Tuesday, August 01, 2006

those were the days...

Sure- you've heard it before; "Back in my day..." or "In the good old days...". We don't pretend to such nonsense here at the Shelf. ALL days were both good and bad. Hey, we grew up in the 70s-80s time period. No amount of celebrities will ever convince me that bell bottoms and disco were cool. I don't care if they are on VH1. All it is, is a nostalgic longing for childhood; where things were fun and easy. Or so we think, now that responsibility and the world have us weighed down. Who wouldn't trade that for an hour of drinking Orange Hi-C out of a large can and watching reruns of the Six Million Dollar Man. Lesse- Lee Majors and Sasquatch or financial reports that are due tomorrow? Hmmm. That's a toughie!
What we need is someone who can look back at the good stuff of childhood with a certain amount of fondness, but a healthy dose of cynical disdain for the bad stuff we just choose to gloss over. But who...I know- Jean Shephard! And that's how we are going to kick off this week's media roundup. So hang on to your Radio Flyers and homemade fishbowl space helmets, we're about to take off.


Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
My Summer Story (AKA: It Runs in the Family)
Back in 1994, Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd released this sequel to the wildly popular A Christmas Story. Ten years before, A Christmas Story had a decent run in the theater, but it really found it's legs on cable television and home video. It had become a television holiday ritual, and a beloved movie for many. Although director Bob Clark had a sequel planned, it took A Christmas Story's rise in popularity to make it happen. Thus we have It Runs in the Family. Wait...what? Yeah, that was the title when it hit the theater, but when it hit the home video market the name changed to My Summer Story. The marketing geniuses were trying to tie it into the predecessor and have it ride it's very long coattails. But don't hold that against it- after all, the script was again co-written by Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark and Bob Clark was directing again and Shep was back as narrator. Oh, yeah- they used the same house as the Parker home, although they had to fix it up some to bring back to usable condition- but the original house is still there. That's good. The cast was different however, with the exception of Tedde Moore who was the only one from the previous cast to reprise her role; namely that of Ralphie's teacher, Miss Shields. As much as we love Peter Billingsly as Ralph, ten years makes a big difference when you are talking about (no longer) child actors. If you've seen Peter lately, you know that he really still looks the same... just as an adult. But you can't have a 23 year old Ralph hanging around with a bunch of ten year olds talking about tops and neighborhood bullies. That's just not right.
So we get a new cast, and some very good actors I might add, to bring us the Parker family. This time around Charles Grodin plays the "old man" and Mary Steenburgen as Ralph's mom. Kieran Culkin is Ralph and Kieran's real life brother, Christian plays Ralph's brother, Randy. The Parkers are up to some similar family shenanigans during the summer. The stories that comprise the plot are all based on more of Shep's short stories of his childhood. You need to give the film a chance- it is warm and entertaining, and it's great hearing Shep again (although if you go over to Shelf Community member Mass Backwards at Flick Lives, you can hear a lot of Shep! By the way here is a online deposit if you will, of the press kit of A Summer Story, courtesy of Flick Lives.) Think of this film as not so much a sequel, but as another Jean Shepherd movie. That's the way they filmed it. If you've read Shep's stuff or are a fan- you'll enjoy the film. By the way, a company called The Red Rider Leg Lamp Company has purchased the house in Cleveland where the movies were filmed and is restoring it to be A Christmas Story Museum. Here's the link if you are interested... or if you just want to purchase an "Italian Made" leg lamp.

Mr. Moto Collection, Volume One
I must confess, I knew very little about these films. I was aware of them, and knew Peter Lorre had made them and who the character was. However, in curiosity and out of an appreciation for Mr. Lorre's body of work, I researched Mr. Moto and found them to be an item of interest for my Shelf list. Plus John over at Greenbriar Picture Shows gives the set his seal of approval, and that's good enough for me. If you want to find out more, John has a great post about Peter Lorre and the series at Greenbriar. In the meantime, do as I intend to do: check it out. The four films about the Japanese detective in the set include: Mr. Moto Takes a Chance, Mysterious Mr. Moto, Thank You Mr. Moto and Think Fast Mr. Moto. Various features about Peter Lorre and the various directors are included.

Olivier's Shakespeare
Lawrence Olivier was a consumate actor...a legend. Everyone knows that Olivier's performances in Shakespeare's plays are equally legendary. But let's be honest, how many of you have actually seen any of them? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Ahem...anyway, my point is that these are films that should be seen. Maybe you aren't exactly a Shakespeare buff. It doesn't matter, Shakespeare's work and Olivier's work here are a part of theater and film heritage... and if you are a cinema buff you need to take a chance and view these films. Criterion is a company that does DVD right, and they make sure that the heritage of cinema is not lost. The film's are Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III; although for my money Henry V is the best of the bunch. The film starts on stage, but as the drama goes on the film gradually leaves the stage and takes place among a more real set and finally the hills of England. From the theater to ""reality" if you will. One of the best versions on film of duplicating in a cinematic way a theater goer's willing suspension of belief. If you dig this, may I suggest that you then move on to Orson Welles and his Shakespearian films, particularly Othello- a Shelf favorite.


James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights by Richard Labunski.

Few people today appreciate the role of James Madison in the founding of our country. Perhaps it is due in part to the modern bent and fad of academics to gloss over the founding fathers or ignore them altogther in favor of more social history. Perhaps it is because in popular history, he is overshadowed by more larger than life personalities like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, or Hamilton. Either way, it is a real shame, for the man who became our fourth President deserves to be studied and understood as much for his presidency, but much more for his contributions to our Constitution. It is Madison, who along with Jay and Hamilton who wrote "the Federalist Papers" - letters published in various newspapers defending the ideas and the workings of the Constitution. It was Madison who researched and studied for years, ideas that would comprise the so-called Virginia Plan, which became one of the basis for the Constitution. It was Madison who pushed and fought and worked behind the scenes for the drafting of the Constitution... it is his notes of the Constitutional Convention that provide us with the best picture of what ensued during those hot summer months. Perhaps even more crucial (than perhaps we realize) is Madison's role in the ratification in Virginia. Beset by political foes lead by Patrick Henry, Madison fought for the ratification and to win a political seat to Congress with a promise to push through the Bill of Rights as the first order of business. Labunski's book examines that fight.

Television: (check local listings for times)

The Usual Suspects for this week
Big Brother 7, Reno 911, and Feasting on Asphalt (The Saturday show was great by the way- Alton was 'cycling through my neck of the woods and ended up at several places where I had been.)

Shelf Picks for Turner Classic Movies:

This month's theme is Summer under the Stars and each night features the performances of a different actor. We pick and highlight some great flicks for each night on this weeks list. It's not that we don't recommed the rest (Humphrey Bogart's day could be an all day marathon as far as we're concerned), but some films we've recently picked or highlighted, so we're not trying to make that many repeats in a short time frame. Our picks for each star on their night follows:

August 1st, Star: Angela Lansbury
Private Screenings: Angela Lansbury (2006), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

August 2nd, Star: Groucho Marx-
aw, heck just have yourself an all day Marx Marathon:
The Cocoanuts (1929), The Big Store (1941), Go West (1940), At The Circus (1939), Room Service (1938), A Night at the Opera (1935), Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933) and A Day At The Races (1937)

August 3rd, Star: Susan Heyward-
Tulsa (1949), I Married A Witch (1942), and The Fighting Seabees (1944)

August 4th, Star: Gregory Peck-
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Big Country (1958), Cape Fear (1962), and A Conversation with Gregory Peck (1999).

August 5th, Star: Humphrey Bogart-
The Petrified Forest (1936), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), To Have And Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and All Through The Night (1942).

August 6th, Star: Robert Duvall-
The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather II (1974) (where's MASH or True Grit? Or Open Range if we're going to be all "modern classics" about it?)

August 7th, Star: Burt Lancaster-
The Devil's Disciple (1959), From Here To Eternity (1953), Valdez Is Coming (1971), Lawman (1971), and Vengeance Valley (1951)

Well, that's all for today Shelfers. We'll leave you to your Slurpee and shady tree and Archie comics. That's right, we see you. Don't worry we won't tell if you won't; just stay cool.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

The Old Man was having the time of his life being miserable. It was what he did best.

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