out my Monkees albums and had every song memorized. I still remember an amazing number of them, all these years later.

But in retrospect, I realized that I learned some pretty important things from the Monkees. Herewith, my list.

* You can always choose to laugh.

* Puns are an acceptable form of humor; the more groan-y the better.

* If you say rebellious things with a smile, you’re more likely to get away with it.

* Take the chances that come to you. If they’re not perfect, so what? Make changes. If you can’t make changes, watch for the next chance and move on.

* Stand up for your own integrity.

* War is a losing – and a loser’s – game.

* Ask questions.

* Defy authority.

* Don’t take any of it too seriously.

* Follow your own path.

Maybe these don’t seem like much to you, but to me they were absolutely radical ideas. And I loved them. Love them. Hey hey…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, personal