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Sheldon Brown's Journal

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Sheldon in tweed hat

June 29, 2001

Film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam 1975

I don't go to actual movie theatres all that much, but George noted that this had been re-released, and the family schlepped into Kendall Square to see it. I believe I first saw this in London at the time of the original release. It's a classic of the genre, with many screamingly funny parts. It is a bit long, and does drag here and there, though. I don't think it was just the local print, the whole film seems to have been somewhat underexposed, much of it is really too dark. Highly recommended nevertheless.

Book: Rally Cry Martin R. Forstchen 1990

Fine escapist sci-fi. The year is 1864, and a regiment of U.S. veterans from Maine, with all of their equipment set sail on a transport steamer...which blunders into some sort of wormhole and finds itself afloat on a sea of a distant planet. On making landfall, they find the land populated by medieval Russians, whose ancestors got there in a similar fashion several hundred years before. The Americans have an altogether positive effect on the local Russian society, and bring many of the benefits of 19th century technology and political theory to the oppressed serfs.

It turns out that there are many different clusters of Earth folk scattered around the planet, from different times and places. It is a large planet, without the large seas of Earth. There is also a fierce native race of nomadic giants, the Tugars. The Tugars are 10 feet tall, armed with bows, catapults, axes and swords, and maintain a constant westerly migration that brings them around the planet every 20 years. The Tugars are the absolute rulers of the planet, and consider the humans as "cattle", using them as the primary staple of their diet. When the Tugar horde meets the 35th Maine and its firearms, a mighty battle ensues. This is the first of an extensive series of novels. Recommended for alt-history fans or fans of military SF.

June 30, 2001

In honor of George's last night at home, the whole family went out to the 3 Fortunes Chinese Buffet in Waltham. This is one of the few places where all 4 of us can find stuff we like. It's not as nice nor as large as the Chinese Buffet in Ithaca, but it's still pretty good.

Film: (DVD) Blue Velvet David Lynch 1986

A creepy and grisly film, well acted, made with considerable craftsmanship (except for Isabella Rosselini's lousy singing.) Not recommended.

July 1, 2001

Dropped George off at Boston University for the PROMYS program. Since Tova isn't spending too much time at home these days, our nest is now pretty much empty...

Film: (DVD) Hope and Glory John Boorman, 1987

A young boy living through the London Blitz. Strange to see it in color! A pleasant and cheerful film despite the subject, recommended.

July 3, 2001

Film: (DVD) My Dinner With André Louis Malle, 1981

A very literate film, consisting of a dinner conversation between a dweebish, unsuccessful playwright and a director turned dropout. The erstwhile director does most of the talking, of Jerzy Grotowsky, Findhorne, St. Exupery, and the spiritual alienation of modern life. The playwright has a rather more down-to-earth attitude. Not for everybody, but I liked it.

Harriet thought it should have been a radio play, and, indeed, there's basically no action. Surprisingly poor technically, the color balance changes drastically from scene to scene.

Film: (DVD) The Quiet Man John Ford, 1952

An Irish-born American (John Wayne) returns to Ireland after experiencing tragedy in the boxing ring, and buys the ancestral cottage in Innisfree. He falls in love with a neighbor (Maureen O'Hara) but has to fight her bullying lout of a brother (Victor McLaglen.)

The film is full of the predictable stereotypes, but is good fun if you don't mind that.

July 4, 2001

Went over to Albemarle field to eat carnival food, Italian sausage and fried dough...mmm mmm! There were people from Old Navy giving out cardboard glasses to watch the fireworks with.

After noshing, we came home to watch the fireworks from in front of our house, as usual, only with the special glasses. The glasses seem to have some sort of diffraction grating or something that makes any point source of light surrounded by 8 spectral lines radiating out at 45 degree intervals. The vertical and horizontal lines are slightly brighter. It's actually a double spectrum, indigo toward the inside, but the second (outer) spectrum is only visible when the contrast conditions are good. Even before the fireworks started we were having fun watching car lights and streetlights. Mercury-vapor streetlights have a discontinuous spectrum, so you see multiple, multi-colored images of the fixture, while incandescent sources give a rainbow-like continuous spectrum.

The fireworks were greatly enhanced by the glasses, each bloom being multiplied by 9. As various of the glowing bits changed temperature/color, the spectral images would sometimes streak outward or inward. It was really cool!

Film: (DVD) Rushmore Wes Anderson 1999

A rather strange but enjoyable film about a misfit dweebish genius at a posh prep school, where he is the king of extracurricular activities but flunks out of his classes. He is befriended by a millionaire industrialist (Bill Murray) and suffers a disastrous infatuation with a teacher at the school. The plot is rather scattered, but sometimes life's like that too. Recommended

July 5, 2001

Film: (VHS) Sands of Iwo Jima Alan Dwan 1949

The classic John Wayne WWII film, features all of the usual clichés. Being in black and white, and having a lot of assistance from the Marine Corp, the director was able to integrate a lot of actual combat footage. The climax is the reenactment of the iconic staged Rosenthal photo of the flag raising.

July 6, 2001

Went in to Mass General Hospital for a colonoscopy, had 5 polyps snipped off. All went smoothly. It was fascinating to watch on the video monitor--all these years I've had this colon, and I never got to see it before!

eBook: Ashes of Victory David Weber

Another in the Honor Harrington series, neither better nor worse than the others.

Film: (DVD) Finding Forrester Gus Van Sant 2000

In many ways a reprise of Van Sant's Good Will hunting, but enjoyable all-in-all. It's not clear how the kid would have had time to do all the reading he was supposed to have done and played as much basketball as he did...I didn't find this plausible.

July 7, 2001

Film: (DVD) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Ang Lee, 2000

A pretty but silly film. It had its moments, but the goofy "fighting" scenes were so hokey and unconvincing that they were quite a bore. Almost as bad as Xena, Warrior Princess. Amazing how so much sharp steel could get flung around without anybody getting cut. The sets and scenery were great, costumes too. Ok to rent, glad I didn't pay big bucks to see it in the theatre. We watched it with English dubbing and subtitles, which often didn't match.

July 8, 2001

Film: (DVD) Le Chagrin et la Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity) Marcel Oph¨uls 1972

A documentary focussing on the French city of Clérmont-Ferrand during WWII. Pretty gloomy stuff, but lots of interesting first-person material, including a lot from Pierre Mendes-France.

Film: (DVD) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Stanley Donen 1954

A big-budget Cinemascope musical, cruelly chopped by the exigencies of pan & scan video transfer. Good dancing, but the songs are fair-to-poor at best.

A rather silly story, set in 1850 Oregon Territory. 7 orphaned brothers living in a remote mountain cabin, reenact the abduction of the Sabine Women so they won't have to do their own laundry and cooking.

July 10, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Bridges of Madison County Clint Eastwood, 1995

Schmaltz of the highest quality. I have not generally been a fan of Clint Eastwood, who starred and directed in this film, but he's quite good under both hats here. Meryl Streep is also excellent.

Film: (VHS) The Postman Always Rings Twice Tay Garnett 1946

I picked this video up at the library thinking it was a '30s comedy, but I was only half right. It is actually a film noir murder story, and an unusually poor example. John Garfield is no Humphrey Bogart, and Lana Turner is not enough to save the stupid plot, clumsy dialogue and generally bad acting. Deserves to go to the dustbin of history.

July 11, 2001

Film: (DVD) The 39 Steps Alfred Hitchcock 1935

What a masterpiece! Brilliant and subtle. Robert Donat is superb. If you haven't seen it, you must!

The Criterion DVD version is remarkably clean, both video and audio, and has lots of nifty extras.

TV: Malcolm in the Middle

It's rerun season, but I couldn't resist seeing the bowling alley episode again. This begins with a split screen, and tells two parallel "alternate reality" stories, one in which the mother takes the kids to the bowling alley, the other with the father taking them. It is a brilliant piece of film making, full of clever transitions and juxtapositions. The don't come any better than this.

July 13, 2001

Did a bit of work on the French-English /English-French dictionaries, mainly adding alphabetical anchors, as I recently did on the films page.

Film: (DVD) The Court Jester Melvin Frank, Norman Panama 1956

This Danny Kaye farce is charming and corny, with wonderful colorful costumes by Edith Head. Silly plot derivative of Robin Hood, singing, dancing, slapstick. Angela Lansbury was once young! Basil Rathbone does his usual villain schtick splendidly. Highly recommended.

July 14, 2001

Bastille Day and my 57th birthday. I've been wearing my bonnet phrygien all day, getting strange looks at the library and the supermarket. Good thing I'm not shy!

Had the whole family together for dinner, along with Tova's Significant Other, whom we like too. Home-made tacos are a rare treat these days!

Film: (DVD) Good Morning, Vietnam Barry Levinson 1987

Pretty good film, with Robin Williams as an iconoclastic Armed Forces Radio DJ in 1965 Saigon, battling against the military stiffs in charge. The end tended a bit to the mawkish.

I think Robin Williams was at his best as Mork from Ork, doing his non-stop machine-gun-style comedy schtick. As years have gone by he seems to have aspired to more dramatic roles. Other great comics have done this before, Sir Alec Guinness and Art Carney come to mind, but it doesn't seem to be working for Williams.

July 15, 2001

I've been getting a lot of emails lately asking me how to raise handlebars, mostly on department store bikes. The one today inspired me to put up a new article on the topic, actually a re-worked and expanded version of an article I did for Adventure Cyclist last year. It's called Hands Up!

Film: (DVD) Manhattan Murder Mystery Woody Allen 1993

Don't know how we missed seeing this one before. Familiar cast of characters, costarring Diane Keaton, in a typical Woody Allen comedy. Well worth watching.

Film: (VHS) On Approval Clive Brook 1944

This is an entertaining "drawing room" comedy, originally a stage play set around Edwardian era. Unfortunately the quality of the VHS transfer, both video and audio, is appallingly low, making much of the dialogue unintelligible. According to a review on, the DVD version doesn't suffer this failing.

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

July 16, 2001

Film: (DVD) All the President's Men Alan J. Pakula 1976

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein unraveling the Watergate coverup. This was a good one. Interesting to see all the scenes in a major newsroom at the end of the typewriter-and-notebook era.

July 17, 2001

What a thriller today's stage of the Tour de France was! Lance Armstrong appeared weak and off his form all through the early part of the race...until he got to the Alpe d'Huez, ripped off his Clark Kent disguise and left everybody in the dust! A great sandbagging job!

Film: (DVD) Der Rosenkavalier Richard Strauss

I'd never seen this opera before, though much of the music was familiar to me from the suite. It has a rather sophisticated story, mainly relating to class distinctions in Old Vienna. The title role is a bit of a gender bender, a woman playing a man, except that some of the time she's playing a man playing a woman.

This was a filmed stage performance from the Theatro Massimo in Italy.

Film: (DVD) The Man in the Iron Mask

Gorgeous costumes, gorgeous scenery...but where are the powdered wigs?

Horrible phoned-in "acting" by big-name actors, idiotic dialogue. A major clinker.

July 18, 2001

Film: (DVD) Our Town Sam Wood, 1940

A film treatment of Thornton Wilder's play, seems rather corny and Norman Rockwellish to 21st century eyes. Video and audio quality are very low.

July 19, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Battle of Algiers Gillo Pontecorvo 1966

This Italian production begins with an announcement that it contains "not one foot" of newsreel material, and it's a good thing they say so, because it has such immediacy that much of it really does look very convincingly like real newsreel footage. This is a very fine piece of film making, dealing with the war of independence in Algeria. Most of the action takes place in 1956-7. While it basically sympathizes with the insurgents, it does so without demonizing the French, even when they're using torture to try to crack the F.L.N. organizational structure. (It was sponsored by the Algerian government.)

I was particularly struck by the scenes when the three women bombers were looking around the targeted caf´s at the men, women and children they are about to murder.

It's tragic what the Algerians had to go through to get their independence, and even more tragic that, as things turned out, they'd have been a lot better off remaining part of France! A great film.

July 20, 2001

I think it's really a shame that today isn't an international holiday. The first Moon landing, in 1968, was the most important event of the last millennium, and should be celebrated as such.

Film: (DVD) Marnie Alfred Hitchcock 1964

This psychological thriller is not one of Hitchcock's best, but is still pretty damn good. It is strange to see Sean Connery so young! Tippi Hedren fills in in place of Grace Kelly as an embezzler whom Connery hires, falls in love with, and practically forces to marry him.

July 21, 2001

Lance Armstrong takes the Maillot Jaune winning his 3rd stage this year! Looks like 3 in a row unless some unlooked-for disaster strikes!

Film: (DVD) The Beach Danny Boyle 2000

Leonardo Di Caprio is a lot more convincing as a '90s American neo-hippie than he was as Louis Quatorze in The Man in the Iron Mask!. Not great.

In the evening, George came home from his math program for the weekend, and he and Harriet and I headed out to Montague for our friend Nym Cooke's annual "Songs for a Summer Evening," a get together to sing 19th century songs in parts. As last year, this was at the Montague Grange Hall. Probably about 50 people showed up. I got do do a couple of solos: the last verse of Hard Times Come Again No More and a verse of The Last Hymn. Fortunately, both of these fit my range pretty well (no pesky high notes!) and I feel I did a creditable job.

We always look forward to singing with Nym. He's by far the most inspiring conductor I've ever worked with. I think the key is his knees! He's full of energy and conducts with his whole body, but most particularly with his knees.

Tova and Ethan were planning to drive out and meet us there, but ran out of time--it is a considerable schlep, close to two hours each way.

July 22, 2001

A sunny but very hot day, with air-quality warnings. I stayed in the air conditioning and worked on the Website. I did some formatting work on the Damon Rinard pages , to make them a better visual match for the rest of the site, and also worked some more on an article about gearing which is nearly ready for prime time.

Film: (DVD) La Traviata, Verdi Franco Zefferelli 1982

James Levine and the Met, along with Teresa Stratas and Placido Domingo are heard in this production. Zefferelli made a real film out of this, rather than filming a staged performance, and it's a visual treat indeed. I don't know the opera except for having heard a few of the more popular arias on the radio from time to time, so I don't know what liberties he took, or what he might have cut to get it down to an hour fifty, but I liked what I saw and heard very much...except that it's so damn sad! It brought tears to my eyes, which I know is some peoples' idea of a good time, but not mine.

I always used to dislike Italian opera, but I'm trying to be more open to it.

The DVD was pretty good, but the subtitles were done in the form of "for the hearing impaired" as opposed to "for the Italian impaired." Thus, there distracting titles to tell you when bells were tolling, when Violetta was coughing, when the music stopped and started, etc.

July 23, 2001

Oooooh, I'm getting fed up with My site and email were down all day 'til about 9 pm. I had 308 emails waiting for me, and suspect some got lost. This problem may be related to the virus-of-the-week, which is evidently particularly hard on servers. I've probably received at least 20 copies of it myself...sure glad I'm using a Mac!

Film: (VHS) Captains of the Clouds Michael Curtiz 1942

This starred James Cagney as a Canadian bush pilot. The first half of it involved the bush-piloting biz, and his relationships with his colleagues/competitors, plus the mandatory love interest. Then WWII breaks out and all of the bush pilots sign up with the Royal Canadian Air Force, but they are judged to be too old to be fighter pilots, 'cause they can't take 7 Gs without blacking out. Not a great film. Lots of very crude model shots of aircraft in "flight."

Film: (TV) Top Gun Tony Scott 1986

It's rerun season, and this was on the other night, so I taped it. Now I've seen it, and can erase it. It's pretty much what you'd expect. I never would have recognized Anthony Edwards in medium-length hair and with a mustache!

July 24, 2001

Film: (DVD) Babette's Feast Gabriel Axel 1987

Denmark, mid 1880s, out in the boonies of Jutland, two elderly spinster sisters, Martina and Phillipa, spend their time tending the old and infirm, generally doing good works.

Flashback 35 years, the sisters are blond beauties, all the young men of the village are after them, but their father, a calvinist preacher, says "no", he needs them to help with his ministry.

Lorens Loewenhielm, a young army officer, temporarily rusticated to the tiny thatched village due to debt, falls for Martina, but it is not to be, her father needs her.

A professional singer visits from Paris, come to Jutland for a rest cure. He hears Phillipa singing in church and is blown away. He offers free singing lessons, plans to make her the toast of Paris...but he gets too intense working on a love duet with her, and she decides not to continue.

Meanwhile, back in 1885, we meet Babette, the French servant girl to the spinsters. How can they afford a servant?

Flash back to 1871. Babette is dropped of by a passing ship. France is no longer safe for her. After the disaster of 1870 comes the Commune and siege in 1871. Her family is killed, she takes flight. The singing teacher tells her of the village in Jutland, commends her to the sisters, with the notation that "she can cook." The sisters take her in, teach her to cook the local gruel of stale bread and ale. With time, she improves the recipe by adding onions and herbs...

Back to 1885. The sisters are trying to keep the remnants of their late father's congregation together. There are only ten left, counting the sisters, and the group is increasingly riven by jealousy and petty bickering. They hope that the dinner they plan to commemorate their father's 100th birthday will help heal the breaches. Babette wins 10,000 francs in the lottery! The sisters fear that she will now leave them, but she says she would like to be the one to prepare the birthday meal, a French dinner, and she'll provide the food and everything else needed. The sisters reluctantly agree, but soon have great trepidations when they see the enormous quantity of exotic foodstuffs, wine, china and glassware Babette orders in. It includes quails, exotic fruit and an enormous turtle. The puritanical congregation fears that Babette will turn the patriarch's party into a witches' sabbath. They resolve and swear to on another to say not a word about the food, come what may.

The grand day arrives. There are 12 at table, the 10 puritans all in black, and also General Loewenhielm and his aunt (yes, he's become a general in the years since Martina last saw him.)

With a neighbor boy acting as waiter, Babette serves a spectacular French-style repast, beginning with a heavenly turtle soup. The guests reluctantly drink the fine vintage wines and eat the various courses. The general has not partaken in the oath to not discuss the food. He is a man of the world, has spent much time in Paris. He recognizes the main course, quails roasted in a pastry shell, as the specialty of she who was once the greatest chef in Paris--which, it turns out, was none other than Babette. He explains each course in turn (Babette never leaves the kitchen.) As the evening progresses, the hard features of the puritan congregation soften, their petty disagreements are forgotten. They're all smiling and clearly bursting to talk about how wonderful the food is...but they've sworn not to do so.

After dinner and brandy, they all go out, hold hands and dance in a circle.

The crux of this wonderful film is the contrast between the dour Calvinist ideology of the villagers, and the civilizing effect of Babette's culinary artistry. Based on a short story by Isak Deniesen. Highly recommended.

July 25, 2001

Film: (DVD) His Girl Friday Howard Hawks 1940

I'd seen this before, and I'll see it again. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel, directed with a light hand on the reins by Howard Hawks. This is based on Ben Hecht's The Front Page, but considerably expanded, and with the Hildy Johnson character turned into a woman, and she the ex-wife of Cary Grant's Walter Burns. This adds whole extra levels of depth to the story. This film may be the apotheosis of the 1930s "screwball" comedy genre. Unfortunately a bit marred by passing racism. Highly recommended, not to be missed.

July 27, 2001

Film: (DVD) Big Penny Marshall 1988

A 13 year old boy, just old enough to be interested in girls, but not mature enough to interest them, makes a wish that he could be "big." A mysterious magical carnie game grants his wish, and suddenly he's got the body of Tom Hanks, but the mind and experience of a suburban adolescent from New Jersey. His mother doesn't recognize him, and freaks out when she sees him, so he runs away to New York, where he gets a job working for a toy company. His special expertise causes him to rapidly rise to a vice presidency of the toy company, and he falls in love with one of his co-workers... This is a very amusing film, and an acting tour-de-force for Tom Hanks. Highly recommended.

July 28, 2001

Film: (DVD) Das Boot Wolfgang Petersen 1982

The greatest submarine movie ever. Appalling and terrifying from end to end, you really feel that you're in the same boat with the young crew. Highly recommended.

July 29, 2001

Ride: Bike Rides For Ordinary People Bedford, Billerica, Carlisle. This is the first time I've gone on one of Bruce Lederer's rides. He had an absolutely delightful course, with little climbing involved. Most of it was on quiet country roads, with an ice-cream stop at Great Brook Farm. Although I ride to work every day, I've done almost no pleasure riding this year, and my commute is only a bit over a mile each way. I figure this qualifies me as "Ordinary People" but I was surprised to find myself one of the faster riders in the group. There were a handful of recumbent bikes and at least 3 very cool tadpole trikes. Most of the other riders were on mid-level MTBs. I wanted to ride fixed gear, figuring that the group might be fairly slow...but, I didn't entirely believe Bruce's claim that there were "no hills of any significance" so I wanted some gears, so I rode the Bates with the Sturmey-Archer ASC 3-speed fixed gear hub. This turned out to be a good choice, though the 63 inch low gear was sometimes not all I could have asked for the climbs.

July 31, 2001

Film: (DVD) Les Parapluies de Cherbourg Jacques Demy 1964

I had thought that I'd seen this before, but I must have confused it with something else. It's a sort-of opera, music by Michel Legrand, dealing with the star-crossed love of a shopkeeper's daughter (Catherine Deneuve in her screen debut) and a car mechanic. It is set over 6 years, 1957-63. It's rather peculiar, in that, although all of the dialogue is sung, it is sung in a very non-operatic style, some of it only half sung. The sung dialogue is often very quotidian. The music isn't anything special, nor is the story. The sets seem somehow very stagy, and the acting is often so low-key as to almost disappear. Despite all this, there's something winning about this film, if only it's extreme Frenchness. Recommended for francophiles.

No internet connectivity tonight, possibly due to the latest "Code Red" virus. I'm suffering cold-turkey withdrawal symptoms. Only thing for it is to watch another movie:

Film: (DVD) Cracker: The Mad Woman in the Attic Simon Cellan Jones, Michael Winterbottom 1996

This was the first of the Cracker TV films. The protagonist/anti-hero is a brilliant psychologist who is also a horrible mess of a human being. His principal vices are gambling and drinking, but he's got lots of others two, and revels in them. He's still married as this one opens, though his wife leaves him not far into the film.

The story involves a serial slasher, and the police find a likely suspect early on, but he claims to be suffering from amnesia. When all other lines of investigation fail, Fitz cracks the case, just in time to save the next young woman from becoming victim #4. This is a quite smart and entertaining series, much better than the cleaned-up version that came out of Hollywood. Recommended, but not to the squeamish.

Spoke Divider

Spoke Divider

August 1, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Lady from Shanghai Orson Welles, 1948

This film noir has Welles as an Irish sailor who gets involved with a couple of wealthy lawyers and the wife of one of them (Rita Hayworth, Welles's soon-to-be ex-wife) and a complicated murder/insurance fraud plot. Reputedly cut mercilessly by the studio, this still has moments of brilliance.

August 2, 2001

Film: (DVD) Silkwood Mike Nichols 1983

The based-on-fact story of Karen Silkwood, a whistle-blowing employee of a plutonium processing facility in Oklahoma. She died in a suspicious automobile "accident" in 1974. Meryl Streep is splendid in the title role.

August 3, 2001

When I came home from work today, I discovered that Earthlink has changed their policy, and I can no longer use their Usenet server from home on the cable modem, only from the shop or elsewhere that I use the Earthlink dialup. This creates a major inconvenience. I can read the Newsgroups using Mediaone's server, but for reasons not clear to me, I can't post that way. It is a pain having to change so many settings twice a day as I go from home to the shop and back.

August 4, 2001

Film: (DVD) Monty Python's The Life of Brian Terry Jones 1979

I don't know how I missed seeing this deliciously blasphemous film for so long...what a hoot! Highly recommended, at least to the irreligious. My favorite part was John Cleese's latin lesson as a Roman legionary.

August 5, 2001

Spent a bunch of time re-loading the Revels, Inc. Website. Somehow TIAC wound up dumping the site, claiming that they had been told it was to be cancelled. It's been offline for over a month. The office has finally set up a new account with Verizon, and it's back on line--that is, it will be once the domain change has been propagated, which hasn't happened yet.

When I first signed on with TIAC they were running a fine organization, support and reliability were excellent. Service has been going downhill steadily for several years though, and I'm about to allow the last of my TIAC accounts to lapse.

Film: (DVD) Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks, 1974

This wasn't quite as wonderful as I'd remembered it being, perhaps suffering in comparison with Life of Brian. It has some wonderful bits, but doesn't have the breakneck pacing of many newer comedies. It also relies a bit too much on the thrill of breaking the 1974 vintage taboos on bathroom humor and the "n" word. Still, a masterpiece of its time. Features a few cute references to old vaudevillians, from le Petomane, through Olson & Johnson and Laurel & Hardy. Recommended.

August 9, 2001

Beastly heat wave continues--I'm so glad we've got central air!

A sad irony occurred to me, the sorry lot of the air-conditioner tech is to always be working on AC but never to be able to work in an air-conditioned space!


I certainly hope that the Senate is wise enough to shoot down the cloning ban recently passed by the House. If ill-considered draconian restrictions are placed on medical R & D, the long-term prosperity of this country will be placed at risk, as I believe that medical technology is likely to be the Next Big Thing.

Actually, I believe that an outright cloning ban would be unconstitutional, because such a blanket ban would have no legitimate scientific or public-policy rationale--the major theoretical objections to cloning are fundamentally religious in nature. Writing them into law seems to me to constitute an unconstitutional "establishment of religion."

This is not to say that some sort of legal framework isn't needed, particularly to establish custody and to determine who would be responsible for the support and upbringing of a cloned child. Perhaps a law requiring two individuals to sign contracts putting them in loco parentis should be a pre-requisite for a legal human cloning.

Film: (DVD) The Barefoot Contessa Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1954

Humphrey Bogart as a Hollywood director, Ava Gardner as a Spanish dancer turned movie star, who then marries an Italian nobleman (Rossano Brazzi.) Rather talky, and not very cheerful (it opens with her funeral, and the structure is all based on flashbacks from the funeral.) A so-so film, not one of Bogart's best. I can't believe Edmond O'Brien won an oscar for his scenery-chewing PR man performance.

August 10, 2001

Film: (DVD) Harold and Maude Hal Ashby 1971

I had been looking forward to this, had heard it was good. I found it pretty disappointing, about on the artistic level of the Cat Stevens music that forms most of the sound track.

August 11, 2001

Picked up George from the Promys program at BU, now he's back for a while 'til Brandeis starts up.

Installed OS-X in my iBook. So far, I'm not thrilled with it, but maybe I'll warm to it as I get used to it.

Film: (DVD) Some Like it Hot Billy Wilder 1959

I'd seen this a long time ago, forgotten what an excellent film this is. In addition to being very funny, it's very impressively choreographed. I was particularly taken by the opening chase scene in the streets of 1929 Chicago, where a hearse bearing a casket full of bootleg whiskey is chased by police cars with cops shooting from the running-boards. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are excellent, Marilyn Monroe is...Marilyn Monroe. It's easy to see why this film is particularly popular with gay audiences. Very highly recommended.

August 12, 2001

Film: (DVD) Damn the Defiant Lewis Gilbert (II) 1962

A Royal Navy saga, set in 1797 around the time of the great Spithead mutiny. Fairly predictable story, but very good model work in the battle scenes. Alec Guinness as the captain, in a power struggle with Dirk Bogarde as the sadistic first Lieutenant with good political connections. Only recommended for devotees of the genre and major Guinness fans (which would include me.)

August 14, 2001

Film: (DVD) Amadeus Milos Forman 1984

An amazingly fine film, dealing with the jealousy of mediocrity for genius. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as an amazingly annoying Mozart. Jeffrey Jones was excellent as the Emperor. The music was very well integrated with the film. Sets and costumes were splendid, wigs were beyond splendid, this was the high-water mark of the powdered wig era. Very highly recommended, even if, like me, you're not a big Mozart fan.

One small anachronism, there's a scene near the end when people are waltzing, and I believe this was a generation or two before the waltz came along.

August 15, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Fantsticks Michael Ritchie 2000

I expected to like this, especially when I saw that the Boy's father was played by Brad Sullivan--I've been a fan of his since seeing him as the psychotic wrestling coach in I'll Fly Away. In the event, however, I found it quite disappointing. They cut too much of the music, including "Plant a Radish", and replaced "Rape" with a pale P.C. number. The singers, particularly Jonathon Morris as el Gallo, were slow and lifeless, constantly adding pauses in the middles of verses. Morris was particularly poorly cast. Couldn't sing, couldn't dance (it was weird to see the ballet scenes where the choir de ballet was literally dancing circles around the principals!)

Looking at the listing on, I see that much of the cut material is actually on the DVD, but I haven't seen those sections yet.


Well, maybe I was a bit too harsh. I went back and viewed most of the "extra features" on the DVD, including deleted scenes, full-length and deleted songs, and it looks like this started out as a pretty good job, but suffered from overenthusiastic cutting. They did have "Plant a Radish" and also "Rape." According to the commentary, "Rape" had indeed been cut for reasons of Political Correctness, which is a damn shame, it's an excellent number. The musical stage has a long tradition of humorous songs about many things more horrific than rape, including The Mikado, Candide, Sweeny Todd, and even the current smash The Producers. This is PC carried too far.

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August 17, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Last Temptation of Christ Martin Scorsese 1988

This film caused quite a scandal when it was released, mainly, if I recall correctly, among people who hadn't actually seen it.

It's quite a fine piece of work, picturing Jesus as being rather bewildered to have been chosen to be the Son of God, and rather ambivalent about the whole thing. Judas (Harvey Keitel) is his closest friend, a committed anti-Roman revolutionary. In this reading, Judas hands Jesus over to the Romans at Jesus's bidding, not as an act of betrayal at all.

Auburn-haired, blue-eyed Willem Dafoe certainly doesn't look the part, but mostly carries it off pretty well. Most of the other actors have New York accents, Judas's being particularly noticeable.


The "Last Temptation" (based on a Kazantzakis novel of the same name) has Jesus on the cross, rescued by supernatural means by an angel who says he doesn't have to die after all. He is transported to a fertile valley, where he married Mary Magdalen, and lives to a ripe old age surrounded by a bevy of his children. As an old man on his deathbed he finally recognizes that the "angel" was actually Satan in disguise. He repents, asks God for forgiveness, and begs to be given another chance to die on the cross, redeeming Humanity.

August 18, 2001

Direct Tire

Today I noticed that the brake warning light on our '97 Chrysler minivan was on, so I took the car in to Direct Tire in Watertown (one of the few car service places around that's open on Saturday afternoons.) They looked at it while I waited, took about half-an-hour. After thoroughly checking it out, they said the brakes were fine, and had even been recently replaced (probably by the dealer who sold us the car) and that it only needed to have the fluid topped charge!

This is the second time they've worked on this vehicle for free; they fixed a flat a while back, also at no charge, even though they had never worked on that vehicle previously.

Being in a service business, I am always interested to find myself on the other side of the counter. To me, Direct Tire is a paragon of customer service, and even when it means I've got car trouble, it's always, in a way, a pleasure to do business with them.

I first started dealing with Direct Tire quite a few years back, mainly choosing them because of proximity and the fact that they are a major underwriter of WBUR, a local public radio station that I listen to a lot. Since then, they've earned my loyalty with their reliable work and friendly spirit. I wish I knew their secret for finding good help! Everybody there seems cheerful and committed to customer service. Their counter guys seem always to manage to communicate well, neither snowing you with technical jargon nor condescendingly talking down to their customers. If you're reading this, and are in their service area (Eastern Massachusetts) I very heartily recommend giving them a try if you need car service.

Film: (DVD) Absence of Malice Sydney Pollack 1981

Mike Gallagher (Paul Newman) runs a law-abiding wholesale liquor distribution business in Miami, but his late father was formerly a bootlegger and loan shark, and his uncle is a local Mob leader. When the head of the longshoremen's local disappears, an over-zealous FBI man decides to squeeze Mike, figuring that even if he had nothing to do with the hit, he would be able to find out, doing the FBI's job for them. The sleazy FBI guy leaks the "fact" that Gallagher is under investigation to newspaper reporter Megan Carter (Sally Field.) As a result, Gallagher's reputation is ruined, his workers go on strike, his best friend kills herself and all Hell generally breaks loose.

There is the inevitable affair between Paul Newman and Sally Field, Newman/Gallagher manages to outsmart the various feds, but the damage has already been done. This is by no means a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it. Actually, my favorite part was the opening credits, shot over various aspects of newspaper machinery circa 1981. In this one, unlike All the President's Men, the reporters' desks have computer monitors (big, hulking ones) and typewriters.

August 19, 2001

Larz Anderson Bicycle Show

The weather was perfect this year, a grand time was had by all. The concours was a bit disappointing, and high-end older road bikes were not as much in evidence as previously, either in the concours or the booths. I brought my Hetchins along, and it was one of only two Hetchins bikes there. I didn't see any Herses or Singers, either.

Ken Denny had a couple of lovely bikes, a superlight Caminargent, a Gloria and a very handsome chrome bike that I can't recall what it was. There were a couple of very nice unrestored Drysdale track machines, and a lovely pair of Raleigh club bikes, a green Lenton Sports and a black RRA, both of which looked showroom new.

I picked up a couple of coil-spring Simplex derailers, a Daniel Rebour Idéale saddle, and a couple of 1" track cogs (8 & 9). Also a US Raleigh catalogue from around 1939, and a training video on the Shimano Nexus 7-speeds.

I did have a narrow escape, though. One booth had what appeared to be two pair of TA Cyclotouriste cranks. I was looking at them preparatory to making an offer, but was a bit puzzled that they didn't have the length stamped into them as usual, and the profile was slightly different. Then it hit me in a flash--these were Lambert cranks! Run away! run away!

August 21, 2001


August 22, 2001

Book: Changer of Worlds David Weber & Eric Flint 2001

This collection of novellas is set in the Honor Harrington universe, but she is not actually a character in any of them. A pleasant diversion for fans of this sort of thing, of which I am numbered.

Film: (DVD) Time Bandits Terry Gilliam 1981

A vigorous fantasy with a young boy following after a gang of dwarves from elsewhen who suddenly appear in his bedroom. Entertaining, never a dull moment. Not recommended for children, could be pretty terrifying to the impressionable.

August 23, 2001

Film: (DVD) Arsenic and Old Lace Frank Capra 1944

This is a wonderful black comedy, with Frank Capra and Cary Grant at the top of their form. Very highly recommended.

Film: (VHS) Midway Jack Smight 1976

An all star cast and a fascinating subject make this a gripping film. I've long been particularly fascinated by the role of naval aviation in WW2...those primitive looking planes on their Rube Goldbergesque carriers, and the heroes who flew and sailed them, to make such a difference, it beggars belief. Midway was the battle that turned the tide on the Pacific front. This film also credits the vital role played by U.S. cryptanalysts in this famous victory. I wish the library had this on DVD, the VHS tape didn't do it justice. Recommended for those who like this sort of thing.

August 24, 2001

Film: (DVD) This Island Earth Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold 1955

One of the "classic" '50s science-fiction films, with humanoid aliens fleeing defeat in an interstellar war seeking refuge on Earth, in their flying saucer. Not as bad as most of this genre.

Book: American Empire: Blood and Iron Harry Turtledove, 2001

Oh Joy! Another Harry Turtledove! This actually arrived early this month, and I'v been savoring it slowly. This is part of the "World War" series, starting around 1918 where The Great War: Breakthroughs ended.

The defeated Confederacy is on its knees, suffering hyper-inflation until a sandwich costs a billion dollars. Jake Featherston turns into a Hitlerian figure, and threatens to take over the country.

The Victorious U.S.A. denies Teddy Roosevelt a third term, electing Upton Sinclair as the first Socialist president.

Most of the characters from Breakthroughs wind up counting their blessings by the end of this book--at least those who survive.

August 25, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Guns of Navarone J. Lee Thompson 1961

A suspenseful WW2 film from Shepperton Studios, starring Gregory Peck as the leader of a group of allied commandos on a Greek island. This is one of the good ones.

August 26, 2001

Well, the nest is now officially empty. We dropped George off at Brandeis today, but fortunately it's only 3 miles from home, so we'll still see him fairly regularly. Tova has gone to San Francisco, so it's going to be too long before we see her again.

August 27, 2001

Film: (VHS) Moon Over Parador Paul Mazursky 1988

This was, perhaps, inspired by Heinlein's Double Star. Richard Dreyfuss in the "Great Lorenzo" role in a Caribbean banana dictatorship. A pleasant comedy.

August 30, 2001

Went out to dinner with Tova and Ethan. Also met Ethan's mother, Maura, and his brother and brother's fianée. We like them; a good time was had by all. They are about to make the move to San Mateo, have a nice apartment, and good job prospects. We'll miss Tova, being so far away, but she seems happy, so we're happy too.

Film: (DVD) Catherine the Great Marvin J. Chomsky, John Goldsmith 1995

It's unlikely that Catherine the Great was as much of a babe as Catherine Zeta-Jones is, but this film is very well acted, also featuring Ian Richardson, Omar Sharif, and Catherine Deneuve as the old Czarina. Gorgeous sets, splendid costumes. The battle scenes are a bit skimpy, and this A & E production seems to ignore the last 30 years of her reign! Still, worth watching.

August 31, 2001

Film: (DVD) Southie John Shea 1999

A grim and gritty film about gang wars in South Boston, starring Donnie Wahlberg. Not bad, the accents, faces and squalid locations all ring true.

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November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975


The overall Booklist has been moved to a separate page.

Books reviewed on this page:
Ashes of VictoryDavid Weber7/6 /01
Changer of WorldsDavid Weber & Eric Flint8/22/01
American Empire: Blood and IronHarry Turtledove8/24/01


The overall film list has been moved to a separate page.

Films reviewed on this page:
The 39 StepsJuly 11, 2001
Absence of MaliceAugust 18, 2001
All the President's MenJuly 16, 2001
AmadeusAugust 14, 2001
Arsenic and Old LaceAugust 23, 2001
Babette's FeastJuly 24, 2001
The Barefoot ContessaAugust 9, 2001
The Battle of AlgiersJuly 19, 2001
The BeachJuly 21, 2001
BigJuly 27, 2001
Blazing SaddlesAugust 5, 2001
Das BootJuly 28, 2001
The Bridges of Madison CountyJuly 10, 2001
Captains of the CloudsJuly 23, 2001
Catherine the GreatAugust 30, 2001
Le Chagrin et la PitiéJuly 8, 2001
Cracker: The Mad Woman in the AtticJuly 31, 2001
The Court JesterJuly 13, 2001
Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonJuly 7, 2001
Damn the DefiantAugust 12, 2001
The FantasticksAugust 15, 2001
Finding ForesterJuly 6, 2001
Good Morning, VietnamJuly 14, 2001
The Guns of NavaroneAugust 25, 2001
Harold and MaudeAugust 10, 2001
His Girl FridayJuly 25, 2001
Hope and GloryJuly 1, 2001
The Last Temptation of ChristAugust 17, 2001
The Man in the Iron MaskJuly 17, 2001
Manhattan Murder MysteryJuly 15, 2001
MarnieJuly 20, 2001
MidwayAugust 23, 2001
Monty Python's Life of BrianAugust 4, 2001
Moon Over ParadorAugust 27, 2001
My Dinner With AndréJuly 3, 2001
On ApprovalJuly 15, 2001
Our TownJuly 18, 2001
Les Parapluies de CherbourgJuly 31, 2001
The Postman Always Rings TwiceJuly 10, 2001
The Quiet ManJuly 3, 2001
Der RosenkavlierJuly 17, 2001
RushmoreJuly 4, 2001
Sands of Iwo JimaJuly 5, 2001
Seven Brides for Seven BrothersJuly 8, 2001
Some Like it HotAugust 11, 2001
The Sorrow and the PityJuly 8, 2001
SouthieAugust 31, 2001
This Island EarthAugust 24, 2001
Time BanditsAugust 22, 2001
Top GunJuly 23, 2001
The Umbrellas of CherbourgJuly 31, 2001


The overall music list has been moved to a separate page.


November 29, 2002Lorraine BraccoThe Graduate
November 23, 2001Helen Mirren, Ian McKellnThe Dance of Death-August Strindberg
September 30, 2000Tova/Black Box Theatre, Cornell UniversityThe Maids-Jean Genet
May 30, 2000Kelsey Grammer/Colonial TheatreMacbeth
May 26, 2000The Huntington Theatre Co.King Hedley II
September 3, 1999The Publick TheatreNine
August 21, 1999Orange Tree Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sonata
August 13, 1999Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You
May 22-29Newton South/North High SchoolsRichard III
December 18, 1998Newton North High SchoolThe Bone Violin, May Flies
November 12, 1998Newton North High SchoolTo Kill a Mockingbird


November 21-24, 2007Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2007Las Vegas, Nevada
August 18-25, 2007Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
November 22-26, 2006Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2006Las Vegas (Interbike)
June 10-20, 2006Santa Cruz, California
May 5-7, 2006Aurora, Indiana
November 23, 2005Plantation, Florida
September 26-29, 2005Interbike, Las Vegas, Nevada
August 26-28, 2005'Bentride 2005, Bath, N.Y.
July 21-24, 2005Family Reunion, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
April 29, 2005Cirque de Cyclisme, Greensboro, N.C.
February 16, 2005Indianapolis
November 24, 2004Plantation, Florida
October 8, 2004Santa Cruz, California
October 4, 2004Las Vegas, Nevada
June 8, 2004France, England
December 22, 2003Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 27, 2003Florida
October 31, 2003Potomac, Maryland
October 10, 2003Las Vegas, Nevada
September 21, 2003New York, N.Y.
November 27-30, 2002New York, N.Y.
October 8-13, 2002Evanston, Illinois
October 4-8, 2002Las Vegas, Nevada
July 3-9, 2002Canso, Nova Scotia
May 24-27, 2002Long Island, New York
November 21-24, 2001New York City
October 16-19, 2001Cape Cod, Massachusetts
September 29-October 3, 2001Las Vegas, Nevada (Interbike Show)
June 16-23, 2001Nags Head, North Carolina
October 5-14, 2000Evanston, Illinois
September 30-October 2, 2000Ithaca, New York
June 22-25, 2000Urbanna, Virginia
October 7-13, 1999Chicago/Evanston, Illinois
August 19-28, 1999Ithaca, New York
August 12-13, 1999Ithaca, New York
July 23-25, 1999Bridgeton, Maine
November 25-28, 1998Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1988-89France, England
1980Yucatan, Mexico
1975England, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Turkey

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