Archive for the ‘John’s Reviews – books, movies, whatever’ Category

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on December 17th, 2014

Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) wrote poetry that thundered and sang. It’s the kind of stuff that begs to be read aloud. And I want to share with you one of my favorites–“The Highwayman.” I love it for the sound, the story, and the awesome images (note all the color).

All you need to know is that back in the 1600s and 1700s, a highwayman was a robber, often on horseback, who held up travelers. And that when it mentions “priming,” it’s talking about the charge of powder used to ignite a musket.

For maximum pleasure, let me suggest you start Loreena McKennitt’s killer ballad version I’ve embedded at the end, then scroll back up and read along as she sings.

THE HIGHWAYMAN
By Alfred Noyes

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

. . .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

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He Is The Gift

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on December 16th, 2014

And now the other side of Christmas. The real gift. I love this short clip. Of course, I’m a believer, but even if you’re not, I think we all can agree that it’s good to take time to contemplate this type of giving.

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Edgar Allen Ho Ho Ho

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on December 14th, 2014

Because we luvs Christmas, Precious, we present another rendition of Santa’s visit: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” meets Studio C and Christmas. Enjoy!

BTW, those of you teaching language arts, there’s nothing like a little parody project to give students a taste of how fun writing can be.

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Lindybeige Rocks!

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on October 29th, 2014

I’ve been watching Lindybeige videos for a few years now. Lindybeige is the online name for Nikolas Lloyd, a smart, funny geek of the re-enactement, fencing, and RPG line. He’s got a youtube channel that is chock full of videos in which he makes witty and insightful points about ancient and medieval warfare, archaeology, dance, and anything else that takes his fancy.

For example, have you ever seen folks pushing each other about with swords? Is that realistic?

Interesting, what about pushing in a shieldwall?

Food for thought, isn’t it? It makes me want to go read up on shieldwalls. Were they really as he concludes they were? But enough about history and conjecture. What about the truth? What about science? For example, if you believe in science, must you also believe in a certain approved list of theories?

But surely that doesn’t apply to Global Warming Theory, which is now called Man-made Climate Change because the warming bit never panned out. No?

Wow, and he even accepts the data on the warming. Okay, enough about the truth. Back to fantasy geekiness and weapons in fantasy worlds that make sense.

I love this guy. If you’re a fantasy geek and haven’t yet begun to watch Lindybeige, you’ve got a lot of enjoyment ahead of you.

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Mitty, Non-Stop, and The Winter Soldier

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on October 13th, 2014

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-poster-bigThe previews for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty didn’t look interesting at all. Furthermore, I’m not the biggest Ben Stiller fan. He’s a fine actor; I just haven’t been in the audience for a lot of his movies. Then someone I know recommended the film, and I decided to give it a go with Nellie.

We didn’t have high hopes. I mean, look at the movie poster. Does that get you excited? She thought it was going to be dumb. I thought it was going to be dumb. But after five minutes, we found ourselves enjoying the characters and story. We finished it, both of us absolutely delighted. I liked it so much I corralled my two daughters into watching it with me. Then I watched it again. I think I watched it four times total. And I enjoyed it as much, maybe more, each time.

Walter is a great guy who has had to play it safe and practical his whole life. When his and his co-worker’s jobs are threatened, he takes action and finds himself on a journey that starts in, ta-dum, Greenland. The movie’s got adventure, a slow-burn romance, and a cast of funny and quirky characters. But it isn’t mad-cap humor. It’s not a gushing love story. It’s something else. Something that left me feeling like my life had been leavened with a fine light joy. Give it a shot; I think you’ll be glad you did.

* * *

non-stop-movie-posterThe previews for Non-Stop with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore looked great. I’m happy to report that it was every bit as good as the previews promised.

Neeson plays a federal air marshal. While on a flight from New York to London, he gets a text telling him that unless 150 million dollars is transferred to an offshore account, someone will die every 20 minutes. But it’s not so easy finding the killer. The deaths are almost inexplicable. And things soon start to spin out of control.

This movie is filled with surprises and suspense. And it moves. Thrillers normally move quickly, but this one was on turbo. But that doesn’t mean the story was a bunch of light and noise. Quite the contrary. The writers skillfully balance the mystery, action, suspense, and even the character backstories. A lot of folks liked Taken. I liked this better than that film. In fact, it’s one of the better thrillers I’ve seen these last few years.

* * *

winter-soldier-poster-no-maskI’m a superhero lover, have been since I was a kid watching the Superfriends cartoon every Saturday morning. But I never know if I’m going to enjoy a superhero movie. I love the genre, but for some reason so many of the films go for effect over story. It drives me nuts. The movie ends, the lights turn on, and I sit in my seat and go “huh.” So I’m happy to report that Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually delivers.

I cannot say the same for Captain America: The First Avenger, the first in this series. That movie fell apart halfway through the film. The beginning was this wonderful story about a runt trying to do his duty and volunteer. The second half lost all its heart and turned into one big yawn. So for those of you who didn’t like that first film, know that this is a case of the sequel being far better than the original.

In this one, SHIELD, the organization that directs the Avengers, comes under attack from within. Captain America and Black Widow have to uncover who is behind it and stop them before it’s too late. There are a lot of cool visuals and awesome action scenes. For example, I loved how Captain America “parachutes” into the opening mission. I enjoyed watching him and Black Widow fight in their distinctive ways. But the film didn’t focus on the tech or the super powers. It focused on the characters and the story. The plot includes a number of delicious surprises and reveals. There are funny moments and some poignant ones. And not only did this movie, unlike the first one, develop a single story all the way through, but it also echoes with our current search for national security.

If you liked Iron Man and Iron Man 3, I think you’ll enjoy Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on October 5th, 2014

hillenbrand-unbroken-4

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the finest book I’ve read in some time.

It’s tells an engrossing and true World War 2 story about Louis Zamperini, who started out in life as a steal-and-run trouble-maker. He was a kid who’d try the patience of Job. His mother tried to reform him to no avail. His father administered spankings, but physical punishment seemed to have no effect. Louis was constantly in trouble with neighbors, school mates, cops, teachers, store owners.

Louis’s older brother thought Louis would succeed if he were to just receive some positive attention. He thought track, a very popular sport at the time, was just the ticket. Louis loved his brother. In 9th grade he tried running, but the workouts chafed, and then one day he had an altercation with his parents. Louis figured the train would take him away from all his problems. So he ran away, hopped a boxcar, and very quickly learned the freedom of the rails wasn’t freedom at all. It sucked.

When he returned home, defeated, he decided to submit to his brother’s plan. This time it was just what the doctor ordered. Louis ran like mad. He broke records. He got a scholarship to USC and broke more. Louis ran in the 1936 Olympic Games. He didn’t win, but he would the next time they came around. However, the world was in turmoil back then, and Germany and Japan had their own plans which changed Louis’s life forever. He became a bombardier in the Pacific theater.

And that’s where I’m going to stop. The story that awaits you is truly amazing. And Hillenbrand brings it to life with surprising and powerful details. From start to last, I was enthralled. And towards the end, just when I thought the story was over, it took a turn that lifted it from being just another WW2 story with plenty of action to a tale that goes right to the heart of what it means to live. I wept, not for Louis’s pain, as awful as that was, but for something far more vital.

When I first saw the book, its sepia-washed cover turned me away from the tale. But with so many folks talking about it, I thought I’d give the first pages a go. I was delighted, but didn’t make it a priority. Not long after that, my 10th grade nephew told me how much he enjoyed it, and that prompted me to go back (and I’m so glad I did). It’s not that this is a kid’s book or that my nephew has the maturity of an older man. He’s definitely got some reading chops, but it’s not about an advanced writing style either. What is enthralling old and young alike is Zamperini’s story and Hillebrand’s skills in telling it.

How much do I like this book? I’m reading it again, slowly this time, so I can savor every word. Let me recommend you do yourself a favor. If you read one book this year, make it Unbroken.

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