Sunday, 28 July 2013
Road trip movies: one of the more curious film subjects that inspire different reactions from movie lovers. What compels filmmakers to make movies and tell stories that take place on the road? Often times, they are depicted as broad comedies with a formulaic plot that include colorful characterizations, predictable writing, and grand schemes, with big finales. However this isn’t always the case.
Some of the most memorable films in recent years have centered on a road trip. So if you are in the mood for a movie about a bickering family, an aging Don Juan, or a wine aficionado taking to the road, then here is a sample of some the best worth checking out at the Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL).
Released in 2006, Little Miss Sunshine has since become the quintessential American family road trip movie (and for good reason). The film chronicles one dysfunctional family’s road trip as they travel from Albuquerque to California so that the youngest member can compete in a child’s beauty pageant. But don’t be fooled by the simplistic plot; it introduces a variety of characters with distinct personalities from a suicidal scholar, a mute teenager, to a very fouled mouth old man. Containing humor that ranges from slapstick to the macabre, this is one road trip you aren’t sure how it’s going to end.
Speaking of unpredictability, check out David Lynch’s The Straight Story. The great Richard Farnsworth’s last screen performance was indeed in a road trip movie, but unlike one you have ever seen. Based on a true story and filled with sentiment, warmth, and compassion for its characters, The Straight Story follows one old man’s journey across Iowa and Wisconsin to visit his dying brother who he has not connected with in years. And by what means does this man travel: a John Deere lawn tractor.
One of the more amusing road trip movies I have seen is Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray. The plot is uncomplicated, but the hallmark of this film is Murray’s deadpan funny performance as an aging Don Juan. Having received a letter saying he fathered a child from a long ago previous relationship, a loner named Don takes a trip to go find the ex-girlfriend who may have wrote the letter. Featuring an assortment of funny supporting characters, bizarre scenarios, reoccurring motifs and a brilliant conclusion.
The 2004 film Sideways, one of the best comedies in years, completely redefines the road trip genre. Taking place in California wine country on a week long bachelor party, Miles, a depressed middle school teacher, aspiring writer and wine expert takes his best friend Jack, who is about to get married, on a trip to celebrate his “last week of freedom”. However nothing goes according to Miles’ plan, as both Jack and Miles fall for two women they meet on their trip. What follow the heroes are moments of terrific humor, grave misunderstandings, and beautiful scenery all done with great originality.
Sometimes familiarity works better than originality and that was certainly the case with The Guilt Trip. This is a typical movie about an overbearing mother and her straight-laced son bonding while taking a week long road trip. The success of the film is entirely due to the great chemistry the actors have on screen, who bring much warmth and humor to an otherwise recognizable story.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
Last week we looked at the Tudor nonfiction books available at the library. While the historical facts are fascinating on their own, the Tudor dynasty and era has also inspired a wealth of historical fiction. Like the nonfiction, this is only a sampling; the library has much more than can be listed here.
A lot of Tudor books revolve around Henry’s wives and the other famous women of the era. The fiction is no exception to this. Philippa Gregory, a historian and novelist, has written books on a variety of women; her books take place during both the War of the Roses, which resulted in Henry VII claiming the throne, and the later Tudor era. Her best known book is arguably The Other Boleyn Girl, which tells the story of Anne and her sister Mary. This book was made into a movie ofthe same name which is also available at the library. Gregory has written about several other queens including Catherine of Aragon in The Constant Princess, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard in The Boleyn Inheritance, and Mary, Queen of Scots in The Other Queen.
Other popular books include Carolly Erickson’s The Favored Queen:a Novel of Henry VIII’s Third Wife, Erickson’s The Unfaithful Queen: a Novel ofHenry VIII’s Fifth Wife and Diane Haeger’s I, Jane. Sandra Byrd’s books on Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr (To Die For and The Secret Keeper) were named Library Journal Best Book Picks for 2011 and 2012. The Grey sisters had their lives fictionalized in Ella March Chase’s Three Maids for a Crown. And Margaret Campbell Barnes tells the story of Henry VIII’s mother in The Tudor Rose: TheStory of the Queen Who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty.
If you’re not interested in the queens, a great option is Kate Emerson’s Secrets of theTudor Court series. Emerson writes about other courtiers from the period, including Jane Popincourt and Anne Bassett; both women attracted the attentions of Henry VIII at various points in their lives. Another option is Carolly Erickson’s The Queen’s Rival, the story of Henry’s mistress Bessie Blount. During their eight year affair, Bessie bore Henry a son, Henry FitzRoy, the only illegitimate son whom the king acknowledged.
Tudor fiction isn’t limited to just the courtiers. A really interesting book is Margaret Campbell Barnes’ King’s Fool, which looks at all the drama from an unlikely source: Will Sommers, the king’s jester. Will remained at court from 1525 (a few years before Henry VIII annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon) until he retired during Elizabeth I’s reign, putting him at the center of the action for four monarchs and all of Henry’s wife drama.
Most of the books I’ve mentioned thus far are historical fiction, which aim to recreate Tudor England for the reader. Recently Tudor alternate history books have popped up, adding a supernatural twist to the historical. A. E. Moorat’s HenryVIII: Wolfman provides a new explanation for why Henry VIII’s reign was rather bloody. And Lucy Weston sheds light on the legacy Anne Boleyn bestows on her daughter in The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer.
If you’d rather watch than read, you’re in luck: Tudor fiction is not limited to just books. The library has both of the Elizabeth movies starring Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age) and Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren. And of course we have all four seasons of the Tudors starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
And that concludes this two-week sampling of Tudor books and movies available at the library. From queens to fools, food to drama, you are sure to find something to enjoy!
Sunday, 14 July 2013
From Henry VIII and his six wives to Elizabeth I, the virgin queen, the Tudor family’s reign was full of change and intrigue that still captivates us four centuries later. Their legacy has spawned a wealth of books and movies, far too much to cover in just one article. So this week I’d like to highlight some of the nonfiction resources the Thunder Bay Public Library has on the Tudors, saving the fiction for next week.
For a great overview of Tudor England, The Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley is the book for you. Ridley looks at everything from law enforcement to food, furniture and entertainment. Another option is Tudor England by John Guy, which focuses more on the political and religious upheavals from the 1460’s right up until Elizabeth’s death in 1603.
For a general overview of the Tudor personalities, look no further than The Tudors: the Complete Story of England’sMost Notorious Dynasty by G.J. Meyer. Meyer examines all of the Tudors from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, giving a great overview of both the people and the changes that they tried to initiate (with varying degrees of success) in Britain.
If you’d prefer to go into depth on a particular Tudor monarch, we have many books to peruse. There’s Jasper Ridley’s Henry VIII, a biography that shows how politically cunning the king was. Neville Williams’ Henry VIIIand his Court is another excellent biography, looking at both the king’s life and his decision to split from the Catholic Church. If you’re more interested in the king’s wife drama, look no further than Tudor Women: Queens and Commoners by Alison Plowden. While the title of this book claims to examine all women, no matter their status, it is primarily interested in the queens (Henry VIII’s six wives, his daughters and Mary, Queen of Scots). Nonetheless it is an interesting look at their lives and affairs. If you’d like an in-depth look at one of his daughters, you may want to give either Mary Tudor: a Life by David Loades or Elizabeth Tudor: Portrait of a Queen by Lacey Baldwin Smith a look. Loades’ book in particular gives a well-rounded look at the woman we remember as Bloody Mary.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have books on many other people in the Tudor line, like Henry’s father (Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn) his mother (The Women of the Cousins’ War: the Duchess, the Queen, andthe King’s Mother by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones), his son (Edward VI, the Young King: theProtectorship of the Duke of Somerset by W.K. Jordan), his sisters (TheRose and the Thorn: The Lives of Mary and Margaret Tudor by Nancy Lenz Harvey), and even specific wives (such as Catherine of Aragon in Sister Queens: the Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon andJuana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox or Catherine of Aragon: the Spanish Queen of Henry VIII by Giles Tremlett). There are also some books on the Grey sisters (such as The Nine Days Queen: a Portrait of Lady JaneGrey by Mary Luke and The Sisterswho would be Queen: Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey; a Tudor Tragedy by Leanda De Lisle).
Our resources aren’t limited to just the people of the Tudor line. We have many other books on topics including Tudor drama, the Elizabethan underworld, food (including recipes), costume (including patterns), women writers and even a reproduction of a Tudor-era atlas. All of this and more is available at your local library. Next week we’ll take a look at the fiction books written about these fascinating people.
Sunday, 7 July 2013
Watching the television news channel on Sunday morning, I was surprised to find the coverage of the centennial edition of the Tour de France. While I don’t know the race favourites, and can’t tell you anything about the mechanics of the bicycles themselves; the very idea of peddling a bike through the French countryside caught my fancy.
I was reminded of being a teen, when having a bicycle was a ticket to adventure. My friends and I spent hours biking, mostly to each other’s houses or to our favourite haunts, but it was the sense of freedom and independence that held the greatest appeal. On the back of my bright yellow bicycle, with its extended handles and banana seat, cruising the paths around Boulevard Lake, I felt invincible. Now, of course, I’m thinking of buying a bike again but I can’t decide whether to go high tech or retro. In the meantime, I started looking at some of the books we have on amazing bicycle treks for more inspiration. These are some of the newest and some of my favourites .
The Man Who Cycled the World by Mark Beaumont
This is the true story of how Beaumont circumnavigated the world, travelling over 18, 297 miles alone and unsupported on his cycle. Telling his own story with wisdom and wit, he relays the ordeals as well as the joys of the trip. From mechanical problems in Europe, stifling heat in the desert, to deadly Australian spiders, this journey makes for a great travel narrative.
Mud, Sweat and Gears: Cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (Via the Pub) by Ellie Bennett
As her fiftieth birthday approached, Ellie Bennett realized many of her dreams had gone unfulfilled. It was the suggestion from a friend that spurred Ellie to take on the challenge of the gruelling, though scenic, ride from the tip of Cornwall to the top of Scotland. The book details the tour through the back roads and pathways of rural Britain, with many stops at the best and the worst of the pubs along the way.
Cycling Home from Siberia: 30,000 Miles, 3 Years, 1 Bicycle by Rob Lilwall
Leaving his job as a high-school geography teacher, Lilwall arrived in Siberia with only his bike, a few possessions and a sense of wonder mixed with fear. He spent the next three years pedalling back to England through the jungles of New Guinea, the deserts of Australia and worn-torn regions of Afghanistan. While this is a journey of endurance, it is also one of personal and spiritual growth.
Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die: Biking Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations by Chris Santella
Part practical guide to biking and part travelogue, this edition in Santella’s bestselling Fifty Places series covers cycle journeys both close to home and in exotic locations. With an emphasis on finding something of interest for everyone of every skill level, Chris Santella explores the fun of a bicycle journey around Manhattan, a trip down a coastal highway in Europe or a trail through a forest in Asia, as well as 47 other incredible trips.
In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan
This is not a travel story about bicycling but a love story about the city of Amsterdam and its love for living on the back of a bike seat. The history of bicycling in the Netherlands began as a hobby for the wealthy and became a passion for the nation; bicycles were even used by the resistance against Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. Today, bicycles fill the roads, part as an environment statement and part for the sheer joy of riding.