Ten Little Indians
One film that really left an impression on me as a kid was Ten Little Indians, exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers' first remake of the 1945 movie classic And Then There Were None. In a remote castle somewhere in the Alps, ten strangers, each with something to hide, discover they're to be killed by the unseen "U.N. Owen". How will they get out? A great (mostly Eurocentric) one-of-a-kind cast that includes Hugh O'Brien, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Daliah Lavi, Dennis Price and Fabian (!), plus the voice of Christopher Lee, moody black and white lighting and a unexpected (for ten-year-old me, anyway) climax make this remake stand out. (I went and took the Agatha Christie book this film was based on out of the library after first seeing it!) The "whodunit" break (in which, during the climax, a narrator asks the audience to consider the clues racked up and guess who the murderer is) which was in the version I saw, is included on the DVD as an extra, but otherwise this film is worth your attention. (Producer Towers would again remake the film, less successfully, in 1974 and 1989, respectively.)
January 2008 Archives
Ten Little Indians
La Vie en Rose
La Vie en Rose is a terrifically moving and powerful movie largely fueled by the dynamic performance of Marion Cotillard as the enchanting, yet troubled, French singing sensation Edith Piaf. Starting literally in the streets of Paris, Piaf rose to stardom and became a fabled chanteuse within France and then on many world stages. Cotillard, who recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in La Vie en Rose, particularly captures the pathos of Piaf's life after fame brings her to alcohol and drug dependence. Yet, when she sang her voice and songs mesmerized her audiences. With the Academy Award season here, this movie and Cotillard's performance should be among the nominations in the Oscar sweepstakes. For those interested in learning more about Piaf's life, The Greenwich Library has several books in its collection about this great entertainer. La Vie en Rose is strongly recommended as an outstanding movie.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Noted social realist director Kenneth Loach takes a break from the tenements and back streets and presents us with a much needed history lesson. Always in the corner of the underdog Loach tells the story of the 1920 I.R.A. uprising in Ireland. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty leave no doubt where their sympathies lie. The film portrays the Black and Tans (the British soldiers sent to put down the rebellion) as ferocious and brutal. But... while representing the struggle of the Irish insurgents it still manages to show their faults as well. Without too much hyperbole, the movie provides an understanding of how Ireland became independent in 1920-1921. The mostly unknown (in the U.S. anyway) cast gives one of the most truthful performances I have ever seen. At the core are two brothers, Teddy and Damien, who ultimately end up on two sides of the divide. Teddy is a leader in the fight to gain independence from England. Damian is a doctor who is soon to be off to London to work in a prestigious hospital. What these two experience in a short period of time is more harrowing than most of us (thankfully) deal with in a lifetime. The action on screen is, at times, hard to watch but most certainly not gratuitous. But what transpires onscreen is the antithesis of the Hollywood blockbuster. This is an artful and thoughtful film. Make sure you turn the subtitles on; the brogue can be a bit tough to follow. This film was deservedly the winner of the Palme D'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
The Fall of the House of Usher & The Pit and the Pendulum
Together on one double-sided disc, director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price's first two film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works are now available. House of Usher is a solid retelling of Poe's classic about the cursed Usher family. Pit is screenwriter Richard Matheson (author of the original 1954 I Am Legend novel; he also adapted the aforementioned Usher film)'s slightly more plot-heavy take on the Poe tale with more backstory for the characters and featuring a classically hammy (but not bad) performance by Price (in a dual role). With audio commentary tracks by Roger Corman himself (who reveals, among other things, that he managed to "sell" the Usher film to AIP Studios by insisting that it was a monster movie and that the "monster" was the house itself!) and two beautifully digitally restored prints, this double feature shouldn't be passed up!
Comicopera, Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt, formerly of the influential British art rock band The Soft Machine, has spent his career on the margins. While he has a devoted (if somewhat small) following, his music has been too esoteric to make much of a dent in the mainstream. His most recent record, Comicopera, which features such stellar friends as Brian Eno on keyboards and guitarists Paul Weller and Phil Manzanera, won't do much to change that. It is a strange, stylistically diverse and beautiful record. Wyatt sings in a gentle, melancholy voice. The music that begins Comicopera is, lush and warm, like his duet with Monica Vasconcelos on "Just as you are," or the stunning "Stay tuned" and the striking chamber pop of "You You." As the record progresses this beauty is met with discord and things get both lyrically and sonically darker. The final third of this record moves as far from that pop sound as possible, with two tracks in Spanish, another in Italian, and a solo improvisation from jazz vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. This is heady stuff that one needs to sit with for a while to fully appreciate. The great achievement of this record is that its complexity doesn't overwhelm its overarching beauty.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Original Soundtrack by Mogwai
Scottish "post-rock" quartet Mogwai may not be the most obvious choice when it comes to scoring a documentary about the renowned and controversial soccer star, Zinedine Zidane. But it makes perfect sense when considering that the film went well beyond the cliché of rehashing career highlights, opting instead to show an entire game from Zidane's perspective. No stranger to such arthouse film scoring, Mogwai make a conscientious effort to keep the bombastic quiet/loud dynamics they showcase on their studio albums in check. The bulk of Zidane is a hushed and somber affair, filled with minimal guitar and piano work that sets a slowly evolving mournful and reflective tone. Its cohesiveness is provided by a repeating keyboard/guitar motif that subtly alters from track to track, not unlike the soundtrack work of minimalist composer, Philip Glass. "Half Time" is particularly striking, solemn piano work laced with a brooding underbed of squalling feedback that never quite rises to the fore. The true highlight of the disc is the nearly half-hour dirge of a hidden track at the end of "Black Spider 2." This unnamed improvisation counters all that went before in a fury of low-end bass, droning feedback and broken amp hum. Though such cacophony will send many listeners rushing to stop the disc, it acts as a strong climax to the soundtrack's lulling tempo. As a whole, Zidane's extreme sparseness may turn many listeners off, but those willing to give into it's slowly weaving textures will find it incredibly rewarding.
by Natalie Babbitt
Beautifully written by Natalie Babbitt in the 1970's, this truly is a wondrous adventure classic. Set in the late 1800's, precocious ten-year-old Winnie Foster runs away in her family's wood and stumbles upon the Tuck family who may have truly been given eternal life after drinking from a magic spring eighty years earlier. The Tucks try to explain to Winnie just what eternal life means to each of them, and how it is a secret never to be revealed. But the secret may be public already, and Winnie will be faced with the choices of aiding the Tucks and joining them in their fate. Recommended for ages 9-12. Great for both parents and children to read and discuss.
The Book of Time,
by Guillame Prevost
For children looking for adventure, history, time travel "The Book of Time" is the first in a planned trilogy about 14 year old Sam who is living with his grandparents since his eccentric dad disappeared. Sam searches his father's antique bookstores for clues and stumbles upon an ancient statue that hurtles him back to the time of the Vikings. From there, Sam continues his search and finds statues and ancient coins that transport him to ancient Egypt, World War I France, the Middle Ages, all the while he tries to solve the mystery of these time traveling devices and just where in time his father is trapped. Clues lead Sam to believe his dad could be a prisoner of Vlad the Impaler. A fast moving story for those who are searching for adventure, history, and mystery. Good for grades 4-8th.
The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies,
by Bob McCabe
There are a number of Rough Guides to the movies. This one, devoted to comedy, features sections on a canon of fifty, comedy movie icons and comedy teamwork. The historical section in the beginning is divided into two: a short section on the period before the 30's and a longer one that takes comedy up to Sideways and Team America: World Politics (2004). The guides do not focus on the technical aspects of filmmaking, but instead on the acting, screenwriting and directing of comedy. The guides are a perfect balance of lists and text that make you want to rearrange your holds list or your Netflix queue. Best of all, you don't have to read from beginning to end but can dip in anywhere and you will find a film you want to see for the first or fiftieth time.
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself,
by Alan Alda
One of the best books I've read in a long time is Alan Alda's Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007). Best known as "Hawkeye" Pierce in the hit television series M*A*S*H, Alda has become a popular choice to speak at corporate, professional and academic events. In the process of writing speeches, he has been forced to analyze his philosophy on many subjects and on many levels. He admits that he is sometimes intimidated by his audience, and doesn't feel qualified to speak to the group; but he preservers and gets through it somehow. One of the best chapters titled "Love Your Art, Poor as It May Be" gives valuable insight into acting. He questions the meaning of "celebrity". The book also reveals some interesting anecdotes from his personal life. As you can imagine, Alan Alda is a very humorous, but sensitive, writer. It's a quick and easy read, and well worth your time.
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court,
by Jeffrey Toobin
Jeffrey Toobin's newest book, The Nine, has received great reviews and is included on, among other lists, The New York Times Best Books of 2007. After reading The Nine, it is easy to understand why Toobin has garnered such acclaim. With his background as legal correspondent for CNN, Toobin analyzes the Rehnquist and Roberts Supreme Court with a clarity that makes complicated legal issues and procedures very understandable. Toobin's interpretation of the Supreme Court justices' personalities and legal philosophies at times literally bounce off the pages and make for very compelling reading. Perhaps the best knowledge one can learn from this great book is the unique position of power the President of the United States has in shaping for years the actions of the Supreme Court through the appointments made to the Court. This is a highly recommended book, especially in the coming year when the election to the Presidency is being hotly contested.
Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and me,
by Pattie Boyd
Wonderful Tonight, by Pattie Boyd, is a fascinating look inside the music world during the rock and roll revolution in the 60's and 70's. Pattie, a former fashion model and photographer, recalls the incredible journey of her life. She spent her childhood in Kenya, and several life changing events due to her mother's marriages helped prepare Pattie for her life ahead. She met her first husband George Harrison on the set of "A Hard Day's Night", and was an important part of the Beatles family during their fantastic journey through music history. Pattie's life then changed dramatically, when she was seduced away from her first marriage by guitar genius Eric Clapton, but the turbulent life of jet-setting rock superstars don't always end happily ever-after. Drinking, drugs, and personal problems took their toll on several important people in Pattie's life. Through it all, Pattie became the inspiration for several hit songs, and finally was able to be at peace with decisions she made during her unbelievable life. A very interesting look at Rock and Roll from someone who was on the scene!
The House That George Built,
by Wilfrid Sheed
The charm of this definitive biography and assessment of the careers of the great American popular composers is the ability of the author to evoke the eras in which they worked. Berlin laid the foundation, Gershwin built on it, and we know the names of those who followed suit. Mr. Sheed defines his subject as jazz songs or songs that swing. He enjoys showing the history the American song shares with the growth of Hollywood and the tension as composers worked both there and in the more public New York. A most wonderful read.
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,
by Alex Ross
This book has showed up on a lot of peoples' top ten lists for 2007--perhaps because it treats the subject of the great composers of the 20th Century in a manner that reads like an engrossing work of fiction. Of necessity a survey, depth is sacrificed for breadth, and the dialectics of 100 years in the evolution of the classical music tradition are rendered in fairly broad strokes. Not surprisingly, the dominant theme is the factional strife between musicians who continued to embrace tonality and the advocates of atonality/serialism. However, Ross provides enough detail concerning the lives of those profiled (Shostakovich's harrowing treatment at the hands of Stalin's repressive regime, Sibelius's anguished dipsomaniacal personality, the mutual respect alloyed with competitiveness between Mahler and Strauss) to transcend any tendencies toward the drily musicological
Jimi Hendrix: An illustrated Experience,
by Janie Hendrix & John McDermott
I highly recommend Jimi Hendrix: An Illustrated Experience by Janie Hendrix - Jimi's sister - and John McDermott (2007). The text outlines his early life in Seattle, where he was born Johnny Allen Hendrix to James "Al" Hendrix and Lucille Jeter on November 27, 1942. While Al was in the service, Lucille ran wild. She was very young and immature. Eventually she turned her son over to a stranger, who wrote to Johnny's father explaining that she was looking after the young boy. When Al returned, he changed his son's name to James Marshall Hendrix, and eventually divorced Lucille. James and his father moved around from place to place in Seattle. Despite the family turmoil resulting from the divorce, James led a rather normal life playing youth football, joining the Cub Scouts and drawing. As he got older, he got interested in music. His father eventually bought him a second hand guitar. James never had lessons, but learned how to play listening to records and the radio. He dropped out of school when he was seventeen, and joined the U.S. Army Airborne, where he met Billy Cox. They formed a band called the "King Kasuals", one of many bands James would play for. After the service, he performed along the "chitlin circuit". At one point he mentions he lived in a cardboard box. He eventually moved to Harlem, where he was befriended by Fayne Pridgeon, who started networking for him. He ended up playing backup to Joey Dee and the Starlighters, Wilson Pickett as well as the Isley Brothers. Eventually he was discovered by Chas Chandler of The Animals, who became his manager and who recommended he change his name to Jimi. Jimi formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, after four years of unparalleled success, Jimi died on September 17, 1970 after drinking wine, ingesting sleeping pills and choking on his own vomit. There is no question Hendrix had a profound influence on rhythm and blues. The book contains various ephemera (letter, postcards, handbills, etc) as well as a 70-minute CD with music, interviews and studio jams. Despite the rather small print, it is still a great read for music history buffs.
King, Kaiser, Tsar : Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War,
by Catrine Clay
George V of England, Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia, royal cousins through their family relationships to Queen Victoria, are the focus of this ambitious and very well-written book by Catrine Clay. The author was allowed extensive use of unpublished letters and diaries in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to create this wonderfully researched group biography of these three men who led their countries, some on opposite sides, into the dreadful years of World War I. In parts, this reads like a grand family drama, especially before the death of Queen Victoria. She not only paid detailed attention to her large and powerful extended family, but was not afraid to voice her opinion as to how other rulers, especially Wilhelm II, should perform their royal duties and reign in their respective countries. At times, the reader is given first person narrative about royal marriages, fabulous parties, and the shifting political landscape in the last years of the Nineteenth Century as well as the early years of the succeeding century. While this book might be directed more towards those with a keen interest in this historical time period, a general reader can be easily swept up in this very readable, interesting and enjoyable book.
Crescent City Cooking: unforgettable recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans,
by Susan Spicer, with Paula Disbrowe
For some reason, Bayona's is either the first restaurant I go to upon arrival in NOLA or the last before I reluctantly get on the plane. In the first sentence of the book, the author and chef mentions the magic of walking down Rue Dauphine in 1979 past the restaurant housed in a 200 year old Creole cottage. Today, it is like being at the home of a special friend who by the way is a fantastic cook. In the book, there is enough personal text to make me feel as if I'm in New Orleans and a wonderful collection of recipes that actually makes me want to get into my own kitchen. I am so grateful that Katrina left Bayona with its magical blend of tradition and surprise. Try the recipes and then make a reservation.
The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbo
For avid mystery readers, it is always a true joy to find a new author who has created a great detective character as well as using a foreign setting to tell a wonderfully complex and compelling story. Jo Nesbo is such an author for he has created the Norwegian detective Henry Hole, who is based in Oslo. The bonus of this book is that the reader gets insight into the dark days of Norwegian history after that country was invaded by the Nazis during World War II. There were many Norwegians who enlisted in the German army and fought for their country's conquerors on the eastern front of the German campaign against Russia. While that is one line of The Redbreast, the other is concerned with a series of grisly killings that might be related to smoldering resentments of war veterans who did indeed serve on the eastern front and are considered traitors to Norway. Detective Hole becomes involved with members of the neo-Nazi movement and other finely-drawn characters as he chases leads in his quest to solve these killings. Nesbo won great acclaim in Norway for his first crime book and it is easy to see why as The Redbreast, his second book, is a terrific reading experience.
Down and Out in Paris and London,
by George Orwell
While this book is generally classified as a work of fiction, it strikes me more as a memoir or travel guide with a dash of fiction thrown in. In his '20's Orwell spent time in France, writing books and trying to get published. Shortly afterward, back in England, he spent time with "tramps" in order to witness how England treated it's less fortunate population. It's these experiences that mold Down and Out in Paris and London. In Paris, after extended spells of joblessness and poverty, he eventually finds work as a plongeur (a dishwasher and kitchen assistant) in a high-end hotel. Despite the insanely long hours (usually 15-17 hour workdays) and the hectic pace of the work he develops a respect and admiration for his co-workers. It was hard work but at least he wasn't idle. It is idleness he finds when he returns to England. While awaiting a new job to start, he's penniless and ends up filling in with a group of homeless men. What's striking is the complete lack of employment prospects available to these men. The absurdity of British law at the time, which didn't allow people to stay at the same "casual ward" (homeless shelter) for more than one night at a time, kept these men wandering the countryside in search of their next bed, did not allow them to follow though on any prospects or gain any sort of footing in the community. It was a dreadful existence which lacked the flair of Orwell's experiences in Paris. The details that Orwell puts forth about his Paris co-workers and his British cohorts; the humorous asides that he offers, are what makes this book so rewarding. Despite immersing himself in this morass, he manages to comment on it with wry detachment. This detachment may have something to do with the fact that, even though he was living and working among them, he was really not one of them. He had his education and talent to fall back upon when things got rough. But, despite that, Orwell never judges them. He merely observes, then reports back with great wit. He describes the fetid hotels and boardinghouses where he stays. The "bread and marg" diet that English tramps subsist upon. Orwell wrote with great economy and a lack of bombast. The natural way he could turn a phrase and his comfort with language is what makes him, for me, one my favorite writers.
by Alan Bennett
Reading and readers are dying; 70 years of tomes have been written about a familiar aging British monarch. Why does one want to read a novel about the late-life discovery of literature by Queen Elizabeth II? One does, as Her Majesty would say, if one loves to laugh. I read this book in a sitting--128 pages of completely satisfying wry British humor, passion and empathy. Bennett's descriptions of palace, protocol and duty, are perfect. The Queen journeys from absorption in her Corgis, perfect attire, and banal, scripted small talk to mechanical stick throwing, repeating an outfit two days in a row, and questioning her subjects and visiting dignitaries about their reading habits (her gifts of favorite books are promptly sold on Ebay by the recipients). She becomes so absorbed in a book in her lap, that we see her waving mechanically from her limo. The Queen rationalizes her delightful and voracious habit as duty and most folks probably think librarians can do the same. If only.......
by Grace Metalious
Fifty two years after it's initial publication, Peyton Place still rocks the world with it's alternatively adult and near-sordid depiction of the dark secrets underneath a fictional New England town in the 1930s, as seen through the eyes of the book's central character Allison MacKenzie. There's alcoholism, incest, murder, teen age sex, abortion, illegitimate births, rape and so much more going on that it's easy to forget Metalious has managed to put together a riveting narrative that holds the audience's attention, even when shifting from one group of characters (there's quite a large cast) and situations to another. Metalious' then groundbreaking frank description of adult situations caused a lot of outrage in it's day (critics especially hated it), yet today college English Lit professors assign the book to their students with no angry outcries resulting. And it's a fun read to boot!
Last Night at the Lobster,
by Stewart O'Nan
Connecticut resident Stewart O'Nan has been called "the bard of the working class" and his latest book, "Last Night at the Lobster" gives a detailed insight into the workings of a Red Lobster franchise and its beleaguered workers. Manny DeLeon is the manager of the Red Lobster in a New Britain shopping mall slated to be closed for less than stellar sales. Manny is attempting to serve one last dinner with a skeleton crew and an impending snow storm brewing outside. He is still conflicted about his pregnant girlfriend at home and the waitress at work with who he is in love. Manny is moving to an Olive Garden restaurant and taking a few workers with him, but this last night with the faithful dinner regulars and the stranded shoppers takes on an added poignancy. An uncertain future awaits Manny, but tonight his life is one final last hectic night at "the Lobster."
If Only It Were True,
by Marc Levy
Sometimes getting to a book is the reward at the end of a journey. Somehow, I went from the film The Nanny Diaries to Marc Levy's first novel by way of the film You Can Count On Me which led me to the film, Just Like Heaven, based on his best selling novel in France translated into English and set in San Francisco. It is intriguing to compare the novel with the screen play. While the tone and comic pacing is nearly identical, the details of the narrative are changed to satisfy the dictates of a visual story rather than a literary one. However, the characters are charming and lovable and make the spirit world seem positively plausible both on screen and in print. If I had a choice, I might start with the book.
by Jack Kerouac
Published shortly after the success of the author's groundbreaking classic On the Road, but written years earlier in Mexico (when Kerouac hung out -and got high- with William S. Burroughs), Doctor Sax is a touching account of one young boy's flight into fantasy and his subsequent path to adulthood. Young Jacky Duluoz (Kerouac's literary alter ego), a French Canadian boy growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts in the early 1930s, escapes from the pressures of family and school into a world where vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night converge and only the mysterious "Doctor Sax", a combination of the Shadow and the Wizard of Oz, can stop them. But the boy's growing perception of his actual surroundings may be young Jacky's real solution. Written in an even more audacious style than his other books (one section is detailed as stage directions for a play), Kerouac uses a variety of influences from his childhood (Walter B. Gibson's aforementioned pulp magazine character, "The Shadow"; L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books, the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft; radio thrillers and others) to craft a touching tale of a boy's leaving behind the things in his past to embrace approaching adulthood and maturity.
20th Century Ghosts,
by Joe Hill
I stumbled upon this book a few months back as I browsed new fiction-- I admit I was intrigued by its cover. This is a collection of outstanding short stories that range from fantasy- to moderately scary-to completely horrifying. I was compelled to read story after story and to find out more about the author. Very quickly I learned that Joe Hill won awards for "Heart Shaped Box" and that he is the son of Stephen King. "20th Century Ghosts" received the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the International Horror Guild Award for best collection, and the story that closes the book, "Voluntary Committal," won the 2006 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. Some of my favorites: "20th Century Ghosts" and its twilight zone feel set in an old movie theater; rooting for the kidnapped boy in "The Black Phone", the inevitable ending that you know will come "In the Rundown" and the standout "Better Than Home". Not a bad pick for judging a book by its cover.