Robot Stories is not a single film, but actually four short films by up and coming director Greg Pak (winner - Asian American International Film Festival, 2003: Emerging Director Award). This DVD really took me by surprise - I was expecting Science Fiction, and there is some of that, but it doesn't get bogged down in overly technical explanations of things. Taking place in a near-future world, each story features robots in some form or another, but what the films are really about is the very human emotion of love, and it's many manifestations. Whether it is love between a mother and child, two workers searching for a soul mate, or an artist and her art, these "Robot Stories" all speak to the very core of what makes us human - our emotional bonds with each other. If you want a break from the usual Hollywood fare, I highly recommend this film - It will certainly make you think, and might even make you cry.
March 2005 Archives
Labor issues are rarely a subject of motion pictures...and for very good reason. The workplace is rarely sexy and life in the factory doesn't offer many opportunities for a scriptwriter to weave a story. But the French director Laurent Cantent has made a film where the drama of human relationships manages to overcome the limitations of its settings.
Human Resources, shows the dehumanizing effect of mechanical labor on the relationship between a father and his son in rural France. Franck is a young intern who works for the same company in which his father has toiled for thirty years. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with his supervisors, Franck sets into motion a series of events that causes rifts in his family life as well as the livelihood of workers and their union.
Besides great acting, the movies' quality is abetted by being shot in a real factory, creating an authenticity furthered by its cast of actual factory employees. In tackling an issue that Hollywood has stayed miles away from, Cantet has made us aware of the daily drudgery of millions of people around the world for whom compromise and submission is a way of life.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
Quite possibly one of the finest stoner films I've ever seen. Our intrepid heroes, Harold and Kumar, are the Cheech and Chong of twenty-something, professional, second generation Americans, who remind us that you don't need to look like a hippie to get high. What starts out as a quest for late-night munchies, turns into something much more than that: the search for the American Dream. Their cannabis-fueled pursuit takes them all over New Jersey on their way to White Castle, a sort of hamburger Holy Grail which only reveals itself after the duo have evidenced sufficient personal growth and are ready to accept their reward. Despite its deeper messages, this movie will make you laugh so hard that bong water will squirt out of your nose.
by Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith didn't invent jazz organ but his name has become synonymous with it. This four disc set is a great place for those of you who haven't heard his organ playing to get caught up. Spanning 30 years of his music, it touches upon most of the highlights of his career, some of it funky, some of it sultry, but all of it worth hearing. Surrounded by musicians of staggering talent including Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine among others, these recordings spawned a whole legion of jazz organists and created a cult of Hammond B3 enthusiasts. Sadly, he died this past February at the age of 76.
by Bob Dylan
In 1978, at an emotional and artistic crossroad, Bob Dylan released his Street Legal album, which was attacked by critics for meandering lyrics and amazingly bad sound (the lp I owned sounded like it had been recorded during a rainstorm). The latter problem has been resolved via the SACD remixed edition, released a year and a half ago. Dylan's backing band and choral singers play as if their lives depended on it. No more muddy mixes here.
As for the so-called "meandering" lyrics, well, "Changing Of The Guards" & (especially) "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)", to name but two songs, ominously hint at both a coming Armageddon and the "born-again" path Dylan would take in his next album, the much more sanctimonious SLOW TRAIN COMING. It's hard not to be shaken (or shudder) with lyrics like "But Eden is burning/Either brace yourself for elimination/Or else your hearts must have the courage/For the changing of the guards". You want to think Dylan's just having a bad day, but maybe he also knows something we don't. Not easily accessible (or even comforting) at first listen (what Dylan album is?), but stick with it.
Five Guys Walk Into a Bar,
by The Faces
The Faces' long-overdue four-disc collection Five Guys Walk Into a Bar from Rhino is a terrific compilation of this unsung band's singles, b-sides, live takes and rehearsals spotlighting their feel for R 'n' B, Soul, power pop (their version of that tired warhorse "Maggie May" is particularly strong) and solid rock and roll! Led by vocalist Rod Stewart, the band included former Small Faces members Ronnie Lane (bass), Kenney Jones (drums) and Ian McLagen (keyboards), accompanied by future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on guitar, all tanked up by their love for the music (and the half-pint of ale or two). Featuring "Maybe I'm Amazed", "The Stealer", "Cindy, Incidentally" and of course their one US hit, "Stay With Me" - the ultimate "see ya later" song ("What was your name again?"). Sixty seven tracks and not a dog among them. So relive a time (1970-75, actually) when Rod Stewart actually was cool (and had cool material & bandmates to boot!). Includes a terrific booklet that chronicles the band's history and pays tribute to the late Ronnie Lane (d.1997).
The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life,
by Tom Reiss
This book was born of a magazine piece for the New Yorker. Reiss spent years trying to track down the mysterious author of the book Ali and Nino, a Muslim/Christian Romeo & Juliet type story from the 1920s. Claimants to the title included, amongst others, a German Baroness, but the real author was a Jewish born Baku native called Avram Nussimbaum... or Kurban Said ... or Essad Bey. Reiss follows his fascinating short life from its beginnings as the son of a rich Jewish oil baron and Russian revolutionary of noble lineage to its impoverished end in Italy at the age of 38. Reiss manages to bring early 20th century Europe to vivid life, from the Russian Revolution, through the rise of Nazism and World War II. He also offers a background on the rise of the Zionist movement, and the tradition of Jewish scholars in Muslim culture. There is so much detail in this book, that it is best savored in small bits. I learned more from this book about more things that I ever expected when I picked it up. It is definitely a worthwhile read.
Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven,
by Graham Lord
Highly, highly recommended for any fans of David Niven or of the golden age of Hollywood. Lord packs this book with many delightful and fun tales of Niven throughout his life as well the sadder aspects of his life. David Niven was a true member of the Hollywood elite in those years and a full picture of his adventures is given. An interesting aspect of his career is how much the studios did control the stars of that era. In all, a great and entertaining book.
Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big,
by Jose Canseco
This is Canseco's take on the use of steroids in the major leagues. Canseco admits to his taking of steroids and tells of other players who have used them. Canseco feels that if steroids are taken properly they can actually be a good thing for a person. Before reading this book I felt that Canseco had some other agenda in mind besides steroids and, in my opinion, his hidden agenda is racism in baseball against any player that is not white. Canseco spent a fair amount of time in pursuing this issue along with the issue of steroids.
This book is a very easy read, I finished it in one day of reading. I believe that you need to not have any preconceptions about the subject of steroid use in baseball and then make up your own mind after reading the book. I'm not really sure if Canseco proved that the players he named in his book used steroids but it does make you think it is possible that they did. I just don't know if there are enough facts to entirely back up his claims.
by Tony Hendra
Deeply felt and moving spiritual autobiography of a man who was a founding editor of "National Lampoon", this is also a love letter for a dearest friend, Father Joe, a Benedictine monk of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. As a teen-ager Tony was taken to Father Joe for spiritual counseling by the husband who discovered his wife trying to seduce Tony. Tony becomes totally absorbed by Father Joe and the Benedictine way of life and vows to become a monk. An unwanted scholarship to Cambridge University where, in his second year, Tony sees "Beyond the Fringe", derails his plans. He decides to save the world through laughter instead. Years later, after one failed and one failing marriage, a writing career where blasphemy has largely become the order of the day, Tony feels despair, that his life has no meaning, that he himself is incapable of love. He re-establishes his close connection with Father Joe who has kept in touch all these years. Gradually Tony regains his faith and his marriage is revitalized. After Father Joe's death from cancer in 1998, Tony sums up what Father meant to him, "He was the living breathing proof that love will teach you everything you really need to know..."' and "Father Joe was the human incarnation of Blake's vision: you can find eternity in a grain of sand."
The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,
by Kitty Kelly
Kelly herself did research for this book at Greenwich Library and she presents her version of the Bush family. The public seems to be either pro or con on this family and this book will probably not sway anyone into the opposite category. This reviewer found Kelly's recounting of Bush 41's term as vice president and president so interesting - how he got there and his years in office. The tensions between the Reagans and the Bushes was great according to Kelly and the reader is given her version of the dynamics between these two leaders. This is very interesting and she obviously did her research as the notes show at the end of the book. In all, this is a very interesting saga of an American family that, like the Adams family, has produced a father and son American president.
Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season,
by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan
The Rivals: The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees - An Inside History, by The New York Times and The Boston Globe
If you are a diehard Red Sox baseball fan, then Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season is a must read for you. Written by horror author Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan, this book not only recaps the amazing 2004 season, but also covers the history of the club "cursed" by the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1918 season. You should also look at The Rivals: The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees - An Inside History. A collaboration between reporters from The New York Times and The Boston Globe, this book analyzes the sport's greatest rivalry, and highlights such key events as the Williams-DiMaggio rivalry; Bucky Dent's homerun in 1978 and the Aaron Boone's homerun in 2003, which ended the Sox playoff hopes. This is a great way to prepare for the upcoming baseball season!
The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them,
by Amy Goodman
Written by the host of the popular morning radio talk show "Democracy Now", this book seeks to inform the electorate by shining some much needed light on the powerful. As a journalist in East Timor in the 1990s, Goodman was witness to one of the massacres perpetrated with US weapons by the occupying Indonesian military on the indigenous people that occurred on regular basis in that country but went largely unreported by any of the corporate media outlets in the US. She learned first hand the human toll that a media silenced by their own economic interests can impose. Always enlightening, never dull, The Exception to the Rulers is a must read for anyone concerned about the direction politics and media have turned in this country.
by Jane Brox
In America, individual dreams have origins in farming. Cultivators of earth, Jefferson said, are the most valuable citizens, vigorous, independent, virtuous. Jane Brox, child of an immigrant family farm, agrees. Clearing Land is a poetic memoir and early farming history. She notes the style clashes between the fenced-in Pilgrims and the open space Indians. And how those non-agrarian immigrants were taught survival by means of the corn crop. Brox writes also of sheep pastures in pre-whaling Nantucket, where she spent solitary years honing her fine writing skills. Expanding on her life on a New England coastal apple farm, she explores the growth of land use, notably granite mining as the textile trade grew, and the ensuing landscape changes. There's a bit of bittersweet in her state-of-the-farm analysis. For a small farm to survive today, she says it must also be an "agrotourist destination." Stirring and elucidating.
The Book on the Bookshelf,
by Henry Petroski
An engrossing history of how books have been stored and organized over the centuries, starting from the time of handmade, handwritten books which were stored in locked chests or chained to the shelves, and moving up to the engineering and design of modern libraries (private and public). A fascinating appendix discusses 21 different ways of organizing books in a collection. Any booklover will find much to appreciate in this work by a bibliophilic engineer, the author of a previous book on the history of the pencil.
102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers,
by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn
A riveting account by two New York Times reporters taken from interviews, transcripts & emails describing the situation inside the World Trade Center during the September 11 terrorist attacks. The authors really bring to life the confusion and fear present on that day, as well as the great acts of courage. I came away with deep admiration for the many civilians who put themselves in danger to save others, in addition to the firefighters and police. Perhaps most disheartening, though is the political infighting that contributed to many preventable deaths. After finishing it, I felt very similar to the way I felt on that day,in a daze from a mixture of awe and disbelief.
The Romanov Prophecy,
by Steve Berry
This is a must read for any fan of the collapse of the Romanov dynasty. The central issue is the restoration of the Romanov dynasty in present day Russia and who will be the tsar. This involves a search for the person who has the most direct physical link to Nicholas II. Berry obviously has done his research very well as the murders of Nicholas II and his family are recounted in detail. He keeps a great pace going while mixing "present day" Russia and the events relating to the end of the Romanov dynasty. This book is highly recommended for "what if" readers of history. Not only is it enjoyable for the general reader but especially for those who find the end of the Romanovs endlessly intriguing.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,
by Marjane Satrapi
With Seymour Hersh's recent uncovering of US plans for war with Iran still fresh in our minds, now seems like the perfect time to read this graphic novel. Drawn in stark black and white, and written with the simple, honest prose style of a child, Persepolis tells the story of the author's girlhood in Tehran. The only daughter of Communist intellectuals, Satrapi begins her tale at age nine, when all girls are forced to wear a veil to school by the religious fundamentalists who have taken over her government. Besides giving us a brief history of Iran, this book also puts a very human face on those who would surely be the first victims of any further aggression in that beleaguered nation - the children.
The Other Boleyn Girl,
by Philippa Gregory
This is a terrifically readable and endlessly fascinating epic read about Ann Boleyn's sister Mary. Through Mary's eyes the reader is propelled to Henry VIII's court and the intrigues and dramas in which Mary, Ann and their family played leading roles. And, what a family they were - conniving, ruthless, power-hungry and willing to do "whatever it took" to advance the Boleyn influence and power. Gregory creates the court of Henry VIII which is alive with hypnotic details about the customs, people, food, entertainments, politics and events of that time. At the center of the story is Mary Boleyn who is used by her family in an unending attempt to further the Boleyn name. This is a remarkably readable and wonderfully interesting book. The paperback edition is highly recommended as it includes a study guide and interview with Gregory in the end.
Orange Crushed, by Pamela Thomas-Graham
My new favorite mystery author is Pamela Thomas-Graham, who is the President of CNBC and a Harvard graduate which gives her Ivy League mysteries great insight. Her latest mystery in this series is Orange Crushed (A Darker Shade of Crimson and Blue Blood are the first two in this series) which follows our heroine, Nikki Chase, Harvard economics professor, to Princeton where she is to attend a conference, but winds up investigating the murder of her beloved old friend and mentor, Earl Stokes, preeminent urban economics professor who was rumored to be the choice for Harvard's new head of the Afro-American Studies Department. Professor Stokes was killed in a suspicious fire and Nikki works to navigate through the academic politics to not only find the killer, but also to absolve her brother Erik, a student at Harvard and one of the last people to see Earl alive. Professor Stokes was also getting ready to publish a tell-all book about the University so that adds a whole other list of possible suspects. Pamela Thomas-Graham is a great writer with sardonic wit and complex character development. I can't wait until the next Ivy League mystery and I hope she never runs out of Ivy League Universities.
Neanderthal Parallax, by Robert J. Sawyer
Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax trilogy has been much discussed recently by the library's SF Book Club members. Concentrating on an accidental "first contact" between our Earth and a parallel one where Neanderthals outlived humans and became more scientifically advanced and peaceful than us (little crime; no pollution or wars; social promotion of bisexuality). Of course cross-contamination of both worlds occurs, resulting in great drama and social commentary. While Sawyer sometimes seems a bit too laid back (and his depiction of his native country's government and people -they're so noble!- seems like it was written by the Canadian Tourist Board) and the various dramatic conflicts neatened up a bit too quickly, this is still thought-provoking reading. Check out (in order of sequence) Hominids, Humans and Hybrids.
by Ken Follet
Follet continues his string of World War II novels with Hornet Flight, a most enjoyable and very entertaining book. Setting this story in occupied Denmark gives the reader a locale not often written about and this makes the story all the more interesting. Follet does his usual thorough and engaging job of creating a segment of society within occupied Denmark. The story revolves around the attempt to deliver information about the German radar system in Denmark to the British to stop the Germans from shooting down British Air Force bombers before they can destroy their intended targets. The cast of characters is lively and likable and includes a young hero and his first love, resistance members, Danish collaborationists, British undercover agents and even Danish criminals. An added bonus to the story is how an aging Hornet aircraft becomes key to possibly getting this information to the British. Follet includes a note at the beginning that some of his story is based on actual events, which adds more interest to this wonderfully readable book.
by Charles Dickens
One of Dickens' greatest novels, and startlingly modern in its concerns: old family secrets; morality; interpersonal relationships; and social injustice. This is not a book lawyers will love: a central feature is the generations-old law case of "Jarndyce and Jarndyce", a nightmarish lawsuit which the legal system has kept going for decades after the original plaintiffs have died or tried to drop the case. We also see, of course, the Dickens wealth of vivid characters and lively scenes. If you've never read Dickens, this is a good choice to try.
A Bit on the Side,
by William Trevor
William Trevor's new collection of short stories, A Bit on the Side (the Irish expression for adultery) shows him at the top of his form. In this collection the characters are varied and distinct, they find their lives are changed by circumstances beyond their control and the results can be devastating or uplifting. The themes are universal but his distinct style and descriptions are such that the reader is transported and set down unmistakably in the Emerald Isle. The New Yorker, that powerhouse publisher of short stories states that "William Trevor is probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language".