Movie Review: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Title: The Wizard of Oz
Release Date: August 25, 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
King Vidor
George Cukor
Richard Thorpe
Norman Taurog
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

I watched this movie for the first time in a long time, and well, it’s basically just as I remembered it, which is a good thing.  It’s an adventure, it’s a symbolic journey of self-discovery, it’s a musical, it’s funny, it’s scary.  It looks really fake, but to the point that the painted sets and props are weirdly effective works of arts in their own right.  I was born long after color film was standard but the transition from the sepia of Kansas to the majestic colors of Oz is still astounding. Watching as an older adult, I am also impressed at how the young Judy Garland handles being central to almost every scene. About the only thing that is not good about this movie is that it’s not a good adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book which I also love.  One day, I’d like to see a faithful film adaptation of the movie made too, but this version will always stand alone as its own great thing.

Rating: *****

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Author: William Goldman
TitleThe Princess Bride
Narrator: Rob Reiner
Publication Info: Phoenix Books (1999) [Original published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1973)]
Other books read by the same author: The Silent Gondoliers (as S. Morgenstern)

“Life isn’t fair, it’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

The recent death of William Goldman prompted me to seek out one of my all-time favorite books, The Princess Bride.  If you’re familiar with the classic 1987 film adaptation, Goldman’s book is even more funny, more clever, and more sweetly satirical. The book is written with a framing device in which he discovers that a beloved adventure book read to him by his father when he was sick as a child, was actually a long political satire that bored his own son.  So Goldman decides to publish an abridged version with only the good parts.  All of this framing device is fictional, as Goldman invented both the story of The Princess Bride and a fictional wife and son.

The audio book version I found to listen too is disappointingly an abridged version, ironic since The Princess Bride is already supposed to be an abridged book. Many of the scenes that don’t correspond directly to the movie are left out of the audiobook, including the majority of Goldman’s framing device interrupting the narrative.  The audiobook doesn’t even have the Reunion Scene.  As a bonus, the book is read by Rob Reiner – director of the film – in his wonderful Bronx accent.

It’s definitely worth putting this on to play to your kids if you’re not up for reading the book out loud yourself.

Recommended booksThe Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Author: Harper Lee
Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Publication Info: Harper (2010), Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 0061743526
Summary/Review: With much joy and a little apprehension I returned to one of my Favorite Books of All Time after nearly 25 years.  It turned out to be better than I remembered.  It was interesting the details I remembered (Calpurnia not wanting to stay in the house with high ceilings on a cold night, Scout’s “Hey, Boo!” at the climax of the novel) as well as things I completely forgot (the cranky, old morphine addict Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra coming to live with the family).

The book is great on so many levels, most especially the joys and travails of childhood so accurately represented.  As a child I identified with the kids, but now I also am drawn to Atticus as he tries to raise his children as best he can and instill them with conscience.  Lee also does a great job creating a Southern town with its history, castes, and characters.  It all comes together in a brilliant period piece around the trial of a black man falsely accused.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book, so I’ll end here.  I’ll have to make a shorter wait before I read it again.

Recommended books: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Rating: *****

Book Review: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of the Island
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1993)
ISBN: 1556864612
Summary/Review:  The third book of the Anne Shirley series sees Anne off to college on Nova Scotia, studying, making new friends, and setting up a new home.  Letters and visits to home emphasize Anne’s growth and change as she spends time away from her beloved home.  There’s also continuing intrigue regarding her relationship with Gilbert Blythe.  Enjoyable, but lacking the magic of the first book.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: The Sound of Music

Title: The Sound of Music
Release Date: 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Production Co: 20th Century Fox
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Musical / Classic
Rating: ****1/2

Summary/Review: It’s hokey, a bit saccharine, and historically inaccurate, but The Sound of Music is a fine movie worthy of its classic status.  The music, the cast, the scenery, the cinematography — all wonderful.  I watched this with my three-year old son, his first “grown-up” film, over a period of three days (hopefully making up for the fact that I didn’t watch it for the first time until I was 20).  He enjoyed it as well, except for the boring parts when the Captain and the Baroness were just talking (“Where are Maria and the kids?”).  He  liked the music and we’ve been singing “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatheard.”  Granted, there are some challenging aspects of trying to explain the Nazis to a toddler mostly because I don’t think he has a frame of reference to understand Nazis yet.  Overall it’s a great movie and a great family experience and I’m sure we’ll watch it again.


Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of Green Gables
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1999)
ISBN: 1596077328


I listened to the audiobook rendition of this classic novel while refoldering.  I read the book in print 20 years ago.  I guess it was atypical of a 16-year old boy to read this book, but I was not a typical 16-year old boy.  Megan Follows helped too.  Anyhow, Anne Shirley wins me over every time with her cheerfulness, resourcefulness, intellect and determination.  The character I relate to most is Matthew Cuthbert who I think is my literary hero.  (I wept when he died).  Anyone who hasn’t read this wonderful novel – child or adult, male or female – should give it a try.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Title: Don Quixote de La Mancha
Publication Info: Ashland, OR : Blackstone Audiobooks, p1997. [Originally published in 1605 & 1615]
ISBN: 0786187042


I’ve been meaning to read this classic novel for a long time, but I just didn’t see myself sitting down with a 400-year old tome any time soon.  So I listened to it as an audiobook over several weeks in the month of January.

It’s interesting how familiar the story is.  The oft-cited “tilting at windmills” bit happens so early on that I wonder if all the people who refer to it read any further.  Don Quixote is quite mad but also more dangerous than I realized.  While Sanch Panza is something of a sane sidekick who puts his master’s ravings in perspective but he is as blinded by greed for the governorship of an island as Quixote is blinded by his madness.

The satire in this novel is quite sharp, sometimes mean-spirited, and it can get to be too much.  I was also surprised by the stories-within-a-story that are told that give this book a Canterbury Tales feel.  All in all, I’m glad I finally “read” this classic.

Favorite Passages:

For historians ought to be precise, truthful, and quite unprejudiced, and neither interest nor fear, hatred nor affection, should cause them to swerve from the path of truth, whose mother is history, the rival of time, the depository of great actions, the witness of what is past, the example and instruction of the present, the monitor of the future.

I am a distant flame, and a sword far off: those whom I have attracted with my sight, I have undeceived with my words ; and if hope be the food of desire, as I never gave any encouragement to Chrysostome, nor to any other, it may well be said, it was rather his own obstinacy than my cruelty that shortened his life.

“Well, well,” said Sancho, “God is in heaven, and sees all tricks, and will judge who does most harm, I in not speaking right, or your worship in not doing it.”

Shortly after this, several bands of dancers of various sorts began to enter the arcade at different points, and among them one of sword-dancers composed of some four-and-twenty lads of gallant and high-spirited mien, clad in the finest and whitest of linen, and with handkerchiefs embroidered in various colours with fine silk; and one of those on the mares asked an active youth who led them if any of the dancers had been wounded. ‘As yet, thank God, no one has been wounded,’ said he, ‘we are all safe and sound;’ and he at once began to execute complicated figures with the rest of his comrades, with so many turns and so great dexterity, that although Don Quixote was well used to see dances of the same kind, he thought he had never seen any so good as this

Praise be to him who invented sleep, which is the mantle that shrouds all human thoughts, the food that dispels hunger, the drink that quenches thirst, the fire that warms the cold, the cool breeze that moderates heat; in a word, the general coin that purchases every commodity; the weight and balance that makes the shepherd even with his sovereign and the simple with the sage

Recommended books: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Round-Up

Delicatessen (1991)

One of my favorite films which I saw on the big screen at Brattle Theatre a few years back.  This was the first time Susan saw it and I was surprised that I’d forgotten how dark and gory this post-apocalyptic cannibalistic black comedy was.  Still, it is funny and amazing creative with possibly the best opening titles sequence ever as well as a couple of masterful set pieces.

Delicatessen title sequence:

Classic scene from Delicatessen used in trailer:

Mark Twain (2001)

A Ken Burns documentary about America’s great celebrity author, a man of many contradictions who lead a life both charmed and tragic.  I didn’t know much about Mark Twain’s life beyond a few famous fables so I enjoyed learning about the man and his work in this well-filmed, well-narrated, and well-illustrated documentary.

The Great Escape (1963)

The ultimate WWII prisoner of war film is entertaining if a bit long.  The Germans round up the most troublesome prisoners into one high-security camp and the Allied prisoners respond by planning the most daring escape ever.  The film claims to be based on actual events although a lot of what happens is dramatized, compressed, and composite-ized beyond reality, so it’s best to watch this for it entertainment and symbolic value rather than for a history lesson.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the Eddie Izzard routine on The Great Escape while watching this:

The Historic Pubs of Dublin (2008)

For St. Patrick’s Day, I enjoyed this hour-long journey through the best pubs in Dublin with writer Frank McCourt.  Pubs patronized by writers and revolutionaries are visited as well as good places to enjoy a pint, a whiskey, Irish trad, and some good craic are all visited.  McCourt also leads the viewer to some of the top tourist attractions in Dublin, often conveniently proximite to a pub.

Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is classic mystery novel which read online via DailyLit from 1/1/08 – 12/17/08.  This is the first time I’ve tried DailyLit which sends an installment of the novel to an email or rss feed each day in increments specified by the user.  The main effect for me is that I totally lost track of what the novel was about.   The general gist is that a woman named Laura Fairlie has been wronged by an evil aristocrat Sir Percival out of her inheritance.  Her possibly half-sister Anne Catherick is also wrongly imprisoned in an insanse assylum.

The novel is told through the letters and diaries of several characters, friends and family, who attempt to help Laura regain her fortune and solve the mystery of Sir Percival.  That’s about all I can tell you.  It wasn’t very engaging, especially over a twelve month period.

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins