Book Review: Return of the Living Dad by Kate Orman


Author: Kate Orman
Title: Return of the Living Dad
Publication Info: London : Virgin, 1996
Summary/Review:

In this story, Berenice returns with her newlywed husband Jason to investigate what became of her father.  It’s long been believed that Admiral Isaac Summerfield turned coward in a space battle against the Daleks and died, but new evidence suggest otherwise. Berenice asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to witness the battle and see that her father’s ship is sucked into a wormhole.  Following through, the TARDIS team arrives in a remote English village in 1983.

Isaac and his crew are not surprised to see the Doctor and Berenice, as they’ve been expecting them to arrive one day.  Isaac’s ship arrived 20 years earlier, and in the intervening years he’s opened a cafe and taken up the duty of cleaning up the messes left behind by UNIT and the Doctor himself.  With an Air Force base nearby with nuclear weapons, the village attracts a strange assortment of refugee aliens, paranormal investigators, and anti-nuclear protesters.  Of course, once the Doctor arrives, strange things begin happening as the TARDIS and several people go missing. There’s a mystery to be solved and a traitor or two in their midst.

Kate Orman is one of the best writers of Doctor Who and particularly good at getting at the humanity (or lack thereof) of her characters and their relationships.  It’s surprising that she’s never written for the television series like other New Adventures writers, but perhaps she’s just not keen on scriptwriting.  Nevertheless, aspects of the book are familiar to what would be picked up ten years later in the new tv series, such as the need to clean up after the Doctor’s adventures, and the nodding winks to fan culture.

Since this is an Orman novel, it also has approximately a gazillion characters and it does get hard to keep track of them all.  I kept forgetting the Doctor’s other companions, Roz & Chris, were even there, and their main plot is their getting romantically involved.  Berenice, who had left the Doctor in Happy Endings, is front and center and this book is very much setting up her own series of New Adventures that would start in 1997.  Indeed, in various media, Berenice Summerfield is still appearing in new stories through today.

 

Other Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating:

Classic Movie Review: Funny Face (1957)


Title: Funny Face
Release Date: February 13, 1957
Director: Stanley Donen
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The challenge for me with musicals is setting aside my logical brain and just enjoying the song and dance. Funny Face, for example, asks me to believe that Audrey Hepburn has a funny face when she is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful people of all time.  The movie is an odd one, with some startlingly feminist tones for 1957, although these are often undercut. Similarly it recognizes an emerging counterculture but mostly to make it a butt of jokes.

Funny Face can’t be faulted for its great sense of style. The movie uses bold colors and dramatic film techniques to great effect, and incorporates mid-century design into the background of its New York scenes versus the old world charms of its Paris settings. The music is entertaining, largely George and Ira Gershwin tunes composed for a 1927 Broadway musical called Funny Face that had an entirely different plot. Hepburn draws on her dance training performing several numbers, including a Bohemian dance in a Paris cafe, and we even get to hear her sing (unlike My Fair Lady, which was unfair to Hepburn’s lovely voice).

Kay Thompson, the author of the Eloise books, steals the show as the bombastic fashion magazine publisher Maggie Prescott. The trope of the domineering fashion magazine publisher followed by a gaggle of women editors is very familiar, did it start with this movie? On a photoshoot to a Greenwich Village philosophy book shop, Maggie and her crew harass the book seller Jo Stockton (Hepburn) and trash the store. Photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) takes a liking to Jo and stays to help her clean up. (He also kisses her without consent because apparently Fred Astaire always has to be creepy).

Avery convinces Maggie that Jo would be the perfect fresh face for their magazine’s new campaign,  since she has “character, spirit, and “intelligence.”  He convinces Jo to take the job since it would give her the opportunity to go to Paris and hear the lectures of the philosopher Professor Emile Flostre (Michel Auclair).  And so they go to Paris where there is singing, dancing, high fashion, and comic hi-jinks abound.  And, of course, romance flourishes because Hepburn must always be paired with men 30 years her senior for some reason.

Again, the logical brain must be disconnected, but once that’s done, there’s a lot to enjoy in this cheerful fluff of a film.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Wrong Man


Title: The Wrong Man
Release Date: December 22, 1956
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Summary/Review:

Alfred Hitchcock introduces this film in a prologue where he notes that it is a rare occasion where he’s making a thriller based on a true-life story.  Hitchcock always is fascinated with telling “wrong man” stories, so it’s not a surprise that the case of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero’s false accusation for armed robbery in 1951 in New York City would appeal to him.

The story begins with Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a musician who performs in a night club, needing to work out the family finances to pay for dental work for his wife, Rose (Vera Miles). He goes to a life insurance company office to borrow against Rose’s policy, and the staff there identify him as the same man who robbed the office on two other occasions.  The police take in Manny and the staff at two local stores also identify him as the robber.

Manny is arrested and held in jail overnight before being arraigned the next day.  Once bail is posted by some relatives, it’s up to Manny and Rose to find witnesses who can provide alibis for the dates of the crimes.  The stress and guilt of the ordeal leads to Rose suffering a mental breakdown.

Despite Hitchcock’s introduction, the movie is not a thriller or even really suspenseful.  The strengths of the movie are its depictions of the mundane procedures of being processed through the criminal justice system.  Fonda is perfectly cast as the every man (and with such an innocent face, how can anyone think he’s guilty?) bewildered by experiencing all these things for the first time, and holding on to hope that his innocence will win the day.

The film provides a happy ending, although the real Balestrero family continued to suffer mental and financial distress.  Most disturbing is that we are still having “Wrong Man” stories to this very day, often with tragic endings. Words utter in the film – “you fit the profile” – are chilling similar to the words used to justify police killings of innocent Black and brown men in recent years.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Searchers (1956)


Title: The Searchers
Release Date: May 16, 1956
Director: John Ford
Production Company: C.V. Whitney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Cinematically, The Searchers is a beautiful film, shot in the scenic Monument Valley and featuring shots of the landscape and lead characters framed by a doorway as the opening and closing scenes.  Conversely, the subject matter of The Searchers is one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in a movie.

In 1868, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his family home in Texas (despite being filmed in Monument Valley which is in Arizona & Utah) three years after the Civil War ended, but still wearing his traitor’s uniform. Ethan is dismissive of the family’s adopted child, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), because he is 1/8 Comanche.  Soon afterwards, a Comanche tribe attacks the family homestead, killing the adults and abducting Ethan’s niece and Martin’s adopted sister Debbie (Lana Wood as a child, and Natalie Wood later in the movie).

The better part of the movie is Ethan and Martin spending five years searching for Debbie.  Ethan continues to mistreat Martin, and I could make a litany of the racist depictions in this movie, the worst among them being when Martin “accidentally” buys a Comanche wife, which is played for laughs.  The villain of the movie is Comanche chief Scar (Henry Brandon), who likes like a German man with shoe polish on his face, because the actor who plays him was in fact born in Germany.  Worst of all, Ethan’s goal in this obsessive, years-long quest is not to rescue Debbie, but to kill her because he believes she’s better off being dead after being raped by the Comanche.

This is a very ugly movie and I found it very difficult to watch.  Critics like Roger Ebert grant a generous interpretation that John Ford and John Wayne were deliberately portraying Ethan as an evil and racist man. There is a lot of plausibility in those intentions. But audiences then and even some now see Wayne as a hero and ideal representation of what Makes America Great. I think The Searchers is far too easy to be taken at face value, and in that it stands as a representation of the ugliest parts of the American character.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Bus Stop (1956)


Title: Bus Stop
Release Date: August 31, 1956
Director: Joshua Logan
Production Company: Marilyn Monroe Productions | 20th Century Fox
Summary/Review:

When I put together my list of Classic Movies, I made sure to include a Marilyn Monroe movie since she is such an iconic American movie star. I chose Bus Stop, because it is her most highly-regarded acting performance. Monroe’s acting is indeed spectacular, and while the rest of the cast are playing for comedy, for the most of the movie she acts as if she’s in a horror movie.  Bus Stop offers heaping portions of corn pone and heteronormativity, and let’s just say it hasn’t aged well.

Beauregard Decker (Don Murray) is a naive rancher from Montana who travels to Phoenix, Arizona to participate in a rodeo.  Having never had experience with women he declares that he hopes to find his “angel” on the trip. Spotting Chérie (Monroe) performing a song and dance at a Phoenix cafe, Beau declares that she’s his angel, and when Chérie admits she is physically attracted to him, that’s enough for him to decide that they will be married immediately.

Again, this movie is played for comedy, but it’s hard not to imagine that Beau’s aggressive and abusive behavior is terrifying for Chérie (you can see it in Monroe’s eyes). Beau’s friend and chaperone Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) and Chérie’s friendly co-worker Vera (Eileen Heckart) both try to interfere on Chérie’s behalf, but Beau will listen to no one. Ultimately, Beau abducts Chérie and puts her on a bus to Montana (and yes, the word “abduct” is used by the characters in the movie).

It won’t be a big spoiler to note that this movie does not end with Beau’s arrest for kidnapping a woman and transporting her across state lines.  Instead, Chérie and Beau finally fall in love and go off together.  A generous reading of the final scenes is that Beau finally learns consent and respecting the wishes of other.  But overall watching this movie made me feel uneasy.  Monroe had to deal with abusive relationships in her real life and the future of this fictional marriage does not look promising.

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 11, 2020


Welcome to 2020! Here is my first collection of podcasts worth your time for the new year.

Anthropocene Reviewed :: Auld Lang Syne

A touching story of the song we all sing at the stroke of midnight even if we don’t know what it means.

60-Second Science :: You Traveled Far in 2019

We’ve come a long way, baby.

BackStory :: Those Were The Days: Nostalgia in American History

Looking back at the “good old days” can have grave political consequences.

Wedway Radio :: Imagineering Disney: Soundscaping

A history of the uses of sound in Disney Parks.

The Cine-Files :: The Life and Films of Akira Kurosawa

An examination of the career of Japan’s groundbreaking filmmaker.


Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher


Author: Carrie Fisher
TitleThe Princess Diarist
Narrator: Carrie Fisher, Billie Lourd
Publication Info: New York, NY : Penguin Audio, [2016]
Previously Read by the Same Author: Wishful Drinking
Summary/Review:

The late, great Carrie Fisher reflects on her life as it’s shaped by her most famous character, Princess Leia Organa. Fisher begins with growing up with her celebrity parents (and seeing their celebrity diminish) and not really wanting to go into acting.  Nevertheless, she gets a part in the movie Shampoo and enrolls in London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.

She tells the story of her Star Wars audition – which oddly enough was a 2-for-1 audition before George Lucas and Brian Depalma for both Star Wars and Carrie. What would the world be like if Carrie had played Carrie in Carrie? Her experience filming Star Wars which involved rising early to spend intimate hours with the hairdresser Pat to get the ridiculous buns.  She also relates that she and Harrison Ford had a fling even though he is much older and was already married at the time.

Despite the title, the book is mostly memoir rather than actual diaries, but a segment of Fisher’s diary is included at the time of her relationship with Ford, which she calls “Carrison.” It was quite a jarring shift to move from the Fisher’s recollections from 40-years later, filled with self-deprecating humor, to the raw emotion of her 19-year-old journals.  Oddly, this portion is read on the audiobook by her daughter, Billie Lourd, perhaps to give a younger voice to the journals, or maybe they just wanted to make her deeply uncomfortable (and the listener by proxy) reading about her mother’s sexual relations.

The later half of the book deals with life after Star Wars became a hit, starting with the whirlwind press junket Fisher, Ford, and Mark Hammil went on to promote their low-budge movie as it became an unprecedented phenomena.  Fisher remains awed by fans’ dedication to Leia and the weird interactions she has with them. She refers to participating in conventions where fans pay money and line up for autographs as “lap dances.”  And the text includes perhaps real or perhaps exaggerated conversations with fans.

Recommended Books:

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: To Catch a Thief (1955)


Title: To Catch a Thief
Release Date: August 3, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

John Robie (Cary Grant) is a jewel thief known as “The Cat” who reformed himself by serving with his gang in the French Resistance.  When a string of high-profile jewelry thefts strike the French Riveria, Robie falls under suspicion of the police, who want to arrest him, and his gang (now the staff of a restaurant), who want to kill him for bringing negative attention to their group.  Robie decides he needs to prove his innocence by catching the new jewel thief in the act.

His investigation leads him to American tourist Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), a nouveau riche woman who acquired pricey jewels with her family’s oil wealth, and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly).  Frances takes an interest in Robie, and a better part of the film is the two of them flirting intensely. At one point, Danielle (Brigitte Auber), the young daughter of Robie’s Resistance colleague, joins in to compete with France for flirting with Robie.  Never mind that he is old enough to be their father.  After all, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are among the most attractive and charming people to ever live, so who can stop them from shameless flirting. Launch the highly symbolic fireworks!

Their isn’t much mystery or suspense in this film.  The options for who the real jewel thief may be are limited.  I was kind of hoping it would end up being Frances.  (SPOILER: It is not Frances).  So this film basically coasts on its lead actors charm and basic hottness, but my god, to they ever have a lot of that to spare!

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Cartoon County by Cullen Murphy


Author: Cullen Murphy
Title: Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
Previously Read By the Same Author: Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (with William Rathje)
Summary/Review:

Cartoon County is a memoir/biography/history by Cullen Murphy of the comic strip cartoonists and illustrators who lived and worked in Fairfield County, Connecticut in the post-World War II era. The book focuses on his father, John Cullen Murphy, who illustrated the comic strip Big Ben Bolt and took over Prince Valiant from its creator Hal Foster in the 1970s.

I feel destined to read this book, primarily because I grew up loving newspaper comics and fascinated by their history (although these days I exclusively read the comics’ mockery blog, Comics Curmudgeon). I also grew up in Fairfield County myself, and as a kid was proud that Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker lived there. My father took us to the Museum of Cartoon Art in a castle-like house that Walker opened in nearby Port Chester, NY.  The author of this book was even of the most famous alumni of my high school – along with Broadway actor David Carroll, baseball player Tim Teufel, and publicist Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy – and a customized panel of Prince Valiant graced our school’s trophy case.

Murphy writes about growing up in a community of comics illustrators of the “Connecticut School” where his father and the other fathers he knew did not join the crowds of men in gray flannel suit taking the commuter rail to New York City.  Many of these men (and for the most part, the comics was a man’s trade) came of age during World War II where they used their artistic talents in their military service.  After the war, Connecticut was an affordable place where they could get homes with studio space near the publishing houses of New York (it’s alarming to think that Fairfield County was ever affordable!). These cartoonists include Mort Walker, Jerry Dumas, Stan Drake, Dik Browne, Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, and Crockett Johnson, among many others.  The School included daily comic strip cartoonists, New Yorker cartoonists, editorial cartoonists, and magazine illustrators.

The book covers a lot of territory.  First, it’s a personal memoir of Murphy’s father, who had the practice of using a Polaroid camera to photograph himself (and any family members or friends in the vicinity) in various poses to use as models for his illustrations. Starting in the 1970s, Murphy would work with his father as the writer of Prince Valiant.

Second, it’s a broader history of the Connecticut School cartoonists who were his father’s friends and colleagues. Murphy details their experiences in WWII, settling in Connecticut after the war, and the interplay between their comics.  Events like Look Day at the New Yorker (the one day each week when cartoonists gathered in New York to show their gags to the magazine’s editors) and National Cartoonists Society brought together cartoonists for business with a heavy side of socialization. The men came together for parties and games of golf (which seems to be the origin of the all-too-many golf gags in newspaper comics) as well.

Finally, the book is a tribute to newspaper comics as a unique American art form of the 20th century.  Murphy has some interesting observations on the cartoonists.  While his father was a strong Republican, most of the cartoonists were politically liberal and lived lives of noncomformity for their time. Sentaro Este Kefauver conducted a congressional investigation of the comics industry in which Pogo creator Walt Kelly declared that being a “screwball” was a badge of honor for cartoonists. The comics were innovative for time, and I learned about a short-lived strip of the 1960s called Sam’s Strip (predecessor to Sam & Silo), which Jerry Dumas created as post-modern, metatextual experiment that left comics readers scratching their heads. And yet newspaper comics on the whole tended to be conservative, and as the generation of cartoonists died (many passing on the legacy strips to their children and grandchildren) and newspapers themselves went into decline, comics failed to adapt to the new reality. Murphy mourns the past but still sees hope in the underappreciated work of graphic novels.

This books is richly illustrated with comics panels, original works of art, and photographs.  It’s a great way to dip one’s toe into a time and place when kids gleefully anticipated the Sunday papers wrapped in the full-color comics section.  It tells the story of the men who brought this joy and some of the behind the scenes secrets of their craft.

Recommended books:

  • Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman by Patrick McDonnell
  • Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones
  • The Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs

Rating: ****

Monthly Mixtape – December 2019


Better late than never!  Here are some good new songs from the last month of last year.

Madame Gandhi :: Top Knot Turn Up

Madame Gandhi, the former drummer for M.I.A and a runner of the London Marathon, s an electronic music artist and activist based in Los Angeles.

Antibalas :: Fight Am Finish

My favorite Afrobeat band from Brooklyn (with ties to Daptone records) returns!

beabadoobee :: Are You Sure

Beatrice Kristi Laus is a youthful Filipino-British indie singer-songwriter.

MaLLy :: Black Moses

The latest from a Minneapolis rapper. Read more at The Current.


Previous Mixtapes: