Author Archives: george

TRULY MADLY DEEPLY [DVD]


David Thomson raved about Truly Madly Deeply (1990) in his recent book Sleeping With Strangers. I somehow missed Truly Madly Deeply when it first came out so I picked up a copy and watched it. Truly Madly Deeply is about bereavement. Nina (played by Juliet Stevenson), is an interpreter who has just lost the love of her life, Jamie (Alan Rickman), a cellist, to a sudden illness. The scenes with Nina and her grief counselor are heart-wrenching. Meanwhile, Nina’s flat is falling apart: rats scurry around, the plumbing fails, and the cupboard doors won’t close. Nina’s life seems to be spiraling out of control.

Then, Jamie shows up. Is Jamie a ghost or is he a figment of Nina’s fevered imagination? Director and scriptwriter Anthony Minghella created a movie that is both thoughtful and clever. Well worth watching! GRADE: B+

DRAGNET [DVD]


DUM, DE DUM, DUM… Just like Law & Order with its famous “dum, dum, doink, doink,” Dragnet had its own sound and brassy music. Dragnet first aired in December 1951 and lasted until August 1959–an eternity in television. During that time, 276 episodes were broadcast. As a kid in the 1950s, Dragnet both fascinated me and scared me. Jack Webb’s staccato delivery and the sudden gunplay branded Dragnet as a cop show that meant business.

While I was rummaging around in a Salvation Army Thrift Store, I found this 4-Episode DVD of Dragnet. Here’s what’s on it:
1. “The Big September Man” (5/8/52)
2. “The Big Break” (2/19/53)
3. “The Big Little Jesus” (12/24/53)
4. “The Big Crime” (9/9/54)

This Golden Movie Classics DVD says the Dragnet episodes are “digitally remastered” and that that it’s “sound enhanced.” I enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane. Are you a fan of Dragnet? Do you like cop shows? GRADE: B+

AN AMERICAN SUMMER: LOVE AND DEATH IN CHICAGO By Alex Kotlowitz


It took me over a week to read An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. Alex Kotlowitz’s reporting of life in Chicago–over 14,000 people killed, over 60,000 injured by violence over the past 20 years–sucked the heart right out of me. Senseless shootings, drive-by incidents where innocents die, drug fueled massacres, and random murders show up on almost every page of An American Summer. Alex Kotlowitz fills in the details and provides the back stories for the residents who live in this brutal world in the shadows of the SEARS Tower.

Kotlowitz is upfront from the beginning: “Let me tell you what this book isn’t. It’s not a policy map or a critique. It’s not about what works and doesn’t work. Anyone who tells you they know is lying.” (p. 6)

What An American Summer is about is Hell on Earth. You’ll understand why I had to take frequent breaks from this book when you read this paragraph: “Shakaki’s cousin, Kywante Shumake, [was] shot two times on Thomas’s block. Thomas’s friend Tim, who held two jobs, invited Thomas to come by to celebrate his birthday. Thomas went to the corner liquor store to buy Tim a bottle of Hennessy, and when he returned found Tim lying beside his house in a pool of blood, a fatal bullet wound in the base of his head. While Thomas was in jail, on the contempt charge, Antonio Clark, a friend and fellow Harper High graduate, died, an apparent victim of the accidental discharge of a pistol. His friend who’s a rap artist and goes by the moniker Skully TV was shot six times, including in both eyes; he lost his sight. Thomas’s friend’s older brother, Vido: killed. Thomas’s friend Nukey: shot and killed by a fourteen-year-old boy.” (p. 222). There’s only so much death and mayhem and slaughter a person can take.

My take-away from An American Summer is this madness and violence in Chicago, caused by drugs and too many guns, could spread. This is the canary in the coal mine. And, as Alex Kotlowitz graphically shows, Government officials have no idea how to stop it…or control it. GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
PRELUDE TO A SUMMER 1
Chapter 1: May 3–The Tightrope, a story in four parts 13
Chapter 2: May 12–Mother’s Day 18
Chapter 3: May 23–A Conversation: The OGs 40
Chapter 4: May 31–The Tightrope, part two 49
Chapter 5: June 13–The Tweets 62
Chapter 6: June 16–Father’s Day 74
Chapter 7: June 24–The Witnesses, part one 91
Chapter 8: July 5–The (Annotated) Eulogy 99
Chapter 9: July 8–I Ain’t Going Nowhere, part one 106
Chapter 10: July 14–Going Home 126
Chapter 11: July 17–Day of Atonement 149
Chapter 12: July 25–The Two Geralds 180
Chapter 13: August 15–The Tightrope, part three 199
Chapter 14: August 17–Artifacts 203
Chapter 15: August 22–I Ain’t Going Nowhere, part two 213
Chapter 16: August 24–This Is What He Remembers 224
Chapter 17: August 29–The Disco Tour 243
Chapter 18: August 31–The Witnesses, part two 257
Chapter 19: September 8–The Tightrope, part four 269
Chapter 20: September 19–False Endings 277
A Note on Reporting 281
Acknowledgements 285

MEXICAN JALAPENO PEANUT M&M’s


Mars has brought back its popular Flavor Vote competition, and this time they’ve put an international spin on it. The three flavors, all Peanut M&M varieties, are:

Mexican Jalapeño Peanut M&M’s
English Toffee Peanut M&M’s
Thai Coconut Peanut M&M’s

For this year’s contest, Mars is basically bribing us to take action. Simply cast your vote through the Flavor Vote Website or text “Vote” to 84444 and you’ll be entered to win a trip to all three countries. I’ve sampled the Mexican Jalapeño Peanut M&Ms and the Thai Coconut Peanut M&Ms. I found the Thai Coconut Peanut M&Ms a bit bland with a mild coconut flavor. My favorite was the Mexican Jalapeño Peanut M&Ms which have a nice kick. What’s your favorite candy?

AMERICAN LOVE CALL By DURAND JONES & THE INDICATONS


If you’re a fan of Motown and soul music, you might want to give a listen to Durand Jones & The Indications. Their sound reminds me of the music of Curtis Mayfield, Jackie Wilson, and The Impressions. American Love Call opens with “Morning in America,” a song the problems of contemporary American life. I also liked “What I Know About You,” a love song that reminded me of Marvin Gaye’s great songs. “Sea Gets Hotter” features a bossa nova groove. “Long Way Home” will grab you with its funky bass line.

Durand Jones demonstrates his versatility by shifting from soul songs and emotional ballads. The Indications provide harmonies and a smooth backup to these very listenable tunes. GRADE: B+
TRACK LIST:
Morning in America
Don’t You Know
Circles
Court of Love
Long Way Home
Too Many Tears
Walk Away
What I Know About You
Listen to Your Heart
Sea Gets Hotter
How Can I Be Sure
True Love

MY SUMMER OF LOVE [DVD]


My Summer of Love (2004) is based on a Helen Cross novel with the same title. The story is seen through the eyes of a working class young woman named Mona (Natalie Press). Mona’s hotheaded brother Phil (Paddy Considine) has become a born-again Christian while in prison. Phil converts the pub he and Mona operated into a regions meeting house with no alcohol allowed. Mona meets upper middle class Tamsin (Emily Blunt, in her theatrical film debut) who has just been suspended from College. Tamsin also who suffers from a lack of love from her family. Her mother is busy with her charity projects and her father is busy having an affair with his secretary.

Both women are estranged from the people closest to them. Mona hates the religious fanatic her brother has become. Tamsin resents being left alone and ignored in an enormous house. Mona and Tamsin begin as friends but as the summer progresses, they become more intimate. Filmed in West Yorkshire, My Summer of Love looks great. What’s not so great is the lack of true love in this film. I came away disappointed. GRADE: C

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #524: THE PAPERBACK FANATIC #41


I stumbled across The Paperback Fanatic #41 while browsing in AMAZON. I ordered a copy and within a week I was enjoying some great reading about paperbacks! The cover artwork for the Conan paperbacks caught my eye. I own most of the Conan paperbacks, but I wanted to learn more about them. Richard Toogood’s essay on the Conan series provided many details that I wasn’t aware of. The article on E. V. Cunningham (aka, Howard Fast) proved to be fascinating, too. Howard Fast wrote a dozen crime novels under his “E. V. Cunningham” pseudonym from 1960 to 1973. All the crime novels had women’s names as their titles: Sylvia, Phyllis, Helen, Alice, Lydia, Shirley, Penelope, Helen, Margie, Sally, Samantha, Cynthia, and Millie.

Of course, once I read the E. V. Cunningham and Conan articles, I wanted to drop everything and read some of those paperbacks! If you’re a fan of paperbacks, you’ll enjoy The Paperback Fanatic. I’ve order some back issues before they go out-of-print! GRADE: B+
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Heads Up 4
Doom-Mongerers 6
E. V. Cunningham 8
The Hitt Squad 10
Australian Movie Novelizations 14
Raymond Kursar on Manor Books 20
All Hail the King 25
The Plantation Pulps of N.E.L. 32
Segretissimo: The Second Assignment 44
Crom’s Tomes: Conan in Paperback 54

TEN DRUGS: HOW PLANTS, POWDERS, AND PILLS HAVE SHAPED THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE By Thomas Hager


Americans make up 5% of the world’s population, but we take 50% of the pills. Hager says the average Senior Citizen in the U.S. takes 10 pills a day (he’s counting vitamins, too).

In Chapter One, Hager say “the most important drug humans have ever found” is opium. “Dried and eaten or smoked,” writes Hager, “it was early man’s strongest, most soothing medicine. Today it is among the most controversial.” Since prehistoric times, opium spread across the world. Its addictive property was no secret, but considered only a modest drawback because, unlike many alcoholics, most users of opium were rarely violent.

In the 19th century, opium’s refined versions—-morphine and heroin—-produced an addiction epidemic similar to what we’re seeing today. Government efforts to suppress opiate and opioid misuse have been ineffective. Hager points out that modern medicine uses opium-based drugs every day. Much of pain-management is based on synthetic opioids which are cheap and effective…but very addictive. Change will come slowly.

My favorite chapter was on the history of vaccines, mostly the story of smallpox eradication. It was news to me that a woman, Lady Mary, discovered the connection between vaccination and surviving small-pox.

Hager goes on to provide exciting stories of discovery of important drugs that have an international flavor: antibiotics in Germany, antipsychotics in France, and cholesterol-lowering drugs in Japan.

Sadly, Hager concludes with a warning that Big Phama’s attentions are now focused on drugs that improve the quality of life—- Viagra, Botox, contraceptives, and tranquilizers–and generate plenty of profits. Do you have a favorite drug? GRADE: A
Table of Contents
Introduction 50,000 Pills 1
Chapter 1 The Joy Plant 11
Chapter 2 Lady Mary’s Monster 49
Chapter 3 The Mickey Finn 75
Chapter 4 How to Soothe Your Cough with Heroin 85
Chapter 5 Magic Bullets 99
Chapter 6 The Least Explored Territory on the Planet 123
Interlude The Golden Age 159
Chapter 7 Sex, Drags, and More Drugs 163
Chapter 8 The Enchanted Ring 187
Chapter 9 Statins: A Personal Story 211
Chapter 10 A Perfection of Blood 241
Epilogue The Future of Drugs 259
Source Notes 271
Bibliography 277
Index 287

YEAR OF WONDER: CLASSICAL MUSIC TO ENJOY DAY BY DAY By Clemency Burton-Hill



Clemency Burton-Hill loves classical music and listens to it every day. To share her love of classical music, Clemency Burton-Hill wrote Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day By Day (2018). Each day of the year gets a recommended piece of classic music to delight the reader/listener. For example, the April 11 recommendation is Mozart’s Concerto no. 7 in F major for three pianos, K. 242. For my birthday on June 9, the recommendation is another Mozart piece: Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in E last major, K. 364.

Clemency Burton-Hill writes introductions to all the music she recommends. She provides some history of the composer and the piece. Burton-Hill also provides some speculation; for example, she suggests that Mozart’s favorite instrument was the viola.

My only quibble with this wonderful book is that Clemency Burton-Hill recommends music, but not the performer. For example, I would appreciate two or three recommendations for Mozart’s Concerto #7. I like Jenő Jandó’s version on NAXOS. But I’d be willing to listen to other recommended versions. But this is a minor point. All in all, A Year of Wonder delights and informs in equal measure. Highly recommended! Do you have a favorite piece of classic music? GRADE: A

THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! SEASON ONE [DVD]


With The Avengers: Endgame just a couple of weeks away (we have our tickets!), I decided to get into the mood with this animated version of the group from 2011. MARVEL provides 90 minutes of action and thrills as The Avengers battle super villains, time traveling conquerors, alien invaders, mythical beasts, and robots bent on world domination. No single superhero could handle these threats so Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk band together to face these powerful opponents. Yes, these animated adventures are aimed at 12-year-olds, but the sense of wonder of the comic books and movies find their way into these animated tales. Fun! Do you have a favorite Avenger? GRADE: B+