Classic Movie Reviews: To Be or Not To Be (1942)


Title: To Be or Not To Be
Release Date: February 19, 1942
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Romaine Film Corp
Summary/Review:

On the eve of a Presidential inauguration that is under the shadow of a white supremacist insurrection us two weeks ago, it seems unfortunate that a movie that makes light of Nazis would come up next on my list. Except, once I started watching this movie I found it so compelling I let my misapprehensions go. Set in 1939, the movie depicts a theatre company in Warsaw who support the Underground by using disguises and get themselves in and out of trouble. Despite being a very funny comedy this film makes the threat of the Nazis all the more menacing.

In this earlier version Jack Benny and Carole Lombard portray the married stars of a Warsaw theatre company named Josef and Maria Tura.  A very young Robert Stack (but his distinguishing voice is recognizable) plays the Polish airman Lt. Stanislav Sobinski who inadvertently gets them caught up in a Gestapo plot. Benny is absolutely hilarious as the arrogant and hammy actor playing a part in everything he does.  Lombard, in her last role before dying in a plane crash, is equally majestic as the quick-witted Maria.

I remember seeing at least parts of the 1983 remake with Mel Brooks (and more frequently, the unfortunate “Hitler Rap” music video) as a kid, but didn’t remember much about the movie. I can see why it would appeal to Brooks though as it has some of his dark, satiric humor as well as the willingness to be seen as doing something in “bad taste.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
Title: The Constant Rabbit
Publication Info: Viking (2020)
Other Books Read By the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jasper Fforde’s works for many years and there are some things I’ve come to expect. 1) Elements of the fantastical in an otherwise ordinary world and 2) the characters in the story live under autocratic world in a dystopia.  The fantastical element of this book is that an unexplained event caused rabbits to take on human forms. The dystopia is that the British government has fallen under control of rightwing extremists who use fear to discriminate against the anthropomorphized rabbits. The dystopia is in effect the Britain of UKIP and Brexit (or the United States of Tea Party and Trump) and the metaphor isn’t even slightly nuanced.

The story is told from the perspective of Peter Knox, a human who is especially skilled in distinguish among rabbits and thus works as a Spotter for a draconian government organization Rabbit Compliance Taskforce.  Knox represents the the liberal person who is sympathetic to the cause of the oppressed but doesn’t want to get involved. In the novel, a rabbit family moves in next door to Knox including Constance, a rabbit Knox was acquainted with in college to whom he maintains an attraction. Over the course of the novel Knox is drawn into the rabbit resistance at the same time the government advances its plan to suppress the rabbits once and for all.

What I love about Fforde’s novels is that when he creates an alternate universe he always dives in deep into the detail about how the universe works.  The universe of anthropomorphic rabbits is no exception.  Fforde does a great job creating the culture and everyday life of the rabbit world that seems true to their species and their magical transformation. I particularly like a scene late in the novel when a rabbit lawyer is able to find loopholes in case against Knox in order to have the charges dropped.

This may not be my favorite Fforde novel but it is still a very good one. And if heavy-handed analogies to current events are not your thing, be warned that this book is full of them. But I believe it still works as an effective commentary and satire.

Favorite Passages:

Somebody once said that the library is actually the dominant life form on the planet. Humans simply exist as the reproductive means to achieve more libraries.

‘I fully appreciate what you’re saying, Peter,’ he said, which was Mallett shorthand for ‘I would utterly reject what you’re saying if I were listening, which I’m not’, ‘and all I want to do is raise awareness,’ which was, again, Mr Mallett’s shorthand for ‘I think I’ll stir up a whole heap of trouble and hope that in the ensuing scrum I’ll get what I want but not be held accountable for it’. He went on: ‘We must remain utterly vigilant at all times, and I’ll be honest, Peter, I didn’t have you pegged as a friend to rabbits.’

‘And don’t say you’re not personally responsible,’ continued Mr Ffoxe, ‘because you are. Your tacit support of the status quo is proof of your complicity, your shrugging indifference a favourable vote in support of keeping things exactly as they are. I’m not the murderer, Knox, you are – you and all your pathetic little naked primate cousins with their silly hairstyles and gangly limbs and overdeveloped sense of entitlement and self-serving delusion.’

While most humans are wired to be reasonably decent, a few are wired to be utter shits – and they do tend to tip the balance.’

‘Perhaps that’s what satire does – not change things wholesale but nudge the collective consciousness in a direction that favours justice and equality.

The bears in Oregon generally kept to themselves, but had recently been given Second Amendment rights, so were legally allowed to shoot hunters in self-defence – and did so quite frequently, much to the annoyance of hunters, who considered it ‘manifestly unfair’ because the bears, now suitably armed, were actually better hunters than they were.

The way we see it, London is just one massive money-laundering scheme attached to an impressive public transport system and a few museums, of which even the most honest has more stolen goods than a lock-up garage in Worcester rented by a guy I know called Chalky.’

‘Humans have a very clear idea about how to behave, and on many occasions actually do. But it’s sometimes disheartening that correct action is drowned out by endless chitter-chatter, designed not to find a way forward but to justify petty jealousies and illogically held prejudices. If you’re going to talk, try to make it relevant, useful and progressive rather than simply distracting and time-wasting nonsense, intended only to justify the untenable and postpone the real dialogue that needs to happen.’

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


Title: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Release Date: October 17, 1939
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

When I watched this movie as a child, I was gobsmacked by the depiction of rank corruption in the government. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about political corruption throughout US history, I just didn’t expect it in an old Hollywood film. For all the criticism of Frank Capra of making sentimental “Capra-corn,” this movie is cynical and dark. I mean they show flunkies of a political machine attacking children and driving them off a road, fer chrissakes!

The story begins with the death of a senator from a unnamed party in an unnamed state (Capra is very careful never to mention either of these things, ignoring the specific people and places where corruption thrived giving this movie an unfortunate “bothsiderism” undertone). The governor (Guy Kibbee) is torn between selecting a replacement suggested by his party’s political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) or a reform candidate suggested by citizens’ committees. His sons convince him to instead nominate a popular scouting leader Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Since the appointment is only for a few months, everyone believes that the noble but naïve Smith will keep his mouth shut and just occupy the seat for a short time.

Stewart does a great job of portraying Smith, at first awed by the symbolism of Washington DC and the majesty of the Senate. Smith’s mentor and the senior senator from his state, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) advises Smith to work on some small legislation to keep him busy. Despite Paine’s public persona as honest man, he’s working for Taylor’s machine, and wants to keep Smith from learning about a bill which contains a dam-building graft scheme.

Smith works with his world-weary and cynical assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) who teaches him how the sausage is made in the Senate while at the same time his optimism begins to rub off on her. Unfortunately, Smith’s bill for a national boys’ camp uses the same land as dam project. To cover their tracks, Paine and the Taylor machine frame Smith for corruption. Which leads to the final act, the famous and dramatic filibuster in the Senate.

This movie is considered inspirational, although I find it uninspiring that Smith only succeeds because he is able to make Paine feel shame, and then Paine makes a full confession. After all, Senators today won’t even apologize for mistakes they’ve made in the past, much less admit to corruption. In the past four years we’ve seen members of the Senate choosing to look the other way in full knowledge of corruption and crimes that affect the very heart of our democracy and the lives of millions of people. So I don’t believe that standing against corruption like Smith will change the hearts of the wicked, but I do believe it is correct to stand for America’s best ideals and what is best for the country, nonetheless.

This movie features some terrific acting, especially from Stewart, Raines, and Arthur. I particularly like the depiction of Saunders as an intelligent and independent woman within the government, something else you don’t expect to see in a movie from the 1930s. I also like Capra’s direction and some of the subtle choices he made to undergird his theme. For example, when Smith is reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, an elderly Black man (possibly born in slavery) is seen in the background.

This is definitely one of the great films of all-time and one that remains relevant to our times.


Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Forrest Gump (1994)


Title: Forrest Gump
Release Date: July 6, 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: The Tisch Company
Summary/Review:

When I see Forrest Gump on the AFI 100 list, I know it doesn’t belong there. On the other hand, there’s a cottage industry that’s arisen over the past 26 years that insists that Forrest Gump is on of the worst movies of all time, and I don’t think that’s right either. I remember watching and enjoying Forrest Gump in the movie theaters all those years and liking and enjoying it. Revisiting it now, I still like and enjoy it. And that’s fine.

I think Forrest Gump gets its reputation for good or for bad because it is a movie that is hard to get a handle on. It’s not really a comedy and it’s not really a drama. It’s famous for digitally editing Tom Hanks into moments from history, but that’s more of a running gag than the point of the movie. It’s considered inspirational, but a lot of what happens in the movie is very dark and the protagonist is just completely unware of that. The movie is slammed for being a nostalgia trough for Baby Boomers, but it is also a caustic satire of that same generation. Gump is claimed by conservatives as a beacon of traditional American values, but he’s often quite progressive for his place and time. Gump talks an awful lot, but does he ever say anything meaningful?

If there’s one thing that bugs me about this movie, it is the problem of Jenny. Not Robin Wright’s performance, which is as good as could be, but the fact that her character seems to exist to suffer. It’s like a type of cruel pornography.

That aside, it’s a clever and entertaining movie with some good acting by Hanks, Wright, Gary Sinise (as Lieutenant Dan) and others. If you can see it as something other than one of the best movies or worst movies of all time, it may just be an enjoyable couple of hours of your time.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)


Title: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Release Date: July 19, 1991
Director: Pete Hewitt
Production Company: Nelson Entertainment | Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

This sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure got good reviews at the time of its release but I never got around to watching it until now. Wisely, the filmmakers went for a plotline that didn’t rehash the gags of the first movie.  Bizarrely, they instead made a movie that is partially a parody of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Bill & Ted are high school graduates with their own apartment, hoping to marry their “chaste” medieval girlfriends. In the intervening years, they appear to have become more alternative than metal (Ted in particular is looking grunge and the band Primus makes an appearance). In the future utopia built on Bill & Ted’s music, a rebel gym teacher Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) sends back evil Bill & Ted robots to kill the real Bill & Ted. Thus begins the Bogus Journey where Bill & Ted must outwit Death (William Sadler) in various board games, travel to Hell and Heaven, and return to Earth to win a Battle of the Bands.

Like its predecessor, the movie is full or cornball gags that grow increasingly weird while also having a wholesome, feel-good sheen. Sadler’s Death is particularly a hilarious scene-stealer and unexpected sidekick.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Release Date: January 29, 1964
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Company: Hawk Films
Synopsis:

A rogue United States Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) initiates a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union using protocols that were designed only to be used if the President and federal government were incapacitated.  Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) of the UK Royal Air Force attempts to talk Ripper down, but soon realizes that Ripper is paranoid beyond rationality.

Meanwhile, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, again) meets in the War Room to discuss how to avert catastrophe.  General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) advises going all-in on a nuclear attack on the USSR to reduce American casualties.  But with the help of the Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull) and Mandrake, the bomber wing is recalled.

Unfortunately, one B-52 Stratofortress bomber under the command of Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) loses its radio equipment and cannot be called back or shot down in time.  The Soviets have created a Doomsday Device that detonates if their country is struck by a nuclear attack and will lead to the death of all human and animal life on the planet for 93 years.  German scientific adviser Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, in his third and most bizarre role) suggests a small population of Americans can be persevere by living in a deep mine shift.  The movie ends with the world’s destruction by nuclear explosions as cheerful music plays.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I had a sick day from high school and decided to watch some of the movies my mom had taped on VHS.  Dr. Strangelove quickly became one of my favorite movies. It was one of those discoveries you have when you’re a kid when you think no one before the seventies swore or said anything bad about the government, and then you learn that your fore bearers could do very sophisticated satire indeed.  I remember in college when a professor had a screening of the movie and I brought some friends along who’d never seen it. Then I got to watch them as the brilliance of this movie slowly dawned on them.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered the details and the major plot points very well.  And all those brilliant, quotable lines.

You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

If the pilot’s good, see, I mean if he’s reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low… oh you oughta see it sometime. It’s a sight. A big plane like a ’52… varrrooom! Its jet exhaust… frying chickens in the barnyard!

I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious…service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

Mr. President! We must not alloooooooooow a mine shaft gap!!

Sir! I have a plan… Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

What Did I Forget?:

I noticed things I’d never realized before including:

  • The President’s phone call to the Soviet premier, where he talks to him like he’s calming a child, is very much like a Bob Newhart sketch.
  • Dr. Strangelove is visible at the table in the War Room far earlier in the movie than I realized.
  • Just how brilliant George C. Scott is at military double speak such as “I hate to judge before all the facts are in,” as well as the sheer joy he takes in describing the skill of the US pilots before realizing they’re doomed.
  • The War Room spends a lot of time just talking about ridiculous stuff that they don’t have time to talk about.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

I believe this is the only Stanley Kubrick comedy, and that is due to the fact that Kubrick and his writers realized that it was impossible to tell this story as a drama.  The movie starts out playing it straight and only gradually ramps up the humor until it reaches its absurd climax.  It’s too bad Kubrick didn’t do more comedies.

Peter Sellers in his triple role, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens all put in spectacular performances.  Curiously, with the exception of Dr. Strangelove, none of the characters act in a particularly over-the-top way, but the often mundane dialogue they have in extreme circumstances leads to hilarity.

I can’t imagine what it was like to watch this movie a little over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and months after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Some people say that The Sixties began in 1964, and Dr. Strangelove played a big part in creating the social change of the turbulent decade to come.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie is 56 years old and should feel incredibly dated.  Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, this movie still feels frighteningly relevant because we still live in a world with arsenals of nuclear weapons that can be accessed by any lunatic that gains power.

Is It a Classic?:

Most assuredly.  Probably in my all-time Top Ten.

Rating: *****

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with D:

  1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
  2. Delicatessen (1991)
  3. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  4. Donnie Darko (2001)
  5. Duck Soup (1933)

What is your favorite movie starting with D?  What would you guess will be my movie starting with E?  (Hint: an 80s movie about the rise of personal computers).  Let me know in the comments!

Classic Movie Review: Sunset Boulevard (1950)


Title: Sunset Boulevard
Release Date: August 10, 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

Since I’ve started my Classic Films project, I’ve watched the best movies from three decades of early Hollywood. The first movie I watched from the 1950s finds Hollywood reflecting on its own history and the dark underbelly of the film industry.  Joe Gillis (Williams Holden) is a struggling screen writer who escapes the repossession men trying to take his car by parking it in the garage of a seemingly abandoned mansion on Sunset Boulevard.

Joe discovers that the house is in fact inhabited by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her obsequious butler Max (Erich von Stroheim) living in an elegant decrepitude. Appropriately, Swanson was a silent film star in real life and von Stroheim was an actor and director.  They worked together on Queen Kelly in the late 1920s, a film not released in the United States, but clips of it are seen in Sunset Boulevard as Norma Desmond’s work.

Norma is working on a script for her “return” to Hollywood greatness and hires Joe on the spot to polish the script.  Her offer includes housing in the mansion and Joe accepts what appears to be a plum job to help pay off his debts.  Over time, Norma becomes more controlling of Joe’s life and falling in love with him. Joe feels trapped in the situation as Norma loses her mental faculties.

Gloria Swanson puts in a wonderful over-the-top performance as someone who is always Acting! decades after her career faded away.  Swanson was only 50 years old when this movie was made so it’s ridiculous that she’s constantly referred to as aged, but then again, that is an accurate depiction of Hollywood’s attitude towards older women. Holden is a good straight man for all the weirdness of Swanson and von Stroheim.  Nancy Olson has a great part as a script reader, Betty, who works on writing a script with Joe when he slips away from Norma’s mansion, and is also his love interest.  Cecil B. DeMille plays himself in a scene where Norma returns to the Paramount lot where he treats her with great respect while evading any promises about actually producing her horrible script.

The movie is filmed with the light and shadows of film noir, which is effective even as the movie teeters on the border of comedy and tragedy.  There’s a particularly effective shot of Joe’s body floating in a pool, shot from below, and Wilder’s direction is top notch.  This movie is worthy of its reputation as one of the all-time greats.

Rating: *****

Classic Movie Review: The Great Dictator (1940)


Title: The Great Dictator
Release Date: October 15, 1940
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: Charles Chaplin Film Corporation
Summary/Review:

13 years after the first “talkie,” Charlie Chaplin finally made his first film with true sound.  And let me tell you, it is very strange to hear Chaplin talking.  But he puts words to good use in this startling satire of Adolf Hitler and fascism. Filming began the same month that World War II began and The Great Dictator appeared in theaters at the same time the Battle of Britain was raging.  Not knowing the full extent of the Nazi horror was justification for turning away Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis in 1939, and yet this movie refers to “concentration camps” by name.

Chaplin plays two roles in this movie. One is a Jewish barber who loses his memory in one of the final battles of the Great War while valiantly aiding Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) secure valuable documents.  20 years later he’s finally recovered and returns to work at his barbershop in the ghetto, unaware of the rise of fascism and the persecution of the Jews.  In this role, Chaplin very much resembles his Little Tramp character in attire.  The barber befriends Mr. Jaeckel (Maurice Moscovich, who liked so much in Make Way for Tomorrow and falls in love with Hannah (Paulette Goddard), who help him adjust to the new situation. Schultz is even able to arrange a brief reprieve of the oppression in the ghetto in recognition of the barber’s heroism in World War I.

Chaplin’s other role is Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomainia, a not at all subtle parody of Adolf Hitler.  Chaplain mimics Hitler’s oratory style, complete with wild arm gestures, in a German-sound gibberish.  His depiction of a power hungry tyrant who is vain, irrational, and stupid feels a bit close to the surface to watch in 2019.  Other parodies target Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and Benito Mussolini as Garbitsch (Henry Daniell), Herring (Billy Gilbert), Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie) respectively.

It is not at all surprising with Chaplin playing two characters that it will eventually lead to mistaken identity.  But what is stunning is the speech the barber delivers in the guise of Hynkel at the film’s conclusion.  All the comedy ceases, and Chaplin essentially speaks as himself for several minutes on peace and unity.  It’s a powerful ending to a film that I’m still amazed even exists.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Rules of the Game (1939)


Title: The Rules of the Game
Release Date: July 7, 1939
Director: Jean Renoir
Production Company: Nouvelle Édition Française
Summary/Review:

Released just months before the outbreak of World War II, The Rules of the Game is a scathing satire of the decadence of France’s wealthy elite.  Director Jean Renoir (son of the artist Pierre-Auguste) uses innovative techniques such as deep-focus cinematography to depict the ensemble cast playing out overlapping conversations and plots at the same time. Before I even looked it up, I could tell this movie influenced the work of Robert Altman.  In fact, Gosford Park is pretty close to a remake.

The film begins with aviator André  (Roland Toutain) completing a transatlantic flight and declaring his love for Christine (Nora Gregor) in a radio interview. The whingy man-baby then has a temper tantrum that she has not come to greet him at the airport.  Christine, it turns out, is married to Robert, Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio), a French aristocrat (as an aside, I could’ve sworn the French nobility was eliminated well before 1939, but maybe someone more knowledgeable in French history could clarify this for me).  Robert, in turn, has a mistress, Geneviève (Mila Parély).

All of these characters, as well as Octave (played by the director, Jean Renoir), a mutual friend of André and Christine travel to Robert’s estate in Sologne for a weekend of parties.  Christine is accompanied by her maid (Paulette Dubost)  , who is married to the gamekeeper Schumacher (Gaston Modot), but more devoted to Christine.  Schumacher catches a poacher, Marceau (Julien Carette), but Robert is impressed by his skill at killing rabbits and hires him on the spot as a domestic servant.  Octave and Marceau are similar in that they’re both comical figures, outsiders, but in ways more morally-centered than everyone else around them.

At the estate, there are masked balls, performances, and a very grim rabbit hunt around which various romantic liaisons take place.  There are declarations of love, heartbreak, arguments, fist fights, and ultimately the threat of using firearms (sometimes these things are happening at the same time with deep-focus tricks).  Not surprisingly there is also a murder, albeit one due to mistaken identity.  The way the elite carry on, not allowing the tragedy to affect their emotional display and continuing to play “the game” shows their moral callousness.  This is a brilliant film about awful people.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Good Omens


Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Title: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
Narrator: Martin Jarvis
Other books read by the same authors:

Pratchett:

Gaiman:

Publication Info: Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, 2009 [originally published in 1990]
Summary/Review:

Several years ago, I read Good Omens, and hearing the buzz about the new tv series adaptation, I thought it was worth revisiting this book in audio format, charmingly narrated by Martin Jarvis.  This was the first book I read by either author at the time of my previous reading.  It is no less than a satirical fantasy about the Apocalypse.  More specifically, satire of the religious beliefs around the End Times mixed with satire about quirky, middle-class English life (the biggest flaw of this book is that it can get bogged down in the “quirky, middle-class English life” bit, past the point of being funny).

The main characters of the book are the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who have formed a partnership over the eons due to their both liking humanity for their own reasons, and thus wishing to avoid the end of the world.  Early in the novel, the son of Satan is born, and due to a mix-up by the Satanic nuns at the hospital, the baby is mixed up with another baby.  11 years later, when the Apocalypse is too begin, the child groomed to be an Anti-Christ is an ordinary boy, while Satan’s actual son is Adam Young of the Oxfordshire village of Lower Tadfield.

The plot shifts among  several characters. Aziraphale and Crowley trying to sort out the mix-up without getting in trouble with their Higher Ups (and Lower Downs, I suppose for Crowley?). Adam and his gang of friends Them get into esoteric mischief as Adam becomes aware of his powers.  Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Death, Famine, and Pollution (who took over from Pestilence after the invention of penicillin) assemble and ride, picking up some Hell’s Angels along the way who give themselves names of things that annoy them. And Anathema Device is a witch who knows everything that will happen because she is the descendant of Agnes Nutter, a 17th century witch who wrote a book of accurate, but highly specific predictions. She is brought together with Newton Pulsifer, a nerdy bloke who seems to stumble into becoming one of the last Witchfinders for a paycheck.

A lot of it’s corny, and as I’ve said, sometimes the jokes are belabored.  Nonetheless, it’s a clever and funny work of two of the great fantasy writers of our age.

My original review from 2004:

A very silly book about the Apocalypse run amok. Sometimes the tongue-in-cheek writing style got a bit annoying, but there were always some clever bits to redeem it. While mostly a parody of Apocalyptical legend, there is also a strong undertone about good & evil and faith in a higher being. For all the comic cynicism, the message about God here is surprisingly positive.

Favorite Passages:

It is said that the Devil has all the best tunes. This is broadly true. But Heaven has the best choreographers


Crowley thought for a bit. “You must have had records,” he said. “There are always records. Everyone has records these days.” He glanced proudly at Aziraphale. “It was one of my better ideas.”

(As someone who works in archives and records management, I’m particularly amused that a demon invented records.)


The small alien walked past the car.

“C02 level up 0.5 percent,” it rasped, giving him a meaningful look. “You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****