:: Wednesday, July 02, 2003 ::
Now this is what you call a bestseller
:: Tuesday, July 01, 2003 ::
For the first time ever, an English-language book is #1 on the bestseller list in France--naturally, it's Harry Potter. More precisely, I guess it's AIR-ee PO-tair. Now if only they could get Jerry Lewis into the movie versions, that franchise would really take off...
A great movie not widely seen
:: Monday, June 30, 2003 ::
I feel like doing some posts here and there about movies I own on DVD that most people probably haven't seen, and might not even have heard of. One of the best DVD purchases I've made was the Alec Guinness collection, a box set of five British movies he starred in during the late '40s and early '50s. The only one I saw on video (a particularly terrible copy, which inspired me to look for it on DVD) before getting the collection was The Ladykillers, a great comedy about five bungling criminals who manage to hoodwink a little old lady into thinking that they're musicians who need a place to practice, when in fact they're planning a major heist. It's apparently being remade by the Coen brothers, which makes me somewhat uneasy--I'm a major Coen brothers fan, but I don't know why they would feel the need to redo this movie, which (like all the ones in the collection) rely on a dry sort of humor that feels particularly British. It's not going to be the Coens' next movie, which is scheduled for release in October, but apparently it's the one they'll do after that.
Got a bit sidetracked--the one entry in the Guinness collection that I wanted to focus on is Kind Hearts and Coronets from 1949. The main character, Louis Mazzini, is born to a mother who was cast out by her aristocratic family for marrying a penniless opera singer. Louis (played by Dennis Price, not Guinness) plots his revenge by resolving to kill every person who stands to inherit the family's title before him. That's where Guinness comes in--he plays all eight (!) people who are in line to become the Duke of Chalfont before Louis. "Black comedy" is probably the best way to describe the movie, although that understates things a bit--it's really remarkable how much cruelty the main characters inflict on each other, not just the murders (though there's practically no violence on-screen), but also some vicious romantic and social double-crosses. But it's so witty you hardly even notice how nasty everyone is. It's a tremendously entertaining skewering of the over-inflated importance of aristocracy and class distinctions. The movie's title is a reference to a line (third stanza from the bottom) in this Tennyson poem about that subject matter. Another thing about the movie that I didn't fully recognize until I looked it up is that this famous aria from Mozart's "Don Giovanni," which provides the main musical theme throughout the movie, has relevance to the plot. It's about avenging the wrongs done to a loved one, which, in the movie, is reflected in Louis' attempts to get revenge on his mother's family for having cast her off and ruined her station in life.
Addendum to "Six Days of War"
There's a paperback edition out now of Michael Oren's book "Six Days of War." There are a couple of things added from the original hardcover edition: a short afterword by Oren where he draws some parallels between the current Middle East conflict and the Six Day War, and a really interesting interview with Fouad Ajami asking Oren about the new things he discovered while researching and writing the book. The extras are worth a read on your next trip to the bookstore if (like me) you already have the original hardcover, and it's worth picking up if you don't have it already. The first half of the book, a greatly detailed account of the crisis leading up to the war from all relevant perspectives, is particularly good. My dad, an IDF officer doing operations research at the time of the war (he wasn't in combat then), was very impressed with Oren's journal article about Levi Eshkol (the Israeli PM at the time), which was largely adapted from the book. It was an extremely accurate re-creation of the mood in Israel leading up to the war, according to my dad, who was surprised to hear that Oren was a 12 year-old kid in New Jersey in the summer of 1967.