Movie Mondays: Films about the Fourth Estate

This month, two highly anticipated TV series – Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and  House of Cards, the critically acclaimed Netflix original series – are available on DVD. Both shows deal with journalists and the power of the news media, a topic that was the subject of three smart, classic award-winning films.
Click here to view His Girl Friday in the SPL catalog

His Girl Friday (1940), based on the Broadway play The Front Page, stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns, a newspaper editor who tries to get his ex-wife, reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) to write her last big news story, and maybe just prevent her from marrying insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) at the same time. Howard Hawks directed this screwball comedy to perfection, and the chemistry between Grant and Russell is on full display with witty, overlapping rapid-fire dialogue that you’ll want to watch over and over to make sure you don’t miss a single line. Continue reading “Movie Mondays: Films about the Fourth Estate”

Science Fiction Fridays: When the TV is turned off

So of all my deep, dark secrets (including the Rupaul-shaped one that has taken the place of my heart), the one I am most ashamed of is the fact that for most of my life I have had a snobby aversion to science fiction television. For some reason, I felt that the television medium must be vastly inferior to written word. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Many Buffy, Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes later,  I have become positively addicted to some of the science fiction TV shows friends have been raving about for years. While I’m still trying to make up for lost time, I still have the habit of always comparing and contrasting the shows I love with books I’ve read. I love to see the influence and connections between the books I have read and the series I am starting to fall in love with. Here are a few shows that have bewitched my imagination and the books that immediately leapt to mind as companion reads. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments!

If you watch Firefly, read Rimrunners

This novel by CJ Cherryh, who really can do no wrong, takes place in her Company Wars universe that is as complex and absorbing as her other creations. The story revolves around Bet Yeager, an assassin of sorts who finds herself behind enemy lines and on the losing side of a war. Somehow she has to manage staying alive and hiding her true identity while making it to friendlier areas of space. It’s Cherryh at her most bleak and grim, but it’s the snappy dialog and tough female protagonist that will have fans of Joss Whedon fall in love with this book.

If you watch A Game of Thrones, read (well, duh, but also…) The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

One of the best fantasy novels I have ever read, though I fully acknowledge its bitter existential flavor isn’t for everyone. It’s a relatively simple story that involves just the right amount of backstabbing, bloodshed and a dash of political intrigue. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but Morgan is a master of always keeping momentum and interest through characterization and jaw-dropping action scenes.

The prose is straight-forward and moody, with liberal doses of beautiful poetry when time freezes and the characters describe their feelings and surroundings between time fragments of battle scenes. In lesser hands, this tactic  would quickly grow old, but Morgan is so deft a writer the reader can’t help  but cherish these interstitials and beg for the next one.

If you watch Farscape, you should read Alastor by Jack Vance

A collection of the three Alastor world novels Vance wrote, each a contrasting and mindboggling look at world-building and the problems with utopias. All three full-length novels are full of high drama, fast-paced plotting and Vance’s signature atmospheric style of writing. While Alastor doesn’t have the grand romance of Farscape¸ the unique characterization and overall epic story arc is something fans of the television show will relish.

Crime: If You Like Boardwalk Empire

Find Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson in the Seattle Public Library catalog.I just finished season one of Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorcese’s series set in prohibition era Atlantic City, and am dying for more. I love good immersive TV experiences (and saving money with library DVDs), but in the end you’re as bereft as if you’d just finished a satisfying long novel. So I put together a couple of lists in our library catalog featuring fiction and non-fiction about the place and era, or othewise redolent of the magificent blend of showiness, sin and squalor that Scorcese depicts so well.

Find 1920, the year of the six presidents by David Pietrusza in the Seattle Public Library catalog.In addition to a number of titles about Atlantic  City in its garish heyday, the non-fiction list includes Daniel Okrent’s excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as well as Ken Burn’s recent documentary on the subject and Whispering Wires, a look at our own local bootlegging history and the notorious Roy Olmstead. There are fine biographies of gangsters Arnold Rothstein (and the Black Sox scandal) and the early career of Al Capone. David Pietrusza’s 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents offers a window into the politics of the time. I’ve even thrown in an eBook travel guide to Atlantic City, where you’ll find the street names familiar if you’ve ever played Monopoly.

The fiction list runs farther afield, from Nick Tosches’ novel about Arnold Rothstein, King of the Jews, to Joseph March’s 1929 verse novel The Wild Party, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories to fine period crime novels such as Ace Atkins’ Devil’s Garden or Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, as well as titles by a pair of literary Find A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen in the Seattle Public Library catalognovelists who really should be better known to crime fans: Craig Holden’s The Jazz Bird and Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. The maniacal, gawdy sideshow pandemonium of Kevin Baker’s Coney-Island set Dreamland is mirrored in Nathanael West’s classic Hollywood novel, The Day of the Locust, and the withering social critiques of classic noir like Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? It is no mistake that the corrupt 1920s gave rise to hardboiled fiction, in the the rat-a-tat-tat prose of Black Mask stories, or the sordid pages of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a cleansing bloodbath set in a town so corrupt it is called Poisonville. I even found a little-known novel about Warren G. Harding’s mistress.

There’s lots more, so take a look at these lists of Fiction and Non-Fiction, put something suitable on the stereo, pour yourself a nice legal soft drink (or not), and settle in with a good book (or movie) to await the next season in style.