Sunday, September 21, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Stephen King!

AKA Stephen Edwin King.

Born September 21, 1947.

One of my all-time favorite horror writers has a birthday today.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Gary Jennings!

Born September 20, 1928. Died February 13, 1999.

He is one of my favorite historical writers. Like Mika Waltari, he is no longer with us. But I still like and admire his many short stories and I also like his historical novels though I must admit that many of those novels are not likely to be to everyone's taste.

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Black as the Pit from Pole to Pole

Funny how stereotypes change over time. Back in the first century A.D., Germans were considered synonymous with chaos and barbarism. Today they are more often identified with order and efficiency. The Scandinavians horrified Western Europe with their Viking raids back in the Middle Ages but nowadays, they are known primarily for their pacifism. The Englishmen of the Elizabethan era were considered to be rude, crude individuals as were the Spaniards of Cervantes's time. Yet by the Victorian era, Englishmen were known for being anything but rude and crude and today we are more likely to associate Spaniards with foppish mannerisms than with the rude behavior they displayed in Cervantes's day.

In short, stereotypes are not engraved in stone and they tend to change over time. The average historian knows this quite well. The average chauvinist should know it as well but he tends to deny it -- even when the popular culture proves him wrong time after time.

Consider the way Poles were portrayed in the 1935 movie The Wedding Night. If you were to ask the average American nowadays what ethnic groups they most associated with arranged marriages, agricultural labor and domestic violence, neither Poles nor Polish Americans would be among the first few ethnic groups to come to mind. Ironically, they would be more apt to associate Mexicans or Mexican-Americans with these traits -- and yet, in this movie, there are no characters of Mexican descent that I could see. Instead it was the Polish characters in this movie who acted out the type of stereotypes that most people today would associate with Mexican immigrants. Indeed, the Poles in this flick were depicted as rural folk who are hot-tempered, prone to arranging marriages and obsessed with controlling women. Moreover, they were also depicted as being so different from mainstream Americans that one would hardly associate them with today's Polish-Americans.

So is this a good thing? Not necessarily. Then again The Wedding Night told its story so convincingly that it never occurred to me, the son of a Polish-American woman, to question its image of Polish-Americans. If anything, I found the movie quite convincing in its heartbreaking portrayal of the problems faced by a young immigrant woman named Manya Novak (played by Ukrainian-born actress Anna Sten) who struggled to reconcile her loyalty to her Polish roots with her attraction to the modernity of the American way and I could not help but wonder how often the same story could be told today about many non-Polish immigrants.

But enough about that.

The movie started out in New York City as bored author Tony Barrett (played by Gary Cooper) found out that his latest novel was such a flop that even his best friend and publisher chose to have nothing to do with it. He talked his wife Dora (played by Helen Vinson) into vamoosing back to his family homestead in Connecticut where he discovered that he has a family of Polish immigrants as neighbors. He became intrigued by their quaint ways and in return, the family's oldest daughter (the above-mentioned Manya) became intrigued by him and his quaint ways. Nothing came of it though until Dora departed for NYC and Tony was forced to rely more and more upon his Polish neighbors for supplies. Along the way, he learned something about the work ethic from Manya and before long, she was performing as the unofficial muse for his new novel.

Then Manya's father caught on that Manya was spending a little too much time at the Barrett household for an engaged woman. Tony found out that Manya did not love the man she was engaged to marry and that the engagement was part of an arrangement between her father and her husband-to-be. However, Tony was powerless to stop her from going through with it.

Things got worse when a snowstorm stranded Manya at Tony's place and she was forced to stay the night. Even though Manya and Tony spent the night in separate bedrooms, that fact did little to spare Manya from the wrath of her father the next morning. Then the audience discovered that Manya was not necessarily going along with her father by choice. At the first sign of defiance, Manya's father showed no hesitation in slapping her and reminded her that she did not have the same freedom as an American girl. After all, she was a Polish girl, which meant Manya had no choice but to obey her father's wishes -- whether she liked it or not.

Then Dora returned and learned of the relationship between Manya and Tony. Though Tony insisted that everything was innocent and that Dora was the one who should be explaining her social activities in his absence, Dora suspected differently. She read Tony's unfinished novel and realized from his written words just how strong the bond between writer and muse had become. But Dora was not yet ready to step aside from her marriage and poor Manya was already in enough trouble with her father as it was. Once Dora spoke to her, things just got worse.

Soon afterward, Manya got married and it looked as if everything would be finally settled. But, alas, Manya's wedding night had one last nasty surprise left for the Novaks and the Barretts. And someone ended up paying a big price for said surprise...

I don't know what I expected from The Wedding Night but I found myself far more moved by it than I had expected. Perhaps it was because I identified a bit with Manya. Perhaps it was because I identified a bit with Tony (though I hate to admit that). But most likely it was because I liked the rather complex relationship it depicted between Tony and Dora. Dora was hardly the ideal wife but she was not unsympathetic either. A bad movie would have portrayed her in shades of black, but this film just settled for portraying her in shades of gray and as a result, I actually felt for both her and Manya. Tony had his moments too but I could not help thinking that if he had been a more responsible person and not so intent on putting Manya in an impossible position, things would not have gotten so bad.

It said a lot about the movie that although Gary Cooper played Tony as a sympathetic character, he too had scenes in which he was less than sympathetic. For example, the time he acted so priggish to his returning wife was not one of his better moments. Nor was his attempt to hit on Manya as if she were just a woman whose sole reason for existence was to please him and only him.

Towards the end of the movie, it became obvious that Tony felt strongly about Manya and that Manya felt strongly about him. But ultimately his feelings for her appeared to do her more harm than good. While it would seem naive to believe that Manya's life would have been happier had she never met Tony Barrett, it seems equally naive to believe that Tony bore no responsibility for Manya's fate. Perhaps this last part was why he was so quiet at the end of the movie. And why he was so eager to remember Manya as she had been in the comparatively happy past -- and not as she was in the present.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mike Royko!

AKA Michael Royko.

Born September 19, 1932. Died April 29, 1997.

He was an American journalist and the winner of the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. I used to read his op-ed columns in a now-deceased local paper when I was growing up. I always admired his tendency to argue on behalf of the underdog and to never give a crooked politico an even break. We could use more journalists like him today but for some reason, I doubt we will get any. However, I would like to hope that I'm wrong about that last part.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Damon Knight!

AKA Damon Francis Knight.

Born September 19, 1922. Died April 15, 2002.

One of the first science fiction books I ever bought was a paperback collection of short stories by Damon Knight. And he has been one of my favorite science fiction writers ever since.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mika Waltari!

AKA Mika Toimi Waltari.

Born September 19, 1908. Born August 26, 1979.

He is one of my favorite writers of historical novels as well as one of my favorite authors from Finland. (Okay, he is the only author from Finland on my literary favorites list as of this moment but that could change.)

Thanks to him, I spent a lot of happy hours at the local library. And there's no telling how many readers he has influenced apart from me.

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Movie Poster of the Week

Oddly enough, this poster seems more relevant now than it did back in 1977.

And who knew that Jane Fonda's character was a politician?

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Werewives of London”

I was awakened by my wife one night when there was a full moon. I felt her move against me as she got up and I opened my eyes in time to see her walking out the bedroom door.

I followed her as she sleepwalked through the house and the backyard. I saw her walk down to the old pond and then strip off her lily-white nightgown. By the time I caught up with her, she had already dived into the pond and little pieces of feminine underwear were scattered about the mud like pieces of a torn snakeskin.

I waited for her to rise out of the water. But the only thing that came out was a naked man who emerged on the opposite side of the pond and then disappeared into the woods beyond.

That was three days ago.

I'm still waiting for my wife.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Movie Quote of the Week

Well, I can't see anything, but... how do I know you can't?
--Virginia Bruce, The Invisible Woman (1940)

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TV Quote of the Week

You are eight feet tall. Your boobs are perfect. Your hair is down to there. If I was you I would just walk around naked all the time. I wouldn't have a job, I wouldn't have any skills, I wouldn't even know how to read. I would just be... naked.
--Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy, "No Man's Land"

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Iconos de Cine (Strippers I)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Jeff MacNelly!

AKA Jeffrey Kenneth MacNelly.

Born September 17, 1947. Died June 8, 2000.

He was an American cartoonist who was a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. One of the few conservative editorial cartoonists to be nationally syndicated in the USA, he was also regularly featured in The National Review. He was also famous for creating the comic strip Shoe.

He has been missed.

Above and below are a few of my favorite MacNelly cartoons:

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Be Still, My Once-Beating Heart!

Perhaps we should consider the 2013 movie Warm Bodies the offical #NotAllZombies movie -- a long-needed cinematic reminder that not all zombies are necessarily evil flesh-eaters out to destroy the human race. Just some of them.

And how do you tell the difference between the good zombies and the bad zombies? Not screenwriter Jonathan Levine's problem. After all, just because a few zombies devour your relatives doesn't give you the right to wax all judgmental. Next thing you know, you'll be passing judgment on serial killers and arsonists and all sorts of evil-doers who are just victims of the human condition. Shame on you!

Anyway, this movie in particular was all about a teen-aged zombie who devoured a girl's boyfriend. After said zombie ate the boyfriend's brain, he absorbed his memories and decided that he (the zombie) was really in love with her. Granted, there were quite a few obstacles to overcome before he could convince her that he was really a nice guy. After all, people tend to be so prejudiced against people who devour their loved ones. But in the end, the power of true love -- and a few lucky breaks -- won out. Which was a good thing for the zombie's would-be love interest. Just imagine if something had gone wrong and the teen-aged zombie had not been able to overcome his tendency towards anthropophagy. Wouldn't that have made for an awkward time at the wedding reception!

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Quote of the Week

It almost seems that nobody can hate America as much as native Americans. America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it.
--Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Warren Murphy!

Born September 13, 1933.

He is an American author who, along with his late writing partner Richard Ben Sapir, created The Destroyer series, one of my favorite men's adventure series. He also wrote quite a few good solo novels as well.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Claudette Colbert!

AKA Emilie Chauchoin.

Born September 13, 1903. Died July 30, 1996.

She was one of my favorite actresses. She was also my favorite actress to play Cleopatra though I liked her other films better than that.

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Movie Quote of the Week

How 'bout I believe in the unlucky ones? Hmm? I have to, Mister Turner, I'd go out of my mind.
--Laura Dern, October Sky (1999)

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TV Quote of the Week

Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives... fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts... that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.
--Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights, "Pilot"

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