Saturday, January 01, 2011

Movies I saw in a theater (or cinema to my Brit friends) in 2010

Heh, I guess I didn't get to too many movies this past year. Aha, a resolution I can handle.

Best movie that I saw in 2010:
The Social Network

Just missed being the best:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

2010 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:

Red 3.0/4 (Sandie described it as a laugh-filled bulletfest, a description that I can’t top. Comedy/suspenser, with a killer cast. Willis, Mirren, Freeman, and Malkovich look like they are having a blast as a black ops team getting together for one last time, with a holds-her-own Mary Louise Parker in tow, albeit most reluctantly at first. Don’t look for anything deep and don’t probe too far into the plot but you will have fun nevertheless.)

The Social Network 4/4 (The presumably close to the truth story about the founder of Facebook and the people he walked over. It’s a tour de force of the creation and growing pains of a modern phenomenon. Jesse Eisenberg shines as the lucky to have a friend Mark Zuckerberg and the other actors all hit the right notes too. )

Despicable Me 3.0/4 (Rival wannabe super villains try to outdo each other. However, the latent humanity of one is drawn out ever so slowly by three irresistible little girls. Stays just on the good side of too cute; even a saccharine intolerant movie watching grump like me had my heart captured by the animated little ones.)

Cyrus 3.0/4 (Quirky dark comedy about a suicidal loser (John C. Reilly) who meets a gorgeous woman (the getting lovelier every year Marisa Tomei) who has to be too good to be true. Well, guess what, she is. Slowly the romance becomes ever more endangered by the man-boy child (Jonah Hill) of the woman and competition for her love escalates in very uncomfortable ways. A little contrived but pretty true to itself. Reilly and Hill bite into their roles and chew them up with great relish; Tomei’s character just doesn’t get developed as much as I wanted it to.)

The Micmacs 3.5/4 (A French black comedy about a man who suffers physical and emotional trauma, thanks to weapons produced by a pair of archrival munitions manufacturers. After falling in with fellow misfits, each of whom has one and only one singular talent, our hero plots his revenge. Unique in every way, clever, with great twists, this movie is sparse in (subtitled) dialog, which gives it a very silent movie sensibility.)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 4/4 (Slow-paced yet taut, violent but not prurient, sexual but not very sexy, this is a gripping and chilling Cold Case detective story. Set in Sweden, a soon-to-go-to-jail financial reporter is hired by the scion of a family industrial empire to find out which of the family killed his favorite niece 40-odd years ago. She so happened to have babysat the reporter right at the time of her disappearance. Meanwhile a Goth hacker has been tracking the reporter on-line for her shady company. The dragon-tattooed Goth has lots and lots of serious problems of her own. One day she makes the mistake of emailing him about a clue he's been puzzling over... and the plot takes off from there. A wonderfully different movie but definitely not for the faint of heart; some of the scenes are quite graphic.)

Avatar 3D 3/4 (Sandie and I moved from the 2% who hadn't to the 98% who had seen it. Stunning technical work; I slipped off the glasses and the movie lost a lot without the 3D. Pedestrian story with characters less developed than Star Wars. That I rate a movie with lousy plot and characters a 3 is testament to its technical greatness.)

Crazy Heart 3/4 (See review in main blog --

Books I read in 2010

Best book that I read in 2010:
April 1865:The Month That Saved America
Jay Winik

Best book that I read for the first time in 2010:
The Bridge on the Drina
Ivo Andric

Best book published in 2010 that I read:
Let Our Fame Be Great
Oliver Bullough

2010 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:
The Civil War of 1812 by Alan Taylor 3.0/4 (The author establishes the conceit that the War of 1812 was mostly a civil war, with switching loyalties, loose boundaries, tories and republicans on both sides of the border of the nascent U.S. and a rather fetal Canada. Taylor pulls off his premise with meticulous detail and concludes that this war actually established separate U.S. and Canadian identities. The book focuses on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence border fighting, a very confusing and mostly inept set piece of fighting. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a slow but enjoyable read.)

Let Our Fame Be Great by Oliver Bullough 3.5/4 (Ever hear of the Avars? Dargins? Circassians? If you have not been in a cave in the last 15 years you HAVE heard of Chechens. This is a sweeping tale of the last 200 years of the peoples who lived in the wilds of the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. By turns warm and brutal, the author chronicles the pain, suffering and horrors endured by these peoples, mostly thanks to the Russian “need” to control this sensitive area.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, Lovett F. Edwards (Translator) 4/4 (1961 Nobel Lit winner, a wondrously descriptive and masterful story in which a bridge is the hero, from its creation in the 16th century up into WWI. Various folk pass through the life of this bridge, be they Moslem or Christian, with a sprinkling of Jews and Gypsies – complicated by the mix of the various nationalities that make the Balkans such a confusing place for those of us who would like a more orderly distribution of peoples. The affairs of the world impact the bridge and locals, as they do their best to live their lives as they want, sheltered, mostly peaceful and resistant to change, within the strictures that the ever changing affairs of state impose. The only drawback is that it was a very slow read for me.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an America by Robin Kelley 3.5/4 (incomplete, I finished about ¾ of it) (At 500ish pages of story, it was a little bit more about TM that I needed, especially trying to read it during baseball season, when I am distracted most evenings. That said, an evocative look at a strange but not so strange musician. Monk followed his own muse and lived his life following that muse. Keeley had access to the all the family records and paints a lushly detailed account. To paraphrase one of the Amazon reviewers, you can smell the smoke in the jazz club and visualize the grand piano in Monk’s tiny bedroom. This would be for jazz fans mostly, although it might be of interest to Civil Rights Era aficionados.)

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer 3/4 (Subtitled "A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century", a clever exploration of life, death, health, economics, religion and more religion, cleanliness, fashion, indeed everything imaginable about life in England.)

The Vikings:A History by Robert Ferguson 3/4 (Somewhat tangled but always interesting and informative tale of the the raiders and conquerors from Scandanavia. These folks ruled Greenland, Iceland, varying bits of Great Britain and Normandy through the centuries and provided the original form of Russia.)

The American Civil War: A Military History by John Keegan 3.5/4 (The pre-eminent military historian turns his Anglo vision on America's great conflagration. Very probing look at the battles, politics and especially the psychology of both sides. A great book lessened slightly by poor editing. Really, Americans refer to conscription as "the drafts"?)

Keynes: The rise, fall and return of the 20th century's most influential economist by Peter Clarke 3/4 (A nice melange of the theory and practice of Keynesian economics interwoven with a sense of the man himself. Just as the Thatcher/Reagan nexus rebelled against Keynesians, post-Keynesians are rebelling in a way against ThatcherReagans. Interesting personal tidbit, did you know that Keynes was a very close friend of Virgina Wolff?)

Once More Around the Park by Roger Angell 3/4 (Another book that I picked up from the library that I had read before but didn't realize until I was part way into it. What's silly is that I already owned the book and it was sitting about 10 feet away from me on a shelf in our family room. The book is a series of ruminations by the noted author on a variety of baseball topics, such as catchers, Bob Gibson, the '79 Pirates and others. My favorite story was about Ron, hanging on in indy ball at 30 years old and Linda, who is fine with Ron hanging on to just play ball for another year or two. The only thing that I didn't like about this book is that Angell is often too writerly, his analogies and fancy words distracted me from the flow of the story. This book is about baseball, not poets or statesmen.)

Lost Highway by Peter Guralnick 3.5/4 (Late '70s set of stories about country, rockabilly and blues musicians, lovingly told without ignoring the warts. Well-written, with the story lines being propelled using both interviews and just plain hanging on tour. Sections include Honky Tonk Heroes, Hillbilly Boogie, Honky Tonk Masquerade (think 70's Outlaws) and the Blues Roll On.)

April 1865:The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik 4/4 (This was a reread for me -- a stunning book, with a strong premise meticulously realized while vividly written. See full review in main blog --

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crazy Heart

I try to write my mini-review for the side panel within a day or two of seeing a movie on the big screen or finishing a book. So what has kept me from writing about Crazy Heart, which I saw more than 2 weeks ago? I had such great expectations, especially for the performance of Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake. While I surely enjoyed the movie, thought that it held together at the end in an honest way and rooted for Bad to conquer his demons, I was mildly disappointed overall. Still, it just eeks out a 3/4.

Let me list the things about the movie that I didn't like.
1. The character of Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) falling for Bad. There's 28 years difference in real life and the same for the characters in the movie. So a good-looking, if lonely 30ish woman is going to fall for a totally dissolute 57 year old, which is the given age of Bad in the movie? Only in a 57 year old man's fantasy. The character of Jean would have worked much better if she were considerably older; say an attractive grandmom who has care of a grandchild. Grandmom could have built up considerable gravitas through life's misfortunes to match that of Bad's mostly self-inflicted misfortunes. A character who has gone through say divorce and a widowing, daughter in jail/on the streets, scraping out a living; what a rich character that could have been.
2. Bad goes to one AA meeting and seemingly gets the cure.
3. For a woman with a part-time job on a minor newspaper, Jean lives in this nice house on several wooded acres -- far too nice for someone in her place in life. She seemingly can travel on whim as though she has money to spare.
4. Bridges' performance as Bad seemed like an easy role; maybe playing dissolute is harder than I think.

Now there were things to like about the movie:
1. The acting was generally solid overall.
2. The music was a very nice fit to the storyline.
3. I thought that relationship and interplay between Bad and Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) worked very well.
4. Even though the character of Wayne wasn't well developed (nor did it need to be), I love Robert Duvall as a crusty old guy, so it's always a treat to see him.
5. I loved the seediness of the joints where Bad played, especially the bowling alley. That framed the "how far he has fallen" setup nicely.

Okay, I feel better for having written this up. I will not be surprised if upon re-viewing the movie my review might improve. Some day I'll watch it on TV and see if my feeling about it changes or not.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

April 1865:The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik

I remember reading the review for "April 1865:The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik when it first came out in 2001 and wanting to read the book. When I spied it on the library shelf three weeks ago, I couldn't remember whether I had read it before or not. Not remembering if I had read it is not quite as damning as it might sound since I typically read 2-3 books a year about the Civil War or its dramatis personae. As it turns out, I had read it before but that's okay -- it is a stunning book, with a strong premise meticulously realized while vividly written.

The premise is almost simple on the surface; wise decisions by 5 major players and several smaller ones set the United States on a path that allowed it stay together despite the trauma and errors of Reconstruction and its Jim Crow aftermath. These decisions laid the groundwork for the U. S. to slowly move towards its potential as the great beacon of freedom. Had some or all of the decisions not been made, the United States, if it existed at all, would be very different than it is today.

Winik does a masterful job of propelling the story linearly while delving liberally into the background of the South and the North as well as the major characters. The reader learns that the United States was hardly a country in some ways, such that when people formally talked about their country they used the plural form, "these" United States. People thought of themselves as citizens of their states first, country second, if they even indeed ever thought of the latter. This feeling was especially prevalent in the South, where the great John C. Calhoun had been a South Carolinian, thank you and South Carolina should be able to nullify any federal law if it so chose and could secede whenever it wanted. Robert E. Lee was a Virginian, so much so that even though he was against secession, he turned down the Union command 5 days before accepting the command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Even the New England states flirted with secession during the War of 1812.

Naturally the author delves into the raison d'ĂȘtre of the war, slavery, which was the major failure1 of our otherwise farseeing Founding Fathers. Wise as they were, they had no solution for the great question of slavery. They left that for another "day", which came approximately "four score and seven years ago" later.

The great players as seen by the author are first and foremost, Abraham Lincoln, whose unerring belief in the Union and the need to preserve and restore it, was the foundation upon which he based all his actions, including the slow pace which he took to end slavery. His belief in a peaceful peace, without retribution, without vengeance, without labeling even Confederate President Jefferson Davis a traitor, set in motion a quick joining of North and South, that while tenuous, was cemented enough to hold once the real problems of the post-war set in. Lincoln was careful to instill this spirit in his 2 mighty warriors, Grant and Sherman. And as brutal as they were in war, no matter how Hun-like as they were viewed by Southerners, neither wanted any more carnage. Their treatment of their vanquished foes set the tone of a peaceful surrender and feelings of mutual good will between the fighters on both sides.

Jefferson Davis is not one of the great five. Davis was also a complex man and was the one man who came the closest to causing the war to drag on for years after it did. Davis only gave up after his armies had all done so, spending the month after Lee's surrender as a president on the run. He commanded Lee and General Joseph Johnston, head of the Confederate Army of the East, to take to the hills and fight a guerilla war. Lee disobeyed first, primarily driven by starvation (his men were already dying and his last ditch effort to get supplies was botched) but also understanding that enough was enough. If he continued fighting, Lee could only see deprivation for little real gain. He no longer had the heart to ask his men to do any more. It was time to return to family.

Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox was hardly the end of the war. Joseph Johnston still commanded the Army of the East and was ordered by Davis to head west and take to the hills. He decided to meet with his opposite, Sherman, and when given the most generous terms, decided to surrender. It took a number of days, mainly due to some modifications required by the Union Senate and during the second subsequent meeting, Johnston agreed to the still generous Sherman terms. Johnston saw the same issues as Lee, minus the starvation in Johnston's case, but since Lee had laid down his sword, Johnston could take comfort from emulating the lead of the great hero of the South.

Several other characters had somewhat more minor roles but played against form for a brief moment helping the return to union. The dreaded guerilla Nathaniel Bedford Forrest also capitulated to generous terms; his army could have survived indefinitely in the hills or in Texas. Those terms however did not mellow Forrest, and while he abided by the surrender, he reached even greater infamy by starting the Ku Klux Klan. And the new President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, had his one brief shining moment when he stood up to Congress, which wanted to impose onerous penalties on the South.

The final chapter, Reconciliation, discusses the immediate aftermath of the war. Stunningly, with all the hatred burning red hot, people North and South begin to use the word "nation" as though they were lurched into a new world where country trumped state. "The" United States replaced "these" United States in everyday usage. Touchingly, the last few paragraphs of that chapter tell the tale of a first stirring of the possibility of a southern white accepting a black person with a level of equality. "The black man slowly lowered his body, kneeling, while the rest of the congregation tensed in their pews" is the evocative introduction to a story that will move you. This vignette closes the narrative and only then, knowing that I had been so moved before, was I 100% confident that I had indeed read the book before.

The book closes with an Epilogue of two parts: rapid fire comments about the end-of-war status of the movers and shakers of the last third of 19th century America, followed by a "true" epilogue, a summation of the author's conclusions. While understanding where Carnegie, Rockefeller, Henry Ford, et al stood in April, 1865 is interesting, it doesn't add to the conclusion. That is my sole quibble with the book -- it has an extraneous interesting half chapter. Not too shabby.

While I would suggest a rudimentary knowledge of the American Civil War before tackling this book, if you know nothing about the war I think that Winik gives you enough background to allow you to enjoy the book and understand the author's intent.

P. S. For those of you who still subscribe to the Sunday paper, AND whose paper carries the Parade Magazine, AND the name "Winik" looks vaguely familiar, it's because the author's wife contributes to the magazine under her unique appelation, "Lyric Wallwork Winik".

1 I would also posit that a more clearly written 2nd amendment would have been helpful, but its legacy pales when compared to perpetuating, nay, encouraging slavery.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Movies I saw in theaters in 2009

Best movie that I saw in 2009:
The characters ring true in this warm-hearted look at young folks whose lives are not quite meeting their expectations.

2009 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:

Up in the Air 3/4
Interesting mix of comedy juxtaposed against a backdrop of a very depressing corporate downsizing environment. Clooney, with his Cary Grant ease, is fine as a man facing up to the emptiness of his life.

Sherlock Holmes 3/4
I was pleasantly surprised by this film's Holmes-iness, compared to the mayhem emphasized in the trailers. Downey works as a bi-polar Holmes, Law is terrific as a competent Watson, McAdams is a lovely femme fatale (or is she?); the rest of the cast works as well.

The 400 Blows 3.5/4
Truffaut's breakout film. Semi-autobiographical story of a troubled adolescent with uncaring parents and hateful teachers. First time in 30 years that I saw it, I was slightly less moved this time as it seemed a bit dated to me.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox 3/4
Fun, clever and quirky bit of animation. I'm not quite getting the 4 star love from the critics but a joy regardless.

Men Who Stare at Goats 2.5/4
Amusing, wacky with a couple of LOL moments but ultimately a mildly unsatisfying redemption movie.

Moon 3.5/4
Unusual and unsettling sci-fi about a man working alone on the moon. Is he really alone and how much of his existence is real?

A Day at the Races 3.0/4
Top of the second tier of the Marx Bros. movies, good anarchy but a very dated extended song and dance number that is very racist by today's standards.

Girls Town 1.5/4
But 4/4 for sheer fun 1959 style. Wanna see Paul Anka punch out Mel Torme? Elinor Donahue as Mamie Van Doren's sister?

Star Trek 3/4
A few too many impossible mini-cliff hangers -- like most current adventure movies -- but well presented with nice tie-ins to the original TV series.

Sugar 3.5/4
One of the best movies ever dealing with a baseball theme. Ultimately it's the story of a stranger in a strange land finding a second home.

Adventureland 4/4
The characters ring true in this warm-hearted look at young folks whose lives are not quite meeting their expectations.

Sunshine Cleaning 3/4
No capsule.

Frost/Nixon 3/4
No capsule.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 3/4
No capsule.

Milk 3.5/4 (Can you say Best Actor Oscar?)
No capsule.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Books I read in 2009

Best book that I read in 2009:
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963
Taylor Branch

Narrowly beating out:
Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States 4/4
Kenneth T. Jackson

Best book published in 2009 that I read:
Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People
William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

2009 Reviews, in reverse chronological order:

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's most Notorious Minister 3/4
Robert Hutchinson
Straightforward biography of the brutal Henry VIII's also brutal but loyal minister. Cromwell and Henry would not have had too many difficulties governing in the Stalinist Soviet Union.

Juliet, Naked 3/4
Nick Hornby
Cusp-of-40 women faces her life -- 15 year live-in arrangement with music obsessive man. Woman gets into email exchange with singer/songwriter object of obsession. All 3 face truths about themselves. Very easy and fun read in spite of somewhat depressing characters.

Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes 3.5/4
Alan Hirshfeld
Both a biography of the lightly documented Archimedes and a detective story of a first copy of some of his writings that have been uncovered only in the last 100 years. Told somewhat non-linearly, with occasional snappy phrases. And lots of cool Greek words like palimpsest and Euchologion; mini-histories of writing media such as papyrus, parchment and paper. Like Sesame Street, you'll learn in spite of the fun.

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War 3.5/4
Nicholas Thompson
Nitze's grandson writes a compelling dual biography of friends and politcal opposites. Somewhat "Bomb"-centric perhaps, but a well researched and enlightening story.

Lonesome Dove 3.5/4
Larry McMurtry
It's been sitting on our shelf for at least 15 years unread by me, after several partial viewings of the mini-series, I decided to finally dive in. Lusty (in many ways), moving, epochal and a just plain good read. As soon as I was finished, I started plotting how I would handle the characters in a sequel.

Lost to the West 3/4
Lars Brownworth
Covering a millenium in less than 400 pages necessitates leaving out some details, as the author steps through the uh, byzantine paths of the emperors, usurpers, regents, evil brothers that somehow held the Eastern Roman Empire together, preserving the Greek and Roman culture until the West was civilized enough to take over stewardship of these ancient cultures.

The Silence and the Scorpion 3.5/4
Brian A. Nelson
Well structured and even-handed look at the coup vs. Chavez in 2002. Interleaving stories as told by dozens of participants is a very effective techique for telling the story.

Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies 3/4
Richard B. McKenzie
Interesting collection of "pricing puzzles", written for Economics "civilians", as Prof. Salvucci calls us. Topics such as the title, planned "After Christmas Sales", "Free" printers and why men will always earn more than women are posited, among others.

The Corporal Was A Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie 3/4
Ira Berkow
Inspiring story of a hard-throwing lefty, who after taking near fatal damage to his left leg in WWII, convinces the doctors not to amputate and becomes an all-star.

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It 3?/4
Joshua Cooper Ramo
Kissinger Associate Managing Director takes aim at the too single minded approach of US foreign policy and then kinda/sorta encourages us to virally do something. I may need to reread this and see what I missed about the call to action.

Tear Down This Myth 3.0/4
Will Bunch
A 2009 book that explores the Far Right's Myth Making machine about the Reagan legacy. While the Fox propagandists would howl over this book, the myth of the Warrior, NoTax 40th president is exploded. The author does give Reagan credit for his negotiations with Gorbachev and for being pragmatic and letting taxes rise 13 times after he got his original tax cut in 1981. A bit too repetitive at times.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 4.0/4
Taylor Branch
922 pages of densely packed narrative about the early days of what we call the Civil Rights era. It's a compelling story of bravery, fear, anger, politcal infighting and official cowardice, including the cowardice of the sainted Kennedys. Stunning book.

The Planets 3.0/4
Dava Sobel
Short, fun, quirky look at our solar system. The chapter on Mars is narrated by a Martian rock that was found in Anarctica!

Body Copy 2.5/4
Michael Craven
Pleasant enough mystery with some good plot twists and a plausible conclusion. The PI is stereotypical, however.

A Colossal HOAX: The Giant From Cardiff that Fooled America 3/4
Scott Tribble
Slightly long but enjoyable story of the Cardiff Giant, a hoax from 1869 that is symbolic of its times -- an America that was just starting to move to modernity.

Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People 4/4
William L. Iggiagruk Hensley
Fascinating autobiography of a man helping his fellow natives navigate the changes brought on by Alaskan statehood. He also has to navigate through his own life.

Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States 4/4
Kenneth T. Jackson
Well-researched and well-written analysis of why suburbanization, while not unique to the U.S., reached its most extreme levels in the U.S. The author shows how suburbanization goes back to the early 19th century and is just not a 1950s phenomenom.

Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation 3/4
Saree Makdisi
Somewhat repetitive look at the horror that is the day to day life of Palestinians. You should be moved.

The wink of the zenith : the shaping of a writer's life 3.5/4
Floyd Skloot
Fascinating memoir based on the fragmented memories of the author, who suffered viral brain damage but managed to look at these fragmented memories and gain understanding into what made him what he is today.

Twilight Teams 2.5/4
Jeffrey SJ Stuart
Good idea, tracking last year of baseball franchises prior to their moves but not terribly well written or edited.

Scorsese 4/4
Roger Ebert
Ebert's a terrific writer and Scorsese is our great living director. Great expectations; expectations realized.

House of Morgan Incomplete/4 (Probably a 3.0/4)
Ron Chernow
I was exhausted by the time I got to Jack Morgan's death -- well written enough but 700+ pages of banking, politics and the personalities of bankers. I ran out of gas on this one and didn't read the last 100 pages or so.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Movies I saw in theaters in 2008

I decided to move these off the sidebar to help clean things up a bit.

Slumdog Millionaire 3.5/4
Bollywood meets Regis (sort of)! A cleverly crafted boy meets girl story with the Bollywood touch.

Taxi Driver 4/4
Still holds up, even if I saw a crappy print. "You lookin' at me?"

The Big Lebowski 4/4
Crazed fun. The 2 Busby Berkeley dream sequences just knocked me out, dude.

Vicki Christina Barcelona 3/4
Beautiful people, well-crafted, but I don't buy that artists are so special that they should live by different rules

Lawrence of Arabia 4/4
The first half is the best first half of any movie; the post-intermission part is merely great

Encounters at the End of the World 3.5/4
Werner Herzog visits McMurdo Bay, Antarctica -- what more do you need?

Mongol 3.5/4
Another stunner, about the rise of Genghis Khan. Not a life for the faint hearted, that's for sure

The Fall 3.5/4
Visually stunning, trippy period piece about a suicidal actor at the end of the silent movie era

The Visitor 3.5/4
College prof disengaged from life finds squatters in his in-town apartment; they slowly warm to each other. Very warm.

Iron Man 3/4
Well done superhero stuff

Young@Heart 4/4
See my separate post

The Band's Visit 3/4
Egyptian police band gets off at wrong stop in Israel; warm-hearted look at the universality of people being people

In Bruges 4/4
Honor code amongst hit men extraordinarily well done and acted. True to itself through and through. I came away learning that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who think Bruges is a fockin' fairyland and those for whom hell is fockin' Bruges. Uh, don't bring the kiddies.

Persepolis 4/4
Wonderful, wonderful animated film about a young lady's life during and after the Iranian revolution of the 70s and her eventual escape to study in France.

There Will Be Blood 4/4
Strong, violent study of an oilman's rise to wealth and how his unchecked ambition builds an empire and destroys his soul.

Books read in 2008

I figure that moving the books I read less recently off the sidebar would improve the look of the blog.

President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman 4/4
William Lee Miller
Fascinating look at the moral underpinnings of Lincoln's decisions

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York 3.5/4.0
Robert A. Caro
Prepare for a long hard but worthwhile read

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg 3/4
Nicholas Dawidoff

Winning the Peace, the Marshall Plan & America's Coming of Age as a Superpower 2/4
Nicolaus Mills

Taking on the Trust, The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller 3/4
Steve Weinberg

The Jedburghs 2.5/4
Lt. Col. Will Irwin (Ret.)
Higher if you are a big WWII buff

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information 4/4
Edward Tufte

Now, Discover Your Strengths 3/4

Baseball Prospectus 2008 3.5/4
Hate the font

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 3/4

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Could Fr. Senye Really Have Said Something Funny?

Fr. Senye was the intimidating Headmaster at Devon Prep in the late 1960s. With his pitch-perfect Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula Hungarian Accent™, his most formidable proboscis, and his hawk-like stare, a fired up Fr. Senye was a indomitable opponent to any student who rebelled against the 19th century mindset of the Piarist Fathers.

One day in my sophomore or junior year, I stayed after school to hang around and watch the school team play basketball in the evening. A number of other guys were doing the same thing. Some of us decided that we needed to play some poker, as we missed the afternoon version of our rolling poker game that took place daily on our school bus rides. We went to the back of the gym, in one of the side rooms alongside the stage. It was a pretty out of the way place.

After a few hands we drew quite a crowd of observers. One game, Jacks or Better, went on for a number of deals. Finally, we were down to two players, Billy Wilson and me, and a monstrous 7 bucks in the pot. Sitting with my back to the door, suddenly the atmosphere in the little room changed, as a voice rang out, "Waaal, I see we have a DO-nay-tion for the MEEE-tions". Of course I almost jumped out of my skin, but had the sense to gather in my money as Fr. Senye grabbed the pot for his favorite mission. We got a tongue-lashing up in the Headmasters office in which we were informed that our parents would get a letter. For me, all I got was a second tongue-lashing from my Dad for being stupid enough to get caught.

Years later when remembering the incident, it dawned on me just how funny the line was that the good Father laid on us.