The Wonder Years by Richard Holmes


The subtitle of this book is the abstract as well: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. The book consists of twelve chapters, and delineates the exploits of 8 different people or group of people–Humphry Davy and William and Carol Herschel each rate two chapters. the book begins with Joseph Banks and his journey with Captain Cook to the South Pacific. It tells stories of how he interacted with natives there, and the telling things abou this character as it related to scientific discovery. Banks presided over the scientific society in England for the entire duration of the period between the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s, so this intorduction sets the stage upon which other scientists and writers performed.

The discovery of the mysteries of the stars and moon, the invention of things that helped to save lives by pre-eminent scientists, and the increasing knowldge of chemistry and human physiology are all intermixed with the well known philosophers and writers of the time. Keats was learning about science while he was becoming the Romantic Generation’s poet (and then promptly dying at much too young an age). Wordsworth and Cooleridge were similarly invovled with the prominent scientists of their time, and the relationships they developed, and how that led to further discovery and change is well described in this wonderful book of a golden time.

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Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy


Last week I finally understood why I am not a short story reader. I had finished Alice Munro’s collection of short stories “Too Much Happiness”, which I thought was okay. Then I read what some other people thought of the book–and realized that I had completely missed the complex character development, that I just do not pay enough attention to every word to be able to truly appreciate something that doesn’t go on for 200 pages. I am all about the big picture and I miss the nuances
Then I read this book, a collection of 11 short stories, ten of which I loved. So, now I have to go back to the drawing board to figure this out. Maybe it is a particular kind of short story that I don’t get. In any case, this is a spectacular book, filled with stories about flawed people who Meloy manages to make us care about. Do I wish that each of them went on for an entire book–of the ten I loved, I wish there was more for eight of them. For two stories–one about ‘the other woman’ and one about a man on the verge of leaving his wife for a younger woman, the point of view that I wanted was there, all told, and I didn’t want any more. That is so rarely the case (I remember vividly reading Vikram Seth’s first book “A Suitable Boy”, which carries on for almost 1500 pages, and being terribly dissapointed that it ended. I wanted more!). The stories drew me in, many of the characters were not people I wanted to meet, most were not likable (maybe none of us is likable when someone is in our head, seeing our every thought), but I wanted to know what happened to them, how the story ended. There is alot to think about in this short volume, and it is wonderful.

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For My Father (2008)

 


I showed this film to my confirmation class last night. We are on the topic of god, but this movie probably fits more squarely in the neighborhood of parent-child relationships and obligations. Tarek is Palestinian. He was a largely apolitical Arab who played soccer in Nazareth but lived in the West Bank. So in order to practice and play, he and his father needed to cross the armed border on a regular basis. As suicide bombings increased, this became increasingly difficult to do, and so paradoxically, in the Arab community, terrorists had a bigger and better hold on Palestinians than ever beofre. It was their way or the highway. And Tarek’s father became a persona non grata for not bowing to that way of thinking. The movie opens with Tarek en route to Tel Aviv to become a suicide bomber and redeem his father.

But there is a catch–his detonator misfires and he needs to replace it. On Friday afternoon. Katz, the owner of a small repair shop, does not have the exact replacement, and since it is almost Shabbat, it will be Sunday before he can get it. So Tarek is forced to spend time within the community and gets to know them–which makes it increasingly difficult for him to contemplate killing them. But the thing that he really misses that the Katz’ teach him is that parents do not recover from the death of their children. This act, which he does in the name of his father, will end his father’s life as he knows it. Tarek is caught in the middle of two worlds and doesn’t have time to find a good way out.

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District 9 (2009)

One is immediately immersed in the film’s world. Beginning in medias res with stark images of a massive spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, the audience quickly discovers it’s been there for over thirty years by the time our story picks up. For months after the craft appeared the Earth waited for a response. When none came, the decision was made to send special teams to board the vessel and finally get some answers. What they got, instead, were more questions.
The aliens inside were malnourished, unhealthy and their intelligence appeared to be below that of most humans. Labeled “prawns” due to their appearance, the aliens were removed from the ship and placed into a temporary encampment known as District 9, which has rapidly deteriorated into an outright slum. Enter Wikus van der Merwe, a seemingly naive yet (mostly) likeable fellow employed with Multinational United (M.N.U.), the pseudo-U.N. organization tasked with handling the prawns. He’s just received a promotion and is ordered to relocate the prawns to a newer camp set up in an area more isolated from humanity.
While the scope of “District 9” seems initially epic, the film  follows a very focused tale centered on Wikus and an alien known as Christopher. As the story unfolds, the development of these characters is outstanding – particularly for an action-oriented film. A lesser film would’ve transformed Wikus into a more compassionate person as the events transpired, perhaps even culiminating into some sort of freedom fighter for the prawns. With this film, however, we’re finally presented with a very real, very flawed character.
Wikus is a largely  self-serving individual, whereas Christopher is a more  humane character.
The documentary format in which the film is shot is a phenomenal aspect and one which is original and innovative, and combines nicely with the action movie style.                                                                                The polarizing opinions and wildly diverse interpretations of this film are precisely what makes it brilliant. It’s been labeled as both a compelling allegory of apartheid and of the Iraqi war, it’s been accused of somehow being a ‘racist’ film, while somesee it as violently offensive rubbish. The film does not provide answers and solutions, but rather allows the viewer to see that there are no viable solutions.

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Pretty Devils (2000)

This is a story that should focus on the traumatic events of youth and the effects they have down the road–which it presents, but doesn’t fully explore.  Naughty Lea (Olivia Bonamy) and sly Aurelie (Axelle Ade-Pasdeloup) are a pair of teenage girls with a taste for mayhem–they chat up men and rob them, they steal from locker rooms, and generally use a near abandoned gym as their larceny playground.  Why?  They are living a middle class existence with their mother, so it is not that they are destitute.  We later learn that their father has died in a diving accident, and that their mother was unable to show any sort of affection or interest in them for a long time afterwards.  So maybe it is attention seeking.  They are beginning to worry that Mom’s new boyfriend, a local gendarme, may be on to them.

Enter Anne-Sophie (Audrey Tatou), who has been dumped by a lover.  She is interested in revenge, and Lea and Aurelie have lots of ideas about how to foil his relationship with his latest love interest–which they successfully accomplish.  Anne-Sophie is eager to be their friend, and gets immediately wrapped up in their antics, but quickly there are two consecutive and unrelated disasters that lead to an end to the acting out, and provide a way for the policeman to gain an entrance to their stone cold hearts as well.  Well acted, and gives one the ability to connect the dots on why these girls are acting as they do, but not much else.  I recommend, with a 7/10 rating.

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Whip It (2009)

Whip It is a movie about a girl who who sneaks away from her coming out party debutante existence to find her heart in Roller Derby.  What makes the film really stand out from other rebellious teenager coming of age movies is the relationship with Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). This is one of the main themes of the movie and is nicely developed.
Bliss grows up in a small town (Bodine) in Texas, which is on the outskirts of Austin.   One day while shopping in Austin she picks up a flyer for the local Roller Derby team, the Hurl Scouts. Bliss talks her best friend  (played by Alia Shswkat) into driving her into Austin to watch an actual game. She is invited after the game by Maggie Mayhem to attend a tryout to make the team.
Drew said she was attracted to the sport of Roller Derby by the crowd. When she attended an event, she looked around and saw yuppies, blue collar workers, teenagers, families, and just a wide range of people, all drawn to the sport of Roller Derby–a class leveler.
The book was written by Shauna Cross, who based her experience on her career with the LA Derby Dolls. Shauna skated with them as Maggie Mayhem (played by Kristen Wiig). Shauna was looking for a tennis partner and searched Craigslist for one, and found an ad for Roller Derby, which started her career.  Basrrymore made some additions to the script– she came up with the Manson Sisters for Whip It. They play silent but deadly teammates on the Hurl Scouts. A little hard of hearing or not caring to, they walk by the white board with a play diagrammed, look, and just keep walking. They are played by LA Derby Dolls skaters Kristen “Krissy Krash” Adolfi and Rachel “Iron Maiven”. Adolfi and Piplica are teammates on LADD’s Tough Cookies, on whom the film’s fictionalized Hurl Scouts are based.   Most of the actors did their own skating and had their share of mishaps. Bliss (Ellen Page) was trained by LA Derby Doll’s Axle of Evil. Drew suffered a huge bruise on her thigh while wrestling with one of the trainers. During the training, some of the actors would yell out “I am hurting” and the trainers would yell back “Keep Skating”.
Landon Pigg goes from musician to his first acting role, as Bliss’ love interest.  I think this is the only scene of making out under water I have ever seen.
The movie scenes of Roller Derby action look extremely real as Drew used hand held cameras for a lot of the action. A huge crane in the middle of the track took shots from high above and also went down close to the action.
The moral of the movie (per Drew) is finding yourself, to get out there and do things, to improve yourself, and to pick yourself up and keep trying.  I give this a 7/10.

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Damned United (2009)

Peter Morgan (Writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon) reunites for the third time with Michael Sheen (lead actor of The Queen and Frost/Nixon).   Michael Sheen can tick off another box on his list of his portrayals of iconic Englishmen as his witty performance is a key reason for what makes The Damned United a joy to watch–the versatility with which he plays this role, having watched him be David Frost and Tony Blair is a tribute to his acting–he may have a generic look, but his attention to the details of voice inflections and mannerisms is stellar.

The film follows two different stories, switching frequently from Brian Clough’s miraculous time at Derby County and his disappointing and shambolic time at Derby’s then rivals Leeds United. It is important to pay attnetion to the titles that announce a variance in the year, so as to see where we are in time.  The film doesn’t get involved in Clough’s personal life (which may well have been in a shambles–while he has a wife in Derby, she seems pretty preoccupied with the seperation of work an dhome life, which seemed unrealistic at best–when Clough takes off for Leeds, he has two boys in tow but no wife in sight).  

The story focuses on his career with both clubs, starting off with Clough viewed firstly as a small-time 2nd Division manager to a arrogant manager on top of the Division 1, another key issue is his close friendship with his assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and hatred of the man who preceded him as Leeds boss, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). While at Leeds the key points of focus is Clough’s determination to replace Don Revie as a hero in Leeds and ‘father figure’ as well his poor relationship with the players and the end to his arrogance.  The flaw of arrogance is fleshed out and then exhonerated in the film.  Clough spends 44 days as the coach of Leeds United (the film doesn’t show why he has such intense hatred for the club, which would have gone a long way to explaining why he wanted the job, and how he approached it).  When that fails, he goes crawling back to Brighton and Peter Taylor, who takes him back after a bit of a tongue lashing, and the two go on to do brilliantly.  Not so for the hated Don Revie.

The film is wonderful–not just appealin got soccer fans, but to those who like a story with nuance.

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