November 2010

Today I finished The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant.  The book started out as a stand-alone article for Sports Illustrated and Gorant was persuaded to write a book about the dogs by an editor who was familiar with pit bulls and who thought the dogs’ story should be told.

I confess to having skipped large sections of the first part of the book because they were simply too graphic for me to read.  I can handle my own blood and my own injuries, but I can’t handle other people’s, and the truly terrible things that were done to these dogs made me queasy. A couple of the dogs were euthanized because their emotional and physical injuries were too severe for rehabilitation, and a couple of others died from accidents or other health problems.  But the majority of the dogs are alive and well; several of them are in shelters and will never be able to leave, but far more than expected were adopted.  I cried for the dogs who didn’t make it, and I cheered for the dogs who did. At the end of the book, Gorant gives us a “where are they now” of each and every dog taken from Vick’s property.

This book is not for everyone, but I’m glad I managed to get through it.  And, as I finished it, all I could think of was Vick himself.  We are told that less than 2 years in prison means he’s paid his debt to society. But has he paid his debt to these innocent dogs? Personally, I don’t think so.  But, according to Gorant:

A lot of people I interviewed feel he got off way too easy. But we have a justice system, and when you get punished, it’s no one’s place to ask for more jail time. There are others like Vick who’ve gotten more and less jail time. I think the prosecutors did a great job getting what they got. Federal guidelines recommend no jail time, so he actually served above what he should have. By getting him to plea and serve the 23 months, he possibly avoided additional counts, like RICO and interstate gambling charges, which would have put him away for much longer.

How the Feds can justify not giving someone jail time for torturing innocent creatures is beyond me, but Gorant tells us something else that is almost as upsetting.  Gerald Poindexter, the Commonwealth Attorney for Surry County, Virginia (where Bad Newz Kennels operated) did not want Vick or his partners prosecuted and made it difficult for the investigators to do their jobs.  According to Gorant, Poindexter thought the fact that Vick was a successful black quarterback who had risen from poverty meant that the investigators should leave him alone.  Fortunately, the Feds took over and the investigation went ahead.

The book is sad, but it’s also a reaffirmation of life.  I am very glad I read it.


Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ new GM, chose Terry Collins to be the new field manager.  I was, frankly, rather surprised at this hiring.  Collins is famous for losing the Angels’ locker room to the point where the players signed a petition to get rid of him.  The presser was boring — there were only a handful of inane questions, and none from the newspaper beat writers.  That struck me as odd, and hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come.

He’s got a fan in Assistant GM Paul DePodesta and, apparently, in some of the Mets’ minor league players.  He was the organization’s minor league field coordinator in 2010 and the kids liked him.  His knowledge of the system is a point in his favor, and hopefully it means he’ll be able to get the best out of his players.

Beningo & Roberts are saying that HoJo is out as hitting instructor, but that he will be offered another role in the organization.  They are also saying that Dan Warthen will be back as pitching coach and that Larry Bowa might be hired in some capacity.  They’re also saying that the team will offer arbitration to Pedro Feliciano.

2011 should be interesting, to say the least.

This was a terrific weekend.  On Saturday, “N” and I went to see Deathly Hallows.  I’m very glad I stuck to my personal tradition and re-read the book in anticipation of seeing the movie.  I will re-read it yet again before part 2 is released in July.

Overall, I liked the movie.  I liked it a lot.  My least favorite is Half-Blood Prince because it seemed to me that, if you hadn’t read the books, you’d have no idea at all what was going on.  The same thing is true here, but for some reason, it bothers me less.

At the very beginning, we see Hermione at her parents’ home, and she’s modifying their memories so that, if Voldemort and his Death Eaters come calling, they will not be able to tell them where she is.  As we see Hermione’s face disappear from the photographs, we feel her pain and sadness. Her commitment to helping find and destroy the Horcruxes is of primary importance.  Another made-up scene that I liked was Harry and Hermione dancing in the tent.  Neither one is a particularly good dancer in this scene, but it shows just how hard he’s working to cheer her up after Ron has left.

But it’s the scenes that are left out that can make the resulting film difficult to understand if you’ve never read the  books.  The most glaring omissions include the fact that, after Ron opens the locket, Harry never explains to him that he and Hermione are not in love with each other and that she spent days crying after Ron left.  Another is that we don’t get to see Luna’s bedroom and see just how important her friends are to her.  Then, at Godric’s Hollow on Christmas, Harry and Hermione visit the graves as themselves.  But in the book, they disguise themselves as an older Muggle couple.  What I found odd is that, in the movie, they made a point of telling us that they could have used Polyjuice Potion but did not do so.  But what really struck me is the scene where the doe helps Harry find the Sword of Gryffindor.  In the book, one of the things Hermione takes from Grimmauld Place is a portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, a former Headmaster of Hogwarts.  It is because of this portrait that Snape learns where Harry and Hermione are so he is able to get the Sword to them.  But in the film, Hermione never takes the portrait, so it is very difficult to figure out just how Snape knows where to put the Sword.  Also, since we never learn that Harry saying the word “Voldemort” alerts the Snatchers to their location, it’s hard to figure out how and why the Snatchers were able to find them in the woods.  One very weird thing is that, in the movie, Wormtail doesn’t die.  A lot of other people do (and will in the next installment), but not Wormtail.  I just don’t get it.

As an aside, in Half-Blood Prince the book, we know the students take their Apparating lessons so those of us who read the books know why they now Apparate to wherever they need to go. But, since those lessons were omitted from that movie, anyone who only saw the movie might be confused as to why they Apparate all over the countryside instead of taking brooms.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential.  I loved this movie.  I particularly loved the part at the beginning, when we see the 7 Harrys preparing to help him escape.  Daniel Radcliffe did a very good job pretending to be, say, Fleur pretending to be Harry.  It was hilarious.  I also thought that the scene at the Ministry of Magic was very well done — the man playing Runcorn did an excellent job pretending to be Harry.  Dobby’s death was heart-breaking, and very well done.

I’ll probably see it again and may even post again to reflect any new insights I may come up with.  I’ve only seen it once, and it’s already a desert-island keeper.


The rest of the weekend was stellar also. “N” and I hung out with the Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay and watched as the Jets once more tried to take even more years off my life than they already have.  It was so much fun, hanging out with other wild-and-crazy former New Yorkers all dressed in green and white.  If the bar weren’t 60 miles from home, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

And my friend “N” and I already have our tickets.  She lives north of Tampa and I live south of Tampa, so we’re meeting in the middle for an early-afternoon show tomorrow.

Rotten Tomatoes says that critics give it a 77, but that “real people” are giving it a 90.  Joe Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal doesn’t like it (Harry Potter and the Endless Ending), but A.O. Scott at the New York Times loves it (Time for Young Wizards to Put Away Childish Things).  Fandango’s critics give it a 71, but “real people” say it’s a “MUST GO!”

Given the disparity of opinions between the professional critics and normal people, I’ll happily make up my own mind.  I can hardly wait.  

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” is by David Bianculli, and the title tells us exactly what the book is about.  I wanted to borrow it because I’d always liked the Brothers and enjoyed their show.  Unfortunately, the book does not live up to its title.  Bianculli does give us interesting anecdotes about the Brothers and their show, but he kept repeating how avant garde the show was and how scandalous the network thought it was.  Yes, the show was ahead of its time and yes, the censors were kept busy, but I didn’t need to have him remind me of it on every single page.  I also got tired of reading about how each individual episode angered the censors. The book started out well, but I lost interest about halfway through.  That is a real shame because the book had such promise.

My current reading From the Library is To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carole Wallace.  This is a fascinating (and entertaining) look at how American heiresses married into the British (and, to a lesser extent, Continental) aristocracy in the mid-to-late 19th century (and even a little bit into the 20th century).  I had heard of this book ages ago, but watching Downton Abbey over the last month made me want to read it.  It’s an ILL book that is due back at my branch on December 2, meaning I need to finish it sooner rather than later because renewals are not possible.

I also took out 25 to Life: The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth by Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge in New York City.  I was called to jury duty before Judge Snyder back in 2001, and the few hours I spent in her presence were enough to make me leave her courtroom impressed by her intelligence and her commitment to her job.  She ran for District Attorney against incumbent Robert Morgenthau and lost (she lost again 4 years later when she ran against Cyrus Vance, Jr.), but I admire her greatly and am looking forward to reading her book.

Yesterday, I went to see Nowhere Boy, a biography of John Lennon that stars Aaron Johnson as John, Kristin Scott Thomas as Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia.  The story only covers a year or so in John’s life, and it ends just after his mother, Julia, dies after being hit by a car.  I don’t know exactly how accurate it is, but I do know that I really enjoyed it.

The soundtrack includes 50s classics such as “Wild One” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Be-Bop-a-Lula” by Gene Vincent, “Shake, Rattle And Roll” by Elvis Presley and “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  The music was wonderful, and I was very impressed that Johnson and some of the other actors who played members of the Quarrymen did their own singing in the film.  Johnson sings “Hello Little Girl,” a song that was written by John Lennon (but later credited to the Lennon/McCartney partnership), but which I had only ever heard sung by The Fourmost.  Here is a version by Gerry and the Pacemakers, and here is a version by the Silver Beatles (John, Paul, George and Pete), along with a version that sounds as if it were recorded in a bathroom. My favorite is the version by The Fourmost and, when I heard “John” sing the song in the movie, I figured he was doing a cover of someone else’s song because I never knew until today that John had written it.  It’s not his best effort, but it’s still better than a lot of other people’s songs.

Paul is played by Thomas Sangster, who some of you will recognize from Nanny McPhee (one of Colin Firth’s sons) and Love, Actually (Liam Neeson’s stepson).  George is played by Sam Bell, who does not have any IMDb credits so, if you don’t recognize him, that’s OK.

I can see myself owning this movie and watching it periodically over the years, and I certainly intend to own the soundtrack.  While some of it is likely inaccurate, Yoko Ono has signed off on the movie, and there are pictures of the real John as a young boy in Mimi’s house. After the film ends and just before the closing credits, we see other photos of John and his friends and family from the period.  This film has nothing to do with the Beatles, which is OK.  It’s still enjoyable and I still recommend it.

Part IV: Emma, cont’d.

I wanted to include Amy Heckerling’s Clueless in the discussion of Emma, so here goes.

Clueless stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz (Emma), Dan Hedaya as Mel Horowitz (Mr. Woodhouse), the late Brittany Murphy as Tai (Harriet Smith) and Paul Rudd as Josh (Mr. Knightley).  It is regarded by many as being more faithful to Austen’s novel than any other adaptation, but that was before we had Emma09.  It is my own personal contention that Emma09 is the most faithful of all the Emma adaptations, but that does not stop me from loving Clueless.

Cher and her friend Dionne (no real equivalent from the book) are high school girls in Los Angeles.  They are, of course, leaders of the “in crowd,” but they aren’t so snobbish that they treat other, less cool, people badly.  When Tai moves to LA from New York, Cher and Dionne adopt her and try to give her a makeover so that she will fit in better with their crowd.  Tai is not totally like Harriet in that she (Tai) comes from a tough neighborhood and she has far more street smarts than either Cher or Dionne.  Her “Robert Martin” is a boy named Travis who is a skateboarder and a pot smoker, both of which make him unacceptable in Cher and Dionne’s eyes.  Of course, Cher and Dionne try to convince Tai that she would be a good match for Elton, another popular boy on campus but, just like the book’s Mr. Elton, this character is only interested in Cher and is a very shallow young man.

There is no true equivalent of Frank Churchill and there is no real “mystery” around which much of the plot revolves.  We have, instead, a newcomer to the school named Christian.  Cher imagines herself in love with him, and she cannot understand why he’s just not interested in her.  Unlike Frank Churchill, Christian is not secretly engaged to the equivalent of a Jane Fairfax.  He is, however, gay and is therefore just as unavailable to Cher as Frank was to Emma.

Josh (Mr. Knightley) is the son of one of Mr. Horowitz’s former wives, making him a one-time stepbrother of Cher.  Josh and Mr. Horowitz are close friends, and he and Cher spend a lot of time together.  He is not 16 years older than Cher, but he is enough older that it’s understandable that she does not think of him as a potential romantic partner.  When they do get together, it’s really very sweet and makes for an adorable ending to the film.

The box containing my DVD of the Paltrow Emma says “If you liked Clueless, you’ll love Emma!”  Despite the fact that this absolutely should be the other way around, Clueless is a terrific movie and is a must-see for any fan of Emma.

And, speaking of fans of Emma, I have also read a book called The Importance of Being Emma, by Juliet Archer.  It’s a modernization of the story and it sticks almost too closely to the original plot, but it’s cute and fun and is a good read for anyone interested in Austen fan fiction and/or modernizations.

Next up,  Northanger Abbey.

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