movies you missed: Quiz Show (1994)

quizshow01

A big-money, high-stakes TV game show becomes the subject of scandal when a Washington investigator uncovers corruption behind-the-scenes – implicating both the current and former champs.

I saw Quiz Show when it was first released on VHS back in 1995 and I instantly fell in love with it. I’m not sure why – I was 14, why would a movie about a quiz show scandal in the 1950s resonate with me? There was no murder, no mayhem, no car chases, no lightsabers yet it held my attention and kept me on the edge of my seat, leaving a lasting impression as a film I enjoyed.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to show it to a friend. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, maybe since the 90s, but I still remembered it just being good. We sat down to watch it and for a moment I was worried it might be awful, that maybe I was the only person who remembered it because I was a teen when I saw it and glossed over any problems with the movie. Luckily, I was wrong.

The movie is still perfect and still scarily relevant. It deals with issues of racism, ethics, rich vs poor, the American Dream, television, politics, and the definition of entertainment. It’s about money, self destruction, our idea of justice and the reality of our justice system. It is about the invasion of technology and how it changes our culture. It’s about growing up and trying to earn the respect of your peers and the temptation to do whatever it takes to become famous.

Robert Redford directed this movie and he FILLED the cast with amazing actors, down to the random guy in the background. Every single actor in this movie is amazing. Rob Morrow as Richard Goodwin hits it out of the park as the Jewish lawyer from Washington D.C. who manages to straddle the two worlds that John Turturro’s Herb Stempel and Ralph Fiennes’ Charles Van Doren inhabit. He understands the prejudices that Stempel faces as a Jewish man from Queens and he longs for a life like Van Doren’s where being over-educated is respected rather than suspected.

These three men carry the weight of the movie on their shoulders, but then you have the rest of the supporting cast. Mira Sorvino plays Goodwin’s wife who spends most of her time trying to help him see both sides when he gets caught up in one of them. Hank Azaria and David Paymer play the two tv executives behind the fixed show “Twenty One” and they both manage to make these men into real people and not just caricatures of the fast-talking jerks they could have been. Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, the father of Charles, elevates the film with what little screen time he has, breaking your heart as he tries to support a son who just wants to get out from under his shadow. And Johann Carlo as Herbert Stempel’s wife, who loves her husband and her family, no matter how crazy they make her. And even the tiny role of the owner of Geritol, the sponsor of “Twenty One” is played by Martin Scorsese who gives a fantastic performance.

If you’ve never seen Quiz Show I highly recommend picking it up ASAP. Heck, if you saw it back when it was initially released, pick it up again. You’ll be amazed by how little has changed.

book thoughts: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Usually I wait until the end of the next month to post the books I have read but this book…this book needs it’s own entry.

I had already had it on hold because BEATLES and then it won the Eisner Award for best non-fiction graphic novel. And let me tell you, it DESERVED IT.

First of all, the story. I’m a HUGE Beatles fan, I know who Brian Epstein was. But this story, which was both well researched but then also elaborated on in ways that the author admits are fiction since he has no way of knowing what the exact conversations were like between Brian and other people. This isn’t The Beatles story, this is Brian’s story, with the Beatles as a backdrop. It’s the story of a young man, trying to find his place in the world. But it’s not just as simple as being successful. Brian Epstein was gay and in the 1960s, being gay in the UK was ILLEGAL. So here is a man who is in charge of the band that becomes the symbol of “All You Need is Love” and he feels like he can never be loved. It’s heartbreaking.

And then the artwork. Oh my god, it is just beautiful. There is nothing more to say, it is just so gorgeous, so well laid out. The colors are perfect. The imagery…

This book has so much to offer. Even if your knowledge of the Beatles is just a few songs, the basic history, this book is worth looking at to see the social and cultural issues that are the same and that have changed (or have they?). It’s a look into that world, a peek behind the curtain of the man behind Beatlemania. Of the naive and innocent man who tried so hard to dive into a business he knew nothing about, and how it pulled him under.

Go get this book now. You can read it in an afternoon. But it will stay with you long after.

Review: Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White

Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White
Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White by Rick Geary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another piece of American History/True Crime I knew nothing about and Rick Geary has once again enlightened me. Even though you know exactly who committed the crime from the first few pages, Geary does a great job letting the facts of each person’s life unfold in three chapters and then bringing it all together at the end.

And, as usual, you find the more things change, the more they really stay the same. Everything in this book could happen today.

For more Rick Geary book thoughts, check out my previous post.

View all my reviews

book thoughts: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

9781596439245_custom-c850444ef27fe186641710b62184d05e262b7e6a-s6-c30 I’ll be honest, before I read these graphic novels, I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion except that there was an event in history called The Boxer Rebellion. It’s sad but true. Luckily, Gene Luen Yang has helped dispel some of my ignorance with this beautiful set of books.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to talk about these two titles – do I talk about each individually and rate them on their ability to stand alone or talk about them as one “series” and how they work together? Hm.

I read “Boxers” first. Again, my knowledge of Chinese history was close to nothing so I wasn’t sure where it was all going. “Boxers” focuses on the life of Little Bao, a boy from a small country village in China. We trace his journey from a small, quiet boy to a man who helps start the Boxer rebellion by forming a group of fighters who go from town to town killing “foreign devils.” It’s a fascinating story and while Bao is not an innocent in all of this, you can see why he and the men and women who followed him felt compelled to fight back against the missionaries and their influence.

Oddly enough, very little of it has to do with religion even though they were attempting to wipe out anyone who was a Christian, but much of this hatred spawns from the abuse Bao and his friends suffered at the hands of missionaries and “secondary devils”, Chinese who claimed to have converted to Christianity.

By the end, I was very curious about the Rebellion, and found myself searching on Google, trying to get more historical facts on the events surrounding the start of the fighting. I hoped that “Saints”, being the companion story, would shed some light on the other side of the events.

“Saints” I read in a single evening. It’s about half the size of “Boxers” and, honestly, the story isn’t anywhere as compelling. “Saints” focuses on Four-Girl, a neglected fourth daughter of a Chinese family in a village probably not too far from where Bao grew up. In an act of defiance, she decides she is a devil (since her grandfather keeps calling her one) and she makes a creepy face anytime she is around people. Her family is disturbed and takes her to an acupuncturist. To avoid going back home, Four-Girl asks the doctor about the cross over his desk (which she assumes is an image of a patient) and soon he is telling her stories from the Bible (though she can hardly stay awake for them). She starts seeing visions of Joan of Arc, who gives her guidance in that vague way visions of saints do. Four-Girl ends up converting to Christianity and running off with the missionary and his group.

I was hoping the story in “Saints” would give me an idea of why so many Chinese were converting to Christianity, what the appeal was, in the same way “Boxers” gave me a general idea of why some people rose up against it all. Unfortunately, Four-Girl’s story felt far too specific, and she was a little too odd. I never felt that she truly believed in Christianity or even understood it. While Bao may have been naive, he was an intelligent young man. Four-Girl seems both naive and a bit slow.

The end of “Saints” gives us an “extended scene” from the end of “Boxers”, letting us know what happened to Bao after the final battle. It’s worth reading for that.

So, I would say “Boxers” get 5 stars, “Saints” gets 3 stars, so the set should get 4 stars. It is a great read and I think this could turn a lot of young adults and adults on to a part of Chinese history most of us are not taught about. You do need to read them in order and I would read them back to back so you don’t forget what happened in “Boxers” before getting to “Saints” finale.

book thoughts: Rick Geary’s Non-Fiction Graphic Novels

So, did text books pretty much ruin history for you?  All those boring pages and pages of names and dates, with the same old bits repeated year after year (found American, Revolt, Repeat) until you got out of high school?  Well, what if those history lessons had a bit more intrigue to them?

murder of abraham lincoln Borden Tragedy beast of chicago

Rick Geary’s Graphic Novels are devoid of superheroes or dream masters.  Instead, Geary uses his talents as a writer and as an artist to tell the stories from history.  His main series – Treasury of Victorian Murder – covers such classics as the Assasination of Abraham Lincoln, Jack the Ripper, The Lindbergh Kidnapping and Lizzie Borden.

Researched and readable, these books are great primers for someone who wants an accessible version of the facts before diving into a 500 page book on the subject.  Part True-Crime novel and part history lesson, Geary’s black and white ink drawings are simple enough in their style that readers unfamiliar with the graphic novel format shouldn’t feel overwhelmed.

I for one had no interest in reading about Jack the Ripper, but Geary’s book (which uses the primary source of a London citizen’s diary from the time to frame the story) was so easy to read, that I did find myself wondering about the mystery afterwards.

jack the ripper lindbergh kidnapping

So next time you’re struggling to find a book, ask a librarian for one of Rick Geary’s graphic novels.  You’ll be able to finish the thing in one sitting and afterwards you’ll have some extra bits of knowledge floating around in your brain.  And who knows, you might ignite a passion for history that you didn’t even know you had.