Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Few Reviews: One Book and a Lot of Movies

EIFELHEIM by Michael Flynn
No wonder so many in St. Blog's were talking up this wonderful science fiction book a while ago (The Curt Jester and Elliot both have much more thorough reviews). Briefly: imagine that in the 14th century a little village in the depths of the Black Forest has an alien space ship crash nearby. The aliens look like giant grasshoppers. Naturally, many of the local peasants think they are demons. Others, however, especially the village priest who was educated in Paris, take into consideration what makes a creature "a man." In other words, what constitutes a soul and therefore makes it incumbent upon us to treat aliens as we would wish to be treated? Flynn does an excellent job of recreating the 14th century mindset so this is not simply a story told with modern sensibilities in a long ago setting. As well, there is a brief modern-day story investigating the village of Eifelheim that seemed fairly superfluous until the very end of the book. Likewise, a seemingly extraneous character, Judy, is the one that gives the long-dead villagers and aliens their final humanity. I immediately requested another of Michael Flynn's books from the library. This did take me a while to finish as it might be called "cerebral science fiction" but it is well worth it, especially to those who enjoy seeing Christianity treated with respect in such a setting.

" In Iran, All Women Are Banned From Men's Sporting Events"
This little movie is a real charmer. A number of Iranian girls attempt to enter Tehran's Azadi Stadium dressed as boys in order to watch a qualifying match that will get Iran into the World Cup competition. Several are arrested and the movie largely consists of watching their attempts to escape or talk the guards into letting them go. Ironically, the ostensible reason for keeping women out of the stadium is to protect their delicate sensibilities when the men become overcome by excitement and begin swearing at missed goals and the like. A stadium entryway is tantalizingly close so that several guards are able to watch part of the game and naturally ... swear when goals are missed. No one blinks an eye. Likewise, when one woman engages the head guard in a logical discussion about why the law is nonsensical, he knows she is right but is unable to do anything but hs duty. What was most interesting to me was this look into Iran as this was filmed on location during the actual sporting event. The men are all dressed Western style in shirts and slacks while any women we see are sporting terrible attempts to pass for boys. Interestingly also, while the guards must enforce the law, all the other men we see (with the exception of one father) are largely sympathetic to the girls' attempts to see the match in person. They routinely attempt to help them slip into the stadium or refuse to turn them in. As I said before, this is a small movie but ultimately it is one that is a lot of fun, especially during the scene when one hapless guard has to find a way to get one of the girls into the all-male bathroom.

The team that created Shaun of the Dead have done it again. While parodying movies featuring cops, buddies, and action, they have created a superb example of that very genre. Nicholas Angel is driven to excel and jealous colleagues conspire to have him transferred to a sleepy country hamlet of Sandford where crime extends to missing swans and underage drinking, which is winked at by the locals. He brings his big city attitude in and is confounded at then number of "accidents" that are routinely killing off prominent citizens while never being investigated. His slow and clueless partner longs for the excitement that he watches in action movies. The intrigue deepens and action takes off from there. Brilliantly done and highly recommended, although there are a few gruesome shots (Hannah warned me not to watch the results of the accident in the churchyard and the fate of a villain during a fight at a model of the town was comical but disturbing to me as well). Watch for Timothy Dalton in a fantastic role as the sinister-seeming, smiling main suspect. Be sure to listen to the music playing whenever he is around; it is keyed into movie events beautifully.

  • Scoop:
    Woody Allen wrote tis for Scarlett Johansen who plays a college journalism student who gets tips from a famous dead journalist's ghost about the identity of a serial murderer. The only question is will she fall for him instead? The main suspect is played charmingly by Hugh Jackman. Light, frothy entertainment.

  • My Man Godfrey
    William Powell and Carole Lombarde star in the story of a rich girl who plucks a poor hobo from a shanty town and makes him the family butler. Second only to It Happened One Night in our recent favorites from the time.

  • Harold and Maude
    A strange little movie from the 1970's about a teenage boy with a domineering mother and a fascination with death. He comes across 79-year-old Maude who has a zest for life that revolutionizes his own views. Truly a piece from its time, with an anti-authoritarianism plot that may have been fresh at the time but seems cliched now as Hollywood has done it to death. We also found one aspect to have a large "euwwww" factor but it may not impress everyone that way. Interesting as a curiousity and as a cult movie.

  • It Happened One Night
    Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in Frank Capra's comic masterpiece about a headstrong, runaway heiress and the newspaperman who wants to save his career by writing a story about her latest escapade. This is the gold standard that our household measures all other old movies against, and a few new ones as well. If you rent only one old movie this year, make it this one!

  • Sullivan's Travels
    Preston Sturgis' comedy is all about the need for humor in hard times. A pampered movie director feels that the depression going on calls for serious, hard-hitting movies that explain the current social and economic problems to the public. His producers know that hard times call for light-hearted movies to take your mind off your troubles. To prove them wrong and experience those hard times, the director disguises himself as a hobo and takes to the road. After several botched attempts, during one of which he meets Veronica Lake as the romantic interest, he accomplishes his goal accidentally and better than he ever would have thought. At this point the movie takes a darker turn but this is when it is most effective. Especially touching is the scene in the church where the poor black congregation and convicts from a local work farm are laughing at Pluto and Mickey Mouse. Highly recommended although Preston Sturgis is no Frank Capra, however much he wants to be (which is cleverly mentioned early in the movie). Also it was fun to see where "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" came from, which was used by the Coen Brothers in the movie of the same name.

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