Movie Review: Selma (2014)


TitleSelma
Release Date: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
Rating: ****

The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights for black Americans is dramatized in this excellent biographical film.  The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. after he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) are invited to Selma, AL to help with their campaign to register black voters.  In addition to the conflict with violent police and racist whites, the film captures the tensions between the SCLC and leaders of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), tensions within the SCLC leadership, tensions between King and President Lyndon Johnson, and tensions within King’s family.  The brilliant acting in this film draws out how all these competing tensions affected the historic people and their motivations and desires.  I was also impressed with the directing of the film, particularly in the unusual way the camera conversations among individuals.  There has been criticism of this film for not being historically accurate, but while not being the documentary truth of the period of time it depicts, I think it compresses real historical truths for dramatic effect.  For example, while Johnson may not have been has nakedly antagonistic to King’s plans in 1965, it is true that the President had conflicting goals and did not wish to move forward as swiftly as the Movement.  I hope people will go and see this film which is both a work of art and an introduction to an important event in American history.  And once you’ve seen Selma, check out the documentary Eyes on the Prize and the many excellent books about the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Book Review: Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship by C. Michael Hiam


Author: C. Michael Hiam
TitleDirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship
Publication Info: Lebanon, NH : ForeEdge, 2014.
Summary/Review:

I received this book free through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  Hiam details the history of rigid airships – or dirigibles – from their earliest innovation in that turn of the 20th century through World War II.  Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and most of all Germany put a lot of effort into programs to build airships.  Stories of airships used for Arctic exploration, warfare, and commercial travel are related.  Mostly though, dirigibles seemed to be prone to crashing and/or blowing up.  After 40 years of disaster, it’s not a surprise that the airship era came to an end.  They still seem pretty cool though. Hiam’s writing is a bit dry, but the text is lit up by some engaging stories of dirigible dreams and nightmares.

Rating: **

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
TitleShades of Grey
Narrator: John Lee
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2009)
Summary/Review:

I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s imaginative works, but a few years ago when I attempted to read Shades of Grey, I couldn’t finish it.  But due to my ffandom, I figured it would be worth giving the book another try as an audiobook.  The story takes place in a future dystopian society where people are sorted into castes based on their ability to perceive colors.  So, the protagonist of the story Eddie Russet is classified as a Red because he has the ability to see that color.  The concept is hard for me to grasp, and a lot of the novel, especially the early parts seems more geared to explaining this society that telling a story. I suppose all Jasper Fforde novels are set in a dystopia of some sort, but this one seems more serious than the others.  Nevertheless, I say it was worth getting through to the end of this book this time as the story definitely picks up in the second half of the book.  While not as great as Thursday Next or The Last Dragonslayer, I do look forward to reading (or listening to) future installments of this series.

Rating: **1/2

Beer Review: Leinenkugel’s Big Butt Doppelbock


2015/01/img_0042.jpg Beer: Big Butt Doppelbock
Brewer: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.0 of 10)
Comments: I like this beer, and a I cannot lie.  Well, punning aside, it’s an okay beer.  It’s a nice dark mahogany with a creamy head.  The scent is bready, and the beer has a dry roasted flavor. The mouthfeel is a bit thin and the flavor not too strong, but it’s drinkable.  Leinenkugel beers kind tend to be good, but not great, and this is no exception.

Book Review: Cerebus by Dave Sim


Author: Dave Sim
TitleCerebus
Publication Info: [Kitchener, Ont.] : Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987.
Summary/Review:

This is the first volume collecting the long-running comic book Cerebus by Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim.  I learned about this from friends online, and thought a comic about an anthropomorphic aardvark mercenary in a medieval fantasy setting sounded delightfully absurd.  After reading it, I found it kind of a slog.  This first volume of Cerebus is several unconnected stories satirizing both medieval fantasy tropes and politics with many of the stories concluding anti-climatically.  Cerebus is serious, amoral, and competent and often plays the straight man to ridiculous characters around him (including an albino who speaks like Foghorn Leghorn).  I’ve heard that later volumes in the series are much better, but I’m on the bubble about reading further, (especially since I’ve read that Sim is a creepy misogynist and his views are expressed in the comics).

Rating: **

Book Review: Grandma Gatewood’s walk : the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery


Author: Ben Montgomery
TitleGrandma Gatewood’s walk : the inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail
Narrator: Patrick Lawlor
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc., 2014
Summary/Review:

In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood of Ohio set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Completing the hike, Grandma Gatewood became the first woman to through-hike the entire 2168-mile trail and became a pioneer for both elderly and ultralight hikers.  With the hike as the centerpiece, Montgomery tells the life story of the proper and hardy farmer’s wife, a life in which she endured severe domestic abuse.  Grandma Gatewood’s hike also captures a time when the Appalachian Trail was poorly maintained, little-used, and through-hikers were in the single-digits.  Grandma Gatewood’s celebrity would help bring attention to the AT.   Montgomery also does a good job of setting the historical mood of 1955 America, when Gatewood set out on her walk.  Highlights of the book include Emma Gatewood hiking through Hurricanes Connie and Diane, and sharing a cabin with a church group from Harlem which Gatewood never realized were actually members of rival street gangs.  The 1955 is the focus of the biography, but Montgomery also writes about Gatewood’s two later hikes on the AT, her cross-continental walk on the Oregon Trail, and her uneasy relationship with the attention she got for her walk.
Recommended booksThe Appalachian Trail Reader by David Emblidge, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, and Wanderlust; a History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin


Author: Armistead Maupin
TitleThe Days of Anna Madrigal
Narrator: Kate Mulgrew
Publication Info: New York : Harper Audio, 2014.
Summary/Review:

This may be the last in the series of Tales of the City stories, although we’ve heard that before.  Recent novels in the series focused on characters Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton, and this volume follows the model by centering on Anna Madrigal, now 92 and increasingly fragile.  Unusual for the series, there are extensive flashback scenes to Mrs. Madrigal’s childhood as Andy Ramsey, growing up in a brothel in the Nevada desert.  Pretty much every other character is planning and eventually attending the Burning Man Festival, with it not being much of a surprise that they will all come together.  Brian’s new wife Wren offers some wry commentary on the series’ penchant for unlikely coincidence and general nuttiness, which also doubles as exposition for anyone not able to remember incidents in the early books. Having Kate Mulgrew narrate the audiobook is the most perfect casting decision since Olympia Dukakis played Anna Madrigal in the film miniseries. It’s not a perfect book – Maupin uses on of his favorite tricks, a serious Michael Tolliver illness to create tension – but if it is the final book, it is a good farewell to a cast of beloved characters.

Rating: ***1/2

The Podcast Revolution?


I’ve been surprised about the recent declarations that podcasts are the next big thing ever since the success of “Serial” (discussed at length in the latest podcast episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge).  Mainly this is because I’ve been listening to podcasts obsessively for the past ten years.  And I don’t mean this in a hipster “I did it before it was cool” way, I just assumed that lots of people were already listening to podcasts, even before I discovered them.

Anyhow, if you happen to be new to podcasts, here is my updated list of favorite podcasts.  (Ironically, I listened to the first episode of “Serial” and wasn’t interested in the rest of the series.  Maybe I’ll check out the next series).

Feel free to share your favorite podcasts in the comments.

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