Book Review: Hellraiser by Robert Sellers


Author: Robert Sellers
TitleHellraiser
Illustrator: JAKe
Publication Info: London : SelfMadeHero, 2011.
Summary/Review:

This graphic biography tells the exploits of the Irish & British actors Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, and Peter O’Toole.  I’ve long admired the work of Harris and O’Toole, and familiar with Burton by reputation, but Reed was new to me.  What they have in common is that they were part of new class of post World War II actors who were gritty and real, and lived a wild and hardscabble life off the screen and stage.  The book focuses on the legendary exploits of the quartet’s drinking and partying but also their feelings of inadequacy and failed relationships.  It’s common to romanticize their wild lives, but the book does not shy away from the harm they caused, the violence, the sexual harrasment, and general arrogance. Cleverly, the author ties their stories together by having the Burton, Harris, Reed, and O’Toole appear as ghosts to a character named Martin who is drinking his life away. The four hellraiser actors are able to help Martin to focus on his life and family. Oddly, when I checked this book out, the librarian told me he’d read the book and said it was “good, clean fun.” I’d say it’s anything but, a cautionary tale more than anything else.  Burton, Harris, Reed, and O’Toole lived lives of reckless abandon so that you don’t have to.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week: Special New Podcasts Edition


I haven’t heard any standout podcast episodes to share with you for a while.  But, I’ve also started listening to some (new to me) podcasts.  Here are my latest discoveries:

Baby Geniuses

I subscribed to this because it’s co-hosted by Lisa Hanawalt, creator of Tuca & Bertie.  The show seems to just about sharing stuff you know.

Greater Boston

A serial audio drama set in an alternate universe Boston where, among other things, there’s an effort afoot for the Red Line to secede and become its own city.  The show started several years back so I’ve started listening from the beginning.  Quirky and entertaining, so far.

Lost Notes

A podcast series that tells obscure music stories.  So far I’ve listened to excellent episodes about how a bad recording of “Louie, Louie” became the defining interpretation of the song, the scandal of Boston’s New Edition filming a music video with the LA Lakers, and how synthesizer pioneer Suzanne Ciani explored her art in commercials.

Next Left

The Nation interviews up and coming progressive leaders.

Science Rules!

Bill Nye – the science guy -answers your questions about science.

White Lies

A serialized documentary about the murder of Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and how no one was ever brought to justice for the crime.

And, podcast of the week episodes:

Fresh Air :: Lizzo on “Cuz I Love You,” Self-Love And Bringing ‘Hallelujah Moments’ To Stage

Lizzo is a terrific artist, as demonstrated on her album Cuz I Love You, and a terrific interview, as demonstrated with Terri Gross.

Science Talk :: Secrets of the Universe Revealed

Steven Strogatz makes calculus interesting for the lay person.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Album Review: The Best of Luck Club by Alex Lahey


Album: The Best of Luck Club
Artist: Alex Lahey
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore
  • Am I Doing It Right?
  • Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
  • Isabella

Thoughts:

Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks.  She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club.  Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting.  And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.

Rating: ****

TV Review: Tuca & Bertie (2019)


Title: Tuca & Bertie
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

This new animated comedy from Netflix has a lot in common with one of my favorite shows, BoJack Horseman.  For one thing, Tuca & Bertie‘s creator, Lisa Hanawalt, served as production designer and producer for BoJack Horseman.  For another, Tuca & Bertie are anthropomorphized birds living in a city of anthropomorphized animals and even anthropomorphized plants (they’re so cool!).

Nevertheless, Tuca & Bertie isn’t a spinoff of Bojack, nor is it even the same universe.  Tuca & Bertie has a brighter color pallette and, for lack of a better word, a “bouncier” animation style that frequently veers into surreality.  That is an even more surreal than a world with talking bird people.  Also, BoJack is a show that keeps returning to the inevability of misery and that other people will disappoint you.  Tuca & Bertie is more positive and shares its belief that one can count on the people you love to get you through troubled times.

Despite it’s wacky humor, Tuca & Bertie reveals more serious undertones over the course of the season.  Tuca is an outgoing toucan and free spirit who has no filter between her brain and mouth.  It’s established early in the season that she’s alcoholic and six months into living sober, and confronting supressed anxieties for the first time.  Bertie is a songbird with more open anxiety issues and people pleaser. She struggles at work with men speaking over her and sexual harrassment.  Yet we see her assert herself to get a new position as senior operations analyst at her publishing firm and explore a second career as a baker. The two characters are rightly depicted as a yin-yang late in the season because they complement each other so well.

This is a bright and heartwarming show, and just delightfully weird.  I especially like the music – both the electronic dance background music and the fact that characters narrate their life in song.  If you decide to watch it and it doesn’t work for you at first, give it a few episodes to sink in.

 

Book Review: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella


Author: W.P. Kinsella
Title: Shoeless Joe
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Publication Info: Blackstone Publishing, 2011 (originally published 1982)
Other Books Read By the Same Author:

    • The Iowa Baseball Confederacy
    • Box Socials
    • The Thrill of the Grass
    • The Mocassin Telegraph and Other Stories
    • The Dixon Cornbelt League, and Other Baseball Stories
    • Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa: Stories
    • The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt: Baseball Stories
    • Red Wolf, Red Wolf: Stories
    • Magic Time

Summary/Review:

W.P. Kinsella was one of my favorite authors growin up and this is one of his classic books. Most people will be familiar with this novel as the source for the movie Field of Dreams.  The basic gist is that a baseball crazy man named Ray Kinsella marries a woman from Iowa and together they purchase a farm.  Ray gets a mystical message “If you build it, he will come” and knows that it refers to disgraced baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson.  He builds a baseball field on his farm, and Shoeless Joe appears, followed by the rest of the 1919 Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball for throwing the World Series.

Ray gets more missions from the mysterious voice: to take reclusive author J.D. Salinger to a game at Fenway Park, find the curiously named Moonlight Graham who played in one baseball game and never came to bat, and the Oldest Living Chicago Cub player.  Bringing this odd group together, Ray is also able to reunite with his (dead) father who played baseball in his youth, and his (living) identical twin brother who ran away from the circus.

What I forgot about this book is that it is largely a series of conversations focusing on philosophy, dreams, American identity, and fatherhood.  It’s a great blend of magic and the quotidian.  And the fictional version of J.D. Salinger is a hoot, and one can only hope the real Salinger was something like that.  The book holds up and perhaps even better than I remembered from an adult perspective.

Favorite Passages:

“You don’t have any witnesses.  What if it was all a hallucination? Religous fanatics are known to have delirious visions.  You’re obviously a baseball fanatic.”

Recommended books:
Rating: *****

Album Review: there is no Other by Rhiannon Giddens (with Franceso Turrisi)


Album: there is no Other
Artist: Rhiannon Giddens (with Franceso Turrisi)
Release Date: May 3, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Brown Baby
  • Little Margaret
  • Pizzica di San Vito
  • Wayfaring Stranger

Thoughts:

Rhiannon Giddens is a name I’ve heard for a while but I’d not gotten around to listening to her music.  In fact, there was a time when I conflated her with the R&B singer Rihanna (ooops).  Well, Rhiannon Giddens is a folk musician, although that seems inadequate to describe the masterful fusion of musical styles on this album.  Giddens is joined by Italian jazz instrumentalist Franceso Turrisi on this album.  Together they perform a mix of traditional and original tunes that draw on bluegrass, gospel, Italian folk tunes, Arabic, and African sounds.  Many of the songs feature just two instruments with Giddens’ spinetingling vocals, while others have complex and fascinating percussion.  The sound is unlike anything I’ve heard while still feeling familiar.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Christmas on a Rational Planet by Lawrence Miles


Author: Lawrence Miles
Title: Christmas on a Rational Planet
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1996.
Summary/Review:

This is the first Doctor Who novel by Lawrence Miles, who would later go on to be one of the leading writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, introduce the Faction Paradox, and co-wrote the history of Doctor Who series About Time.  But in this first novel, Roz is trapped in a town in New York in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS with someone trying to kill him, and secret socities are worshipping Satan and the like.  The book is interesting at parts, but also just weird in ways that makes it hard to follow.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: The Unicorn Store (2019)


Title:The Unicorn Store
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Director: Brie Larson
Production Company: The District
Summary/Review:

This movie directed by and starring Brie Larson is about a girl named Kit who grows up enjoying princesses, fairies, and rainbows and yearns to be an artists. But when the professor at her art school disapproves her Lisa Frank-style painting, Kit flunks out of college and is forced to move back in with her parents.  Suffering from depression Kit decides that she has to become a responsible adult and takes a temp job.  Some of the funniest scenes are basically Kit cosplaying at adulthood, and finding the people in the office is are also neither mature nor have it all together. (And 20+ years after being a temp myself, I had to laugh that temps are still expected to make lots of photocopies, and are complimented for being good at it).

Kit receives strange invitations which lead her to The Store where The Salesman offers to fulfill her dream of owning a unicorn.  The Salesman is played by Samuel L. Jackson (who had such great chemistry with Larson in Captain Marvel)  who plays against his tough guy persona, but still manages to drop in some profanities.  In order to earn the unicorn, Kit must provide her a home, food, and a loving environment (meaning she has to work out her diffrences with her parents).

Kit takes on the first task by hiring Virgil (Mamoudou Athie) from a local hardware store to build a unicorn house.  Virgil is also in a low-level job for which he feels he has not talent and is uncertain about his future, and it appears he takes on the seemingly absurd task out of curiousity more than anything else.  But Kit and Virgil form a bond and their friendship begins to help them grow and change.  Kit also gets the opportunity from her creepy boss to work on an ad campaign, which gives her a chance to use her artistic talents.

The unicorn plot could’ve gone in some predictable ways.  Either The Saleman could’ve been a scam artist or Kit could’ve been delusional.  But I’m glad that the story went another way entirely. The premise of the movie is basically having the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope be the main character and then justifying her place as a real person.  After all athletic boys are allowed to become jocks when their men even if they no longer play sports, and the itnerests of nerdy boys are well catered to for adult men, so why not make a space for women who still love unicorns and rainbows.

The cast in this film are great, especially Athie and Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford as Kit’s parents.  Nevertheless, I felt the humor was just a bit off and the movie was less satisfying than it had the potential to be.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


Author: J.K. Rowling
Title: Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publication Info: 1999 Listening Library
Summary/Review:

My daughter is working her way through the Harry Potter ouevre, and I decided I should revisit the books myself, and have someone read them to me (Jim Dale does a charming job).  I am impressed at how much of the full story is established in the first book.  I mean Sirius Black is mentioned on the first page, for starters.  But the basics details of Hogwarts and the Wizarding World are all very well established in this book.  This novel is also a good stand-alone story (IIRC, so are the 2nd and 3rd books, while 4 through 7 are more of an ongoing story).  It’s hard to remember what I thought when I first read this book around 15 years ago, but I have to say it holds up well.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)


Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

The first spinoff movie from Harry Potter’s Wizarding World introduces mazizooligist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of the eponomynous textbook used at Hogwarts.  Set in the 1920s, the British Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures.  His ultimate purpose in being there is revealed slowly of the film, but first, hijinks!  Newt accidentally swaps suitcases with a non magical person, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and several creatures escape.  As Newt and Jacob look for the missing animals, they draw the attention of an American witch, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), who has recently lost her position as auror.  More hijinks ensue and Tina is forced to bring Newt and Jacob to her apartment and introduce them to her charming sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who has the ability to read minds.

The film feels at first a comedy of errors and takes time to delight in introducing aspects of the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts and Great Britain, with a lot of fun visual effects.  But there’s more going on here as the story unfolds.  First, there’s the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a 20th century heir to the Salem witch hysteria, who are openly promoting that wizads and witches are real (true, in the story) and need to be defeated. Second, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose and killing magical and non-magical people alike.

I enjoy the culture clashes between the British and American wizards.  Americans very practically call non-magical people “No-Maj” instead of “Muggles,” which sounds as silly as calling a truck a lorry, when you think of it.  Instead of a Ministry of Magic, the USA’s wizarding government is the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), where Tina works.  And even though only European schools participated in the Triwizarding tournament, there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry as well, called Ilvermorny.  And I’ve learned from Wikipedia that Ilvermorny is in Massachusetts, on the peak of Mt. Greylock, so wizards also send their children to New England for their education.

Newt Scamander is very good with magical creatures, but is a bit awkward around people.  Redmayne plays his introversion well, and I enjoy seeing another quiet lead character in an action-fantasy film to go along with Rogue One.  Despite being the main character, Newt is more of the straight man to the quirkier characters of Jacob, Tina, and Queenie.  The leading quartet have a lot of chemistry and I enjoy seeing them playing of one another.  They carry the film that at times is a bit thin on plot.

Rating: ***