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Showing posts from February, 2009

Sink-a-Palooza: Maritime Disaster Films Part 1

1. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure: This is actually a 1979 sequel to the original Hackman version of The Poseidon Adventure. The story centers on a team of salvage divers (headed by the always excellent Sir Michael Caine and supported Sally Field) who head out to overturned Poseidon the day after the events of the first film. They meet up with a crew of rescue personnel (led by Telly Savalas...who unsurprisingly turns out NOT to be who he says he is. Which--duh! It's Telly Savalas!) and head into the wreck in search of left-behind riches, only to find themselves trapped inside with a bunch of survivors. From there on out, it's pretty much exactly the same as the original film--"Oh noes! We're trapped! We must climb up! Come on everyone, climb! But it's flooded! And on fire! Climb damn you, climb!" The main characters do well (come on, it's Michael Caine, how bad can it be?) and there are some fun performances from the survivors, particularly Slim Pickens a…

Cannonball Read #13: Desperate Hours: The Epic Story of the Rescue of the Andrea Doria by Richard Goldstein

Don't worry folks, I am nearly through with my series on maritime disasters--I am slightly behind on my blogging, but there should only be two more blogs on this particular subject after this--and then we'll be on to fires! (I know, totally something to look forward to, right?)

On a fog-laden night in 1956, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with the Swedish ship Stockholm. While the Stockholm sustained only damage to her prow (and the death of five crewmen), the Andrea Doria was essentially t-boned, taking a mortal hit to her side. Over the next ten hours, the ship would develop and ever more pronounced list, and eventually capsize in a spectacular manner. All but a few dozen of her thousands of passengers would be rescued, and this is the story of the collision, the rescue, and the aftermath.

After reading enough of these books, I am beginning to figure out what makes a good account and what indicates a bad one. Unfortunately, Desperate Hours: The Epic Story of the…

"What d'you think we are? Gangsters?": RocknRolla

I like Guy Richie's movies. I loved Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Therefore, it's not surprising that I enjoyed RocknRolla. Aside from the admittedly rather stupid title, it's not a bad little film...as long as you liked Richie's first two movies. Because to be honest, it's more or less the same thing. Not quite as good, but definitely a monstrous improvement over Swept Away.

The plot is familiar to any Richie aficionados--there are schmucks. There are unpleasant members of the London underworld. There are twists and turns and coincidences and chance meetings and some cars that smash together and some ass-kicking and a little bit of sex and some very funny lines and quite a few casualties. On the downside, there is no Jason Statham (I was surprised--I assumed there was some contractual agreement that he had to star in all of Richie's films) but Gerard Butler is a big yummy hunk of man-candy, which was enough to make me happy. The acting is pr…

Cannonball Read #12: Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks

Yes, it IS another maritime disaster book. Do you think they'll ever have a maritime disasters-themed Jeopardy that I could go kick ass on?

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew was another meticulously well-researched book from author Brian Hicks. You may have heard the story of the Mary Celeste--the ship was found floating intact in the middle of the ocean, her crew having disappeared leaving behind no explanations or clues to their whereabouts.

The story takes us from the ship's creation, though "the mystery" in 1872, and then covers the aftermath, including various inquiries into the circumstances of the crew's disappearance as well as the stories, legends, and hoaxes that were born from the tale. The author uses letters, court documents, newspaper stories, and many other primary sources to develop the story and its historical context. We are introduced to all the important characters and all the pertinent facts, and the…

Cannonball Read #11: Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury (and added movie review)

So I read Gangs of New York a few weeks ago, but as I may have mentioned it was not very exciting and made me rather sleepy. Not that it was a BAD book exactly--it definitely had a lot of information in it that I didn't know--but though it may be informative it's not an easy read.

The first problem I had was the fact that the book was written in 1927, and the author takes for granted the reader's knowledge of events at the time. Although I know a certain amount about American history (probably more than the average person, I think) I had no idea about some of the people, places, and happenings the author referenced. I needed wikipedia at the ready to help me along in some spots. Also, the book's rather poorly structured. It's extremely tangential, and often meanders off-track completely. There is no narrative, and although it's marginally arranged chronologically, it's still tough to keep up. There are often spots that start off with "Googly-Eyes McGee*…

Cannonball Read #10: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Here we are with another maritime disaster, although this one takes place long before most of the others on the list. In 1819, the whaleshipEssex, sailing from its home port of Nantucket, was attacked and capsized in the middle of the Pacific ocean by an 80-foot-long sperm whale. The members of the crew set out in three small whaling ships (roughly 25 ft oar boats) for the coast of South America, a trip of close to 3000 miles. Before the end, six men would die of hunger and thirst, three would be lost at sea, one would be executed, and the rest would resort to cannibalism. The men sailed for nearly 93 days straight, suffering from starvation, dehydration, exposure, and an almost crushing sense of despair. This story comes from the accounts of the survivors.

The author, Philbrick, has done an excellent job with research. (There are nearly 50 pages of notes at the end of the book as well as an extensive bibliography.) There is quite a bit of information about the whaling trade itself, as…

Cannonball Read #9: When the Dancing Stopped: The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster and Its Deadly Wake by Brian Hicks

Well, here we are with number three in "The Caustic Critic's Maritime Disaster Series". (I will warn you...I have become totally obsessed. I have actually been checking Wikipedia for other disasters to see if in fact there are any non-fiction books about them. In case you're wondering, in the near future you can expect the whale shipEssex, the Andrea Doria, the Mary Celeste, the Lusitania, and the steamboat General Slocum. I have also added several related movies to my Netflix queue--Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, A Night to Remember, Poseidon[the made-for-TV-movie with "The Gutt"], and Deep Water as well as a couple documentaries on the Titanic.)

The Morro Castle was a luxury liner which sailed from New York City to Havana, Cuba during the early thirties. Although its primary function was to transport mail between the two cities, the ship also had a decent passenger business--despite the ever-worsening depression--taking tourists to "Gay Havana" w…

Cannonball Read #8: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Yes, another Cannonball Read entry. It's been sort of exhilarating to do so much reading--I'd really gotten out of the habit the past few years, and now that I have a goal and a motivational push (my goal right now is to try and keep pace with Mr. Controversy and Figgy, who seem to moving at about the same speed I am) I have been getting an awful lot of reading done. It also helps that I've discovered Half.com where I can order books for basically the cost of shipping (yes, I know about libraries, but our local book-den is kind of pathetic, and besides, I like to KEEP my books.)

Walter Lord's A Night to Remember is another addition to my strangely expanding "nautical disasters" book list. It's another book about the Titanic, this one written in 1955. Lord had the opportunity to interview more than 60 of the wreck's survivors, and he compiled a detailed narrative account of the disaster from the perspective of those who were there, beginning with the lo…

Cannonball Read #7: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I am an unabashed thriller/horror novel geek. I am not ashamed to admit that Stephen King is my favorite author and that my favorite book in the world is IT. I like a good scary story with some creepiness and some tension and a little gore in it. When I heard that King's son Joe was also a writer, and had been winning some very serious awards for his writing, I figured I might as well check him out.

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of Judas Coyne, a washed-up heavy metal star, who has an obsession for the occult and macabre. One day, an offer comes in online of a ghost for sale. Jude can't resist, and a short while later he receives his purchase...and it isn't at all what he expected. Turns out the ghost has his own agenda, and Jude is not going to like it much. Jude, and his girlfriend Georgia (so called because that's where she's from, and that's how Jude labels his girlfriends) have to work together to figure out what the ghost wants and how to stop him before i…

Cannonball Read #6: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints by Dito Montiel

I happened across the film based on this book (also written and directed by DitoMontiel) on OnDemand last month, and decided to stop and watch it because Robert Downey Jr. is so awesome and Channing Tatum is not especially talented, but very VERY pretty. I was fairly pleased with the movie, though it is nothing particularly new or innovative--it is the story of young DitoMontiel (played by a surprisingly talented ShiaLaBouf) growing up in a tough neighborhood in New York, and also the story of adult Dito (RDJ) returning many years after fleeing the violence and dead-end fates that he and his friends were destined for if they stayed.

Since I enjoyed the film, I decided to track down the book, since it is supposedly a memoir. The book deals less with Dito's youth and more with his adult life: touring the country with his momentarily famous band, meeting people like Allen Ginsberg, a brief stint as a Calvin Klein model, and generally dealing with the trials of trying to become a funct…