10,000 Ways To Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, by Alex Cox
Cult film director Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy; Walker) originally wrote this collection of reviews of specific Italian-made ("spaghetti") westerns of the 60s & 70s thirty years ago. But, after much revision, Cox finally got the book published this year. And it was worth the wait. In this informative and very opinionated tome, Cox critically dissects over fifty films produced in the spaghetti western genre from 1963 to 1977, pointing out their virtues and flaws as well as historical backstories. (The films were produced to pick up the slack in the domestic and overseas film market left by the declining Hercules film series and other musclemen warrior flicks of the time.) Yes, the more well known Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood collaborations (Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) are covered, with Cox snidely noting that nothing Eastwood's done since those films has been as artistically rewarding. (Cox is not a Eastwood fan.) But Cox also gives critical overviews on many other obscure entries in the genre, including writer/director Sergio Corbucci's Django, Navajo Joe and the downbeat The Big Silence, as well as other directors' efforts like The Big Gundown, Django Kill, Death Rides A Horse, Sabata and They Call Me Trinity. (If I ever find a copy, based on Cox's review, I gotta watch Tepepa with Tomas Milian and Orson Welles!) Not all of these films get a thumbs-up however; Cox sarcastically rips the dialogue scenes in Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West ("Who wrote this rubbish?") and figuratively shakes his head at the attempts of adapting Shakespeare's plays within the spaghetti western genre (1968's Johnny Hamlet, with a tacked-on happy ending!). And the questions he raises about Lee Van Cleef's character in For A Few Dollars More (it's in that film's flashback sequences) have me looking at that movie in a much different light. Cox covers the exciting beginnings of these westerns, which allowed once-big American stars like Van Heflin, Van Johnson, Jack Palance and Gilbert Roland a chance to become leading men (or just gainfully employed) again for a brief period, as well as making international stars out of Eastwood, Bronson and Van Cleef, and how it boosted not just Italy's studios but the whole European film industry. The films also made international stars, thanks to multinational co-production deals, out of such diverse European-based actors as George Hilton, Klaus Kinski, the aformentioned Tomas Milian (who was actually a Cuban-American expatriate), and Franco Nero. Cox also painfully notes the artistic slide into inoffensive comedy westerns such as the Trinity films with clownish mugging actors like Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, and a brief flitation with kung fu (To Kill or Die, AKA The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe), resulting in the genre's eventual demise. Altogether, a great and often entertainingly nasty collection of essays, with a small but welcome eight page section of film stills.
November 2009 Archives
10,000 Ways To Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, by Alex Cox
Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks
Something Missing is a clever twist on the harmless second story man. Martin Railsback is an obsessive-compulsive underachiever who works the least number of hours as a barista to cover himself with health insurance. The rest of his time is spent stealing from his long-time "clients". These "clients" are unaware that Martin breaks into their homes and steals because he has an elaborate system of cataloging their possessions, learning their schedules and shopping habits. Most of Martin's thefts are from the pantry, extra boxes of rice, or desk supplies and toiletries, but occasionally he lifts something of value that according to his calculations won't be missed. He is able to support himself in this clandestine manner and everything works beautifully until a simple mishap forces him out of his comfort zone to correct his mistake. And when he fears one of his long time "clients" is in danger, he breaks every self-imposed rule to help someone he's never met but knows completely.
Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World, by Jean Sasson, Najwa bin Ladin, and Omar bin Laden
This riveting book exposes carefully guarded secrets and revelations about the world's most wanted terrorist of our time. Osama bin Laden's first wife Najwa married Osama at age 15, and was mother to 7 sons and 4 daughters. Her fourth son Omar details what it was like to be raised in al-Qaeda camps, and sent into the desert by his father with no food or water in order to toughen him up. Living without modern conveniences such as electricity or medicine, Osama hoped to prepare his sons as soldiers for Islamic jihad. The book also chronicles Osama as an elusive, yet powerful figure whose noble demeanor inspired fierce loyalty, but also as an absolute authoritarian when it came to his many wives and children.
Two Little Girls in Blue, by Mary Higgins Clark
This is a suspense thriller that is sure to strike fear in any parent's heart. Twin girls Kathy and Kelly Frawley are abducted from their Ridgefield, Connecticut bedroom. Ransom demands are made and conditions are met, but only one little girl is returned. The parents cannot accept the loss of their daughter, and cling to hope when Kelly makes claims that Kathy is still alive. Even seasoned investigators start to believe in the theory of twin telepathy when Kelly's claims are so specific. Several plot twists and turns keep the reader guessing until the very end!
I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, by Guilia Melucci
This is a fast-paced, humorous book that is part love story, part memoir, and part cookbook. Halfway through the book I was calling my female friends and relatives to tell them to read this book! Guilia has a knack for always picking the wrong man. Through her ups and downs with failed relationships, she recognizes the need to move on with life and go with the flow, cooking and laughing all the way. The reader will find themselves laughing out loud, and spending more time in the kitchen while reading this book, as the author includes several tempting recipes throughout her chronicles.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln , by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Following the 2008 political campaign, Barak Obama was reputed to have read Team of Rivals and used it, somewhat, as a guide in choosing his cabinet. It is so easy for the layperson to understand why President Obama or any politician would read this great history of Lincoln's campaign for the Presidency and his subsequent years in office as a guide for being an inspirational success as a politician. Truly, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a masterful and extremely readable study of Lincoln's presidency. The overwhelming theme of Team of Rivals is how Lincoln consistently strived to lead by building consensus within his cabinet and political advisors and how that process gave the Lincoln presidency the enduring glow of admiration it has enjoyed since Lincoln was in the White House. Goodwin's techniques as a historian and writer are superb as she uses speeches, letters, newspaper articles and other primary documents to bring this tale of Lincoln's political talents vividly to life. In the election of 1860, Lincoln was never expected to win the Republican nomination, but by using masterful political strategy he defeated his better-known rivals for the nomination. Goodwin covers his presidency in depth; with the horrors of and the consistently frustrating Civil War conflict the centerpiece of Lincoln's administration. Lincoln, along with so many other players in this history, come alive brilliantly. In particular, Mary Lincoln, so often portrayed in a negative manner, emerges as a complex woman who endured numerous personal tragedies and yet had lively and charming sparks of personality. Team of Rivals is highly and enthusiastically recommended for all, but obviously those readers of Lincoln lore, Civil War history and politics in American history will especially want to enjoy Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful book.
A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray, by Ann M. Martin
Everything is comfortable in Squirrel's life until her mother and brother disappear. Left on her own, she is forced to face challenges from humans, other animals, and the natural world. Squirrel learns that her life will never be the same, but with all these obstacles, can she survive?