Mad, Bad and Glad when it was over!

Art-house movies and I have never really been what you’d call the best of friends.

Same goes with historical costume dramas.

So what was I thinking taking myself off to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, which, as it turns out, is both art-house movie and died-in-the-wool costume biopic – set in 19th century London?

What was I thinking? Quite a lot actually, and up to the point of the movie theatre lights going down in that time-honored, sped-up sun-set kind of way, it was all positive.


THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN is really two based-on-fact stories rolled into one. The first centers around the 70 year long project – begun in 1857 – of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. In real life this monumental task – the equivalent back in its day of mapping every star in the heavens – was helmed by Scottish schoolteacher and self taught linguist (he was fluent in more than a dozen languages) James Murray, played by Mel Gibson.

The second story concerns real-life American Army surgeon Dr Chester William Minor – played by Sean Penn. He spent 38 years in the infamous English mental asylum for the criminally insane Broadmoor. While incarcerated there he sent more than 10 000 submissions to James Murray for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

A film about a dictionary compiler was always going to be a tough ask shaping it into something marketable and even mildly watchable for the general public. The inclusion of the numerous psychiatric institution scenes was an attempt to inject some drama and pathos, yet this film remains strangely lacking in energy.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN manages to generate as much tension as a broken guitar string. It’s ability to generate emotion is likewise on a par with a 2am multi-folding-ladder info-commercial.

Every character with a speaking part is saddled with delivering speech-long, overly serious monologues that have you wishing time would somehow magically speed up. And it’s all set to a wearying, sappy soundtrack that alternates between full-on opera and a mega-blast from the strings section of the London Philharmonic.

Two hours with this movie felt like two days. Managing dutifully to avoid reading a single review before seeing the movie, I poured over a heap of them afterwards. “A film which ends up being only mildly more interesting than reading an actual dictionary” was a reoccurring lambasting quip from a number of paid opinion-givers.

Going into the movie I held genuine curiosity. After enduring 124 minutes of near unrelenting tedium, I came out with eyeballs feeling like this –

If all that sounds a bit harsh, I can agree – it feels harsh saying it and writing it. Though perhaps not as harsh as Mel Gibson unsuccessfully suing the production company in a valiant attempt to wrestle back creative control of the project, and thus saving it from the commercial and critical disaster it has ended up becoming.

Nor maybe as harsh as both Gibson’s and Sean Penn’s decision to abstain from doing any interviews to promote the movie, less they somehow convey the false impression that they in anyway approve of the final product.

I really wanted to like this movie. Yet I’ve concluded what would probably be far more to my liking is the 1998 book which the movie is based on. The Surgeon of Crowthorne was written by British author (and Oxford graduate) Simon Winchester, a journalist with more than three decades of experience.

As a final note I should add that perhaps I could have recognized the writing was on the wall with me and this movie long before I actually took my seat and the lights went dark. The theater I ventured to see THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN at (The Regal at Graceville) has history for me. Bad history.

The last time I lined up to buy a movie ticket there was 16 years ago. That sadly lackluster occasion also ended with the eyeballs madly spinning and the smelling salts having to be brought out to revive me. And before anyone tries telling me what a marvelous viewing spectacle the Bill Murray/ Scarlett Johansson movie LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) was, I say this…

Ps. Every cloud has a silver lining (except apparently the mushroom shaped ones which have a lining of Iridium and Strontium 90) so watching THE MADMAN AND THE PROFESSOR wasn’t a total loss.

Seeing this film set me on track to unearthing some pretty interesting facts and figures about the English language. You’ve borne the brunt already of my version of the madman. Now comes the Professor

The English language passed the MILLION WORD mark back in 2009 (at 10:22am GMT on June 10th, to be precise).

As of this writing, there are currently 171 476 words in use in English.

The average adult knows the meanings of approximately 30 000 words.

3000 words will cover 95% of everyday writing. 1000 words will cover 90% of everyday writing.

The English language adds a new word every 98 minutes.

Arabic is a language reputed to have over 12 million words.

The word “dictionary” first came into the English lexicon in 1220.

A Monopoly on fun?


Like an historic museum specimen preserved in resin, old-school board game MONOPOLY some how still clings to life in the mega-pixel  NPX  (NintendoPlaystationXbox) era.

I haven’t played it in close to forty years, and with my own daughter turning 10 next year, the window of opportunity for me to do so is fast closing.

Yet there now exists a reason that might well lure me back to the land of cheating bankers, paper money and pushing a grey plastic token (the shoe and the wheelbarrow were always my two faves) around a virtual properties gameboard.

Recently my favorite (yet perennially struggling) football team released their own branded version of the game. Fans who purchase a copy at least have some chance of winning when they play. That’s more than can be said for the St George/Illawara Dragons – the team that’s inspired this latest version.

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The Dragons may have at one time owned the world record for achieving the most consecutive number of professional football premierships in a row (11 from 1956 -1966) but that, as history buffs would say, was a long time ago.

If  poorly performing football teams aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other specific-interest incarnations of monopoly going around nowadays –

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The three biggest innovations to emerge from the Monopoly Universe in recent times have been the ‘Cheater’s Edition’ –

The ‘Speed Die’ version –

And the cashless MONOPOLY VOICE BANKING edition –

Oops! Did I say THREE major innovations? Naturally I meant four because how could one forget this newest addition to the stable –

And to finish off there’s this…

Ps. There’s always time for one last monopoly story, right? So here it is….

Recently my family and I holidayed at a mountain retreat (O’Reilly’s) adjacent to Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland. The idea of this place is for guests to get back to nature while unwinding and taking life at a more relaxed pace. ‘City-life detox’ was what we’d come for (some family members being more eager than others) and city life detox was most definitely what was served up. Hotel rooms didn’t have televisions, air-conditioning or internet access.

What they did have was board games. Lots of board games! If you asked at reception they’d prize open a cupboard and an Aladdin’s cave of old school favorites – think Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo, Scategories, Kerplunk, Battleship and even the immortal classic Trouble would come spilling out like presents from Santa’s sack circa 1973.

Monopoly was there too but regrettably I wasn’t quick enough off the starting blocks. A Chinese man grabbed that one ahead of me. An hour later I spotted him again at the reception desk with the same Monopoly game tucked firmly under his wing. I wrongly assumed he’d finished playing and was returning it.

I chanced a friendly inquiry as we were both waiting in line while another guest tried without success (“Terribly sorry sir, this is a retreat. None of the rooms have televisions.”) to secure a tv-equipped room upgrade – “Wow, that was a quick game”, I enthused. “Playing with the speed die were you?”

Using perfect English he set me straight : “We haven’t started playing yet”. From that deflating moment on, and continuing for the rest of our two day stay, a weird dynamic developed between this 6 foot 2 inch chap and myself. Since it was a 25 kilometer dirt track trip down the isolation of the mountain for anyone wanting for a few hours to ‘retreat from the retreat’, most guests tended to remain on-site for the duration of their stay.

Guests got to know each other a little more under these enclosed circumstances. You’d start to recognize the same faces at the bar, the pool, the reading room, the games room etc. Every time I’d spot the Chinese man – whether it was in the dining room or feeding the parrots in the outside bird area or playing the ‘Harlem Globetrotters’ pinball machine with the slow-twitching right flipper in the entertainment precinct – I’d feel a strange compulsion to ask “How’s the Monopoly going?”

There’s no polite a term for it – I was Monopoly stalking. Maybe it’s the first time it’s ever been done anywhere in the world. But that’s what was going down. Even the usually obeyed Frozen-esque chidings of my wife to ‘Let it go’ fell on deaf ears. I had to have that Monopoly game.

I never did get that Monopoly game. To his credit, the Chinese man from Room 36 (Of course I got to find out his room number! What do you take me for … some kind of rank amateur?) always responded in a polite fashion to my none-too-innocent inquiries (cloaked by first engaging him in some distracting innocuous banter) regarding “How’s the game going?” In fact, he never once so much as even flinched – “Great game last night. Loved it so much we’ve got another one planned for this afternoon.”

I don’t in all honesty think he cottoned on at any stage to the fact that for two whole days he was the subject of surveillance and movement tracking the likes of which covert Intelligence units from any elite special forces unit you care to name (but can’t because they’re so secret) would have been proud to call their own.

It’s better he didn’t know how badly I wanted that Monopoly board. At the end of our stay, when the girl behind the reception desk opened up the creaking cupboard one final time to put back the games we had managed to borrow, I quickly eyed the shelves to see if the object of my nostalgic desire had yet been returned.

No dice. That Monopoly game and I were destined never to be united – at least while I was there. As we handed back our room keys and settled our account, I imagined even at that exact moment someone in Room 36 letting out a muffled cheer of joy because their thimble had landed on Mayfair and they had the cash in the bank to buy it.

PPS. A feature length MONOPOLY movie starring Kevin Hart (JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019) looks set to hit theatres early next year but in the meantime there’s this –

PPPS. Still haven’t had your fill of MONOPOLY related stories? Oh alright then … better click HERE.