What is the Value of a Harry Potter First Edition?

alex atkins bookshelf booksChristmas came early for the owner of a pristine, rare first edition of J.K. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone who sold it at auction on December 9, 2021. The auction was conducted by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, as part of a two-day “Firsts Into Film” auctions, that is to say, first editions of famous works that were adapted for film or television. The bidding for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened at $75,000, but a fierce bidding war initiated by a gaggle of determined, competitive — and affluent — Muggles quickly drove the price past the previous record of $138,000 (set earlier this year) to reach the final astronomical sale price of $471,000 — almost half a million dollars! This is one book you will never find on the kitchen table or a nightstand; most likely it will find a new home inside a home safe or bank vault. The sale of this book breaks two world records: it is the highest price paid for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and it is the highest amount paid for a commercially published 20th-century work of fiction. Both of these records are powerful testimony for the value of printed books and the importance of book collecting in the Digital Age.

All of the books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are highly collectible, but a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, initially published in the UK in 1997, is the Holy Grail for serious book-collecting muggles (the book was retitled as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in US). As the legend goes, 12 publishing houses rejected her first manuscript. Only one publisher had the courage and foresight to publish this first-time author and her boy wizard: Bloomsbury. However, Bloomsbury initially had very low expectations for a first novel by an unknown author (the dust jacket indicates Joanne [Kathleen] Rowling as the author) so the initial run was very small: only 500 hardback copies. 300 of those were shipped to libraries where they were vandalized — I mean, processed with the conventional library ink stamps, markings, and security stickers. So those fortunate 200 individuals that purchased the first edition were rewarded with an opportunity of a lifetime: a literary pot of gold, that is if they took very good care of the book and dust jacket over the years.

This particular book, and the books from 138 other lots, were all owned by a single book collector who fell in love with specific films and then made it his or her mission to track down the first edition, in the best condition that could be found, for each of those films. Talk about a wonderful lifelong hobby with an incredible return on investment! Curious to learn what else this book collector sold that day? Here are some other prized possessions that were sold during the “Firsts Into Film” auction:

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-55): $103,125

Chronicles of Narnia set of 7 novels by C.S. Lewis (1950-56): $100,000

Pride and Prejudice in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1813): $60,000

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930): $47,500

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953): $42,500

Sense and Sensibility in 3 volumes by Jane Austen (1811): $37,500

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): $35,000

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964): $23,750

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

What Happens When We Die?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhat happens when we die? Since the dawn of civilization, this question has mystified philosophers, theologians, doctors, scientists, writers, and poets. The poet who towers among all other, William Shakespeare offered the most eloquent and thought-provoking answer in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark published in 1602. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet ponders death and whether he should take his own life in one of the greatest soliloquys in English literature:

To be, or not to be — that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep —
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Perhaps it is that pair of brilliant lines, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” that provided the inspiration for the writers of Netflix’s supernatural series, Midnight Mass, to address the age-old question of death. In a pivotal scene (Episode 4, Lamentations), Erin Greene, a teacher, asks her friend, Riley Flynn who is haunted by a death he caused while driving under the influence: “What happens when we die, Riley.” He pauses and slowly explains:

“I don’t know. And I don’t trust anyone who tells us they do; but I can speak for myself, I guess… When I die my body stops functioning. Shut down. All at once or gradually. My breathing stops, my heart stops breathing. Clinical death. And a bit later, five minutes later, my brain cells start dying. But in the meantime, in between, maybe my brain releases a flood of DMT [(N,N-Dimethyltryptamine]. It’s the psychedelic drug released when we dream — so I dream. I dream bigger than I have ever dreamed before, because it is all of it — just the last dump of DMT all at once and my neurons are firing and I’m seeing this firework display of memories and imagination and I am just… tripping. I mean, really tripping balls because my mind’s rifling through the memories. You know — long and short-term, and the dreams mix with the memories, and… it’s a curtain call. The dream to end all dreams — one last great dream as my mind empties the fuckin’ missile silos and then… I stop. My brain activity ceases and there is nothing left of me. No pain. No memory, no awareness that I ever was, no… that I ever hurt someone… that I ever killed someone. Everything is as it was before me. And the electricity disperses from my brain till it’s just dead tissue. Meat. Oblivion. And all of the other little things that make me up, they… the microbes and bacterium and the billion other little things that live on my eyelashes and in my hair and in my mouth and on my skin and in my gut and everywhere else, they just keep on living… and eating. And I’m serving a purpose: feeding life. And I’m broken apart and all the littlest pieces of me are just recycled, and I’m [in] billions of other places and my atoms are in plants and bugs and animals, and I am like the stars that are in the sky, there one moment and then just scattered across the goddamn cosmos.”

One can imagine the ghost of Hamlet, just off screen, smiling and nodding in agreement.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


The Most Annoying Bookstore Customer in the World

alex atkins bookshelf booksBefore there was SNL, and even before there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was a brilliant comedy sketch show titled “At Last the 1948 Show.” One of the funniest skits takes place in a bookstore that is appropriately titled “The Bookshop,” which was first broadcast on March 1, 1967 on ITV in the UK. The bookseller (played by John Cleese) encounters an annoying customer (played by Marty Feldman) who keeps on asking for extremely rare, rather peculiar titles that are next to impossible to find — gradually wearing out the bookseller’s patience to great comedic effect. Surely this is the type of customer that every bookstore owner dreads. Without further ado, let’s meet the most annoying bookstore customer in the world…

[Bookseller]: Good morning, sir.

[Customer]: Good morning, can you help me? Do you have a copy of “Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with a Spoon” by A. J. Elliot?

B: No, we haven’t got it in stock, sir.

C: How about “A Hundred-and-One Ways to Start a Monsoon”?

B: By…?

C: An Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment.

B: Well, I don’t know the book, sir.

C: Not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with “David Copperfield”?

B: Ah, yes, Dickens.

C: No.

B: I beg your pardon?

C: No, Edmund Wells..

B: I think you’ll find Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield.”

C: No, Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield” with two p’s — this is “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells.

B: Well in that case we don’t have it.

C: Um – funny, you’ve got a lot of books here.

B: Yes, we do have quite a lot of books here, but we don’t have “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells. We only have “David Copperfield” with two p’s by Charles Dickens.

C: Pity – it’s more thorough than Dickens.

B: More “thorough”?

C: Yes – I wonder if it’s worth having a look at all the “David Copperfields.”

B: No, no, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” have two p’s.

C: Probably, but the original by Edmund Wells also had two p’s — it was after that that they ran into copyright difficulties.

B: No, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” with two p’s are by Charles Dickens.

C: How about “Great Expectations”?

B: Ah yes, we have that.

C: That’s “G-r-a-t-e Expectations,” also by Edmund Wells.

B: “G-R-A-T-E” Well, in that case we don’t have it. We don’t have anything by Edmund Wells. Actually, he’s not very popular.

C: Not “Nicholas Nickleby? That’s K-n-i-c-k-e-r-b-y… Knickerless?

B: No.

C: Or “A Qristmas Qarol” with a q?

B: No, definitely not.

C: Sorry to trouble you. [Heading out the door.]

B: Not at all.

C: I wonder if you have “Rarnaby Budge”?

B: No, as I say, we’re right out of Edmund Wells.

C: No, not Edmund Wells — Charles Dickens.

B: Charles Dickens?

C: Yes.

B: You mean “Barnaby Rudge.”

C: No, “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens. That’s Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author.

B: No, no… we don’t have “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author, and perhaps to save time I should add right away that we don’t have “Carnaby Fudge” by Darles Tikkens, nor “Stickwick Stapers” by Miles Pikkens with four m’s and a silent q. Why don’t you try the chemist?

C: I have – they sent me here.

B: Did they?

C: I wonder if you have “The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoat-Pamphlet and Her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Among the Giant Pygmies of Corsica, Volume Two”?

B: No, no, we don’t have that one. Funny, we’ve got quite a lot of books here.

C: Yes, haven’t you.

B: Well, I mustn’t keep you standing around all day…

C: I wonder…

B: No, no, we haven’t. I’m closing for lunch now…

C: But I thought I saw it over “there.”

B: Where?

C: Over there…

B: What?

C: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds.”

B: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes.

B: “O-l-s-e-n?”

C: Yes.

B: “B-i-r-d-s”?

C: Yes.

B: Yes, well we do have that one.

C: The expurgated version, of course.

B: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.

C: The expurgated version.

B: The expurgated version of Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes. It’s the one without the gannet.

B: The one without the gannet? They’ve all got the gannet. It’s a standard bird, the gannet — it’s in all the books.

C: Well I don’t like them, long nasty beaks they’ve got.

B: Well you can’t expect them to produce a special edition for gannet-haters!

C: Well, I’m sorry, I specially want the one without the gannet.

B: All right! [tears out the page with the gannet] Anything else?

C: Well, I’m not too keen on robins.

B: Right! Robins – robins… [tears out pages with robins] No gannets, no robins – there’s your book!

C: I can’t buy that – it’s torn!

B: It’s torn! So it is! [throws the book away]

C: I wonder if you’ve got…

B: Go on, ask me another. We’ve got lots of books here. This is a bookshop you know!

C: How about “Biggles Combs His Hair”?

B: No, no, no, we don’t have that one, no, no… funny. Try me again.

C: Have you got “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?

B: No, no, we haven’t got… which one?

C: “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”

B: “Ethel The Aardvark?” I’ve seen it! We’ve got it! Here! Here! Here! “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.” There! Now buy it!

C: I haven’t got enough money on me.

B: I’ll take a deposit!

C: I haven’t got any money on me.

B: I’ll take a cheque!

C: I haven’t got a cheque-book.

B: It’s all right, I’ve got a blank one!

C: I don’t have a bank account.

B: Right! I’ll buy it for you! [he rings up the book] There we are. There’s your change. That’s for the taxi on the way home.

C: Wait, wait, wait…


C: I can’t read!

B: Right. SIT! [customer plops down on the bookseller’s lap and the bookseller begins to read]: “Ethel the Aardvark was trotting down the lane one lively Summer day, trottety-trottety-trot, when she saw a Quantity Surveyor…”

You can watch the video on Youtube. Search for “John Cleese’s Favourite Sketch: The Bookshop.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

What Will Be Your Last Words Before the Final Curtain Falls?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhy are we so fascinated by a person’s last words? Perhaps we believe that these final words somehow recount in just a few words the meaning of his or her entire life. Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, from Richard II, observes that these few final words are profoundly meaningful: “O! but they say the tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony: / When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain, / For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” Yet another reason is that a person’s last words reveal something about his or her character, particularly in the shadow of death. And finally, last words can sometimes provide some insight of what it is like to die.

There is this wonderfully poignant and thought-provoking scene in The Kominsky Method in season five, episode three, titled “Near, far, wherever you are.” Having just lost his closest friend and agent of many years, and now losing his ex-wife to leukemia, the protagonist, Sandy Kominsky, a famous acting coach in Hollywood in his twilight years, addresses his students about playing death scenes. With a mixture of deep sorrow and compassion, Kominsky reflects on those precious, fleeting moments, focusing on a person’s last thoughts and words before the final curtain falls:

“Let’s talk about the subject matter of the scene — dying, on camera or on stage, to play a heartbreaking and hopefully slow death, is the dream of every actor. I would wage there’s not an actor or actress who hasn’t fantasized about how they would play those final moments… as the life force slowly slips away and as we teeter on the edge of nonexistence — how would we gasp out those last words of wit and wisdom? But is that what happens as death draws close? Do the dying exact promises from those they leave behind? Do they confess their sins? Do they make a joke?… What I’m asking you to think about is what actually happens in those final moments. I’m not talking about a shocking, violent death. I’m talking about… when you know it’s coming. When you’ve fully surrendered to the ultimate magic trick — when we really and truly disappear. I’ve sat at the bedside and I’ve held the hands of friends and loved ones as they breathed their last breath… and I can tell you this: the dramatic soliloquy at the end of life is pure and utter nonsense. If anything is being said, it’s internal. You can almost hear it. They’re having an internal conversation filled with disbelief and wonder that their life has come to an end. They hardly notice you sitting there at all. For the dying, the living are irrelevant. So, if you should ever have the opportunity to play such a scene — approach it with reverence. Consider it holy. Make sure it receives your utmost care and respect.”

When circumstances permit and that final curtain begins to fall, what will you be thinking about? Who do you want to be near you? What will be your final words? What dreams may come in that sleep of death? (Recall those memorable lines from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “To die, to sleep — / To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

The Best Heist Movies: 2021

atkins-bookshelf-moviesOne of the staples of Hollywood is the heist film, a subgenre of the larger crime movie genre, filled with colorful, tough-as-nails characters; thrilling, fast-paced, white-knuckle action sequences, and of course — the amazingly clever plans to pull off the seemingly impossible heists  (generally the theft of money, rare paintings, diamonds, gold, or valuable drug caches). A review of several list from respected film websites that list the “Top Ten Heist Movies” or “The Best Heist Movies of All Time” finds little consensus due the variety of movies that exists in this subgenre. The inclusion of movies in any particular list revolve around several key issues: 1. Does the film mainly focus on a challenging heist or burglary? 2. Does the actual theft take place within the film? 3. Does the heist involve money (or something very valuable, like gold or jewelry) from a bank, treasury, or drug/crime lord? 4. Does the film take place in the real world (as opposed to an alternate reality or in someone’s mind)? 5. Is the film serious (as opposed to silly, as in a comedy with far-fetched comical characters and situations)? Needless to say, every list, no matter how authoritative the source, has inspired spirited debate by film aficionados — their criticisms invariably begin with the phrase “How could a list of best heist films exclude…” In short, no list of movies is perfect; at best, it is a starting point to explore any particular genre or subgenre. One thing that all film lovers will agree on — all of these movies will have you cheering for the bad guys and taking you along for an exhilarating ride. Here is a list of some of the best heist movies, listed chronologically:

Kaleidoscope (2023)
Ambulance (2022)
Bandit (2022)
Army of Thieves (2021)
The Vault (Also titled Way Down in Europe and Asia) (2021)
Lupin (2021)
Force of Nature (2020)
The Great Heist (El Robo del Siglo) (2020)
Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) (2017-2019)
King of Thieves (2018)
American Animals (2018)
Marauders (2016)
Widows (2018)
Den of Thieves (2018)
Ocean’s Eight (2018)
Logan Lucky (2017)
To Steal From a Thief (Cien años de perdón) (2016)
Hell or High Water (2016)
Heist (2015)
American Heist (2015)
Plastic (2014)
Empire State (2013)
Parker (2013)
The Great Train Robbery (2013)
Now You See Me (2013)

Man on a Ledge (2012)
The Thieves (2012)
Tower Heist (2011)
Takers (2011)
Fast Five (2011)

Inception (2010)
The Town (2010)
Armored (2009)
Ultimate Heist (2009)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The Bank Job (2008)
Mad Money (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Lookout (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Firewall (2006)
Inside Man (2006)
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
The Italian Job (2003)
Stander (2003)

Heist (2002)
Riders (aka Steal) (2002)

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
The Score (2001)
Swordfish (2001)
Sexy Beast (2000)
Snatch (2000)
Entrapment (1999)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Three Kings (1999)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Out of Sight (1998)
Ronin (1998)
Set It Off (1996)
Heat (1995)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Dead Presidents (1995)
Killing Zoe (1993)
Sneakers (1992)
Trespass (1992)
Point Break (1991)
Hold-Up (1985)
The Silent Partner (1978)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
The Trainrobbers (1973)
The Getaway (1972)
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967)
The Killing (1956)
Rififi (1955)

For an exhaustive list of heist movies, turn to the beloved VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever. The 2020 edition lists 620 heist movies broken down into the following heist subcategories: general, armored car, art, cars/trucks, casinos, gold/precious metals, jewels, stagecoach, and trains. The only subcategory missing is rare books.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Most Expensive Movies
Best Movies for Dog Lovers

For further reading: entertainment.time.com/2013/02/27/the-art-of-the-steal-10-great-heist-films/
VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2020

The Dirty Little Secrets Colleges Do Not Want You to Know

alex atkins bookshelf educationThere is a lot to unpack in Netflix’s fascinating documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, directed by Chris Smith. After you watch you will feel shocked, infuriated, or demoralized — or perhaps all three. The documentary focuses on William “Rick” Singer, the founder of The Key, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business, and its related charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, used to funnel “donations” that were actually bribes. Between 2011 and 2018, extremely wealthy parents paid Signer approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators at some of the most highly-ranked colleges in America to get over 700 students into their first-choice college. After the FBI’s investigation, 50 people were indicted for crimes related to Singer’s elaborate bribery scam. Only one, was pardoned by former President Trump.

Early in the film, we learn that there are three way to get in the college: the front door, the back door, and the little-known side door. The existence of this side door is one of American colleges’ dirty little secrets. Based on wire-taps, we listen in as Singer makes his pitch, elaborating on the three door system: “We help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school… Now these families, they want guarantees. They don’t want to be messing around. They want this thing done. So they want in at certain schools. So I’ve done 761 — what I would call, ‘side doors.’  The ‘front door’ means getting in on your own. The ‘back door’ is making a donation, which is ten times as much money. I’ve created this kind of ‘side door’ in because with the back door, there’s no guarantee. They’re just gonna give you a second look. My families want a guarantee.” Some very wealthy individuals, believing that rules and morality do not apply to them and their children, were eager to avail themselves to this side door. Akil Bello questions mirrors what most people thought when they learned of the scandal: “Why did these [rich] parents choose to cheat this when their children had so much already? Part of it seems to be when you reach a certain level of wealth, there’s a relentless pursuit of the trappings of power. You want to have the fancy car, the fancy house, whether you need it or not, and it seems to me that the atmosphere created in high-wealth societies is part of the problem.” So you see, the rich are really different than the middle  and lower class [picture the eyeroll emoji here].

The documentary shifts its focus from the bribery scheme to the broken hyped-up system that allowed this corruption to take root in the first place. The documentary introduces a variety of experts that shed light on some other dirty secrets that colleges don’t want you to know. Some of these issues are not new, of course, since several books published over the last decade have exposed them; however, the documentary’s value is that it places them back center stage, for another generation to witness. Specifically, we learn how universities develop their brands, game the rankings, and perpetuate the illusion of prestige and the myth that only an exorbitantly expensive college can deliver a great education. Consider the cost of that education: according to the College Board, the average cost for an undergraduate private or public education has more than doubled in the last three decades. As of 2019, college graduates are crippled by more than $1.7 trillion in student loans — an increase of 100% over the last decade. Let’s listen in on the discussion:

John Reider, former Stanford University admissions officer: “Over the last three or four decades, higher education has become increasingly a commodity. Something that you purchase — a product. It’s a goal in and of itself, rather than the goal being to get an education. [This is a wonderful insight through the lens of etymology As Reider states, prestige translated from the French means “illusion” or “glamour.” The French word is, in turn, derived from the Latin word praestigium meaning “illusion” and the Latin word  praestigiae meaning “conjuring tricks.” So the next time you hear a tiger parent going on and on about how important it is for their children to attend a “prestigious” college, feel free to school them on the etymology of the word and the myth they bought into.] 

Akil Bello, test prep expert: It’s typically accepted that Ivy League institutions are the quote unquote ‘best’ in the country. But all of those differences have almost nothing to do with the academics of the institution. U.S. News [& World Report] started ranking colleges in the 80s, based on one criteria: prestige. That’s it. 

John Reider: “Prestige is actually a French word. In the original French, it means something people don’t realize — it means ‘deceit.’ That’s what prestige is in the college. It’s imaginery. It’s an illusion. Yet people believe in it. 

Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission. “It’s not just population growth that makes it harder to get into college today. The colleges themselves have brought it about. Because the more selective they look on paper, the higher ranked they are going to be.”

Perry Kalmus, independent education consultant: “Everything these schools are doing is massaging to try and up the rankings and it’s a really dangerous game.”

Daniel Golden: “Most people see college admissions [and say] ‘oh it’s based on merit except for affirmative action for minorities.’ My view of the admissions process is all sorts of different preferences, with — yes — some student getting in on pure merit, but many others getting in due to preferences that skew rich and white. One is by preferences for students who play niche sports, like sailing, or fencing, or horseback riding, which most kids never get a chance to try. Then there’s making a huge donation to a university that gets them noticed by the fundraising office, which will recommend the candidate to admissions.”

Barbara Kalmus, independent education consultant: “No good will have come out of these sentences or out of this scandal. The fines they’ve been given — meaningless. In terms of hitting them in their pocketbook — what a difference it could have been made if we hit them hard and put that money to work for underprivileged kids. That would have been amazing. Then you can say at least some good came out of it.”

Daniel Golden: “I try not to blame the families or parents. I tend to focus the criticism on the colleges and universities that created this system. If they didn’t have these loopholes and these preferences for families of privilege, then I don’t think there would be these kinds of temptations. This scandal is not necessarily a reason for colleges to change their ways. Because it makes the colleges seem more exclusive and desirable than ever. If all these rich people are willing to go to these incredible lengths and risk jail time just to get their kids into these colleges, then they must be incredibly valuable.”

Barbara Kalmus: “What we are doing to these kids by pounding them into the ground with Top 25, Top 10, Top 5 [Schools]? Because ultimately, where you do go to school has little or no effect on what will happen to you in the future.”

Akil Bello: “The United States has over 3,000 colleges. You have infinite choices.”

John Reider: “Forget about USC. Go someplace else. You can get a great education almost any place if you want it. The parents in this case didn’t believe that. Because the bigger school had the prestige, had the glitter, had the glamour, had the bragging rights.”

In the end, Singer’s house of cards — held up so long by an extensive web of secrecy among college officials, coaches, exam proctors, parents, and students (see, the rich can be very tight-lipped! membership has its privileges) — came tumbling down due to a completely unrelated case: the FBI was investigating a financial executive who, in order to obtain leniency, ratted out a Yale coach that was accepting bribes for admitting students. Busted! Of course, after he was caught, Singer was very eager to rat out all his co-conspirators and clients in order to reduce his sentence. For pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and obstruction of justice, Singer faces the maximum sentence of 65 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

The documentary concludes with an observation by Naomi Fry, a staff writer for The New Yorker who recognizes Americans’ ambivalence toward the wealthy, combined with sense of satisfaction of justice being served, with a hint of schadenfreude, as the penalties and sentences of the guilty are displayed on the screen: “In America, we love the wealthy and we hate the wealthy. They disgust us and they fascinate us. This story was a perfect opportunity to see how rich people live and the realities of the system being exposed. And so there’s something incredibly refreshing to have just a little bit of justice being served in a sea of injustice.”

 So how did this documentary make you feel? What are your thoughts on the scandal and the families that were indicted?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Movies About Famous Writers

atkins-bookshelf-moviesFrom time to time, Hollywood gets either bored or tired of producing movies of comic book heroes. So why not movies about the fascinating lives of writers, whose colorful lives can sometimes be stranger than fiction? Although most of these films were not blockbusters, they did attract a rather loyal and well-read audience. Below are films about famous writers (writer, name of film, year of release):

Jane Austen: Becoming Jane (2007)

Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte: To Walk Invisible (2016)

Truman Capote: Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006)

Charles Dickens: The Invisible Woman (2013); The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Emily Dickenson: A Quiet Passion (2016)

T. S. Eliot: Tom and Viv (1994)

John Keats: Bright Star (2009)

C. S. Lewis: Shadowlands (1993)

Henry Miller: Henry & June (1990)

Lost Generation (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein): Midnight in Paris (2011)

Iris Murdoch: Iris (2001)

Maxwell Perkins: Genius (2015)

Sylvia Plath: Sylvia (2003)

Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven (2012)

William Shakespeare: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

J. R. R. Tolkien: Tolkien (2019)

Leo Tolstoy: The Last Station (2009)

Oscar Wilde: Wilde (1998)

David Foster Wallace: The End of the Tour (2015)

Thomas Wolfe and Max Perkins: Genius (2016)

Virginia Woolf: The Hours (2002)

Are there any other films that can be added?

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Best Thanksgiving Movies 2

alex atkins bookshelf moviesIn the world of cinema, Thanksgiving is the stepchild to Christmas. According the faithful VideoHound Golden Movie Retriever, there are more than 250 movies about Christmas, while there is only 20 about Thanksgiving. Ask anyone to name some Christmas classics and you will hear films like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Carol, to name just a few. Certainly, Thanksgiving deserves its own classics  — films that families can enjoy each year after they have stuffed themselves with turkey and pumpkin pie:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Prolific director and writer John Hughes gave Christmas the Home Alone films, but he didn’t forget Thanksgiving. This film, starring John Candy and Steve Martin, is very similar to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — it is very funny (plenty of slapstick, silly humor) with an underlying sweetness and sentimentality. And just like many of the favorite Christmas movies, it seems to get better with age. Sadly, John Candy passed away seven years after making this film, but he left us with a cherished, truly lovable character, Del Griffith, that had a lot of heart.

Home for the Holidays (1995)
While Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is aimed at a younger audience, this is a smart, witty, yet sensitive and serious, dramedy for adults. Directed by Jodie Foster, the film stars Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr. Charles Durning, Anne Bancroft, and Charles Durning. This movie is relatable on many levels — focusing on the parent-children relationships, the sibling rivalry, the memorable Thanksgiving dinner, and so forth. Charles Durning and Robert Downey have terrific fun with their roles.

Recent Movies:
Friendsgiving (2020)
The Oath (2018)
Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade (2012)
A Family Thanksgiving (2010)
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008)
Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower (2006)
What’s Cooking (2000)
The House of Yes (1997)

Who Are the Greatest Masked Villains in Cinema?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThe new normal means going out and encountering masked individuals wherever you go. On a typical outing one will encounter the standard light blue disposable mask (commonly worn by medical personnel), cloth make with various patterns and themes: polka dot, leopard skin, camouflage, solid black, cartoon faces, animal faces, skull, pirates, dinosaurs, American flag, and, of course, solid colors. Who knew that medical masks could be such a fashion statement? But let’s face it (pun intended), some face masks look a little creepy — like the skull mask or the solid black mask with the round filter and wide head straps that makes the person look like Bane from the Dark Knight movie. As you stand there, surrounded by this sea of face masks, it makes you wonder: who are the greatest masked villains in cinema? According to the members of the Ranker community, here are the greatest masked villains — and if you see them, make sure to implement social distancing protocols and stand at least six feet away!

Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
Jason Vorhees (Friday the 13th)
Predator (Predator)
Boba Fett (Star Wars)
Sauron (Lord of the Rings)
Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Scarecrow (The Dark Knight)
The Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Ghost face (Scream)
Leather face (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Phantasm (Batman: Mask of Phantasm)
Death Eaters (Harry Potter)
Lord Humungus (Mad Max 2)
Dorian (The Mask)

What other masked villains can be added to this list?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://www.ranker.com/list/greatest-masked-villains/ranker-film

There Should Be a Word for That: Bingegrief

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou know the feeling well. You find a fascinating series and you binge-watch it through however many seasons exist (six to eight if you’re lucky) on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Once you’re deep in the narrative you feel emotionally connected with the characters, and you are transported to another world, cherishing every moment, and anticipating every new episode to see where the story will take your cherished characters. You can’t wait to finish each season — but a funny thing happens as you reach that last season. You slow down, and want to cherish each episode, knowing full well that the show will come to its inevitable conclusion. After the show’s finale plays, and the credits begin to scroll, you feel the bliss draining from your body, replaced by a profound sadness. You can’t believe that the show is over and you have to say to those wonderful characters.

Interestingly, there is no word for this; however, clearly, there should be! Atkins Bookshelf offers a word for modern times: bingegrief. Bingegrief is defined as the sadness that you experience after binge-watching a show that you thoroughly enjoyed. The word, pronounced “binj GREEF,” is a compound word (combining the words “binge” and “grief”). The common evolution of compound words in the English language is that they begin hyphenated and then over time, the hyphen is dropped (do you remember “pigeon-hole”, “e-mail” and “chat-room”?). Consider that back in 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary dropped the hyphen from about 16,000 compound words for their two-volume print edition. So mate, let’s just dispense with the lexicological courtship and get right to the marriage of two words. And now, let’s use this new word in a sentence: “I was overwhelmed by bingegrief on Monday morning after binge-watching Money Heist over the weekend.” O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Depending on the quality and length of a series, bingegrief can be very pronounced — like losing a friend or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. And just like real grief, bingegrief can paralyze you with sadness and ennui for days. If you are a fan of Netflix or Amazon Prime, especially during the extended quarantine imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, you know that bingegrief is a “thing;” but for the skeptics out there — there is actually science that explains this common feeling.

In an interview with NBC News, clinical psychologist Renee Carr explains, “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine. This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When bing-watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine. The neural pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as the addiction to binge-watching. Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.” This intense addiction to dopamine explains why 61% of viewers regularly watch between two to six episodes of a show in one sitting, according to a survey conducted by Netflix. People are sitting on the couch and shooting up with six hours of compelling series, like Money Heist. That same survey indicated that 73% of viewers reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. So you can imagine what happens in the brain when the delivery of dopamine comes to a screeching stop: sadness, ennui, resulting in a mad scramble to go online and seek out the next series to binge — typing “Shows to watch like Money Heist…” into Google, like a junkie, trembling with withdrawals, waiting for the next hit. I can hear that haunting melody…. O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Since humans are such social creatures, we also tend to bond with characters that we like or that we identify with; psychologists call this “identification” or “parasocial interaction.” This identification is stronger when both the character and their particular situation is similar to our own. In “wishful identification” the viewer is able to imagine being in the situation of the character and identifying with the protagonist’s success or power, and caring about what happens to the character. Thus, watching a show is both pleasurable and affirming, increasing the viewer’s self-esteem. Psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva explains that all of this experience becomes part of our life experience: “Our brains code all experiences, be it watched on TV, experienced live, read in a book or imagined, as ‘real’ memories. So when watching a TV program, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as when experiencing a live event. We get drawn into story lines, become attached to characters and truly care about outcomes of conflicts.”

Naturally, after binging a show, viewers have to say goodbye to these characters, and that is when they begin feeling sad. Clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer explains the science behind bingegrief, which is an example of situational depression — similar to the mourning we experience when we lose someone close to us: “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing. We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.” Interestingly, a study conducted by the University of Toledo found that binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. Part of the reason is that viewers are substituting virtual relationships for real human relationships as well as the isolation that comes from binge-watching alone.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-happens-your-brain-when-you-binge-watch-tv-series-ncna816991

What is the World’s Dirty Secret?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere is a point, months or years after graduation, that one longs to return to college. Nostalgia grabs you by the lapels and cries out: “remember the great camaraderie; the epic parties; the memorable meals; the thought-provoking, passionate discussions, young love, and the idle time for contemplation or getting lost in the world of ideas? Remember all that?” Of course, those years slip by so quickly, like sand through your fingers. And now, stuck in the routine of a boring, soul-crushing 9-to-5 job, you really begin to miss those years and those amazingly transformative experiences. But, year by year those memories recede before us and you stretch your arms farther, like Gatsby reaching out to recapture his past, and a younger version of his beloved Daisy.

It is exactly that paralyzing ennui that motivates Jesse Fisher to return to college and visit with his favorite college English professor, Peter Hoberg, in the 2012 enchanting film, Liberal Arts (written and directed by Josh Radnor). By visiting college and his favorite teachers, Fisher hopes to recapture his passion, his purpose in life. Hoberg dispenses a lot of wisdom, including this gem: “Any place you don’t leave is a prison.” However, during one memorable scene, while discussing aging, Professor Hoberg shares the world’s dirty secret with his former student:

Professor Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Fisher: [Shrugs]

Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face and I look in the mirror and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” [Sighs] Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Fisher: Yeah.

Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

So if you are a young adult, now you know what most middle-aged adults know. But please be discreet, don’t tell anyone… remember it’s our little secret.

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The Most Moving Death Monologue in Cinematic History

alex atkins bookshelf moviesEach year, moviegoers see hundreds of death scenes and corresponding death speeches in movies, but this particular short speech (only 50 seconds) is one of the most poetic and memorable in the history of cinema. In fact, philosopher and author Mark Rowlands wrote, “[the speech is] perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history.” So what exactly is he raving about?

For the answer, let’s step into a time machine and travel back to 1982 — the year that neo-noir science fiction film Blade Runner premiered. The film, directed by Ridley Scott (with a majestic and haunting score by Vangelis), was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? published in 1968. The film takes place in a dystopian metropolis (specifically Los Angeles in 2019, which is, um, now… scary) when a group of replicants (bioengineered androids manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation) return to earth after escaping from a work colony out in space. The leader of the gang of replicants is Roy Batty (played by Dutch actor Ruger Hauer). We then meet Rick Deckard (played by a youthful Harrison Ford), a burnt-out blade runner (a cop who hunts down replicants) comes out of retirement to hunt down Batty and his crew. Near the end of the film, Deckard and Batty are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase sequence though abandoned buildings in the evening — and in the pouring rain. There is a point when Deckard slips and falls, but Batty reaches down to save Deckard, knowing that Deckard is determined to kill him. As the rain pours down on Batty, and his life is slipping away, Batty looks at Deckard and reflects on his life, while a poignant Vangelis melody plays in the background:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

The speech is so famous, so frequently quoted, that it is referred to as the “tears in the rain” monologue. In an interview with British magazine Radio Times, Hauer explained how he changed the original script, written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher, the night before the shooting of that scene. Hauer elaborates, “The irony is that all I did in Blade Runner was… and I’m not saying it’s nothing, but it’s so little. I kept two lines, because I thought they were poetic. I thought they belonged to this character, because somewhere in his digital head he has poetry, and knows what it is. He feels it! And while his batteries are going, he comes up with the two lines… You know, I think a lot of scripts are overwritten. The overwritten stuff comes from the writer and all the executives, but the audience can feel it, and even the best actor cannot sell me with language that is overwritten… So, I look at the script, and I look at my part, because I don’t want to touch anybody [else’s] parts. I shave everything that I feel you don’t need. [In Blade Runner] Ridley gave me all the freedom, because he wanted it to be a character-driven story. He’d never done a film character-driven. He said, ‘This is what I want to do – bring me anything you can come up with, and I’ll take it on if I like it.’”

So Hauer reviewed the script which read: “I’ve seen things… seen things you little people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion bright as magnesium… I rode on the back decks of a blinker and watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments… they’ll be gone,” and revised the last line: “All those moment will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” Hauer adds: “For the end line I was hoping to come up with one line where Roy, because he understands he has very little time, expresses one bit of the DNA of life that he’s felt. How much he liked it. Only one life.” In another interview, Hauer explains the death soliloquy this way: “[Roy wanted to] make his mark on existence… the replicant in the final scene, by dying, shows Deckard what a real man is made of.”

35 years after his work on Blade Runner, Hauer is still amazed by how people remember that scene and that death monologue; Hauer said, “All I did was write one line – I edited, and I came up with one line. That’s the poet in me – that’s my poet, I own him. Great! And then for that line to have such fucking wings – can you imagine what that feels like?”

Sadly, Hauer’s passed away on July 19, 2019, at the age of 75, of an unspecified illness at his home in Beetsterzwaag, Netherlands. It is not known what his final words were, but perhaps he found some comfort knowing that his work — and timeless words — will not be lost in time, like tears in the rain.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://www.radiotimes.com/news/film/2019-07-25/blade-runner-tears-in-rain-speech/
Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul Sammon
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I’ve Gone to the End of the World on the Wings of Words

alex atkins bookshelf quotations[Mrs. Merrett gives a book to American Dr. William Chester Minor, a patient at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum] Dr. Minor (the madman) responds: “You read? I will guess which one it is [if you provide me with] a paragraph, a sentence. [She turns and walks away, looking downward, ashamed]. Mrs. Merrett… What did I do? You cannot read. Forgive me, I should not have presumed. I do not need you to bring books Mrs. Merrett. It is your visits… I can teach you [to read]. Oh please, let me teach you. You can teach your children. It’s freedom, Mrs. Merrett. I can fly out of this place on the backs of books. I’ve gone to the end of the world on the wings of words. When I read, no one is after me. When I read, I am the one who is chasing, chasing after God. Please I beg you… join the chase.”

From the film, The Professor and the Madman (2019), by John Boorman and Todd Komarnicki based on the book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. To set up the historical context, at the time that Shakespeare was writing his plays and sonnets, there were no English dictionaries. The first English dictionaries only began being published around the time of Shakespeare’s death (1616). Winchester writes: “The English language was spoken and written — but at the time of Shakespeare it was not defined, not fixed. It was like the air — it was taken for granted, the medium that enveloped and defined all Britons. But as to exactly what it was, what its components were — who knew?” Thus, it was very important to academics to develop the first, definitive English dictionary. When James Murray, a Scottish philologist and lexicographer (by trade, a former schoolmaster and bank clerk) began compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1879 (although work had begun as early as 1857 but stalled), he sought the public’s assistance in providing entries (word with quotations from notable sources) for the dictionary. Dr. Minor contributed more than 10,000 entries in a period of 20 years. Throughout that period, Murray, grateful for Minor’s enormous contribution, invited him to Oxford so that he could visit the Scriptorium and meet the team. Finally, Murray travels to Crowthorne to visit Minor only to discover that he was incarcerated for life at a criminal lunatic asylum. After serving in the American Civil War, Minor suffered delusions that militant Irishmen were coming to kill him; one night, he ran out pursuing one of his imagined assassins, George Merrett, a brewery worker on his way to work (sadly, at the wrong place at the wrong time), and shot him several times. Minor’s army pension allowed him to live in Broadmoor and maintain a vast personal library of classic works; Minor also directed a portion of his resources to support the Merrett’s widow. Writing those dictionary entry slips, was perhaps, the madman’s therapy as well as his attempt at redemption. That activity also formed the foundation for a very profound, respectful friendship with a fellow word lover. When Murray first began work on the OED he told the delegates of the Oxford University Press that it would take seven to ten years. He was wildly optimistic. The first edition was completed, 13 years after he died. The first edition was published in 1928 — 50 years after Murray had begun; the dictionary, published in ten volumes, contained 414,825 words and 1.8 million citations to illustrate the keywords.

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What is the Reid Technique?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you watched Netflix’s gripping true-crime series When They See Us (2019), you have seen the Reid Technique in action — and to borrow a line from Holden Caulfied, it makes you want to puke. In the film, we witness detectives, who are feeling pressure from the public to find the rapist(s) of the Central Park jogger as well as pressure from an overzealous prosecutor, implement the Reid technique of interrogation to coerce false confessions from five very scared and innocent teenagers. Recall, that during our school-age years, we learned about Blackstone’s ratio, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” that first appeared in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1760) written by the brilliant British jurist William Blackstone. Almost a century later, that idea was echoed by Benjamin Franklin who expressed it more dramatically: “It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.” And as young students we were naive enough to believe that this fundamental belief in criminal law was sacrosanct. Sadly — it is not; for justice in the hands of imperfect human beings is just that — imperfect. In the case of the Central Park Five, the prosecutor and the detectives wiped their derrières with the Miranda Rights and Blackstone’s ratio and flushed it down the toilet, and then washed their hands of the whole stinking mess. 

“So what exactly is the Reid Technique?” you ask. The Reid Technique was developed by consultant and polygraph expert John E. Reid and is used by many law-enforcement agencies in the United States. According to their website “The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation,® [is] widely recognized as the most effective means available to exonerate the innocent and identify the guilty. Our specialized interrogation training seminars are designed for law enforcement and government investigators, corporate security and loss prevention professionals.” Journalist Douglass Starr, in an article about the Reid technique for The New Yorker described its ubiquity and tremendous impact on law enforcement: “Today, John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., trains more interrogators than any other company in the world. Reid’s clients include police forces, private security companies, the military, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Secret Service—almost anyone whose job involves extracting the truth from those who are often unwilling to provide it. The company’s interview method, called the Reid Technique, has influenced nearly every aspect of modern police interrogations, from the setup of the interview room to the behavior of detectives. The company says that the people it trains get suspects to confess eighty per cent of the time.”

Specifically, the Reid Technique consists of a three phases: (1) Fact analysis (learning the facts of the case), (2) Behavior analysis interview (determining if the suspect is lying), and (3) the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation (the specific steps are delineated here.) Frequently interrogators begin by isolating the subject (eg, placing him or her in a small, windowless room) and immediately coercing the subject to waive his or her Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney) through false promises, lies, or threats. The interrogator begins with the presumption of guilt (stating that the subject committed the crime) and proceeds with an interrogation, which is more of an accusatory process than a Q&A, and adopting the familiar personas of the “good cop/bad cop routine”, designed to elicit a confession. The interrogator presents various narratives (whether true or not) about means, motive, and opportunity. Depending on how the subject responds, the narratives are altered to drill down on the relevant facts of the crime. Over many hours or days, the interrogator eventually wears down the isolated subject who will ultimately fabricate a story to appease his relentless interrogators; in short, the subject confesses to the crime. Game over.

Although the Reid Technique is a valuable tool for law enforcement that leads to many justifiable confessions and convictions, it is not without controversy. The blatant false confessions of the Central Park Five is an obvious case in point. In several criminology publications, critics point out that the Reid technique can result in false confessions, especially when used with children, non-native individuals who speak English as a second-language, and individuals with mental disabilities. In fact, several European countries prohibit lying to suspects (especially young suspects) about evidence since it can lead to false confessions and wrongful convictions.

In a thorough and fascinating article on how police interrogation works, Julia Layton explores in detail the controversy of the Reid technique. Layton believes the interrogation is not at all fair. First, it is a guilt-presumptive process. A detective, in a headlong pursuit to obtain a confession, can consciously or unconsciously, ignore any evidence of innocence. Second, implementing the Reid technique can be very similar to brainwashing. Layton writes: “[A] lot of the human rights concerns surrounding police interrogation have to do with the fact that psychological interrogation techniques bear an uncanny resemblance to “brainwashing” techniques. The interrogator is attempting to influence the suspect without the suspect’s consent, which is considered an unethical use of psychological tactics. A lot of the techniques used to cause discomfort, confusion and insecurity in the brainwashing process are similar to those used in interrogation: (1) Invading a suspect’s personal space; (2) Not allowing the suspect to speak; (3) Using contrasting alternatives; (4) Positioning confession as a means of escape.”

In the film, we witness how the detectives do everything they can to increase each suspects’ level of stress: isolation from one another and their parents, depriving them of food and water, depriving them of sleep, physical and verbal abuse, threats, etc. All of this causes the subjects to break down emotionally, cognitively, and physically. Layton continues:” The more stress a suspect experiences, the less likely he is to think critically and independently, making him far more susceptible to suggestion. This is even more true when the suspect is a minor or is mentally ill, because he may be poorly equipped to recognize or fight off manipulative tactics. A process designed to cause someone so much stress that he’ll confess just to escape the situation is a process that leaves itself open to false confessions. Researchers estimate between 65 and 300 false confessions per year in the United States.” [emphasis added.]

In his article “Do Police Interrogation Techniques Produce False Confessions?”, Starr explains how psychologist Saul Kassin, a leading expert on false confessions, noted that in most cases, when a confession was introduced in a trial, juries tended to deliver guilty sentences — regardless of any other evidence presented. Starr also describes experiments by Kassin and other psychologists who have devised experiments that test tactics associated with the Reid technique. Time after time, the experiments showed similar results: accusatory questions and direct accusations consistently produced false confessions. Even more problematic is the fact that the Reid technique is extremely dependent of the interrogator’s ability to identify a lie using the suspect’s nonverbal behavior. Starr writes: “Three decades of research have shown that nonverbal signals, so prized by the Reid trainers, bear no relation to deception. In fact, people have little more than coin-flipping odds of guessing if someone is telling the truth, and numerous surveys have shown that police do no better. [Psychologist] Aldert Vrij… found that law-enforcement experience does not necessarily improve the ability to detect lies. Among police officers, those who said they paid close attention to nonverbal cues did the worst. Similarly, an experiment by Kassin showed that both students and police officers were better at telling true confessions from false ones when they listened to an audio recording of an interview rather than watch it on video. In the experiment, the police officers performed less well than the students but expressed greater confidence in their ability to tell who was lying.”

Ultimately, When They See Us is a cautionary tale about what happens when an individual does not know and understand the protections of the Miranda Rights and the Constitution. What is absolutely tragic about this heart-breaking story is that had the teenagers, or more importantly, their parents (or their family friends), known their rights — this travesty of justice could have been easily prevented. First, let’s begin with the fundamental fact that these minors should have never been questioned without a legal guardian in the room. Second, the parents should immediately have invoked their child’s Miranda Rights — the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The interrogations would have come to a screeching halt. Game over. And third, every American has the protection of the Constitution, specifically three amendments: (1) the Fifth Amendment: the right not incriminate oneself; (2) the Sixth Amendment: the right to a speedy trial; and (3) the Fourteenth Amendment: the right to due process. All of these legal safeguards, however, did nothing to prevent the miscarriage of justice delivered to the Central Park Five. Fortunately, decades later, in 2014, they were all exonerated and won a settlement of $40 million.

You have to wonder: if the Central Park Five could, would they trade that $40 million to go back in time, to April 19, 1989, and regain their innocence, their youth, and live the lives that they were meant to live?

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Read related posts: The O. J. Simpson Trial and the Chewbacca Defense
Why are People Fascinated by Making a Murderer?
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For further reading: Essentials of the Reid Technique (2nd Edition) by Fred Ibai, John Reid, Joseph Buckley, and Brian Jayne
An Expendable Man: the Near Execution of Earl Washington, Jr. by Margaret Edds


What is the Genius of the Constitution?

alex atkins bookshelf movies

Sometimes a film from the past speaks to the present in a very compelling — and perhaps eerie — way. Take the prescience of the 1994 film, With Honors, regarding the topic of the balance of power between Congress and the President that has dominated the news in the last few months. In With Honors, Monty Kessler (played by Brendan Fraser), an honors student in the government program at Harvard University, and his new companion, Simon Wilder (played by Joe Pesci), a homeless man, attend a class lecture. The professor, Mr. Pitkannan (played by legendary author Gore Vidal) poses a question to the class: “Our founding fathers, or to be more politically correct, founding parents designed the Constitution to prevent the presidency from becoming another form of tyranny — an elected king. Well, did they succeed?… Could the President of the United States without consulting those he governs, more or less destroy the entire world?

Monty: “The President cannot bomb without reason.”

Professor Pitkannan: “He has the reason. He thinks we need more parking spaces. The point is — can he destroy the world?”

Monty: “Not without Congress.”

Pitkannan: “Now Mr. Kessler, after four years at Harvard has it escaped your attention that the President can make war for 90 days without consulting Congress… My question still stands: what is the particular genius of the Constitution? You sir [pointing to Simon], do you have an opinion on this?…

Simon: “You asked a question sir. Let me answer it. The genius of the Constitution is that it can always be changed. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes no permanent rule other than its faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves.”

Pitkannan [in a sneering tone]: “Faith in the wisdom of the people is exactly what makes the Constitution incomplete and crude.”

Simon: “Crude? No sir. Our founding parents were pompous middle-aged white farmers. But they were also great men because they knew one thing that all great men should know — that they didn’t know everything. They knew they were going to make mistakes. But they made sure to leave a way to correct them. They didn’t think of themselves as leaders. They wanted a government of citizens — not royalty. A government of listeners — not lecturers. A government that could change — not stand still. The President isn’t an elected King, no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the crude Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s a servant of the people.”

[The classroom erupts in applause.]

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Read related posts: Benjamin Franklin’s Warning: A Republic if You Can Keep It
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
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The Most Important Thing in Life is the Journey

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“If you look back on your life when you were a child, and you had aspirations, and you had ambitions, but they never really worked out the way you thought they would. So there’s a lot that can make you extremely frustrated and extremely mad. But at the same time, it’s kind of exhilarating. In many ways, it doesn’t matter if things work out exactly the way you wanted them to or they didn’t. The most important thing is the journey. Because the experiences can be so rich and so valuable to you… Of course, I am [happy with the journey so far]. It’s been amazing so far. The best way I could think of, you know, leaving this world, and it would be either, you know, go to sleep and not wake up or be in the middle of… a telecine suite doing a new transfer, like a 4k or an 8k tranfer of [2001: A Space Odyssey]. Just as the music plays out, I’d say, ‘I’m coming. — I’m with ya, Zarathustra.'”

Leon Vitali from the documentary about his life: Filmworker by Tony Zierra. Vitali was a successful British actor who in 1974 walked away from acting, and spent a lot of time away from his family, to become legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s apprentice and right-hand man for more than 25 years. Vitali, credited as “personal assistant to director,” worked alongside “the maestro” on cinematic masterpieces like The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Since Kubrick’s death in 1999, Vitali has overseen the restoration of all of Kubrick’s films. Currently, Vitali has been working as a consultant to the Kubrick estate. Recently, he has been supervising a new digital 4k version of 2001: A Space Odysssey. He is also working on creating a comprehensive archive of all of Stanley Kubrick’s film elements.

Steve Southgate, the vice president in charge of European technical operations for Warner Brothers who had worked on most of Kubrick’s films watched the apprentice transform into a master: “Leon was a spirit. You could see, you know, the doors open before he got to a door. He has this aura of ‘Kubrickism’ around him. The apprentice that all of a sudden one day became the master with all the answers.” Southgate had enormous respect for Kubrick: “He was one person in the film industry who knew how the film industry worked — in every country in the world. He knew all of the dubbing people, the dubbing directors, the actors, he had relationships with foreign directors who would supervise his work because he couldn’t be there to supervise himself. We had to go around to every cinema to make sure the projection lights were right, the sound was correct, the ratios were right, the screens were clean… He seemed to work 24 hours a day. We used to get calls all hours of the night. He could be very difficult but not in a difficult way. If you ever got chewed out by Stanley on the phone you knew you’d been chewed out. He never screamed or yelled but he had this wonderful manner and a sort of lovely New York drawl to his voice that you knew you were being carpeted. If he had any criticism of his film, he took it terribly personally. It was body and soul to him.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Most Visually Stunning Movies
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For further reading: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990704mag-kubrick-profile.html

What is the Meaning of the Feather in Forrest Gump?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesIn the opening sequence of the 1994 film Forrest Gump, we are mesmerized by a feather that floats downward from the clouds, caught in a gentle breeze — swirling and spinning delicately like some ethereal dancer. Eventually the feather reaches the ground, and is swept across a street by the motion of cars, landing at the foot of the film’s slow-witted but kind protagonist, Forrest Gump, who is sitting on a bench waiting to catch a bus. It captures his attention; he reaches down and grabs it and gently places it inside his favorite book, Curious George, that his mother read to him when he was a child. Then at the conclusion of the film, that same feather falls out of this book (Gump has now given the book to his son) and the feather is lifted back into the clouds by a gentle breeze. So, immediately we ask: what is the meaning of the feather in Forrest Gump? As we shall soon see, the feather is the perfect symbol for this film that, thanks to the brilliant screenwriting efforts of Eric Roth, works as a fable wrapped around a sweet love story — as opposed to the biting satire and cynical tone of the original novel of the same name by Winston Groom. And like one of Shakespeare’s fools, Gump may be simple-minded and a source of amusement, but he possesses all the wisdom that those around him clearly lack.

Fortunately, if you haven’t figured it out by the end of the film, Gump tells us in his soft- and plain-spoken way. In the last scene of the film, Gump is in a reflective mood and in a voiceover, explains: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both.” And that is the central theme of this film: is life determined by fate or chance? In an interview, Tom Hanks, who played Gump, elaborates: “Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the chance elements to our life and that’s kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere and that it lands at your feet. It has theological implications that are really huge.” Perhaps what Hanks actually meant to say was that the philosophical implications are huge. Some of the greatest philosophers, thinkers, and writers have grappled with that question and its implication of free will; that is to say, if our life is based on fate (determinism) or chance, do our choices matter? In the case of Gump, the answer is yes — it is chance and choice. It is perfectly summarized by the symbolism of the feather: even though the feather lands near him (chance), he notices it and picks it up (choice). And it is because he makes these choices, time after time, that he unwittingly plays a role in many defining events of the 20th century (teaching Elvis how to dance, reporting the Watergate break-in, inspiring the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the creation of the iconic smiley face, coining the phrase “shit happens,” etc.). 

On another level, the feather, with their connection to birds, represents flight and freedom. It also represent hope and inspiration. In the poem, “Hope” is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson uses the feather as a central metaphor: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all.” For many tribal priests and shamans, the feather represents ascension or prayer, representing the magical communication with gods or the spirit world.

In her fascinating blog, Symbolic Meaning of Feathers, Avia Venifica, who studies the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, presents an in-depth exploration of the symbolism of feathers. Briefly, she discusses the feather as representing truth, spirit, travel, heaven, levity, flight, messages, ascension, and fertility. She also writes about the meaning of finding feathers, which is also relevant to the film. Venifica presents four meanings of finding a feather:

“1. Feathers are a reminder to count our blessings and be thankful for the good stuff going on in our lives.

2. Feathers are a symbol of levity. When seen, they remind us ease up on all the seriousness. Take a breath, relax, enjoy.

3. If feathers really are a communication tool to and from the gods, then their appearance is a reminder to listen to the bigger voice – as in a higher power.

4. Feathers often show up when there is someone or something that wants to reach out to us. Sometimes this might be a loved one who has passed into non-physical. A feather is a reminder you are loved by infinite people (both here on earth and otherwise).”

So is life determined by fate or chance? Some believe it is fate, others believe it is chance. Like Gump, many believe it is both? If you read enough biographies and have listen to the life stories of many people, you will realize that there is a common thread: serendipity. Someone was at the right place, at the right time, with the right person — and that has made a huge difference in their life journey, with respect to their education, career, or personal relationships (friendships, mentorships, and marriage). And herein lies one of the greatest life lessons: although you cannot create luck, propitious chance encounters — learn to identify serendipity and seize the opportunity.

The film, because it is a timeless fable, asks us one important question: if you are sitting on a bench and a feather floats by and rests near you, will you pick it up?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Complete Dictionary of Symbols by Jack Tresidder


The Best Movie Taglines of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf moviesSometimes the taglines are more memorable than the films. It is a testament to the copywriters who have the challenging task of summarizing a 90-120 minute film in just a few words. Who can forget that great tagline from the 1978 summer thriller, Jaws 2: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”? Or the 1979 science fiction horror movie, Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream”? You can even picture the iconic posters in your mind’s eye.

The tagline is incredibly important when trying to capture the interest of movie watchers in an increasingly crowded marketplace (thanks a lot social media!). In most cases, the writing of the tagline is the first step in marketing a film. Although the final product is simple, the process is not. Companies that specialize in marketing films typically build a team of in-house writers and freelancers to review a rough cut of a film (or read a script if the film hasn’t been shot) and then generate as many as 1,000 taglines for a particular film. Sometimes the time frame for writing is as short as a few days or as long as a year. From there, the list of candidates is pared down to arrive at the best tagline to go with the poster and trailers. According to one veteran copywriter, the best taglines are ones that evoke emotion rather than contemplation. A few years ago, the folks at Shortlist ranked the best movie taglines of all time. You be the judge of how well the copywriters did:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “One man’s struggle to take it easy”

High Noon: “The story of a man who was too proud to run”

Psycho: “Check in. Unpack. Relax. Take A Shower”

Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream”

The Royal Tenenbaums: “Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence”

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: “An epic of epic epicness”

The Thing: “Man is the warmest place to hide”

The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “The longer you wait, the harder it gets”

The Social Network: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”

Superman: “You’ll believe a man can fly”

Zodiac: “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer”

Platoon: “The first casualty of war is innocence”

Brokeback Mountain: “Love is a force of nature”

Chicken Run: “Escape or die frying”

Lost In Translation: “Everyone wants to be found”

Gattaca: “There is no gene for the human spirit”

Bonnie & Clyde: “They’re young…they’re in love…and they kill people”

The Shawshank Redemption: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”

The Graduate: “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future”

Alien Vs Predator: “Whoever wins…we lose”

I Am Legend: “The last man on earth is not alone”

Deliverance: “This is the weekend they didn’t play golf”

Jaws 2: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”

Quiz Show: “Fifty million people watching and no one saw a thing”

The Fly: “Be afraid. Be very afraid”

Taxi Driver: “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody”

Napoleon Dynamite: “He’s out to prove he’s got nothing to prove”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: “Love never dies”

A Nightmare On Elm Street: “If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all”

The Truman Show: “On the air. Unaware”

Contagion: “Nothing spreads like fear”

True Lies: “When he said I do, he never said what he did”

The Godfather Part III: “All the power on earth can’t change destiny”

Predator 2: “He’s in town with a few days to kill”

American Beauty: “…look closer”

Greedy: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative”

Swingers: “Cocktails first. Questions later”

Tommy Boy: “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards”

12 Monkeys: “The future is history”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/the-40-greatest-movie-taglines-ever/83728

The Most Famous Christmas Villains

alex atkins bookshelf moviesOn Saturday, December 22, a day after the U.S. government entered a partial shutdown, the New York Daily News featured a cover photo of President Trump rendered as the mean old Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’ well-known holiday story How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The copy on the newspaper reads: “How the Trump Stole Christmas! Shuts down government over wall to put coal in stockings of 800,000 workers. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But we think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” Touché!

It’s ironic that when we think of Christmas, imbued with goodness and generosity, that we also think of its polar opposites: evil and greediness. Indeed, literature, television, and film have created some of those most enduring and evil Christmas villains that have become so embedded in our culture that they have entered the English lexicon. Calling someone a Scrooge, a Grinch, or a Mr. Potter instantly evokes the most miserable, misanthropic, and miserly curmudgeons. Bah, humbug!

Without further ado, here are some of the most famous villains of Christmas, in chronological order (character, appearance in film or book, followed by evil deed):

Ebenezer Scrooge: appears in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843); the quintessential Christmas villain. In Dickens’ memorable prose: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Scrooge is a truly wretched curmudgeon; listen to his bitter response to his nephew’s cheerful holiday greeting: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Henry F. Potter (known as Old Man Potter): appears in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946); the Scrooge of Bedford Falls who is hellbent on either destroying or gaining control of George Bailey’s building and loan company. Potter has a heart made of ice — check out his response to Bailey’s plea for help: “Look at you… you used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me “a warped, frustrated old man!” What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk… crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No security, no stocks, no bonds; nothing but a miserable little five-hundred dollar equity and a live insurance policy. Eh he he he! You’re worth more dead than alive!Why don’t you go to the riff-raff you love so much and ask them to let you have eight-thousand? You know why? Well, because they’d run you out of town on a rail! But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do for you, George. Since the state examiner is still here, as a stockholder of the Building and Loan, I’m going to swear out a warrant for your arrest!”

The Grinch: appears in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957); steals the decorations and gifts of all the adorable Whos of Whoville

Bumble: appears in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964); the abominable snowman who terrifies all those who venture through the icy north pole

Bürgermeister Meisterburger: appears in Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970); bans toys for tripping on a toy duck

Heat and Snow Miser: appears in The Year Without Santa Claus (1974); use their weather powers for evil

Scut Farkas: appears in A Christmas Story (1983); a bully who regularly ambushes Ralphie and his friends

Frank Shirley: appears in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989); cancels employee bonuses and instead gives them a membership in the jelly-of-the-month club

Marv and Henry: appear in Home Alone (1990); two career burglars that scare and attempt to rob a young boy who is left alone in his home

SHARE THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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A Life Lived Without Principle and Virtue is Empty

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThe Emperor’s Club (2002) is a powerful, inspirational movie written by Neil Tolkin based on the short story “The Palace Thief” by Ethan Canin. The film presents us with two diametrically opposed characters: William Hundert, a disciplined and very principled classics professor and Sedgwick Bell, an iconoclastic, arrogant, and ambitious student who will stop at nothing to win. While the first character values integrity and virtue (Hundert is fond of quoting Socrates: “It is not living that is important… but living rightly.”), the other disdains it. At the end of the film, which occurs decades after graduation when the characters are in their 30s, Hundert catches Sedgwick cheating to win a history trivia competition. They run into one another in the bathroom; Hundert confronts Sedgwick in one of the film’s most memorable scenes — so relevant to what we are witnessing in America’s current leadership (simply substitute Trump and his henchmen for Sedgwick): 

“I have no doubt you’re more clever than I am and would find some way to discredit me. ‘We live in an age’ as Seneca said, ‘where successful and fortunate crime is called virtue.’ But as a student of history, I know there will come a moment after the noise and the parties, not tonight but sometime when you will be forced like all men to look at yourself, really look at yourself, Sedgwick. And in that moment you will be confronted by the emptiness of a life lived without principle and without virtue. And for that, I pity you.”

Sedgwick looks at his former history teacher with scorn, and snarls “Can I say, Mr. Hundert, who gives a shit. Who out there gives a shit.. honestly… about your principles and your Seneca and your virtues. I mean, look at you. What do you have to show for it all?… I live in the real world. Where people lie and cheat and scratch to get what they want. And I’m okay with that, so… I’m going to go out there and win that election. I’ll worry about my contribution later.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Emperor’s Club: The Shooting Script by Neil Tolkin

The Most Beautiful Movies of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf moviesWhen discussing the most beautiful movies of all time, we mean the most visually beautiful movies of all time — that is to say, ones with stunning cinematography, art-direction, composition, and use of light and color. The litmus test for a beautiful movie is quite simple: if you turned off the sound, would it be compelling and entertaining to watch? Here are ten of the most visually beautiful movies of all time (name of film, followed by year, director, and cinematographer):

1. Samsara (2011): Ron Fricke, Ron Fricke

2. The Tree of Life (2011): Terrence Malick, Emmanuel Lubezki

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962): David Lean, F. A. Young

4. Hero (2002): Zhang Yimou, Christopher Doyle

5. The Fall (2006): Tarsem Singh, Colin Watkinson

6. The Conformist (1970): Bernardo Bertolucci, Vittorio Storaro

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Stanley Kubrick, Geoffrey Unsworth

8. Citizen Kane (1941): Orson Welles, Gregg Toland

9. Manhattan (1979): Woody Allen, Gordon Willis

10. Russian Ark (2002): Alexander Sokurov, Tilman Buttner

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Most Visually Stunning Movies
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For further reading: youtube.com/watch?v=kj73aDoeFdk

Which Author has the Most Film Adaptations?

alex atkins bookshelf movies“All writers dream about their book becoming a movie,” writes intellectual property lawyer Matt Knight, “But moving from book to screen is a complicated [and protracted] process.” In his post “From Book to Screen: How Dramatic Rights are Sold,” Knight explains that the first step in developing a project for the big screen is purchasing the control of the story rights — the option contract. The option contract essentially pays the writer, anywhere from $500 to $50,000, for placing the book rights on hold during a specific time period spelled out in the terms. If the project gets approved, the next step is to purchase the dramatic work via the purchase agreement. Knight states, “The purchase price will vary considerably depending on the project. Usually it will be based on a percentage of the film’s budget with a cap. A good gauge is 2-4% of the production budget. If the budget grows, the producers have the insurance policy of the cap. So if the budget is $5 million, then the purchase price might be $150,000 for a 3% of budget price with a cap of $225,000 should the budget grow.” Another part of the purchase price can be net profits or gross profits options, which are negotiated percentages of a film’s profits. And of course, that can get complicated, which we will not address here. Although authors typically earn $25,000 to $50,000 for TV movie adaptations, really fortunate authors can rake in millions for blockbuster films, especially successful franchises.

In order to answer the question of which author has the most film adaptations, the staff and readers of Slate analyzed the data on — where else? — the Internet Movie Database. If you guessed that Great Britain’s greatest writer, the legendary Swan of Avon, was at the top — you are absolutely correct: William Shakespeare tops the list with 831 TV and movie adaptations. Note that their data was from 2011; as of December 2017, the Bard can take credit for 1,297 film adaptations. Below is the list of the authors with the most television and film adaptations:

William Shakespeare: 831
Anton Chekhov: 320
Charles Dickens: 300
Alexandre Dumas: 243
Edgar Allan Poe: 240
Robert Louis Stevenson: 225
Arthur Conan Doyle: 220
Hans Christian Andersen: 217
Edgar Wallace: 214
The Brothers Grimm: 212
Molière: 208
O. Henry: 201
Oscar Wilde: 181
Fyodor Dostoevsky: 177
Leo Tolstoy: 154
Victor Hugo: 150
Jules Verne: 143
Stephen King: 127
Georges Simenon: 127
Agatha Christie: 126
L. Frank Baum: 124
Mark Twain: 121
Somerset Maugham: 121
Noel Coward: 101
Miguel de Cervantes: 101

The literature-loving folks over at the Literary Hub had a slightly different approach to this topic. They asked, what living authors have the most film adaptations. Since their dramatic work has existed for a short time — as opposed to more than 450 years like Shakespeare — the list is much shorter, and the adaptations are smaller numbers. However, thanks to globalization and technological advances that did not exist during Shakespeare’s time, an author’s reach and commercial value have increased astronomically. Consider when it comes to income for movie adaptations, J. K. Rowling is at the top of the list. It has been reported that Rowling sold the movie rights for the first four Harry Potter novels for $2 million; then next four were sold for much more than that; however, if she had negotiated a typical 10% net profit participation for all eight novels, that would have earned her at least $650 million! Here is the list of living authors with the most film adaptations:

Stephen King: 34
Nicholas Sparks: 11
Johnn Le Carre: 10
Ian McEwan: 10
John Grisham: 9
J. K. Rowling: 9
Clive Barker: 8
Dean Koontz: 8
Philip Roth: 8
Nick Hornby: 7
William Goldman: 7
Stephanie Meyer: 6
Larry McMurtry: 6
Thomas Harris: 6

Let’s turn now to the trivia-obsessed folks over at the Portable Press (they produce the popular Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers series; since 1988, they have printed more than 16 million books — hashtag prolific). The Top Ten of Everything series was created by Russell Ash in 2002 (published by Dorling Kindersley); Paul Terry took over the helm in 2015 (Portable Press began publishing the series with the 2017 edition). In the 2018 edition (November 2017), they published their list of writers with the most TV and movie adaptations:

William Shakespeare: 1,195
Anton Chekov: 442
Charles Dickens: 365
Edgar Allan Poe: 338
Hans Christian Andersen: 281
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: 273
Alexandre Dumas: 267
Robert Louis Stevenson: 263
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: 260
Moliere: 260

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For further reading: Uncle John Presents Top 10 of Everything 2018 by Paul Terry http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2011/03/23/the_most_adapted_authors_revised_and_expanded_edition_infographic.html

The Living Authors with the Most Film Adaptations


Famous Actors Who Started Out in Commercials

alex atkins bookshelf moviesAll famous highly-paid actors had to begin somewhere — including in the humble world of commercials, hawking products that they probably wouldn’t want to be promoting today. But — hey — you have to start somewhere. Recall what Constantin Stanislavski, one of the most influential theatre directors and father of the Stanislavski method (known as method acting), declared to his acting students: “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Of course, many stars would never want to admit to doing commercials because they have reached such lofty heights; ahem, commercial work is beneath them. For example, before he was cooking blue meth in an RV, Bryan Cranston was smearing Preparation H on his bum. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, possesses a certain amount of humility. During her acceptance speech for Best Actress SAG award, Lawrence graciously thanked MTV for helping her get her start in showbiz with a promo for My Super Sweet 16, a reality TV series about privileged (read: spoiled) teenagers. Back then she earned a pittance; today she commands $10 million plus per film. That’s the meteoric trajectory of showbiz… Inspired by her proud admission, here is a list of famous actors, and the products they hawked, long before they became famous.

Ben Affleck: Burger King

Brad Pitt: Pringles

Bruce Willis: Seagram’s Wine Coolers

Bryan Cranston: Preparation H

Dakota Fannin: Tide

Drew Barrymore: Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dustin Hoffman: Volkswagon

Elijah Wood: Pizza Hut

Elisabeth Moss: Excedrin

Evangeline Lilly: Canadian singles phone chat lines

Jodie Foster: Coppertone

Jason Bateman: Golden Grahams cereal

John Travolta: Lifebuoy soap, Band-Aid

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Pop Tarts

Keanu Reeves: Corn Flakes, Coca-Cola

Kirsten Dunst: Baby Dolly Surprise

Kristen Stewart: Porsche

Leonardo DiCaprio: Bubble Yum

Lindsay Lohan: Jell-O

Matt LeBlanc: Heinz ketchup

Meg Ryan: Aim toothpaste, Burger King

Mila Kunis: Lisa Frank

Morgan Freeman: Listerine

Naomi Watts: Tampax

Paul Rudd: Super Nintendo

Tina Fey: Mutual Savings Bank

Tobey Maguire: Doritos

Tom Selleck: Close Up toothpaste; Pepsi

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For further reading: The Super Book of Useless Information by Don Voorhees

The Best Movies with Twist Endings

alex atkins bookshelf moviesThere’s nothing better than watching a movie with a great plot twists — and M. Night Shyamalan is the O. Henry in the world of cinema, known for his surprise twist endings. We don’t need to discuss any spoilers to make a compelling case — you know the ones: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village. Ranker.com asked its reader to rank the best movies with twist endings — not surprisingly M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (“I see dead people”) was voted number one. Here is the list:

The Sixth Sense (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
The Usual Suspects (1994)
Seven (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
Psycho (1960)
The Others (2001)
The Presitige (2006)
Memento (2000)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Saw (2004)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Unbreakable (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
The Game (1997)
American Psycho (2000)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Friday the 13th (1980)
The Village (2004)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The Crying Game (1992)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Chinatown (1974)
April Fool’s Day (1986)

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For further reading: http://www.ranker.com/list/best-movies-with-twist-endings/anncasano

What is the Longest Movie Title?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesFilm directors know that although a long movie title stands out in a list as an outlier, it does not necessarily translate to success at the box office. The constraints of marketing material, and the mindset of the average moviegoer, prefer shorter, more memorable movie titles. Besides, the film will be referred to using an abbreviated title anyway. But that hasn’t stopped movie directors from releasing films with really long titles — perhaps, to prove that they can. Here is a list of notable movies with the longest titles:

Night Of The Day Of The Dawn Of The Son Of The Bride Of The Return Of The Revenge Of The Terror Of The Attack Of The Evil, Mutant, Hellbound, Flesh-Eating, Crawling, Alien, Zombified, Subhumanoid Living Dead — Part 5
Directed by James Riffel; released in 2011
41 words; 177 characters

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes
Directed by Ken Anakin; released in 1965
20 words; 85 characters(85)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Directed by Sacha Baron Cohen; released in 2006
12 words; 72 characters

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by Stanley Kubrick; released in 1964
13 words; 56 characters

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Directed by Migeul Arteta; released in 2014
10 words; 50 characters

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
Directed by Christopher Monger; released in 1995
12 words; 47 characters

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For further reading: http://www.imdb.com