I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Thursday, April 16, 2015

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride by Carey Elwes with Joe Layden

First and foremost, I am a huge fan of the Princess Bride.  I discovered it in 1988 when it came out on VHS, like most people.  I can quote entire passages to this movie, which is totally faithful to the book, probably since Goldman wrote the script.  After the book came out there was a demand for a movie, so Goldman, a screenwriter of such hits as Marathon Man and All the President's Men calls this work his best and favorite.  Many famous names tried to make a movie out of it, including Robert Redford, but none succeeded until Rob Reiner came along and got backing from Norman Lear.  This was early in his career, but he was a hot ticket and this book was near and dear to his heart.

Reiner wanted a mostly English cast and automatically signed up his friends Christopher Guest to play Count Rogan and Billy Chrystal to play Miracle Max.  Someone suggested this unknown actor, Carey Elwes who had just been in a movie called Lady Jane Gray, about the ill-fated Queen of England.  Elwes, who had loved the book, himself, for years, was thrilled but scared of screwing up the audition.  He had nothing to worry about, though, Rob loved him.  Robin Wright, whose step-father is British, raised her on British comedy, and she developed a natural English accent.  Luckily they were able to borrow her from the soap Santa Barbara to play the part.

Andre the Giant was an easy cast and a good one.  He was a very kind man, who suffered severely from his disease that caused him to be so tall and big.  He ate and drank alcohol (for the pain in his back) like a horse, but rarely got drunk and he always paid for others.  Wallace Shawn was told that Danny DeVito was supposed to be in the movie as the Sicilian and spent the whole movie scared to death that he was going to be replaced, no matter what Reiner said to him.  In the battle of wits scene, Reiner had to help him through it.  He says he was 40% Reiner, 40% DeVito, and 20% him.

Mandy Patikin and Carey Elwes were going to have to do all of the sword fights themselves, rather than have stunt doubles to some of the harder stuff, like most movies do.  They spent every waking moment practicing with two of the best fencers in the business: Peter Diamond (who worked with Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster, was the stunt coordinator on the Star Wars trilogy, played the Tusken Raider that surprised Luke in New Hope, he was a German soldier in the Raiders, as well as stunt coordinator in that movie, and worked on Highlander) and Bob Anderson (Olympic winner, coached Errol Flynn, choreographed scenes for several Bond movies and the Star Wars trilogy, as well as playing Vader during his fight scenes and working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy).  The book describes the Sword Fight as the "Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times". Peter and Bob intended to do their best to make this so and train them hard to not only fight but fight both handed.  I'll leave the story of the filming of the swordfight for you to discover.

Elwes got injured twice during the filming of this movie and both were his fault.  He broke his toe on the day they were to spend one day at the site of the giant hill where Wesley talks about being the Dred Pirate Roberts and what happened to Wesley, which contains one of my favorite lines: Life is pain.  Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.  If you watch as they walk across the top of the hill you can tell he is careful about his left foot.  Also, after they reach the bottom of the hill and run off, he is more hopping than running.

The second time, was when Christopher Guest was supposed to hit him over the head with his sword, which was a real medieval sword hilt and knock him out.  Guest, the nicest guy ever, was scared of hurting him, so he came nowhere near Elwes' head when he struck, which meant that Elwes was falling at the wrong time.  Finally, Elwes tells him to just tap him on the head with it.  Guest does more than tap it on his head.  When Wesley falls down unconscious, he really was unconscious.  He woke up in the hospital with stitches in his head.  Later on, when he has to knock out Patinkin with his sword, he does it from the back, so the camera does not show him not touching his head.

In the fire swamp, they have to do a stunt, where Buttercup falls into Lightening Sand and Wesley goes in to save her.  For safety sake, they wanted him to jump in feet first.  There was a hidden trap door and a short drop onto Styrofoam and two people to help catch you.  Cary was not satisfied with this.  It was not heroic enough.  Flynn would not do it this way.  No hero would.  He wanted to dive head first.  After a very lengthy discussion, Cary finally convinced Reiner.  After carefully practicing it with stunt doubles who showed Cary how to do it, it was done in one take.

This book is one of the best I've read all year.  I could go on and on about all of its hidden secrets, but that would spoil it for you, the reader.  Making this movie, was a great highlight to many who worked on this film.  Sadly, when it came out, Fox did not know how to market it.  The poster pictured Fred Savage and Peter Faulk on it, leading people to think it was a kiddie movie, which it was not, really.  They had no trailer, no print ads, and no TV ads.  If the internet had been around, perhaps it would have been more successful in theaters.  Everyone was disappointed in the response.

Later, when people started catching it on VHS, everyone, including President Clinton, who told him it was his and Chelsea's favorite movie and Pope John Paul II who, in a chance meeting, told him how much he loved it.  People began to quote lines to the actors on the street.  Reiner tells the tale of when he went out to a restaurant Gotti went to, who happened to show up that night.  When Reiner stepped outside for a moment, one of Gotti's men looked at him and said "You killed my father. Prepare to die."  For a moment Reiner froze and was scared out of his mind before he realized what the man was talking about.  It has become a phenomenon and a classic that will be loved down through the ages, even without CGI special effects that might have made the ROUSs look more real, but would have ruined the movie.  Beware, after reading this book, you will want to immediately grab the movie and watch it again with new eyes as you look for the secrets hidden within.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/As-You-Wish-Inconceivable-Princess/dp/1476764026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467033088&sr=1-1&keywords=as+you+wish+inconceivable+tales+from+the+making+of+the+princess+bride

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

It has been three long years since the last Rizzoli and  Isles book and it was well worth the wait.  On the TV series, which does not really follow the books, the actor who played Rizzoli's partner, Frost, a really great character, committed suicide and was killed off the show.  I really hoped Gerritsen would not kill him off in the book, and she does not, which is a relief.  In the books, Korchef has retired and was going to marry Rizzoli's mom, whose husband ran off with a bimbo.  Then he comes back and expects everything to be the same.  Her mom is miserable.  She's not with the man she loves, but she is getting pressure from her two sons and her priest to stay with her husband, who is a real jackass and treats her poorly.

This is by far the bloodiest of the Rizzoli and Isles books, and that is saying a lot.  It opens with the murder of taxidermist/hunter Leon Gott, who is found in his garage, hanging from the ceiling, cut stem to stern, with most of his innards in a trash can along with the innards of a snow leopard, which is an endangered and rarely seen animal.  He has been there for four days, and well, his two cats and dog have gotten hungry and feasted on him.

It turns out that Gott was hired to stuff the leopard, who was euthanized at the zoo where he lived, and sold to a shock jock hunter radio host, because the zoo needed the money.  It is illegal to sell their pelts, no matter how old they are, however.  While Rizzoli and Frost are at the zoo, one of the zoo keepers is mauled to death by a cougar.  Her death is deemed an accident, but there are a lot of questions and suspicions about her death.

The book goes back and forth between the current story in Boston, and one that took place in Botswana six-years ago.  A group, a Japanese couple, a British couple, two young women, and a young man, go to "rough" it in the wild with a guide named Johnny and his assistant Clarence.  One day they wake up to find the remains of Clarence's body outside the protective perimeter of the fence with bells.  He was keeping overnight watch.  Then another one of them is killed.  Some of them begin to suspect Johnny of killing them. Millie, part of the now broken up British couple, can not believe it and thinks they are crazy.  Things go from bad to worse and only one of them will survive.

Gott's estranged son, Elliott was on that trip.  Since his death, Gott has regretted the way he treated his son.  On Sunday afternoon, after the pelt is delivered to him, he calls two people, Elliot's girlfriend and the Johannesburg police department.  The pelt is missing from his house.  Did someone steal it because of its value, or for some other demented reason?  The same night Gott dies, Elliot's girlfriend his murdered too.  As they dig, they find cases similar to the way Gott died.  Was it an animal right's group making an example of hunters or something so unthinkable and sinister who would believe it?

This is a really great book, even with all the blood and guts.  You will never guess the endgame.  There are so many twists and turns and false leads that seem so promising, yet misleading you from the truth.  Rizzoli and Isles are up against a serious killer who would not blink at killing either one of them if they get to close to finding him out.  By the way, for those who doubt the ending as being possible, do not just take my word for it (I have read up on it) but remember that Gerritesen is a MD and knows what she is talking about.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Unlike the Bones in the TV series, this forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan, has a college-aged daughter, is a recovering alcoholic (a fallout from the end of a twenty-year marriage), and spends her time between working in Charlotte, North Carolina and Quebec.  This is an excellent series.  I have loved ever book I have read so far, but I don't know if I can tell you to read this one or not, because, even though I only read it maybe a month ago, I remember very little of the book.  This does not say much for the book, or my memory.  So you're on your own.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fever Season by Barbara Hambly

In this second freedman Benjamin January novel, set in 1834 New Orleans, it is fever season, which starts after lent in April and goes through to the first frost in October.  Those who can afford to, leave town for the country in order to avoid Bronze John (yellow fever) and a small outbreak of cholera.  Since there are no very few parties to play at, January makes his money working at the Charity hospital as a doctor.

It is there that he meets Rose, a freedwoman who runs a school for colored girls, who asks for his help with the few sick students whose mothers did not take them away to the country.  As he helps her, they develop a close friendship and January finds himself falling in love for the first time since his wife died.  January meets up with a friend of Rose's, Cora a slave who has run away from her master's home, because his "affair" (more like rape) with her has made his wife, Madame Redfern highly upset.  Also, Mr. Redfern is a gambler who has begun selling off slaves to pay for his debts, but he refuses to sell Cora.  Cora is in love with one of the sold slaves who lives in Madame Lalourie's household, whose husband is a prominent doctor.  Cora asks January to see if he can get word to this slave since he teaches piano to Lalourie's two daughters. 

Shockingly, Madam Lalourie herself, offers a way for the two to meet and talk and gives January money for Cora.  Madam Lalourie works in the hospitals too and has quite the reputation of being both a kind and giving woman and a monster; depending on who you talk to.  That is the last anyone saw of Cora.  It turns out, she had stolen a pearl necklace and $1800 from the Redferns and left it with Rose.  Rose gets arrested for the theft, instead.  Meanwhile, at the Redferns, poisoned mushrooms were served and made Madame Redfern and the household staff ill, while killing her husband.  Cora discovered the mushrooms and figured out that something bad was about to go down and she was in danger, which is why she left.

Things get weird when Madam Redfern claims the pearls and money are not hers, so Rose is released from prison and vanishes.  Now fever season is over and no one is hiring January as a pianist for their parties and most of his students quit.  Someone has something against January and wants to run him out of town like they did Rose.  Soon, however the attacks become deadly.

A slick revivalist preacher becomes close to Madame Redfern and buys her slaves at rock bottom prices then sells them to plantation owners in the Missouri Territory where slaves are in great demand.  However, the preacher does not appear much richer and the church he has been promising to build with the donations from parties held by Redfern has yet to appear.  Meanwhile, Madam Redfern, who is supposed to be broke from paying her husband's debts, is now thriving.  It also appears that someone is kidnapping blacks and coloreds alike to sell in Missouri.  As in the first book, January works with the "backwoods" Kaintuck police officer, Shaw.

This book is especially interesting because one of the characters actually existed in the 1830s New Orleans and did the heinous crimes of which come to light one night.  Hambly has a real way of putting you in the odd world of New Orleans of the 1830s and the crazy hierarchy system and just how much a person can get away with in the treatment of their slaves.  Madamzelle Marie, the voodoo priestess is up to something in this book too, as she lurks in the shadows.  This is an excellent book that will keep you guessing until almost the very end.  I really love visiting this truly bizarre place with its weird rules ("the custom of the county") and sultry crazy South where if you are a man of color you have to watch everything you say and do or you could find yourself kidnapped and sold into slavery or put into prison for something you did not even do.  It is a unique world and I very am very much fascinated by it, but am glad it has passed.