WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989) is, of course, the tale of how Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan go from finding each other Obnoxious and Irritating to becoming best friends to becoming lovers to breaking up … This is one of those stories whose elements have been duplicated so often since (I can see a lot of Friends in this) that it no longer looks as fresh as it once did. Even so, it’s still charming and with a winning cast. “He was the head counselor at the boy’s camp and I was head counselor at the girl’s camp.”
The infamously dreadful SHOWGIRLS (1995) is much more of a backstage musical than I expected, as ex-hooker Elizabeth Berkley struggles to claw her way to the top of Vegas entertainment, much to the displeasure of queen bee Gina Gershon. While the gratuitous nudity, sleaze and sexism would have turned me off to this in any case, the Vegas setting makes it even worse—becoming the star of a Vegas show just doesn’t have the cachet of seeing your name in lights on Broadway. “Did you push her?”
STRAY DOG (1949) is the Akira Kurosawa drama in which cop Toshiro Mifune is humiliated that a pickpocket swiped his gun, then horrified when it’s used in a series of robbery murders. One that could be adapted almost unchanged to an American setting, showing again that Kurosawa’s talent extended to more than just samurai films. “A murderer always goes in straight lines.”
THE SHAKESPEARE WARS: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups by Ron Rosenbaum does an excellent job discussing scholarly disputes over Shakespeare (do the three 17th-century editions of Hamlet represent successive revisions or misprinted versions of a lost original?), theatrical debates (director Peter Hall’s argument that iambic pentameter should not be broken up to follow the natural speech pattern), whether humanizing Shylock is a mistake (“A sympathetic Shylock implies that even good Jews only want to plunge knives into Christian hearts.”), why such arcane matters as Shakespeare’s original spelling are of vital importance, the dust-up over a supposedly Shakespearian funeral elegy, and bigger questions such as what we mean by “Shakespearian” and whether Shakespeare is “just” great or great beyond a level that anyone else could be. Rosenbaum spends way too much space venting his distaste for deconstruction and post-modernism, but for anyone interested in Shakespeare, this is great reading.
ABSOLUTE CONVICTIONS: My Father, a City and the Conflict That Divided America by Eyal Press, chronicles the right-to-life movement’s growth from Roe vs. Wade to the 21st century as seen by Press, whose Israeli-immigrant ob/gyn father was performing abortions in Buffalo during some of the worst protests, including the shooting of another provider (Press sees his father’s background as an Israeli as central to his refusal to quit under pressure). While hardly sympathetic to the right to lifers, Press does a good job portraying their views, which he sees as drawing strength from the general frustration of Buffalo’s working-class community as the economy tanked (“Class warfare no longer means rich against poor, it’s about the belief that an intellectual elite is trying to force their standards on everyone else.”). A good job.
WHITECHAPEL GODS by S.M. Peters is a steampunk fantasy in which Whitechapel has become the domain of two cosmic machine intelligences who are slowly transforming their subjects into cyborgs while working on something Even Worse (which, come to think of it, we never learn), resulting in a resistance movement attempting to overthrow them, while one schemer hopes to elevate himself to the same level of cosmicness and push the overlords aside. Good.
Although KINGDOM COME was Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s take on 1990s comic-books, it holds up surprisingly well today, mostly because the underlying themes about heroism and humanity still work. The story opens in a world where superhumans brawl and batter each other with little regard for the innocent bystanders until Superman, who withdrew from the never-ending battle a decade earlier, finally has to intervene again. But is it too late to stop a cosmically powered apocalypse? Not only fascinating in itself, it’s interesting how many elements of this (Red Arrow, the new Blue Beetle, the son of Batman by Talia) show up in the real DCU later.