Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#764. Three Underrated Best Picture Winners

Today, as the title suggests, I'll be talking about three underrated Best Picture winners from the annual Academy Awards celebration.  Specifically, Forrest Gump, Shakespeare in Love, and Gladiator.

Movie: Forrest Gump
Year it won the Oscar: 1995
Movies it beat out: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
The argument: Now, I want to make it clear that I'm a big fan of both Pulp Fiction (a big fan of Quentin Tarantino in general) and Shawshank (other than critics, who isn't?).  But I unabashedly love Forrest Gump.  A huge popular hit when it was released in 1994, this adaptation of the Winston Groom book gave Tom Hanks his second Best Actor honor in as many years following Philadelphia.  Yet over time, its reputation has dimmed.  It became known as the movie that sees a character randomly weave his way through U.S. history, less "Life is like a box of choc-lates" and more..."Will you stop with the shrimp recipes already???"  For me, the more I've thought about it, the more Forrest Gump is so obviously more than just about the title character or his experiences.  I always loved Gary Sinise's Lieutenant Dan.  Probably more than Gump.  I loved Robin Wright's haunted Jenny.  I loved Mykelti Williamson's Bubba (the dead partner in Bubba Gump).  Sally Field is in there as Gump's momma.  Haley Joel Osment's first major role was at the end of the movie as Forrest Gump, Jr.

And you know what?  I think there's a secret message behind the whole thing.  Maybe I'm an idiot and am just now figuring this out for myself, but Forrest Gump isn't just a mentally challenged guy running (something literally) around the country and across the decades.  He is the country.  He's our idea of ourselves, something pure that manages to remain even in the midst of bitter tragedy.  Jenny and Lieutenant Dan are the characters who face the worst and are sometimes the worse for it, but Gump keeps intersecting in their lives even as they keep fighting to push him away.  The country grows darker, but Gump remains the same, the lives of those who cherishes grow darker, and for a moment, even Gump wonders if it's all worth it.  But then his resumes his life.  "You never know what you're gonna get."

The Academy typically awards its Best Picture honors to a movie it thinks represents a snapshot of the world, either as it is now or as it was or even sometimes as the movies themselves have viewed it.  Is there a better movie in that group of nominees to fit that model?  I think not.  There are two incredibly strong contenders, but when it comes down to it, Forrest Gump is a more profound statement, and in fact understatement.  This selection was definitely right.

The movie: Shakespeare in Love
Year it won the Oscar: 1999
Movies it beat out: Elizabeth, Life Is BeautifulSaving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line
The argument: Out of those alternate possibilities, I've only ever not seen Life Is Beautiful, the Holocaust movie that propelled a joyous Best Actor winner Roberto Benigni to literally dance over the seats at the ceremony.  And I love the rest of them.  Love them.  The big argument and indeed outrage was that Saving Private Ryan deserved the win that year.  It was another WWII movie, highlighted by the stunning depiction of D-Day in its opening act.  Shakespeare in Love seemed so incredibly weightless in comparison.  So why even consider taking its win seriously?

Because in the end, it is a love letter to the man in the title, the Bard, William Shakespeare.  Modern letters practically owe their existence to Shakespeare.  Even if you're one of the legions of former students who considered it torture to sit through one of his plays while in school, you have to acknowledge his mastery of the English language.  There was never anyone else and there hasn't been anyone since who has even come close.  And this says nothing of his perfect grasp of the human condition, from all angles.  So what does Shakespeare in Love have to say about it?  Does it even breach the question of authorship, whether Shakespeare even exists?  Of course not.  It doesn't have to.  It tackles the idea of a young man of the theater trying to come up with a masterpiece and apparently failing miserably.

I love the scene where Ben Affleck as a pompous leading actor demands, "Where is the play and what is my part?"  It's such a minor role, but it was the first time I loved Affleck.  I took that moment through the times even I questioned Affleck, the same as everyone else.  Gwyneth Paltrow won her Best Actress award as the woman who pretends to be a man, and inspires the young Shakespeare.  Sometimes it seems easy to despise how easy Paltrow has it, how much she takes her charmed life for granted, how she spins everything so annoyingly positive.  But then there are things like her effortless performance in this movie.  And poor Joseph Fiennes, forever in the shadow of his big brother Ralph, except this one perfect moment.

A love letter to Shakespeare.  Perhaps too bold an undertaking.  But it's something we owe him as a culture.  And when it happens, and happens so sweetly, it's worth acknowledging, I think.

The movie: Gladiator
Year it won the Oscar: 2001
Movies it beat out: ChocolatCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brokovich; Traffic
The argument: I'll admit, I love both director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe.  I think the whole argument against Gladiator rests on the fact that it's another historical epic, just a few years after Braveheart, to win Best Picture, and by comparison, or at least at the time, it just seemed to have less to love.  I think that distinction has muddled over the years, the less people love Mel Gibson.  Crowe himself engendered a lot of negative press following Gladiator (interestingly, the movie he starred in next, A Beautiful Mind, also won Best Picture; the dude was on a roll!), and has struggled to overcome that reputation for years.  I think he's turning the corner finally.  Maybe people will acknowledge Gladiator next?

Because it's brainy stuff.  I happen to favor that myself, so I never really got how people generally dismissed it as mindless entertainment.  Mostly, I guess, because the eponymous games back in ancient Rome were exactly that, and it became easy to reduce the movie only to those aspects.  Crowe' Maximus was a man driven by principle.  The later 300, and Gerard Butler's transformation into a near-parody of Maximus, might be said to represent everything that Gladiator became dismissed as.

Yet it's the discussions between Crowe and Richard Harris that I cherish, or the chilling menace Joaquin Phoenix brings to Commodus.  Interestingly, even the movie's use of computer wizardry came to be seen as one of its drawbacks, how Oliver Reed was digitally resurrected.  We marvel at modern technology while we secretly abhor it.  I don't know.  It's a wonder of the age.

I liked its competition, too, by the way.  Haven't seen Chocolat, but there others I vouch for, the same as the contenders for the other films.  But Gladiator soars on its simple ambition and indeed spectacle, which comes from all corners of its film-making.

No, these are movies I love, and will always defend.  They're worth defending, championing.  They won the Oscars, so other people thought so, too, at least at one point.  But their appeal endures.  They echo, in fact, in eternity.  I heard that somewhere...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#763. Pan the Man, off to an awfully big adventure

Rest in peace, Robin Williams.

In a lot of ways, his defining role was the adult Peter Pan in Hook.  I always loved this movie.  Rewatching it today had the effect of helping me realize something important not just about the movie, but J.M. Barrie's creation in general, that lost little boys and pirates are very much the same except: the ability to embrace happiness and family (which may be one and the same).  You may or may not know how Williams struggled in recent years with a divorce that gutted the financial legacy of a career that was sadly in decline.  He was a man who embodied joy in his best moments, but knew pain as well as any clown.  In the end, it seems his demons won out.  He is not a cautionary tale, though, but a model we can only hope to improve upon.  Hence Peter Pan.  Hence learning what he tried to teach, to live.  The little boy who didn't want to grow up, and succeeded in that aim for an awfully long time.
via G8ors

I haven't seen all of Williams' films.  I haven't seen Good Morning, Vietnam, haven't seen The Birdcage.  I loved everything I ever saw him in, though.  I loved Dead Poets Society (who doesn't?).  I loved Awakenings.  I loved The Fisher King.  I loved Aladdin.  I loved Mrs. Doubtfire.  I loved Flubber.  I loved Good Will Hunting.  I loved Patch Adams.  I loved Bicentennial Man.  I loved Insomnia.  I loved One Hour Photo.  I loved Happy Feet.  I loved License to Wed.  His cameos in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and A.I. Artificial Intelligence were crucial additions to brilliant films.  What Dreams May Come will perhaps one day be discovered for the great work of art it is.

The real tragedy is that he became so easy to take for granted.  He was a treasure, truly one of a kind.  He seemed to have boundless energy.  In his dark roles he was dark indeed.  Many of his roles, even his comedic ones, seemed tinged with darkness.  But his smile was infectious, a face born to smile.  If he never told a joke he'd probably still light up a room.  I have no idea why critics found it increasingly easy to dismiss him.  I have no idea why they hated Patch Adams so much.  That was his last big hit, too.  He was last seen on television in the midst of a comeback in The Crazy Ones.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#762. Marvel has a 2014 Grand Slam

I really wouldn't have imagined this as possible, but movies adapted from Marvel comic books turned out to be incredibly reliable entertainment this year.

First there was Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I liked the first one, too, and so that wasn't too surprising.  Then there was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which I liked better than the first one. Then X-Men: Days of the Future Past, which I liked better than First Class.

And now Guardians of the Galaxy.  I had great trepidation for this one.  Unlike the previous three movies, it looked like it was going to be kind of a joke, which is why I don't tend to like Marvel movies as much as other people.  ("Kind of a joke" in that it tends to not take itself very seriously.)  As it turns out, this is probably the new poster child of a Marvel movie not only having a lot of fun, but also having a good story and having some real emotional investment in its characters.  Sorry, Spidey.
via What Culture
Unlike The Avengers, there's a good reason all these random characters end up joining forces.  It's not just that they're a bunch of misfits and hey! could make a pretty good team and/or need to overcome something that is bigger than any one of them.  They're all on individual journeys, and even when they don't realize they're headed in the same direction, they are.

Yeah, even Rocket.

So anyway, I really liked it.  It's kind of like Princess Bride without all the declarations of love disguised under the phrase "As you wish."  It's kind of Star Wars from the point of view of a kid who's really obsessed with Han Solo (Peter Quill is Han, Rocket is kind of Han, but also kind of Chewie, as are Groot and Drax).  It's even, for me personally, kind of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.

If it was only the one film, I actually think this would be an even better experience.  If they knock it out of the park with the next one, it could legitimately be the best thing to ever come from Marvel.  As it is, in a tough Marvel crowd this year, Guardians of the Galaxy stands out.  It might even be my favorite of the four.

Friday, August 08, 2014

#761. Mock Squid Soup: Stand by Me

Coming at us from Mock and Squid is a monthly movies bloghop, Mock Squid Soup.  The inaugural meeting concerns 1986's Stand by Me.

We're going to rewind a little before we reach the movie, however.  Stephen King's book Different Seasons was released in 1982.  The '80s were a boom decade for the Maine native.  This was the first time he consciously stepped away from the horror genre.  Clearly fans still found plenty to connect with, King's patented intimate viewpoint of humanity coming to the forefront of his storytelling for the first time.  The book was a collection of novellas that went on to great pedigree.  (Each of them are loosely associated with a season, so that's how the title came about.)  The first novella in the book is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which of course later became the movie The Shawshank Redemption; this is arguably King's best-received story to date.  The second is Apt Pupil, which also became a movie.  The fourth is The Breathing Method, which to date has not been adapted into cinema.  The third is The Body, which became Stand by Me.

Now, Stand by Me was a movie that for me originally was best known as the secret (or not-so-secret) origin of Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton.  Later, it became, cruelly, perhaps the defining film of the late River Phoenix's career.  Rounding out an excellent ensemble were Cory Feldman and Jerry O'Connell as the other two lead boys as well as Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack, and Richard Dreyfuss.
via Prime Movies
The irony of the movie is that the way the boys talk would become the pattern of geek talk, Internet speak.  The adventure itself is something that would become known as Spielbergian thanks to The Goonies from a year earlier (which was...directed by Richard Donner, with a script from Chris Columbus...based on a story from Spielberg), which for me actually means...Super 8, J.J. Abrams' 2011 movie.  Any fan of Stand by Me owes it to themselves to watch that one, too.

But I will round out this retrospective talking about River Phoenix.  The dude had obvious talent, from an early age.  He's this generation's James Dean.  Stand by Me remains his Rebel Without a Cause.  He made a few other movies, but none of them seem to have particularly stuck out in the same way.  The closest, and I'm always meaning to watch it, would be My Own Private Idaho.  The other one I've seen so far is The Thing Called Love, released in 1993, the same year he died.  It's about aspiring country music performers, and co-stars a young Sandra Bullock.  It may not be a classic but it's entertaining.  The lost movie Dark Blood was finally completed a few years back and released to the general public.  I want to see that, too.  It should be worth noting River's kid brother Joaquin turned out to be an exceptional talent, too.  You may know him best from Gladiator, but I'd recommend you catch Two Lovers.  He's received great acclaim in recent releases The Master and Her, and of course is perhaps best known for the notorious experiment known as I'm Still Here.  He also played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.  I also recommend Buffalo Soldiers and Signs.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

#760. Return of the Outlaw

As a big fan of Colin Farrell, I like rewatching his films.  Even the ones I'm not immediately a big fan of.  Sometimes especially those, to figure out if he might have a dud in his filmography.  The last time I successfully changed my opinion of one, it was Pride and Glory.  It's one I liked in the past, but never really completely got.  But originally, I didn't and probably couldn't properly appreciate the creative minds behind it, namely screenwriter Joe Carnahan and director Gavin O'Connor.  Carnahan's reputation has inexplicably dropped over the years, but I still love him.  He's the director behind films like Narc and Smokin' Aces (his most recent release was The Grey, although his latest one, Stretch, lost its release date earlier this year and its fate is still undetermined).  O'Connor is the director behind one of my instant all-time favorites, Warrior.  Pride and Glory itself is a a wonderful mix between Carnahan and O'Connor's best instincts.  Farrell plays Edward Norton's adopted brother.  It's one of those cops-behaving-badly movies, but it's more about the nature of personal compromise.  Norton's character isn't clean himself, but he's trying to do the right thing.  There's a moment where Farrell's character realizes he's made a terrible mistake, but he's still headed toward an ending similar to Training Day's.

Anyway, the most recent rewatch effort was American Outlaws.  This was Farrell's first Hollywood effort after his sensational breakthrough role in Tigerland.  In a lot of ways, Outlaws is a kind of sequel.  In Tigerland he plays an Army recruit who bucks the system as he prepares to ship out to Vietnam.  In Outlaws he's Jesse James.  I always had a problem getting into it because it's relatively lighthearted (director Les Mayfield is appropriately better known for his comedies like Blue Streak and Flubber), and really, by the time I'd caught up with it, I was better acquainted with the cinematic Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (another instant all-time favorite).  Outlaws is the opposite of Coward Robert Ford (the outlaw in question there is played by Brad Pitt).  But last night I think I successfully stayed awake during the whole thing for the first time (despite how that sounds, I can fall asleep during any movie).

And I kind of like it better.  It's no classic, but it does explain the idea of the charismatic outlaw pretty well.  This is an archetype that has a long history in the lore of the West.  Not the Western, but the West.  From Moses to Robin Hood to Jesse James, those who buck the system tend to claim outsize reputations in the popular imagination.  We're constantly sold on the idea that it's best to be the mainstream, to position yourself to represent the mainstream, or outright reject it.  But to take it on is another matter entirely.  Outlaws aren't always criminals.  But they're harder to find than it might seem.  More like Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, Jr.

The idea of cowboys and certainly their traditional depiction in the movies, all those Westerns, seems to have tried it best to avoid the idea of the outlaw.  I'm not talking about the white hats, the good guys like the Lone Ranger, John Wayne and the Man With No Name.  No matter how tenuously these cowboys interact with society at large, they don't separate themselves because they have to but because they want to.  The outlaw never has that choice.  They take an unpopular stance and stake their life on it.

Now, whatever Jesse James actually was, it's likely he doesn't fit the romantic ideal of the outlaw.  Robin Hood he was not.  But he's pretty close.  So his return to the movies, starting with American Outlaws (the romantic interpretation) and culminating in Assassination of Jesse James (the realist interpretation) is an interesting development.

My argument is about to shift to different territory, by the way.

I believe these movies may have made it safe for something else to change.  Comic book superheroes, to be exact.  Since their inception these characters have always been seen as vigilantes, sure, some of them moreso than others.  Yet very few writers have ever explored what that actually means.  I'm not talking how "dark" the depiction.  I'm talking about their relationship to society at large.  Not in an X-Men sense.  Not quibbling over what powers they have, if people are supposed to be bigots about them.  As to whether or not they are, well, outlaws.

Starting with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, I think that changed.  Westerns hadn't been popular for years.  Jesse James became acceptable material the more subversive the genre could become again.  And because of that, these films opened room for the archetype of the outlaw to be reintroduced.  Nolan realized this opportunity.  One of my favorite moments in Dark Knight was its ending, when Batman realizes that in order to have a semblance of victory he would have to transform himself into a pariah.  His activities, naturally, were never sanctioned by the law.  Tolerated, yes, considered useful.  But he was always on the right side of society.  He was a good guy.  Until he had to make it look otherwise.  And so he officially became an outlaw.

Grant Morrison picked up this thread in his run on Action Comics with Superman.  He claimed he was drawing inspiration from the icon's origins, but if that's true, it's a legacy that has been completely forgotten.  This was a Superman who was not afraid of taking on the establishment, fighting corruption at the very top.  It's a notion that was carried over into Man of Steel, where Superman is an outsider instantly mistrusted not by Lex Luthor but the U.S. government.

I mean, everyone thinks of Superman as the Big Blue Boy Scout, right?

And yet, with just a little effort, he too becomes an outlaw.  This is not a darkening of the character.  This is an acknowledgment that superheroes, basically, are inherently outlaws.  It's taken the bulk of century to realize, but there it is.

I think this is a good thing.  Cultural critics have often deemed superheroes to be a juvenile concept.  Who else but children and entertainment escapists could take them seriously?  Even with the current cinematic popularity they enjoy, most of those hits come from movies that take them with a grain of salt.  Films like The Dark Knight and Man of Steel are the exception.

They ought to become the rule.

Americans love their outlaws.  Our whole country was built on outlaws.  Somewhere along the way, I think we forgot that.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I'm not advocating some weird political agenda here, but rather suggesting that perhaps it's time to remember that fact.  We need figures who are comfortable bucking the mainstream.  Fighting it.  Well, not so much fighting it as fighting for it.  These figures don't have to be real.  Most of the time they aren't.

The real Jesse James doubtlessly sported a lot of rough edges.  But the idea of Jesse James endures.  And lives on in Batman, in Superman.  Movies have a unique ability to remind us of this.  Even the ones that seem like throwaway adventures might have something profound to say.  Even if the audience isn't listening, filmmakers themselves are.  And they respond to each other.  American Outlaws itself is similar to the earlier Young Guns, a movie about Billy the Kid.  But I like to think because of Outlaws we got The Dark Knight, and the Superman in Man of Steel.  Which I think is a good thing.

Perhaps that's why he always fought for "truth, justice, and the American way."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#759. Seven Reasons - Earth: Final Conflict

In the late '90s, a decade flush in Star Trek, Majel Roddenberry helped bring a few of her late husband Gene's aborted projects to television.  The first of these efforts was Earth: Final Conflict, sort of V without lizards.

Kevin Kilner, as William Boone, was the original series lead, replaced by Robert Leeshock, as Liam Kinkaid, in the second season, succeeded by Jayne Heitmeyer, as Renee Palmer (who debuted in the third season), in the fifth season.  Others who appeared as series regulars throughout the five-year run from 1997 to 2002 included Lisa Howard (Lili Marquette), Richard Chevolleau (Augur), Leni Parker (Da'an), David Hemblen (Jonathan Doors), Anita La Selva (Zo'or), Melinda Deines (Street), Guylaine St-Onge (Juda), and Alan Van Sprang (Howlyn).  This constantly shifting cast line-up was a source of frustration for fans, but realistically reflected the volatile nature of the Resistance's efforts to thwart to an alien invasion that seemed on the surface to be totally benevolent.  Fortunes changed all the time.
via Earth: Final Conflict Wikia

My favorite character was Ronald Sandoval (Von Flores), who appeared throughout the series.  He dies a punk, but embodies the best of Earth: Final Conflict's instincts.  A few of the following episodes unabashedly feature Sandoval's unexpectedly nuanced role at its most dynamic, plus a few key developments otherwise:

1. "Sandoval's Run" (1x12)

Prior to this episode, as with most of the series, you may be forgiven to assume Sandoval is merely a stooge for the Taelons, the so-called Companions, helping to carry out their secret agenda.  Except he's as much victim as anyone.  Thanks to the CVI implant all Protectors receive (along with the Skrill weapon!), he's the opposite of what he'd otherwise be like (a parallel dimension seen in the second season episode "Dimensions" helps confirm this, where Sandoval is definitely one of the good guys).  Turns out his is a tragic story, worse than Boone's experiences from the pilot.

2. "Gauntlet" (2x11)

Expanding the mythology of the series by explaining who the Jaridians are and their relationship to the Taelons, this one hints at how the series ends.

3. "Crossfire" (2x22)

The end of the second season sees Jonathan Doors' bid to become President explode in his face as he clashes with his son and the Resistance seems to come to a tragic end.

4. "Thicker than Blood" (3x6)

Liam Kinkaid's surprising link to Sandoval is exposed to his allies, who find it difficult to reconcile, especially when it means they probably ought to save the dude's life, too.

5. "Atonement" (4x17)

Sandoval's great bid for redemption on his own terms is probably his greatest moment as a character.  Unfortunately it's all downhill from here.

6. "Boone's Awakening" (5x5)

As the title suggests, Boone returns, appearing for the first time since the first season finale, in a moment that helps explain the strange new circumstances for the final season, in which the Taelons and Jaridians have merged back together and become something worse.

7. "Final Conflict" (5x22)

The final episode of the series, in which Renee Palmer and Liam Kinkaid finally get to embrace humanity's destiny in space.

Classic opening theme (one of the best ever):

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#758. Moxie Day Review!

You may remember me nattering on about Stephen King's 11/22/63, the book that happened to be set in my hometown of Lisbon Falls, ME.  For those who read it, you may remember the Kennebec Fruit Co. store run by Frank Anicetti.
via Sun Journal
King made up a few things (alas, no diner with a time portal exists, at least in Lisbon Falls), but he didn't make up what locals call the Moxie Store, or Frank.  You can't make up Frank.  Thanks to Frank and two preceding generations of Anicettis (the store recently celebrated a hundred years of business; yes, they used to sell fruit there), the Moxie Festival and Moxie Day itself, always celebrated on the second Saturday in July, came to town more than thirty years ago.  If you've never had Moxie, just know that it can be described both as "a treat" and "awful."  It's one of the original soft drinks, and still retains the vaguely medicinal nature they all had (really hard to believe though that is these days).  It's like Barq's root beer with...a different kind of bite, an aftertaste that always takes you by surprise.

Growing up in town, Moxie Day was a given, and it was increasingly a strange thing to realize we had something people came from all over the country to experience every year.  When I moved away in 2005, I began a ten year journey to experiencing Moxie Day all over again.

My oldest sibling, one of two sisters and the one who's older than me (not the one I spent that decade living with and/or near) has made an annual pilgrimage to Moxie Day for years.  She's been away since 1995, so I assume these visits are particularly special for her.  Half of Moxie Day this year was hanging out with her again for a extended period of time, which I hadn't done for a decade, another way this year's festivities were a way of closing a loop (a lot of my life is about closing loops, concluding journeys; don't worry, there are always loops to be closed).  She brought with her the whole family, husband and son, who happens to be my godson, whom I haven't actually seen since probably 2006, about two years into his life.

Also present and accounted for (besides my parents) were my brother (the middle child, older but not oldest brother) and his family, which includes two more nephews.  I've gotten to spend a great deal of time with these boys since returning to Maine last fall.  They're both young (five and two), which makes this an especially fun time to hang out with them.  

The highlight of Moxie Day is the parade and all the vendors who set up shop on Main St.  I got there a little early and slipped into the Moxie Store to at last have my own Moxie t-shirt (loop closed!), which I quickly slipped into (sorry, Rock Paper Scissors Lizards Spock from The Big Bang Theory!).  Walking around, I got to see what everyone was selling (either food, jewelry, or kiddie carnival games; Moxie Day is at heart a children's event with room for adults who want to have a good time).  This included my favorite part of Moxie Day, the library's book sale.  

I love browsing.  I guess for me that's the big difference between real world stores and online retailers.  In the real world you can come across things at random.  Often, online, you're looking for things you already know about.  (The big difference is that online you can find a lot of niche things.)  I know that's not always the case, but it takes less effort to find something unexpected, browsing a book sale.  (Plus you really can't beat the deal; $5 for a bagful.)  

I think it would have been the last time I got to enjoy Moxie Day that I found Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon at the sale.  Most of the books in sales like this will not be a massive Pynchon tome.  But some of them will.  Here's what I got this year:
  • Agatha Christie's Murder Is Easy - I've never read Christie.  I know And Then There Were None was assigned reading for my three older siblings in school, but either I didn't have that class or it disappeared (a mystery that needs to be solved!) from the teaching agenda by the time I reached that year.  Although her best-known creation is Hercule Poirot, this is not part of the series.  (Loop closed.)
  • Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm - Part of the famed British Prime Minister's history of WWII (six volumes in all).  
  • Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident - The second of eight in the series, this was part of the great push in young readers publishing following the success of Harry Potter, and always seemed (along with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) one of the more inspired efforts.  I never got around to reading it, but after Colfer wrote the sixth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, er, trilogy, I figured I would have to get around to reading one of these eventually.  This was a recommendation from one of the attendants, a very welcome one.  (Loop closed.)
  • Stephen King's Bag of Bones - King (it seems appropriate, plus I was looking for him in the sale anyway, after unfortunately inserting most of my unread hardcovers into the great purge of 2013) has had a few phases in his career.  This book was part of a comeback that began while I was in high school (perhaps highlighted by The Green Mile).  Arguably since then there was also the Dark Tower Surge (to complete that seven book series) that followed it and the Books He Always Wanted to Finish period (I think recently concluded, featuring such novels as 11/23/63, Under the Dome, and Doctor Sleep), while of course the Everyone Loves Me 1980s era and his early success.  (This is a hardcover, by the way.)  (Loop closed.)
  • Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels - The popular work of Civil War literature that was later adapted into the film Gettysburg.  Always wanted to read this one.  (Loop closed.)
  • Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram - A book that used to stare at me expectantly when I worked at Borders, and also the subject of a rare customer recommendation.  So I finally have it (loop closed).  Another epic-sized (darn near a thousand pages) piece of fiction found in the book sale!
Drank some Moxie.  Ate some food.  Hung out with family.  Good times, good times.
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