Tag Archives: classics

Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground – A handsome and artistic volume (5/5)

As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time it was from NetGalley. Despite that kindness I give my scrupulously candid thoughts below.

In general I’m not a fan of coffee-table books because I hate nothing more than dusting coffee-table books. This one caught my eye, however, because it has a delightful artistic feel to it and I was, for the most part, not disappointed. This book contains about 200 “alternative” movie posters from classic movies ranging from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Hitchcock classics.

On the positive side, the art is wonderfully varied and in most cases I wanted to see some of these movies based solely on the poster they inspired. These designs are clever, artful, well-executed and encapsulate the themes of their topic movies wonderfully. They’ve also included a good blend of genres in the movies represented from outright horror to comedy.

The only negative I would point out is that there is some amount of repetition. Several movies had 2-3 posters included so this pads the numbers a bit.

In summary, a wonderful and handsome coffee-table volume for the movie buff. Many of these I’d have a hard time resisting the temptation to cut them out and frame them to hang on the wall. I’d proudly display it on my coffee table despite the sad truth that I would have to dust it once in a while.


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Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 (Peanuts Every Sunday)

Click the cover to view the review on Amazon and vote it helpful if you find it so!

If you’re here then I don’t need to tell you about the content of this particular book because you’re probably already a fan. This is some of the very earliest work in the series and for more casual readers these may not seem like the Peanuts they grew up with in later decades. Despite that difference these are true classics that belong in any collection.

Since I don’t need to tell you about the content, I will go on at some length instead about the quality of the publication itself. Firstly, be careful reading other reviews on this title as they refer to much older editions. If you buy the book from Amazon today you’ll get a huge coffee-table book with startlingly crisp printing and vibrant graphics. This book is what I had hoped for from the ‘Complete Peanuts’ series and is just about everything you could ask for in a reprint series.

The only negative I’ll bring up is that it’s almost too nice to actually read. The paper is thick stock; the dust jacket is pristine; it’s a durable hardcover. It’s like having a new car that you park far from the front of the lot so nobody parks near you. I feel guilty sitting down to actually read it for fear that I’ll get something on it or some simple mischance will mar its perfection. If you have no such compunctions then you’ll be fine.

In summary, this is the book you want and makes a breathtaking gift for any fan of the comic. I live in fear that the binding may give out after years of reading but if a few pages make their way lose then they’d all be suitable for framing. It’s just THAT high quality.

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Flies, their Lords, and Amateur Literary Interpretation

This summer my eldest daughter was tasked with reading “Lord of the Flies” for her AP English class. All summer I heard, “Dad. I hate this book. It’s boring.”
“What’s it about?” I’d inquire, despite knowing darn good and well what it was about.
“It’s about some kids on an island.”
“OH! Is it an adventure story? Or maybe young romance?” I’d posit.
“No. It’s just boring.”

And so it went on and on through the summer. Finally, the summer came to an end and it was time to for the kids to talk about the book in class. After a few days Amanda came home with a 3-page worksheet of questions about the first chapter of the book. (As an aside, it turns out the teacher found this list of questions online and printed it for the class to answer. Imagine the teacher’s naive surprise when the kids found the same study guide through a quick Google search, including the answers, and handed in identical perfect papers. But I digress…) Frustrated, Amanda came to me and asked for help, “This question says ‘what is the meaning of *dumb* in the phrase, ‘the hot, dumb sand‘?  what does that even mean?”

We went through the usual ritual…

Me: “Did you look up the meanings of the word *dumb*? Are there any alternate meanings that might apply?”
Amanda: “It means silent, not saying anything.
Me: “OK, so how might you apply that to the sand?”
Amanda: “Well, duh, the sand isn’t saying anything.”
Me: “Of course not, but why is that important? Why would it? Are the kids in a happy situation… or a bad one…”
And so it went…

After several minutes we came back around to “the old drone of ‘I hate this book, it’s boring'”.

“But why don’t you like the book? Why is it boring? What makes it different from other books you did like,” I inquired. Then came the shining moment; I didn’t really know where this was going until these words bounded out of her mouth and around the room.

Amanda: “I read it but I just didn’t really care. I didn’t care about the characters. They were just on the island and some stuff happened. People died and it was like ‘so what’?”

It was just as the ‘so what’ was coming out that the lightning bolt hit me and an epic diatribe formed in my mind the likes of which I’ve not had since. I’m far from a master of literary interpretation and it’s probable that everything that came out of my mouth for the next 10 minutes was complete hogwash but at the time…. it felt fairly inspired. What I said went something along the lines of what follows.

“You say that people died in the book and you didn’t care. But is that normal? Are you supposed to care when people die or are you supposed to just move on with whatever you’re doing? Do you think your reaction is an appropriate one given the situation? I think what you’ve hit upon is the exact point of the book. When someone died on the island did the island care? Did the birds fall out of the sky? Did the sun stop beating down? Did that hot, dumb sand object? No, of course not. Things just went on as normal and nobody really gave a damn. Perhaps the real genius of the book isn’t the story, but instead how it makes its insidious way into the mind of the reader. All the main characters are dropping dead and the world didn’t care. The trees didn’t care. The animals didn’t care. Not even the READER cares. Isn’t that the true power of writing? To somehow subtly bring someone’s mind around to a certain way of thinking, and in the most ingenious of cases, do it without the reader even realizing it? What you have cited as the ‘boring’ part of the book, my dear child, is exactly the point of the whole thing and you have fallen wholly and completely into its trap without even realizing it.”

I like to think that on some level my impassioned speech found fertile ground in her mind. For a brief moment I saw a bit of awestruck realization on her face. Of course a few days later she was back to “this is boring” but that is the teenage mindset. After my outburst Laura said to me that she wishes her own English teachers had been so eloquent on the topic of literature. I may not know much of anything about the literary process or proper form but it seems that I sure can get wound up about it and boy I sure do adore the stuff.  Even if my interpretations are rather unique creations.

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May 25, 2013 – Of Books, Bradbury, Artichokes and Teeny Tiny Theatres

So what are these posts about…?

From time to time I tell myself that I’m going to sit down each day and write about the various and sundry inputs that pass through my life and record some of the random rot that goes on from day to day.  In general, I don’t expect this to be especially interesting to anyone else unless they have a hidden streak of curiosity or voyeurism but both of those things represent a large proportion of what the blogging world is about, so mayhaps I err in my assertion.

On Books

As anyone who’s read this blog for a while will note, I have spent the past several months reading very current publications.  Thanks to GoodReads and publishing houses who are eager for readers to talk (and write about) their latest, I’ve had no shortage of books piled up on my shelves… and my desk… and the floor… and other people’s desks, shelves and floors.  It’s been gratifying, to an extent, to have anyone give a hoot about what I had to say about a book and it has satisfied my material urges quite nicely.  There’s nothing quite like having things just show up in the mail seemingly at random.  However, as I was moving some stuff about the apartment in preparation for actual furniture to arrive, I happened upon the pile of books I was working on before the glut of new material started showing up about a year ago.  This was chock full of booksale finds, old editions of classic literature and lots of very deep non-fiction titles.  In a fit of nostalgia I pushed aside the new and shiny and sat down with an old copy of one of Ray Bradbury’s short story collections and I can’t help but feel the proverbial worm has turned and the fad of new and flashy has passed.

Looking back on my history a bit, there was a time when I refused to read anything less than 100 years old.  The reasoning went somewhat along the lines that if people still bother to read it after 100 years then it MUST be worthwhile.  I don’t think I’m ever likely to go quite to that extent again, I have revived my appreciation for the old musty, dusty and trusty.

On Bradbury

In general, when I think of Bradbury, I tend to lump him in with the pulp sci-fi writers from the 50s with their robots and rocket ships but this is a misconception drawn from my failure to read him often enough. It takes all of about 10 pages to realize that Bradbury isn’t writing about technology at all really. He’s writing about people (and societies) and the way they change as their world changes and becomes more technological.  That’s a much deeper and potent conversation to have than anything you might get from the average sci-fi writer of the period.  In particular, three stories from the first quarter of the book struck me today as relevant to us today.  It should be noted that anything I write below will be a complete and utter spoiler so consider yourself warned.

In ‘The Pedestrian’ the year is 2052 and a man is out for a stroll.  He walks through neighborhood after neighborhood and meets no one.  The streets are quite as a morgue, the entire population tucked up in their houses watching the television as he makes his way along.  Finally, the police, or what little is left of the police force since everyone is so well behave, find him and arrest him for his non-conformity, assuming that if he’s out on the street then he must be guilty of something.  The world today, while not descended quite to this situation, seems well on its way.  Children no longer play outside; they sit on the sofa and play video games.  What will the world be like in another 40 years when those children grow up to all be adults who are sitting on their sofas doing whatever people will do with their time?

‘The Flying Machine’ is set in China in 400 A.D. and reads more like an Aesop’s Fable than a modern short story.  The story begins as Emperor Yuan awakes to find a man flying over the countryside in a suit of his own making.  The man’s clever invention gives him the power of the birds and invokes considerable envy from the Emperor.  Fortunately (or unfortunately as you choose to see it), the Emperor sees that no good will come of this and orders the man and his suit destroyed before the populace can learn of the invention and do insane with greed to all own one.  One can see easily the historical backdrop of the story as mankind develops newer and more effective bombs to blow himself out of existence throughout the 50s.  Times haven’t changed much since, sadly.

Lastly, we have the story titled simply, ‘The Murderer’.  The time is, from Bradbury’s perspective, the not-so-distant future.  I would argue that in many ways Bradbury’s prophesied time has come.  The protagonist in our story is a typical man of his times.  Everywhere he goes he is treated to music and advertising.  His house talks to him each time he comes in the door to make sure he takes off his muddy shoes.  His wrist radio keeps him in touch with his wife and friends every few minutes tracking their every movement from their progress on the way home to what they had for dinner.  His world is one of simply too much connectedness in which there is nary a moment of quiet to be had.  Finally, in a fit of pique he begins to take his vengeance and win back his freedom.  He stomps on his radio; pours ice cream into his car stereo, pummels the computers in his home…. until he’s carted off by the police as a deviant.  All this brought to mind our current world.  We are now so connected that I know what people have  for dinner despite the fact that I haven’t seen them in 20 years.  Thanks to Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and a million other services, I feel like I have some connection to people that in reality… I don’t.  Some of them tell me every day about what they did that day yet I wouldn’t recognize them if they walked straight past me on the street.  After this I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone and haven’t looked back since.  There’s a place for connectedness but it really has to be on one’s own terms and at a time of one’s choosing.

Artichokes

Now, of course, in a fit of irony, I will go on about what I had for dinner last night.  Before the play, we journeyed to “The Chatham Tap” on Mass Avenue and had the most marvelous artichoke and spinach pizza in the known universe.  I’ve heard it said that “artichokes will substitute for any meat” but I am increasingly convinced of the truth of this.  It is my hope that the artichoke remains unpopular, however, so that more are left for me.  It would be regretable if they should ever reach $20/pound.  I might fritter away my entire salary on these delectable and under appreciated vegetables.

Teeny Tiny Theatres

After the delightful ‘chokes, we took ourselves to Theatre on the Square.  I’ve been a fairly consistent visitor there for a while and it never ceases to amaze me that such places exist.  As a rather shy person, I tend to worship anyone who can get in front of a crowd and speak confidently.  Because of this, it’s rather giddy to go see a play that is so close to your seat that you have to keep your feet under your seat for fear of tripping the actors.  It also makes me happy to go somewhere that the LGBT community is embraced and welcomed with such open arms.  This is Indiana so it’s far from a given that people are going to accept such differences.  It’s nice to know there’s an island of openness and sanity even in the heart of the Midwest.

OK, that’s it.  That’s what made me think on May the 25th.  Any feedback or commentary is, as always, appreciated.

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On 50 Years of James Bond

This past weekend Laura and I went to see this new James Bond movie, Skyfall. My overall impression was simply to say that it was amazingly Bondlike. To define this adjective, it had all those aspects one expects in a Bond movie:

* Gripping nail-biting action
* A God-like protagonist who can do no wrong and any wrong he might appear to be doing is just a ruse
* An iconic villain with some memorable personal trait
* Astonishingly good art direction, memorable visuals and epic, grand music
* A predictable and linear plot with about as much subtlety as a hammer to the forehead

On all these accounts Skyfall delivers marvelously. I’m no grand fan of this genre and can count the number of Bond films I’ve sat through in their entirety on one hand but this felt like a Bond film. Except for the modernity of the plot and the up to date effects, this was a film from the golden age of Bond.

All this compare and contrast, however, made me realize that I didn’t really understand with great clarity exactly what I was comparing this film to. It seemed clear to me that I was judging Skyfall based on the a rather generic view of the movies, not having sat through the previous 22. It felt like a Bond film but my perception of the question of “what is Bond?” was born more out of stereotype and generality than any direct experience. It is of just such realizations that obsessions are born so with dispatch I set forth to load up my Netflix queue with all the Bond movies in order. I will not insult the reader’s intelligence by saying that I will absolutely manage to follow through and watch every single film in their order of production but I will go so far as to say that I will watch the films until such time as I should become bored with the endeavor.

The first Bond movie, in 1962, was “Dr. No”. Watching this with fresh eyes, never having seen it before yesterday, I have to say that it doesn’t really seem very Bondlike at all. The Bond in “Dr. No” is clearly human. He’s fallible, prone to terrible error but still amazingly lucky. Having read at least a bit of the original Fleming I’d say that “Dr. No’s” Bond is reasonably true to Fleming’s version of him. He wins out in the end but one tends to attribute it more to luck than skill. Later Bond films are… well, how to put it. After “Dr. No”, Bond films are a genre all unto themselves. “Dr. No” is a 1960s movie that just happens to be about James Bond. The mold is not yet set. The model has not been established.

That said, the movie does have smatterings of what is to come. The opening title sequence, though rather weak by later standards, does have the artsy feel of a Bond flick. The opening sequence with the “Three Blind Mice” song and quick action crescendo works marvelously. Some amount of this is a reflection of what 60’s movies tended to be but Bond films carried much of this forward through the decades.

I look forward with some anticipation to the next 22 films.

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Books: Life with Father – Clarence Day, 1920

Life with Father

Life with Father

Having long been a fan of the 1947 movie of the same name, reading this book was long, long overdue for me. While reading along I couldn’t help but imagine the cherished William Powell and Irene Dunne having at each other. It does make me wonder how the story would have struck me without the pretext of the movie to look back on with such strong visuals.

The Clarence Sr. of the movie is tempestuous and cantankerous of nature but fundamentally one is left with a positive impression. The viewer never really doubts that he is a good man at heart but one cannot avoid the conclusion that he would be a royal pain to live with. Perhaps in part this is Powell shining through in the role but no matter how many times Father storms about the house at the end of it all you do still rather like him.

Father of the book is just as blustery and just as much of a tempest in a teacup but it costs one quite a bit more effort to like him. The author himself (Clarence Jr) goes to small and periodic effort to endear the reader to his father but the attempts ring rather hollow like a man whose protagonist is watching over his shoulder as he writes. There seems just an edge of boyhood resentment that is very carefully scraped off in the movie’s portrayal of Father.

It is also of note that while the cinematic version is relatively connected and sequential the book takes no such formalities. It seems to jump rather randomly from episode to episode and one is left asking periodically in what decade the particular tidbit is taking place. As such it makes for a very light read but one that requires the reader to throw away any notion of cause and effect.

The thread that I came away with most solidly from this bit of literature was less about the book and more about the movie which came after. Powell’s Clarence is eerily like the Clarence of the text almost as if the role was made for him specifically. The romantic and nostalgic side of me wants to believe that this is because movies in the 40s were a craft and that viewers would notice and object strongly if their beloved characters of fiction are tinkered with even in the slightest. The fact that the plot itself, if you call a disconnected episodic assortment of remembrances a plot, was only remotely similar seems of little import. In these not-entirely-to-be-believed halcyon days of yore it was character that was important to the viewing public. Today all we want is more and bloodier gun battles between larger and more foul-mouthed devotees of thuggery.

If I allow myself to wax realistic for a moment I admit that doubtless my palate has been so repeatedly whitewashed by the movie version of Clarence that I’m not longer intellectually capable of seeing a Clarence Day Sr without seeing William Powell. Psychology of repetition and ordinality aside, Day’s 1920 novel is high on my recommended reading list.

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