Tag Archives: media consumption

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. 😀 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 – 1994. 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

“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. 😀

* 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! 😀

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Review: The Blacksmith’s Daughter

First, I enjoyed this book, which is available as an ebook through MUSA/Euterpe and also through Amazon.

Second, I’ve known the author literally since she was born, and count her as a dear friend. Just to get that out there in the front of anything else.

That said, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” is as good a fantasy first novel as any I’ve read in a while. Fantasy novels have certain things going for them, or against them, depending on personal preference. They have a fair amount of backstory/world-building to do before they can get deep into the story. Anybody who’s ever read Tolkien knows that this has been a challenge all the way since the Big Daddy First Fantasy to Rule Them All, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. If you’re the kind of person who loves to dive head-first into a new world, with unusual names and unheard-of places and Important People you need to learn and remember early on, then you’re already comfortable with reading fantasy and won’t have any problem with all these things.

If you’re not accustomed to it, you’ll find that the Prologue is a strenuous chew. But hang in there, all will come clear and you’ll find that you needed to know all that prologue.

About midway through chapter one, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” really hits its stride and from there on out, there’s plenty of plot to pull the reader though the occasional bit of necessary fill-in.

“The Blacksmith’s Daughter” hovers on an edge between standard fantasy, mild romance, and the Young Adult category the publishers have chosen to put it in. While many of the tropes in the story are fairly standard fantasy, none of them comes across as cookie-cutter. The pint-sized heroine is great fun, unexpected and full of twisty quirks, unusual strengths and a quiet competence not often seen in fantasy females. I love that not only is she a blacksmith’s daughter, she’s a blacksmith herself.

Oddly, the main hero character engaged me the least. He was certainly fine, but nothing really sets him apart. The main hero’s long-time best friend is far more interesting a character. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him if and when the promised sequel comes along!

All-told, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” provides everything a reader could want from a fantasy novel: Engaging main characters, entertaining secondary characters, wizardly wizards, icky bad guys, sword play and magic. And about that magic: I’m really hard on magical systems in books and movies, because so often it’s misused as an abrupt deus ex machina. Wave your arms and make everything sparkly and fixed: That kind of magic. So I’m pleased to report that the magic in “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” has clearly been well thought out and has sane uses and limitations. Thanks, Arley, for that gift.

In conclusion, I only have one more thing to say: Where are the maps? You can’t have fantasy lands without maps. LOL It sprains the reader’s tiny mind!

My recommendation: Read “The Blacksmith’s Daughter.” And when you’re done, let me know what you think about Enith.

Because I think she’s fab. Just like the chick who brought her to life: Well done, young wizard. Well done indeed.

 

2 Comments

Filed under fiction, links, media consumption

Media Consumption June 2011

Haven’t done this in a while, so I’m just gonna touch on what I remember from the past month or so.

***** The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell – When the planet Rakkat is discovered to be inhabited by apparent intelligent life that communicates via the radio transmission of gloriously alien music, Catholicism’s Jesuits rush to get the first contact with the new world. The team sent to make first contact is made up of four Jesuit priests, an aging female doctor, her equally aging engineer husband, a young male astronomer and a young female expert in computers and all things A.I. An odd mix, granted.

The bulk of the story moves between the official inquiry into Father Emilio Sandoz, the only survivor of the venture, and the story of how the venture came to be put together and carried out. It’s a beautiful, heart-rending story about the need for belief and the search for God. It’s also a first-contact story unlike any other I’ve encountered, in which everyone involved behaves rightly and does the best things, and yet everything goes wrong. Why is Sandoz the only survivor? How did he survive? What happened to the others? How did he manage to get back to Earth?

All these questions drive the story, which exists on the surface of it as a perfectly fine science fiction novel. But if you care to read deeper, there’s much to be pondered. I won’t be forgetting this book any time soon.

* Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoesky – I already blogged about this. Never again.

**** Luther, BBC – Luther is one of those six-episode BBC “series” that seem so odd to the U.S. viewer. That said, I enjoyed Luther, which is basically just another cop show, this one about British detective John Luther and his troubles at home and on the job. I watch a lot of crime shows, both U.S. and U.K., so I rarely get truly surprised by any plot development, but Luther managed to do it. Luther himself has troubling issues with anger, and wouldn’t last ten days in any real job, I suspect, but it made for entertaining viewing.

**** Waking the Dead, BBC – So what is it with the Brits and anger management problems? I really enjoyed Waking the Dead, although it contains nothing truly new or unusual. Standard TV cold-case fare, but the characters are nicely drawn and I got very fond of them. Much to my frustration, at one point. Anyway, the main character, Peter Boyd, while sometimes charming and amusing and always whip-smart, is also constantly angry. I mean constantly. It must have been traumatically exhausting for the actor who plays him to be so freaking angry all the time.

** The Jacket -I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, so I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an interesting if mostly irrational meditation on time travel, of all things. But I’ll be honest… I had a hard time paying attention to it because I find Adrien Brody so amazingly distracting in appearance. I can’t mentally place him in any role because he looks so distinctively just exactly like himself all the time. And his nose distracts me. There. I admit it. I AM that shallow. So sue me.

**** Precious – I’ve put off watching this for a long time because I figured it would be depressing. And it was. But it was also oddly hopeful, and I recommend it to anyone. Let me say this, and that’s all I’m saying…. Mo’Nique deserved every gram of that Oscar, baby. Her performance is utterly fearless, ferocious, eviscerated and lacerating. The main character and all the others were fine, but Mo’Nique’s amazing performance as the abusive mother completely makes the movie. Holy cow. Watch it, for a perfect example of what real, gut-level honest acting is.

Death Note, anime  – I’m watching this on the Kiddo’s recommendation. It’s certainly twisted and forces the viewer into some uncomfortable moral positions. That said, it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters beyond surface level. I’ve still got a few more episodes to go, though.

*** Surface (aka Fathom) – I’m not entirely sure why the Kiddo and I started watching this, but we did, and we both enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s one of those TV series that gets started, never develops enough viewers, and is dropped before it has a chance to live. Surface, in which a marine biologist, an insurance adjuster and a 16-year-old boy race to solve the mystery of “what the heck is that in the ocean?” is a great deal of good clean entertaining fun. Sure, it’s got plot holes you could slip an entire Panzer brigade through, but if you just chill and enjoy it, it’s better than most of the shows that have lasted several seasons. You can find it on streaming Netflix, by the way, under the name “Surface.”

**** The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson – An excellent work of non-fiction, contrasting the struggles and successes of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 with the predations, during the same time and in the same location, of America’s first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. I started reading the book because of a vague interest in Holmes, but I’ll admit that the story of the World’s Fair stole my heart. It’s a mind-boggling story, and I highly recommend it.

* Sister: A Novel, by Rosamund Lupton – This, on the other hand, was seriously so-so. I picked it up because I’d seen it on a couple lists of recommended summer reading. It’s okay; nothing special. I’m pretty sure I finished it, but to be honest I have very little recollection of it at all.

*** Big Machine: A Novel, by Victor LaValle – There’s no way I can describe this book. It’s weird from the get-go. But it was a fascinating read, partly because it made me realize just how seldom I’ve ever read anything written from a contemporary black male perspective. Fascinating for that alone. Waaaaay better than Sister: A Novel. If you’re only gonna read one novel this summer, I recommended Big Machine: A Novel over Sister: A Novel.

**** A Little Death in Dixie, by Lisa Turner – When I got to the end of this book and eagerly started searching for more from this writer, I was stunned to discover that this is her first novel. Damn, girl. That’s a good one for a starter! Again, there’s nothing overly unusual about the plot, but the writing is nice and clean, the plot gallops along, the characters are three-dimensional, and it’s set it Memphis. Can’t beat that.

**** Forever Queen, by Helen Hollick – This was a 99-cent book from Kindle, otherwise I might never have read it. That would have been my loss. Forever Queen reminded me of how much I used to love historical fiction. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Aelfgifu, better known as Emma, a young Norman girl who, in 1002 or thereabouts, was married to Aethelred, King of England. She survived him and married Cnut (Canute), a Dane who became king in 1016 of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and England and proved to be a good king for 20 years. She also was the mother to two kings, serving as regent for one of them for several years. She was also the first English queen to have a biography written of her. Hollick, the author, is a dedicated researcher and this story reads very well while retaining as much historical accuracy as possible.

Queen Emma’s great-nephew, by the way, famously returned from Normandy to England in 1066, and changed everything.

*** The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura – An awful lot of public domain books are available for the Kindle for free. This is one of them. It’s a lovely meditation on Japan, Japanese culture, and, almost incidentally, tea. I read the whole thing with delight, unable to determine any time period for the writing. Afterward (to the WikiMobile!) I was startled to discover that the author died before WWI. The writing has an ageless quality that I found remarkably soothing and easy to read. There’s an awful lot about flower arrangement, too. It’s a short book, and well worth the time for anyone with any interest in Japanese culture.

And that’s it for now. I’m waiting fairly impatiently for midnight and the magical appearance of  “A Dance With Dragons” on my Kindle. After which I’ll disappear for a few days. ;D

Nothing like a good book.

 

2 Comments

Filed under media consumption, personal

Crime and Punishment

No, I’m not joining the mobs of voices decrying or cheering the Casey Anthony verdict. I’m talking about the original “Crime and Punishment,” the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in Russia in 1866.

I finally read it.

Somehow nobody forced me to read this classic, all the way through high school and six years of college, and I only just now managed to bull my way through it, thanks to Kindle. Yeah, something about having all those daunting pages just show up a page at a time in pixilworld made it seem less daunting. Not a lot less daunting, mind you. Just enough.

So I finally read it. From start to finish, it took about a month. Admittedly I took a two-week break in the middle because I just couldn’t stand to pick it up again, it was making me so crazy. But last night I finished it. And as an initial reaction, I have to say … huh. Classic psychological drama. Right.

I understand what this book is supposed to be about. Alienation. The inner life of the criminal mind. The psychology of guilt. I understand that. I just don’t see it in the book.

Raskalnikov (he of the many names, like every other character), the protagonist, is unlikeable from the start, at least to me. He comes across as one of those whiny brats who thinks he’s so much better than everyone else that anything he does must be okay. Period. He accepts the kindness of others with ill will, grumpiness and a cavalier attitude that just made me want to throttle him. So he’s poor. Got it. But every time someone gives money to him, often at difficulty to themselves, he just throws it away. Sometimes almost literally.

As for his psychological wrestling with his crime, I saw none of that. I read a lot of thrashing about not wanting to get caught, but he almost never thought about the double murder itself. He felt no guilt, only fear of punishment. He felt no remorse, only that continuing intellectual whining as he see-sawed between playing games with the police and his friends and collapsing onto the sofa in his garret. His “oh, poor me” fainting routine was overdone the first time. We won’t even get into the later ones.

And then there’s Sonia. Saintly Sonia. So pure. So beautiful. So innocent. So religious. So…. a prostitute. Sorry, I just can’t go there. The hooker with the heart of gold has been done to death. Granted, this might be one of the earlier ones, but I found myself wanting to slap her, too. According to the analyses I read earlier, trying to figure out what I was “supposed” to get out of this book, Sonia’s pure love saves Raskalnikov. Sorry. I didn’t get that.

The only thing that happened with Raskal and Sonia was that he was creepy at first, and then creepier, and then creepiest. And the fact that she didn’t run away screaming says, to me, more about the deadness of her heart than about love. She has given up.

He finally confesses, basically, out of spite because nobody could figure out that he was the murderer. I could almost see him in my mind, flouncing in a tragically emo fashion into the police station, draping himself over a chair and announcing, “Oh, fine. You’re all too stupid to figure it out. I’m the murderer. This is soooo boring. I think I’ll faint, or have a sudden fever.”

All that said, I’m glad I finally read the book. I feel much more educated now. And it did have a couple of nifty creepy images that’ll stick with me. Crazy Raskal forcing Crazy Sonia to read aloud the story of Lazarus from the Bible by the light of a single flickering candle in her tiny room. Not sure what it was supposed to mean, but it was creepy as all get out. And then there’s the character whose names starts with an S, who may or may not be a crazy deviant pervert who talks with his dead wife and gives away money like it was flowing from his fingers, who walks out to a bridge overlooking part of the city, muses on the beauty of it, and shoots himself in the head.

Ooookay.

So. Crazy crime and punishment with crazy inexplicable people doing nutty things and getting away with it didn’t start with O.J. and Casey Anthony. That’s for sure.

And, oh yeah, I don’t expect to be re-reading “Crime and Punishment” any time soon. Did  I read the wrong Dostoevsky? Let me know!

Leave a comment

Filed under media consumption, personal

February’s Media Consumption

Books and movies that made the cut for February digestion. Some have mini-reviews, some don’t. Enjoy or skip: I’ll never know. ;D

* Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst and others) – Well, I saw it. So now I can say I saw it.

* Anatomy of a Murder (Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara and a ton more) – Wow. This one starts kinda slow, but before you know it, you’re fully invested in this murder trial. A granddaddy of the genre, and well worth a rental. Although the crazy way crimes were investigated back then might make you wonder how anybody ever got caught.

* The Brethren, by John� Grisham – Not bad. Standard Grisham.

* Thank You For Smoking – Not a documentary, this is the story of a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. It’s cringingly funny at times.

* Mazes and Monsters – A guilty pleasure from years ago. Anybody who’s ever gotten excited by a roll of the dice letting your magic user evaporate a Deadly Slime Mold might get some gentle, wistful enjoyment from this story about college students who get tooooo caught up in their D&D. Stars a baby big-eyed Tom Hanks, back before he was anybody.

* Stardust – I love this dippy movie, unapologetically. The seven dead brothers are totally awesome, as is Captain Shakespeare.

* Sister Theresa, by Barbara Mujica – Fascinating novel about Teresa Sanchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, a wealthy and spoiled young woman in Avila, Spain, who goes on to become Sister Teresa of the Discalced Carmelite order. Barefoot Carmelites. After a tumultuous life of faith in the late 1500s, Theresa was beatified in 1614 and canonized in 1622.� Saint Theresa was also, later, named one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church, a rare honor. The fictionalized account of her life draws on many historical sources and is very well written. Based on the way she’s portrayed, I think I would’ve liked her.

* Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves – A kid’s book, basically. Took me about a day to read. Nothing special.

* Off the Black (Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Trevor Morgan) – I don’t even recall what brought this movie to my attention, but I’m so glad I watched it. I truly enjoyed the off-kilter tale of an old drunk and the friendship he strikes up with a teen-ager he catches vandalizing his house. Completely unsentimental but oddly affecting. Oh, and one thing that made me want to scream: This movie has no violence, no sex, no nudity, very little talk about any of those things. And yet it’s rated R. Hello? In scanning through it again, the only thing I saw that could POSSIBLY be offensive is that one time the old guy tells the young guy to quit being a pussy. Is that enough for an R, when movies that featured blood, gore, violent death, exploding city buses, multi-car pileups and cannibalism can get a PG-13?

* The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Absolutely excellent movie. I have no idea why it didn’t draw the raves that other movies did last year. Maybe it’s because it’s slow moving. But it’s the flat-out most gorgeous movie I’ve seen since Out of Africa and Alatriste. You could just about freeze any frame and put it up for sale as fine art. Casey Affleck is totally creepy, and Brad Pitt is disturbingly heart-breaking. A terrific character study, and not a shoot-em-up at all. Maybe that’s why it sank.

* Persepolis – I couldn’t believe this actually came to a theater near me. It’s a subtitled French animated movie about a young woman’s life, growing up in Iran during 70s. It’s stylized and in black and white. It’s wonderful.

* There Will Be Blood – An inflated mess of a movie that works desperately overtime to try and cover the fact that it isn’t really about anything. There’s not a single likeable character in it, and by the time it (finally) clunked and groaned and screeched its way to the final scenes, I was hoping a Transformer or Grendel or the Balrog would explode through a wall and devour the whole distasteful mess. And people who compare it favorably to Citizen Kane have clearly not seen Citizen Kane.

* Clara Callan, by Richard B. Wright – An online friend (Hi, Jacks!) sent me this for birthday/Christmas and I’m really glad she did. It’s the story of two sisters from a small Canadian town, and their lives during the 1930s. Sounds dead boring, doesn’t it? And yet I couldn’t put it down. Excellent, excellent book.

* The Day of the Jackal – Made in the ’60s, this thriller about an attempted assassination of Charles deGaulle sorta sucks you in by surprise. I mean, you know nobody’s gonna kill deGaulle, so you know the attempt will fail before the movie even starts. That given, this movie manages to work up a totally unexpected level of suspense. Well done all around.

* Three Days of the Condor – Thanks to Turner Classic’s 31 Days of Oscar, I saw this and Day of the Jackal end to end. (Pause for a big shoutout to TCM!) I have to admit that my inital reaction to this was ‘God, I’d forgotten how gorgeous Robert Redford was, back in the day.’ But once I got that out of my system, I could settle down and enjoy yet another very well-made thriller. Director Sydney Pollack knows how to tell a story, no question about it. About the only downfall to this movie, IMO, was the total lack of chemistry between Redford and Faye Dunaway. Fortunately, it’s not a romance, and their dalliance mid-movie serves more to chug the plot along than to light up the screen. Good movie.

Other than that, did stretches today. Also wrote some.� I’m determined to crawl out of the hole I’ve been living in. Wish me luck.

Leave a comment

Filed under personal