Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Covered Wagon

The Covered Wagon is a 1923 silent film directed by James Cruze. Alan Hale is in this -always a plus- along with Tully Marshall and Charles Ogle (Frankenstein in the 1910 film and Bob Cratchitt in the 1910 Christmas Carol) Wikipedia says it
is considered by many to be the first great Western epic, and established some of the cliches which later became so well known, such as the circling of the wagons in preparation for an "Indian Attack".

watch it online via youtube, where the intertitles are unreadable unless, of course, you read Portuguese, which I don't:

Oddly, I can't locate this film online anywhere else.

Images Journal includes it in their list of 30 great westerns and calls it "the first truly epic scale Western."

Friday, March 30, 2012


Pursued is a 1947 Robert Mitchum Western directed by Raoul Walsh. It's a story told in flashbacks. Alan Hale, Teresa Wright, Dame Judith Anderson, Dean Jagger and Harry Carey, Jr. are also here. The music contributes to the atmosphere instead of just being added on as seems the case in so many old Westerns. All in all a wonderful film, interesting at every turn and fascinating to watch.

Senses of Cinema calls it a "nightmare-western" and describes it as "less a traditional western than it is a collision course for the disparate elements of genre." Time Out praises it, calling it "A superb Western film noir". Images Journal considers it one of the 30 best Westerns. The Rotten Tomatoes critics give it a 100%.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Notes from a Small Island

I had read Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson years ago but decided to re-read it before passing it on. It's a travel narrative, telling the story of a few weeks in the author's life spent wandering around Britain -mostly on foot and using public transportation- before he moves back to the U.S. with his family. Bryson has a nice sense of humor, but his descriptions aren't as vivid as some of the other travel writers I've read.

He does mention several other books, including Kingdom by the Sea, Tarka the Otter, In Search of England, The Road to Wigan Pier and Lost Resort: the Flow and Ebb of Morecombe. He also mentions a Wordsworth poem titled "I Can Be Boring Outside the Lake District Too". I found myself particularly interested in the 5th Duke of Portland, W.J.C. Scott-Bentinck (1800-1879) with his underground library nearly 250' long.

I wonder how Bryson can do all that walking and still not understand the purpose of tucking pant legs into socks, but maybe the ticks aren't so much a problem in Britain.

from the back of the book:
After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson -bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America- decided to return to the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another,so it was clear that my people needed me.") But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

Kirkus Reviews calls it "A diverting travel journal". Lonely Planet doesn't like the author's "need to be cynical for the sake of being cynical and nothing more" and describes it as "a pretty average book". EW gives it a B- and closes by calling it "polite, unobtrusive, often charming, and quite easy to overlook."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Have you ever been discriminated against because of your race?

I can't tell you how meaningless this question is when asked of white people in small group settings as a prelude to discussion on race. My answer is "yes". Because when I was a child I experienced this twice. Did it have an impact on me? Yes. After all, decades later I still recall both instances with surprising clarity. Does it mean I now understand what it's like to be part of a group that faces constant, entrenched racial discrimination? Hell, no. The question itself is so stupid it boggles the mind. There must be a better discussion-starter to get the point across.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Congratulations, Hakuho!

The Mainichi Daily News says this is "his 22nd career title, tying him with former yokozuna Takanohana for fifth on the all-time list." The Japan Times reports "Hakuho pulled off an improbable comeback in Houdini-esque fashion, rallying from behind...". Wikipedia says,
This marked the first time a wrestler had come from one win behind to claim the yusho on the final day since Asashoryu defeated Hokutoriki in a playoff in May 2004.

Here's the play-off from this tournament:

Hakuho is a Mongolian wrestler.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries is a 1957 Ingmar Bergman film with Victor Sjostrom, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand and Max von Sydow. I like Bergman's films and I thought this one was beautiful.


It's in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, whose author calls it "arguably the warmest of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces". BBC opens its review by saying, "This is one of the truly outstanding works of post-war European cinema." DVD Journal praises the humor and says,
there is certainly much to admire in this 1958 meditation on aging, recollection and resolve, ... Gunnar Fischer's stark black-and-white photography is rich and stunning, the performances are natural and pitch-perfect, and the narrative is carefully and exquisitely tailored.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Passion Play

What a bizarre little film! I like it, but from what I read I'm in a seriously tiny minority. Passion Play (2010) stars Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke as two men who want the same woman -a woman who has wings and whom Murray rescues from a carnival sideshow in the middle of the desert. Megan Fox and Rhys Ifans are also in it.

trailer: describes it as "an earnest, baffling and occasionally risible love story". Slant Magazine calls it a "rubbish affectation of a film".

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Finch is one of a trio of science fiction books by Jeff Vandermeer, all set in the same location but stand-alone otherwise and is the 1st of them I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm intrigued by the setting and the characters and look forward to reading the other two. The Younger Son has Cities of Saints and Madmen and will lend it to me when I'm ready.

I got a kick out of the passing mention that Finch's father homeschooled him "when it was too dangerous to go to class."

from the back of the book:
Tasked with solving an impossible double murder, detective John Finch searches for the truth among the war-weary ruins of the once-mighty city of Ambergris. Under the six-year rule of its inhuman gray cap masters, Ambergris is slowly crumbling into anarchy. The remnants of a rebel force are dispersed, their leader, the mysterious Lady in Blue, missing. Citizens are being interned in camps. Collaborators roam the streets keeping brutal order. But Finch also has to contend with new forces rising, like the enigmatic spymaster Ethan Bliss, and the contamination of his partner, Wyte, who is literally disintegrating under the strain.

In this powerful and poignant novel, the past and the future, the cosmic and the gritty, collide. What will happen if Finch solves the case? What will happen if he doesn’t? And will Ambergris ever be the same?

The Washington Post likes it and says it "wriggles from the grip of easy categorization." An SF Site review describes it as "New Weird meets pulp noir, a hard-boiled detective story unwinding in Ambergris's surreal mean streets." Strange Horizons calls it "a triumph in terms of both vision and execution." From SF Signal: "BOTTOM LINE: The vibrant storytelling of a perversely beautiful city and its hard-boiled detective is well worth the reading." The Guardian closes with this:
is a compelling experience, a fungalpunk nightmare pullulating with dark, phantasmagorical transformations: it works equally as a stylish detective story, a perverse example of the New Weird fantasy subgenre, and an effective metaphor for the dehumanising effects of occupying forces and totalitarian regimes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) is a science fiction film loosely based on a William Gibson short story. It stars Keanu Reeves and features Dolph Lundgren, Ice-T and Beat Takeshi. It takes place in 2021 when the main character is being pursued by various factions who want to retrieve information he's carrying stored in a device in his brain. It lost money and got generally negative reviews. I won't want to see it again soon, but I enjoyed this viewing.


Moria gives it 3 stars says it "may not be the best science-fiction film ever made but it is still a nifty little effort." Cyberpunk Review gives it 6 out of 10 stars and calls it "pure cyberpunk fun!" DVD Talk says the film is "science fiction trash. Nonetheless, Johnny Mnemonic is never boring". Roger Ebert says it's "a movie that doesn't deserve one nanosecond of serious analysis but has a kind of idiotic grandeur that makes you almost forgive it."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Au Hasard Balthazar

Au Hasard Balthazar is a 1966 French film. I know a lot of people don't like subtitles, but I don't mind them at all. Of course, it makes it impossible for me to do anything else while I'm watching, but that's likely a good thing. It's directed by Robert Bresson. The film follows the parallel lives of Marie and her donkey Balthazar. It's #5 on the Arts and Faith top 100 films list. It's in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.


opening 5 minutes:

I have the Criterion edition, and there's an article at their site which says,
In Balthazar, little is numinous. We are placed in a hard, corporeal world of rucked, muddy fields and of things and objects, some of them signifiers of a modernity Bresson finds wanting
DVD Talk says, "Its appeal is as basic as a silent melodrama, or a bittersweet Chaplin film, minus the overt sentimentality." Roger Ebert considers it a "great" movie and opens with this:
Robert Bresson is one of the saints of the cinema, and "Au Hasard Balthazar" (1966) is his most heartbreaking prayer.
Senses of Cinema says,
Balthazar is a parable of sin and suffering, but barely a religious one. The Biblical echoes in it in fact seem referential (not reverential).... This Bresson creation, the donkey Balthazar, is one of the most intriguing and powerful in all cinema.
Slant Magazine says it "might be the most rewarding film in the upper reaches of virtually every last "greatest film ever" poll". Time Out says that "the film is perhaps the director's most perfectly realised, and certainly his most moving."

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Howling

The Howling is a 1981 horror film featuring werewolves. It's definitely dated and hasn't aged well. It has multiple werewolves and onscreen dramatic depictions of the transformations. I saw some actors I know from their other work: Patrick MacNee, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Robert Picardo (Star Trek connection) and Noble Willingham (Star Trek connection). Roger Corman and Forrest Ackerman have cameos.


1000 Misspent Hours says,
The Howling is such a potent reworking of its age-old subject that it’s easy enough to understand how it could spawn six or more sequels over the next fifteen years.
Moria gives it 3 stars. Roger Ebert gives it 2 stars and a review that's one of the least informative I've ever read.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Frolic of His Own

A Frolic of His Own is a 1994 National Book Award-winning William Gaddis novel.

This is my 3rd attempt to read this book. It wasn't the charm. I'll be donating my copy to the local Goodwill store so someone else can experience the challenge. Honestly, I don't mind a book that's not an easy read, but I don't want it to be a constant struggle.

Gaddis died of prostate cancer in 1998 when he was 75 years old. Wikipedia says he "is now often acknowledged as being one of the greatest of American post-war novelists." I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. As they say, "so many books, so little time". I have read that this book is his most readable, so if you want to go there you can buy your very own copy at Amazon, where the picture at the top of the post came from.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


This dvd was a gift some time back (it's a 2009 film), but I never watched it -I haven't watched as many movies this last year and a half. Now that my sister has quit helping with The Grandmother and I am going over there both in the mornings and in the evenings I'm going to take some dvds with me and watch them in pieces while I'm waiting for her to take care of her business. I took 9 this morning, and it was a good length. I enjoyed it.


Time calls it "visually alluring but hollow". DVD Talk calls it "a stunning achievement in animation" and "stunning, thrilling, and subdued all at the same time". Wired calls it "a fresh take on post-apocalyptic nightmares" and says "it’s the animation, not the acting, that separates 9 from the pack". Film Journal says it's "a visually dazzling, highly imaginative sci-fi animated feature that's marred only by a bland script."

Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter

We went to a late showing of John Carter last night and had great fun. It was true to the book, but not slavishly so. There was action, humor, romance, adventure. The Husband, The Younger Son and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It's getting mixed reviews, but some of the reviewers I've read seem confused. One, for example, called the story "derivative," but seeing that the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel was written in 1917, I'd ask, "derivative of what?" Another reviewer described the film as "space opera," but since none of the action occurs in outer space but is all strictly planet-bound, I have to wonder how they're defining "space opera".

Here's my favorite trailer:

E Online concludes:
For those old enough to enjoy the books, however, the action is large-scale and awesome. The 3-D isn't essential to the viewing—it neither adds much depth nor throws things out at you, and feels like an afterthought. What does add depths are the suggestions of a larger mythology connecting Earth and Mars that seems like it might be fun to explore more of. Let's hope we get that chance.
Leonard Maltin says,
no movie so rich in imagination and so skillfully staged could or should be dismissed out of hand. If you have even the slightest curiosity about John Carter, I’d encourage you to see it.
The Christian Science Monitor gave it a C+ and called it "fun-free". The Hollywood Reporter says
the film will likely delight sci-fi geeks most of all, but there's enough here for general Disney audiences as well to generate solid box office worldwide.
Slant Magazine hated it, saying it's "not just boring, but ugly, ungainly, and nonsensical." Film Journal says, "It's too good a movie to dismiss outright, but not memorable enough to build a big fan base of repeat viewers."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Yevgeny Zamyatin

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1937 of Russian science fiction writer Yevgeny Zamyatin. There is a short bio here.

His dystopian novel We (1921) was an influence on authors George Orwell, Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut. You can read an English translation online here or here. has a review of a recent translation. The SFSite review says it's a book "that will challenge you on many levels".

I still have the paperback copy I read when I was in high school.

from that copy:
D-503 has a soul!

In the future, in a glass-enclosed city of absolutely straight lines, nameless "numbers" -survivors of a devastating war- live out their lives devoid of passion and creativity. The Benefactor gazes down perpetually and sees all. Then, suddenly, D-503, a mathematician who "dreams in numbers," makes a shocking discovery: he has an individual soul!

WE is D-503's passionate adventure in the nightmare world of "unfreedom."

I remember how it impressed me, but I could never get my kids interested in it.

The picture at the top of the post is from Wikipedia.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Stan Brakhage

Today is the anniversary of the death in 2003 of American experimental film maker Stan Brakhage.

Mothlight (1963):

I...Dreaming (1988):

Black Ice (1994):

Senses of Cinema considers him one of the great directors and has an article here. There are numerous resources linked from this page. UBUWEB has video and audio of Brakhage at their site. The Brooklyn Rail has an article. The Creators Project has some of his work embedded in their article and says
Working in a variety of formats, Brakhage’s films are exceedingly expressionistic abstractions, ranging from amorphous collages of vaguely superimposed imagery of his life and family, to direct manipulation with film stock scratched and splattered with paint.
Unlike traditional filmmakers, Brakhage wanted to divest consciousness from its representative trappings to allow for an unfettered vision of the subjective experience.
My Mind's Eye has an interview from when Brakhage was 60 in which he says, "one of the most vibrant ways to be dedicated to the arts is to be highly suspicious of every historical or inherited aspect of it". An article at Criterion's site says
In his best-known pronouncement, he summons the movie viewer to “imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective...How many colors are there in a field of grass to a baby unaware of 'Green'? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye?” Although he readily admits that any actual return to a state of “innocent,” childlike vision is impossible, lhe persistent project throughout his vast oeuvre has been to guide the eye in a journey of “untutoring,” using every possible cinematic tool as leverage for that journey. says, "Through his insistence on exploring the bounds of perception, poets and other artists felt deeply connected to Brakhage’s work." The Guardian obituary says
For Brakhage, the goal of cinema was the liberation of the eye itself, the creation of an act of seeing, previously unimagined and undefined by conventions of representation, an eye as natural and unprejudiced as that of a cat, a bee or an infant.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Devices and Desires

Devices and Desires is the 8th Adam Dalgliesh detective novel by P.D. James. I kept feeling like I'd read this one before, but then I realized I had seen the tv presentation. This is an interesting enough book, but if this were my first foray into the Dalgliesh world I don't think I'd plan to read much more.

There's a crime fiction author mentioned in the book -H.R.F. Keating- as a favorite of a retired pastor and his wife. He's a prolific author, but I'd never noticed him before. He died last year. Elgar's Cello Concerto is also mentioned as the music Dalgliesh plays as he sorts through his late aunt's photos. You can listen to that here:

EW concludes
Can so many well-turned paragraphs and craftsmanlike chapters really add up to a bad book? They can and they do, when the motor's missing. C+

I have blog posts on these:

#2 A Mind to Murder
#5 The Black Tower
#7 A Taste for Death
#9 Original Sin
#12 The Murder Room
#13 The Lighthouse

and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which features an appearance by Dalgliesh.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Patsy Cline

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1963 of Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash just outside Camden, TN. She was 30 years old when she died. There are photos of the memorial site here and here. There is a Facebook page for her songs.

I Fall to Pieces:

Saturday, March 03, 2012

How well does Google know you?

Maybe not as well as you fear. They think I'm a 24-36 year old female whose primary interest is shoes.

Looks like I've managed to throw them off the scent. Bwa ha ha.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Randolph Scott

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1987 of actor Randolph Scott, best known for his Western films. His first film was in 1928 and his last in 1962. He had a remarkable career, working with directors John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille, King Vidor, Fritz Lang, John Sturges, Sam Peckinpah and others.

My favorite Randolph Scott reference is from Blazing Saddles:

You can watch some of his films online, including Captain Kidd with Charles Laughton and John Carradine and Abilene Town with Ann Dvorak and Lloyd Bridges.

The photo at the top of the post is from wikipedia.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

R.I.P. Davy Jones

I have many fond memories of the tv show and the music. This is such a loss.

When I told my daughter, she said, "He was probably getting on up there, though, right?" I said, "He was 66." She said, "Oh, not so much then. What happened?" Heart attack. Davy Jones. I'm shocked by it.

The Atlantic has an article, which includes this:
he remains a singular archetype in rock history, part of a band that would have been first-ballot shoo-ins in any Rock and Roll Hall of Fame devoted to the real history of the genre. The Monkees weren't the first packaged rock band, but they might have been the best, and no Monkee seemed more comfortable with this legacy than Davy Jones.
SF Gate says,
The Monkees star Micky Dolenz has been left “bewildered” by the death of his band mate Davy Jones because the star was the youngest and healthiest of the group.
Rolling Stone opens with this:
Davy Jones was the grooviest of the Monkees, which makes him one of the grooviest pop stars who ever existed.
Despite their undoubtedly contrived origins, they turned out to be one of pop's finest bands, arguably the most underrated in rock history.