Movie Review: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – I Really Don’t Want to Relate to This!

Written by Eric Hodgins, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank
Directed by H.C. Potter

At the suggestion of a fellow writer, I rented this movie to see how it compared to what I was going through with selling this house on Long Island and moving to rural New Hampshire. What I got was a very funny movie which I believe was the root of the Tom Hanks/Shelly Long film The Money Pit.

The opening sequence of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House shows New York City as it was in 1948 with crowded subways, crowded beaches, crowded restaurants. Funny, this was about the time that my own parents left their apartment in the city for suburbia!

We are then introduced to Mr. Jim Blandings (portrayed by Cary Grant), a born and bred New Yorker in the advertising business, married to Muriel (portrayed by Myrna Loy) with two children, Joan and Betsy (Sharyn Moffett and Connie Marshall). One particularly troublesome morning, they decide that it’s time to give up their cramped, crowded apartment and have a house built for them in the country.

What follows is a series of misadventures as it appears the family has leapt before they really looked at what they were getting themselves into. Their decision to purchase is driven by emotion. They purchase a “fixer upper” which ends up needing so much work that they have to demolish it and start from scratch. From there, as Jim and Muriel inject their personal desires into the new home, the work grows as does the price. Mishaps happen and things don’t quite go as planned….

Cary Grant is funny as Jim Blandings. He doesn’t have any overt moments of comedy, the kind where he knows he’s funny. He’s funny because he’s in such an impossible situation, the kind we like to look at and figure we’ll never get into ourselves (yeah, right). In addition to all of the mishaps involving the new home, the green-eyed monster rears it’s head over the past relationship between his wife and family friend and lawyer Bill Cole (portrayed by Melvyn Douglas). Grant doesn’t laugh but we do. His performance is much more subtle than Hanks’ performance in what is a similar role many years later.

Myrna Loy shares good chemistry with Grant. The couple are very good on the screen together and the two of them come off very comfortable – the way I would expect a couple to be after a certain number of years together. Nothing seems to really phase Muriel, not the money being poured out, not her husband’s jealousy, not the terrible weather. One of the funniest scenes comes when Jim won’t listen to Muriel about how to get to their new house and they keep coming back to the same bridge. Muriel doesn’t yell at Jim, but instead calmly sits there, knowing that sooner or later his pig-headedness will give way to the sensibility of listening to his wife’s directions. She’s as funny as he is, because many of her funny lines come inadvertently and she doesn’t really know she’s being funny.

Overall, I thought the film was really funny and anyone who enjoyed the movie The Money Pit will enjoy this film as well. Some of the situations are just as contrived as some of the setups in that later movie, but it’s handled in a humorous manner which will make anyone who’s ever gone through building a house or doing major renovations laugh.


BONUS MATERIAL:

• The House of Tomorrow – cartoon short
• Audio Vault
– 10/10/1949 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Cary Grant & Irene Dunne
– 6/9/1950 Screen Directors Playhouse Broadcast with Cary Grant & Betsy Drake
• Grant Trailer Gallery – Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din, My Favorite Wife, The Philadelphia Story, Destination Tokyo, Arsenic and Old Lace, Night and Day, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, North By Northwest


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Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield – All Lives Do Matter

Written by Oliver Crawford, Lee Cronin, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Jud Taylor

Star Trek got away with many cultural commentaries over its short run, due to the fact that couched in the science-fiction setting, many of the commentaries went right over the head of the censors. That’s not the case with Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. The message here is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

The Enterprise is summoned to the planet Ariannus where a bacterial infection threatens space shipping lanes. On their way, they encounter a stolen Starfleet shuttlecraft, piloted by Lokai (Lou Antonio), a humanoid who is half black and half white – literally. His pursuer is Commissioner Bele (Frank Gorshin) who brands Lokai a terrorist.

Now, if you know the episode I’m talking about you’re nodding your head already. Yes, it’s that one. Much of the episode is the crew of the Enterprise caught up in Bele and Lokai’s conflict. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Scotty (James Doohan) actually engage the Enterprise’s self-destruct capability rather than let Bele commandeer it.

The dialog here has Bele accuse Lokai and his people of murdering thousands on their planet of Cheron. Lokai accuses Bele and his people of enslaving thousands of his race. Bele states he has been pursuing Lokai to bring him to justice for 50,000 years.

Eventually, Bele agrees to let the Enterprise finish its mission on Ariannus first and Captain Kirk agrees to bring the two to the planet Cheron. When they arrive, they found that the inhabitants of the planet competely destroyed themselves and all that are left of them is Bele and Lokai, who still can’t get past their hatred of each other.

Bele: It is obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed.
Mr. Spock: The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself.
Bele: Are you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me!
Captain James T. Kirk: You are black on one side and white on the other.
Bele: I am black on the right side!
Captain James T. Kirk: I fail to see the significant difference.
Bele: Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.

Racism is bad, kids. And in the long run, it just doesn’t make sense.

Now that they’ve hit you over the head with the message in the episode, what else is left? Subtlety is not a strong point with this one. Lokai and Bele are the same under the surface, and now they are the only two left of a race of beings that hated each other to extinction.

What keeps this episode from being terrible is the acting on the part of Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin. The two are so passionate in their hatred of each other, yet it’s not overplayed too much. Listening to Lokai give a talk to the Enterprise crew and what he’s telling them doesn’t sound so far off of some things we are hearing from the worker class nowadays. Does Lokai have a point? When you look at it in terms of what Bele is trying to do, he likely does.

Bele has an invisible ship doe to the budgetary constraints of the third season and the writing around this is pretty horrid. It’s an attempt to explain the situation, but it falls flat. Describing the planet Cheron as being in the “southernmost part of the galaxy” is wrong because galaxies and universes don’t have a “south,” only planets with poles do. There are a number of moments like that where I was left scratching my head with this episode.

Star Trek may have been ahead of its time in actually bringing up social issues in its stories, but that doesn’t mean they were all good. Yes, hating someone for the color of their skin doesn’t make sense any way you spin it, but Let That Be Your Last Battlefield would seem to indicate that there’s not much hope for us to be able to get beyond it.

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Book Review: Crimes Against Nature by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – Can Our Planet Still Be Saved?

In the flurry of books released before the 2004 Presidential election, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Crimes Against Nature got lost in the shuffle. And that’s a shame. Instead of the usual unsubstantiated rants pro or con for what had been going on in the country over the previous four years, Kennedy has produced a railing indictment of the Bush Administrations environmental policies, or lack thereof.

Why is his book so different? Kennedy has documented everything along the way. There are extensive footnotes citing sources such as court cases, newspapers, television interviews, and more. Crimes Against Nature comes in at 199 pages long, and is followed by almost 40 pages of footnotes. Yes, I would say Kennedy did a thorough job.

Some people (to use the administration’s own straw man tactics) might argue that the subtitle: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy makes this just another “Bush Bashing” book. However, shortly into the book it became clear to me that Kennedy had good reason to send up red flags when it comes to this administration and the environment. When an appointee to a key regulatory post has written information pamphlets titled Why the National Toxicology Program Cancer List Does More Harm Than Good and At Christmas Dinner, Let Us Be Thankful for Pesticides and Safe Food, there’s something really wrong there. Kennedy picks apart many of the appointments Bush made, showing how he gutted all of the advancements made on behalf of the environment over the last 3 years by appointing people who were lobbyists for various industries or had been a part of those industries themselves to key Cabinet and Administration positions, especially in the EPA.

Kennedy talks of how he won a lawsuit in North Carolina to clear up the waterways from the industrial hog farms. Lest anyone think these regulations surrounding pollution were unreasonable, the local farmers and residents were behind him. The local farmers have to live there and they want to preserve the way of life in their communities, unlike the industrial farms which often have their headquarters in city some distance away, if not in an entirely different part of the country. When a Reagan-appointed judge gave these people a victory against the pollution Smithfield Foods was dumping into their waterways, President W. Bush simply rolled back the regulations allowing the hog industry to go on polluting the waterways.

All of this is tied together by Kennedy to show how the corporate influence present in the Bush Administration like in no other Administration before it has superseded the Democratic process. When corporations are found to be in violation of regulations written and adopted in the democratic principles this country was founded on, the regulations are simply re-written, either by a decree of President Bush or by the appointed shills for the industry he has put in place.

Many of the regulations put into place over the last 30 years have been rolled back under the Bush Administration. That is a fact. Remember what our rivers and lakes looked like back in the 1970’s? Remember when the Cuyahoga River caught fire? River fires were actually a very common occurrence over the last century, something which was mitigated by the regulations passed by both Republicans and Democrats over the past 30 years. Kennedy cites the rollback of many of these regulations as being a key factor in Vermont Senator James Jeffords’ decision to leave the Republican Party and represent his state as an Independent.

I live in an area of the country now that has typically been very Conservative in both it’s thinking and voting, yet the damage to the environment can no longer be denied by these folk. They see the effects of acid rain on our forests and killing off life in ponds and lakes, essentially making them “dead”. They have seen industrial pollution contaminate lakes and streams and have seen some of them come back under regulations which have now been thrown out. They have witnessed the effects of climate change on their very livelihoods. Perhaps that is the main reason this traditional Republican State when Democratic in the last election. It’s just a shame that it’s going to have to touch other people on such a level before they wake up and start realizing that corporations and the people who run them only care about getting more profits in the moment, and not about our future or our children.


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Agent Carter: Now Is Not the End – Life Goes On

Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby
Directed by Louis D’Esposito

My adventures in watching the Marvel Universe in chronological order now lead me to the series Agent Carter. I’ve watched this before and enjoyed it quite a bit, so watching it again is something I’d enjoy.

New York City 1946. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is trying to salvage something of her life after losing Steve Rogers. She’s working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve and will not be marginalized because she is a woman. Unfortunately, this is a time when the men were returning home from overseas and the women were supposed to go back to the roles they had before the War. Peggy is having none of that.

Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is currently under investigation for selling weapons to enemies of the United States. The Strategic Scientific Reserve has found Stark technology on the black market. Unfortunately, in the midst of testimony, Howard Stark disappeared.

Peggy foils what appears to be an attempted kidnapping, but is actually Howard trying to make contact with her. He wants Peggy to help him clear his name. He tells her to contact Jarvis (James D’Arcy) if she needs anything.

Along the way she deals with mobsters and other criminals as she tries to make heads or tails of what’s going on. She more than holds her own when someone tries to kill her, but her roommate is a casualty. Peggy isn’t a single-minded hero. She’s dealing with the emotions surrounding what she’s doing as well. When she begins to research “Vita-Rays”, she pulls out the file on Steve Rogers and relives the last moment she was in contact with him.

I love Hayley Atwell. Her roommate is a disposable character but Peggy truly grieves when she is killed due to Peggy’s actions. She begins to see herself as getting those around her killed. Colleen was a friend and was more than just a “red shirt” to Peggy. Peggy Carter is written so well. She is brave and intelligent and knows how to take care of herself. She shows herself to be someone who will be brave when she has to, but also a good person in general. After having lost Steve and then Colleen, she experiences a sense that getting close to people isn’t always a good thing, and worries about other people around her being collateral damage because of what she’s involved in.

Dominic Cooper is great as the young Howard Stark. There are aspects of the way he’s written here that are all too familiar to those who’ve watched the Iron Man movies. Like father, like son?

By far, though, the character I enjoyed is Jarvis. He’s trying to be the straight man in all this, but failing. The audience, and Peggy, kind of kind of know he has experience “cleaning up” things for Mr. Stark, but his ability to respond to Peggy’s needs while being the image of calm, domestic bliss to his wife is a lot of fun.

There’s some good action sequences as Peggy tries to uncover what is going on. She does battle with a few assassins and escapes, as well as a good sequence with Jarvis when an allegedly mothballed refinery is exposed for making some of the weaponry Peggy is trying to track down.

The first episode of the series shows a lot of promise, picking up Peggy’s life after losing Steve and trying to build a good mystery for exactly what is going on with Howard Stark’s weapons. She’s every woman who was expected to step aside when the men came back from the war and didn’t want to. The friendship between her and Jarvis is building nicely as well.

Leviathan is coming…

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Movie Review: Anywhere But Here – Another in the Long Line of Films About Mothers and Daughters

Written by Mona Simpson and Alvin Sargent
Directed by Wayne Wang

Being the mother of a teenager is never easy. As is often the case, mothers and teenage girls tend to clash often and sometimes quite brutally. Anywhere But Here is one of those movies that gives me some comfort. I can point to the mother in the film and feel good that I am not quite as bad as her. At the same time, I know that in my daughter’s eyes it doesn’t matter at times.

Natalie Portman is Anne and Susan Sarandon is her mother, Adele, traveling from Bay City, Wisconsin to California. There’s some bad blood between them largely because of Adele’s history – Anne’s father left them in the middle of the night. Adele left the man who was Anne’s stepfather and went through an apparent messy divorce.

The movie is told pretty much from the perspective of Anne, who longs to be back in Bay City with her cousin, Benny, whom with she spent the majority of her time and her friends in the familiar setting. She copes with a mother who is totally wrapped up in herself in addition to seeming to be somewhat unbalanced mentally. This could be due to the fact that it seems to be Anne’s perspective and what teenager (especially teenage girls) don’t at some time think their mother is a complete flake.

In some ways, the roles have been reversed. Adele is the flighty one and Anne often has to rely on herself when she should have some emotional support and stability in her life. Adele seems to look at her daughter more like a buddy or girlfriend with whom she can share secrets, rather than behave as a mother. The movie takes place over a few years during which their life in California takes some twists and turns. It’s a tumultuous ride for the two, Anne’s made moreso by the emotional weight her mother often places on her young shoulders.

That is the crux of the film. Adele had grown to need Anne in her life to support her emotionally, and it’s not a role a mother should place on a daughter. It’s only a final act of true love when Adele finally manages to find the emotional wherewithal to let her daughter go into the world and forge a life on her own rather than remain with an emotional needy mother that gives me hope. Adele could have chosen to emotionally tie her daughter to her for all eternity and been completely selfish. It takes a while, but she finally commits one true act of unselfish, motherly love.

Sarandon’s performance is really great as the flaky Adele. She’s a study in contrasts as she keeps telling her daughter she’s doing what she does to make Anne’s life better, while at the same time her actions result in the opposite. Just the act of leaving the step-father Anne has grown to love so much is enough to make me question her motivations as a parent. There seems to be no other reason for the separation except he wasn’t giving Adele and “exciting” enough life, and she feels the grass is greener elsewhere. It never seems to enter her mind about what effect any of her actions will have on her daughter.

Watching her in various situations and conflicts I got the idea that Adele is not really a suitable parent for Anne, but she loves the girl to the best of her ability. She’s a woman who thinks the whole world has done her wrong and there’s something more out there for her, if only she’s at the right place at the right time to grab it. She’s annoying and yet at times I could sympathize with her. Much of what’s motivating her truly seems beyond her control at times.

Natalie Portman is perfect at Anne. Most teenagers at one time or another think their lives would be better without the parents they have or without parents at all. The only problem is in Anne’s case, she might be right. Anne often looks on at her mother with disdain and at times a complete lack of sympathy as a typical teenage would. Portman captures the nuances of this perfectly with her facial expressions and body language, especially when she is recoiling for a particularly absurd utterance on Adele’s part. Portman can convey a whole spectrum of emotions without uttering a word, and the director of the film, Wayne Wang, makes the most of her in this role. Some of the best scenes are the ones in which she doesn’t say a thing and yet I knew exactly what was going on in her head.

I also enjoyed the scenes between Portman’s Anne and her cousin Benny, portrayed by Shawn Hatosy. In particular, when he visits her in Los Angeles and is among her friends there he is relaxed and so is she. She is almost completely transformed from the girl who is so sullen and angry at the prospect of remaining where her mother is. These refreshing moments when Anne is not just the typical brooding teenager keep the film from being stuck on the same note. It shows Anne’s potential if only she can get out from under the suffocating emotional neediness that her mother often lays on her.

Although there are no real surprises in the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I tried to get my teenage daughter to watch it with me, but I think she picked it up and watched it when she could be alone – typical.

If you’ve ever had a daughter who’s been completely embarrassed by the fact that you know how and can do The Time Warp, Anywhere But Here serves as a reminder that it can be a whole lot worse.


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Star Trek: Whom Gods Destroy – Mental Illness in the 23rd Century

Written by Lee Erwin, Jerry Sohl, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

The problem with writing for the future is that the writers craft stories from the time they are in. Since the 1960’s, we’ve made great strides in understanding mental health and realizing that there are many aspects to it. Of course, none of that is reflected in a story where Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) find themselves trapped in an insane asylum.

The Enterprise is orbiting a prison planet that focuses on the criminally insane. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock beam down with new medication to treat the illnesses of the 15 men who reside there. They learn a legendary Starfleet Captain is among the prisoners. Eager to see him, Governor Cory (Keye Luke) escorts Kirk and Spock to the holding cells, where they learn Governor Cory isn’t who he appears.

Captain Garth (Steve Ihnat) has figured out a way to appear as different people. He tricks Kirk and Spock into thinking he’s Governor Cory. Once they are imprisoned, he changes his appearance to Captain Kirk and attempts to trick his way on board the Enterprise.

The big problem is how mental illness is portrayed. When Captain Garth is unable to trick his way on board the Enterprise, he displays anger that’s got nothing on one of Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums. Steve Ihnat wins the competition for overacting in this episode, although he seems to be enjoying it quite a bit. It fits in what we saw depicted in terms of mental illness in the 1960’s, if at all. Yvonne Craig, whom many people will recognize as being the original “Bat Girl,” also gets to overact in the role of Marta, who doesn’t know what side she’s on for most of the episode. This feels more like Arkham Asylum with it’s cartoonish depiction of mental illness, so maybe her role here is appropriate.

The story doesn’t work on so many levels, I have to wonder if the writers were getting lazy. There are so many instances where Spock and Kirk should be able to get out of the situation and it never reaches that far. At one point Spock is dealing with Captain Garth metamorphizing into Captain Kirk, so he has two Kirks in front of him and can’t figure out which is the real one. Instead of stunning them both or something just as simple, he turns his back and is assaulted by Captain Garth in Kirk form. Duh. There are bad moments like this throughout the story, unfortunately.

Not to mention, the idea that Captain Garth somehow “learned” how to shape-shift from one group of aliens. If it were that easy, wouldn’t Starfleet be sending their people there to learn this? It’s just so poorly written all around that it leaves the viewer with more questions about the future.

I’ll give credit to the costume department, who does some interesting things depicting the criminally insane. Apparently they have good designers on this prison planet, although the only staff we ever see is Governor Cory. Also, the idea that there could be a medication that would cure every mental illness in every human (no to mention other species) is ludicrous.

Some interesting costume choices are lost in what is a poorly written show that seemed to be developed on “Spock and Kirk find themselves trapped in a space asylum.” Even the regular cast doesn’t seem to want to be here, especially Leonard Nimoy. At times his deadpan delivery of his lines seems to be infused with exasperation, although I don’t think it was part of the story. I’d guess this was one of those “why am I doing this?” moments.

It’s unfortunate that there’s not much in Whom Gods Destroy that works. A better developed script might have been interesting, but unless we’ve gone backwards, we already have a better appreciation of people and mental illnesses than the 23rd century does if we are to judge it by this episode.

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Book Review: Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – DeSmet is a Colorful Town!

When I was about nine, a friend of the family gave me my first Little House book. I was immediately captivated by the stories within and read them over and over through the years. The copy I had contained wonderful illustrations to accompany the story by Garth Williams. Eventually I was given all of the books in the series, plus a few other collections of Laura’s writings. I gave my set to my oldest daughter and it soon became scattered in their room. I purchased a second set for my now nine-year-old.

About a year ago I wanted to read the books again for myself. Unfortunately my daughters could no longer assemble a complete set between them. I wanted a set of books for ME now that would be hand-off for the rest of the family. When we traveled to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri I saw exactly what I wanted.

Little Town on the Prairie begins during the springtime following the events of the previous novel, The Long Winter. Laura is enjoying life on the family’s claim on the Dakota prairie when Pa suggests she take a job with seamstress in town. Laura is not keen on the idea, but she knows the family could use the money. Laura dreams of her older sister, Mary, going to a college for the blind and hopes to help out.

Laura is growing up, and this book shows that more than any other. It covers a good deal of time. Laura is just fourteen at the beginning of the book, but she has a great sense of responsibility to her family. It was interesting to read this with my own fourteen year-old and discuss the differences. I also enjoyed seeing more of the day-to-day life of living in or near a town. In the books up until now, the life of the Ingalls family (as well as the Wilder family) had seemed more isolated and disconnected from the rest of society at the time.

It’s interesting to see the people who come into Laura’s life. As a seamstress, the family she works for is much different than what she’s used to. Once back in school, her teacher – who also happens to be her future sister-in-law – has an adversarial relationship with Laura. She meets old friends, such as Mary, Minnie, and Cap from The Long Winter, and new ones such as Ida. Nellie Oleson from On The Banks of Plum Creek is back as well, only this time the tables have turned a bit…

When Mary does finally go off to college, Laura is now the oldest in the home. It’s a different role for her and she seems to grow more protective of her younger sister Carrie. Laura also spends a lot of time studying, knowing she must become a teacher if she is to help the family and keep Mary at the school in Iowa.

There are lots of good times too. Town life provides more social time and there are terrific evenings of fun throughout the winter where the town gathers together for spelling bees, charades, musical programs, and even a minstrel show. Parents might want to think about how they will address this with their children. While it may not have been a big deal in the 1880’s or even when the book was first published in 1941, it’s a part of history not talked about too much now.

During the book Laura also begins “seeing” Almanzo Wilder. Although Laura is only fifteen (and he is actually ten years older than her – Laura has changed his age in the novels to make their ages seem not quite as far apart) he walks her home after church revival meetings. Laura still seems more enamored of the beautiful horses he owns more than of the person he is, but it’s fun to read about the start of the romance and to root for them, even when I know what happens. Laura seems to not understand his interest in her, and my daughters and I got a good laugh out of it.

I spent several weeks reading Little Town on the Prairie at night before bed with my daughters the first time we read it through together. Laura’s descriptions of the setting and events is excellent, and comes with years of practice being the “eyes” for her blind sister, Mary. I don’t find her descriptions to be overwritten and bogged down, but fascinating. It’s nice to read about things being a bit better for the family, from Pa getting work in town to Laura enjoying some of the niceties of life such as having “name cards” made up like her friends have. I had a great deal of discussion about what my children have versus what Laura had and the “little things” she was grateful to get. It also sparks discussion about the differences between the current time and life back then, some questions about which I don’t have the answers to.

My new edition of Little Town on the Prairie is a paperback bound book with the same beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams that I grew up with. The difference is that they are now in color, rather than the pen-and-ink style drawings I first saw all those years ago. I always read the description of Laura’s name cards, but seeing what they actually looked like really brought them into reality for me. I love the color drawing of the four girls with Mary holding the new kitten Pa brought home to the family. It’s beautifully done with colorful dresses and their hair just the different shades the way Laura always described them. At the same time, the color adds more depth and life to some of the sketches. I thought this was especially true of the sketch of Almanzo depositing Laura at her door one night.

In any of the earlier books, I noticed an increase in the font size with the new editions. That doesn’t seem to be the case with this edition of Little Town on the Prairie. When I read the story with my girls, the chapters were the perfect size to read one each night at bedtime.

If you’ve never read the books, I definitely feel they are worth it for adults as well. I am enjoying reading them again just by myself for the first time in years. If you have children, it’s a wonderful experience which will spark lots of conversation and questions about life so many years ago.


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Movie Review: Red Heat – A Cop-Buddy Film With a Commie Twist

Written by Walter Hill, Harry Kleiner, and Troy Kennedy-Martin
Directed by Walter Hill

I don’t know whether or no it worked against the film Red Heat was released in 1988. Communism was crumbling at the time, almost a year after Ronald Reagan’s famous tear down this wall… speech. The wall itself would come down just a year later, a symbol of the end of Communism as we knew it and an end to the Cold War. It was a time fraught with change, although Walter Hill couldn’t have imagined just how much the world would change between the time he began making this film and the time it was released.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Danko, Russian Police Officer in the days when communism was still the rule of the land. He tracks Viktor “Rosta” Rostavili (portrayed by Ed O’Ross), the drug dealer who killed his partner, from his native land to Chicago. There, as he’s about to take Rosta back to the Soviet Union, a daring daytime assault is staged on Danko and the two Chicago police officers.

Danko now allies himself with Detective Art Ridzik (portrayed by James Belushi) whose partner was slain in that assault. Ridzik has blown more assignments and busts than he or his bosses would care to count and is one sidelong glance from being regulated to desk duty. The two men are an unorthodox pair as they team up outside of what they’ve been authorized to do to bring down Rosta.

The ongoing joke is of course the culture differences. However, after a short time it wears thin. Schwarzenegger is essentially the straight-man to Belushi’s comedy as he blurts out one-liners and quips that sometimes hit the mark, but are more often quite predictable. Think Schwarzenegger as Felix Unger to Belushi’s Oscar Madison. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but after a few minutes of predictable jokes, I wanted it to be over.

(To gangsters arranging a meeting between the officers and Rosta)
Belushi: A Chicago cop never relinquishes his weapon
Bad guys cock their rifles
Belushi: Here (handing over gun)

That’s an example of the shining comic dialogue penned by Walter Hill who wrote and directed. Sometimes it brought forth a chuckle, but there were plenty of groaners in there as well. He’s also got the film so loaded with plot points such as the belligerent chief of police (portrayed by Peter Boyle) who seems to be aggravated by everything but keeps an aquarium in his office to lower his stress. The hot chick gets thrown in for a while too in the form of Gina Gershon, who’s Rosta’s American wife, but only for the purpose of getting into the country. Laurence Fishburne is also here as an officer who is totally aggravated by Ridzik’s antics.

Schwarzeneggar’s stoic, accented delivery is perfect for his role as Danko. This role was actually a bit of a reach for him, as he’d mostly stayed with roles such as the original Terminator or the Conan films where he was silent and cold. Here he talks a bit more and has to interact more with the rest of the cast, but the roles are still quite similar. For the time, however, he was one of the few actors who could have convincingly pulled off the role.

Belushi seems to be trying very hard to prove he’s more here than just the brother of John, and perhaps that drags the story a bit as well. At times it feels as if he’s trying just too hard in the role; he’s trying a bit too earnestly to be funny. He needed to relax a bit more and let the character flow, but the dialogue didn’t help and the combination just makes his character into a horrible cliche.

Red Heat was one of the few films which was actually filmed in Red Square before the fall of communism. Listening to Hill discuss in the bonus material what it took to get that done is worth it and gives a new appreciation for these scenes. It’s nice to see Russia shown in a way other than we’d grown used to with the one-sided depictions during the height of the Cold War. The opening scenes in Russia – as well as the scenes of what was supposed to be Russia but actually filmed in Budapest – save the film from being a complete disappointment, especially in the historical context.

The soundtrack is also good, filled with loud marches and the like which sets the tone well. James Horner did a terrific job setting the tone, especially when the scenes are set in Russia. It’s a shame that the story itself isn’t that great because the potential is there for the film to be so much more. I think what hurt it originally was disintegration of Communism as this helped this film descend into oblivion and out of our minds after it’s theatrical run.

There are some decent action sequences, gunfights, and explosions, but overall what’s good about the film balances against what’s bad so that it’s an average and unfortunately very forgettable film.


Bonus Material:

– East Meets West: Red Heat and the Kings of Carolco
– Bennie Dobbins: A Stuntman For All Seasons – tribute to the stuntman who dies during the filming
– I’m Not A Russian But I Play One On TV – interview with Ed O’Ross
– “Making Of” TV Special
– TV Spots
– Trailers

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Star Trek: Elaan of Troyius – My Fair Elasian

Written by John Meredyth Lucas, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas

Running out of plot ideas in this third season, the writers here turn to Shakespeare and craft their own version of The Taming of the Shrew, involving a reluctant bride, a stuffy ambassador, and the Captain of the Enterprise.

The Enterprise taxi service is charged with accompanying Ambassador Petri of Troyius (Jay Robinson) to the planet Elas. The two planets have been at war for sometime, and it’s thought that uniting the two planets by marriage would be beneficial. Elaan (France Nuyen) is to be wed to the King of Troyius and become their new Queen. Ambassador Petri is charged with teaching her proper etiquette and behavior.

Upon arriving upon the Enterprise, though, Elaan shows she’s not having any of it. She is used to being deferred to. No one is to speak unless she permits it. All kneel in her presence until she releases them. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) ignores her demands and assigns Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to show her to her quarters.

What follows is something of a re-creation of Taming of the Shrew with Elaan as the shrew. She rejects everything Ambassador Petri tries to show her and at one point stabs him in the back. Fortunately, he survives. However, he declares that will not allow his leader to marry Elaan. That’s fine with her.

With the Federation High Commissioner on the way to attend the wedding, Kirk takes the situation in hand and decides to deal with Elaan himself, despite knowing that Elasian women have a reputation for driving men wild with mystical powers. You see where this is going….

Meanwhile, the Klingons make their presence known. One of Elaan’s bodyguards is in contact with them, but what exactly is happening there is a little less obvious than the relationship between Kirk and Elaan.

There’s a lot that’s bad in this episode. Much as My Fair Lady suffers from sexism and misogyny when watched in retrospect, so does Elaan of Troyius. This is another case much like Friday’s Child where a woman being belligerent is met with a slap and it’s presented as completely justified. Hey, I don’t know that I’d be happy being forced to marry someone I didn’t even know for the sake of their two worlds.

What works is the overall plot where Elaan learns not manners or obedience from Kirk, but duty. It’s not done in a heavy-handed way, either, but a gradual realization on her part. Once Kirk is under her spell, he confesses to watching her to stay but knows what his duty is. Elaan doesn’t want to grasp that concept, but eventually she comes to understand that she has a duty to her people and to those on Troyius. France Nuyen does a great job with her, conveying the anger and anguish as she evolves throughout the story. She really gives a great performance in this role.

Though predictable where the story will go, Shatner manages to have a good turn as Kirk. He conveys a lot of the story with expressions of exasperation. We know the Captain prefers exploration to diplomacy, and here he’s put to the test. His collection of women grows with his attachment to Elaan, but it didn’t feel like he was ever truly under her spell.

The Klingon sub-plot doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways, but it adds a bit of a distraction and peril necessary for Elaan to eventually realize what she must do. There are some good effects. The costuming of Elaan’s guards might be questionable, but hers are along the lines of what Star Trek is remembered for. That first time she’s seen on the transporter pad, the first thing noticeable is the skimpy costume. However, it’s also a sense of strength conveyed that ultimately makes her convincing as both beautiful and warrior-like.

I found Elaan of Troyius to be fun, despite the drawbacks. I enjoyed watching it, and in particular France Nuyen’s performance. It holds up to watching now, with a few moments that might make you cringe.

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Book Review: The Devil Wears Pinstripes by Jim Caple – Yankee Haters Unite!

As autumn rolls around, there seem to be a few things that are certain. One of them happens to be that the New York Yankees will be playing in the post-season. The arrogance of the team – and it’s owner – has spawned an entire generation of baseball fans who might root for various teams in their own cities, but have in common their hatred of the Yankees.

With a tongue-in-cheek salute to those fans, Jim Caple has authored a book celebrating all there is to hate about the Bronx Bombers. Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com and known for his hatred of the team.

That’s not to say his feelings about the Yankees don’t come through loud and clear in The Devil Wears Pinstripes. Far from it as he goes into extensive detail about all there is to hate the Yankees for. The main focus of the book is the time since the team was purchased by George Steinbrenner, but there’s reasons throughout many of the generations.

Caple pulls no punches as he goes after some of the most beloved figures of Yankee lore, including Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Billy Martin, and more. The older generation was held in a sort of protected state by the press during their time as ballplayers, although stories have circulated in later years. Caple pulls no punches and really no one should be shocked by any of what he states, even if it is with a venom most Yankee fans aren’t used to.

And the fans get their just desserts in The Devil Wears Pinstripes too. Caple talks of how the bleacher fans have targeted players throughout the years and made the bleachers an unpleasant place to be, particularly if you have a family you wish to bring to the ballpark to just see a game. What’s sad is that these are the most affordable seats for fans who would want to do just that.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the Bleacher Creatures are disrespectful. Not at all. When the Yankees played a recording of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, two fans held up a U.S. flag and another fan stood at attention and saluted it while wearing a t-shirt that read “We Banged Your Mom.” And as soon as the recording finished, the creatures chanted “Kate Smith Sucks! Kate Smith Sucks!”

I tell you, I made me proud to be an American.


This is a sample of the sarcasm with which Caple seems to regard all things in Yankee-world. He compares the Yankees YES network to Al-Jazeera, dubbing it Yank-Jazeera. He rips apart the beloved icon of all things Yankee, Yankee Stadium itself.

Caple lists ten of the Yankees players whose name seems to drive people crazy at the mere mention, and backs each up with a variety of reasons. He also delights Yankee-haters with a list of moments we can savor for watching the Yankees in all their power fall flat on their face.

However, most of the venom seems directed at one person, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Rightfully so, I say. Caple presents a good case why Steinbrenner’s actions since he purchased the team in 1973 have not only created legions of fans who hate the Yankees even more than before, but have also been bad for baseball overall.

While Steinbrenner is infamous for firing managers, he is merely following his predecessors’ example – the Yankees have always changed managers more frequently than they change the hot dogs on the concession stand grills. Every team fires the manager when the team loses, of course, but the Yankees also fire them when they win … And Steinbrenner has fired three managers after they got the Yankees to the postseason.

The rotating door on the managers office in Yankee Stadium is discussed with great sarcasm, if not a little sympathy for some of the managers who have resided there. Caple also exposes how the press has helped the Yankees throughout the years, gaining sympathy for their players and staff at the expense of other teams who have often only reacted to the outrageous antics and arrogance of the team.

Throughout the book Caple seems to show that he is also a fan of Star Wars, often comparing the Yankees to the Empire and dubbing George Steinbrenner Darth Steinbrenner. I thought this was particularly funny in the book, but then I do have a certain affinity for all things Star Wars.

At times I thought perhaps Caple was targeting Boston Red Sox fans with The Devil Wears Pinstripes. It’s easy to think that, especially since I purchased the book in a bookstore in New England. However, Caple also points out that despite the alleged “Curse of the Bambino” dating back to 1918, the intense rivalry between these two clubs has been a recent phenomenon. It’s really not an issue as anyone who hates the Yankees will find enough fodder here to back up those feelings, and get a good laugh in the process. There were many spots I clipped so I could read it to other people (mostly Red Sox fans) later on and we all had a good laugh.

At just over 200 pages, The Devil Wears Pinstripes isn’t a heavy or intense read. It’s fun and something to help get the frustration out of the system for fans who year after year have to deal with the over-priced cry-babies from the Bronx and the antics of their psychotic owner. It’s something this Mets fan, having lived in the shadow of all that arrogance all those years, can really appreciate. You learn to take the little victories where you can, like how I shoved it in someone’s face just yesterday that the Mets would clinch the NL East before the Yankees would clinch the AL East. Hey, it’s something, all right?!?!?!

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