Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lum and Abner Christmas Special

One of my favorite Christmas specials is a radio drama.  Lum and Abner's traditional Christmas story, which aired every year from 1933 to 1954, is set in Pine Ridge, Arkansas, but reflects Bethlehem's nativity story.  After paying their taxes in the county seat, a young couple is forced to take up lodging in an old abandoned barn, where the wife has gone into labor.  Lum, Abner, and Grandpappy Spears, armed with blankets, an oil heater, and a box of groceries, are trudging through the snow on Christmas night to provide comfort and sustenance to the couple.  On their Christmas journey, the three old men contemplate the joy of helping others, the passage of time, and the bittersweet circle of life.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bing Crosby Christmas

More than any entertainer, Bing Crosby is synonymous with Christmas.  In the sixties and seventies my family watched the Bing Crosby Christmas specials every year; David Bowie, of all people, guest starred on Bing's last special (Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas) in 1977, which aired posthumously.  Who hasn't heard Bing and Bowie sing "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth"?  I'm not a fan of Bing's crooning style of singing--save "Mele Kalikimaka"-- but I did love those specials and still love his Christmas movies.  If you haven't ever seen a Bing Christmas movie, watch one (or all) of them this year.
  1. Holiday Inn (1942).  Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire play a singer and dancer competing for the attentions of a beautiful ingenue.
  2. Going My Way (1944).  Bing plays the animated Father O'Malley who is sent to take over St. Dominic's from its crusty old priest Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitgerald).
  3. The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).  Father O'Malley is back in this sequel to Going My Way.  This time he ruffles the feathers of Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman).
  4. White Christmas (1954).  A song-and-dance team (Bing and Danny Kaye) become romantically involved with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), and the four of them join forces to save the Vermont inn of a former general.

To order from Amazon, click on links below.
 Holiday Inn (Special Edition)
Going My Way (Universal Cinema Classics)
The Bells of St. Mary's
White Christmas (Anniversary Edition)
White Christmas [Blu-ray]
White Christmas (the music CD)
Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth/ White Christmas Featuring Ella Fitzgerald (7 inch 45 limited edition red vinyl)

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Little History of the World

A Little History of the World
by E. H. Gombrich
translated by Caroline Mustill
Yale University Press (2008)
304 pages
ISBN:  030014332X
All Ages

When I want to learn something about a non-fiction field I have no knowledge of, I turn to juvenile books, as they tend to give me the information I want in an entertaining way.  Like E. H. Gomrich's A Little History of the World.  Gomrich wrote the book in 1935 when he was 26, and it was first published in Vienna.  But another seventy years would pass before this brilliant little book was translated into English, a task Gromrich undertook with his assistant Caroline Musthill, who completed the undertaking after Gomrich's death in 2001.  It quickly became a bestseller; the paperback and an illustrated version followed.

Through vivid imagery, engaging storytelling, and humor, Gromrich brings to life the history of our world from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age.  He uses mirrors to demonstrate the vastness of history:  "Have you ever tried standing between two mirrors?  You will see a great long line of shiny mirrors, each one smaller that the one before, stretching away into the distance, getting fainter and fainter, so that you never see the last.  But even when you can't see them any more, the mirrors still go on.  They are there, and you know it."  And so it is with grandparents.  Who had grandparents.  Who had grandparents.  And so on.  And you can never reach the beginning, because there's always another set of grandparents.

Among the topics Gomrich explores are the inventions by cavemen, in particular speech; life in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece; the Phoenicians' sound-based alphabet ,which we still use today; the growth of religion, beginning with Judaism, the first faith to worship one and only one God; the Middle Ages, which were not all dark but rather "like a starry night...showing them the way" and the Age of Chivalry; the discovery of the New World made possible by the invention of the compass; the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution; slavery in America and the secession of the southern states; and European Imperialism and the subsequent World Wars.  Gomrich spotlights some of history's most fascinating figures including Confucius, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Jesus Christ, Charlemagne, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, and Columbus.  Believe me, you'll be glad you picked up this book, and in the reading you'll learn some history you never knew you wanted to know.

To purchase from Amazon, click on links:

A Little History of the World
A Little History of the World: Illustrated Edition
The Band
Greatest Hits(The Band)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christmas Carols Pick Up Where Political Ads Leave Off

"When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around."--Willie Nelson

I heard last night on t.v. that 1,000,000 political ads aired this political season.  I know it.  Here in Ohio I saw every one of them.  The ads weren't just polluting the television airwaves; they were contaminating the radio airwaves, as well.  Finally, today, knowing I wouldn't have to put up with any more political ads, I turned on my favorite classic rock station, only to hear Brenda Lee singing "Jingle Bell Rock," followed immediately by Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby."  Oh no, they've started Christmas caroling already!  I can't bear it.  How can Christmas be as toxic as politics?  And how did Thanksgiving get crushed between Election Day and Christmas?  The only way to counter all the noise is to count your blessings, like Willie, and remember, in thought and deed, those less fortunate.  Here's a video of that traditional Thanksgiving hymn, "We Gather Together."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein (1974)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Written by Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Mary Shelley
Starring Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman
Featuring Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn, Gene Hackman, Liam Dunn and Danny Goldman

It's that time of year when it's good to watch horror movies, but on the whole I don't care for them.  I don't do slasher movies or torture porn at all.  Occasionally, a movie, such as The Ring, will scare the bejesus out of me, an experience I do not relish.  It must be an age thing:  I didn't mind having the pants scared off of me when I was in my teens and early twenties.  Back then I watched Halloween and Friday the 13th (the first one), and rode home from the movies afterwards, seeing masked Michaels and Jasons behind every tree.  But nowadays, I like to remain in a calm state during and after a movie, so I was most agitated this past weekend when, for his sixteenth birthday, my son wanted me to take him and three friends to see Sinister.  As the movie was R-rated, I couldn't just drop them off; I had to go in and watch it with them.  Fortunately, the movie was rather banal and did not give me nightmares.  In any case, Arsenic and Old Lace and Ghostbusters are more my speed.

My favorite movie to watch in the weeks leading up to Halloween is Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.  A parody of 1930s classical horror flicks, the movie is filmed in black and white, and uses other classic cinema techniques of the horror genre, including scene transitions such as iris outs, wipes, and fades to black, and a significant period soundtrack by composer John Morris.  Dr. Victor Frankenstein's grandson (Gene Wilder), who has spent his life distancing himself from his notorious relative, even changing the pronunciation of his last name, inherits the family castle in Transylvania.  When he finds his grandfather's how-to manual for reanimating corpses, he finds he is not so different from his crazy ancestor.  With Igor (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr) assisting him in the laboratory, he gives life to a monster (Peter Boyle) who only wants to be loved.  Following is a snippet of dialogue from the scene in which Frankenstein meets Igor.

Igor: Dr. Frankenstein...
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: "Fronkensteen."
Igor: You're putting me on.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, it's pronounced "Fronkensteen."
Igor: Do you also say "Froaderick"?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No... "Frederick."
Igor: Well, why isn't it "Froaderick Fronkensteen"?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: It isn't; it's "Frederick Fronkensteen."
Igor: I see.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: You must be Igor.
[He pronounces it ee-gor]
Igor: No, it's pronounced "eye-gor."
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: But they told me it was "ee-gor."
Igor: Well, they were wrong then, weren't they?

What movies do you like to watch for Halloween?  (Click here for a list of good Halloween movies.)

To order from Amazon:
Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein [Blu-ray]

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

You Say It's Your Birthday

Today, my son's sixteenth birthday, marks the end of our birthday season, which begins September 30 with my daughter's birthday, peaks October 7 with mine, and closes on October 10.  (My husband is off by himself back in the middle of June.)  September and October tend to have more births than other months; no surprise there as the winter holiday season is nine months earlier.  If you are celebrating a birthday, you might enjoy one of these birthday movies.  You might enjoy one if you aren't celebrating a birthday.
  1. The Little Princess (1939).  Shirley Temple is Sarah who learns on her eleventh birthday that her father has been killed in the Second Boer War; as a result she is banished the to the servants' quarters of the boarding school she attends.
  2. Dumbo (1941).  A stork delivers an adorable big-eared baby elephant to its circus elephant mama.
  3. Sleeping Beauty (1959).  Maleficent lays this curse on Sleeping Beauty on her first birthday:  She will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die before her sixteenth birthday.
  4. The Birds (1963).  Cathy's eleventh birthday party is crashed by a flock of crazed seagulls.
  5. Harold and Maude (1971).  Maude's plan for her eightieth birthday is in direct opposition to Harold's plan to propose to this animated woman he's known for only a couple of days.
  6. Sixteen Candles (1984).  John Hughes' classic coming-of-age movie centers on Samantha (Molly Ringwald) whose entire family has forgotten her sixteenth birthday.
  7. Uncle Buck (1989).  The french toast I made for my son this morning can't hold a candle to the giant birthday pancake Buck (John Candy) makes for nephew Miles (Macaulay Culkin).
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).  On his eleventh birthday Harry receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  9. Signs (2002).  Morgan's seventh birthday is ruined by an uninvited extraterrestrial guest.
  10. 13 Going on 30 (2004).  I love this chick flick version of Big.  On her thirteenth birthday, unpopular Jenna wishes to fast forward to 30.  When 30-year-old Jenna (Jennifer Garner) awakes, she remembers nothing of the past 17 years.

To order these movies from Amazon, click on the links below.
 The Little Princess
Dumbo (Two-Disc 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack in Blu-ray Packaging)
Sleeping Beauty (Two-Disc Platinum Edition)
Sleeping Beauty (Two-Disc Platinum Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo + BD Live) [Blu-ray]
The Birds (Collector's Edition)
The Birds [DVD + Digital Copy] (Universal's 100th Anniversary)
Harold and Maude (Criterion Collection)
Harold and Maude (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Sixteen Candles (High School Reunion Collection)
Sixteen Candles (Universal 100th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
Uncle Buck
 Uncle Buck [Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Two-Disc Special Widescreen Edition) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone [Blu-ray]
 Signs [Blu-ray]
13 Going on 30 (Fun & Flirty Edition)
The White Album

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Read a Banned Book

"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." - Oscar Wilde

September 30-October 6 is Banned Book Week.  Celebrate by reading one of these frequently banned  young adult and juvenile books:
  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  This one's got something for everyone who likes banning books:  homosexuality, suicide, profanity, drugs, teen sex.
  2. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson.  This is the true story of two gay penguins who hatch an egg in New York's Central Park Zoo.  Enough said?
  3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  Banned for racism.  Ironic, given that it was one of the first books to raise the question of race inequity.
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.  Language, sexual content, violence, high school gangs.
  5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  Among its sins is the promotion of witchcraft.
  6. The House on Mango Street.  This one's a cornucopia for book banners: poverty, ethnicity, violence, and abuse.
  7. Where's Wally? by Martin Handford.  A sunbather in one scene partially exposes her breast.
  8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  Witchcraft, crystal balls, and anti-religious subtext landed this one in hot water.
  9. Goosebumps by R. L. Stine.  Too scary for kids.
  10. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.  One of the poem's encourages children to be messy and disobedient.  Others deal with the supernatural, i.e. demons and ghosts. 
For more banned juvenile and young adult books, click here

To purchase these books at Amazon, click on links below:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
And Tango Makes Three
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Chocolate War Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1)
Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
The House on Mango Street
Where's Wally?
Where's Waldo? The Complete Collection
A Wrinkle in Time: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition
Goosebumps HorrorLand Boxed Set #1-4
A Light in the Attic Special Edition

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Simple Pleasure of Riding a Bike

"Get a bicycle.  You will certainly not regret it.  If you live."--Mark Twain

When the weather's good, like it is in September, I love to ride my bike to and from work.  It's good exercise, it's economical, it's fun, and it's conducive to thinking.  (Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity while riding his bike.)  My bike's a bit big for me, so I've been looking for a new one.  But, now that gas is so expensive, bicycling is hot; as a result bicycles are expensive, ranging from $400 to $700.  The beauty pictured above costs $649.  It was love at first sight for me when I saw it in our local bike shop, but I just can't justify that kind of money.  Not yet anyway.  A few more near misses on the bike I'm riding now, and I just might plunk down the cash.

Here's a list of seven movies that feature--or star--the humble bicycle.
  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).  Features Paul Newman and Katherine Ross on a bicycle with Burt Bacharach singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."
  2. Breaking Away (1979).  A coming of age story about an Indiana youth obsessed with the Italian cycling team.
  3. E.T. (1982).  An alien makes his escape on a flying bicycle.
  4. Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).  O.k. I've never seen this one, but, given its plot, I can't not include it on this list.  Pee-wee loves his bike, which is stolen from him, so he goes on a cross-country adventure to retrieve it.
  5. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989).  A Japanese animated film about a young witch who makes her way in the world running a delivery service--by bike, of course.
  6. One Day (2011).  A bicycle figures in a pivotal scene in this love story starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.
  7. Premium Rush (2012).  This action thriller, considered by some to be the best movie of the year, pits a bicycle messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) against a dirty cop (Michael Shannon).