Transatlantic Tunnel

I remember a good Harry Harrison novel called “A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah.” It’s a steampunk story, well before the invention of the word “steampunk,” set in a alternate history where the US lost the Revolutionary War. An engineer named Washington builds – you guessed it – a transatlantic tunnel for the glory of Britain and to redeem the name disgraced by his traitorous ancestor.

Transatlantic Tunnel [Matthew’s Island of Misfit Toys]

A brief history of Jackie, one of the MGM lions known as “Leo”


One of several cats with the stage name “Leo,” Jackie was domesticated and gentle – by lion standards. He appeared in several movies, as well as the opening roar that runs before the credits in films including The Wizard of Oz

The studio put him in a monoplane in the 1920s to travel across the US, but he crash-landed in the Arizona desert. He survived unharmed, and toured the US on the ground. But lions aren’t built for that kind of treatment.

AKA Leo [The Memory Palace]

Leo the Lion (MGM) [Wikipedia]

Photo source: Wikipedia

Retired New York police sergeant builds Chitty Chitty Bang Bang replica car


Sgt. Tony Garofalo built the functional, full-size vehicle from the body of a 1914 Overland car with a 1928 Model A engine – the same engine used to make the motor sounds in the movie.

Garofalo also plays John Lennon in the Beatles tribute band Strawberry Fields. Hence his nickname: Sgt. Pepper.

The New York Times has more.

Mr. Garofalo said he had been a fan of both the film and the car since he was 4, when he and his mother, Anna, attended the movie’s premiere at Radio City Music Hall.

“The cast was there and the car was parked out front,” said Mr. Garofalo, who was dumbstruck by the car and promised his mother that he would one day make his own version.

To copy the car exactly, he said, he watched the movie some 200 times on DVD, pausing constantly to scrutinize the vehicle from different angles. He also went to look at two of the several models used in the movie, which are privately owned.

“It was seeing the real Chitty that helped me make mine exactly like the movie car,” Mr. Garofalo said recently at his home in Ridge, N.Y., before driving his creation out of the garage.

It had a wooden passenger compartment and wings, and he thought it might even float, just like in the movie.


With a flick of a button on his key chain, the car’s red and yellow wings extend from under the running boards, “for when people ask if it flies,” Mr. Garofalo said.

Read the whole thing – delightful story:

[Sgt. Pepper Builds a Real-Life Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Long Island / Corey Kilgannon / The New York Times]


Also: Watch Dick Van Dyke sing the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” theme on Conan O’Brien in December. Love this.


This was a fun game on Twitter Friday night: Come up with a line that badly explains a film plot, and tag it #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly

My contributions:

That should be “man,” of course.

Movie reviews: Belle and 22 Jump Street

While we were visiting Ohio, we went to see two movies with my sister- and brother-in-law Ann and Ken. Ann picked the movies. Ann likes highbrow movies and lowbrow movies, but not middlebrow movies. She’ll watch an arthouse movie, and that was one of the ones we picked. She’ll also watch a dumb comedy, and that was the other movie we picked.


Belle is set in the 18th Century in England. It’s about a mixed-race woman with a black African mother and white English Naval officer for a father. The woman, whose name was Dido, was raised as an English aristocrat. Her uncle and foster father was the highest judge in England, and ruled on a case that significantly weakened the English slave trade of the era.

Pretty good movie, although a bit predictable. Dido’s foster father’s law clerk is handsome and passionately principled and is the only man Dido meets who is a match for her intellect (other than her foster father). The clerk is also the only man who considers her mixed-race heritage to be nothing to be ashamed of. They hate each other at first. Will they fall in love by the end of the movie?

After the movie, I enjoyed leafing through Wikipedia to learn the real-life history behind it. The main characters of the movie did exist, more-or-less as portrayed in the movie, although the movie played fast and loose with historical facts. Which is fine — the purpose of the movie is not to be a history book.

Dido Elizabeth Belle died in her 40s in real life. She lived most of her life on her foster father’s estate, and managed the dairy and poultry yards, helping him out with his correspondence. Those were positions of great responsibility. We don’t know a lot about her life, but evidence suggests she was treated as a family member rather than a servant.

Dido’s foster father, William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield, was an important figure in English history. He advanced commercial law in ways that helped established Britain as a leader in world commerce. He actually ruled on two slave cases; the movie conflates them both into one. He didn’t end slave trafficking, but he took a big step in that direction.

The second movie was 22 Jump Street, featuring muscular Channing Tatum, who took off his shirt a lot, and chubby Jonah Hill, who left his shirt on. 22 Jump Street was a broad, dumb comedy, and I enjoyed it a good deal.


Here’s one of my favorite stories about Roger Ebert: A reader called him on giving a dumb fraternity comedy a higher rating than a fine French art movie. The way I heard the story, Ebert paused in thought after being challenged, then said he stood by his rating. Ebert loved all genres of movies and (he said) the dumb fraternity comedy was better as a dumb frat-com then French art film was as a French art film.

In that spirit, I give 22 Jump Street a higher rating than Belle. Jump Street was a better dumb comedy than Belle was as a political historical drama. Belle was mostly predictable. You could tell what every character was going to do as soon as they came onscreen. 22 Jump Street is also predictable, but that’s not a flaw in a dumb comedy. The jokes are broad and coarse — and funny.

The casting was oddly and refreshingly multicultural and diverse. In a movie that sets its sights as low as this one, I wouldn’t have even noticed if they went with an all-white cast. But instead we’ve got a racially diverse cast. Likewise, the movie is filled with gay jokes, but they are all good-natured. I can only assume this is due to the zeitgeist.

What I mean to say is this: Stephen King has noted that monster movies of the 1950s featured creatures created by nuclear explosions. This is not because the makers of low-budget monster movies wanted to make a statement about the dangers of nuclear weapons. It’s just that nuclear anxiety was in the air — it was part of the zeitgesit — so if you were looking to make a movie about a giant lizard that destroyed a city, and you needed a reason why this giant lizard existed, well, why not just handwave about nuclear explosion and move on?

Similarly, I don’t think the makers of 22 Jump Street wanted to make a movie celebrating ethnic diversity. But we live in a diverse world, and when they were looking for talented comedy actors of course they’d have no reason to overlook black and mixed-race actors. Why should they? In some ways, a movie like this is more refreshing than one that consciously tries to make a point about racial equality like, for example, Belle.

Video habits

Do you watch movies and episodes of TV dramas all in one go? Or do you watch a few minutes at a time?

I try to watch all in one go, which has kept me away from programming like House of Cards, Her, and the True Grit remake. I’d like to see all of those, but I haven’t found big blocks of time to watch.

3 patriotic videos for the 4th

I’m going to be scarce on blogging and social media over the holiday weekend, so here are three videos to get you started on the celebration. Go out and enjoy freedom and stuff.

The opening of the movie 1776, the best movie musical ever made about the American Revolution, starring William Daniels as John Adams.

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress. And by God I have had this Congress!” I was an adult before I figured out what Adams is saying in that last sentence.

Paul Giamatti as John Adams meets King George III, which is awkward after that whole “Revolutionary War” thing. Wonderful performance by Giamatti, so incredibly awkward, the opposite of comfortable in his own skin.

Jimmy Cagney performs “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” then Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland do it.

We may have to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy this weekend.