May 2007 Archives

Movie Meme


I'm both bored and too tired to be creative, so I'll try this movie meme that is going around. It's a little too long for me, but I'll give it a whirl.

# Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.
Casablanca. Hard to believe I was in my 20s before I saw it the first time. A friend once asked me how I can watch a movie so many times, but I agree with Ebert who compares listening to a song over and over.  When my fellow Casablanca addict and I watched the cleaned up DVD version the first time, we were bowled over by its detail.

# Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.
Don't see too many movies in the theater now, but when I was a teenager, Smokey and the Bandit and Richard Pryor Live were multiple viewing ones.

# Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

I am more director-driven, so I'll list those: Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Peter Greenaway

# Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

For directors - Chris Columbus, Uwe Boll

# Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

Casablanca, obviously.

# Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

Not a musical fan, sorry.

# Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

Casablanca (see a trend here?)

# Name a movie that you own.

Casablanca (3 different versions).

# Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't yet gotten around to it.

The Departed, although it is now at the top of my Netflix list, as I will get the HD version.

# Ever walked out of a movie?

Yes, two of them.  Water - a "farce" starring Michael Caine; it was dreadful and a good thing we were attending a free promo showing.  Foul Play - for some reason, this comedy/thriller starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase just didn't sit well and we left early. Moves I should've left early on, but watched the disaster to the end? Dune (the first one) - made very little sense, and I had read the book! Howard the Duck - oh my word, what a headache I had after this one!

# Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

Sorry, don't cry in the movies. These days, any movie featuring a sad child/parent relationship gets me all choked up though.

# What's the last movie you saw in the theater?

Five Graves to Cairo, playing at the Harvard Film Archive. Very neat early Billy Wilder WWII film.

# What's the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

# What movie do you wish you had never seen?


# What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

I'm not sure I understand the question. "weird" as in a movie I shouldn't like but do (28 Days Later...), or "weird" as in unknown (Once Upon Atari)?

# What is the scariest movie you've seen?

Either The Thing or Ju-on (The Grudge)

# What is the funniest movie you've seen?

National Lampoon's Vacation

I originally wrote this review on July 7, 2002, but I had seen it a few times before and a few times since. But I am definitely due for another viewing, as I haven't watched it on my upgraded system yet, and it is a true "visual feast". Boy, when I came out of the theater after watching this the first time, how fascinated (and perplexed!) I was by the experience.

One of the amazing Australian director Peter Weir's first films, Picnic at Hanging Rock is an evocative, lyrical, and mysterious foray into the unknown. Set during a hot summer's day picnic for the young students of Appleyard's Academy for Girls, at the foreboding and primitive place called Hanging Rock.  No, this isn't a western, featuring a lynch mob, but rather a beautifully filmed, hauntingly scored movie about repressed sexuality, strange happenings, and, uncomfortably enough for some people, no easy answers.


The movie opens with the girls of the Academy, all around high school age, reading romantic poetry to each other. Shot in soft focus, from oblique angles, the real world seems far away. It is Saint Valentine's Day and the annual picnic to the huge outcropping called Hanging Rock is today, and everyone is excited. Being Down Under, it is the middle of the summer, and the heat and lethargy are perfectly captured for the viewer as the carriage heads out. While there, four of the girls take a forbidden walk into the Rock, but only one returns. Also missing is one of the teachers. A search is quickly mounted, while the negative repercussions on the school's image have their deleterious effect. A week later, one of the girls is discovered by a boy who had seen them disappear and is wracked by nightmares about them.  The discovered girl is in remarkably good condition and is still, in the vernacular used in the movie, "intact".


You know this movie isn't about answers when, in the opening splash scene, you are given a complete synopsis of what is to come.  And if you need neat answers to questions posed in a movie, this won't be a movie for you, because Weir doesn't give you any.  There are perhaps clues as to what went on, but they point in many different directions.  This is a movie about atmosphere and repressed primitive carnal longings, not about solving a mystery.  Which, by the way, is not based on a true story, despite what is said on IMDB and the implications at the beginning of the movie.  It is based on a novel, although I have to admit after I first saw this movie, many years ago, I did spend some time at the Boston Public Library searching the archives for mention of it, as in one place, Ms. Appleyard says it is being reported in newspapers worldwide.

The most beguiling of the girls is Miranda, played with ethereal loveliness by Anne-Louis Lambert. She later appeared as the slightly more worldly but still incredibly lovely Mrs. Talmann in The Draughtman's Contract.

This is a movie that absolutely positively requires complete attention.  It is better seen in a dark, quiet movie theater, but if you have to watch it at home on this beautiful, sharp, DVD, be sure to unplug the phone and turn off the lights.  Let the incredible music, both classical and Zamfir's Pan Flute, wash over you.  Feel the heat, hear the cicadas, sense the emotions and wonder about the motives.  Then, I think, you'll begin to have an idea of where Peter Weir wants you to go.

This is the movie that started me on my love of all things Australian, including a trio of contemporary directors, Weir, Fred Schepisi, and Bruce Beresford.  This love culminated in a 3 1/2 week trip Down Under, that remains among my most cherished memories.  Unfortunately, despite staying in Melbourne an extra day, we never made it to Hanging Rock, at a park just north of Melbourne.  A movie that needs to be seen and felt at a visceral level, Picnic at Hanging Rock won't disappoint.

Another Quilt


My Favorite Artists quilt:

Watched another kid movie, this time with the youngest (6 going on 16). The other daughter and the mom watched Night at the Museum in glorious 3d at the local IMAX theater while we went to see a hockey game, and they came home with glowing reviews. So I picked up the DVD a few weeks ago and while the other two were out yesterday, me and the sniffly youngster settled in to watch it here.

In Night at the Museum, a loser divorcee dad (Ben Stiller) decides to take a "real" job, this time as a night watchman at the American Museum of Natural History.  Three elderly watchman (smartly hammed up by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs) give him a quick tour and leave him to his own devices, where he finds the museum comes to life every night, due to a spell cast by an Egyptian glyph. Much mayhem ensues, and the loser dad becomes a hero.

It really wasn't that good.  Now I see why my oldest daughter was in no real hurry to see it a second time - once sufficed. In some ways, its poor pacing reminded me of the old Hanks/Long/Benjamin "comedy", The Money Pit, where both the funny and the serious bits were either too short or went on too long. Sometimes it was just a beat or two (like when Stiller finally figures out how to entertain the dinosaur), and sometimes it felt interminable (him  trying to talk with Sacagawea). And I thought the score was pretty annoying and got in the way of the movie too often as well.

In general, a pretty weak film with very few (if any) laugh out spots. Even my daughter was bored for parts of it. The funniest part for me was when Stiller was interviewing in the employment office, talking to the woman about some kind of strange "connection". Funny, because that woman is his real life mother! I can see why the first director left due to "creative differences". Maybe it worked better in 3d?

Funny Netflix recommendation. Not sure what Wallace & Gromit have in common with Sanjuro, Seven Samurai and The Third Man (great flicks all).

Movie Review: The Sting


I couldn't resist any longer - I bought a Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player the other evening at Best Buy.  I didn't want to get involved in the high definition DVD format wars, but the HD/Blu Ray dual player from LG is over US$1000 and I didn't want to go that far. At US$299, the Toshiba was a good price. Throw in 5 free HD DVDs by mail, and I fell for it.

I like Toshiba DVD players. They have a good UI and show you the info you want. Can you believe many other DVD players don't even show you time remaining? This HD DVD player has a very nice horizontal bar that shows up when you pause it, showing how much you've watched and how much more you have.  It does have the same problem my upconverting Toshiba does - incredibly slow to start up. Even something as simple as pressing the power button can take 10 seconds or more for the lights to come on.

The selection of free HD DVDs isn't great.  You pick one from each category:

  • Apollo 133, Seabiscuit, The Chronicles of Riddick
  • Casablanca, Constantine, Dukes of Hazzard
  • Four Brothers, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • The Rundown, Blazing Saddles, U2: Rattle and Hum
  • U-571, The Perfect Storm, We Were Soldiers

I've bolded the ones I'll probably choose. Only Casablanca matters, though.  This will make probably at least the fifth version of it I will have owned - 2 VHS tapes and 3 DVDs. That reminds me - I'm due for another viewing of my all time favorite movie. Maybe I'll hold out until I get the HD-DVD.

While I was picking up the player (and a new TV stand), I of course had to pick up an HD movie, so I grabbed The Sting, another all fav. I just recently saw it while channel surfing, and thought at the time that I really needed to pick up the DVD.

And it is just as good as I remember. It is amazing that a movie so dependent on twists and turns can be so enjoyable even if you know what is happening and is going on. I remember how mysterious I found it the first few times I watched it, especially the hitman's demise. And of course the soundtrack, despite being music from a few decades earlier, is timeless. Newman, Redford, Walston and Shaw are amazing, but even the little things make The Sting worth watching. Some of the camera angles are truly creative, like when Redford goes up to Shaw's door on the train and one of the big muscles waiting outside stands behind him.  Redford looks back over his shoulder but all you can see of him past the goon is his eyes just above the goon's shoulder. Really stout artistry all over the place here. I love a good con movie and this is the epitome of the genre.

The HD version is a very nice picture, although being an older film (1973), it isn't incredibly crisp.  There were some scenes that really stood out though. Like when he was peering through the curtains across the street to the drugstore and the rain was splashing on the outside as the camera looks in.  The way the water glistened and shined on the wood felt like you could reach out and splash some on your face.  Very nice!



We finished watching the first season of Lost last night and I found it pretty entertaining. I don't watch network television, and so this was my first viewing, while my friend has been keeping up with the show and used this viewing as a refresher course. It's been tough to avoid mentions of it in the newspaper (this morning's Boston Globe blared 'Lost' leaves heads spinning); the same with The Sopranos (we've finished the first three seasons of that).

I enjoyed the series, even if it was overwrought at times. The acting is solid and the women pretty, so I can't complain too much. The back stories are a little over the top, but I suppose a boring back story wouldn't be told.  And some of the dramatic moments are telegraphed way in advance. I kept announcing "He should be wearing a red shirt!" when it came time to finish off a temporary character, in homage to the famous original Star Trek, where all the officers would beam down to a strange planet, plus a couple of crew all wearing red shirts and doomed to a grisly demise. I didn't guess how he ended (it was truly grisly), but off him they did.

The upconverted picture on my TV was great and the aural landscape was fabulous. The two part season one finale was a good recap, and has several excellent cliffhangers. I'll have to look into getting season two now!

I am making some good headway with War And Peace.  I do really need to spend some quality time with it, as 30 minutes of reading just before bed really isn't doing Tolstoy justice. I am enjoying it immensely and haven't had too many problems with the arcane names. I've enjoyed his short personality recaps and his way of throwing in a quick zinger. I will only add a quote if it struck me while reading it.

Part I (July-August 1805)

5. Pierre's indecision over choosing a career.
6. Pierre visits Andrey and goes on to Anatole Kuragin's. Dolokhov's bet. [Very funny scene of drunken revelery with Dolokov. Boys being boys, I guess.]

But, as so often happens with people who might be described as spineless, he (Pierre) felt such a stronge urge for one more shot at the old debauchery that he decided to go.

7. A double name-day celebration at the Rostovs'.

A woman of about forty-five with a narrow, rather oriental face, the countess was clearly exhausted from bearing children - she had had twelve.

8. Natasha
9. Nikolay has joined the army.
10. Nikolay's relationship with Sonya.
11. Natasha and Boris. Boris's mother, Anna Mikhaylovna.
12. She takes her son to visit the dying Count Kirill Bezukov.
13. Boris visits Pierre.
14. Countess Rostov gives Anna Mikhaylovna money for her son's uniform.
15. Dinner at the Rostovs'.
16. Talk of war. Natasha misbehaves.
17. Sonya's distress. Natasha dances with Pierre. The 'Daniel Cooper' dance.
18. Prince Vasily Kuragin's machinations over the dying count's inheritance.
19. Anna Mikhaylovna takes Pierre to see his dying father. [What a hilarious slapstick scene! Mikhaylovna and Katerina, tugging on the box containing Count Bezukhov's (there's a lot of princes and princesses, counts and countesses so far) will, as Katerina and Vasily are afraid of being disinherited by a last minute change to give everything to Pierre, his illegitimate son.]
20. The count does not recognize anyone. Pierre's discomfort.
21. Death of the count.
22. Bald Hills. Old Prince Nikolay Bolkonsky and his daughter, Princess Marya (see, I told you).

Movie Countdown

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A very cool movie countdown. How many do you recognize?

100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers

Movie Review: The Lion King


The only prescription for a cold, rainy spring day, and a touch of some flu-like illness, is to curl up with the girls on the couch and watch a movie, preferably a Disney animation classic.  Well, the best I could do was The Lion King, featuring gorgeous animation, more stars than you could shake a stick at, and a pretty hackneyed plot (king dies, heir is banished, heir comes back to kick the evil uncle's ass).  But the movie served its purpose, with 90 minutes of escapist fare.

It was actually a pretty intense movie for my girls.  No offscreen deaths here; the father is brutally murdered by being dropped in the middle of stampeding wildebeests. And Simba is convinced to leave by his treacherous uncle and nearly killed by the dishonorable hyenas. The reunion scene, where Nalla finds Simba years later, is truly touching and had the girls in tears.  And, of course, the climatic battle where Simba, his friends, and the lionesses defeat the hyenas and the evil uncle, is pretty intense. Maybe they are ready for Bambi?

Actually, I'm getting pretty tired of the standard Disney plot elements these days.  While I recognize it is much easier, dramatically, I am not sure why nearly all the heroes and heroines in Disney movies are born into greatness and few actually earn it. Think about it - from Sleeping Beauty and Bambi through The Lion King and beyond, so many of them were heirs or princess; not really "up from the bootstraps" common folk like you and I.  It was even more blatant in The Lion King, as King Mufasa brings little Simba up to overlook their kingdom and tells him soon, all this will be his. This kind of royal succession grates on an American anti-monarch type like myself. Where's the lobbyists he has to buyoff? Where's the selling of his soul in order to get his due? Just kidding...

Well, enough complaining. Technically, it was incredible. We have the Disney Special Platinum Edition, which is one that has the sound especially developed for a 5.1 home system, and it really was great. But of course, visually is where it truly stood out.  Absolutely amazing, vivid, colors with razor sharpness, The Lion King is the best DVD picture I've seen on my Sony 50in SXRD HDTV, pumped through an upconverting Toshiba DVD player via HDMI. And the songs were pretty solid, especially Hakuna Matata. We had a grand time, despite my curmudgeonly grumbling.

Movie Review: Gimme Shelter


I have had the Gimme Shelter Netflix DVD for quite some time; since mid-March according to my queue page. That's not the longest delay by a long shot; I had Fanny and Alexander so long, I ended up losing it and had to buy it (I did find it again and am still looking forward to watching it). Gimme Shelter is another one of those movies whose presence on my Netflix queue is a mystery. Not sure why I added a Rolling Stones concert film to my queue, as I'm a fan of neither the Stones nor concert films. So I delayed for two months, but I thought I would put it on while I worked yesterday and just listen to the music.

Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong! Once the show started, I simply couldn't take my eyes off it. Much like watching an impending train wreck, the chaos and incompetence documented by the Maysles brothers was too fascinating to tear away from. I had to pause it and wait until after the rugrats had gone to bed to finish watching.  And then I listened to the commentary track, just to see what the heck was going on.

If you don't know, Gimme Shelter documents the Rolling Stones American Tour 1969, culminating in the fiasco that was the free concert at Altamont Speedway, where one man was murdered by the Hell's Angels and three others died in various accidents. It must have been very scary, up on stage, as 300,000 drug-addled young people pushed in on it. It was so out of control that even Marty Balin, singer for Jefferson Airplane, was knocked unconscious by the Angels. You could feel how crazy it was, and it's impressive the cameramen stuck around.

The chronology of the documentary was a little odd. As is mentioned in the commentary, they wanted to do a little more than just a straight chronology, so they filmed the Stones watching the rough cut of it, and interspersed the movie with shots of their reactions.  No problem there. But I was confused when they cut back to the opening Madison Square Garden concert, just before showing the Altamont one, but after they showed other concert shots, as well as their visit to the Muscle Shoals recording studio. Now, admittedly, the Tina Turner performance shown was worth it, but I'm not sure why they had to screw up the chronology by showing it there.

The commentary track was good, but not incredibly enlightening. I wanted to hear more of how things happened, and why and who.  Albert Maysles provided the bulk of the commentary (his brother David died in 1987), as well as Charlotte Zwerin (who did the bulk of the editing) and Stanley Goldstein.  There were a few nuggets, but not as many as I had hoped. I'd love to see a commentary by a knowledgeable scholar, like they do on some of the older Criterion titles. But a movie that I'm glad I finally watched, and that I shouldn't have put off for so long. It's so much more than just a concert film!

A wonderfully weird and chaotic movie from the wonderfully weird and chaotic mind of Peter Greenaway, The Draughtsman's Contract is a movie I watched twice, just to try and figure it out. Wonderfully twisted plot with plenty left unsaid and hanging in the air, it truly rewards multiple viewings. I originally wrote this on September 2, 2002.

The Draughtman's Contract is an intriguing, beguiling, confusing, and intricate drama of manners, set in the English countryside of the 17th century.  Directed and written by the controversial Peter Greenaway, it is an early indicator of his brand of movie - sexy, brutal, dialog heavy and very watchable!  A woman hires a draughtsman (an artist who specializes in buildings) to draw her mansion while her husband is away, as a present.  The draughtsman gets involved in a sticky web of deceipt spun by the woman and her daughter, and in the end, gets his just desserts.

The movie opens at a dinner party, where all the main characters are introduced.  Mr. Neville, played by Anthony Higgins, is a draugtsman of some renown and Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) wishes to get him to draw 12 pictures of thier country mansion.  She can't afford him, so they work out a contract with extras built in; namely, she will trade sexual favours to Mr. Neville in return for the pictures. The party is shown in small conversational snippets, with the characters all dolled up in a typical 17th century scene.

Then they get to the mansion, where Mr. Neville proves to be an exacting taskmaster, both with his drawings and with his favors.  Mrs. Herbert tries to back out, but cannot.  Mrs. Talman, played by Picnic at Hanging Rock's ethereal beauty Anne-Louise Lambert, is Mrs. Herbert's daughter, who is married to a German dandy played by Hugh Fraser, who believes the English to be beneath him.  Mr. Neville begins to notice some things of Mr. Herbert's that are in the scenes he is asked to draw (shirt in the laundry scene, a ladder leads to Mr. Herbert's room, boots in the meadow scene) and it is pointed out by Mrs. Talman that Mr. Herbert has gone missing and the information in the drawings might indicate Mr. Neville to be an accomplice.  So she blackmails him into sexual favors!

Mr. Herbert's body is dredged up from the one pond where Mr. Neville was never allowed to draw, and it slowly dawns on Mr. Neville that he never was in charge, and rather was more probably being set up for a fall.  When he returns a few days later after finishing the pictures, it is laid out before him how he had been used. He still doesn't see how deep he's gotten himself in, and he soon pays the ultimate price.

And yes, it is all that confusing!  I watched this movie twice, although I probably let too much time go between viewings, and it still wasn't all that clear.  The dialog is very dense and each word is crafted with the utmost care.  Even when I didn't understand what was going on, it still was a pleasure to hear the repartee.  And to add to the confusion was a strange painted naked man, who appeared at various times, like a garden imp who keeps getting into trouble.  He even witnesses the dramatic final ending of Mr. Neville.

I wish there had been a director's commentary on this one, but the DVD itself was pretty barren. A filmography of the 3 main actors and Peter Greenaway was about it.  The picture was good and the sound excellent, as was the score.  Like I said, the dialog was great to listen to, even if it didn't always add up!  I highly recommend a rental, but be sure to watch it twice.

Where Did I Come From?

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Another joke over the email transom:

A little boy goes to his father and asks "Daddy, how was I born?"
The father answers: "Well son, I guess one day you will need to find out anyway!  Your Mom and I first got together in a chat room on Yahoo.  Then I set up a date via e-mail with your Mom and we met at a cyber-cafe.  We sneaked into a secluded room, where your mother agreed to a download from my hard drive.  As soon as I was ready to upload, we discovered that neither one of us had used a firewall, and since it was too late to hit the delete button, nine months later a little Pop-Up appeared that said:

'You got Male!'

As I mentioned in my review of Georgia, I went into a bit of a Jenifer Jason Leigh overload, after being bowled over by her job in Mrs. Parker. The Anniversary Party is another excellent outing by a first time director (or directors, in this case). Never going down the obvious path, and often funny and touching, albeit most of them are quite foul-mouthed!  Maybe they use that sort of language in Hollywood, but it isn't used very often in my social "circle".  But definitely a good movie to watch. I originally wrote this review on April 5, 2002.

The Anniversary Party is a good serio-comic ensemble movie about a couple's sixth anniversary party. Joe (Alan Cumming and Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after a troubled year, are throwing a party to celebrate their sixth year of being married, and are inviting some close friends, as well as a troublesome neighbor couple. As most of the people are both acting as movie people, and are really good actors, the parts are played to perfection by people you either know (Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Kline, for instance) or just recognize (actors like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Beals). There's some pleasantly surprising twists and turns, along with some laughs and some real squirming moments, when embarrassing dramas are unfolding.

Written, directed and produced by first-timers Leigh and Cummings, The Anniversary Party is fun to watch and often surprising. Just when you think it is getting too smarmy, the action picks up and the story gets dark, coinciding, probably not coincidentally enough, with the drugs getting rolled out. Ecstasy isn't all it cracks up to be, I guess. One thing to be aware of is the almost excessive using of the f-word, particularly at the beginning of the film. Perhaps it is an early attempt by the neophyte writers to establish credibility, but a little would have gone a long way here.

All the acting is solid, but I especially like real life couple Kline and Cates, who, along with their real life children, ground the picture on a bedrock of reality. While I don't agree with the Maltin review that says the kids almost steal the picture, they are really endearing and the scenes of domestic felicity between the four come across as truly heartfelt. Cates in particular has several nice scenes with Leigh, trying to explain how a solid marriage and what being a parent really ought to be. Also, Mina Badie as the wife of the fractious neighbor has a real sweetness about her that counterbalances her wonderfully sour husband played by Denis O'Hare.

The DVD is excellent, although some of the lighting changes don't come across too well. It was all filmed on digital video, as the nice little documentary from Sundance Channel explains, and it has some really nice angles and shots. The commentary track by Leigh and Cummings is pretty solid, with some good background. Leigh explains how the project came about, and how she used it as therapy for herself, coming off a break up of her own. This movie is definitely worth a rental, perhaps even a purchase.

Thanks For The Memories

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The latest joke to come over the email transom:

Thanks for the Memories:

Three elderly gentlemen went to the doctor for a memory test.  The doctor asked the first fellow "What is three times three?"  "274" was his reply.

The doctor asked the second man, "It's your turn.  What is three times three?"  "Tuesday" he replied.

So, the doctor then asked the third man, "What is three times three?"  "Nine" replied the third
gentleman.  "Terrific!" cried the doctor.  "How did you get that answer?"
"Easy", replied the old fella, "I subtracted 274 from Tuesday."

Movie Review (repost): Lagaan


Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India is a big budget 2001 Bollywood production, nominated for an Academy award.  I knew little about it when I ordered it, as I was just trying to see all the foreign film nominees, and it held many surprises for me, most of them very good. A long movie that was a lot of fun. I originally wrote this on April 16, 2002.

Lagaan, nominated for the 2002 Foreign Language Oscar, is an Indian film set during the British occupation of India in the 1800s. Lagaan is the tax the rulers place on the peasants, and it has just been doubled. In this time of drought, things look pretty grim for the people. Then they are challenged by the occupying British soldiers - win a match of cricket and the lagaan is canceled for 3 years. Lose, and it is tripled. Of course, the bet is accepted and the race is on to learn the "Whitey's" game.

Lagaan is one of those movies I rented (from DVD Overnight) knowing very little about, besides picking it to win the Oscar. And it turned out to have a couple of surprises. The first of which is that it is one of those stealth musicals, in that I didn't know at all they were going to break out in singing. I was first tipped of when I noticed credits for lyrics and choreography! But the music was fascinating and very memorable, especially for a foreign flick.

The other surprise was its length.  I knew I was in for a long movie when it broke for an intermission! It turns out the movie is 225 minutes long, or nearly 4 hours! But it was a worthwhile four hours, all in all. The acting is pretty solid, especially by the two lead, Gracy Singh in her movie debut and Aamir Khan, who has a long list of credits to his name.  The cinematography is wonderful and the dances are a fascinating look at a new culture.

The movie did have a number of problems, though.  In many ways it is a paint-by-numbers love and "big game" movie, with all the standard elements, for better or for worse. A love triangle, treachery by the spurned paramour, underdog pulling out the victory (I suppose I should say "spoiler", but you have to know they win in the end, right?), and even social justice when an Untouchable is called on to be the last member of the team, all the parts are there, albeit done very well.  And the fact the whole movie turns on a cricket match, in all its mysterious ways, makes it a little hard to figure out for this American viewer anyway.  While there is some explaining of the rules, due to the fact the Indian team has never played it before, much is left unsaid and so some of the climatic moments during the game get lessened. I suppose it is only right that a very long movie wrap itself around a very long game - three days to play the life or death match.

Other problems include a pretty bad transfer to DVD, replete with film scratches and artifacts.  And the subtitling choices were odd in that even the scenes played out in English were subtitled, which was somewhat disconcerting.  And of course I imagine the songs were much more poetic in Hindi than in the English subtitles, so as soon as I figured out the gist of the song, I turned the subtitles off and just absorbed the wonderful rhythms and exotic voices.

But in the end it was a nice way to spend four hours.  The characters were memorable enough that you could keep them separate in your mind, which can often be a problem with foreign films. There is an overwhelming use of color, with reds, yellows and oranges saturating your visual sense. And, like I said, the songs are all fun to listen too, and they complement the movie perfectly. And it prompted us to have a wonderful Indian dinner last night!

I started my long journey, reading the 1400+ page behemoth that is War And Peace.  I figured I would track my progress here, both to see how long it takes and to perhaps spur me on to keep it rolling. Generally, I find classic novels to be an excellent read and don't find them a chore at all. And so far, Tolstoy's classic is working out. Of course, it is still early in the journey, but one I am looking forward to continuing.  I've read the first four chapters and here's the one line synopsis of each, as found in the back of the edition I am using. I'll also add in my favorite lines.

Part I (July-Auguest 1805)

1. Anna Pavlovna Scherer's soirée in Moscow. Prince Vasily negotiates.

To be an enthusiast had become her special role in society, and she would sometimes wax enthusiastic when she didn't feel like it, so as not to frustrate the expectation of those who knew her.

2. Pierre Buzukhov arrives.

Anna Pavlovna would announce them by name, slowly transferring her gaze from guest to aunt, and then move on.  All the guests went through the motions of greeting this aunt, who was unknown, uninteresting and unneeded by anyone. Anna Pavlovna observed their greetings with sadness and solemn sympathy, a picture of silent approval.

3. Andrey Bolkonsky arrives to rejoin his pregnant wife, Lise.

Just as a skillful head waiter can pass off as a supreme delicacy a cut of beef that would be inedible if you'd seen it in the filthy kitchen, Anna Pavlovna served up to her guests that evening first the viscount and then the abbe as if they were supreme delicacies.

4. Pierre's faux pas in conversation.

At this point Prince Hippolyte snorted and laughed out loud, running well ahead of his listeners, which created a really bad impression of him as a storyteller... Then, unable to contain himself any longer, he burst out laughing, and just managed to say through all the laughter, 'And everybody got to know about it...' And that's all there was to the story. Nobody could understand why he had told it, or why he had insisted on telling it in Russian, and yet Anna Pavlovna and several other people appreciated the genteel diplomacy of Prince Hippolyte in so nicely putting an end to Monsieur Pierre's unpleasant and intemperate outbursts.

Movie Review: Georgia

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Another mystery movie bubbled to the top of my Netflix queue and showed up in my mailbox. This time it was Georgia, a Jennifer Jason Leigh production (star and producer), a story about sisters going their seperate ways. I'm not sure how or when this one got on my queue.  These days, with it at about 200, there are plenty of mystery movies on it.  Whenever I read about an interesting sounding movie, I add it to the queue, and it now dates back to my first Netflix stint, which must be 5 years or now.  I may have added this one after watching Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, in which Ms. Leigh is incredible as the wacky Dorothy Parker.

In 1995's Georgia, Leigh plays Sadie Flood, younger sister of the much more successful singer Georgia, played with a quiet intensity by Best Supporting Actress nominee Mare Winningham.  Sadie has a wide variety of psychological problems and addictions, straining her already tough relationship with the controlled Georgia to the breaking point. Sadie tries a few comebacks as a singer, only to fall back on the bottle, or the needle or the strange barely a man she ends up marrying. It's not a pretty sight.

I wasn't all that thrilled with this movie. I was never too sure of the character motivations and some of the dialog had me mystified, as it seemed to come out of the wrong character. And while Leigh, in typical fashion, completely inhabited her role, I never understood her problem and never really cared, honestly. It was just a story of someone who was having a hard time living and I never really cared whether Sadie was happy or not. Cold of me, I know, but that's just the way it is.

I watched Escape From New York the other night. I promised myself I would clean up the table in my home office and needed a little extra distraction. I tried to keep the job small, so I could focus on it and get 'er done, and not be overwhelmed by the disaster that is my home office.  And while you might think just cleaning off the table is too little a job, you would realize how wrong you could be if you saw the titanic wave of paper that had spilled on it!

So I scanned through the "Free HD Movies On Demand" and thought that Escape would make a good escape (nyuk nyuk), so I fired it up and set to work. And I was right - it was the perfect "stop for a minute or two and watch the bullets fly" kind of movie. There were even a couple of nice tense moments as the immortal Snake Pissken wriggled out of trouble on his way to rescue the President from New York, which has been turned into a maximum security prison (good use for New York, if you ask me!).  In Kevin Wolf's wonderful ranking of the top 100 cinema Badasses, Snake ranks a solid 60, which tells you how tough the competition is! I particularly liked the running joke - everyone who saw him would recognize him, and say something along the lines of "I know you - you're Snake Plissken! I heard you were dead?" Right to the end of the movie - very funny!

The music was pretty good too, in a disco-ish, techno kinda late 70s/early 80s way. A perfect accompaniment to straightening out the office.  And I even finished up by the time the movie was done - a spotless office table. Yee Haw!

A New War

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Okay, now I have to start and finished War and Peace. I already own the Signet edition, but the print was too small for  me to read, even with my new glasses, so I stopped over at Borders, as I had a 25% off coupon, and checked out the editions available. And found the "Pengquin Deluxe" version, with a "new translation by Anthony Briggs".  It is a very nice edition, with footnotes and descriptions and the like. But having spent more money on a book I already have, I had better read it this time!

It is interesting comparing the translations. Right from the beginning, there's a noticeable difference. Here's the Signet edition, translated by Ann Dunnigan

Eh bien, mon prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now no more than family estates of the Bonapartes. No, I warn you, if you don't say that this means war, if you still permit yourself to condone all the infamies, all the atrocities, of this Antichrist -- ant that's what I really believe he is -- I will have nothing more to do with you, you are no longer my friend, my faithful slave, as you say.

And here is how Briggs translates the opening few sentences

Well, Prince, Genoa and Lucca are now nothingmore than estates taken over by the Buonaparte(sic) family.1  No, I give you fair warning.  If you won't say this means war, if you will allow yourself to condone all the ghastly atrocities perpetrated by that Antichrist -- yes, that's what I think he is -- I shall disown you. You're no frend of mine - not the "faithful slave" you claim to be...

Now in the Signet edition, they say they kept the French in there on purpose, and I think I tend to agree.  The upper class in Russia at the time spoke French to prove how civilized they were, so I think it makes sense to not translate Tolstoy's French. And in the Penguin edition, the note (1) explains they kept the Buonaparte spelling, as it was a dig at Bonaparte changing the spelling himself. Interesting. There's also a neat little 1 sentence summary for each chapter at the back of the Penguin edition. And it is printed on very nice paper, to a tune of over 1400 pages! Yikes, what am I getting myself into?

More fun

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Book Review: March Violets

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Philip Kerr, the wildly flexible British author of everything from noir detective stories, to far-out sci-fi, to comic crime capers, began his career with what is now known as the Berlin Noir trilogy of books in 1989/1990/1991.  Beginning with March Violets and followed by The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem, these mystery novels follow the adventures of Bernie Gunther, ex-cop and now a private detective. Set in pre-WWII (the first two) and postwar Germany, they explore the interesting mindset of the German people in those crazy times.

In March Violets, Bernie is hired by Herman Six, German multimillionaire industrialist, to find a priceless diamond necklace stolen during the murder and arson at his daughter and son-in-law's house. He also gets involved with Herman Goerring, who hires him to find another person involved in the murder and theft.  All this happens during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, amid an atmosphere of fear, loathing and corruption. In typical noir fashion, Bernie wins a few and loses a few.

It is a real fun book, with some great noir writing (even if it feels sometimes like he is trying too hard):

We waited in the library. It wasn't big by the standards of a Bismarck or a Hindenburg, and you couldn't have packed more than six cars between the Reichstag-sized desk and the door... There were plenty of books, of the sort you buy by the metre: lots of German poets and philosophers and jurists with whom I can claim a degree of familiarity, but only as the names of streets and cafes and bars

She looked at me, puzzled, while I only gawped back at her.  She was worth it. She had the kind of body I'd only ever dreamed about, in the sort of dream I'd often dreamed of having again. There was't much I couldn't imagine it doing, except the ordinary things like work and getting in a man's way.

I enjoyed the book and hope to get to the next two in the series, before tackling his newest Bernie Gunther book, just recently released.

Another weekend movie was that oldie but goodie, Smokey and The Bandit. Oh man, did I go see this a bunch of times in high school!  I recently picked up a copy of the Special Edition DVD and was anxious to revisit old times. We were looking for some easy on the brain, and Smokey is certainly that!

In this classic "Good Ol' Boy" comedy (Billy Bob Thornton goes so far as to say, in the South, it is considered a documentary:-), The Bandit (played with wonderful insouciance by Burt Reynolds) is hired by Big and Little Enos to run a truckload of Coors beer east from Texas which, back in the 70s, was illegal for some reason and considered bootlegging. So the Bandit teams up with Cletus and his dog Fred, with a brand new Trans Am to bring the truckload back.  Along the way, he picks up Carrie (Sally Fields, in one of her first movie roles), an escaped bride, who is tracked by Sheriff Buford T. Justice, ad-libbed from beginning to end by Jackie Gleason. Many hijinx, car crashes and lovin' later, the beer arrives and a new challenge begins.

Ah, what a wonderful piece of nostalgia and it still holds up fairly well. Hal Needham, the long time stunt director, put this together as his first film and everyone seems to be having a great time. The Making Of featurette is a lot of fun, with plenty of interesting nuggets (like how Pontiac Trans Am sales went up 500% after the movie came out and they gave Burt Reynolds a new one every year in gratitude). Even the music, mostly by Jerry Reed (who also played Cledus), is full of life and humor. I can't, however, believe that it has a PG rating, given Sheriff Buford T. Justice's foul mouth. I was thinking I might watch this with the girls, but now I don't think so!

More On Faith


Speaking of The End of Faith:

But a series of books doing quite well on bestseller lists -- by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and, soon, Christopher Hitchens -- argues it's time to be a lot less deferential to faith, and I have to say I find it hard to disagree. After all, we live in a time when blowing children to bits is an increasingly popular form of worship, the most powerful man on earth thinks he's got a hotline to God, and much of the electorate who gave that man his power would never consider replacing him with someone who does not believe the son of a carpenter who died 2,000 years ago sits in heaven advising presidents, fixing football games, and waiting for the day he will return to the Earth to brutally murder all unbelievers and erect a worldwide dictatorship.

Those fanatical atheists

I watched Elevator to the Gallows over the weekend and found this Louis Malle film-noir to be a fascinating movie, full of ironies and unexpected twists. Shot in a beautiful black and white, this French film from 1958 features a great soundtrack by the legendary Miles Davis. It has a rightful place as one of the best film-noirs ever.

The movie opens with a frenzied phone call between two people and then spirals into a twisted web of murder, deceit, lies, bad luck and bad timing.  Two young lovers become enmeshed in their own problems, especially when he steals a car.  His fatalistic outlook on the future becomes an important plot point, in ways that are hard to anticipate and yet deliciously ironic. But, as they are fond of saying in Shakespeare in Love, "It'll all work out in the end."

Wow, what a fun ride this movie was!  Just when you might think someone might actually get away with something, you see them get pulled back in, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones. Luck, both good and bad, plays an important part in Elevator, but not so much that it feels forced.  It is hard to believe it was Malle's very first film, as it shows a surehandedness surprising for someone new to the director's chair.

All four of the main actors did a great job, but I found Yori Bertin to be incredibly cute as Veronique, the flower girl who adores the high powered businessman, Algerian veteran, and murderer Julien Tavernier and who gets involved when her boyfriend steals Julien's car.  She went on to do only a few more films, but her pixish innocence really propels the sidestory of the doomed lovers, counterpointing nicely the doomed adulterers. Truly a must see movie for any noir fans.

QotD: My Dream Job


What's that secret dream job you've always believed you'd be good at, but never gone for? 
Submitted by wedgeh.

Lucky for me - I'm living the dream now!  Programming computers, working from home, getting to play with lots of cool technology, and being paid a more than fair wage makes me happy.  Don't tell my boss, but I'd do this for free. If I were to suddenly come into a boatload of money and didn't have to have a job, you'd still find me at the keyboard many hours a day. 

Book Review: The End of Faith


The End of Faith : Religion, Terror and the future of Reason is the controversial best seller by philosopher Sam Harris. In it, he postulates the very real possibility of the end of civilization as we know it if we don't let go of two thousand year old dogmas and give up believing in invisible deities.  Given the awesome power a single small group can command these days, and the irrational belief in a better "hereafter", Harris strongly argues this is a recipe for disaster in today's world.

He begins the book with a short overview of religious dogma gone crazy, including the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials and other examples of intolerance.  He also lists several pages of apocalyptic and violent prescriptions against all infidels found in the Koran.  Harris is not the first to notice the irony of the Muslim problems with sex during life and yet promising an afterlife replete with orgies.  He also notes how "moderate Muslim" is an oxymoron, where by someone would have to pick and chose what parts of a holy book to believe and what not to believe. If you swallow any of the major books whole, you're living your life by the mores of a long dead culture.

The second half of The End of Faith is his attempt to rationally define things like morality, ethics and what it means to be a part of civilization, without resorting to some mystical being to kowtow to. He points out the failures of policies like pacifism, and the moral conundrum of torture and bombing civilians, as well as the old "would you torture someone if it meant saving countless other lives?" question. I found this part of the book a little hard going, but I think it was a very important part, as many attack atheism by saying you can't be moral if you don't believe in God, which is pure bunkum.

I found the book to be both enlightening and frightening. In many ways, I find the current backlash against Mormonism, especially by other religious fundamental groups, to be illustrative of many Harris points.  I think the only reason why other groups make fun of the Mormon belief in a charlatan like Joseph Smith's "discovery" of the Book of Mormon buried under a bush in upstate New York is because of its relative recentness.  At its heart, that story is as nonsensical as the burning bush, the Koran or any other "celestial" visions. And if anyone said that happened today, we would throw them in the loonie bin, yet instead these dusty old ideas remain inviolate today.

I'm anxious to read Harris' follow up, Letter to a Christian Nation, where he replies to the unsurprising invective hurled at him from all corners of the religious world after The End of Faith was published.  I also liked his recent Washington Post article, The Empty Wager, where he eviscerates Pascal's famous wager, where believers are simply taking the wiser of two bets - believe in God and if he exists, you're golden and if he doesn't, well, you're just dead. But if the atheist is wrong, he's in big trouble. Be sure to also follow the link to his "debate" with Pastor Rick Warren. Good stuff. Between him, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, there's hope yet for a rational future.

QotD: My Daily Dose

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What websites do you visit every day?
Submitted by Chez Michelle.

In my Startup folder is:

Bloglines - for my RSS feeds during the day
Netvibes - just started looking at this as a basic news page.
SUSE Forums - I run OpenSUSE Linux on my home machine, so this is how I stay in touch
Vox - of course!
Remember The Milk - my todo list manager

Vox Hunt: Small Screen Crush


Video: Show us your TV crush.
Submitted by quornflour.

My very first TV crush was Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In:

The Novel 100 is one man's ranking of the 100 greatest novels ever written. I'm a sucker for a list. I love to mark progress by checking stuff off. Given my poor memory, lists are the only way I can remember to do anything.  I liked this list so much, I went out and bought the book.  The author, Daniel S. Burt, gives each book 3-6 pages of description.  He starts with a quick overview of why he (and others) think it is an Important Novel, talks a little about the author, then gives a quick synopsis of the action. He has a fairly strict definition of a novel

What makes a listing of the greatest novels even more problematic is the lack of any consensus about which works rightfully constitute the genre... the novel is such a hybrid and adaptive genre, assimilating other prose and verse forms... A standard definition of the novel--an extended prose narrative--is so broad that it fails to limit the field usefully... I have been influenced in this regard, like many, by literary critic Ian Watt's groundbreaking 1957 study, The Rise of the Novel, which contends that the novel as a distinctive genre emerged in 18th-century England through the shifting of the emphasis of previous prose romances and their generalized and idealized characters, settings, and situations to a particularity of individual experience. In other words, the novel replaced the romance's interest in the general and the ideal with a concern for the particular. The here and now substituted for the romance's interest in the long ago and far away. As 18th-century novelist Clara Reece observed, "The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it was written. The Romance, in lofty and elevated language, describes what has never happened nor is likely to." Novelists began to represent the actual world accurately, governed by the laws of probability.

...It would be far too reductive and misleading, however, to define the novel only by its realism or accurate representation of ordinary life... It would be far more accurate to say that the novel as a distinct genre attempts a synthesis between romance and realism, between a poetic, imaginative alternative to actuality and a more authentic representation. For purposes of my listing, I have narrowed the field by categorizing as novels works that engage in that synthesis. Some narrative works judged too far in the direction of fantasy--Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland--have been excluded. I have also made judgment calls on the question of the required length of a novel and have ruled out of contention such important fictional works as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis as falling short of the amplitude expected when confronting a novel.

I was surprised and a little disappointed in how many of these books I had never even heard of before. I was not surprised, however, at how few of them I have actually read.  Of those that I have, nearly all of them have been incredible. Reading an amazing wordsmith really spoils you. I think my familiarity with some of the best writers of all time is what turns me off from most of the potboilers on the best seller list today.  So be warned - your beach reading may get a lot heavier once you start this list!

Much like an earlier meme, I'm going to bold the books I'v read and italicize the books I've never heard of.  And I'd like to invite everyone to post the list to their blog, using a similar mark up scheme. To make it even easier, I've made a text file that you can download, open in your favorite text editor, select all, copy and then paste into your blog editor.  Then highlight the line for a book you've read and mark it bold and, if you want, italicize those you don't know.  Click here: TheNovel100.txt. Also, tag your post with the tag "thenovel100", so we can see what you've got!

Rank Title                      Year            Author
1    Don Quixote                1605, 1630      Miguel de Cervantes
2    War and Peace              1869            Leo Tolstoy
3    Ulysses                    1922            James Joyce
4    In Search of Lost Time     1913-27         Marcel Proust
5    The Brothers Karamazov     1880            Feodor Dostoevsky
6    Moby-Dick                  1851            Herman Melville
7    Madame Bovary              1857            Gustave Flaubert
8    Middlemarch                1871-72         George Eliot
9    The Magic Mountain         1924            Thomas Mann
10   The Tale of Genji          11th Century    Murasaki Shikibu
11   Emma                       1816            Jane Austen
12   Bleak House                1852-53         Charles Dickens
13   Anna Karenina              1877            Leo Tolstoy
14   Adventures of Huckleberry  1884            Mark Twain
15   Tom Jones                  1749            Henry Fielding
16   Great Expectations         1860-61         Charles Dickens
17   Absalom, Absalom!          1936            William Faulkner
18   The Ambassadors            1903            Henry James
19   100 Years of Solitude      1967            Gabriel Garcia Marquez
20   The Great Gatsby           1925            F. Scott Fitzgerald
21   To The Lighthouse          1927            Virginia Woolf
22   Crime and Punishment       1866            Feodor Dostoevsky
23   The Sound and the Fury     1929            William Faulkner
24   Vanity Fair                1847-48         William Makepeace Thackeray
25   Invisible Man              1952            Ralph Ellison
26   Finnegans Wake             1939            James Joyce
27   The Man Without Qualities  1930-43         Robert Musil
28   Gravity's Rainbow          1973            Thomas Pynchon
29   The Portrait of a Lady     1881            Henry James
30   Women in Love              1920            D. H. Lawrence
31   The Red and the Black      1830            Stendhal
32   Tristram Shandy            1760-67         Laurence Sterne
33   Dead Souls                 1842            Nikolai Gogol
34   Tess of the D'Urbervilles  1891            Thomas Hardy
35   Buddenbrooks               1901            Thomas Mann
36   Le Pere Goriot             1835            Honore de Balzac
37   A Portrait of the Artist   1916            James Joyce
     As a Young Man
38   Wuthering Heights          1847            Emily Bronte
39   The Tin Drum               1959            Gunter Grass
40   Molloy; Malone Dies;       1951-53         Samuel Beckett
     The Unnamable

41   Pride and Prejudice        1813            Jane Austen
42   The Scarlet Letter         1850            Nathaniel Hawthorne
43   Fathers and Sons           1862            Ivan Turgenev
44   Nostromo                   1904            Joseph Conrad
45   Beloved                    1987            Toni Morrison
46   An American Tragedy        1925            Theodore Dreiser
47   Lolita                     1955            Vladimir Nabokov
48   The Golden Notebook        1962            Doris Lessing
49   Clarissa                   1747-48         Samuel Richardson
50   Dream of the Red Chamber   1791            Cao Xueqin
51   The Trial                  1925            Franz Kafka
52   Jane Eyre                  1847            Charlotte Bronte
53   The Red Badge of Courage   1895            Stephen Crane
54   The Grapes of Wrath        1939            John Steinbeck
55   Petersburg                 1916/1922       Andrey Bely
56   Things Fall Apart          1958            Chinue Achebe
57   The Princess of Cleves     1678            Madame de Lafayette
58   The Stranger               1942            Albert Camus
59   My Antonia                 1918            Willa Cather
60   The Counterfeiters         1926            Andre Gide
61   The Age of Innocence       1920            Edith Wharton
62   The Good Soldier           1915            Ford Madox Ford
63   The Awakening              1899            Kate Chopin
64   A Passage to India         1924            E. M. Forster
65   Herzog                     1964            Saul Bellow
66   Germinal                   1855            Emile Zola
67   Call It Sleep              1934            Henry Roth
68   U.S.A. Trilogy             1930-38         John Dos Passos
69   Hunger                     1890            Knut Hamsun
70   Berlin Alexanderplatz      1929            Alfred Doblin

71   Cities of Salt             1984-89         'Abd al-Rahman Munif
72   The Death of Artemio Cruz  1962            Carlos Fuentes
73   A Farewell to Arms         1929            Ernest Hemingway
74   Brideshead Revisited       1945            Evelyn Waugh
75   The Last Chronicle of      1866-67         Anthony Trollope

76   The Pickwick Papers        1836-67         Charles Dickens
77   Robinson Crusoe            1719            Daniel Defoe
78   The Sorrows of Young       1774            Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
79   Candide                    1759            Voltaire
80   Native Son                 1940            Richard Wright
81   Under the Volcano          1947            Malcolm Lowry
82   Oblomov                    1859            Ivan Goncharov
83   Their Eyes Were Watching   1937            Zora Neale Hurston
84   Waverley                   1814            Sir Walter Scott
85   Snow Country               1937, 1948      Kawabata Yasunari

86   Nineteen Eighty-Four       1949            George Orwell
87   The Betrothed              1827, 1840      Alessandro Manzoni
88   The Last of the Mohicans   1826            James Fenimore Cooper
89   Uncle Tom's Cabin          1852            Harriet Beecher Stowe
90   Les Miserables             1862            Victor Hugo
91   On the Road                1957            Jack Kerouac
92   Frankenstein               1818            Mary Shelley
93   The Leopard                1958            Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
94   The Catcher in the Rye     1951            J.D. Salinger
95   The Woman in White         1860            Wilkie Collins
96   The Good Soldier Svejk     1921-23         Jaroslav Hasek
97   Dracula                    1897            Bram Stoker
98   The Three Musketeers       1844            Alexandre Dumas
99   The Hound of Baskervilles  1902            Arthur Conan Doyle
100  Gone with the Wind         1936            Margaret Mitchell

Some personal comments on the list:

  • I've read 19 of them - a pretty poor showing.
  • Of the 19 I've read, the only one I didn't find truly wonderful was Jane Eyre. The writing was good, the story not so interesting to me. I also found Frankenstein a hard go of it too.
  • I'm not familiar at all with 26 of them. I graded myself pretty stringently here, as I know the authors in many cases, just not the specific book.  Reading the chapters on each, though, make me want to begin them all Right Now!

So, how about you?

Movie Review: The Two Towers

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I watched The Two Towers over the weekend.  It is, in case you've been living in a shire somewhere, the second movie in Peter Jackson's massive trilogy, each based on the corresponding book of JRR Tolkien's seminal fantasy work.  I watched The Fellowship of the Ring about a year ago, and read the books in high school, which was a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, to mix my taglines a bit.  I tried to reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy a few years ago, by listening to it as a book on tape, but found the whole thing tedious, so I didn't get very far.

The Two Towers begins with Gandalf's epic battle against the balrog, from which he transfrom from The Grey to The White, in a battle of purification.  Other story threads include Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli tracking the kidnapped hobbits Merry and Pippin, while Frodo and Sam make their perilous way towards Mordor, guided by Gollum (or, as he prefers to be called, Smeagol).  It ends with the massive Battle of Helm's Deep, where the trio of heroes and a hardy band of Rohan riders fight off the entire army of the Sauron-wannabe, Saruman.

While technically impressive, I just can't get into it any more. When I read the books in high school, they truly resonated, but today, the movies document, as one film critic said, "just one damn thing after another".  Jackson reigned in his swooping cameras that drove me to distraction in the first one, and several of the scenes were pretty incredible.  Gollum was the most fascinating character! At nearly three hours, it went along pretty well, and it looked and sounded great.  I finally figured out my surround sound problem - somehow my Marantz A/V receiver's surround mode got switched to "Stereo", which explains why it only came out of the front two speakers!  I still get black bars at the top and bottom of the screen and I'm not sure why, but maybe that is just how the aspect ratio for the movie works out.

It'll probably be another year or more before the third installment, Return of the King, bubbles to the top of my Netflix queue. I'll do it just for completions sake (why I watched the awful Star Wars I, II and even III), but I'll be in no hurry.

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