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Archive for 2007

A movie about six unemployed steel workers, set in the depressed industrial north of England, doesn’t exactly sound like the recipe for a successful comedy but believe me, The Full Monty is a terrific film. It is British independent film making at its best.

Driven by a desperate need for cash, and inspired by a local performance of the male “dance” show Chippendales, Gaz (Robert Carlyle) comes up with a plan – surely he and his mates can make a few quid by taking off their clothes for the ladies? Just one problem – there is not a good physical specimen amongst them! Indeed, as their old boss Gerald is keen to point out to Gaz and one of his mates – “he’s fat, you’re thin, and you’re both ****** ugly”. Despite their physical shortcomings and their total lack of skills on the dance floor, the group agrees to go “the full monty” – or to strip totally naked – in order to attract the largest possible audience and earn the most cash.

Along the way to their one-night only performance, there are some hilarious scenes – my favorite is the impromptu dance in the queue at the unemployment office – but there are also some more serious notes. The film deals with the importance of work to self-esteem, the despair and hopelessness of industrial decline, and the lengths some will go to to hide their situation. But these more serious themes only add to our sympathy for the characters, and don’t hinder the progress of a very entertaining and comical storyline.

The humor is down to earth and full of colorful language (not exactly Jeeves and Wooster stuff), but if you don’t mind a good dose of swearing and some challenging accents, you will enjoy a hilarious and poignant view of British life. The sound track is jolly good too – a great mix of seventies dance tunes to tap your feet to!

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Truman Capote is probably recalled by most people today for his flamboyance, his odd speaking voice, and his dissolute lifestyle in the 1960s and 70s. Others may think of him as one of the founders of the narrative nonfiction movement with the success of In Cold Blood, published in serial form in the New Yorker in 1965 and then in book form in 1966. Students of Southern literature may think of Capote for his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms. All of these are vital pieces of who Capote was. But I have always thought of Capote as the author of one of the most charming and moving Christmas stories that I have ever read, A Christmas Memory.

In this brief story, Capote recounts one Christmas time in his youth in the early 1930s. He is seven years old, already an outsider, even from his family. After his parents divorced, Capote was sent to live with his mother’s people in Alabama. Here, he struck up a friendship with a sixty-some year-old cousin, Sook Faulk, who was the only person in the family who seems to have really cared for him. Over the course of the story, which begins with the cousin waking one November morning to announce that “It’s fruitcake weather,” Capote describes the preparations and gathering of ingredients for the pair’s annual baking of Christmas fruitcakes. It seems a slight subject on which to hang a tale, but Capote is a wonderful storyteller, and knows how to put together a sentence. There are memorable characters throughout the piece, including Mr. Haha Jones, the local bootlegger, from whom the pair manage to get the whiskey needed to soak the cakes.

It is a bittersweet tale, and there is an elegaic tone that runs throughout the story. The changes that would come to the South and to Capote himself are just around the corner, and in both cases, you get the sense that these are changes for the worse. Nonetheless, ever since I came across the piece on my parent’s bookshelves thirty five or so years ago, I have had a warm affection for Truman Capote and for his recollections of Christmas time.

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“It’s a good thing she’s dead.” It was my friend Nora on the phone. Not hello, Penelope, this is Nora, how are you? Just “It’s a good thing she’s dead, or I’d kill her.”

I’d bugged Nora to read the Lymond Chronicles, raving that it was the most intense reading experience of my life. Now Nora had just finished book four, Pawn in Frankincense. She was crying, she was raging, and she wanted nothing better than to throttle Dorothy Dunnett. I knew how she felt.

I made the mistake of picking up the Lymond Chronicles while in library school. I was immediately, hopelessly hooked. For weeks, late at night when I was supposed to be studying information-seeking behavior, I was instead lost in the adventures of the dazzling Scottish mercenary, Francis Crawford of Lymond. Over the course of the six-volume saga, Lymond is entangled in plots, seductions and duels at most of the royal courts of mid-16th-century Europe, from France to Constantinople to Russia. Every chapter brings another surprise, another narrow escape, another wonderfully rich scene of Renaissance life.

Lymond is my favorite sort of hero: the tormented mastermind. He is a poet, musician, mathematical genius, and the greatest military mind of his day. He is witty in at least a dozen languages. He is also so racked by self-loathing that he repeatedly tries to goad otherwise nice people into killing him. He commits appalling acts for reasons that may become clear only hundreds of pages later into the story. Which brings me back to Nora’s phone call. Dunnett inflicts some cruel sucker punches on her readers. This is embarrassing to admit, but at one point, I screamed “Traitor!,” threw the book across the room, and began wailing in grief. My bewildered husband tried to comfort me, saying “But it’s only a story.” Only a story? For the past six weeks, it had been my life.

Check the WRL catalog for the first volume of the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings.

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Here, read the first sentence and see if you’re hooked:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

With A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving managed to write the rarest of books, a Christian novel that’s not the least bit inspirational. Within the story there is ample evidence of God’s influence in the characters’ lives, but at no point does anyone proselytize: Irving never suggests, even indirectly, that the reader adopt Christianity. And yet this is a very religious book in the sense that God plays a large role—and the main character himself is a Christ figure.

Heavy issues of religion, faith, and spirituality abound in Owen Meany—but in case one weighty topic per book isn’t enough for you, you’ll also get a healthy dose of politics. The story starts simply enough, in small-town 1950s New England, but by the latter half of the book, America is embroiled in Vietnam. Thoughts of war, duty, and personal responsibility occupy the the mind of the narrator, an American who moved to Canada duing the Vietnam War (though not, significantly, as a draft dodger).

With all these meaty issues, Owen Meany is, literally, thought-provoking. For days after I finished it I found myself, er, provoked by thoughts. I would be lying in bed, or taking a shower, or trying to concentrate on a different book, but I kept coming back to Owen Meany. “Wait!” I yelled at my cat as I was feeding her. “Did John Irving mean…?”

Most books with heavy themes are—how shall I say this delicately?—are not over-focused on plot. The Brothers Karamazov, my favorite novel ever, raises every philosophical question known to humankind, but it’s not what you’d call a fast read. Owen Meany, now—the story grabbed me from the get-go and didn’t let go till the very last page, at which point I put the book down and bawled my eyes out. What can I say? The characters grow on you.

Caveat reader: Owen Meany contains strong language and violence (I’m telling you, this is just not typical Christian fiction) and a peculiar strain of anti-Catholicism from one of the characters; I didn’t find the book to be anti-Catholic on the whole, but some readers may be upset by the prejudices of the guy who is, otherwise, a swell protagonist. And most importantly: If you react like I did, you’re looking forward to a protracted bout of histronics when you hit that last page.

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For some, Christmas is a time of joy; for others the holidays are difficult. For me the holidays are a big mix of nostalgia, stress, annoyance, confusion, and sheer wonder at the bizarre extremes of behavior that I see this time of year. That, in a nutshell (with emphasis on the nuts), is why I can really appreciate a novel like Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel: a Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror.

Moore rounds up the wacked-out residents of Pine Cove, California (several of his books are set there) for another ridiculous adventure. When Lena Marquez accidentally kills Santa in self defense (a Santa played by her rotten ex-husband, the town’s resident Evil Developer) she gets help from helicopter pilot Tucker Case and his pet, the giant fruit bat Roberto, in hiding the body. Unfortunately, a video-game obsessed boy named Josh has witnessed Santa’s slaying. Raziel, the screw-up angel of the title, has been sent from heaven to perform the annual Christmas miracle, and when he hears Josh wish for Santa to return to life, he raises the Evil Developer and the rest of the town’s dead from the grave as ravenous zombies.

Meanwhile, Former B-movie actress Molly “The Warrior Babe” is off her meds and hearing voices again and husband Theo, the town constable, has fallen off the wagon and is back to his pot-smoking ways. In a hilarious parody of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Molly gives Theo a bong (to celebrate his success in giving up pot) and Theo gives Molly a samurai sword (to commemorate her career). Neither realizes that the other has a dubious use for the symbolic gifts.

These are just the main characters in Moore’s fast-moving, funny story. It’s vulgar, it’s profane, and it all ends with a standoff between the zombies and the town residents they surround in a church during the annual Christmas party for the single and lonely. What fun! It reminds me of my family Christmas parties, but that’s another story

Try this or any of Moore’s delightful satires when you need a break from serious reading or the stress of daily life.

Check the availability of The Stupidest Angel in the WRL catalog

The Stupidest Angel

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Cheryl reminds us of why it’s worth returning to this Christmas classic:

Christmas may be a humbug to Ebenezer Scrooge but it certainly wasn’t a humbug to Charles Dickens who wrote several fine tales of the holiday season. His best and most famous Christmas story is of course, A Christmas Carol. People have grown up watching this holiday perennial on TV and know the story by heart so is there anything to be gained by reading it? Well, yes there is.

The well-known tale concerns a bad-tempered miser named Ebenezer Scrooge who finds enlightenment and redemption one cold Christmas Eve through the intercession of his dead former partner Marley, and three holiday spirits. Dicken’s wondrous way with words is evident in the delightful dialogue present in any of the better films, and by that I mean the Alastair Sim (1951) and George C. Scott (1984) versions, but the movies lack much of the evocative exposition found in the book.

Dickens LOVED to describe things in extravagant detail. There are long passages delineating everything from people’s moods to how a building looks at night or even the weather. I suspect his publisher paid him by the word. In some of his other holiday stories this plethora of prose can be confusing and even annoying, but in A Christmas Carol, he strikes just the right balance and his verbosity greatly enhances the story. Take this typical passage about Scrooge’s personality:

Oh! But he was tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold from within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

The written version of A Christmas Carol is rife with passages like this that vividly bring Scrooge and his Victorian world to life and make it a pleasure to read. In addition, the story’s message of mankind’s interconnectedness, that we are all, as Scrooge’s nephew says, “fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…” and the importance of sympathy and compassion for others is always timely but especially so during the Christmas season.

Happy holidays to all and in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God bless Us, Every One!”

Check the availability of A Christmas Carol (print version) in the WRL catalog

Audiobook of A Christmas Carol in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol film (1951) with Alistair Sim in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol film (1984) with George C. Scott in WRL catalog

A Christmas Carol

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Connie brings us this well-reviewed piece of contemporary holiday fiction available in both print and audiobook formats:

The lobster in the title refers to the chain restaurant, Red Lobster, where the story takes place four days before Christmas in Connecticut, off highway I-9, next door to a run-down mall.

It’s the last day the Red Lobster is open, before corporate closes down the restaurant for good. The main character, manager Manny DeLeon is trying to hold everything together, and I mean everything. A snowstorm descends while Manny tries to keep his workers from deserting him AND satisfy each customer; from the difficult two-year-old, to the unexpected office party, to the busload of Chinese tourists. He also tries to figure out his complicated personal life-he’s in love with a waitress but has a pregnant girlfriend- and buy the perfect Christmas gift.

This is not your typical Christmas story, with a big happy ending. This is a perfect little snapshot of a day in the life of an ordinary working man who is just trying to hold things together and figure things out. I throughly enjoyed
listening to this story, especially after reading “Kitchen Confidential”, by Anthony Bourdain. Characterization of the restaurant help was dead on and the narrator’s portrayal was wonderful. (A note of warning- the language contains four letter words, which fit the characters, but may bother
some listeners).

Check the WRL catalog for availability of Last Night at the Lobster in print

And as an audiobook

Last Night at the Lobster

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Our resident true crime buff Cheryl sends us this chilling holiday DVD review:

It was on last Christmas Evening;
A snow was on the ground.
His home in North Carolina
Where the murderer was found
His name was Charlie Lawson,
And he had a loving wife.
But we’ll never know what caused him
To take his family’s life.

The Lawson Murder
From North Carolina Folklore, Henry
Collected from J. C. Folger, NC, I937

It was a cold Christmas day in 1929 when Charlie Lawson, a well regarded farmer and family man in Germanton, North Carolina, brutally murdered seven members of his family before killing himself in an outburst of violence that is infamous in the annals of southern true crime.

A new documentary, “A Christmas Family Tragedy: Legends of the 1929 Lawson Family Murders,” relates this grim yet fascinating story through the use of interviews, folk music and re-enactments. Friends and descendants of the Lawson brood tell what they know of the incident, including some scandalous family gossip that adds an interesting personal touch to the story. The homicide itself, in all its gory detail, is brought to life through re-enactments that are a bit cheesy but nevertheless disturbing, and the killer’s motives are much speculated upon.

Also covered is how the crime affected remaining Lawson family members and local townspeople throughout the years, and the many folktales, including some ghost stories about the supposedly haunted murder site, that have been inspired by it. Several mournful country ballads were written about the murders, one of which went to #5 in the music charts back in 1931, and their inclusion adds a melancholy touch to a tale that’s tragic enough to begin with.

Just a few of notes. It’s a low budget production so the sound is a bit tinny. Also, complete information about the crime is not given until partway through the documentary so unless you are familiar with the case, there may be some slight confusion in the beginning. However, the problem isn’t severe enough to interfere with enjoyment of the story. The special features section has an uncut interview with Charlie Lawson’s nephew that is interesting.

Recommended for people with an interest in True Crime or folk tales of the South.

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Morag offers us a Christmas classic from the junior collection:

If you are looking for a wonderfully funny satirical story to share with your family or church over the holidays – this story is recommended for ages 8 and up: a beloved wacky, witty, fast moving classic since 1972. Six wild children, the Herdman children teach a church congregation the true meaning of the biblical Christmas story.

The narrator’s mother suddenly (and reluctantly) takes over the planning of the yearly Christmas Pageant from the church’s born organizer “who does everything at the church except preach.” However, she is severely challenged when all six Herdman children start coming to Sunday school and are the only volunteers for the main roles in the play – Mary, Joseph the three wise men and the Angel of God. These six children are known to be cigar-smoking arsonists, liars and thieves and none of them have ever been to church before and know nothing about the Christmas Story.

In a hilarious and thought-provoking way the Herdman family act out the pageant in their own way – The “Herdman” way, with some thoughtful direction from the narrator’s mother. When Imogene and Ralph Herdman enter the church, on the night of the pageant as Mary and Joseph “they stood there looking like refugees.” Imogene has the baby doll slung over her shoulder and thumps it twice on the back before putting it in the crib. “Jesus could have had colic.”

When Gladys Herdman, the angel of God appears she hollers “hey, unto you a child is born,” and the boy shepherds really tremble in fear as they are truly afraid of her. The three wise men appear bearing the Herdman’s ham from their yearly charity basket – they want to bring something useful, not frankincense or gold or myrrh.

At the end of the pageant the Herdmans and the whole church congregation learn about true meaning of Christmas and everyone agreed it was “The best Christmas pageant ever.” “One of the best Christmas books ever” – Publisher’s Weekly

Check availability of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in the WRL catalog

Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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Kathie shares this holiday review:

There is a reason that vacationers take thick books to the beach. They expect to have many hours free for reading. But late December is too full with celebrations and interruptions to plan on intensive reading. That is one reason why I appreciate short story collections. Mistletoe Mysteries features cozy stories by noted mystery authors. The un-holiday aspect is that these stories just happen to feature murder. Because this book was published in 1989, there is the feeling of old-fashioned comfort and memories of the good old days. Even more important, if you need to run out and buy a last-minute gift, you are not leaving a novel at the height of the action, knowing that you may not get back to your reading chair for days.

Check the availability of Mistletoe Mysteries in the WRL catalog

Mistletoe Mysteries

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Melissa shares her review of Grisham’s Christmas book:

Ever get tired of the commitments and commercial glitz of the holidays? Luther and Nora Krank do, well, mostly Luther. He analyzes how much money they spent last Christmas and decides, since their daughter is in Peru with the Peace Corps, that they should skip Christmas this year and take a cruise. Nice idea, huh?

Well, facing neighbors who expect the usual decorations (including a rooftop Frosty), nonprofit organizations which expect the usual donations for cheap calendars and inedible fruitcakes, and friends who expect the usual lavish Christmas Eve party turns out to be tougher than the Kranks thought. But even still, I was rooting for them to hold out. I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge, but I agree with their complaint that we should be able to decide for ourselves how we want to celebrate a holiday. Even Christmas.

Blair calls at the last minute – Christmas Eve morning – surprising her parents with the announcement that she’s on her way home (with a fiance). Instead of saying, “Sorry dear, we’ve made other plans,” the Kranks spend a horrific day
scrambling to put together the Christmas Blair remembers: party, Frosty, decorations, the whole thing. And, because this is a Christmas book, it all works out in the end.

A movie called “Christmas with the Kranks” came out a couple years ago. It has some funny moments, but Grisham’s book is better.

Check the availability of Skipping Christmas in the WRL catalog

Skipping Christmas

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Voices, by Icelandic author Arnalder Indridason, is a gritty, thriller/mystery that takes place during the Christmas season. Inspector Erlunder Sveinsson and his colleagues, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, are called to one of the largest hotels in Reykjavik, filled with international tourists come to celebrate the holiday in Iceland. The recently-fired doorman of twenty years, Gudlaurgur “Gulli” Egilsson, has been found in the basement room of the hotel where he had lived since he started working there. Every year, Gulli entertained tourists in his Santa suit, and that is what he is dressed in when a maid finds him slumped on his bed, his head against the wall, his red trousers down around his ankles. He was obviously interrupted during a sex act; a fresh, fatal knife wound glistens on his chest.

The hotel manager would like to have the murder hushed up so as not to drive off the tourists. “For God’s sake, it’s only the doorman,” he says, and insists to the police that the crime had to do with drugs or prostitution, but Inspector Erlunder is not convinced. As they delve into Gulli’s personal life and background to try to determine why someone would kill this seemingly affable but lonely man, they find no dearth of possible suspects and other devious characters.

This is Indridason’s third Reykjavik mystery translated into English by Bernard Scudder. All three, Jar City, Silence of the Grave, and now Voices, involve Inspectors Erlunder, Elinborg and Sigordor Oli. Erlunder’s personal life, especially his relationship with his troubled, drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind, features prominently in the series. These are not only powerful, fascinating detective novels, but also explore current social issues in the dark, disturbed underside of Reykjavik. Although you may want to read all three in order to understand Erlunder and his daughter’s relationship better, the mysteries stand alone and the books can be read out of order. The beautiful ending to this novel has stayed with me since I finished reading it early last month.

Check the availability of Voices in the WRL Catalog

Voices

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In celebration of the season, this week’s posts are contributed by members of WRL’s Bluesocks book group. We’re going to share a variety of holiday goodies for your reading pleasure.

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I thought it would be appropriate to end the week with one of my favorite holiday movies, A Christmas Story from 1983. It is based on the childhood memories of humorist Jean Shepherd and his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd, who also narrates the movie, is excellent in bringing back the nostalgia of what Christmas is like as a child. It is a story about a little boy, Ralphie Parker and the best Christmas he ever had in the late 1940′s. The moment Ralphie sees a Red Ryder BB gun in a department store window, he knows what he wants for Christmas and he determines he will have to drop lots of hints to get it. But no matter how hard he tries and no matter who he tells (his mother, his teacher, Santa) the answer is always the same: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The movie is filled with hilarious scenes that the actors do a good job of bringing to life. His visit to Santa, his class dreams (especially the one where his teacher turns into a witch), his frequent encounters with the town bullies, and what happens when Christmas finally comes are all memorable scenes. I also enjoyed the scenes where his parents bicker over the leg lamp, which you have to see to believe. A Christmas Story is a light-hearted, funny and nostalgic look at Christmas past that is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Highly recommended.
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Fawlty Towers is British comedy at its very best. It features John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, the owner and manager of a hotel he has a knack for mismanaging on many levels. He is rude to his guests, he is inept at doing the most basic things (like hanging a picture), and when called upon to run a special event you can be sure he will muck things up in a fine fashion.

There is a wonderful cast of supporting characters to help Basil lose his mind one episode at a time. There is Manuel, the Spanish waiter (Andrew Sachs ) who speaks very little English and understands it even less. There is Sybil Fawlty, his wife (Prunella Scales), who is bossy and full of contempt for her husband as she tries to undo his many foibles. Polly Sherman the maid (Connie Booth) is the only sympathetic character on the show who has just enough sense to know what to do to keep things from completely falling apart at the hotel.

The show ran for two seasons for a total of only twelve episodes. Several of these are really exceptional and are worth noting here. In “A Touch of Class” from season one, Basil fawns over a guest who says he is Lord Marbury and neglects his regular clientele only to find out that said guest is a con artist who attempts to steal his money and take his antique coin collection. In “Gourmet Night” Basil must find a way to feed a roomful of hungry socialites when he finds his chef to be stone drunk. His adventures attempting to drive his old car across town are especially funny in this episode.

This show has won many awards and is considered the #1 comedy in the top 20 comedy list put out by the British Film Institute. Several actors also won or were nominated for awards for their performances in the show, including John Cleese and Andrew Sachs. If you haven’t experienced Fawlty Towers yet, you should definitely give it a try.

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Keeping Up Appearances is one of my favorite British sitcoms about one Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet” to her), a pretentious social climber who never fails to get herself into one sticky situation after another. There is much for her to worry about (and for us to enjoy) as she tries to climb that ever elusive ladder of social status.

First, there is her family. She has her two low-life sisters, Daisy & Rose, as well as Daisy’s husband, Onslow, who always show up at the “Bouquet” residence at the most inopportune times. Then she has her sister Violet, whose residence she is quick to note to anyone standing nearby has a Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony. There is her Daddy, who is always running away, sometimes in his old war uniform and sometimes with nothing at all. There is her husband Richard, who is most patient and rarely ever crosses her. There is her son Sheridan, who is forever phoning home and asking for money.

Second, there are all the people who are most unfortunate to cross her path. There’s Elizabeth and Emmett, her neighbors, who avoid going out during the day so as not to be noticed by Hyacinth. Hyacinth’s tea times with Elizabeth are hysterical, as are her attempts to get an invitation to sing in one of Emmett’s musical events. Then there is the young vicar and his wife who have learned to dread the site of the “Bucket woman” as well as her sister Rose, who has a not-so-secret crush on the vicar.

Third, there is a long list of characters who pop up in her life and pose all kinds of challenges to her social ambitions. There is the Major, one of my favorite characters, who is forever trying to seduce Hyacinth and never fails to get her into one awkward situation after another. There is the mailman, who can never slip by without being noticed. There are the people who call her, thinking they have reached the Chinese take-away, and rather than getting won tons they get a lecture they won’t forget anytime soon.

The acting here is top-notch. Patricia Routledge is a very talented actress who has won many prestigious awards. The show itself was nominated for 2 BAFTA awards (BAFTA = British Academy of Film & Television). Three of my favorite episodes that you won’t want to miss are “Driving Mrs. Fortescue,” “Riparian Entertainments” and “Country Estate Sale.”

 

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I was eagerly anticipating the release of Ratatouille on DVD after tragically missing it when it came out in the theaters earlier this year.  Being a big fan of the Food Network & good food in general, I knew this was a movie I would enjoy watching.  After seeing it, I was not only not disappointed but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  There are many elements of this movie that make it a real winner. The plot is good. Remy is a rat  with a sensitive palate who has an appreciation for the finer side of food. After seeing Auguste Gusteau on TV pitching his book “Anyone Can Cook”, Remy decides to follow his passion and eventually winds up in Paris and the once-great Gusteau restaurant.  There he meets Linguini, a newly appointed garbage boy who helps him fulfill his dream to be a chef.  

 

The computer animation put out by the Pixar Studios is excellent, in fact, the best I have ever seen in a movie of this kind.  The facial expressions of the characters, the kitchen scenes (where the food is so real it almost jumps out at you), and the dazzling and beautifully detailed views of Paris are all incredible and add to the realism of the movie. Some of the rat scenes might be a bit much for some viewers.  In fact, one scene near the beginning of the movie involving a house and a huge swarm of stampeding rats was a bit much for me.  But fortunately, it doesn’t last very long and most of the movie involves Remy (who is a rather cute rat) and his adventures in the Gusteau restaurant.

 

 

The voice actors are excellent. I especially enjoyed Peter O’Toole who acted  the part of Anton Ego, the intimidating French food critic.  The music soundtrack, by Michael Giacchino,  is excellent in bringing out many of the fun aspects of the movie. One of the extras on the DVD that I enjoyed watching was “Fine Food & Film” where the director Brad Bird talks about the many challenges in making this film and famous chef Thomas Keller talks about what it is like to run a top-rated French restaurant. If you like fine food wrapped up into a good story you will definitely want to watch this “piece de resistance” of a movie. Highly reccomended.

 

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Yes, Prime Minister is one of my favorite British sitcoms that features lots of political satire , witty humor and fun power plays. This show, which ran for 2 seasons in the 1980’s, is ranked 3rd in the Top 20 comedy shows and 9th in the top 100 television programs by the British Film Institute. It’s all about a Mr. Jim Hacker, a bumbling Minister of Administrative Affairs who suddenly finds himself promoted to the top job on 10 Downing Street. His attempts to come to terms with his new position and make a difference at the top is met with resistance from a Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Cabinet Secretary, who will do anything to keep Hacker from interfering with the machinations and copious red tape of the Civil Service.

This is one of the few shows that actually gets better with repeated viewing. The performance from the 3 principal actors is excellent. Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey is especially funny when he makes remarks in “bureaucrat-ese” in response to simple questions from the PM. Paul Eddington is a very believable and funny Prime Minister Jim Hacker. Derek Fowlds, as Hacker’s Private Secretary, is perhaps the most comic actor of the show, who must walk a fine line between helping the Prime Minister but also keep in step with Sir Humphrey, who far outranks him in the Civil Service bureaucracy.

Each show is full of witty dialogue that brings much amusement even after repeated viewings. Some of the best lines of the show come from the supporting cast. Jim Hacker’s wife has lots to say about what its like to live in 10 Downing Street, and most of it is not very favorable. Sir Arnold Robinson, the former Cabinet Secretary, has lots of gems of worldly wisdom to pass on to Sir Humphrey in several scenes that I think are some of the best of the show.

My favorite episodes are ones where PM Hacker gets the upper hand on the scheming Sir Humphrey. This includes “The Key” from season one, where Hacker’s political advisor convinces Hacker to reassign Sir Humphrey (thus locking him out of 10 Downing Street) so that he will be pressured to let her have her own office. Perhaps the best is “The Tangled Web” the last episode of season two, when Humphrey’s attempts to blackmail the PM backfire when he himself is caught on tape saying a little too much for his own good.

 

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