Saturday, April 30, 2011
What: Eight bright young men are trying for places at Oxford or Cambridge. Their headmaster brings in a young test-prep coach to give them an edge. Alan Bennett's story explores the fissure between clever test-taking and education for its own sake. The relief here is that the boys are fully aware that it's all just a game, and they do their fair share of manipulating it. They are highly articulate, charming smart-alecks --- occasionally vulnerable, often smug (one in particular is accurately described as "a complacent fuck"), but always believable.
Comparable to: It's really, really, really not Dead Poets Society. Really.
Representative quote: "Do you want us to be thoughtful, sir, or do you want us to be smart?"
You might not like it if: The culture of British boys' schools in the early 1980s --- brought out with Bennett's dry, mocking, expletive-peppered humor --- holds no appeal for you.
How to get it: Rent, buy, borrow. As you do.
Further note of moderate interest: This award-winning play by Alan Bennett ran in London in 2004/2005 before coming to Broadway the following year and being subsequently adapted for film. Most of the movie cast had been with the show since the beginning, and you might now recognize several of the young actors, including Dominic Cooper (An Education), James Corden (Gavin and Stacey), and Russell Tovey (Being Human).
Thursday, April 28, 2011
What: In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm explores the moral complexities of nonfiction writing. She argues that even when you're telling someone else's story, you're always just telling your own, for your own reasons. Controversy!
Comparable to: Like a behind-the-scenes tour of true crime books such as In Cold Blood (and of less prestigious ones, too).
Representative quote: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible." [first sentence]
You might not like it if: It seems like it's a book you should read, and that pretty much turns you off.
How to get it: Widely available for sale, and your library probably has it. Not Kindle-able (yet).
Connection to previous Wreckage: Susan Orlean, author of Saturday Night (Rec. #15), was one of the writers who agreed with Malcolm's basic premise, admitting that ethical struggles are a necessary evil in journalism.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
What: In the early 1920s, a mismatched group of strangers leave rainy England and rent a medieval castle in Italy for the month of April. There's patient, resigned Rose Arbuthnot; optimistic, stifled Lotty Wilkins; nostalgic, disapproving Mrs. Fisher; and jaded, bored Lady Caroline Dester. By the end of the month, each of them is changed in some way, mostly for the good.
Comparable to: Starchy Brits in comparatively free-love Italy will probably remind you of E.M. Forster.
Representative quote: "It is true she liked him most when he wasn't there, but then she usually liked everybody most when they weren't there."
You might not like it if: It is April now and very rainy and you are not in Italy and actually you kind of resent me for presenting the suggestion of spending the month in a medieval villa because now that's all you can think about and it's making you a less productive person and also vaguely dissatisfied and you think your dog may have started looking at you funny.
How to get it: Seems to be in the public domain, so at the very least it's Kindle-able for free. Also, you may have a vague memory of the acclaimed 1992 movie adaptation of The Enchanted April. Although it is good, the film misses some crucial points about the characters in the book, which can be frustrating, if you get frustrated by that sort of thing. (I do.)
Connection to previous Wreckage: Author Elizabeth von Arnim put another set of characters in an unfamiliar country (in this case, the U.S.) with similar quiet humor in Christopher and Columbus (Rec. #61).
Monday, April 25, 2011
What: When you try to film an unfilmable novel, you have a few options. 1) You can put blinders on and forge ahead with your adaptation while yelling, "La la la, I can't hear yoooouuu!" 2) You can alter the story to such a degree that it no longer resembles the original source material. 3) Or you can choose the path that Michael Winterbottom did and go all meta. Tristram Shandy is, yes, based on the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. But really it's a movie about making a movie based on the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, and how utterly impossible it is.
Comparable to: Charlie Kaufman? Are you sure you weren't involved in this?
Representative quote: "This was a post-modern classic written way before there was any modern to be post about."
You might not like it if: You can't stand self-referential loops like Steve Coogan playing Steve Coogan playing Tristram Shandy (and also his father, Walter).
How to get it: Easy to find the DVD. And, if you're interested, the book is in the public domain.
Connections to previous Wreckage: We have a Brit actor extravaganza here. A quick sample of the cast: Keeley Hawes, who was in a miniseries adaption of the Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend (Rec. #88); Dylan Moran, star of the series Black Books (Rec. #68); Kelly Macdonald, who was in State of Play (Rec. #104); Shirley Henderson, from Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Rec. #108); and Rob Brydon, who is absolutely delightful in Gavin and Stacey (Rec. # . . . wait, I haven't done that yet?!).
Special note: The U.K. title of the film is the U.S. subtitle --- A Cock and Bull Story. Presumably they changed it because they thought U.S. audiences would get too giggly about the original title. Frankly, though, Michael Winterbottom probably has other things to worry about.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
What: At the beginning of The Good Children, the McNair family is a mother, a father, two sons, and two daughters. Early on, the father dies in an industrial accident. The distraught mother is determined that nothing will separate her from her children, who range in age from six to fifteen. Soon after, she is killed in an accident at home. The terrified kids bury their mother's body in the backyard and start building the illusion that she is still alive. Author Kate Wilhelm expertly describes how the elaborate deception leads to shifting allegiances among the four remaining McNairs, and how the psychological cracks begin to show.
Comparable to: The plot sounds Gothic, but Wilhelm carefully builds suspense with a spare, unsentimental, straightforward style that is more noir-inclined.
Representative quote: "When you've got family, you don't need anything else."
You might not like it if: You are familiar Kate Wilhelm through her Nebula Award-winning, modern sci-fi classic Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and you're expecting something similar here. There is no sci-fi in The Good Children.
How to get it: Not too difficult to find used or at your library.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
What: Green Wing is a British sitcom that's set in a hospital but, thank goodness, there are no medical story lines and no sign of the patients. Instead, the show focuses on the personal lives of characters including hapless Caroline, smarmy Guy, unflappable Mac, perky Angela, hopeless Martin, and possibly sociopathic Sue.
Comparable to: The above picture is the first series DVD cover, but the image below will give you a better idea of the show's forays into vaguely surrealistic slapstick:
Representative quote: "Join us again for next week's episode of Let's Make No Fucking Sense, when I will be waxing an owl."
You might not like it if: You want fictional doctors to be intelligent, responsible, compassionate individuals who are primarily concerned with the welfare of their patients.
How to get it: The bad news is that the DVD is only available on region 2 format (unplayable on most U.S. players). The good news is that you can watch Green Wing online through IMDb and Hulu.
Connection to previous Wreckage: One of the main characters, Caroline, is played by Tamsin Greig. She has experience playing hapless from her role as Fran on Black Books (Rec. #68).
Thursday, April 21, 2011
What: Tove Jansson wrote nine books as part of her Moomin series for children. Moominvalley in November is the final entry in the series, and its elegiac tone is appropriate for both its title and its position as a farewell to Moominland. It's almost winter, and various characters travel to visit the happy and comforting Moomin family, only to find that they have left for the season. The visitors settle down to wait, personalities clash, and some quiet epiphanies occur.
Comparable to: Although the book is ostensibly for children, Jansson handles psychological subtleties with the grace, humor, and complexity of George Eliot. (Plus, how many other children's books can you name that use the word "putrefaction" in a passing bit of dialogue?)
Representative quote: "Don't fuss, there's nothing here that's worse than we are ourselves."
You might not like it if: You're clinging to the hope of summer and don't want to be distracted by thoughts of late fall. (Personally, I find this contrast delicious.)
How to get it: Definitely worth reading on your own as an adult, but it's also an undeniable pleasure to read names like Mymble, Toft, Fillyjonk, and Snufkin out loud to a kid. Happily, all of the Moomin books are currently in print in the U.S.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
What: As often happens (in movies and books, at least), there's a good brother and a troublesome brother. Wilbur is not the good brother. Even though Wilbur gets the title, the film's real focus is the other brother --- the sympathetic, responsible, selfless one --- who is named, fittingly, Harbour. He's spent his life trying to keep his depressive younger brother safe. When Alice (played by the always-wonderful Shirley Henderson) and her daughter enter the picture, things slowly start to change.
Comparable to: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is an interesting blend of Scottish and Danish sensibilities. The movie is set in Edinburgh, but the writer/director, Lone Scherfig, is from Denmark. Scherfig also directed An Education.
Representative quote: "It gets more and more humiliating every time I survive."
You might not like it if: You get distracted by the excellent actors in smaller roles and want the movie to be about them. Mads Mikkelsen and Julia Davis fans, I'm talking to you.
How to get it: You can buy it or rent it. If you have trouble with Scottish or Danish accents, I suggest closed captioning. (Well, actually I always suggest closed captioning, but I really like reading words.)
Monday, April 18, 2011
What: Muriel Spark is best known as a novelist, but her short stories demonstrate her strengths in their most distilled form: elegant style, authentic and unexpected story arcs, thoughtful first-person narration, and certain turns of phrase that twist like a knife in your gut. The stories in Open to the Public include tales of revenge, colonialism, calculated manipulation by children, psychiatry, the return of past crimes, a reversal on the "meeting the parents" cliché, and more revenge. Lots of revenge and murder and crime in general, actually. Spark tends to be a bit bloodthirsty.
Comparable to: Alan Bennett would have very little trouble adapting most of her stories into Talking Heads-type monologues.
Representative quote: "He looked as if he would murder me, and he did."
You might not like it if: You can't get past Spark's stylistic quirk of using comma splices as if they're about to vanish off the face of the earth.
How to get it: If you have trouble locating this particular book, I would recommend any collection of Spark's stories.
Connection to previous Wreckage: I already recommended one of Spark's novels, Loitering with Intent (Rec. #13).
Sunday, April 17, 2011
What: With The Hudsucker Proxy, the Coen brothers indulge in their fondness for mid-twentieth-century rat-a-tat. The film stars Tim Robbins in his blank-faced geniality mode, Jennifer Jason Leigh using her "1940s dame" accent, and Paul Newman grinning wickedly around a cigar. Robbins is Norville Barnes, a mailroom schmuck who becomes a company president as part of a stock market swindle in 1958. Leigh is a Stanwyck-esque reporter working undercover. Newman is the bad guy whose plans go awry when Norville gets ideas. I miss Paul Newman.
Comparable to: A Capra/Sturges/Wilder mix, in a very wink-wink nudge-nudge sort of way.
Representative quote: "Finally there would be a thingamajig that would bring everyone together, even if it keeps them apart spatially."
You might not like it if: You've sworn off of all Coen brothers films that don't include Frances McDormand.
How to get it: You can watch it instantly on Netflix or Amazon. Or you can get the disc.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
What: Through crossover plot lines, alternating narrators, and flashbacks, The Robber Bride tells the story of the intersecting lives of four women. Roz is a brash and successful company president, Charis is a meek and vulnerable clerk at a New Age store, and Tony is a serious and diligent professor of military history. In one way or another, Zenia has destroyed a part of each of them, taking their men as loot while she's at it. And she keeps coming back . . .
Comparable to: The title of The Robber Bride is taken from a Grimm story, and that's just the beginning of Margaret Atwood's dark fairy tale allusions.
Representative quote: "From the street her room must look like a lighthouse, a beacon. Warm and cheerful and safe. But towers have other uses. She could empty boiling oil out the left-hand window, get a dead hit on anyone standing at the front door."
You might not like it if: Maybe you hate women. Or Canada.
How to get it: Not Kindle-able, but otherwise pretty available. Also, a movie adaptation of this aired on CBC, but I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. I mean, I like and respect Amanda Root and Mary Louise Parker a lot, but for an intricate and nuanced novel that's 500+ pages and spans three decades, the scope of "TV movie" seems a bit . . . off.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
What: State of Play is possibly the most suspenseful thriller about research that's ever been made. Newspaper reporters chase a story that starts with an apparent suicide and an apparent drug hit, and that leads them quickly into personal, political, and corporate dirt. Soon all the characters, no matter how well-intentioned, are mired in corruptions both big and small. No one gets away completely clean.
Comparable to: As in All the President's Men, the minutiae and occasional glory of newspaper reporting becomes heroic.
Representative quote [imagine this whisper-growled by Bill Nighy]: "It's a big story. Big day. Big hitters."
You might not like it if: State of Play has a brilliant script, a well-paced plot, non-gimmicky twists, fully developed characters, a sustained momentum of suspense, and a fantastic cast (John Simm, David Morrissey, Kelly Macdonald, Bill Nighy, Deborah Findlay, James McAvoy, Polly Walker). I don't know what else you could want. Seriously, right now the only negative review on Amazon is someone complaining about the swearing.
How to get it: Go for the original British miniseries (2003) and not the U.S. movie version (2009). I mean, watch the movie later if you want, but please start with this.
Connection to previous Wreckage: Creator Paul Abbott definitely has his favorite actors. He gives James McAvoy a scene-stealing part here, and a year later used him again in the marvelous Shameless (Rec. #14). Also, I consider my favorite episode from Shameless (episode 1.4) "the State of Play episode."
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
What: Before inspiring some alarming couch-jumping on Oprah's couch, Katie Holmes made a few independent films where she got to be a little hard-edge to offset the Dawson's Creek baggage. In Pieces of April, Holmes is the titular April, who invites her estranged family to Thanksgiving dinner to prove she's not a complete screw-up. Her parents are played by Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt. I'm going to say that again, because it's worth repeating: Her parents are played by Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt!
Comparable to: The Jodie Foster-directed film Home for the Holidays has a similar tone --- bittersweet melancholy punctuated by realistic, non-jokey humor. Also, both movies have fantastic casts.
Representative quote: "This way, instead of April showing up with some new piercing or some ugly new tattoo and, God forbid, staying overnight, this way, we get to show up, experience the disaster that is her life, smile through it, and before you know it, we're on our way back home."
You might not like it if: You can only think of Katie Holmes as either Joey Potter or Mrs. Tom Cruise.
How to get it: Easy to rent or buy.
Connections to previous Wreckage: Holmes has small but pivotal roles in both The Gift (Rec. #43) and the film adaptation of Thank You for Smoking (Rec. #87). Huh. Did not expect to have so much Katie Holmes representation here.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
What: Ngaio Marsh was not just one of the best authors during the Golden Age of detective fiction. She was also an artist and an actor. In her native New Zealand, she was mostly known as a theatrical producer and director. All that theater and art inevitably seeps through into her books, and Night at the Vulcan (original, non-U.S. title: Opening Night) is a prime example. The first half follows young Martyn Tarne (an inadvertent and benign Eve Harrington) through the weeks leading up to the opening of a new play. Her stage debut is so surreal for her that it takes a bit before she truly realizes someone she knows has been killed. That's where Inspector Alleyn comes in.
Representative quote: "At six o'clock the persons in the play began to move towards the theatre. In their lodgings and flats they bestirred themselves after their several fashions: to drink tea or black coffee, choke down pieces of bread and butter that tasted like sawdust, or swallow aspirin and alcohol."
You might not like it if: You're annoyed because Marsh accurately portrays actors as being unappealingly self-absorbed.
How to get it: A library or used bookseller is probably your best bet. The audio version is available on Amazon, but I can't vouch for it since I haven't heard it.
Connection to previous Wreckage: I previously recommended Marsh's Death and the Dancing Footman (Rec. #37), and I noted that it wasn't even one of my top-three books by Marsh. In case you're wondering, Night at the Vulcan isn't one of my top-three, either, although I do heartily enjoy it. We will get to my tops, I promise.
It's also worthwhile to point out that Night at the Vulcan has wonderfully subtle callbacks to earlier Marsh works. One point of reference is the short story "I Can Find My Way Out." Another is Death of a Peer (the original title might give you a clue to the connection: A Surfeit of Lampreys).
Sunday, April 10, 2011
What: Some Kind of Wonderful is a classic John Hughes movie. He didn't direct it, but he did write it. It's deliciously angsty. Just look at the faces on the DVD cover above. Those are the serious, intense faces of high school students struggling with socioeconomic disparity in mid-1980s California. Each of them (Amanda, Keith, Watts) gets solid character development and some great lines. Also, there are charming teen thugs!
Comparable to: I think it's safe to say Rob Thomas watched this at some point while he was creating Veronica Mars.
Representative quote: "Well, I like art, I work in a gas station, my best friend is a tomboy. These things don't fly too well in the American high school." [Keith]
Bonus representative quote: "I'd rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right." [Amanda]
Bonus bonus representative quote: "It's better to swallow pride than blood." [Watts]
You might not like it if: You don't like John Hughes.
How to get it: Just look for those three intense faces.
Starting this week, I'll be posting five times a week instead of every day. This means you won't see a new recommendation for Saturdays. But you're busy doing fun things and/or sleeping on Saturdays anyway, right? The other day off will change depending on my schedule each week.
We're 100 days in, so it's a good time for another look back at the recommendations so far in 2011. Unlike the first retrospective, which lists the first 50 recommendations in the order they were posted, I thought I'd try something different. Please let me know if it's helpful!
What: I saved something very special for this momentous 100th recommendation. To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my top-five all-time favorite books. It's the middle of the twenty-first century. Ned Henry and Verity Kindle are historians and, in 2057, that means they do a lot of time traveling. Ned and Verity have been taken from their usual work and conscripted to retrieve the elusive bishop's bird stump (don't worry; they don't know what it is, either). They've been working separate angles --- Ned in the 1940s and Verity in the Victorian age. Once their paths cross, they have to contend with obstacles like time-lag, jumble sales, World War II, a false medium, brief stopovers in 1395 and 1933, slippage, and a menace named Lady Schrapnell. Just to name a few.
It's a comedy of manners. It's science fiction. It's a farce. It's a meditation on chaos theory. It's a satire. It's a puzzlebox mystery. It's layers of literary allusion. It's a broad sweep of historical drama. It's one of those rare books that just makes you happy to be alive, and not for anything that at all resembles maudlin drivel.
Comparable to: Not exactly like anything else, but a little like almost everything.
Representative quote: "History was indeed controlled by blind forces, as well as character and courage and treachery and love. And accident and random chance. And stray bullets and telegrams and tips. And cats."
You might not like it if: You actually think this book is about retrieving the bishop's bird stump.
How to get it: Buy it, either paper or digital. Also, could someone please convince a Coralie Bickford-Smith-ish designer to do a new, gorgeous edition of this book? (I wouldn't say no to other books by Connie Willis, either.) I would buy so many copies.
Friday, April 8, 2011
What: This week, the New York Philharmonic is presenting a special four-performance production of Stephen Sondheim's Company. The cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, Katie Finneran, Stephen Colbert, Patti LuPone, Christina Hendricks, Craig Bierko, and Martha freakin' Plimpton. The show is happening even though I am not in NYC right now. This seems like a terrible, terrible mistake. Luckily, I can calm myself with the practically perfect Broadway revival from 2006, starring the practically perfect Raúl Esparza. He makes me want to cry, he's so good.
Comparable to: In 2005, John Doyle directed a revival of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. He introduced the innovation of having the actors double as the orchestra. It was so remarkably effective that he did it again when he directed Company. Again, remarkably effective!
You might not like it if: You think all musicals = sweetness and light. This one has its darkness, but it's true, true, true.
How to get it: It was recorded live for PBS's Great Performances series and is available on DVD. You can also watch it instantly on Netflix.
Connection to previous Wreckage: Bryan Fuller devotees might recognize Raúl Esparza from his role on Pushing Daisies as Alfredo Aldarisio, would-be suitor of Olive Snook. (One of the very terrible things about the cancellation of Pushing Daisies is that he and Kristin Chenoweth never got to do a duet.) My other favorite TV show from Bryan Fuller is Wonderfalls (Rec. #2).
Thursday, April 7, 2011
What: Virginia Woolf is not known for writing comedies or plays, but this is both of those things. Freshwater: A Comedy is a farce about Woolf's great-aunt, Julia Cameron, who was a famous Victorian photographer.
Comparable to: Woolf gets a little Wilde and a little Shavian.
Representative quote: "The donkey is eating thistles on the lawn. There are moments when I despair of modern life altogether."
You might not like it if: You feel like it wasn't written for you. (You're not wrong; Woolf wrote it primarily for her family. Aren't we lucky to get a peek at Stephen-Woolf family life?)
How to get it: There's a great edition out now that features illustrations by Edward Gorey (see cover above).
Connection to previous Wreckage: After you fall in love with Gorey's drawings (as is inevitable), you can read interviews with him in Ascending Peculiarity (Rec. #80). Also, Virginia Woolf makes an appearance in The Tournament (Rec. #12).
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
What: Charade is one of my favorite "Audrey Hepburn runs around Paris" films (there are several). In this one, she's being pursued by some sinister men who are after a mysterious fortune that was supposedly stolen by her recently murdered husband. Cary Grant runs around Paris with her, and the two Movie Stars are so charming you can almost forget the 25-year age gap that makes their on-screen romance kind of ooky. The mystery/suspense portions hold up remarkably well, thanks in no small part to the deliciously written bad guys.
Representative quote: "Of course, you won't be able to lie on your back for a while, but then you can lie from any position, can't you?"
Bonus representative quote: "She batted them pretty little eyes at you, and you fell for it like an egg from a tall chicken!" [that's from Tex, one of the baddies]
You might not like it if: When it first came out in 1963, some critics hated the movie because of its drastic tonal shifts, from suspense to comedy to romance and back again.
How to get it: Due to a copyright omission in the released print, this film is actually in the public domain, so it's not hard to find. The fabulous score by Henry Mancini is under copyright, though.
Connection to previous Wreckage: Audrey Hepburn is also menaced in Wait Until Dark (Rec. #26). Poor Audrey.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
What: Max Beerbohm, otherwise known as "the incomparable Max," was a satirist and caricaturist of the early twentieth century, and Zuleika Dobson is one of his most delightful creations. The premise: A young, beautiful woman arrives at the all-male Oxford campus and wreaks havoc. By "havoc," I mean that all the undergraduates fall in love with her at first sight and end up taking drastic measures to prove their devotion. Very drastic.
Comparable to: As if Rose Macaulay and Jerome K. Jerome teamed up to re-imagine Chronicle of a Death Foretold with some visual inspiration from Edward Gorey.
Representative quote: "The Duke had an intense horror of unmarried girls. All his vacations were spent eluding them and their chaperons. That he should be confronted with one of them in Oxford seemed to him sheer violation of sanctuary."
You might not like it if: The payoff of the satire is a little too macabre for you. Or maybe the path to the payoff is too flowery (remember it's a satire).
How to get it: Not only is it in print, it's also in the public domain. (Hint: That means you can download it to your Kindle for free.)
Connections to previous Wreckage: Not quite sure what I'm on about, with my "Rose Macaulay"s, my "Jerome K. Jerome"s, and my "Chronicle of a Death Foretold"s? Crewe Train, by Rose Macaulay, was Rec. #84. Rec. #64 was Chronicle of a Death Foretold. We haven't gotten to Mr. Jerome yet, but we will.
Monday, April 4, 2011
What: Are you amazed and/or alarmed that it's taken me three months to spotlight Kate Beaton? You should be. Kate Beaton is a heroine of the web comics community. On her blog, Hark! A Vagrant, she specializes in Beaton-ized snapshots of history (Napoleon eating cookies, a dating show for Elizabeth I) that are as meticulously researched as they are irreverent. (Without the knowledge from the research, the irreverence wouldn't be so spot on.) She also gives us "younger self" comics, mystery solving teens, some general nonsense, comics about dead authors, and --- oh yeah --- a fat pony.
Representative comic (actually most are longer, but this gives you a taste):
You might not like it if: You find it criminally unfair that she can make squiggly lines that become perfectly nuanced facial expressions, while the squiggly lines you make just look like squiggly lines.
How to get it: Kate Beaton is all over the place, thank goodness. First, there's her blog. She's also on Twitter (@beatonna), and she often shares quick sketches there. Plus, there's a store where you can buy, among other things, prints of many of her comics and some excellent t-shirts. And also, she has a new book that will be released in September. You can pre-order it on Amazon.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
What: In Born Yesterday, a junkyard tycoon hires a newspaperman to give lessons in refinement to his live-in girlfriend, who shrugs through life in a semi-content fog of money and ignorance. The loudmouth tycoon, Harry Brock, gets more than he bargained for when girlfriend Billie begins to see that many of Brock's business dealings are illegal and that she has the power to stop them. She also begins to fall for her tutor, charmingly played by William Holden. Of course, the key to the film is Judy Holliday, who originated the role of Billie on Broadway. She nails the nuance of being a blonde who's only dumb because it was the smart way to play it at the time.
Comparable to: Other films from director George Cukor include Holiday and The Philadelphia Story. They're all social commentaries masquerading as comedies. Granted, they are very funny social commentaries.
Representative quote: "A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in."
You might not like it if: You are easily annoyed by certain voices. Holliday's voice is distinctive, and she's not afraid to play it up.
How to get it: Be careful in your search, whether it's online, in a store, or in a library. The version you'll want is from 1950. You probably don't want to end up with the 1993 remake.
Connection to previous Wreckage: This film is based on the 1946 play by Garson Kanin, who also worked on the screenplay. Other work by Kanin includes the screenplays for the Tracy/Hepburn films Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike, both of which he co-wrote with his wife, Ruth Gordon. You might recognize Ruth Gordon from her role as Maude in Harold and Maude (Rec. #45).
Saturday, April 2, 2011
What: The main character/narrator of Children of God Go Bowling is a woman named Shannon Olson. The author of the novel is also Shannon Olson, but you probably shouldn't read too much into that. The fictional Shannon is stymied by her own life in Minneapolis and half-heartedly looks to a few different sources for direction, including group therapy and her mother (the indomitable Flo). Olson's book is an irascible and wry examination of how people in their 30s can still have difficulty crawling completely out of adolescence. I also recommend Olson's debut, Welcome to My Planet (Where English Is Sometimes Spoken), but I think this sequel is funnier. Also, the title is better.
Comparable to: Not a huge leap from this to Julie Hecht. Or vice versa.
Representative quote: "The kindergarten teacher was perhaps my favorite; he was sweet, and perhaps because he was used to dealing with small children, he smiled and nodded encouragingly throughout our conversation." [Shannon's verdict after a brief summary of her recent dates.]
You might not like it if: You find the main character too self-absorbed. This is something she struggles with, too.
How to get it: Downloadable and available from libraries or used booksellers. Probably not going to find a new physical copy of it, though.
Connection to previous Wreckage: Julie Hecht's Happy Trails to You was Rec. #6.
Friday, April 1, 2011
What: In the movie Mumford, Loren Dean is Doc Mumford, living and practicing in the town of Mumford. He's a very effective and popular psychologist, but the townspeople's faith in his work is tested when his murky past is revealed. Lucky for us, some of the people who live in Mumford are played by Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell, Martin Short, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson, and Jane Adams, among others. This was also the first film for Zooey Deschanel. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan keeps a tight rein on the quirk, which is saying a lot for a movie that includes a character named Skip Skipperton.
Comparable to: It's really quite Capra-esque.
Representative quote: "Everywhere I went people would talk to me. They'd tell me everything. Their problems, their innermost thoughts. Sometimes they'd pretend they needed advice, but most just wanted someone to listen."
You might not like it if: You do not like Frank Capra. Or his movies.
How to get it: Easy to rent, buy, or borrow.