Critics: Anton Ego and Mr. Cranky

There was a time when I didn’t know what a film or restaurant critic was. These were in the halcyon days of my youth, when I would go to restaurants or movies in New York City with my mother, the internet didn’t exist, and the only critics I knew about were “us.” [Of course, my mother, being a stage and commercial actress was well acquainted with reviews since the earliest days of her dramatic career, beginning in the 1920s (I think she appeared in an elementary school play at age 4), but she charitably kept me insulated from their mercuriality.]

We had successes and failures. As I have written about before, we loved Fonda del Sol, Xochitl, Mamma Leone’s, Proof of the Pudding, and many others.

We loved Peter Sellers as a comedian, but when we went to see “Only Two can Play,” my mother was mortified and I – at age 11 – was uncomfortable – we left the theater and mom demanded a refund.

Bottom line, we knew what we liked.

Then came the electronic age, with Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, Yelp!, Wikipedia, UrbanSpoon (much better than Yelp, but sadly defunct), and access to reviews from hundreds of sources. And because these things are highly subjective and largely a matter of personal opinion¹, reviews varied widely from one pole to the other, and I often found that if reviews of a movie were negative I would come away from a movie I had enjoyed, wondering what the critics were talking about.

The best summation of a critic’s rôle I think I ever heard came in the beautiful soliloquy of Anton Ego in the dénouement of “Ratatouille,” for which credit must be given to the inestimable Brad Bird:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

Over time I came to see that most critics indeed would shred films because negative publicity got more traction, more buzz, or in modern parlance, more clicks – and hence more exposure for their particular brand. (There were exceptions of course – Siskel and Ebert’s point/counterpoint usually gave a good feel for consensus, and the Deseret News’ Chris Hicks tried to be honest without being snarky, meaning that I usually found myself in agreement with his assessments.)

But without question, the most savage movie reviewer of all time was Mr. Cranky, otherwise known as Jason Katzman.

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From 1996 until 2008, Mr. Cranky reveled in writing the snarkiest, most deprecatory reviews one could imagine. His rating scale was only negative, with “one bomb” being the best one could hope for:

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I once wrote to him, asking if there were any movies he liked, and he responded, “I don’t like movies.” As I learned when his website came to a close, this was simply part of his online persona. Much was revealed in his departing essay, making clear that his efforts over time were less about shredding movies than they were about shredding reviews and reviewers in general. I reproduce the entire essay below:

Mr. Cranky says “Goodbye!”

MESSAGE FROM YOUR HOST: In the summer of 1995, Hans Bjordahl and I were sitting in a friend’s dining room drinking beer when he posed this question: “Do you have any good ideas for a web site?” Hans was the creative director for a small internet firm about to build its first internet mall. I was the film critic for a local newspaper. After a few more beers for creative inspiration, Mr. Cranky was born.
The site began building in October of 1995 and was launched in February of 1996. It was an instant hit and the mall’s most frequented property. Traffic skyrocketed within the first three months. Emails came in fast and furious. Some were actually furious – mad at Mr. Cranky for trashing some recent film. There were death threats. However, most emails were ecstatic, thrilled that finally somebody was out there not blowing smoke up the ass of Hollywood, but dragging it over the coals for its failures. Mr. Cranky received mention in “The New York Times”, “The Guardian”, and many, many others. We were the “Cool Site of the Week”. When books printed lists of the best movie web sites, we were on them. The phone started ringing with offers of advertising revenue and such.

Much of the reward for doing Mr. Cranky all these years has been the excitement it created. There was a lot going on during the 1990’s and we frequently found ourselves in the midst of all kinds of developments. We were flown to San Francisco and wined and dined by an up and coming Internet company. We had our pictures taken for the Hollywood issue of “Vanity Fair”. We found ourselves with an agent and discussing book deals. Like most things that seem “pie in the sky” when you hear them, most of them fizzled out. Like most things, the excitement was never met by the potential financial rewards that seem to be mentioned in the same breath. That being said, Mr. Cranky did turn into a pleasant hobby with a small financial reward at the end of the year.

Even after the end of the Internet boom, Mr. Cranky still got by. We were excited to be picked up by “Redeye” in Chicago, a new type of daily directed at Gen Y. The feature was so well received that the editor of the Chicago Tribune mentioned it in one of her meetings. Google contacted us to assign our account its own ad representative – something they probably do for most accounts or groups of accounts, but still, it made us feel important.

Well, as they say, all good things…. Let’s face it, Mr. Cranky has been dying a slow death for a number of years now. It’s increasingly irrelevant, if not completely irrelevant. We’d rather sign off before that becomes the case and we’re probably already too late. Are there other reasons? Well, it’s not bringing in the revenue it once did. The time it takes to keep the site going is substantial. There’s too much other stuff to do. When I first started writing Mr. Cranky, I would sometimes see 8 movies in a week and make 6 trips to Denver from Boulder (70 miles RT). That was great when gas was $1.99. Now, not so much.

Before we retire Mr. Cranky, there are some questions that seem worth answering. Did one person write all the reviews? The answer: about 98% of the reviews were written by me, Jason Katzman. The other 2% were written by others, but mostly Hans, who took up the mantle when I was too tired or had a conflict. Not a single person ever figured out who wrote what even though we got many emails from people asking where “the real Mr. Cranky had gone”. In every instance, they were comparing two reviews I had written, just in very different styles.

Another question that was asked of me often was “Are there any movies you like?” I’m proud to say I never once answered that question and we never tried to pander to the people who just didn’t get it. Not only are there movies I like, I usually enjoy most movies in some way, shape or form. It’s actually pretty rare when I watch a film that has no redeeming value. Is there anybody out there who really thinks that I would spend as much time as I do watching movies if I didn’t enjoy it?

That being said, the reasons we started Mr. Cranky are more than simply “we like to make fun of people”. There are the simple ones, like we wanted to reject the culture of celebrity worship, which is utterly repulsive. Unfortunately, it’s only grown larger since Mr. Cranky started. During my time as a film critic, I did tons of interviews and went on lots of junkets. I can tell you, generally-speaking, most actors aren’t that interesting and aren’t that smart and will rarely tell you the truth about something, particularly what they think about another person in the industry (there are some exceptions, of course: John Sayles, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro come to mind. There are also the few stars one meets before they’re stars. I met Kate Winslet when she was 19, before the release of “Heavenly Creatures” and she told a story that I doubt she ever repeated).

A less obvious reason we started Mr. Cranky also emanates from some of these experiences. Film critics, in general (myself included), are full of themselves. They believe that their opinions actually matter. They also believe that somehow there’s a right and a wrong when it comes to film criticism. Mr. Cranky was started to thwart that notion by making fun of film critics and film criticism and pointing out that film writing could be subjective to the point of a critic who didn’t like anything. Besides, if these junkets proved one thing, it’s that most film critics could be swayed by nothing more than a plate of donuts (watching a group of largely fat film critics charge toward a free plate of food while in the midst of a junket in which they’re supposed to form unbiased opinions of the film is its own form of hell). And if the Internet has proved one salient Mr. Cranky point, it’s that anyone can be a film critic. The forums were put in place for just this reason. Mr. Cranky was the first site to invite the reader to challenge the film critic, in fact, to make that challenge a founding principle of the site.

And how could I depart without mentioning the site’s many fans – the Crankizens. There’s no doubt that the activity in the forums have powered the site over the years and become larger-than-life and something we never expected. Over the years, I’ve met a fair number of fans of the site and have been overwhelmed by it all. One of the people I met and befriended through Mr. Cranky is now a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. Early on, a fan from Perth, Australia embarked on a Mr. Cranky World Tour, visiting various places around the world populated by Mr. Cranky fans, culminating with a surprise visit by me in Los Angeles. Then there were the numerous Crankycons that spawned. I went to two: one in Toronto and one in Cedar Point in Ohio where I rode every roller coaster I was challenged to ride (keeping my cool on the world’s fastest, highest coaster, I might add). Heck, people met on Mr. Cranky and got married. I was truly humbled by the invitations and the interest in Mr. Cranky.

And we don’t want to completely close the door on this whole thing. For dedicated Crankizens, there is one sliver of hope: August 31 is our deadline to discontinue the site, but also the deadline to see if there’s any last-ditch means of selling or saving it. We’ve had ‘big plans’ for Cranky 2.0 many times over, but other priorities (not the least among them our “day jobs”) have always intervened, and at some point you’ve just gotta break that cycle and put up or shut up. Serious inquiries along those lines (i.e. those backed by serious levels of funding or remuneration) should be directed to mrcranky@mrcranky.com. Until that time, there won’t be anymore reviews, but the site and the “Goodbye Mr. Cranky” forum will be open for fans to search and recall the past.

Thanks to Randall Gaz for keeping the site going all these years. Thanks to Holley Irvine for all her design work. Thanks to Hans Bjordahl for all the hard work and 12 years of a partnership that was 99% fun with virtually no conflict whatsoever. And most of all, thanks to all the Mr. Cranky readers past and present who made writing Mr. Cranky so rewarding. It’s been a pleasure. We feel like Mr. Cranky introduced a certain style into the Internet world and we hope to hear Mr. Cranky mentioned when the history of the web is written. If not, we’ll be sure to contact whoever is doing the mentioning and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine as only Mr. Cranky can.

The site is now passworded, but thanks to the miracle of the Wayback Machine, all of Mr. Cranky’s reviews are still accessible; if it ever comes to the Zombie Apocalypse and our electronic information vanishes, 100 of his most snarky reviews were published in a dead-tree edition. The reviews are interesting to peruse, especially the one-bomb category – if Cranky “hated a movie less than most,” it was usually guaranteed to be pretty good. That said, we didn’t always agree. The most scathing review he ever wrote was of “I am Sam,” and I thought that was a pretty tender film. (Note: Don’t read it if you either like the movie or have a sensitive soul.)

Nowadays, Rotten Tomatoes gives one a pretty good idea of which way the wind is blowing. A movie can have good critic reviews but be reviled by the general public, or vice versa. But for myself, it’s rare that I’ll read a review one way or another and decide to see or not see a movie based on critics’ opinions; I’ll generally give more credence to how the movie was received by viewers.

And in the end, like Mr. Cranky said, there are few movies that I don’t like on some level or other. Only rarely do I see a film and say at the end of it, “I want those two hours of my life back.” The last one to do that to both me and my wife was “The Lobster,” despite its 87% rating at RT, but an earlier one I actually took the time to write up myself at my Livejournal was “A Sound of Thunder;” my wife agreed.

Mercifully, those are few and far between.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ My opinions about food are, in the eyes of many people, questionable. Visit my Banquet from Hell for a taste.

This movie is what 3D was made for.

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As a kid in the 60s, Dr. Strange was one of my favorite characters. And it hardly needs to be said that his Grand High Excellence Mr. Cumberbatch is perfect for this rôle.

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This was the film that absolutely begged to be done in 3D, and while many films have tried with varying degrees of success to bring a new dimension to the screen, the result here was, to be blunt, breathtaking; a good summary of why is found at CinemaBlend.

I will spoil nothing, but I was desperate to see this before the 3D version left the theatres; I missed Pacific Rim that way, and I think my experience was poorer for it. Today I got my chance, and it was worth the drive to a neighboring city.

There’s a lot to love about this film; the effects, the story, the music, and a fun little fillip of anticipation at the end (oh yes, that’s the only spoiler I’ll leave here – don’t leave before the credits have rolled.)

It may not be for everyone… Strange was truly one of the stranger Marvel characters in the canonical universe. I’m powerfully pleased by what they did with this film, and look forward to more coming down the pipeline.

I’m a huge fan of Mr. Cumberbatch – I think he’s one of the most versatile and gifted actors of the present day. This film did nothing if not raise him in my estimation even farther.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Strange, see if you can find a 3D showing near you. I think you’ll find the experience was worth it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

When I purchased the relatively recent remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it included a nice remastered copy of the 1950 original so my money wasn’t a total waste.

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If you’ve never seen it (Ai! What rock have you been living under?) it is based on the timeless story by Harry Bates, “Farewell to the Master,” which is worth a read all by itself.

Long seared having been seared into my mind since the first time I saw it as a child, I’m gratified that this film ranks 7th on Arthur C. Clarke’s top-10 science fiction film list, because even 65 years later – coincidentally my age – it’s just as relevant now as it was then. It’s a tight film, without a second wasted, and made with the intention that it would:

a) be as realistic as the technology allowed, and
b) transmit the message that mankind needs to get rid of its violent nature if it cares to survive.

Having spent a career as a linguist, I some time ago watched the film again with the intent of listening to Klaatu’s language, and transcribing what he said as accurately as possible. There is so little dialog that it can’t really be considered a conlang, but it was interesting to me nonetheless.

Klaatu barada nikto!” is one of the most famous lines ever uttered in a science-fiction film, but was not the only thing that Klaatu said. The remainder of the dialog is:

Gort! Deglet ovrosco! (Said after Klaatu is shot the first time)

Imray Klaatu naruwak.
Makro [pluvau|pluval], baratu lokdeniso impeklis.
Yavo tari [axo|axel] bugletio barengi degas.
(Klaatu’s instructions – ostensibly to his Federation – for his “demonstration of power”; this linguist’s best transcription. Two words are nearly impossible to pinpoint without a script or screenplay. You can listen to the dialog here.)

Klaatu barada nikto! (Probably something like “Klaatu needs help!”)

Gort, berengo. Probably much like “Mirab, his sails unfurled,” i.e. Gort, let’s blow this bait shack.

I never tire of watching this film – its value to the human condition, and as an early example of outstanding science fiction cinematography, will never diminish.

Here is the text of Klaatu’s speech, for your consideration:

“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more… profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Why *do* we need another Cinderella?

I mean, there are so many. The Disney animated version, “The Slipper and the Rose,” “Ever After”, “Ella Enchanted”, at last count eight other movies just called “Cinderella,” and a host of others.

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Each one of those that I mention had its strong points and approached the story from a different angle. I was particularly fond of “Ever After” for a number of reasons, not the least of which was watching the evil stepmother get what was truly coming to her. Not that I’m really into Schadenfreude, but in this life there are and must necessarily be consequences of action – it was satisfying to see a bit of karma at work there.

So why did Disney bother to do another one?

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Because it was absolutely magical, that’s why – and in the end analysis, despite the fact that I suspect Walt would not approve of many of the things his beloved company has done over the years, nobody does magic better than Disney.

The performances carried the movie along with nothing to detract from the miracle. Some of the characters were weaker than others, but Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, and Lily James were brilliant. Wonderfully brilliant. We’re now technologically to the point that the effects were seamless and delightful.

And lastly, the message of the film is one that the world desperately needs.

“Be brave, and be kind.”

How much needless suffering and judgment would be done away if we could all live in a world where those two virtues were assiduously cultivated? To break the walls of fantasy and return to the real world for a moment, that’s exactly the message that one finds in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Other human beings can take away from you everything you have – your clothes, your home, your food, your very life – but if we retain our bravery and our kindness, then no one can steal our humanity. Living in the poorest circumstances is not, in the end, an excuse for cruelty or parsimony or cowardice.

I left the theatre today with a heart full of gratitude that there are those in the world who are willing to put messages like this into the public stream of consciousness. Sure, they did it to make money, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I want desperately to live in, and work for, a world where kindness and beauty and bravery and goodness are the rule rather than the exception.

Cary Elwes was the perfect Westley, Robin Wright the perfect buttercup. The Princess Bride should never be defiled with a remake. In my book, Cinderella has reached a zenith with this production, and needs never more to be tampered with.

Overall rating – ten out of ten stars.

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Dang, those slippers, though.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Top 100 Anime Movies of All Time (with some sources)

This list was compiled originally by redditor /u/PixelPenguins, and a link to images, reasons for selection, and short synopses was provided at Imgur. /u/DisposableFox texted the list, and /u/Rydel6 went hunting  to see which ones were available at Netflix or elsewhere. Below, the list with source where available.

Naturally, this is only one person’s preferences, but the list is comprehensive and includes every Anime I have ever seen, plus many, many that I have not. I have a lot of watching to do.

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Colorful, the No. 1 anime as selected by /u/PixelPenguins.

100: The Sky Crawlers (2008) – Google Play – Rental 2.99 | Purchase 9.99
99: Nitaboh (2004) – None Listed
98: Asura (2012) – None Listed
97: Spriggan (1998) – Amazon DVD 59.89 | Blu Ray 68.91 (really?!)
96: You Are Umasou (2010) – None Listed
95: Ninja Scroll (1993) – Amazon Rental 1.99 | Purchase 9.94
94: Pyschic School Wars (2012) – None Listed
93: Gauche the Cellist (1982) – None Listed
92: Half-Broken Music Box (2010) – None Listed
91: Hal (2013) – Unclear. Ask later.
90: Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW (2010) – None Listed
89: They Were Eleven (1986) – None Listed
88: Swan Lake (1981) – None Listed
87: Wonderful Days (2003) Amazon DVD 75.95
86: Vampire Hunter D: Blustlust (2000) – None Listed
85: Escaflowne: A Girl in Geae (2000) – None Listed
84: Lupin III: Farewell to Nostradamus (1995) – None Listed
83: Redline (2009) – Unclear. Ask later.
82: Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993) – None Listed
81: Mai Mai Miracle (2009) – Amazon DVD 75.99 | Amazon Blu Ray 97.98
80: Elemi (2009) – None Listed
79: Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010) – Hulu Plus (subscription) | Vudu Rental 2.99 | Digital Purchase 9.99
78: The Perfect World of Kai (2007) – None Listed
77: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987) – None Listed
76: Japan, Our Homeland (2007) – None Listed
75: Glass Rabbit (2005) – None Listed
74: Yobi: The 5 Tailed Fox (2007) – None Listed
73: Aura: Koga Maryuin’s Last War (2013) – None Listed
72: Castle in the Sky (1986) – Amazon DVD 22.76
71: Who’s Left Behind? (1991) – None Listed
70: The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004) – None Listed
69: Origins: Spirits of the Past (2006) – None Listed
68: The Tree of Palme (2003)- None Listed
67: Nasu: Summer in Andalusia (2003) – None Listed
66: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011) – None Listed
65: Little Witch Academia (2013) – None Listed
64: Mind Game (2004)
63: Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo (1978) – Hulu (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 19.99 Blu Ray 37.39
62: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – Amazon Blu Ray 29.52
61: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998) – None Listed
60: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) – Amazon Blu Ray 39.98
59: Oseam (2003) – None Listed
58: Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica: Rebellion (2013) – None Listed
57: The Wind Rises (2013) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) Amazon DVD 18.81 Blu Ray 23.52
56: Cencoroll (2009) – None Listed
55: Chie the Brat (1981) – None Listed
54: 5cm Per Second (2007) – None Listed
53: Porco Rosso (1992)- None Listed
52: Garden of Sinners (2007 – 2009) – None Listed
51: Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Digital Rental (various) 1.99, 2.99 | Digital Purchase (various) 9.99 | Amazon DVD 7.87
50: Steamboy (2004) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Digital Rental (Various) 2.99 | Digital Purchase (Various) 9.99 | Amazon DVD 8.97 | Starz (Subscription)
49: Death Billiards (2013) – None Listed
48: Steins;Gate: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu (2013) – None Listed
47: Rainbow-Colored Fireflies: The Eternal Summer Vacation (2012) – None Listed
46: End of Evangelion (1997) – None Listed
45: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (2001) – None Listed
44: House of Small Cubes (2008) – None Listed
43: Tales from Earthsea (2006) – None Listed
42: Whisper of the Heart (1995) – Amazon DVD 20.95 Blu Ray 24.96
41: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 22.89 Blu Ray 27.19
40: Princess Arete (2001) – None Listed
39: Patema Inverted (2013) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Digital Rental 0.99 (Vudu) / 3.99 (Various) | Digital Purchase 9.99 (Various) | Amazon DVD 19.49 Blu Ray 22.99
38: The Door Into Summer (1981) – None Listed
37: Metropolis (2001) – Amazon DVD 8.69
36: Junkers Come Here (1994) – Hulu (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 4.71
35: The Dog of Flanders (1997) – Digital Rental 2.99 (Vudu) | Digital Purchase 9.99 (Vudu) | Amazon DVD 11.98
34: K-On! Movie (2011) – Unclear. Ask later.
33: Hotori: I Only Wish For Happiness (2005) – None Listed.
32: Saint☆Onii-san (2013) – None Listed.
31: The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) – Amazon DVD 22.17 Blu Ray 25.89
30: Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010) – Amazon DVD 119.99
29: My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 19.99 Blu Ray 26.14
28: Sword of the Stranger (2007) – Hulu (Subscription) | Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon 29.99 Blu ray 59.99
27: Pom Poko (1994) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 22.30 Blu Ray 24.99
26: Ponyo (2008) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 19.99 Blu Ray 25.76
25: Akira (1988) – Amazon DVD 12.49 Blu Ray 16.79
24: Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence of Utena (1999) – None Listed
23: Leafie: A Hen into the Wild (2011) – Amazon Blu Ray 53.95
22: From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) – Amazon Blu Ray 19.95
21: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 19.99 Blu Ray 24.99
20: Summer Wars (2009) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 59.99 Blu Ray 17.40
19: Tekkon Kinkreet (2006) – None Listed
18: Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light (2011) – None Listed
17: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) – Amazon DVD 5.75 Blu Ray 22.99 | Xfinity (Free)
16: Paprika (2006) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Digital Rental 2.99 (Various) | Digital Purchase 9.99 (Various) | Amazon DVD 9.72 Blu Ray 7.99
15: Millennium Actress (2001) – None Listed
14: Garden of Words (2013) – None Listed
13: Tokyo Godfathers (2003) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 34.95
12: Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – Amazon Blu Ray 17.66
11: Macross: Do You Remember Love (1984) – None Listed.
10: Barefoot Gen (1983) – None Listed.
9: Summer Days with Coo (2007) – None Listed.
8: Spirited Away (2001) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 19.96 Blu Ray 99.98
7: Princess Mononoke (1997) – Amazon Blu Ray 23.52
6: Only Yesterday (1991) – None Listed.
5: Perfect Blue (1998) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Amazon DVD 99.95
4: Wolf Children (2012) – None Listed.
3: A Letter to Momo (2011) – Netflix DVD (Subscription) | Digital Rental 3.99 (Google Play) | Digital Purchase 9.99 (Google Play / XBox Points) | Amazon Blu Ray 41.99
2: Time of Eve (2010) – None Listed
1: Colorful (2010) – Hulu Plus (Subscription) | Digital Rental 3.99 (Apple) | Digital Purchase 9.99 (Apple)

Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?

There’s no question in my mind that websites like Yahoo! Answers, FixYa and other such social answer sites are generally not worth the powder to blow them to Hell with. The blind leading the blind is what comes most frequently to mind.

But occasionally one finds an exception.

Listening today to the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof, this particular question happened to strike me, and I started wondering… Is there?

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From Rabbi Andy Vogel:

Everybody loves this scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”: The townspeople acknowledge that in Judaism, there exists a blessing for everything, and then they wonder, ‘Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?’ He thinks for a moment, then, comes up with the answer: ‘May God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us!’ The line is an oldie, but what a goodie.

But then, just a few weeks ago, I found the actual blessing for the Czar. . . .found. . .an old machzor, a High Holy Day prayer book, published in 1895 in Petrokov (today Poland, but until 1919, part of the Russian Empire). I thumbed through it, and saw that it contains the full Hebrew text of the High Holy Day prayers, and includes a Yiddish commentary and translation on every page. What a find! And then, turning to the Torah service, on page 97 of the Rosh Hashanah volume, I saw it, the prayer for the Czar, beautifully composed:

“May the One who gives power to kings, and sovereignty to princes; may the One who is the Ruler of rulers… bless and keep, guard and aid, exalt and raise the Czar Nicholas Alexanderovich, and his widowed mother, Czarina Marie Feodorovna [here, my knowledge of the Russian monarchy is a little weak], and his wife the royal Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna, and their heir, Grigory… May God save them from all harm and pain, and may all their enemies fall before them. And may the Merciful One put in the heart of the Czar compassion and good deeds for the People of Israel…” 

Mazel tov, Rabbi!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Sex Ed in 1939

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Well, not really. This showed up on my Facebook feed, but it’s really a still shot from the 1929 film “The Wild Party,” starring Clara Bow in her first “talkie.”

But it sure looks funny if you re-frame it, and imagine the picture in that context.

Ironically, the girl in the second row on the right, the one with the sweet smile that says “been there, done that, bought the Woot! shirt” looks an awful lot like my mother did as a young girl:

Margaret Ruth Draper 150

But mom was born in 1916, and would have only been 13 that year… these young ladies look a lot older and more sophisticated, but to my eyes the resemblance is striking.

The Old Wolf has spoken.