Friday, May 31, 2013

The Cranes Are Flying

The Cranes Are Flying is a 1957 WW2 film from the Soviet Union. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. A film about war, sadness, suffering and sacrifice, this is one of the saddest movies I've ever seen. It's deeply affecting. I wonder that it isn't better known.

You can watch it at Youtube, but embedding is disabled.

from Wikipedia:
Fyodor Ivanovich is a doctor who lives with his son, Boris; his daughter, Irina; his mother; and his nephew, Mark. The film centers on Boris's girlfriend, Veronika, during World War II.The character of Veronica represents Soviet women in the context of the aftermath of the aforementioned war.

The call to war sounds, and the country responds with great patriotic fervor. Boris volunteers to defend his homeland from the attackers, much to Veronika's sadness.
DVD Talk says,
The Cranes are Flying will knock you off your feet. It's an emotional tale of love, war, separation and loss told with breathtaking cinematic precision. The performances are pretty nigh unforgettable, especially that of the lead actress. It's a lot of people's favorite Russian movie...
TimeOut says, "There is much to admire". The book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die includes this film, specifically holding up the cinematographer for praise. TCM has an overview. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 94%.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Made in Sweden: 20th Century Design

In celebration of Memphis in May and its honored country Sweden, The Brooks Museum has an exhibit show-casing Swedish design in the 20th century. I wish I could find a way to link to a stable page for this exhibit, but the Brooks web site defeats me at every turn. from the Brooks:
... Good design had long been promoted by the Swedish Society of Industrial Design (SSID), founded in 1845. At the end of the 19th century, as people moved from the country to cities, the SSID increased its efforts to improve living standards. Because Sweden did not participate in World War I, the productive relationship between industry and design continued unabated.

Between the wars, Swedish glass came to be recognized for its elegance and sophistication. Examples here include the blue vase by Simon Gate made at Orrefors in the 193os. Stig Lindberg’s nesting, oven-proof “Gefyr” bowls exemplify the simplicity and practicality that was emphasized for everyday use. Sven Palmqvist is represented by his “Fuga,” “Colora,” and “Ravenna” series;

Soon after the war, plastic gained in prominence as a new and attractive material for everyday utensils. The porcelain factory of Gustavsberg was among the pioneers in producing the material on a large scale.

The objects in this exhibition are all on loan from the Röhsska Museum for Design and Decorative Arts which opened in 1916. The museum, funded by the Röhss brothers and operated by the City of Gothenburg, is Sweden's only museum specializing in design.
My favorites are these works by Stig Lindberg:

1) Spisa Ribb pattern from 1955. The exhibit had a cup and saucer, a plate, and a creamer and sugar bowl

photo from Wikipedia

2) Tahiti pattern cup and saucer from 1971

photo from Pinterest

and 3) a set of 3 blue nesting "Gefyr" bowls from 1952. I can't find pictures of those online, and I never take photos in museums.

The Rohsska Museum, which loaned us the pieces, has some interesting exhibits listed at their web site. Evil Design sounds unusual.

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana is a murder mystery by Carlo Emilio Gadda. I picked it up from a display at my local book store, attracted by the fact that Italo Calvino wrote the introduction. I was immediately swept up in the book, carried away by the way it was written. It didn't take long before I realized I was drowning in it. I felt like the language was a sticky mess I couldn't brush away. I knew there was a story under there somewhere, but I couldn't find it. I kept at it, working my way through, and the story is there. I'm not at all sure it's worth the work.

I'm fairly well-read and not unintelligent, and I hardly ever have to look words up as I'm reading. In this book there was rarely a page where I didn't have to look up a word and many pages had multiple words I didn't know. Just a few of them, some of which were used more than once:
invulvulate, matutinal, cothurnate, orogenic, manucaption, tegument, maculations, edulcorating, parapathia, vespertine, decretal, sicinnis, exozcizational, thyrsi, ethylic, terebene, malleoli, peduncled, inderogatable, semilunars, ampulla, algolagniac, vagotonic, borborygms...
Some of these I never did find a meaning for, and some I never could figure out what they meant in the context they were used. He uses the phrase "spit and image" several times. I do realize that's the original form of the expression, but it is no longer used -at least I no longer see it used. "Spitting image" is what I've been seeing for decades now. With a translated book, I never know who to credit for this kind of thing. Is the translator choosing these words because the words are obscure in the original? I don't know. It didn't add pleasure to what was already a difficult reading experience.

a sample sentence from the middle of the book:
Ines! The Urban adventure! From Galilei's matutinal clarities, when the Lateran office and mystery, the green gaity of the churchyard receive within the city's walls the hick with his devout Sign of the Cross, the ass hitched up for a moment, gee!, from the golden pomp, at vespers, or ruby-colored, and from the full cavate of Moderno, from whose archway the indelible hymn in praise of Mary Mother has burst into the centuries never to return; from the PV and the BM and from the ten holes in the disk of the telephone, and from the big box of the radio which she put out of commission four times, the cothurnate forethinker had taken home a certain brisk, cavalier manner in darning socks, that is to say, taking the hole in wide circles, with needle and thread: and then, after that rapid circumnavigation, she pulled it all together and snapped off the thread at once, with her teeth. A first-class darn!
The whole book is like that.

And the book is unfinished.

I found it frustrating, and I can't say I'm glad I read it. I don't know if a different translation would help me or not.

from the back of the book:
In a large apartment house in central Rome, two crimes are committed within a matter of days: a burglary, in which a good deal of money and precious jewels are taken, and a murder, as a young woman whose husband is out of town is found with her throat cut. Called in to investigate, melancholy Detective Ciccio, a secret admirer of the murdered woman and a friend of her husband’s, discovers that almost everyone in the apartment building is somehow involved in the case, and with each new development the mystery only deepens and broadens. Gadda’s sublimely different detective story presents a scathing picture of fascist Italy while tracking the elusiveness of the truth, the impossibility of proof, and the infinite complexity of the workings of fate, showing how they come into conflict with the demands of justice and love.

Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alberto Moravia all considered That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana to be the great modern Italian novel. Unquestionably, it is a work of universal significance and protean genius: a rich social novel, a comic opera, an act of political resistance, a blazing feat of baroque wordplay, and a haunting story of life and death. says, "In English, one could only compare Gadda to Joyce. His novel, it seems likely, will eventually have the same prominence and renown in the English-speaking world that it already has in Italy, France and Germany, in fact all over Europe." Crime Fiction Lovers concludes with this:
That Awful Mess On The Via Merulana is a shambolic book in many ways, frequently overtaken by philosophising and classical allusions which sent me to Google. However Gadda has created a potent vision of 1920s Rome, dense and teeming with life, populated with beautifully observed characters and the writing is absolutely sumptuous. The languorous pace can be challenging but if you accept it this book becomes something like the perfect Italian lunch which goes on into the evening – meandering but full of fascinating distractions, by turns erudite and bawdy and occasionally, yes, very slightly pretentious.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Posse from Hell

Posse From Hell is a 1961 Western starring Audie Murphy, Lee Van Cleef (whose bad guy character you see early but not again 'til the end), John Saxon (a favorite from science fiction and horror films, he is still active) and Vic Morrow (killed during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie). Also here are Rodolpho Acosta (Vaquero in The High Chaparral), Royal Dano (Casey in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao), Frank Overton (Star Trek: The Original Series), Paul Carr (ST:TOS) and Allan Lane in his last film (he voiced Mr. Ed in the TV series).

This is a traditional western with bad guys who are very bad and a useful woman who gets in the way. And it has Lee Van Cleef (which is reason enough to watch any film). But if Audie Murphy talks any more about "riding these horses to death" I may scream.

via youtube:

TCM has an overview. I don't see many reviews.

Tennessee Stud

Tennessee Stud:

by Doc Watson, who died a year ago today at the age of 89 of complications following colon surgery. His wife died 6 months later. He was a Grammy award-winning blues and folk singer/guitarist. Wikipedia says, "His affable manner, humble nature and delightful wit endeared him to his fans nearly as much as his musical talent." There is a site dedicated to his legacy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bella Caffe

Bella Caffe (yes, there's a 2nd "f") is located inside the Pink Palace Museum on the other side of the ticket counter, beyond the gift shop, past the adults riding herd over tables teeming with school children eating bagged lunches. There are a few tables close to the counter that are reserved for Bella Caffe customers, but wading through the milling children and their watchful adult guardians isn't my fondest recollection of this lunch. I waited 'til all the kidlets were gone to take a picture of the entrance. The next time I go I'll wait 'til the kidlets are gone to get there. Nothing against kiddies and their fussy overseers, but noisy children not my own and lunch aren't my favorite combination.

The food, on the other hand was wonderful. I had the Mediterranean chicken salad sandwich, chips and hot chamomile citrus tea. The Husband had ham and cheese, chips and iced tea. We enjoyed our choices. As good as the rest of the menu looks, I think I'll order the exact same thing next time. My sandwich had cranberries in it. So nice! And this Mighty Leaf Chamomile Citrus tea is a delight! I'll be getting a box of this the next time I'm at the store.

You can see their menu here. Note that hot tea when ordered with a sandwich is just $1.50, as opposed to the $2.50 we recently paid for a Bigelow tea bag at another local cafe. Our total here was $16, which is quite reasonable and about half as much as we paid for lunch at that other local cafe. This would be doable as a regular thing, and I'm sure I'll be back.

The Memphis Flyer likes it. Urban Spoon has a 100% score. Yelp just has 1 review, but it's positive.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Iris Garden

I went by the Memphis Botanic Garden to see how their Iris Garden was looking a couple of weeks ago. It was beautiful, and I planned to try to get The Grandmother to go with me one day.

Then she ended up in the hospital. At least irises aren't her favorite flower. We'll have to see what's in bloom when she's finally able to get back out. It might give her something to look forward to.

On the Silver Globe

On the Silver Globe is a 1987 Polish science fiction film. Ordered destroyed in 1977 by a new communist cultural affairs officer, the 80% of the film that had been completed was saved, eventually being released with additional footage at Cannes in 1988. The history of the making of the movie is fascinating to me and worth seeing for that alone, but the film didn't do much for me as entertainment. It seemed overwrought to me.

The story involves a group of astronauts who escape Earth to seek freedom on another planet. They find a suitable planet to settle on, but freedom is more elusive.

Embedding at youtube is disabled, but you can watch it at this youtube link.

Slant Magazine says,
The effect is nothing less than haunting. The literal plot of the movie, having to do with a group of space travelers discovering a new planet and building a civilization from scratch, is juxtaposed with documentary footage of the crumbling failed experiment that was communist Poland.
Sci-Fi-O-Rama has some still shots. Rotten Tomatoes has an audience score of 73%.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hakuho Does It Again!

Hakuho has won the Sumo tournament and now has a 30 game winning streak! He's undefeated in the last 2 events.

Wikipedia has an overview, including this:
Making his debut in March 2001, he reached the top makuuchi division in May 2004. On 30 May, 2007 at the age of 22 he became the second native of Mongolia, and the fourth non-Japanese overall, to be promoted to the highest rank in sumo, yokozuna. He has won twenty-four yūshō or tournament championships to date. In 2009, he broke the record for the most wins in a calendar year, winning 86 out of 90 bouts, and repeated with the same record again in 2010 when he established the second longest winning streak in sumo history.
Hakuho's name appears on many of the record-holder lists.

Asia and Japan Watch opens its report with this:
Yokozuna Hakuho drove out Mongolian compatriot Harumafuji on the closing day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on May 26 to capture his 25th Emperor's Cup and complete the 15-day competition with his second-consecutive perfect record.
Here's the final match, compliments of the Jasons In Japan Youtube channel:

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

Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger is a 1994 film, 3rd of the movies based on the Tom Clancey novels and the last starring Harrison Ford. Also in this are Willem Dafoe, James Earl Jones, Dean Jones, Hope Lange, Raymond Cruz (who has a Star Trek connection), Reg E. Cathey (who has a Star Trek connection) and Ellen Geer (who has a Star Trek connection). Harris Yulin (with a Star Trek connection), Vaughn Armstrong (who may have more separate Star Trek connections than anybody), Kamala Dawson (Star Trek connection), Elizabeth Dennehy (ST connection), Michael Jace (ST) and John Putch (also in ST).

To be honest, I think each film in this series is fine. It's not that I have any complaints. It's just that the more of them I see, the less interested I am in seeing any of them again. I didn't finish watching this one. It was big and splashy and filled with grim-faced men being very intensely serious; and I wasn't in the mood. I'll get back to it, I'm sure.


Rolling Stone says, "Harrison Ford is in peak form in Clear and Present Danger. It's the summer's smartest thriller: a gripping blend of suspense and surprising humor." What Culture says,
Despite its flaws, Clear And Present Danger is still a fairly solid, if overlong thriller. Ford, as always, is an extremely watchable actor and totally believable as the desk jockey forced to become a man of action to get things done. His interpretation of Jack Ryan is really all that holds the film together making it a shame that this proved to be his final, slightly anti-climactic outing.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critics score of 82%.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memphis in May: Nobel Prize Exhibit

The Daughter and I went to the library to see the Nobel Prize exhibit. It was much smaller than we expected, just 2 small cases. One had a table setting used at the dinner, and the other had a replica prize and a picture of a Memphian who had won one once.

Ah, well, not every exhibit can be an extensive collection of priceless artifacts taking 4 hours to tour. It was interesting to see the place setting. I had never given that part of the thing any thought at all.

Afterwards we went to the 2nd-hand book shop on the other side of the entryway. That always goes well.

Towel Day

Don't panic! Today is Towel Day, a day set aside in memory of Douglas Adams. You can learn more at There are Facebook events and a community page. I'm keeping my towel with me, close at hand, all day.

from Adams' work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as quoted at the Wikipedia Towel Day site:
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very, very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
The picture at the top of the page is from RTLSTUFF on Tumblr.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Kid

The Kid, also known as Kid Cheung and My Son A-Chang is a 1950 Bruce Lee film, one of his first. 10-year-old Lee stars with his father in this story based on a comic book character.

I can't find a version online with English subtitles. Significant only for Bruce Lee's presence, the broad strokes of the story are easy enough to follow without subtitles for the chance to see him as a child. I saw enough to satisfy myself of Lee's cuteness but didn't watch the entire film.

clip via youtube:

Love HK Film says, "The story essentially boils down to a morality tale about taking responsibility for your life, leaving a life of crime behind, and getting a real job to become a useful person in society. It’s a message that hasn’t gone out of style".

Thursday, May 23, 2013


The Daughter and I went to Flashback the other day. They always have wonderful things, but I was looking for a cup and saucer this time and didn't see anything I wanted. The last time I was there I bought this purse:

It's the perfect go-to-church purse.

Count to a Trillian

Count to a Trillion is the first book in a science fiction series by John C. Wright. I picked it up at my local bookstore on a whim, looking for a new space opera. The writing drew me in at the beginning, but that didn't last. I don't like any of the characters and don't care what happens to them. There's much too much explanatory material, info-dumps on mathematics and history of this future Earth that go on for pages with one character waxing eloquent occasionally interrupted by another character asking for further explanation. The book seems much too long in general, considering how little actually happens.

I also find much not to like from a feminist perspective. Whether the author is a sexist pig or just his characters are, I tired of it quickly. One example:
"That's the second time you've said you were above me, little lady, and I won't stand it. I've a mind to turn you over my knee!"

She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I am flattered by the offer of a spanking, but I am your superior officer, and your sovereign, and higher on the ladder of evolution than you, and I have a fully armed starship, and several armed forces at my command, not to mention I can flick one of my hairpins up your nose. So any horseplay could turn out badly for you. Besides, what would my husband say if you assumed his privileges?"
I'll give my copy away and not read the rest of the series.

from the back of the book:
Hundreds of years in the future, Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up in postapocalypse Texas as a gunslinger for hire. But Montrose is also a mathematical genius and this earns him a place on an interstellar mission to the Monument, an alien artifact inscribed with data so complex, only a posthuman mind can decipher it. So Montrose does the unthinkable: he injects himself with a dangerous drug designed to boost his already formidable intellect to superhuman intelligence. It drives him mad.

Two centuries later, Montrose is awakened from cryosuspension with no memory of his posthuman actions, to find Earth strangely transformed. But the Monument still carries a secret he must decode —one that will define humanity’s true future in the universe.
Strange Horizons says, "If all this leads you to understand that much of Count to a Trillion occurs as dialogue, and that much of the dialogue occurs as sermon, screed, or rhetoric, then you'd be right" and closes with this: "The blank prose and blanker soul of this novel leads the reader to experience what it must be like to follow the imperative of its title: it feels a long way from its beginning to its end." Kirkus Reviews thinks it needs work and describes it as "often grindingly didactic, with no narrative flow and three genius protagonists all unpleasantly cold and unsympathetic". The New York Journal of Books says, "it falls into the trap of being overburdened with exposition (much of which is pure techno-babble); and the first part of the novel in particular feels slow and tedious as various characters fill the hero in on what he missed while he was asleep". SF Crowsnest says, "I felt the book was overly long with rather verbose descriptions when they were not really required."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Out of the Past

It had been years since I last saw this film, but The Younger Son put it in to watch over lunch one day recently and I joined in. Out of the Past is a 1947 film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie). It stars Robert Mitchum, a favorite of mine, and Kirk Douglas as a sleazy bad guy. We think Klingons would like this film because everybody dies and nobody makes a profit. This movie is well worth watching and is good for many repeat viewings.

I think this is one of Mitchum's best, and Kirk Douglas is also priceless.


Bright Lights Film Journal calls it "riveting" and says it is "usually ranked as one of the best of the genre". Images Journal says it is "An essential noir and one of the great archetypal noirs." says,
there is little dispute that the particular combination of talents displayed in Out of the Past —significant among them the iconic screen presences of Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer— resulted in a distinguished contribution to another genre tradition, film noir , for which Out of the Past has become ... a primary measure of excellence and source of resonance.
It's one of Time's 100 Best Films, where they say, "It has the smartest dialogue and the most persuasively labyrinthine plot of any film noir". DVD Talk opens with this:
In every genre or category of movies there are films that transcend academic pigeonholing, and Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past is a prime example. One leaves a screening of this doomed romance with a profound appreciation of a key awareness behind film noir: Disillusion and despair in a corrupt but seductive world.
The book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die says it "may be the masterpiece of film noir" and that it "leaves us with the enigmas of fatal desires, the ambiguities of loves faced with fear". Roger Ebert has it on his list of "great movies," calling it "one of the greatest of all film noirs". Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critics score of 96%.

Walker (1987)

Walker is a 1987 Acid Western, starring Ed Harris (as Walker), Peter Boyle (in little more than a cameo), René Auberjonois (who has a Star Trek: Deep Space 9 connection), Keith Szarabajka (Star Trek:Voyager and Enterprise connections), Gerrit Graham (ST:Deep Space 9 and Voyager), Bennet Guillory (ST:DS9) and Biff Yeager (ST:TNG) and is directed by Alex Cox.

It's based on the life of William Walker, who became the president of Nicaragua for a year as part of an attempt to start English-speaking colonies in Latin America under his own control. He planned to have them join the U.S.A. as slave states. Our president at the time even recognized his government as the legitimate Nicaraguan government. Walker was born and raised here in Tennessee, in Nashville. He is mentioned in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. I don't remember having heard of him before seeing this film.

Our country surely has spawned more than its fair share of fruit-cakes.

quote from the film:
Think of it, Sir, from ocean to ocean. And the women, Colonel, My God, the women! Bare-breasted beauties under trees laden with fruit. Think of it. Seven to every man.
Manifest Destiny, indeed.

Some of it is amusing, and the political parallel it draws is compelling, but I do not recommend it. If you want political satire, watch Being There or The President's Analyst or Duck Soup. If you want an acid western, watch Dead Man or Zachariah or Dead Man's Bounty.

via youtube:

from Wikipedia:
Alex Cox's Walker incorporates many of the signposts of William Walker's life and exploits, from his original excursions into northern Mexico to his trial and acquittal on breaking the neutrality act to the triumph of his assault on Nicaragua and his execution.
Slant Magazine says,
The film was shot in the late 1980s, right in the middle of an illegal U.S.-sponsored war against Nicaragua and remains topical today as a scandalous portrait of nightmarish American arrogance in the name of expansion and gobbling up resources. The film is equally cutting in its evisceration of Christian values in the name of mass violence, and of Western self-willed ignorance of other cultures.
Senses of Cinema also discusses its politics. DVD Talk calls it a "black comedy" and says, "Walker's Gonzo approach to its subject found few friends among critics." Roger Ebert closes by saying, "this movie's poverty of imagination has to be seen to be believed." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 40%.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Talk Like Yoda Day

Talk like Yoda you will. Feel silly you will, yes, but worry about what others might think do not. If assistance you need, check out the yodaspeak converter you may. Directions here there are. A Facebook event there is.

Skipping this fun observance, are you? Beware the boring side. Once you start down the boring path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

From OrangeBeard the photo above is.

Jasmine Tea

The Daughter and I went to the Chinese grocery recently. I was looking for good green tea bags. She had never been and was curious. She found a few fun things, including a great little glass tea pot with a metal infuser insert. I bought a box of Stassen Pure Jasmine Green Tea.

I don't care for this tea at all. Much too strong a flavor to suit me, and it's nothing like the mild Jasmine tea I've had in Chinese restaurants. I'll give the rest of the box to The Daughter. Maybe she'll like it.

I've had this cup for years. There are no markings on the bottom, and I can't remember where I got it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Island of the Day Before

I read The Island of the Day Before, the 1994 novel by Umberto Eco, thinking it was a fantasy of sorts or at least had fantasy elements. It's not a fantasy in the usual sense of the word, though much of the action takes place in the protagonist's mind and is treated in a way as if it really happened. It's an odd book. It's more enjoyable as an intellectual exercise than as a novel. I didn't enjoy the sections that dwelt on philosophical Astronomy and the concept of longitude, and that was much of the book. I found those sections tedious and caught myself skimming them. I liked the last part of the book more.

my favorite quotes from late in the book:
So here I am illuding myself with the illusion of an illusion -I, an illusion myself? I who was to lose everything, happened on this vessel lost in the Antipodes only to realize there was nothing to lose? But, understanding this, do I not perhaps gain everything, because I become the one thinking point at which the Universe recognizes its own illusion?
But in the final analysis, what is this I that I believe thinks me? Have I not said that it is only the awareness of the Void, identical to extension, has of itself in this particular composite? Therefore I am not I who thinks, but I am the Void, or extension, that thinks me. And so this composite is an accident, in which Void and extension linger for the blink of an eye, to be able afterwards to return to thinking otherwise. In this great Void of the Void, the one thing that truly is, is the history of this evolution in numberless transitory compositions. . . . Compositions of what? Of the one great Nothingness, which is the Substance of the whole.

Substance governed by a majestic necessity, which leads it to create and destroy worlds, to weace our pale lives. I must accept this, succeed in loving this Necessity, return to it, and bow to its future will, for this is the condition of Happiness. Only by accepting its law will I find my freedom. To flow back into It will be Salvation, fleeing from passions into the sole passion, the Intellectual Love of God.

If I truly succeeded in understanding this, I would be the one man who has found the True Philosophy, and I would know everything about God that is hidden. But who would have the heart to go about the world and proclaim such a philosophy?
from the back of the book:
I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship.
So begin the journals of Roberto della Griva, a seventeenth-century nobleman who finds himself on board a mysterious ship anchored in the bay of a beautiful island he cannot reach. The story of how he got there, and what he finds on board, are just a part of this exquisitely crafted novel that celebrates the romance, war, politics, philosophy, and science of the Baroque period in all its lush and colorful detail
There is a reading group guide with discussion questions here. The review at The Guardian says it put him to sleep and closes with this:
On the marooned ship Daphne, Father Caspar and Roberto debate ad nauseam the implications of parallel worlds. There appears to be a world in which Eco is regarded as a significant and influential writer. If it is this one, I'd like to relocate.
Kirkus Reviews ends by saying, "Though weighted here and there by the longueurs of whimsy, this is on balance an intriguing and entertaining theoretical rompa kind of Borgesian Robinson Crusoe."

PhiloBiblios calls it "difficult to review" and says,
I read through the entire book thinking that surely something would happen soon, that there was some missing element that would make itself known and make the book pop like some of Eco's others have for me. And that never happened
but says Eco's books are all worth reading for their interesting explorations of philosophical and historical issues.

Creature From The Haunted Sea

Creature From The Haunted Sea is a 1961 Roger Corman film, a parody of monster and spy/thriller movies. Priceless. Honestly. If you've ever seen a spy movie or a monster movie, I don't see how you can sit through this with a straight face. Fred Katz did the music, which is wonderful.

1000 Misspent Hours doesn't like it and says,
To be honest, Creature from the Haunted Sea doesn’t work anywhere near as well as The Little Shop of Horrors, and it is often funnier by accident than it is on purpose. A lot of the gags fall rather flat, and derive most of their amusement value from the fact that somebody somehow thought they were funny.
Million Monkey Theater says, "As with most every Corman movie, overall it's excruciatingly terrible, but there are some good moments of crackin' dialogue and inspired emotion. And it's a comedy, who knew?" The Spinning Image says, "It may look like it was casually filmed on holiday, but the movie is amusing enough, and doesn't take anything seriously." TCM has some information.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) is, quite probably, the funniest film ever made. Is there anyone who hasn't already seen it? I love this one! It stars Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton, Michael Hordern, Roy Kinnear, Jon Pertwee and Ingrid Pitt. The music is by Stephen Sondheim.


TCM has an overview. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 82%.

Golf Course 42

I wonder how many of the golfers are ever in a position to see it. But you can see it just fine from the street side.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I saw Harakiri (1962) recently at the Brooks Museum. I hadn't seen this period samurai film before, and was so glad to have this opportunity. The director is Masaki Kobayash, who also did Kwaidan, a wonderful anthology horror film from 1964.


It's well worth watching and is available online here:

Kung Fu Cinema closes with this:
HARAKIRI may start out somewhat slow. However, once the plot twists are revealed, one can only be satisfied with the tragic character of Hanshiro Tsugumo, who goes from loyal samurai to regular man to an avenger of sorts. A true Japanese samurai eiga classic!
The Spinning Image says, "It is a deft lightning strike at its target, and as such delivers a killer blow." Slant Magazine gives it 4 out of 5 stars and says, "Set in the early days of shogun supremacy, Masaki Kobayashi's film sets out to show the system was corrupt from its inception." Roger Ebert considers it a "great film". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sweden at the Memphis Botanic Garden

Sweden is the country being honored in this year's Memphis in May celebration, and the Botanic Garden is highlighting "a smorgasbord of Swedish-style botanicals".

They also have an art exhibit of photos of Icehotel. Icehotel is fascinating. I think of ice as a fleeting phenomenon and remember with awe the only time I was able to stand on a frozen lake. To have a building and furnishings made from ice that lasts for months? Wow!

Did you know that Sweden is the most socially advanced country?

Last Year in Marienbad

Last Year in Marienbad is a 1961 French film. It's directed by Alain Resnais. There continues to be controversy over the film. Is it a dream? Does it all take place in one of the characters' minds? If so, which one? Is it a tale of madness? A ghost story? A re-telling of Orpheus and Eurydice? Can it be seen as having any kind of linear plot? Was there a rape? Was someone killed? Are they all delusional? It begs to be seen again.

I know it has been available in a Criterion edition, but this movie seems to be out of print right now.

via youtube:

Senses of Cinema claims it's based on a science fiction story. Slant Magazine says, "Whatever else it may or may not be, Last Year at Marienbad is a mystery thriller, using the latter term perhaps a trifle loosely, bearing more than a few trappings of the horror genre." DVD Talk calls it "one of the most important films of the mid 20th century" and concludes, "it is a uniquely provocative piece that will make you think about it, whether or not you want to. Anyone who values their own knowledge of film must take the time to see Marienbad at least once in their lives." The book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die says, "Nowhere else in cinema have the labyrinth workings of consciousness and memory been evoked more forcefully or explored more resonantly." The Guardian calls it "more brilliant than ever – profoundly mysterious and disturbing, a para-surrealist masterpiece". DVD Bearer says it's "Not just a defining work of the French New Wave but one of the great, lasting mysteries of modern art". Roger Ebert considers it one of the "great movies". Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critics score of 95%.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sunny Antiquing

The Daughter and I headed out to antique shops one day recently. I was looking for cups and saucers. She was looking for decorations that featured the Sun. I struck out. She found this wonderfully cheerful piece:

at the Antique Warehouse Mall on Summer Avenue.

Neither of us had been there before. They have large spaces both inside and out. We found a Wonder Horse looking for an adoptive family. We still have The Daughter's Wonder Horse living with us, so we can't help this poor animal.

I didn't see anything I wanted to buy. Maybe next time.


Privateers is a 1985 science fiction novel by Ben Bova, whose science fiction credentials are impressive. I say that because I want to make it clear that I know what a big deal the man is.

I had a lot of trouble wading through this book. The oppressive misogynism is topped only by the blatant, heavy-handed preaching of far right-wing conservative political ideology. The man has an agenda and is not afraid to use it. Not a page went by that I didn't feel beat to death with it. Fine. I got it. Can we move on? No? Really? The characters were fine, the plot was fine, but they were drowned in the misogyny and the political dreck. Every time I got to thinking I might be able to get involved, Bova got out that stick again and I swear it's brutal. I hate books that serve as a tool to advance an author's agenda, and this seems to me a prime example.

2 examples from the book of the kind of material I'm talking about:

The first is from page 33:
A meek tapping at the door to the outer office caught his attention. His secretary did not wait for an answer, but opened the door a crack and announced timidly, "The maintenance man is here?" She was a strkingly lovely redhead, a stunning decoration for the office, but she made every sentence into a question, as though begging permission to exist. "To see about the leak"?

Dan nodded. "About time. Send him right in. I was just leaving anyway."

"The Hernandez reception?" the secretary said. "It starts at five?"

"I know. The phone just reminded me."

A potbellied, swarthy Venezuelan in grease-staned green coveralls frowned his way past the secretary. He waddled across the carpeting and went straight to the window, gazed down at the growing puddle, then looked up at the top of the window. He heaved a great wheezing, grunting sigh.

"I'm leaving," Dan said to his secretary. He patted her rump as he went by her, and she smiled compliantly.

"You're going to dress for the party?" she asked.

"Right." Dan glanced at his wristwatch. More than enough time. "Want to help me?"

She shrugged deliciously and wrinkled her nose for him. Without waiting to see if she were following, Dan headed for the private elevator that went down to his apartment, thinking happily of what the Russian's face would look like if he knew that Astro Manufacturing had just taken the first step toward tapping the mineral resources of the asteroids, resources that were thousands of times richer than the ores the Russians could scrape from the powdery surface of the Moon.

The secretary scampered after him and made it into the elevator just before the doors slid shut. She smiled sweetly for Dan. He wished he could remember her name. She had just started working for him a week ago. And she would be gone before long, he knew. Just like all the others.
The second example is from page 62:
"But how much profit do you make?" Malik [the Russian] asked, his smile looking slightly sardonic now.

"As much as the [Venezuelan] government allows."

"And how much is that?"

"Ask Senor Hernandez. He has the figures."

Malik would not be deterred. "Enough to feed the poor people living in those miserable hovels outside the city? Would you say that your profits could help to feed the poor, rather than making a very rich man even richer?"

"The operation makes jobs for thousands..."

"Of engineers and tax accountants."

"And butchers, bakers, telescope makers" -Dan found himself enjoying the challenge of argument- "cooks, babysitters, auto mechanics, salespeople of all kinds, gardeners, truck drivers -you name it. We bring money into this country, and every bolivar that space operations produces gets spent eight or ten times over, within the country's internal economy. That's a considerable multiplier, and it's fed more Venzuelans than all the damned welfare programs the government's ever funded!"

Malik laughed derisively. "And yet there are still many hungry people, while you live in luxery."

Dan started to reply, but held himself in check for a moment. He saw something in Malik's eyes, something crafty and dangerous. The other Russians were watching the two of them; even those who claimed they could not understand English could see the sparks that the two men struck off each other.

"You really want to feed those hungry people? Dan asked cooly.

"Yes, certainly."

"Then lower the prices you charge us and the other Third World space operations."

That caught Malik by surprise. "Lower the prices for the ores we mine from the Moon?"

"Right," Dan said with a grin. "All the Third World space manufacturers -even the Japanese- have to buy their raw materials from the Soviet Union. You control the lunar mines and you set the prices for the ores."

Malik nodded. The smile was gone from his face, replaced by a skeptical, almost worried expression.

"Lower the prices for our raw materials, and we can lower the prices for the finished manufactured products. That means we'll be able to sell more of our products. Which means we can increase production. Increased production means more jobs. So if you really want to feed those hungry squatters..."

"No, no, no!" Malik waggled a finger in Dan's face. "You would not hire those unskilled men and women to be astronauts or engineers."

"Maybe not. But we'd hire some of them to drive trucks and do maintenance work. Others would get all sorts of jobs in the city, working in restaurants, driving taxicabs, all sorts of things. And we could help to build schools for their children, so that they could become astronauts and engineers."

"Capitalist propaganda." Malik smirked.

Dan laughed. "Propaganda or not, friend, that system has produced more wealth for more people than all the Socialist planning in the world."

The Russian shook his head.

"Try it! Dan urged. "Try it for one year. Just twelve months. Lower the prices you make us pay for the lunar ores, and I guarantee you that those shacks on the hills will start to disappear."

"No," Malik said. "That is not the way to end poverty."
Page after page, chapter after chapter, without relief. I have another book of his in my TBR pile, so I hope it's better.

from the back of the book:
America Has Ceded The Heavens To The Tyrants - And The Renegades.

The U.S. has abandoned its quest for the stars, and an old enemy has moved in to fill the void. The potential wealth of the universe is now in malevolent hands. Rebel billionaire Dan Randolph -possessor of the largest privately owned company in space- intends to weaken the stranglehold the new despotic masters of the solar system have on the lucrative ore industry. But when the mineral-rich asteroid he sets in orbit around the Earth is commandeered by the enemy, and his unarmed workers are slaughtered in cold blood, the course of Randolph's life is changed forever. Now cataclysm is aimed at the exposed heart of America -a potential catastrophe that Randolph himself inadvertently set in motion. And the maverick entrepreneur must use his skills, cunning, and vast resources to strike out at his foes hard, fast and with ruthless precision - and wear proudly the mantle that fate thrust upon him: space pirate!
Kirkus Reviews calls it "One of Bova's best, then, and the fans by now will be familiar with his Cold War posture and anti-Russian rhetoric." SF Reviews says, "It's awful. There's exciting stuff happening - there's nothing particularly wrong with the plot (except its predictability) but the dismal writing steam-rollers along burying all characterization and subtlety."

The picture at the top of the post is from, where you can read more reviews.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Public Art Flamingo-Style

I saw this on the side of a building in mid-town.

Massacre Time

Massacre Time is a 1966 Spaghetti Western directed by Lucio Fulci, who is better known for his horror films. It stars Franco Nero, who played the lead in the 1966 Django and in Keoma and was a bad guy in Die Hard 2. In this film he is a prospector coming home to find his brother's land, along with the rest of his hometown, taken over by a family of bad guys. I like spaghetti westerns. The music is nice, with a theme song that actually leads nicely into the plot. I'm proud to say I guessed the plot twist fairly early. This is hard to watch in places even considering how used to violence in film I am, but it's interesting to see these people at a crucial point in their careers.

via youtube dubbed in English (I'd much rather have the original voices and subtitles):

The Spinning Image says this
revenge-based scenario unfolds in nebulous fashion but packs a pretty potent, game-changing twist. Though slow in spots, the film remains compelling and erupts in fits of memorably frenzied action in the third act while Fulci proves he could tell a coherent story when the mood took him and does well by the affecting family drama. says, "the film is beautifully shot and Fulci's framings are often remarkable, making Massacre Time one of the best-looking films in the genre" and makes note of some controversy over the violence:
Today the violence of Massacre Time is no longer an issue, but at the time of its release, it certainly was. The Italian censors ordered Fulci to make cuts in both the opening sequence (a man devoured by dogs) and the bullwhip sequence, and to remove a close-up of the two murdered Carradine girls.
Fistful of Pasta concludes, "With crisp directing, considerable star power, and ample amounts of good action, I would recommend it to both Fulci and Spaghetti Western fans alike."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Key Largo

Key Largo is a 1948 John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role). Jay Silverheels is also here. The Younger Son put this DVD in, taking a study break, and I watched it with him. This is a good one.


TCM has an overview. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 96%.

Coffee with Peet

This cup is one of my favorites. It's a thick china that holds the heat well. "Wallace China, Los Angeles, Calif., Made in U.S.A." is printed on the bottom. I've never seen another cup like it but would love more of this style. This pattern is called "Shadowleaf (Bananaleaves)". The company is no longer in business, and a casual search online didn't yield much information about its history. There are some pieces at Ebay, but I won't use Paypal. *sigh* I do keep an eye out at the antique malls.

The coffee is Peet's Italian Roast, and we love it. I bought it already ground, and the grind is really too fine for the percolator. A coarser grind wouldn't let any loose grounds get into the pot. It hasn't been a problem, but I'll check into a choice of coarseness next time. It's full-bodied and strong but not bitter. One of our favorites. We recently discovered it at Fresh Market at Eastgate shopping center after having it recommended by Darla. I don't see it anywhere else.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Django at the Brooks

I've seen films at the Brooks Museum's movie theater before. They have a very nice facility and show some interesting films. Most recently I saw Django, a 1966 Spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero (Keoma, Massacre Time) and directed by Sergio Corbucci. There was one official sequel with the same star. Nero has a cameo in the recently released movie Django Unchained.

I thought I had already seen this movie, but somehow I'd managed to miss it. I'm not sure how... probably because I thought I'd already seen it. I'm predisposed to like this since it's a spaghetti western; but I think I'd have enjoyed it anyway, because it is a fun film and good at what it does. It's quite violent, though, and the death toll is high.

The music is by Luis Bacalov, who did Il Postino, Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 2 of the songs in Kill Bill , A Bullet for the General and others. He's still alive and writing. I found some of the music in Django to be reminiscent of West Side Story's America.


Slant Magazine gives it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and closes with this: "Corbucci's film is notable not only for the artistry of its construction, but also for the underlying anger that fuels its political agenda." says, "Sergio Corbucci crafted one of the most popular and widely imitated of the Italian "spaghetti westerns" of the 1960s with this violent but stylish action saga." The Examiner calls it "a helluva of a spectacle". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 92%.


Matango is a 1963 Toho film directed by Ishirō Honda. It's also known as Matango, Fungus of Terror and Attack of the Mushroom People. See what fungus run amok can do! It's an eerie, psychological piece right down my alley.

It reminds me of a horror story I read: The Voice in the Night, a 1907 story by William Hope Hodgson.

DVD Talk calls it "a minor classic -perhaps the most mature of Japanese monster movies," says, "Matango at first appears to be some kind of twisted morality tale. Some elements are like a ghost story -the ever-present fog, the empty ship with its rotted sails- but other trappings are definitely science-fiction" and concludes:
Production values are impressive. The large ship set is meticulously detailed and the early stages of fungus entirely convincing. The island settings are rich and atmospheric, adding greatly to the ultra-weird conclusion. ... Matango plays like a superior horror short story.
The Toho Kingdom review opens with this: "Matango is a simply wondrous film. Ishiro Honda made many fine and criminally underrated works in his long career as director at Toho, but Matango could honestly be his finest film of all" and concludes, "Overall, Matango is a triumph, far from a campy monster movie and a seminal work in Honda’s oeuvre." DVD Bearer opens by saying, "This is a much better film that you could imagine." Stomp Tokyo says, "if you've got any interest in Japanese fantasy films it's a must have."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Robins' Nest

I've been keeping my eye on this nest. It was already built with sweet little blue eggs in it when I first saw it. Then I saw Mrs. Robin bringing a worm to the babies. Then on another day, I saw both adults hovering protectively nearby. Although I didn't see the babies, I knew they must've been on the ground somewhere, learning to fly.

That was not the case.

On another day soon afterwards, I saw the nest, with no parents anywhere around, and the poor little birds dead in the nest. That was a sad, sad day. I can't imagine what happened.

Second Editions

There is a book store just off the lobby in the Memphis Library's main location. Its name is Second Editions, and it's a nice little spot to find good books at great prices.

The last time I went, I found these:
  • The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks;
  • Sister Age, by M.F.K. Fisher;
  • Felicia's Journey, by William Trevor; and
  • The Matisse Stories, by A.s. Byatt
in like-new condition for a total of $7.50 before tax. You can't go wrong there.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Wisdom of Ants

The Wisdom of Ants is a Ditmar Award-winning science fiction short story by Thoraiya Dyer. Her web site describes it as "sharks, creepy crawlies and betrayal".

You can read it online here. No wonder it's an award-winner! An enjoyable story for me.

Locus Magazine has a review that says, "A strong sense of ecology informs this piece, the interdependence of humans and their natural environment, and the perils of attempting to alter or ignore it." SF Revu says, "A well-realized world makes this a good story."

Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir based on the Mickey Spillane novel by the same name. Directed by Robert Aldrich, it stars Ralph Meeker (as Mike Hammer), Maxine Cooper (as Velda), Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Cloris Leachman (in her feature film debut), Jack Elam and Strother Martin. Leonard Mudie, who was in the original Star Trek pilot The Cage, has an uncredited role. Dated, but still enjoyable, it's a tense thriller that has held up despite its Cold War setting.

Slant Magazine gives it 4 out of 5 stars and calls it "a savage film noir masterpiece". DVD Talk calls it "a cultural hand grenade, circa 1955". Empire Online gives it 5 out of 5 stars and concludes with this "verdict": "Noir taken to its most nihilistic extreme, with an atomic menace that guarantees a memorably explosive climax." TimeOut says, "it now stands as a crucial influence on what would become the French new wave, an irresistibly seedy trip through the Los Angeles underworld, and a valuable artifact of Cold War anxiety." calls it "the definitive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, science-fiction film noir of all time". EW gives it a B+ and describes it as "strangely seductive". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 97%.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Craft Fair Pin

This glass pin was a gift from The Elder Son a couple of years ago. He bought it at the Pink Palace Craft Fair. It's made so that it can be worn as a pin or on a chain as a necklace. I leave it pinned to this jacket, which I wear a lot in the Spring. It brings back fond memories of years past, of fun at the craft fair.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a 1970 Czech film. A bizarre surrealist creation directed by Jaromil Jires, it mixes dream and real life, horror and fantasy, as it explores Valerie's coming of age. It's fun to watch, wandering with Valerie on this journey, or maybe remembering one's own journey as one sees hers.

via youtube:

Senses of Cinema sees a political subtext: "His film speaks not for one girl but for a whole country. A country that may one day, after much agony, learn to live with its own nightmares." TimeOut closes by saying, "the film's logic is that of the subconscious, its images those of the Gothic fairytale and the psychiatrist's couch, and its overall effect is stunning." Moria gives it 3 out of 5 stars and says, "There is no particular plot to the film – it is one of those art films where the shifting nature of the plot is an affect in itself." DVD Talk concludes:
Final Thoughts: Czech-surrealist, Alice-in-Wonderland, vampire erotica is one way to summarize Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Although it may hold little appeal for viewers not favorably predisposed toward the psychotronic, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a sweet treat for cult film fans.
Rotten Tomatoes has an audience score of 82%.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Botanic Garden Azaleas

I went by the Memphis Botanic Gardens recently to see the azaleas, and I took some pictures:

Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice is the 18th in the Inspector Alleyn mystery series by Ngaio Marsh. This one was first published in 1955 and appears to be out of print. I found it at a Goodwill store. The characters aren't deep, I didn't care much about any of them, and the solution doesn't come as a shock; but it's a good enough book and fun to read. Not everything needs to be a masterpiece.

from google books:
Swevenings village is pretty as a picture, but its secrets are ugly; and its gentry dread the publication of Sir Harold Lacklander's memoirs. When one of them is murdered, Inspector Roderick Alleyn's investigation takes him through petty vendettas, an ex-commander's blend of whiskey and archery, and cocktails on the lawn with a femme fatale. But the motive he's angling for lies even deeper than the trout stream beneath the rustic bridge...
Not surprisingly perhaps, reviews are few.