Repeated Categories in the Winter Reading Challenge

As I have mentioned, the library’s Bookends magazine has the list of categories for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. And after four years of participating, the categories are looking familiar.

This year, we’re prompted to read:

  • Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own
  • Neurodivergent Character
  • LGBTQ+ Character
  • Outside Your Comfort Zone

In years past, we’ve already had:

  • LGBTQ Author (2021)
  • Native American Author (2021)
  • Hispanic Author (2022)
  • Character/Author with a Disability (2022)
  • About Mental Health (2022)
  • Immigrant Perspective (2022)
  • Author of Color (2023)
  • Banned Book (2023)

I mean, would it hurt the librarians to include a Shakespearean play in there sometime?

I have the opportunity to start setting aside books that match the categories, but I am not sure what is outside my comfort zone.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Jim the Wonder Dog by Nancy B. Dailey (2018)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books at the first (I think) of the writers’ group group signings I went to in November 2022. I don’t mind telling you that those are the expensive book signings, as I buy one or more books from all of the authors present. Plus often other books. So I definitely prefer the single author signings.

This book has a healthy display at ABC Books, or has in the past–I’ve often seen it and thought about picking up a copy, and eventually I did. I thought it would be about the author’s dog or a novel about a dog, but it’s actually about a real dog who amazed parts of Missouri with his intellect. Not tricks; the owner would tell the dog to find the man with the red hair, and the dog would; the owner could spell out words in the request, and the dog seemingly understood; and if asked in French to go to the Ford automobile, the dog would. He was examined and tested by members of the University of Missouri staff, and they could not determine how he might be doing it. They never mention whether the dog could do it without the owner present, which would have certainly ruled out responding to cues from the owner, but perhaps they didn’t think of that, or perhaps that was the trick and not part of the legend.

Jim the Wonder Dog is still the pride of Marshall, Missouri, with a Web Site which includes a shop where you can buy this book, a museum, and a park with a statue of Jim.

It’s a short book–60 pages plus end matter including photos and references. To be honest, it kind of inspires me to write similar, short form popular history books on a single subject. Heaven knows when I wrote my piece for History magazine fifteen years ago (!), I thought I could mine the compendia that I read (or read) for tidbits, research them, write about them, and make a living at it. Of course, I was still thinking in print in those days–today, I would be thinking I would do short videos or podcasts on them and make a living at it, but somehow the video form seems cheap and easy and ultimately uninformative, but perhaps I’m just tangentally exposed to what my kids watch. Still, it might have inspired me to try my hand at it.

The book has copious sources listed for each chapter of the book, and it helped clear up something for me. I thought I had just read about Jim the Wonder Dog somewhere, and the probable source appeared: Rural Missouri magazine, which my electrical co-op sends to me every month, had two “recent” articles on him noted in this book: one in 2010 and one in 2014. So it’s possible I read one or both of those articles and thought I read them recently; it’s possible that I did read one of those articles recently because I pulled the old magazine out of the depths of the old magazine drawer (some of whose back issues arrived new around the turn of the century to my home in Casinoport or Old Trees before being moved to Nogglestead); it’s also possible that Rural Missouri, keeping with its schedule, published a more recent article on Jim the Wonder Dog which I read in a more timely fashion. Instead of speculating, I did a little research, and an article entitled Pawprints on Our Hearts indicates the magazine had a story on Jim the Wonder Dog in the May 2020 issue. So I could have read the articles when they first came out, in reprint, and recently.

So a nice little book. Suitable for young readers, but it’s not really a kids’ book. Or maybe it is and it’s just suitable for older readers, too, but that thinking leads to Harry Potter, which I am trying to avoid.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

The Christmas Gifts Not Given

I have long been a fan of shopping at antique malls for Christmas presents (as you know, gentle reader, from my posts about buying records whilst Christmas shopping in years past) because I hope to find something to match the perceived personality of the gift recipients, something unexpected, maybe a little quirky, and something not generic like gift cards. Also, maybe something less expensive than if I ordered it off of the Internet.

These days, my shopping list is smaller. My aunt for whom I bought Duck Dynasty things or Dallas books or board games passed away in 2019. I bought or made gifts a number of years for my relations in the Kansas City area, but I’ve dropped them as they never acknowledged the gifts nor stopped to visit me when they were in the area (and they’ve not communicated with me in years at all). So I’m down to immediate family, my brother’s family, and one family with whom we’ve exchanged gifts for a while now.

So I hit Relics, Ozarks Treasures, and Mike’s Unique this holiday season and went through all the aisles in each coming up with a couple or three gifts.

However, I did not give or get some interesting things this year.

The Pink Fedora

Some time in the distant past, when my boys were about 6 and 4, I ordered a couple of child-sized black fedoras for them, and I remember that they wore them at least once with me as I took them to school. They might have worn them a time or two otherwise, perhaps as part of a Halloween costume or dress up like a literary character day (the youngest went as Mike Hammer one year because that’s how we could dress him up with the materials at hand, including a small fedora).

This year, my beautiful wife asked me if I remembered that, and of course I do. One of the monitors in my office spends much of its time with a slideshow of family photos, so I see Mike Hammer at the very least with some regularity. And she decided that adult fedoras would make a wonderful gift. So she planned to order them, but left it to me, so I could balance low-cost with quality, or at least find some that were not shipped flat (and had trouble returning to shape).

I wanted something as inexpensive as possible because I expect my boys, now 17 and 15 and not so enamored with their father, to not wear the fedoras at all. But time will tell. I also expected that they would presume this was my idea.

I found this pink fedora at Relics, and I thought about giving it to my wife from the boys, but it’s twenty dollars. Not bad for a fedora, but I am trying to exercise a little fiscal discipline in spots, and I know my wife would not wear it. So it’s still available, perhaps for the times when I am less frugal.

The Dogs Playing Poker Chair

I spotted this in the back room at Mike’s Unique. I did not look at the price of it–I am not a fan of secondhand upholstered items in general–but I sent a picture of it to my beautiful wife.

Back when we lived in Casinoport, I must have mentioned the seemingly ubiquituous dogs playing poker paintings. Did we see one at an estate sale? Perhaps. My goodness, they seemed common in those days, but one does not see them any more. They must have been a mid-century or earlier fad whose examples were getting cleaned out in the turn-of-the-century estate sales. My wife fittingly made noise about never, ever at Honormoor (our Casinoport home), but I ended up buying a framed print at some garage sale and hanging it in my garage. I also found a Dogs Playing Poker computer game on a cheap CD at Best Buy (let that be your guide as to how long ago it was, gentle reader: A game on a CD. At Best Buy.). It had you playing poker with a variety of dogs of different breeds with different personalities and styles. I played it a couple of times for laughs, but not much. It was probably about the time Civilization IV came out, and we know how I’ve not played many games besides it in the last twenty years.

I think the frame on the dogs playing poker print got broken one move or another and it got sent out with the donations to one garage sale or another. The game, too, probably went out with the cullings of old CDs, but it’s possible that it’s in the binders with old operating system CDs in the closet. I have not researched it in putting this post together but might take a look through those binders for old time’s sake sometime.

What did I get at the antique malls after spending three or four days of it?

Well, I got some locally produced jams and jellies for the brother and his families. I got a couple of decorative signs and wallhangings for his fiance. And I got a Bob Gibson St. Louis Cardinals jersey for my oldest son. Who didn’t know who Bob Gibson was. I explained he might have been the best pitcher ever, including Nolan Ryan (and he might have been the only pitcher able to best Ryan in a fight). Of course, I might be biased because I just read his first autobiography earlier this year and for some reason–perhaps reading two bible autobiographies this year–Facebook insists on showing me Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan posts. Unlike the fedora, though, I have seen my oldest wearing the jersey a couple of times at home. Perhaps it will broaden his appreciation of the storied franchise.

I will head back to Relics in a couple of minutes to look for a gift for our friend family since I couldn’t be arsed to make one for them when I was inspired to (and then was not inspired in the two or three weeks since). I might also have a gift or two to give myself, but probably not a lot of records or DVDs. LP prices are way up, and DVD prices are climbing as well–and I have plenty of films to watch now that holiday movie re-watching is over.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far) by Dave Barry (2008)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, the year is winding down, and I tend to cut my annual reading list off the week after Christmas sometime. So I thought that this book, which I purchased in 2021, would make a fitting fin de si├Ęcle. However, I have previewed the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, and it begins on January 2, so I might as well count the books that I finish before then as 2023. It will help pad my anemic total for the year if nothing else.

Long time readers will know I have been a big fan of Dave Barry since I seemingly stained a borrowed copy from Smurphy in high school. Although those keeping track would say, “If you’re such a big fan, Brian J., why haven’t you delved into his work since that audio book in 2020?” Maybe I’ll allude to that a bit by-and-by.

In my defense, I have also reviewed:

Suffice to say, I’ve been a fan for a long time. Although I do not remember the last words my father spoke to me, I remember the last thing Barry’s father said to him (he, the father, wanted some oatmeal). So take it for a given that I’m a Dave Barry fan, okay?

Well, that’s a lot of pixel inches in self-defense. What of this book?

This book starts with a preface which abbreviates history in Dave Barry fashion (a longer treatment of American history appears in Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, Smurphy’s book that I might have soiled with snack food when it was brand new) and then reprints Barry’s year-in-review columns/articles from 2000 to 2007 (skipping 2001, as the events of September were too recent for him to be funny). Read fifteen years on, the book astonished me both with “That was twenty years ago already?” (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Kelly Clarkson wins American Idol in 2002, and so on) as well as “That was twenty years ago?” The latter stems from how many names from the headlines today appear in gags from the turn of the century. I counted 7 jokes about Donald Trump whose role on The Apprentice kept him in the cultural zeitgeist back then. But, like so often happens, I found 6 jokes about Joe Biden late, presumably based on his performance in the Senate when confirming Bush appointees in the latter’s second term. We have gags about Vladimir Putin and Robert Mueller, the iPhone, and other things as familiar today as they would have been when the jokes were fresh.

As I have mentioned (just recently–see above) that I am a Dave Barry fan from way back, I have to wonder how he “hits” with the younger generations. I mean, he spends the preface goofing on history, and I appreciated the jokes, but I wonder how much of an outlier I am because I was a bit of a nerd in school with a great degree of retention and speed of recall that led me to dominate the chapter-review Jeopardy!-style quizzes in the Western Civilization class that Smurphy and I shared. I know a lot of history that my boys do not and probably won’t ever. Plus I am not sure that the style of humor has wide appeal in 2023. Dave Barry actually retired as a regular columnist in 2004 (continuing to do his annual reviews and gift guides, though). That long ago.

I probably wonder about this every time I read a Dave Barry book, but he might well be the last American humorist with wide reach. I mean, I know that Roy Blount, Jr., is still churning out monthly columns and Doug Larsen is still working–or they were the last time I had subscriptions to magazines where they plied their trade–but Barry had reach, and eventually had a television show based on his life. Starring Harry Anderson, for crying out loud. I am not sure anyone could ever recreate that. Certainly not in print.

It looks as though Barry, like many other authors (Hiaasen, Pearson, and so on), turned to young adult books in the 21st century, which was a good business move as the YA market was just about the last refuge of big-selling books. It also means that I probably won’t find them at book sales since I don’t hit the children’s books sections (and the old, unsorted book sales for the Friends of the Christian County Library and Friends of the Clever Library seem to have gone by the wayside). But I still have plenty of other Barry titles to discover in the adult humor sections because he was pretty prolific in the 80s and 90s.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

It Never Fails

I go to YouTube looking for a good tutorial on SwiftUI, and YouTube says, “Hey, how about an all Japanese woman steampunk metal band instead?”

So I guess I will, in turn, introduce you to Fate Gear.

You’re welcome.

Looks like CDs go for $27-45 on Amazon, but MP3 albums are under $10.

We’ll see if I remember them when I accrue digital credits.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Book coverAfter reading Surely You Can’t Be Serious, I went back into the Nogglestead media library looking for this film. I came up with Hamburger: The Motion Picture and hoped I had not conflated the two. But I recognized some of the descriptions of the skits from the book, so I kept on, and I found it. I probably watched it shortly after I bought it in 2007, but not since. I don’t rewatch and rewatch things frequently except for maybe Christmas movies these years.

I asked my youngest if he wanted to watch a film with me, and he demurred, and to be honest, I am kind of glad I did. For although I knew it had sexual humor to it, I had not remembered the sheer number of boobs this film contains. He would have been mortified. I would have been mortified. So, instead, I will leave it on the Nogglestead video library unhidden for them to discover. I am kidding–they are of a generation who does not watch films on physical media. And they’re remarkably uncurious–they have not even discovered that I have numerous gentlemen’s magazines. Maybe they’re of a generation uninterested in boobs at all. But I digress.

The film is a collection of skits that riff on evening news, movie promos/trailers, commercials, and even movies–the longest segment is a riff on kung fu movies called A Fist Full of Yen which I remembered a bit of (“Take him to…. Detroit!”). It features cameos by different recognized actors–including Bill Bixby and George Lazenby, more recognizable contemporaneous to the film than to today–which lends it a little bit of verisimilitude. Of course, in the last two decades of the 20th century, this material would seem a little familiar–the typical Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker fare appeared by then, as did imitator Amazon Women On The Moon, but this is the film rather broke the old mold and introduced some of the tropes.

I enjoyed re-watching it, but I’m old enough to know what they’re making fun of with their skits. Younger audiences would not be so lucky. And they might be shocked and appalled by the women’s upper carriages which were a staple of comedies of the time.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

A Word On Invasion U.S.A.

DVD coverGentle reader, I did start the action film portion of Christmas movie watching by watching Invasion U.S.A. As I did a DVD review such as I do in 2011, I won’t reiterate what I said back then.

The film hits a little differently than it did back in 2011 or even a couple of years ago.

I mean, a couple hundred Russian and Cuban commandoes bring the nation to its knees (but for Chuck Norris) by spreading out and unleashing terrorist mayhem in different cities. It could happen!

I used to tell my boys when they were younger that we didn’t have to worry about someone invading the United States because we had two large oceans to buffer us from other nations who would face great logistical challenges in getting an army across. I mean, perhaps the Chinese could stage a couple million men in Mexico and then come over the border, but….

Oh. I guess they would not have to be Chinese, would they?

So, yeah, that sort of dampens the Christmas spirit of the piece.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Danica Patrick: America’s Hottest Racer by Jonathan Ingram & Paul Webb (2005)

Book coverI picked this book up right after Brett Favre: The Tribute. Actually I pulled them from the Nogglestead to-read stacks at the same time, which is appropriate: I bought them together in an online order from ABC Books during the big No-No of March 2020.

Like the Favre book, this book comes out in what would turn out to be the middle part of Patrick’s racing career. She has moved up the ranks and placed fourth in the Indianapolis 500 as part of her open-wheel racing career, but she has not peaked (she later placed third in the Indianapolis 500) nor yet moved to NASCAR nor appeared on the GoDaddy home page or Super Bowl commercials.

The book clocks in at 128 pages with index, and it does not focus exclusively on Patrick. I mean, it does talk a bit about her youth, some success she had in kart racing that led her to go to England to a minor league racing team and then back to the states and to 2005. It talks about her media success and the attention given to her when she does the Indianapolis 500 for the first time. It mentions her fiance (didn’t last) and has numerous photos of her at the time when she was 23 or younger.

However, the book is also an introduction to open-wheel racing as a sport. It delves some into the history, the classifications of the races, and most of all the business of it–individual racers apparently have to get their own sponsors, and they have to know how to schmooze (and develop a media persona) to succeed in addition to the technical skill in racing. As a matter of fact, the book does not actually get far into describing the technical elements of racing–one gets more hanging around Jack Baruth’s Avoidable Contact for any length of time.

But the book is an interesting mix of Patrick’s life story until then (when she was, what, 23?) and that introduction to Indy-style racing (and we’re not talking outrunning rolling boulders in ancient temples).

Definitely something worth picking up for a buck or for ordering at used book store prices during the next Great Enshackling.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Book coverI forget where I recently read that this film introduced the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (perhaps it was not on a blog, but on the front of the box). So I decided to pop in this film which I bought last month the night after White Christmas.

Okay, so it’s a little romance with singing (although it includes a dance number to “Skip to My Lou”). Judy Garland plays the middle daughter in a family of five children. The oldest son is going off to college; the oldest sister is hoping that a boy going to Yale is going to propose to her; the older younger sister is played by Joan Carroll who in the next year would have a meatier role in The Bells of St. Mary’s; the youngest is five years old and definitely gives off a creepy vibe as she says her dolls have fatal diseases and then has funerals for them and buries them. They live with their folks in a nice (real nice) house in St. Louis. And the bulk of the film is Judy Garland singing about the boy next door. Their father announces that he will be running a new New York office for his law firm, throwing the family in disarray.

The movie covers almost a year in the life, with a section for each season starting with summer 2003 and going to the opening of the World’s Fair in 2004. The winter/Christmas scene seems longest and does, in fact, serve up a wistful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as the youngest daughter laments leaving St. Louis. But, as a romance, it all wraps up with happy couples in the end staying in St. Louis.

Not an unpleasant couple of hours; probably better if you’re into the genre. You know, I lived in the St. Louis area for, erm, 20+ years on and off from 1983-2009, and World’s Fair memorabilia was still a thing at that time. The centennial was a bit of a big deal. But I was too young to get into it. I’m sure this film grafted some of that onto a new generation in 1944 and beyond. This film was a period piece when it came out; it’s doubly so now, being an artifact of its time as well as an idealization of the time it depicted. I mean, if they made period pieces now set forty years ago, they’d be set in the 1980s. Oh. But the times have not changed quite as much in the last 40 years as in the period between 1904 and 1944. But perhaps I am merely old enough to have that perspective, being that I remember not having cell phones and social media as normal in a way that kids these days would not.

The movie also introduces two new songs which have become American Songbook standards: “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song”. I associate them with Stacey Kent as they both appear on her album The Boy Next Door. Perhaps it’s the familiarity with Kent’s versions that make me prefer them over Garland’s.

Alright, alright, alright. Now, do I dig out The Bishop’s Wife or go right into the action-oriented Christmas movies? Stay tuned!

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: White Christmas (1954)

Book coverWell, after watching Holiday Inn, of course I put this videocassette into the VCR the next evening. The label on the video indicates I paid twice as much for it as Holiday Inn, but they both look like church youth group garage sales. Probably different years. They haven’t had one of those sales in years, which explains why have accumulating boxes of “donations” in my garage.

This film starts with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire Danny Kaye putting on a show near the front in France, 1944. It’s Christmas Eve, and their division is about to move up, so they want to give the guys something pleasant before they do. And they want to honor their outgoing General Waverly who is being replaced with someone straight from the Pentagon. After the show, Phil Davis (Kaye) pulls Bob Wallace (Crosby) from a falling wall, saving his life. When they meet in the hospital, Wallace expresses his gratitude and offers to do anything for Davis–and Davis responds by showing him a song, which is a duet–although Wallace claims he works alone, he now has a partner.

A decade later, they are a successful act on tour with their show when they meet two sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes, a sister act whose brother served with Davis and Wallace. When the girls announce that they’re heading to Vermont (and have to get out of town fast), Davis gives the girls their plane tickets and stalls the local law while the girls escape. He then connives a trip to Vermont with Wallace with the girls, and they discover that the inn where the girls are to perform is owned by General Waverly. The inn might as well be closed: with no snow in Vermont this year, no guests are staying at the inn. But Wallace and Davis bring their show to the inn for rehearsals and then call their old service mates to come see it to support the old man. And finis!

Watching them on consecutive nights leads one to compare the two, and I definitely prefer Holiday Inn. The songs are better, and this film has a couple or three song-and-dance numbers just grafted onto the narrative under the pretense that they’re parts of the show being rehearsed. One, the “Choreography” number, laments that the talents of individual singers and dancers are being lost to the large song and dance numbers that are merely synchronized movements of masses. Crosby and Clooney share a good number that fits into the plot as does “Snow”, but they’re almost exceptions.

The film has Vera-Ellen in the role of the young attractive woman. Too young for Crosby’s character, she pairs up with Kaye. How does she compare to Marjorie Reynolds?

Continue reading “Movie Report: White Christmas (1954)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Brett Favre: The Tribute by Sports Illustrated (2008)

Book coverSports Illustrated must have had this book ready to go, as it was published in that brief period in which Brett Favre had retired as a Green Bay Packer but before he did his little thing and got traded to the New York Jets, for whom he would actually play (unlike his predecessor). Favre announced his retirement on March 4, 2008; the book was published March 31; and Favre started making unretirement motions on July 2. I presume that book sales cratered in summer and autumn. I bought this book as my first ABC Books online order during the great national time-out in 2020 and picked it up last week when I could not watch the football game on television (reading this book was probably better for me anyway).

When I picked up the book, I mentioned to my beautiful wife that I’d read another book on Favre earlier in the year. I am correct if I did not specify the year; I read Life After Favre in May 2021 (which led me to ask was it that long ago?)

The book is composed of numerous stories about Favre’s career from the magazine–perhaps these were all his cover stories. At the outset, it looked like it was going to be a pretty comprehensive retrospective, as the first articles are on his background, his drafting by the Falcons, his trade to the Packers, and the Packers’ playoff return and two Super Bowl appearances in the mid-1990s. Then we get a story about his painkiller addiction around the same time, and then…. Well, a gap, until it starts talking about his pending retirement (the first noises the first year he thought about it) resulting in a moving tribute followed by another article the next year about how he did not retire. Then half the book is given over to Sports Illustrated photographs not only of Favre but also other Packers of his time.

I must admit I became an active Packers fan during the later Favre years. Although I went to a couple of Packer games at Milwaukee County Stadium in the early 1990s, it was before Favre’s time, and I did not follow football then. I really started following in the early part of the century after the Packers lost to the Rams in the playoffs, buying and wearing Packers apparel to shine on my co-workers. So I missed the mid-1990s Super Bowl years, but some mentions of the early 21st century Packers teams and players resonated with me (and led me to ask was it that long ago?)

The articles are feature stories, which have a depth and richness to them that you don’t get from reading modern sports Web sites. I guess the 90s represented the swan song of magazine writing much like the 2020s might represent the swan song of human writing at all. But the sports photography–I don’t get that. Although they have crazy depth of field, everything is flattened to the foreground. Blockers a couple of yards down field? The crowd at the back of the end zone? Right there with Favre on the 20 yard line. Not my bag.

Also, for posterity, I would like to note this: In my whole life, I shall probably only read two books that mention that Leslie Nielsen had a “fart machine” that he used to make sounds of flatulence at unexpected times. The first was Surely You Can’t Be Serious. The second was this book, where the Sports Illustrated writer mentions that Nielsen had it when he and Favre played in a golf tournament together (although the journalist here mistakenly calls it a “whoopee cushion”). Friends, I will in all my life only read about this in two books, and I read those books one after the other. That’s some sort of cosmic kismet, and probably the best kind of luck I can hope for (all these losing lottery tickets piling up on my desk affirm it). Which might not be true, as I think I have Leslie Nielsen’s “autobiography” around here somewhere which might mention it depending upon how surely serious it is.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Holiday Inn (1942)

Book coverWhen it comes time to re-watch the movies featuring White Christmas, I must watch them in order: This film and White Christmas. Of the two, I like this one better. I mean, face it: Danny Kaye, the co-star in White Christmas, is no Fred Astaire. Full disclosure: I also own and enjoy A Couple of Song and Dance Men, their 1976 LP.

On Christmas Eve, a song-and-dance troupe is about to break up. Joe Hardy (Bing Crosby) is set to wed Lila (Virginia Dale) and move to a farm in Connecticut, but unbeknownst to him, she has decided she wants to keep singing and dancing and to marry their partner Ted Hanover (Astaire). Hardy moves to the farm and spends a year as a gentleman farmer in a humorous montage, but decides it’s too much work. So he decides to open an inn–a club more than an actual inn–which is only open on holidays. He comes to New York on Christmas Eve to hunt for talent, and his former booking agent passes this information to a part-time florist, Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) who auditions with Hardy at the Holiday Inn and joins him for the show.

However, on New Year’s Eve, opening night, Lila elopes with a Texas millionaire, and an intoxicated Ted comes to Holiday Inn. A humorous dance routine ensues with Linda keeping him on his feet in the spotlight, and everyone raves about his new partner–but he doesn’t know who she is. He and his agent vow to find out who she is whilst Joe tries to keep her identity a secret. Hijinks and musical numbers ensue until Ted and his agent discover her identity on Independence Day, when Hollywood men are in the audience hoping to scope out Ted with his new partner for picture. Linda breaks her engagement with Joe because he doesn’t trust her and goes to Hollywood with Ted, leaving Joe alone again. But at the prodding of his housekeeper, Joe goes to California to win her back.

Alright, alright, alright. I cannot deny that this is a musical with song-and-dance numbers with various holiday songs, including two renditions of “White Christmas”. But it’s Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, so it’s worthwhile. And as I mentioned, I watch it almost every Christmas season.

The film has come under fire in certain quarters because one of the subterfuges to hiding Linda from Ted is to perform a tribute to Abraham Lincoln in black face. Which is verboten now, but in reality, it’s only makeup, and the song and dance number does not look down on black people–it makes them sound grateful for the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the more modern we get, perhaps that’s verbotener. And the housekeeper at the Holiday Inn is a black woman with two children, and her character is of the black housekeeper type. Which I chose to see her as an individual and not of a type and, again, the film does not look down on her nor black people in general, but once you start dealing with “types” you’re open to inchoate stochastic racism in the ether, which I didn’t find in the number, the housekeeper nor her children, but I am likely an old white racist. So there you go. I can watch old movies without high dudgeon anyway.

But enough about all that. Let’s talk about Marjorie Reynolds, who played Linda Mason.
Continue reading “Movie Report: Holiday Inn (1942)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! by David Zucker Jim Abrahams Jerry Zucker (2023)

Book coverGentle reader, after reading the story about it in the New York Post, I ordered this book immediately from Amazon. And it got hung up somewhere in, what, East St. Louis? So I requested a refund and ordered it right away again, when it got hung up again in shipping in East St. Louis. Where did these books go? I requested another refund from Amazon, but Amazon’s process got a little pissy, telling me I would have to return the copy I ordered at my own expense if it arrived. Which it did not, but thank you, Amazon: You’re rapidly falling out of being my go-to site for ordering, with your Prime membership now meaning “Sometime, Maybe Shipping” benefit. Ah, but gentle reader, after a month passed (and I got my second refund), I ordered it again, and the roving gangs stopped looting Amazon trucks as they traveled through Illinois apparently (how do you know that didn’t happen? It would be in the news? Which news? The local television station manned by four interns and two people who thought they would be good enough for the networks someday or the local daily which is down to four pages, including the comics?). For I got this copy in a couple of days, and I jumped right into it after A Knight’s Bridge Christmas.

So this book tells, in interview-style snippets from Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker and various associates, including several stars from the film and studio people, the history of the making of the film from the beginning of their collaboration together with Kentucky Fried Theater in Madison and then in Los Angeles, where they wrote Airplane! and faced rejection before they put some of their multimedia clips from the comedy theater together and got a group of theaters in California to finance Kentucky Fried Movie. Even though that film was a modest success, they still had trouble getting movie professionals to grok what they were trying to do with Airplane! which was a comedy where everyone played it like they were in a drama, no matter how ridiculous the lines were.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book. I don’t really think I’m that much of a celebrity nor fame chaser, but sometimes I do like a behind-the-scenes look at the making of movies or television shows, particularly ones I enjoy (see also Star Trek Memories). Also, as you might know, Zuckers/Abrahams/Zucker are from Milwaukee (well, Shorewood, but that’s Milwaukee enough for me), and they return frequently to their old school (unlike Steely Dan, although I guess it was Steely Dan’s college). And although I just watched Airplane! (well, a year and a half ago, which is “just” at Nogglestead), I will probably pull it out to watch again soon.

And I bought this movie at full price. Only once, but it took me three tries (and a trip to Barnes and Noble to see if it was in stock, which it was not). So let that be my endorsement.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

Book coverI pulled this film from the Nogglestead media library as a Christmas movie because I remember that it has Bing Crosby introduce his version of “Adeste Fidelis” which is on about 10% of the Christmas records at Nogglestead (or such was the case before I began buying new Christmas record in earnest about a decade ago) and that it has a related children’s Christmas program scene, but as it turns out, the Christmas scene is but one portion of the film. I might as well call Penny Serenade a Christmas film because it has a children’s Christmas program as part of it. Neither of these films is, technically, a Christmas movie. However, I watched it.

Bing Crosby plays Father O’Malley who comes to St. Mary’s, a church with a school that is falling into disrepair. He’s warned by the housekeeper that he’s in for a new experience surrounded by nuns, and he butts heads with Sister Superior (played by Ingrid Bergman thirteen years before Indiscreet and in full bloom) on a couple of topics. The film has three co-plots: A young girl raised by a single mother comes to the school and struggles to fit in; a boy has learned too well the “turn the other cheek” message of the school, but he needs to learn to box–and the tomboy Sister Superior is happy to help him learn; and a wealthy businessman is building a large office building next to the church on land they had to sell to him for repairs on the church, but they hope he will donate it to the parish even while he hopes to buy it from the church even if he has to have it condemned. Father O’Malley navigates these struggles and deals with a health issue that Sister Superior suffers from but that the doctor does not want her to know about.

The film has a rendition of “Adeste Fidelis” as I mentioned, but also a couple other Bing Crosby numbers. BUT IT IS NOT A MUSICAL. Don’t be hitting me with those negative waves so early in the afternoon, man.

The film is a sequel to Going My Way from the year before, for which Bing Crosby won an Oscar as the best actor. I’d be happy to find it in the wild, but old old movies are thin on the ground in the antique malls and book sales. It’s a bit of a testament, though, that sequels and “franchises” do not exclusively belong to the modern cinema.

Now if you excuse me, I am off to watch a Christmas classic.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

Book coverThis 2004 film comes from a time where Tim Allen was at the height of his celebrity, returning to the genre where he saw his greatest success in films (the Christmas comedy, as The Santa Clause and its sequels were far better received than, say, Joe Somebody). It’s based on a book by John Grisham who was at about the beginning of the ebb of his bestselling dominance I presume–I can’t think of another book of his after Skipping Christmas, but that might be because not long after I stopped looking at the bestseller list to see how Robert B. Parker’s latest work was doing.

At any rate, Allen plays an accountant. His daughter leaves after Thanksgiving to travel to Peru in the Peace Corps, which will leave Allen’s Luther Krank and his wife Nora, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, alone for the holidays. Fearing being alone for the holidays, Luther accounts for the money that they spent on the previous Christmas and convinces Nora that they should not spend any money on Christmas and should take a cruise with the money instead.

So the first part of the story deals with how their co-workers and neighbors deal with them when they’re not decorating and whatnot. Dan Ackroyd plays the local neighborhood leader who tries to pressure them into decorating like all of the neighbors do. The Kranks cancel their annual Christmas Eve party, which upsets their friends who have been coming to the party for years. Co-workers start calling Luther “Scrooge.” Collectors for the police charity, played by Cheech and Jake Busey, don’t like being rebuffed in their collection efforts. But the Kranks soldier on, until their daughter Blair calls on Christmas Eve as they are packing for their trip: She has arrived in Miami with her Peruvian fiance, and she wants to show him how they celebrate Christmas.

So the second part of the film covers the Kranks who try to decorate and get something of a party together for Blair’s homecoming. When Ackroyd’s Frohmeyer sees them, he calls the neighbors to help out. Not to help out Luther, but to do it for Blair. So they try to decorate, find Blair’s favorite foodstuffs, and whatnot. And we get an ambiguous appearance of an umbrella salesman who seems to know everyone but whom nobody knows. Could it be… SANTA?

The film has its heart in the right place, but it falls a little short. I don’t know–somehow the film makes what must have been some long-term relationships with friends and family seem a little shallow. Maybe the film somehow misses a sense of Christmas in it–the film has the decorations and trappings of it, but not much of a sense of Christmas in spite of the change-of-heart gifting that sees Luther give the cruise tickets and package to a neighbors where the wife is suffering from cancer (the book was published in the Before Times, where tickets did not have names on them or something). Maybe that change was very subtle, because although Nora calls Luther selfish right before it, throughout the film, the character does not come across that way. Perhaps it’s shaded differently in the book. Perhaps I’m too fresh from viewing the hijinks in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation that some scenes–icing his lawn so carolers cannot stand out there and sing to him–might have been more mean-spirited in the book. Or maybe Tim Allen has played too many nice guy characters in the past so that we put the best possible spin on his behavior. I expect the book differs.

It’s entirely possible that I’ll buy the book sometime to hide in my stacks as an annual Christmas novel. But I won’t be pulling this out of the Nogglestead video library around Christmas too often.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Report: A Knights Bridge Christmas by Carla Neggers (2015)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas novel around Christmas time, and I generally pick them up at various places throughout the year, maybe one or two a year (I bought this one in Arkansas this summer). But when they go into the Nogglestead to-read stacks, well, they’re often lost for a very long time and especially hide well during November and December. A couple of nights I went to the stacks specifically looking for a Christmas book and could not find one. So when we were preparing to go to ABC Books for a book signing, I told my beautiful wife that I hope Mrs. E. had Christmas books. At which point she swiveled in the chair she was sitting in and said, “What about this one?” This book was there all along!

At any rate, the book is one of a series which deals with the town of Knights Bridge, Massachussetts. A new librarian moves to town from Boston with her precocious and abnormally adult-like six year old son six years after the death of her husband in an automobile accident. She meets the hard-charging emergency room doctor grandson of a longtime Knights Bridge resident who has moved into an old folks’ home when the doctor returns to help with the grandmother’s move. She (the librarian) promises to help the doctor decorate the grandmother’s house one last time. Could they–fall in love?

C’mon, man, this is a holiday romance. That’s exactly what happens!

The book really has absolutely no conflict though. I mean, the townsfolk look down on the doctor a bit because they think he neglected his grandmother. The librarian wonders if she’s ready for the romance or if she would be just a conquest for the doctor who would leave her life forever. But it’s all unserious internal conflict that gets mentioned in the protagonists’ interior monologues fairly briefly. There’s no antagonist to speak of. Just some set pieces with a bit of idealized small-town Christmas season scenes and a bit of an underdeveloped back story about how the grandfather helped the great-grandfather get over his experiences in World War II, but….

Well, if you’re looking for a simple confection with holiday themes, here you go. It has less depth than most of the Christmas books I’ve read, and the six-year-old boy is really wise beyond his years.

So I’m not likely to charge out and get others in the series, but I am not the target audience anyway.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: National Lampoon’s Holiday Reunion (2003)

Book coverThis film is also entitled National Lampoon’s Thanksgiving Reunion which clarifies which holiday is involved, as I discovered when I watched it after Thanksgiving and totally ruined it.

Well, not really. This made-for-cable movie features Judge Reinhold as a California anaesthesiologist whose family is consumed by materialism and modern society who wants to have an old fashioned Thanksgiving, but he lacks family outside his immediate family–and has for a while, apparently, as eating out is the family’s general practice. But he receives a letter from a distant, forgotten cousin (played by pre-Walter White Bryan Cranston) inviting them to the old family homestead for Thanksgiving. So we have a fish out of water comedy as the spoiled and upper class family from southern California meet the hippie cousins in Idaho, where the Snider name has a bad reputation ever since the country cousin made an error in a state championship football game decades earlier.

So hijinks ensue, and the town Sniders discover that the country Sniders have invited them because they need some money as country Snider pere has had some bad luck with his businesses around his inventions and his washing machine repair services. So the town Sniders have to determine what to do, but their car disappears and then their daughter disappears–she’s discovered the joys of country boys and their hillbilly deluxe trucks. But all’s well that ends well when the country Sniders and town Sniders team up to save the day and reconcile the Snider family with the townsfolk.

So an amusing bit of clearly television fare. Not destined to be a holiday classic, but then who knows? Although the fragmentation of culture might mean that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is the last Christmas classic ever.

A couple of pieces of the film resounded with me: first, Bryan Cranston does battle with a washing machine at one point, and I know the feeling. November and December weekends here at Nogglestead has seen me inside both my washer and my dryer multiple times trying to keep the commodity-level things operating for another year or so. Or maybe just a couple of weeks. Second, the story line about the football championship took place whilst the local high school football team made it to the state championship ever. No game-losing errors, but they did lose to a Catholic school from the St. Louis area which, as a private school, can recruit football players. So no curses on my boys’ friends.

On the scale of “National Lampoon” branded movies, it’s not amongst the best, but still not a bad hour and a half.

Also, note this trivium: The DVD sold for $.99 at Vintage Stock at some point, but I bought it for a dollar at the antique mall. Which means it appreciated in value, but the person who had the booth at the mall probably paid fifty cents or less for it.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: Looper (2012)

Book coverAlright, alright, alright, my film watching has not shifted to Christmas movies exclusively, gentle reader. So I picked up this film one quiet evening at Nogglestead.

You might recall the plot: In the near future, a crime syndicate from a farther future sends people back in time to be killed because the victims could easily be tracked in that future (but apparently time machines cannot). So the hitmen in the movie’s present wait at a certain time for someone in a hood to appear, and they kill that person and dispose of the body, keeping the silver that is secured to the victims’ bodies. When they find gold on the body, that indicates they’ve killed their future selves and “closed the loop.” I am not sure why that would be a thing, but it’s part of the movie’s lore, so….

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, one such killer in the future / past who starts having doubts about his job as his drug and alcohol intake increase. When a co-worker, Seth, lets his future self escape one such loop-closing, Joe tries to shelter him but eventually turns him over as the future Seth/old Seth tries to get to a particular location while suffering debilitating injuries inflicted on current Seth. How Seth would be able to conduct his hits or live to be old Seth who is uninjured at the outset but gets injured as young Seth is tortured…. Well, don’t overthink it, just go with the look and feel of the movie.

So when it’s time for old Joe to go (in the future) he (played by Bruce Willis) resists, leading to the death of his wife. He fights as the future bad men are throwing him into the past, so he’s loose and gets the drop on the younger version of himself. And we get some flashbacks from his point of view, and they’re a little different and are changing. But he learns that a kingpin in the future called Rainmaker is killing all the loopers, and Old Joe tries to kill the Rainmaker as a boy by doing the Herod thing (so is Looper actually a Christmas movie?) He goes child hunting while young Joe goes to a farm with a young boy to await old Joe’s arrival, and….

Well, like I said, just go along for the ride and don’t try to overthink it. Or think about it after all. The whole thing kind of comes off as a script based on the idea for a video game. I mean, shoot, loot the bodies, level up (although I guess they’re not leveling up, really). According to Wikipedia, the “thought-proviking” film appeared on a number of best film lists for 2012. Which is probably more a sad commentary on the quality of film and critic thought in the 21st century than any real philosophical or scientific (why does it sound right that one of those ends in al and the other ic? Now that’s thought-provoking) measure.

Given Bruce Willis’s later diagnosis, I can’t help but wonder if he was already in decline here as his performance is a bit wooden. I would rather re-watch Hudson Hawk, Blind Date, or The Color of Night than this film.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Movie Report: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Book coverI am not sure that I have seen this film all the way through, but I probably have at some point and might even uncover another copy of it in the library (which happens slightly more for films than for books, fortunately, although the Nogglestead to-read stacks would be less daunting at times if I could like Thanos snap my fingers and half of them disappear–although I’d rather not give my beautiful wife the idea that that is an option). But as it is coming up on Christmas time, I thought I’d watch some Christmas movies, starting with this one.

I watched National Lampoon’s Vacation last year but skipped National Lampoon’s European Vacation because I haven’t seen the DVD or videocassette recently in the wild. It’s all right, though–of all the Vacation movies, I’ve probably seen European Vacation most as it was on Showtime in that brief interval where I was supposed to stay in the trailer, not have friends over, and not go outside while my sainted mother was working. Which meant a lot of Showtime.

At any rate, Clark Griswold invites both his and his wife’s parents along with some family members to stay for Christmas–even though they argue amongst themselves. He’s planning–and put a deposit on–a swimming pool in anticipation of a healthy Christmas bonus. Set pieces include getting the family Christmas tree, struggling with Christmas lights, Cousin Eddie’s arrival, and then the holiday dinner. Side plots include annoying the 80s-archetypical Yuppie neighbors.

You know, I suspect this only became a “Christmas classic” because of the time period it released–the end of Generation X’s youth where large families and family gatherings were more common, and when we became adults and left many of these things behind. Or perhaps I’m projecting a bit, although I am too old-souled to apply classic to a film from the 1980s, especially in the tradition of a Christmas classic.

I did want to note that, unlike more modern films (::cough, cough:: The Heartbreak Kid), this film does not deconstruct marriage or the family for the humor. It takes family and marriage seriously, presents them as a good thing, and the gags take place in that context. The Griswolds find themselves in some crazy situations, sometimes as a result of the father’s actions, but marriage and the family are not presented as an impediment to Griswold’s life (although he does think about the Lady in Red, this time it’s less serious than in Vacation).

The film was amusing, and it’s entirely possible I will watch it again this season with my boys or family. But in the recent search for a specific film I’ve seen before, I pulled out a number of actual Christmas classics to watch, so maybe not. I guess Christmas is only two weeks away, which is probably 10 movies tops.

The film featured Nicolette Scorsese in the aforementioned “Woman in Red” role that Christie Brinkley played in the first film–the woman whom Clark thinks about.

Continue reading “Movie Report: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)”

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories