Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rant or Rave: The Godfather

A commonly held believe amongst avid readers and book lovers is best summed up by the catch phrase: "Don't judge a book by its movie." Movies rarely manage to capture the magic, richness and character development of books, and many movie adaptations of good books are mediocre or even dreadful.

Another popular and widely held catch phrase is: "It is the exception that proves the rule."

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, is the exception that proves the rule-- the movie IS better than the book. Indeed, Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 epic film is widely considered one of the finest films of all-time, coming in at #2 at IMDB and at AFI, as well as being in nearly every "best of" movie list ever created. The movie deserves its kudos-- it is brilliant in nearly all of its facets. But what of the book that was its genesis?

Written in 1969, The Godfather is a very good book, but it is most definitely not a great book. Puzo, at his best, captures the Sicilian and Mafioso lifestyles and mindsets extremely well, and there are many aspects of the book that provide additional content and context to the movie. Unfortunately, there is also a fair amount of extra, often comparatively dull, material in the book.

While the majority of the book follows the plot line most of us are familiar with from the movie, roughly a quarter of the book deals with events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. There, we follow the career of singer turned actor Johnny Fontaine, and also of Lucy Mancini, bridesmaid to Connie Corleone. Only briefly touched upon in the movie, these portions of the book often drag, and the characters frequently come across as more two-dimensional and stereotyped. Part of the difficulty with these parts may actually be that there is no film equivalent for them-- you can't picture Marlon Brando or Al Pacino saying the words.

A nice "extra" for the book is that it spends a little bit more time with Michael Corleone during his time in Sicily and provides more detail and back story to his whirlwind romance and wedding there. Additionally, the story of how Vito and the family finally manage to bring Michael home from Sicily safely is also intriguing and much more clearly defined in the book. And we spend a little more time with Kay and with Mama Corleone.

Overall, however, the book too often spends time on minor and even irrelevant topics, losing some of the pace and muscle of the movie. So, a qualified Rave for the textual version of The Godfather. It is certainly well-written and worth reading, both on its own merits and because it will help "fill in" some of the details that the film brushes past, but it is also most definitely the exception to the rule. The movie surpasses the novel in nearly all respects.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Online savings just a click away!

I have not used coupons much. It seems like a lot of trouble to scan the sale papers and cut out coupons. Half the time I am doing well just to find the scissors! But todayI saved five dollars with coupons I found on the internet.
I was looking at a report from a CAFE libraries workshop entitled "Handling House and Home in Hard Times" to see if the links would be useful to reproduce for our patrons, when I came across the website http://www.couponmom.com/ . The description was as follows: "Has coupons you can print, helps you find coupons, gives you strategies on how to use them to make them most effective, and a whole lot more". I always always ALWAYS check links before I recommend them to people and this one turned out to be a winner! You do have to register to make best use of the site, but I found it to be well worth it.

I have a copy of the report at the reference desk, which has dozens of other links to useful websites such as http://www.cheapcooking.com/ for information on food savings, http://www.gasbuddy.com/. where you can search for cheapest gas prices in your area, or http://home.ivillage.com/, which contains information on everything from home organizing to budgeting.

Sometimes it is worth the trouble to look around.......now, where did I put those scissors?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Family Film Night

Tonight we have a 6 pm showing of the recent animated movie about food raining from the sky and spaghetti tornados. Based on the well-loved children's book, the movie got good reviews and is a lot of fun, so stop in! Bring along a pillow and blanket, or sleeping bag, or even a bean bag chair if you wish.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Actual Reality TV

Full Disclaimer: There is nothing Library related in this post. Also, I don't watch a lot of TV and virtually no "reality" TV. Dabbled in the Amazing Race a few years ago, that's about it (except for a very strange diversion with the family one night when we watched "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" and all had a blast with just how crazy the games were). But I digress. To my sensibilities, the only actual reality based TV is... sports.

Now, point shaving NBA referee scandals aside, sports are completely unscripted. Bizarre things happen. Games that everyone expects to be low scoring affairs wind up as offensive shootouts. And vice-versa. Superstars make boneheaded plays. People that nobody except their families have ever heard of make the big play to win the game. You never know what is going to happen next, and even sure bets sometimes aren't-- case in point, even the Detroit Lions are showing signs of being a legitimate NFL team!

A less snarky example is yesterday's painful, but incredibly entertaining, Packers game. This would be the script if it weren't an actual, live sporting event:

Team A commits several boneheaded errors early in the game, allowing Team B to jump out to a big lead. Team B is driving for another score, one that will pretty much put this game away early in the second quarter, then-- BAM! Team A forces a fumble and recovers. Not quite dead, yet. Time for scrappy Team A to counter-punch.

Showing plenty of grit and determination, Team A scores a touchdown and begins to chip away at Team B's lead, a challenge because not only are they already down big, but their defense is having a terrible time slowing down, much less stopping Team B. But they go into half-time down 14 and still hanging in there.

The second half is a crazy shootout. Touchdown Team B-- 21 point lead, game over? Not even close. Touchdown Team A. Onside Kick! Team A recovers! On fourth down, Touchdown Team A! Now it's only a 7 point game. Momentum is on Team A's side, right? Maybe not. Team B scores a touchdown in a minute and a half. Team A responds, goes 80 yards and scores a touchdown in 3 and a half minutes.

Finally, Team A stops Team B from scoring and gets the ball back, early in the fourth quarter, down by a touchdown. Three plays and less than a minute later, touchdown! Game tied! But wait, there's more!

Team B takes the ball and scores again, this time an extended, 11-play, 6 plus minute drive. Less than five minutes left. Team A takes the kick and goes 71 yards, touchdown! But, oh no! They did it too quickly. Team B still has nearly 2 minutes left and only needs a field goal. Bing, bang, boom-- they've driven it down to the 16 yard line with 14 seconds left, leaving only a chip shot field goal for the victory. Boom goes the kick and it's... NOT over! Team B's kicker pulls it wide left! Overtime.

Would anybody buy that? A TV exec would read that script and probably laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. No way Team A converts an onside kick AND a fourth and 5. No way the teams combine for 56 points in the second half. And ABSOLUTELY no way that Team B's kicker misses from point blank range to keep this craziness going into overtime. Maybe, if the kick were a long one-- 52 yards or some such-- but not a little 34 yard job. It's just too improbable.

BUT... if it all played out that way in a TV or movie script, you just know that Team B is now toast. After struggling all the way back from 17-0 down, nearly 24-0, Team A is now destined to win. They just have to-- it's what the script dictates.

And lo, so it seems it will happen. Team A wins the coin flip, and the play is there. First play in overtime: a deep middle post to Team A's big play receiver, who has two steps on his defender and is gone for the touchdown! Except that the pass was just a little off the mark, incomplete. Two plays later, sack, fumble and touchdown Team B!

Phew. Would anybody write it that way? Would anybody believe it if it wasn't actually happening? It was crazy, and nearly unbelievable. Sports is the best, and really the only reality TV. So-called reality shows have a goodly dollop of reality to them, but they are edited, and even directed in many cases. The people on the shows are selected by the creators of the show and many of the twists and turns that impact the people in the "reality" show are known and planned by the creators of the show. Not so sports. You never know if you'll get an epic upset (NC State over Villanova in 1983 anyone?) or boring old blowout (Florida destroying Cincinnati in this year's Sugar Bowl). Sports rule!

Now, since in the above example Team A was my beloved Packers and Team B was the "I'm okay with them, but not a fan" Arizona Cardinals, this was a deflating loss. But, I am curiously philosophic about the game-- it was the Packers' first post-Brent Farve playoff game. They are very young, learning a new scheme on defense, playing on the road against a team lead by a likely hall-of-fame QB who played one of the best games of his career. And they were THIS close to winning. They could easily have folded up their tents and slunk away into the off-season after two early turnovers and a 17-0 hole. They didn't. Rodgers played great, setting a Packers' post-season record for yards, and we should have a playoff contending team for several years now, hopefully longer if we can improve our offensive and defensive lines (they went from bad to mediocre over the course of this season, but mediocre still isn't good enough).

So, bravo to the 2009 Packers who played better than I expected and showed a lot of heart and talent despite losing yesterday. And I now become a New Orleans Saints fan and also look forward to March Madness. Go Saints, Go Badgers, Go Golden Eagles!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BBB Books: The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons

Monty Python's Flying Circus was, and is, a tour de force of comedy, satire, cultural insight, and good old-fashioned belly laughs. It was crude, it was rude, it was exquisitely funny and it was, perhaps above all, so quintessentially British (even though one of them was American). The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons is Big-- oversize coffee-table format and over 300 pages in length-- Beautiful-- chock full of photographs and screen captures from the show-- and, Bold-- could it be anything else, being Python?-- but is also an extremely good history of those six crazy lads from Britain (ok, four crazy Englishmen, one crazy Welshman, and one crazy American).

It is also a great history of their show and subsequent movies. How they actually wrote and performed the skits. The different influences each member had on the show. Terry Gilliam's recollections of how primitively he did his animations. Their transition to movies. The interactions of six brilliant, but radically different, personalities. The effect of fame and recognition on them. Outstanding.

On top of all that, this book really is in many ways an autobiography of Monty Python. Each of the members: Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman and John Cleese has a portion at the front of the book talking about their youth and family. Photographs from childhood and prep schools. There are recollections by each Python on how they met the other Pythons. Diary excerpts and interviews discussing how they got started, what the creative process was like, the impact of their growing fame on the group's dynamic.

Beyond the individuals, there is also a true autobiography of the troupe. The way Terry Jones and Michael Palin tended to write with each other, ditto John Cleese and Graham Chapman, with Eric Idle contributing on his own or to both of the other pairings and Gilliam's animation rolled into the mix as well. How they decided on what bits got in and which bits didn't. The filming process and how changes in their lives (various romances, Graham Chapman's drinking, etc.) affected the group.

Great stuff. Fascinating stuff. All of it simultaneously serious and completely irreverent, in typical Python fashion. If you are a Monty Python fan, you will enjoy this big, bold, beautiful book whether you read it cover to cover, sample bits and pieces, or simply browse the pictures and captions. It is in our Oversize collection with call #: 791.45028 PYTHONS

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Upcoming and Ongoing Events

A heads up on a few upcoming events, plus some ongoing activities:
  • Family Film Night, Tuesday, Jan. 12 @ 6:00 pm. Strange, food-based weather is the center of this movie (which, because of licensing restrictions we can't actually name) based on a well-loved children's book. Bring a pillow, sleeping bag or bean bag chair and some snacks!
  • Origami Workshops, Monday, Jan. 25 and Friday, March 5 @ 3 pm. These workshops are open to 4th-12th graders. Previous experience is helpful, but not necessary.
  • Wacky Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 18 (Teens only, grades 7-12) and Friday, Feb. 19 (grades K-6), both at 3:00 pm. Not quite the bobsled or ice hockey, but we will have marshmallow shot put and potato hockey.
  • Winter Wisconsin Winters with Books: Adult Reading Challenge. Enter each week starting January 18 and running through March 17. Weekly prizes. Full details here.
  • Pop Open a Good Book: Winter Reading Challenge. Open to grades K-12, the challenge runs through February 13. It's not too late to come in and sign up.
  • Magazine Title Scramble. Open to grades 7-12. Correctly unscramble a list of magazine titles for a chance to win a 1-year subcription to your favorite magazine (some exclusions apply. Value not to exceed $40).
  • Guess How Many Kernels of Popcorn Contest. Guess how many kernels of popcorn are in a container in our display case and you could win the PASS THE POPCORN game. To be eligible, you must not go over the number of kernels. Open to students in grades K-12.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rant or Rave: Rose Parade Edition

Watched much of the Rose Parade with my family yesterday. Great fun. My wife, Jenn, and I lived about three blocks off the parade route 12 years ago, and it was very cool to roll out of bed on New Year's day, walk a couple of blocks (with temps in the 60s) and enjoy the floats.

Of course, we lived towards the end of the route and things are a little different there then at the beginning where the TV cameras are. At the end of the route, the floats are a little less... dynamic than at the beginning. The trucks underneath the huge, floral creations breakdown causing large breaks in the flow. As I remember, the longest break we had was about 45 minutes long.

On top of that, many of the floats with moving bits are broken by the time the parade is over. One of the floats we saw was a bee, with moving arms and antennas-- very cute and cool. Except that by the end, two of its arms were dangling by its side, completely useless, and one of its antenna was just kind of spastically twitching, instead of swiveling smoothly.

So, a rave for watching the Rose Parade-- good fun, and the announcers aren't too horrible (unlike the New Year's Eve hosts/hostesses). But, an even bigger rave for attending in person. You get to hang with the other New Year's Day celebrants, watch some cool floats, and see some cool floats fall apart. As an additional plus, you can also go see the floats being constructed days in advance of the parade at the Rose Bowl, which is really cool. It's an amazing process.

Some day I hope to go back and see another parade in person. Ideally, I'd like to take my kids with me.