All posts by Editor East Coast Stories

The Naked Milk Bath – Claudette Colbert in the 1932 Sign Of The Cross

In the 1932 Sign Of The Cross, Claudette Colbert frolicked naked in a milk bath, briefly fully exposing her ample breasts to shocked Depression-era movie audiences. Sign Of The Cross contained a number of fully naked women, almost naked men, and hints of homosexuality and bisexuality. Sign Of The Cross was able to get away with showing this much naked flesh, by disguising itself as a “religious movie”.

Claudette Colbert reveals her breasts in the 1932 Sign Of The Cross

Claudette Colbert reveals her breasts in the 1932 Sign Of The Cross

Theoretically Sign Of The Cross was about the struggle of the brave Christians being persecuted by the sinful Romans. But director Cecil B. DeMille was no preacher. The real focus of the film is on the decadent Romans, not the pious Christians. As Billy Joel was to say many decades later “sinners are much more fun”. Depression-era movie audiences did not come in from the cold street to see other people suffering. They wanted some fun and titillation and who better to provide that than the wild Romans?

Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero in "The Sign Of The Cross" 1932

Charles Laughton as Emperor Nero in “The Sign Of The Cross” 1932

There was no movie censorship in 1932, but that did not mean theaters would show something considered pornographic. However, Cecil B. DeMille came up with the perfect formula for giving people what they wanted, while letting audiences pretend they were not really watching a sex film.

The 1932 Sign Of The Cross was before censorship and full of nudity

The 1932 Sign Of The Cross was before censorship and full of nudity

Religion was the perfect way to disguise audiences desire to see sex. Sign Of The Cross showed in great detail the gluttony, orgies and sexual depravity of the Roman Empire, while pretending to point out how “bad” this all was. That way movie audiences got the best of both worlds. Audiences were able to see the naked flesh, all the while pretending they were really watching a film about the early struggles of Christianity. Of course, many of the Christian martyrs being sacrificed in the Coliseum just happened to be beautiful naked women.

Charles Laughton an the decadent Nero in Sigh Of The Cross

Charles Laughton an the decadent Nero in Sigh Of The Cross

Sign Of The Cross was especially shocking for its hints of homosexuality and bisexuality. Emperor Nero was played by Charles Laughton who, incredibly for the times, was open about being a homosexual. (The word “gay” would not come into the language for many years.) Emperor Nero is surrounded by well-built slave men who are wearing almost nothing. In other scenes Nero is attended by near-naked young women. Apparently Nero had quite a diverse sexual appetite.

Claudette Colbert takes naked direction from Cecil B. DeMille in Sign Of The Cross

Claudette Colbert takes naked direction from Cecil B. DeMille in Sign Of The Cross

But the most famous scene in Sign Of The Cross is Claudette Colbert as Empress Poppaea and her naked milk bath. She does not just lie there passively. Swimming around and exploring herself sexually, there is one quick flash where her nipples are full exposed. Watching the film today, you can still almost hear the gasps from the 1932 movie audiences.

Claudette Colbert in a naked milk bath in "The Sign Of The Cross"

Claudette Colbert in a naked milk bath in “The Sign Of The Cross”

Claudette Colbert’s acting actually was actually amazing, considering how non-sexual  the real situation was. The bath Claudette Colbert was in actually was filled with milk. Powdered milk had been mixed with water to give the water a translucent quality. Even Cecil B. DeMille did not dare film the scene in clear water. That would have shown Claudette Colbert completely naked throughout the whole scene.

Claudette Colbert & Charles Laughton in "Sign Of The Cross"

Claudette Colbert & Charles Laughton in “Sign Of The Cross”

The powdered milk mixed with water looked great on film, but the hot movie lights quickly turned the milk sour. So while Claudette Colbert was acting sexual and seductive, she was actually breathing in the stench of sour milk the whole time. That’s acting.

Charlize Theron naked in a milk bath in "Snow White And The Huntsman"

Charlize Theron naked in a milk bath in “Snow White And The Huntsman”

Of course the “moral authorities” in the United States went berserk. However, the full force of their wrath did not become apparent until 2 years later in 1934 when Tarzan And His Mate was released. In that film, Jane swims completely naked in clear water for a considerable period. As a result of that scene, censorship was born and nudity was out of American films for many many years.

Naked Christian woman being sacrificed to the lions in The Sign Of The Cross

Naked Christian woman being sacrificed to the lions in The Sign Of The Cross

However, the Naked Milk Bath never left American cinema. One of the most recent reincarnations was Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna in the PG-13 rated Snow White And The Huntsman. Charlize Theron emerges naked from a milk bath. However, the milk is much thicker and Charlize Theron’s hands strategically cover her breasts. Claudette Colbert’s 1932 Naked Milk Bath was about 100 times sexier.

We recommend Sign of The Cross as a fascinating film to watch. Long before CGI and other special effects, you can be sure that when you see actors wrestling with Lions, they really were wrestling with lions. It is amazing that no one got killed making Sign Of The Cross. Beautiful naked and semi-naked women and men, a cast of thousands, ferocious animals and of course, the most memorable Naked Milk Bath of all time. A true Hollywood classic.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon, is a murder mystery, where the detective is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Consequently, the hero looks at the world and people in a unique and fascinating way.

Christopher Boone is a high school student in suburban England, and the murder he has chosen to solve is one the police have no interest in. It seems wrong to Christopher that the police have ignored the murder simply because the murder victim happens to be a dog. Wellington was a good dog and Christopher liked him more than he likes most people.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Someone has gruesomely  killed Wellington with a pitch fork, and Christopher decides to solve the crime the way Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Of course, Sherlock Holmes himself was definitely on the Autistic Spectrum.

Christopher Boone is a wonderful, gentle person trying desperately to get along in a world  he does not fit into. He is a genius at math, puzzles, and game theory, but the emotions and reactions of ordinary people are often beyond his comprehension.

Autistic people prefer this puzzle to the puzzle of human emotions

Autistic people prefer this puzzle to the puzzle of human emotions

His special education teacher, Siobhan, thought it would be good therapy for Christopher to write down his every day thoughts and feelings. Christopher decides to do better than that, and writes a complete book about his search for Wellington’s killer. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is that book.

In attempting to solve the murder of the dog, Christopher inadvertently uncovers the tangles of lies, deception, infidelity and betrayal that have been hidden for so long in this quiet English neighborhood.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time tries to solve the murder of the dog Wellington

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time tries to solve the murder of the dog Wellington

Of course, like most people with Asperger’s Syndrome, Christopher constantly gets off track and focuses exclusively on subjects that fascinate him.  Consequently, in addition to the murder mystery, the book is full of stories about famous puzzles, math problems and game solutions. This sounds like ti might be dull, but it is actually quite fascinating. It is a glimpse into a world that few of us really comprehend.

Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

If you have a child or someone close to you with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, you will find The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time touching but also sometime quite sad. We loved the hero Christopher and it is difficult to read about the way he is sometimes treated by people who view him as “strange”.

Saint Christopher - What was his name before he carried Christ?

Saint Christopher – What was his name before he carried Christ?

Christopher also asks many questions that we never even thought of before.  One of them, for example, has to do with Saint Christopher, who was the giant that carried the Christ child across a raging river. The name Christopher literally means “Christ-bearer” or “Christ-carrier”.  In The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, Christopher Boone asks the question, “What was Saint Christopher’s name before he carried Christ across the river?”

Sherlock Holmes a detective on The Autistic Spectrum

Sherlock Holmes a detective on The Autistic Spectrum

It is this kind of inquisitive mind that allows Christopher to solve the murder of Wellington and many other mysteries as well. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is one of the best books we have read in a very long time, and we highly recommend it.

 

 

 

Mother – the movie explained

Critics hate the movie Mother because they cannot understand it. So here is an explanation (Spoiler Alert) detailing what this film actually about. Javier Bardem is a very bad writer (The Poet) who has created one perfect character (Jennifer Lawrence) and then can’t craft a good story to put her in. Jennifer Lawrence (Mother) only vaguely understands that she is actually a character in a story and not a real person. She is completely subservient to The Poet  and continues to trust him no matter how bizarre the story gets or how badly The Poet treats her.

Jennifer Lawrence as the confused main character in "Mother"

Jennifer Lawrence as the confused main character in “Mother”

In the end, The Poet realizes that his story is utter crap, and the entire house and all the characters burn up in a massive explosion. Then Mother re-awakens on a sunny day in her own bed and the story starts again. This is, of course, the story being re-written. This is exactly how the movie began, so we realize that the story has been re-written over and over many times.

The idea of people being characters in a story controlled by someone else has been done often. The Twilight Zone has several episodes like this. Mother, however, takes the concept to the ultimate extreme. It details what happens to our hapless main character, when her existence is controlled by a very bad hack writer. Of course, we love Jennifer Lawrence as the main character. She is beautiful and kind and sweet, so it is painful to watch the terrible ordeals The Poet puts her through.

Jennifer Lawrence broke a rib in the action sequences of "Mother"

Jennifer Lawrence broke a rib in the action sequences of “Mother”

Speaking of painful, Jennifer Lawrence was so dedicated to the film that she continued once action scene even after breaking a rib when an extra fell on her.

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in "Mother"

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in “Mother”

There are many hints in Mother that this is all just a draft story by a bad author. Here are just a few of the hints:

  • None of the Characters have names. Jenifer Lawrence is simply called “Mother”, and Javier Bardem “The Poet”. As the story progresses, more and more characters appear, but not a single one is given a name.
  • A writer is worshiped. Let’s face it, writers are very bitter that they never become celebrities they way actors do, even when they have written the films that made the actors famous. In Mother, The Poet writes one poem that is so good he becomes a cult hero worshiped by thousands who travel to visit his house as a shrine.

 

Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer in "Mother"

Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer in “Mother”

  • There is no world outside the house. All of the action takes place in one beautiful house but outside there is nothing but grass. No farms, no roads, no cars, no buildings. The author  apparently used all his creative energy making the setting of the house and did not have enough imagination to describe a community to go with it.  Even the house itself is not fully constructed,
  • New Characters are brought in awkwardly and with no reason. Ed Harris shows up at the house and later brings his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). The poet simply invites them in to live in the house, which is something no person would do in real life.
  • When the story seems to be going nowhere the author just makes it a violent as possible. This goes on and on to a ridiculous extent. When Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer just show up, the story drags, as it seems to revolve around how to get rid of annoying and unwanted guests.  Then in the last 20 minutes of the movie we get a murder. Then a riot. Then an attack by the army.

 

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in the strange world of Mother

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in the strange world of Mother

  • When all else fails, a bad author goes for”Gross & Disgusting”. As a grand finale Jennifer Lawrence gives birth to a baby which is then killed and eaten by the crowd worshiping The Poet. At this point in the theater where we saw Mother  several people actually booed. One fellow shouted out “What the F**k”?

So there it is. Mother is a bad story that is supposed to be a bad story. But we actually liked it. If you take the story seriously, you will hate Mother. However, we recommend you watch it as intended. The story of a beautiful and sympathetic charter (Jennifer Lawrence) who is forever trapped in a world being made and re-made by a bad creator.  Despite all this, she still loves The Poet. She has faith that one day, he will finally create for her a perfect world in which she and her baby can live forever.

The Woman In Cabin 10 – murder & mystery on the high seas

Ruth Ware’s The Woman In Cabin 10 is a terrific murder mystery novel with an added twist. The twist is that we are not sure if a murder really took place. The only “witness” is an excitable young woman who was high on  prescription drugs and alcohol when she supposedly heard the murder.

Was Woman In Cabin 10 murdered?

Was Woman In Cabin 10 murdered?

The setting for the “murder” is a small luxury cruise ship at sea. Like Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, this means that the list of suspects is limited to passengers and crew.

"The Woman In Cabin 10". Murder on a luxury cruise ship.

“The Woman In Cabin 10”. Murder on a luxury cruise ship.

The heroine of the story is travel writer Lo Blacklock, who has been given the once in a lifetime  assignment of traveling and reporting on the maiden voyage of the luxury ship Aurora. Unlike the giant cruise liners catering to the masses, the Aurora has only 10 cabins, and is designed to serve an exclusive clientele of billionaires.

Agatha Christie would have loved The Woman In Cabin 10.

Agatha Christie would have loved The Woman In Cabin 10.

Unfortunately, Lo is recovering from a a recent break-in at her London flat, where she was confronted and attacked by the thief.  Ever since that traumatic event,  she has been shaky, and consuming more alcohol than is good for her.

Getting ready for dinner the first night of the cruise, Lo realizes that she has forgotten her mascara. She borrows some from an angry young woman in the #10;  the cabin next door. Many hours later, after a night of eating and drinking, Lo  is in bed when she hears a scream from cabin 10. Going to balcony facing the sea, Lo is sure there is a body in the water.

Norway's Fjords. A perfect murder setting.

Norway’s Fjords. A perfect murder setting.

When Lo reports the crime, she is told that there never was a passenger in Cabin 10, and that none of the crew are missing. Either there is a conspiracy, or the stresses of Lo’s life have become too much to deal with and she has hallucinated the whole event.

The Woman In Cabin 10 shares many similarities with The Girl On The Train. In both stories, the heroine is a fragile but determined woman fighting internal and external demons. We loved The Woman In Cabin 10. Anyone can be a hero when you are strong and confident and trusted by all around you. But what can you do to  summon up courage for an emergency when just making it through every day life is an ordeal?

Ruth Ware. Author of "The Woman In Cabin 10".

Ruth Ware. Author of “The Woman In Cabin 10”.

Agatha Christie would have loved The Woman In Cabin 10. It is a classic mystery story where all the clues are given, but the reader still cannot guess the ending. The setting is also wonderful. A luxury ship sailing the Nordic fjords, where the cliffs are so high that they block the cell phone and internet access that could be used to call for help. Whatever is going on, the frail young Lo Blacklock is definitely on her own. If the murder did not happen, she is going crazy. If she is sane, that means Lo is the only witness to a murder. And the killer is still on the ship.

3 Generations – Elle Fanning as a transgender teen – Good concept but Hallmark Channel” ending

3 Generations stars Elle Fanning as “Ray” a transgender teen.   A good film is almost ruined by a “Hallmark Channel” ending. In real life, people don’t reconcile, prejudices run deep and every problem does not have a solution. On the Hallmark Channel, of course, every complex issue can be resolved within a two hour show. We expected more from a a film tacking the controversial issue of transgender teens

However, despite these flaws, 3 Generations is worth seeing simply for the superb acting of every cast member.   Even though Ray is  part of a very progressive New York City family, Ray’s decision to physically become male puts tremendous stress on the 3 generations of her family living in 1 apartment.

Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in "3 Generations"

Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in “3 Generations”

Elle Fanning gives a masterful performance as Ramona, who never felt comfortable in the body of a girl. Very early in childhood she insisted on being “Ray”, – dressing & behaving as a boy. Now at age 16 she wants to complete the transition with hormone treatments and surgery, to become truly male.

Naomi Watts & Elle Fanning in "3 Generations"

Naomi Watts & Elle Fanning in “3 Generations”

Of course, at age 16 she needs parental consent. This causes anguish for Ray’s mother Maggie (Naomi Watts) Maggie wrestles with what the right decision should be. The pressures on Maggie are made even greater by the fact that she and Ray live with Ray’s grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon). Despite being a lesbian herself, Dolly completely rejects the concept of a transgender teen. Dolly also feels it is necessary to express her opinions as often as possible.

Tate Donovan & Naomi Watts in "3 Generations"

Tate Donovan & Naomi Watts in “3 Generations”

Just when Ray thinks the situation cannot become any more complex, there is a new issue. Even if Maggie does consent for the procedure; that will not be enough.  It turns out that Ray’s father also needs to approve, even though he has not  been around for many years. Ray decides to search out her father and confront him with the fact that “his little girl” is not who he thought.

Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon & Elle Fanning at the premier of "3 Generations"

Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon & Elle Fanning at the premier of “3 Generations”

Throughout her career Elle Fanning has always played a very feminine “girly-girl”. Recently she was a a fashion model in Neon Demon, and a young seductress in the Civil War drama The Beguiled. Her performance  as Ray demonstrates her range.

Naomi Watts, Sam Trammell & Elle Fanning in "3 Generations"

Naomi Watts, Sam Trammell & Elle Fanning in “3 Generations”

The problem with 3 Generations is that the film went in too much for “feel good” scenes and touching family moments, rather than the stark realities of family conflicts. People are just too understanding of Ray. There is 1 scene in which Ray gets beat up by a bully on the street. However, the injuries are just a black eye.

Aside from that 1 incident, everyone accepts Ramona as “Ray”. School officials, other teens doctors, and eventually all family members all have no problems with the issue. Real transgender teens will say that the world is not quite like that.

The most unbelievable part of 3 Generations is that of Ray’s father Craig (played by Tate Donovan).  Without spoiling the film, let’s just say that his actions are not normal for someone who has a transgender kid they have not seen in 10 years suddenly show up.

Still, we do give 3 Generations Four Stars because the acting is superb, and it does have the courage to look at a “hot button” issue.  3 Generations does show the love that can be the part of the life of a transgender person. However, the film also should have realistically shown the hate that also exists in the world of every transgender individual.

Rememory – murder with a science fiction and psychological twist

We are our memories.  But which of our memories are real and which are simply lies we have created over time to smooth the pain of life? Peter Dinklage stars in Rememory, a murder mystery where deciphering the difference between real and false memories becomes a matter of life and death.

Peter Dinklage as Sam Bloom in Rememory

Peter Dinklage as Sam Bloom in Rememory

Peter Dinklage is Sam Bloom, a man who is tormented by memories of the death of his brother in a horrific car crash years earlier. The worst part of the crash is that Sam cannot even remember exactly what happened, including the last words his brother said to him.  Sam seeks out the help of the Rememory machine, a prototype device that can tap into the brain and pull up exact pictures of the past.

The Rememory Machine

The Rememory Machine

The inventor of the Rememory machine is genius scientist Gordon Dunn (Martin Donovan). Dr. Dunn genuinely wants to help troubled patients by getting them to delve into past events that shaped their lives. But perhaps the past was never meant to be relived. Perhaps our minds remold the past into a vague nostalgia for a reason.

Evelyne Brochu as the brilliant scientist's bitter mistress in Rememory

Evelyne Brochu as the brilliant scientist’s bitter mistress in Rememory

As Sam tries to rediscover his own past, Dr. Dunn is murdered and the Rememory machine stolen. Sam goes on a quest to find the murderer and recover the machine. Part of his motive is selfish as this is the only way Sam can find out what really happened to his own brother.

Martin Donovan as Dr. Gordon Dunn - inventor of the Rememory device

Martin Donovan as Dr. Gordon Dunn – inventor of the Rememory device

Rememory is brilliantly acted and directed. Written by Michael Vukadinovich and Mark Palansky. Despite some Sci-Fi aspects, it is a psychological drama rather than a sci-fi movie. The emotions and conflicts of the characters are much more important than the machine. Mark Palansky is also the director of Rememory. The beautiful and remote locations emphasize  how the characters have tired to remove themselves from the world and their own pasts.

Michael Vukadinovich, co-author of Rememory

Michael Vukadinovich, co-author of Rememory

Each of the actors in Rememory bring added depth to the story. Julia Ormond is Carolyn Dunn the tormented wife of Dr. Dunn. She loved her husband deeply, but also knows that he was not the perfect genius the world has come to worship.

Julia Ormond stars as Carolyn Dunn in Rememory

Julia Ormond stars as Carolyn Dunn in Rememory

Evelyne Brochu is Wendy, the former mistress of Dr. Dunn, who is bitter and resentful at being treated as second best.  Matt Ellis is Dash Bloom the rock star brother of Sam. Dash died in the car crash long ago, but Sam is slowly able  to remember more and more about Dash.

Matt Ellis is rock star Sam Bloom in Rememory

Matt Ellis is rock star Sam Bloom in Rememory

Rememory has mysteries within mysteries. Who killed Dr. Dunn? What really happened to Dash Bloom? What are the hidden secrets of Dr. Bloom’s patients?

Mark Palansky - Director & co-author of Rememory

Mark Palansky – Director & co-author of Rememory

Google Play is currently offering Rememory for free. We would have gladly paid to watch such a fine film. However,  it was kind of fun to get something for free and then have it turn out to actually be good. Google Play is a new service Google has rolled out to compete with Netflix and Amazon. This may not be good news for Amazon and Netflix, but it is great news for the moving-loving public. The competition will keep prices low and give us more variety.

Wind River- Murder On An Indian Reservation

Wind River is about hunting the killers of a young Arapaho woman found raped and murdered on the reservation in the dead of a  Wyoming Winter. Filmed entirely on the Wind River reservation, it a a gripping and brutal tale of survival and loss. The Wind River reservation is the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined and has a total of six tribal police officers to patrol it. The only outside help is that In a murder or other major crime, the FBI may send in an agent to investigate.

Jeremy Renner & Gil Birmingham in Wind River

Jeremy Renner & Gil Birmingham in Wind River

In this case, the FBI sends in Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who is originally from Florida and knows nothing about the reservation or the people. She even has to borrow winter clothing simply to keep from freezing to death. However, she is smart enough to enlist the help of local hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who is an expert.

Kelsey Chow as murder victim Natalie Hanson in Wind River

Kelsey Chow as murder victim Natalie Hanson in Wind River

Unlike many murder mysteries, Wind River lays bare the devastating impact that a murder has on a family and the entire community. Gil Birmingham gives a truly powerful performance as the father of the murdered girl. He and his wife are devastated by the loss. The film focuses not just on finding the killer, but on how the family is going to try to survive.

Elizabeth Olson & Graham Greene in Wind River

Elizabeth Olsen & Graham Greene in Wind River

Unfortunately, the events of the film are not all fiction.  The Wind River reservation does have high unemployment, a high suicide rate, and did have a series of murders. Wind River does not try to give us a poetically stylized version of the noble American Indian stereotype.  A backdrop to the story is a blunt look at modern problems in today’s Native American population.

Jeremy Renner as the hunter Cory Lambert in Wind River

Jeremy Renner as the hunter Cory Lambert in Wind River

Jeremy Renner is the bitter Cory Lambert; a Fish and Game agent, whose job consists of tracking and killing predators on the reservation such as wolves and mountain lions. His own daughter had frozen to death in the snow years earlier, and he is wracked with guilt that he could not save her. Corey’s wife (played by Julia Jones) has never forgiven him.

Julia Jones

Julia Jones

When Corey is now  brought in to help track the murderers of this  young girl, he takes it as a chance for redemption. Everyone on the Reservation  knows that when a hunter like Cory is sent to track men, he has no intention of bringing any of them in alive.

The bitter Winter on Wind River Reservation

The bitter Winter on Wind River Reservation

The brutality of the murderers is matched only by the brutality of the Wyoming Winter, which is almost its own character in Wind River. None of the events could be imagined in Springtime.

Wind River is a beautifully filmed and acted movie. Graham Green gives the perfect performance as the Tribal Police chief, who has seen it all, but who still feels deep pain for the desperation of his people. Kelsey Chow is Natalie, the murder victim. In too many movies, the murdered person is really a forgotten character.  In Wind River, we are reminded that in the real world, the lives that murders snuff out belonged to actual people with hopes and dreams that never got to be fulfilled.

Natasha Leggero – The Key to the Comedic Success of Showtime’s “Dice”

Showtime’s Dice is now in its second season, and is hilarious. A key to the success is the classic “straight man” (or in this case “straight woman”) performance of Natasha Leggero. In Dice, Natasha Leggero plays Carmen, the long-suffering, ever -patient girlfriend of comedian Andrew Dice Clay.

Natasha Leggero

Natasha Leggero

In Dice, Andrew Dice Clay portrays himself as a down and out comedian whose glory days were 27 years ago. In 1990  Dice’s comedy routine sold out Madison Square Garden. Today living in Las Vegas, he can barely eek out a living telling jokes in the small lounges of casinos. He has not taken this decline in popularity  well, and is constantly cooking up bizarre  schemes to get himself back on top. Of course, Dice’s aggressive “Brooklyn style” personality is his own worst enemy. He refuses to change with the times, no matter how practical or politically correct  that would be.

A still from the Showtime original series DICE (Season 1, Gallery). - Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/Courtesy of SHOWTIME - Photo ID: DICE_Group_01.R Pictured: Kevin Corrigan as Milkshake, Andrew Dice Clay as himself and Natasha Leggero as Carmen

A still from the Showtime original series DICE (Season 1, Gallery). – Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/Courtesy of SHOWTIME – Photo ID: DICE_Group_01.R Pictured: Kevin Corrigan as Milkshake, Andrew Dice Clay as himself and Natasha Leggero as Carmen

Andrew Dice Clay, of course, is known for his “over the top” crude humor and crazy antics. In Dice, he is able to go into the full scale wild man routine, since his performance is offset by the calm normality  of Carmen (Natasha Leggero) In any comedy team the “straight man” is always underappreciated. Bud Abbott set up the routines for Lou Costello to get the laughs. Part of Lucille Ball’s comedy was the fact that Desi Arnaz was always trying to save Lucy from her own crazy schemes.

Straight Man Bud Abbott with Lou Costello

Straight Man Bud Abbott with Lou Costello

In Dice, Natasha Leggaro’s role is almost one of audience participation. She is the voice of reason, constantly pointing out what a normal person would do in the circumstance. This makes Dice’s antics even funnier, since he never does the normal,  reasonable thing.

Andrew "Dice" Clay in 1990 when he sold out Madison Square Garden

Andrew “Dice” Clay in 1990 when he sold out Madison Square Garden

It must take a lot of discipline for Natasha Legarro to remain in character, since she is a great stand up comedian in her own right. Part of her routine is fighting the stereotype that people expect a female comic to be ugly. In one stand up routine a heckler in the crowd yelled out, “Don’t you think you’re too good looking to be a comic?” Natacha’s immediate comeback was “don’t you think you’re too ugly to be speaking to me?” She herself states that good looking female comedians performing for a mostly male audience  are simply “smarter, less molested versions of strippers.”

Straight Desi Arnaz with Lucille Ball

Straight Desi Arnaz with Lucille Ball

But on Dice, Natasha Leggaro never tries to use  her own comedic style to  upstage Andrew Dice Clay. Her performance is the mark of a true processional. As the calm “straight woman” she sets the stage for Andrew Dice Clay to showcase his unique talents to the fullest.

Natasha Leggero as "Carmen" tries unsuccessfully to reason with Andrew "Dice"Clay in Showtime's Dice.

Natasha Leggero as “Carmen” tries unsuccessfully to reason with Andrew “Dice”Clay in Showtime’s Dice.

On Dice, Kevin Corrigan is Dice’s strange side kick and hanger-on named “Milkshake” (whose moniker is never explained.) Kevin Corrigan’s deadpan humor is the perfect foil for Andrew Dice Clay’s blunt style.

Natasha Leggero

Natasha Leggero

Throughout the show, there is no doubt that Carmen loves Dice and simply accepts that his strange way of doing things is a part of who he is and what makes her love him. There is also no doubt that “Dice” loves Carmen and realizes how lucky he is to have found her. Off screen, Andrew Dice Clay also knows exactly how fortunate he is to have found, in Natasha Leggaro, the perfect match to help bring to life some of the best performances of his career.

 

 

 

 

The Last Supper – Liberals Kill Right-Wing Wackos

The Last Supper is a dark comedy in which a group of Liberals, fed up with being intimidated and  threatened by right-wingers, begins murdering them. The film was made in 1995, but the political tension makes you realize that nothing has changed in America. The first killing of a Conservative happens as a bizarre accident, but once the Liberals get a taste for blood there is no going back.

Jonathan Penner & Bill Paxton in The Last Supper

Jonathan Penner & Bill Paxton in The Last Supper

The Liberals are a group of grad students who live in a big house and once  a week have a fancy dinner and discuss how to fix the world. Like all good murder stories, the first death takes place on a dark and stormy night. On that night, they are joined for dinner by a truck driver named Cody (Bill Paxton). When the discussion turns to politics, Cody becomes more and more heated, spewing right-wing, hatred-filled conspiracy theories. Cody becomes violent, breaking the arm of one Liberal and holding a knife to the throat of another. The Liberals finally fight back and end up killing Cody.

Ron Eldard & Cameron Diaz in The Last Supper, with a bottle of poisoned wine between them

Ron Eldard & Cameron Diaz in The Last Supper, with a bottle of poisoned wine between them

At first the Liberals are shocked at what has happened. But then they begin to feel a real sense of power and elation. For the first time in their lives they have actually taken action, instead of just taking about what other people should do to improve the world. Instead of calling the police they decide to hide Cody’s body and start on their own mini-campaign to rid the world of people they perceive as evil.

The Liberals toast the person they are going to kill in The Last Supper

The Liberals toast the person they are going to kill in The Last Supper

This is where The Last Supper turns into a sort of political version of Arsenic And Old Lace. The Liberals search out right-wingers and one by one invite  them for dinner. After a sumptuous meal, the Conservative is  slipped a glass of poisoned wine.

But once the “revenge of the Liberals” begins there is no stopping it. At first they murder those that are the worst of the worst. They invite to dinner a Reverend (Charles Durning), who believes that AIDS is God’s way of punishing homosexuals, and the faster the homosexuals die the better.  However, as The Last Supper progresses the Liberals begin to kill people who are less and less offensive. One victim is a woman who simply has bad taste in literature.

Murder By Death

Murder By Death

The Last Supper may not sound like a comedy, but it is hilarious. The murders take place in the style of Murder By Death or Clue so that the audience always understands this is a spoof.

Clue

Clue

The Last Supper, also has a cast of terrifically talented actors. The Liberals all have the names of Apostles, although there are not 12 of them Cameron Diaz is “Jude”, but it is never clear who she betrays. Jason Alexander is a slob of a dinner guest whose “crime”is that he just doesn’t care about the environment.

The political tensions and violence make The Last Supper feel like it was filmed yesterday instead of in 1995. Bill Paxton is perfect as Cody the truck driver. There is no doubt that Cody would have been marching with the White Supremacists in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, we now  live in an America where political violence is not just on the movie screen.

The Last Supper is a fantastic movie to see today, since it can be watched on so many levels. It is great as the dark comedy it was intended. However, given today’s political environment it can also be seen as a warning of what can happen, if well meaning intellectuals were to give in to their baser desires for revenge.

As a final bizarre note, there was a violent end to the  movie set itself. Days after The Last Supper was finished, the beautiful old house in which it was filmed burned to the ground.

 

 

Who remembers Potato Guns? Who Wants one?

For some bizarre reason the Baby Boomer generation was obsessed with potatoes. Eating potatoes, dressing up potatoes as people, and even using potatoes as weapons. There was Mister Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head, and the consumption of billions of french fries. The weapon, of course, was the Potato Gun, where the bullets were little pieces of potatoes. East Coast Stories recently found a whole case of perfect Potato Guns still in their boxes in the back of an old storeroom of a food company.

The Potato Gun

The Potato Gun

There is a historical reason for this potato obsession. American Baby Boomers were the first full generation in the history of the world that did not have to worry about getting enough to eat. In fact, Americans in the 1950s found that they actually had a surplus of food.

Care and Maintenance of The Potato Gun

Care and Maintenance of The Potato Gun

There was, after all, so much food that Baby Boomers could even play with it.  Food Fights became the rage in high schools and colleges. In what other country on Earth would people waste food by throwing it around?

Food Fight in Animal House

Food Fight in Animal House

Who could ever forget Jon Belushi and the Food Fight in Animal House?

The complete Potato Gun

The complete Potato Gun

The Potato Gun was a toy that a kid would stick into a potato and then load chunks of the potato as “bullets”. Kids would then shoot the potato bullets at each other. Baby Boomer  Bruce Willis actually references the potato gun in the movie Armageddon. Most of the younger viewers obviously had no idea what he was taking about.

Immigrants arriving in America. The land of Food

Immigrants arriving in America. The land of Food

Ironically, the potato was the reason many people even became Americans at all.  During the Irish Potato Famine the Irish immigrated to America by the thousands. Politicians like to talk about people coming to America for the freedom, but that is only partially true.

A shipload of immigrants arriving in America

A shipload of immigrants arriving in America

Many immigrants moved to The United States because their families were starving, literally starving, in the Old Country. The dream of thousands who came through Ellis Island was not of political freedom. The immigrants dream was that some day their children would have enough to eat.

French fried potatoes, the favorite American food

French fried potatoes, the favorite American food

So finding this case of Potato Guns was like turning a page back in history. What should we do with them? Kids have long since moved on  to more sophisticated computerized games. But possibly there are some curious readers  who would like one of these old-time toys. Dear readers, let us know what you think.

A working Potato Gun

A working Potato Gun

Would you be interested in a free Potato Gun?Just holding one may magically bring you back to a time when sons and daughters of starving immigrants fulfilled their ancestors dreams and had so much food it could even be turned into toys.

Rosewater- a Daily Show joke gets an Iranian jailed as a spy

Rosewater is the true story of Iranian Journalist Maziar Bahari who was jailed as a spy, for skit on The Daily Show. In 2009, The Daily Show’s Jason Jones was in Terhan filming a comedy skit. Jason Jones  sat in a cafe and pretended to be an American spy who was openly asking random Iranian citizens to reveal State secrets. The joke was supposed to be about how inept and amateurish the CIA is.

Maziar Bahari  was an Iranian citizen working for Newsweek magazine. He happened to be at the same cafe, and appeared in The Daily Show skit as a joke. Little did he know that this would  land him in jail charged with treason.

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

The Iranian authorities already had their eyes on Maziar Bahari. He had filmed the riots that had occurred when  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran. Many people considered this election a fraud, and large violent riots occurred. Maziar Bahari had filmed the riots and sent the pictures out to the world.

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

Most of Rosewater takes place in the Iranian prison and is the interaction between Maziar, and the man interrogating him. We never learn the interrogator’s name. Maziar thinks of him as “Rosewater”, since the man constantly wears rosewater cologne.

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

Rosewater is a fascinating movie and the acting is superb. Even if you know nothing about Iranian politics, it is a terrific psychological prison drama. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Maziar Bahari and is perfect in the role.

At first Maziar believes his imprisonment is  just a misunderstanding, and that he will quickly be able to explain the truth and then be let free. When Rosewater shows Maziar the tape of Maziar talking to American “spy” Jason Jones, Maziar laughs and explains it is just a comedy show. Then he slowly comes to realize that the Iranian authorities do not see anything as a joke, and that Maziar could be in prison for life.

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

Kim Bodnia is” Rosewater”, the interrogator. Rosewater does not think of himself as a cruel or evil man. He truly believes himself to be an Iranian patriot protecting the country from dangerous outsiders. He does not physically torture Maziar, and even gives him fruit and tea.

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

The worst part of the imprisonment is that Maziar is kept in solitary confinement and blindfolded for most of the day. In his mind he begins to have conversations with his deceased father (played by Haluk Bilginer) and sister (played by Golshifeth Farahani).

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

Unbeknownst to Maziar, huge international pressure was being put on Iran to release him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered the issue over and over again and simply would not let the world forget about Maziar Bahari. The world also fell in love with Maziar’s beautiful pregnant English wife Paola (played by Claire Foy).

Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton would NOT let the world forget about Maziar Bahan

Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton would NOT let the world forget about Maziar Bahari

Rosewater was written and directed by Jon Stewart, who felt terrible that a joke on his show ended up getting a man imprisoned. John Stewart and Executive producer Catherine Farrell made Rosewater a fascinating film that focuses on the human side, rather than becoming too preachy or political.

 

The Macho Days At Ford – Violence, Prostitutes, Alcohol and Bad Cars

I have to laugh at Google going berserk over one sexist memo. When I was at Ford Motor Company, it tolerated and often encouraged workplace violence,  drunkenness, and even prostitution. This was way back in the late 1970s in Dearborn Michigan. (Yes, I am that old.) I was one of a large group of MBAs and Engineers that Ford recruited from top schools all over the country. We were lured there by the fact that the whole Detroit region was promoting what was supposed to be the Detroit “Renascence” (which obviously did not work out as planned) Little did we know that while top management wanted to modernize the whole Ford culture,  Middle Management had no intention of letting go of its beloved macho lifestyle.

The Ford Pinto. The worst car of all time.

The Ford Pinto. The worst car of all time.

Our first clue that Ford was not as progressive as it claimed, was the fact that whole departments and even divisions  of the company had no women. None whatsoever.  This lead to a very “frat house” working environment, which was epitomized in the company sponsored events.

My first week on the job our department had a company sponsored trip to a Detroit Tigers game. The company even paid for a bus and all the tickets, food and drinks. However, the first stop of the bus was not at Tiger Stadium. No; the first stop was at a strip club where the entire department got lap dances, while getting thoroughly drunk. (Did I mention there were zero women in our department?)

Even the sexy girl can't make the Ford Fiesta a good car

Even the sexy girl can’t make the Ford Fiesta a good car

After several hours in the strip club, we got back on the bus, joined by one of the women from the strip club. She sidelined as a prostitute, and the department manager awarded  her “services” to the top worker in the department.  We only actually made it to the game for the last few innings. There was so much booze at the game and on the bus, I don’t think anyone even knew if the Tigers won or lost.

At the workplace itself, physical threats were common. The factories themselves were known as dangerous places, but threats were also common among white collar workers. I personally witnessed a division V.P. pick up a desktop computer and throw it at the head of an engineer who had not gotten his calculations completed on time for a key presentation.

Ford's River Rouge plant. Now closed

Ford’s River Rouge plant. Now closed

The division V.P. screamed a string of obscenities, the gist of which was that if the engineer could not get his work done, then there was no point in that engineer even having a computer. Then the V.P picked the heavy computer off the the engineer’s desk and threw it at the engineer’s head.  It missed the engineer’s head by about three inches, and smashed into the wall, destroying the computer. No one reported the incident to Human Resources. It would not have been macho to complain and if you did you would  be ostracized as a wimp.

The Ford Fiesta. One of the reasons Americans switched to cars from Japan.

The Ford Fiesta. One of the reasons Americans switched to cars from Japan.

While Ford’s top management seemed not to be aware of this environment, middle management actually considered it valuable part of the Ford culture, and thought that putting people under as much pressure as possible all the time was the best way to achieve the best results. They seemed not to notice that the effects were exactly the opposite.  In the 1970s Ford produced some of the worst cars ever made, inducing the piece of junk Ford Pinto and the Ford Fiesta. The East German Trabant has the reputation as the world’s worst car, but the Pinto was far worse. After all, there are still a large number of Trabants around, and even Trabant clubs. When was the last time you ever saw a Pinto?

Ford Security Thugs beating up a union organizer

Ford Security Thugs beating up a union organizer

No discussion of the old days at Ford would be complete without mentioning the hated Ford Security forces. They were not your normal corporate security guards. The Ford security guards were essentially a private police force, who treated the Ford employees as the enemy, rather than the people they were there to protect. This went back to the 1920’s when Henry Ford used Ford Security as goons to beat up union organizers. In the days of Henry Ford the first, the Ford Security “guards” were often also members of local organized crime gangs. Even decades later the basic attitude of Ford Security had not changed.

If you work late at most companies, when you leave the building the security people wave to you and say a cheery “good night!”. No so at Ford in the 1970s. If you worked late the guards  immediately suspected that you were really there to steal something. If you left by car it was like going through a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Two or more gun-toting goons would come up and shine a flashlight directly in your eyes. You would be made to step out of the vehicle, while the guards searched every part of the car and trunk to see if you were stealing anything. This was how Ford treated the “brightest and best” employees who they had recruited at great expense from all over the country.  Then Human Resources wondered why one by one these new recruits took jobs elsewhere, until after a few years not a single one was left at Ford.

One of the most hated aspects of the Ford Security force was the way it treated the Ford employee’s cars. Ironically, there were not enough parking spaces at the Ford buildings to accommodate all the employees. This forced many employees to park in non-designated spots, or on the grass etc. Instead of setting up remote parking with shuttle buses or some other solution, Ford punished its own employees for the company’s lack of planning.

Ford Security would “sticker” any employee’s car not parked in a designated spot. This sticker was a bright red 1 foot by 1 foot “no parking” placard which Security would glue directly on the driver’s side windshield of the employee’s car.  It was heavy, fast-drying glue. At the end of every working day, many employees would find these bring red placards glued to their windshield. It would take 10 or 15 minuted to scrape one of these stickers off with an ice scraper. Even after the placard was removed the glue left a sticky residue which made everything look blurry when you looked through the windshield. This residue took weeks to wear off.

Top Management was completely unaware of what was really happening at the company. They even thought Ford was making good cars. After all, Ford top management all drove Ford cars, and they loved them. Of course, Top Management was not really driving average Ford cars. All senior management got free top of the line Fords to drive (no Pintos or Fiestas for them), in return for filling out surveys on how the cars performed.

Ford's ironic motto was "Where Quality is Job 1"

Ford’s ironic motto was “Where Quality is Job 1”

Every day, senior management would drive these cars and park in their assigned spaces (no stickers on their windshields.) While these men were  working (all senior managers were men) a team of employees took care of the cars. The cars were washed, the insides cleaned, and the cars filled with gas. If the senior manager reported any problem with the vehicle, then the manager was given a brand new replacement car to drive home. Predictably, the senior managers all truthfully filled out the surveys reporting that all the Ford cars they drove were great.

When Senior Management would leave work, no matter how late the hour, Ford Security men would smile and wave and wish them “good night!”. No flashlights in the eyes, no car searches. Senior Managers drove home happy in the knowledge that they were running a company that made a great product, and all the employees were happy.

The Minus Man – Owen Wilson As A Laid Back Serial Killer

In The Minus Man, Owen Wilson is a laid back serial killer whose good looks and soft voice keep people from ever suspecting that he is a psychopathic monster. The Minus Man premiered 7 years before Dexter, and in many ways is a far superior presentation.

Owen Wilson as a psychopathic killer in The Minus Man

Owen Wilson as a psychopathic killer in The Minus Man

Owen Wilson is Vann Siegert, who  one day rolls into a sleepy rural town in his old pickup truck and rents a room with a local couple. Vann is handsome and blond with a voice that is so soft and smooth it is almost hypnotic.

Owen Wilson & Sheryl Crow attend the premier of The Minus Man

Owen Wilson & Sheryl Crow attend the premier of The Minus Man

However, even before he arrives in town, we have already seen Vann commit one murder. Unlike television’s Dexter Morgan, The Minus Man has no “code”. Vann does not search out bad people to kill. There is no logic to who The Minus Man murders. He is a very opportunistic killer, taking advantage of whoever is naive enough to drive with him alone at night.

Owen Wilson is amazing at playing this chilling killer. Audiences used to seeing Owen Wilson in light comedies will be stunned to see him as the bad guy. Owen Wilson is so perfect in The Minus Man that you cannot imagine anyone else playing the part.

Jeanne Garofalo - makes the mistake of trying to love a psychopath in The Minus Man

Jeanne Garofalo – makes the mistake of trying to love a psychopath in The Minus Man

There is no bloodshed or gore in The Minus Man, which only serves to make it more frighting. Vann poisons his victims, and they simply fall into a deep sleep from which there is no awaking. He does not have any feeling of hatred towards the people he kills. In fact, he seems to have no feelings whatsoever about anything. His complete lack of empathy and his inability to connect with anyone or anything is the mark of a true psychopath.

Dennis Haysbert as a fictitious cop in The Minus Man

Dennis Haysbert as a fictitious cop in The Minus Man

The one person to suspect there is a dark side to Vann, is Ferrin (Jeanne Garofalo), who is desperately trying to be his girlfriend. Vann gets a job at the local post office, and Ferrin is thrilled to find herself working next to a gorgeous guy her own age. They begin to date, but the more they see each other the more Ferrin begins to suspect that Vann is just acting the part of a boyfriend instead of really being one. Of course, Dexter was to steal this same theme years later.

Brian Cox in The Minus Man

Brian Cox in The Minus Man

All of the actors in The Minus Man are superb, which is one of the features that makes it a great film. Singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow plays a burned out-drug addict who is unlucky enough to be in a bar where Vann stops in for a drink. Her acting is fantastic, and this was also her acting debut.

Dennis Haysbert is a tough-as-nails police officer who only exists in The Minus Man’s mind. Over and over again, Vann imagines what it will be like when some day he is brought in for questioning for a murder. The fictitious cop is not at all fooled by Vann’s charm or smiles. Is this what Vann really wants? Does he dream of a time when someone will see him for the monster he really is?

Brian Cox is Doug, who rents a room to Vann and treats Vann like a newfound son. However, it turns out that Doug has dark secrets of his own.

Joran van der Sloot who has killed at least 2 young women

Joran van der Sloot who has killed at least 2 young women

One of the most frighting aspects of The Minus Man is the fact that we have actually seen this scenario played out over and over again in real life. The general public continues to believe that somehow evil people must be ugly and that a good looking person cannot possible be bad. Take for example, the gorgeous Joran van der Sloot, who murdered at least 2 women (Natalee Holloway and Stephanie Flores Ramirez). Even in prison, he received hundreds of proposals of marriage from young women thrilled by his looks.

Robert Chambers- The Preppie Killer who murdered Jennifer Levin

Robert Chambers- The Preppie Killer who murdered Jennifer Levin

Who can forget Robert Chambers, the “preppie killer” , whose good looks are matched only by his arrogance. He strangled Jennifer Levin to death during sex in Central Park at night, and then had the arrogance to say he was acting in “self-defense”.

Dzhokhat Tsarnaev one of the Boston Bombers

Dzhokhat Tsarnaev one of the Boston Bombers

Most recently there is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, whose cute photo was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone was heavily attacked for publishing such a nice looking photo of a terrorist. People who make those criticisms missed the point. The whole reason Rolling Stone published the photo was to show that the eyes are not the window to the soul.  You cannot tell who is good and who is evil just by looking at them. Mother Teresa did not have a beautiful face. Joran van der Sloot does.

The Minus Man is a chilling glimpse into the mind of a psychopath killer. It shows us what is there, and more importantly what is missing in the mind of a killer. We highly recommend The Minus Man.

Naked Persephone’s Escape From Hades -The Real Cause of Global Warming

Persephone slipped naked from the bed of the sleeping Hades, and ran at full speed past the thousands of shifting, silent Shades of the dead. Heat radiated off her naked sweat-drenched body as she ran. Persephone no longer noticed noticed the heat of the Underworld. It was just one of the many tortures she had to endure six months of the year, like the nightly rape by her so-called “husband” Hades, or the stench of the dead.

Shades of The Underworld

Shades of The Underworld

Persephone knew that the world above was gripped in the cold of Winter. For the six months of each year that Persephone was trapped in  the Underworld, Persephone’s Goddess mother Demeter would weep cold tears and refuse to let the plants bloom. Zeus had decreed that Persephone could spend half the year in the land of the living, but must spend the remainder of the each year trapped in the world of the dead.

Every night, while Hades slept, Persephone ran naked down this same dark cave, past the bubbling pools of scalding water, past the piles of skulls down past the murmuring crowds of demons and monsters.  Over two thousand years ago, Persephone had started her tunnel to the surface. She used human skulls to dig with, and human bones to to shore up the tunnel. Inch by inch foot by foot she dug toward the surface.

Hades on his throne

Hades on his throne

When she first came to the land of the dead,  Persephone thought that a hero might defy Zeus and come to rescue her. Many men had tried and perished. The true hero Heracles had almost succeeded. With Persephone’s help Heracles had captured the three-headed monster god Cerberus, but even Heracles did not have the strength to carry Persephone from the grip of Hades.

Persephone's naked escape from The Underworld

Persephone’s naked escape from The Underworld

In the Underworld there was no way to tell night from day, but over the centuries, Persephone had learned to keep track of time in her head. She had memorized just how long Hades slept each night, and about an hour before he awoke, Persephone would stop her digging and climb back down the tunnel and begin her run back to the bed of the god she hated. Hades, god of the dead, Persephone’s jailer and uncle.

Demons of Hades

Demons of Hades

When Persephone came to the pools of boiling water she would dive in and wash the dirt from her body and hair. The scalding water would have torn the flesh off of a mortal woman, but she was, after all, a goddess. Gods and goddesses live forever, but despite what the humans think, they do feel pain. Each night Persephone endured the agony of a rape by Hades, the choking dirt of the tunnel in her mouth and eyes, and the pain of a bath in boiling hot water. But bathe she must, to wash the dirt from her hair and body, so that Hades would not suspect she was tunneling to escape.

Persephone

Persephone

Persephone arose naked from the steaming bath, with only the silent Shades of the dead to witness her incredible beauty. She had not always been naked in the Underworld. At first, Hades had brought her beautiful dresses and jewels. He had expected her to be a real wife, despite the fact that he had captured her and dragged her into the Underworld against her will. But when it became clear that Persephone would never give herself to Hades willingly, he ripped off her clothing and burned it in a pile. Then he took her by force night after night six months of every year for more than a two thousand years. Persephone was a goddess, but she was no match for the strength of a god.

Goddesses protected Persephone from all harm

Goddesses protected Persephone from all harm after her escape

Persephone stood naked as the hot draft from the fires of the Underworld dried her. Then she slowly walked back and silently slipped into the bed of the god of the dead before he awoke. Only a few minuted later, Hades awoke with a grunt and pulled his massive bulk from the bed. Persephone knew she had cut it too close this time.

She shook with fear that he had discovered her secret, but the god of the dead arose and walked off without so much as looking at her. Off to consort with his dogs and monsters and whatever else occupied his waking hours. Persephone had long since taken any interest in her husband’s actions. Her goal all day every day was to stay out of the god’s way, and hope that her tunnel was not discovered. She often slept during the day, since her nights were occupied with digging.

Persephone knew she was very close to escaping. The ground she tunneled through had changed from rock to clay and finally to dirt. Real dirt, with deep roots of massive trees. Soon she would be free. Persephone lay back down in the  bed and slept, dreaming of her freedom.

Her dream was shattered when Hades picked her up from the bed and threw her down onto the rock floor, screaming that she was lazy to spend all her time sleeping when she should be serving him. It was time to eat and for some unknown reason, Hades always insisted that as his “goddess of the dead” she should have a formal meal with him each day, as their status of King and Queen of the Underworld demanded. Persephone hated meals, remembering that it was the fact that she had eaten one pomegranate seed which had trapped her in The Underworld centuries ago.

Persephone  ate a few pieces of bread and drank some mild wine while Hades consumed massive amounts of roasted meat and guzzled glass after glass of wine. Weird monsters scurried at his feet to eat the pieces of food that fell out of his mouth.

With his appetite sated , Hades let out a loud belch and slumped in his chair for a drunken nap. At that moment Persephone decided that now was the time for her escape. She could not wait wait a second longer. She could not stand another night of this stinking beast on top of her and inside her. She must make her escape now.

Ares God of War

Ares God of War, who defied Zeus’ order to find Persephone

Persephone quietly slipped out of her chair and slowly began walking in the direction of her secret tunnel. She gradually began to increase speed, and as soon as the dining table was out of sight, she began to run at full speed. Persephone made one stop before getting to the tunnel entrance. She reached her hand into a hole between a pile of rocks and took out two objects. The first was her only dress that she had been able to hide from Hades.  The second was a small bundle of precious gems. At least in the bright world above the gems were precious. In the stinking Underworld, diamonds and rubies were common, and of no value to the Shades of the dead.

She then reached into the hole again and took out a small sack of rough cloth, into which she placed the gems and dress. Persephone was going to climb naked, and carry the sack, knowing that if she wore her one dress during the climb  it would get ruined.

The she took off running at full speed again and finally Persephone came to the hidden entrance of the tunnel. She knocked aside the pile of human skulls and bones to reveal her path to freedom.  Carrying her cloth sack and a human thigh bone, Persephone began her climb to freedom.

For hour after hour she climbed upward, all the time afraid she might hear the roar of Hades looking for her. Then when she felt she could climb no more, she reached the top of the tunnel. There was moist dirt and tree roots and she knew the surface could not be far away. She took the human thigh bone and began to dig upward. As she jabbed the thigh bone into the dirt, clumps of dirt flew past her face and fell down the tunnel shaft into the darkness below.

Persephone's escape by Demeter

A Nymph guards Persephone while she sleeps

Then it happened. She jabbed the thigh bone and suddenly it broke through the dirt. Cold fresh air washed over her. She reached up and pulled herself out. Persephone was Free! She crawled away from the hole and onto the snow. Persephone then stood up and with handfuls of snow washed the dirt off her naked body and cleansed her hair. Her body was so hot that the snow turned to steam as cleaned herself.

Then Persephone opened the bag and put on her dress. She took the jewels out of the sack and carefully wove them into her hair. She vowed that she would never be a prisoner again. She was a goddess, and would demand to always be treated as one. Persephone turned North then walked off into the snow.

Persephone longed to journey to Greece to be with her mother Demeter, but Persephone knew that would not be possible.  Soon Hades would discover her escape, and try to drag her back. Greece would be the first place Hades looked. And so, Persephone went further and further North, knowing that Hades hated the cold.

Persephone’s body was still scorching hot within and without. The fires of The Underworld and her own hatred for Hades made her flesh glowing hot, and as she walked though the forest, snow melted and trees caught fire. The heat from her body caused the jewels in her hair to glow so brightly that the cold night sky shimmered.

Humans had long ago stopped worshiping the gods, and no longer even believed they existed. People arrogantly assumed that their own meager actions were causing the world to get warmer, the ice to melt and the sea levels to rise.

Zeus on his throne

Zeus on his throne

When Hades discovered Persephone’s escape, he immediately went to his brother Zeus to demand Zeus set things right. Zeus sent out an order to all the gods and goddesses that they were to find Persephone and capture her. The gods and goddesses ignored Zeus, and in fact, even helped Persephone to hide. None of the gods really liked Hades, and the goddesses actually hated him for having imprisoned one of their own.

And so, the world of the humans got warmer and warmer and the humans never even guessed at the real reason. Year after year the naked escape of Persephone altered the life of humans. Winters ceased to exist. Demeter was thrilled to hear the news of her daughter’s escape. Demeter no longer mourned half the year, and so Winters ended.  Hades himself came out of the Underworld and  wandered the Earth, searching for his escaped bride. His red-hot form scorched the Earth wherever he went, bringing  drought, fires and sandstorms.

Zeus himself periodically erupted in anger that the gods and goddess were defying his order.  In his rage he would cause great storms and lightning. Then he would calm down when he remembered that, after all, Persephone was his daughter. To himself Zeus secretly admitted that he was actually proud of Persephone’s courage and strength. Still, that was no excuse for the gods to ignore his orders, and his angry storms continued.

Hades never recaptured Persephone and burns the ground to this day as he searches for her.  Winters never returned and the world continues to get warmer. The fact that the world of humans and the humans themselves are being harmed is of no great concern to the gods and goddesses.  Perhaps in another two thousand years the earth will start to get colder again. Perhaps Hades will stop searching for his escaped wife, Persephone’s anger will cool and Demeter’s joy will diminish.  Perhaps Zeus will learn to control his anger and massive storms will end. But probably not. Gods and goddesses are not known for having a philosophy of forgive and forget. Only humans are foolish enough to have such weaknesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Carey Grant – the sad secrets of a movie star

Becoming Carey Grant documents the sad life that the movie star kept hidden from the public. It is based on Carey Grant’s own never-published autobiography, and the beautiful home movies he filmed. The world knows him as Carey Grant, but he never really got over being Archibald Leach, the poor cockney boy he once was.

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

Archibald Leach was born in 1904 in Bristol England. His parents were poor but extraordinarily beautiful. His mother was petite with long dark hair, and his father was rakishly handsome, sporting a fancy mustache.  However, his parents never seemed to be very happy. When Archie was 11, his mother Elsie went away, supposedly to “visit friends” It was many weeks before Archie figured out that she was never coming back. Soon after that Archie was shipped off to an even poorer section of the city to live with an aunt. Archie’s father moved away, remarried and started a new family.

Carey Grant's mother - Elsie Leach

Carey Grant’s mother – Elsie Leach

It was not until 20 years later, when Archibald Leach had become the famous movie star Carey Grant, that he discovered the truth. His mother had not run away, but had been committed to an insane asylum. Extraordinarily, she was committed only on the word of the husband Elias. He said that she sometimes felt she heard voices, but that she was not a danger to herself or others. The state of mental health medicine was so backward in those days , that instead of trying to treat her with psychotherapy, the “solution” was to   commit her for life.

Carey Grant's father- Elias James Leach

Carey Grant’s father- Elias James Leach

Abandoned by his family, Archibald Leach joined a new “family” by becoming part of a group of performing acrobats touring the vaudeville circuit. That’s why Carey Grant was able to do many of his own stunts in movies. He really was a trained acrobat.

The acrobats got a chance to perform in New York, and Archibald Leach fell in love with America. When it came time for them to return to England, Archibald decided to stay in America. All alone, and with very little money, he headed off to Hollywood, to try to get into the movies.

Carey Grant taking home movies

Carey Grant taking home movies

He was not in the film business very long before the studios decided that Archibald Leach is a terrible name for an actor; and the name “Carey Grant” was decided upon. Carey Grant’s amazing good looks soon got him into many films. In his early films, his parts were mainly just as a handsome prop, but soon his acting talent became apparent and he developed into the movie star we all know and love.

Becoming Carey Grant shows us the side of the movie star few people knew. After being abandoned by his parents, he had difficulty truly trusting anyone. Relationships with women were particularly difficult. Carey Grant was divorced three times. In later life he admitted that his wives were all wonderful women, but that he was always afraid to let them get too close. He naturally assumed that everyone would eventually let you down.

Carey Grant was an established movie star when he discovered that his mother was still alive and in a mental institution. He immediately got he out and set her up in a house in England. He visited his mother throughout his life, but she never moved to America. He always said it was because she would not come. However, the filmmakers speculate that he wanted to keep his two lives completely separate. By then, his mother was the last person in the world who still called him Archie. In America he was the great movie star Carey Grant. In England with his mother, he was still a scared little boy.

Becoming Carey Grant is a fascinating documentary. The details it has of Carey Grant’s life are astounding. For example, Carey Grant was a fan of “LSD therapy” being offered by a psychiatrist in the 1970’s. Unlike most patients who tried this radical treatment, Grant actually found it cathartic.

In the end Carey Grant found fame and fortune, but never true peace of mind. He was never the relaxed self-assured gentleman he played so well on screen. One of Carey Grant’s often repeated sayings was “Everyone wants to be Carey Grant. Even me.” People always laughed whenever Carey Grant said that, but he did not mean it as a joke. He was trying to tell the world that he was not really the perfect man he portrayed. However, people could not accept that. The public wanted Carey Grant to be perfect, and so to please them he was.

 

 

Baby Driver- fast, fantastic, LOUD and perfect. A rock concert on wheels.

Baby Driver is fast, fantastic, LOUD, and perfect! A rock concert on wheels, combined with an action movie, love story and bank heist film. Director Edgar Wright did an amazing job of blending the music and action so that the songs are basically an essential character in the film. Baby Driver is a unique concept, and we give it our highest rating of Five Stars.

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Fox, Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort, Jamie Fox, Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, a driver who can outrun any police chase, all while listening to blasting rock music. His beautiful girlfriend is played by Lily James, who we last saw in Pride Prejudice and Zombies. This sweet and innocent couple, is trapped in a world of killers and maniacs controlled by criminal mastermind “Doc” played perfectly by Kevin Spacey.

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

Now we know that this plot sounds like hundreds of others, but what makes Baby Driver unique is the way in which Edgar Wright has put it all together with group of talented actors in all the parts. Unlike a lot of action movies, each of the characters has a unique personality and background story that makes them fascinating to watch.

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Doc controls a group of criminals that pulls off  a string of supposedly impossible robberies. The key to their success is Baby, who is the “wheel man” on all the heists. Baby is caught up in this dangerous game, since he has a debt to pay back to Doc. The key to Baby’s driving success is the way he perfectly times  his driving with the songs blasting in his ears. In fact, Baby is actually helpless without his music. However, when the music is blasting, Baby is like a machine, feeling no pressure or doubt.

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Jamie Fox is “Bats”, whose violent tendencies put the whole crew at risk. Rounding out the crew is an ex-Wall Street executive, (“Buddy” played by Jon Hamm) and his lap dancer girlfriend (“Darling”, played by Eiza Gonzalez).

Ansel Elgort is "Baby" in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort is “Baby” in Baby Driver

The action scenes have to be seen to be appreciated. There is no real way to describe them in print. In one scene Baby is running away fro the police, while the 1971 song Hocus Pocus by the Dutch band Focus is blasting. Baby Boomers will remember this as the “yodeling” rock song. If you are too young to remember this song, check it out – you will love it.

Anyway, during the chase scene, every step, every jump and every gunshot times perfectly with the beat of the music. It must have days for Edgar Wright to film this one scene. That attention to detail is what makes Baby Driver great.

 

 

The New Rules Of Work – an essential book for your career

The New Rules Of Work by Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew is an essential must-read if you are serious about your career. Whether you are looking for your first job, or are well along in your career The New Rules Of Work has detailed practical steps to help you succeed.

The New Rules Of Work  “begins at the beginning” with techniques for deciding  what you really want. This may sound silly, but it is amazing how many people charge full speed into a job search without once pausing to examine what kind of career they want or what type of company they want to work for. As a consequence, people often  end up unhappy at work because they simply took the first job offered to them, or made a selection based on salary alone.

The New Rules Of Work

The New Rules Of Work

Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew are the co-founders of TheMuse.com which is devoted to helping people succeed at fulfilling careers. The New Rules Of Work, uses many of The Muse techniques, such as a “Muse grid” to map our your values and align them with an industry and company that is right for you. This is not as “touchy-feely” as it may sound. If you have been in a career for a while you may be tempted to skip this step. However, Alexandra and Kathryn point out that people’s opinions and goals change throughout life, and that their careers should change accordingly.

Alaxandra Cavoulacos & Kathryn Minshew, authors of The New Rules Of Work

Alaxandra Cavoulacos & Kathryn Minshew, authors of The New Rules Of Work

You should not let yourself get locked into a set path based simply on what major you happened to chose when you were 18 years old.  You have grown and developed tremendously since your school days, and you should update your career objectives to reflect who you are now.

The New Rules Of Work has very detailed and practical advice including how to best write a resume and how to get that resume actually looked at by people who do the hiring. Ironically, many of the very tools that were originally designed to help people find jobs are now keeping you from being noticed by hiring managers.

Human Resource directors receive thousands of resumes in response to any job they post on Monster, ZipRecruiter, Carigslist or any other electronic job boards. It is so easy for applicants to submit a resume, that many people simply “point & click”, thereby applying to hundreds of jobs a week, whether they are qualified for the job or not. These people are the “traffic” that gets in your way and keeps Human Resources from even seeing your application. You may be the absolute best individual for a particular position, and still never even get your application viewed.

The New Rules Of Work details techniques for going around the crowds at the massive job boards, and getting directly to the people who do the hiring at companies. The key is to be very selective and to pinpoint particular companies and people to connect with.

The New Rules Of Work is useful even if you already have a good position. Not so long ago, companies took the time to train employees and guide their career paths. Those days are gone. You are responsible for managing your career, and if you don’t you will find yourself falling behind.

The New Rules Of Work even has helpful hints for everyday tasks such as managing emails and dealing with passive-aggressive coworkers. We highly recommend The New Rules Of Work. It is well written and researched and is an invaluable tool for all those serious about their careers. (For full disclosure, we would like  to point out that we received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

However, there were a few issues that The New Rules Of Work overlooked. The special needs population was completely ignored. For example, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a particularly hard time getting through the critical interview phase of the hiring process. In addition, older workers face automated age discrimination on many job sites. It would have been nice if the authors had covered these types of topics.

Still, despite come drawbacks, The New Rules Of Work is an excellent work. In the crowded field of business books, it really stands out.

The Beguiled- Civil War sex but no slaves

The Beguiled is a film of sex and betrayal set in an exclusive girls’ school in  the Civil War South. However, the film has been “whitewashed” to remove slavery from the plot. It is a huge  disappointment that Sophia Coppola completely  left out the character  of a female slave that was in the classic 1971 film.  By doing this, the modern version sidesteps the issue of slavery.

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

In the 1971 The Beguiled, Mae Mercer played the slave Hallie. Some African-Americans thought that Hallie was a token black character with a weak story line.  Instead of dropping that character completely Sophia Coppola should have expanded it. The dynamic, complex and intertwined relationships between educated White women and the female slaves they lived with is one of the most fascinating parts of American history.   In a story about  strong young women of the South under severe pressure, why leave out one of the strongest and most interesting simply because she is Black?

Sophia Coppola a great director but scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola a great director but too scared to tackle the issue of slavery

Sophia Coppola has said that she did  “not want t brush over such an important topic in a light way,”  She expanded that to say,  “Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.” Of course, there is no reason why Sophia Coppola would have to handle slavery in a “light way.” She is the director and could handle it openly and honestly as the subject deserves.

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

We at East Coast Stories believe it was a huge mistake to leave slaves out of The Beguiled. The “young girls” that Sophia Coppola considers her audience are a lot smarter about race issues in The United States than she gives them credit for. How can we possibly deal with the racial issues of today, if we ignore that slaves were an integral part of America from the beginning?

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

Colin Farrell as John McBurney in The Beguiled. A face no woman could resist

The basic plot of The Beguiled is that the schoolgirls  find and take in John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier. It is their duty as Southerners to turn him over to the local Confederate patrols. However, McBurney is able to use his good looks and smooth talk to win over the young women one by one.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend "The Beguiled" photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 24: (L-R) Actors Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst attend “The Beguiled” photocall during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Beguiled can mean hypnotized, seduced or bewitched. All three meanings apply in this film. The Beguiled is a remake of the classic 1971 film of the same name in which Clint Eastwood played the wounded Union Soldier.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is the headmistress of the dying school. The slaves have all run away and most students and teachers have gone home to escape the war. Miss Farnsworth continues to hold classes and music lessons, despite the fact that smoke from battles can be seen in the distance. Prayer is often accompanied by the sound of cannons.

The one teacher left is Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). It is clear that her background is somehow different than that of the other women. She is used to fancier settings and more revealing clothing. We are never sure if this is because she comes from wealth, or if her background is something more scandalous.

Elle Fanning is Amy, a beautiful young woman with a rebellious streak, who is continually testing how much she can get away with.

This structured, stark world is thrown into chaos by the arrival of McBurney. For McBurney it is if he has arrived in heaven. He has escaped the war and is surrounded by women; each more beautiful than the next. If he had carefully chosen one woman to quietly and cautiously pursue, then heaven it might have remained. However, like a kid in a candy store, McBurney wants it all and ends up finding himself in Hell.

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

McBurney works his charm on Miss Danbey, Miss Farnsworth and Amy, instinctively knowing the separate needs of each. Amy wants excitement, Martha Farnsworth needs appreciation and educated courting and Edwina Dabney wants a knight in shining armor to save her. Despite his good looks and charming smile, McBurney is really a callous hunter of vulnerable women. A classic sexual predator.

The phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, is a fitting expression for what happens when the women discover the truth about McBurney and each other. We will not give away the plot other than to say it is exciting, unexpected and chilling.

The casting of the (all white) characters for  in The Beguiled is perfect. Every actor gives a powerful performance. Nicole Kidman is spellbinding. Miss Farnsworth is trying to maintain an icy exterior, yet it is clear that deep passions burn withing her soul. She is tormented between the choices of what is best for her and what is best for the school and the girls she has a duty to protect.

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney has the looks the charm and the arrogance to seduce three women simultaneously while only really loving himself.

Kirsten Dunst is wonderful as the beautiful and mysterious  Edwina Dabney. Director Sophia Coppola made the right choice in never fully revealing Edwina’s background. The mystery only adds to the tension. The 1971 version of  The Beguiled explained Edwina’s background, but it is more effective as a secret.

When Elle Fanning plays Alicia, audiences can see that she has graduated from little girl roles forever. She was superb as the dangerous young seductress, who may or may not truly understand her influence on a man or  the  damage she can do with the games she is playing.

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Young Oona Lawrence is Amy, the innocent  child who first discovers wounded Corporal McBurney in the woods. Unlike the adults in the film, Amy wants nothing for herself. Amy’s only motivation is to do what is kind and right.

In total, the The Beguiled was a very good film. If Sophia Coppola had taken the time to bring in complex African-American characters, it could have been a great film. It would have been harder to write and added a level of complexity to the plot, but it would have been worth the effort.

How To Archer a crazy guide by the world’s “greatest” secret agent

Secret agent Sterling Archer barges into other countries knowing nothing about their culture or language. He then proceeds to waste huge amounts of money and kill lots of people. In the end, Archer leaves the country in complete chaos and declares his mission a success. Basically, secret agent Sterling Archer approaches his foreign assignments the same way The United States approaches its own foreign policy

How To Archer is authored by none other than Sterling Archer himself- the world’s “greatest” secret agent.  If you have never heard of Sterling Archer, then obviously you have never watched the animated series Archer on FX. Don’t let the “animated” part fool you. Archer is not for kids. Archer is a combination of James Bond, Austen Powers, and pure insanity, with raunchy humor and plots that are simply bizarre.

Sterling Archer the world's greatest secret agent

Sterling Archer the world’s greatest secret agent

How To Archer, is Sterling Archer’s guide to espionage and life. If you are a fan of the show Archer, you will find this a hilarious little book. If you do not know the show and  read the book you will say, “what’s wrong with this guy?”

Archer & Lana

Archer & Lana

We have to admit a guilty pleasure. We are fans of Archer, and have watched every episode. Archer takes the self-centered, misogynistic attitude of James Bond and multiplies it by a thousand. It is hard to believe that this show is on regular T.V. no matter how late at night it airs.

H. Jon Benjamin is Sterling Archer the world's greatest secret agent

H. Jon Benjamin is Sterling Archer the world’s greatest secret agent

The cast of Archer is terrific. Voice actors often do not get the same recognition as those we actually see, but Archer has some of the best. They bring the animated characters to life.

Aisha Tyler is Lana Kane the world's sexiest secret agent

Aisha Tyler is Lana Kane the world’s sexiest secret agent

H. Jon Benjamin is Sterling Archer, a grown man who still has the mindset of a preppie Lacrosse jock. The love of his life is Lana Kane (voiced by Aisha Tyler) Lana is a much better agent that Archer, but basically even more  insane than Archer.

 Unlike James Bond, Sterling Archer has a very “ugly American’s” view of the world. This comes across in How To Archer, when he describes other countries:

“Cote D’Ivorie – I don’t care what it wants to be called. I’m still calling it The Ivory Coast. Cote D’Ivorie sounds like some type of cheese.”

Canada  – I like Quebec because it’s just like being in France, only everyone drives pickup trucks.”

Despite knowing nothing about foreign countries, Archer has an eclectic knowledge of completely useless facts. Like the fact that an Indian Elephant’s ear is shaped like India, while an African Elephant’s ear is shaped like Africa.  Perhaps the strangest fact concerns the roulette wheel. The numbers on a roulette wheel are 00 through 36. If you add them all together you get the Satanic number 666.

Woodhouse on Archer. George Coe recently passed away at the age of 88

George Coe who played Woodhouse on Archer. George Coe recently passed away at the age of 88

No discussion of Archer would be complete without mentioning George Coe, who played Woodhouse the long suffering Valet of Sterling Archer. George Coe recently passed away at the age of 88. Instead of just replacing him with another voice actor, the writers had Woodhouse pass away on the show as well, with a moving tribute.

Sterling Archer with tiger friend

Sterling Archer with tiger friend

So, if you have never watched Archer on FX, and are a fan of spy spoofs, give it a try. Just be aware that this is a very R rated show. If you are already a fan of Archer, then you will love the book How To Archer.

How To Archer

How To Archer

PS: We have no idea who is the actual author of How To Archer. After all, Sterling Archer is an fictional animated character, so someone else had to do the actual writing. It is only fitting that we do not know who. After all, Archer is a secret agent.

Crazy Is My Superpower – the story of professional wrestler A.J. Lee

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks is the autobiography of one of the most popular female professional wrestlers of all times. April Jeanette Mendez performed under the stage name “A.J. Lee”, and in 2012 was voted “the most influential female athlete on Twitter, beating out Serena Williams.”  At five feet two inches tall and a little over 100 pounds, she does not fit the stereotypical mold of a professional wrestler.

Crazy is My Superpower is the fascinating story of how this intelligent but  desperately poor Puerto Rican  girl from New Jersey ended up making her living entertaining millions of fans by playing the “crazy chick” and “vengeful ex-girlfriend” inside a wrestling ring.

A.J. Lee's signature "crazy girl" look

A.J. Lee’s signature “crazy girl” look

Lots of people look down on professional wrestling, calling it a stupid joke that is not a real sport. People who say that are missing the point. Of course it is not a real sport. It is a form of escapist entertainment performed by superb athletes that have to be a combination of stunt-people and actors. And unlike stunt-people in movies, professional wrestlers perform live with very little safety equipment and no chance for a second take.

A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

As a kid, April Jeanette Mendez used to watch professional wrestling on T.V. as a way to escape from her real life. Her family was very poor and constantly moved to avoid creditors.  A.J. kept all her clothing in a backpack just in case the family had to leave in the middle of the night at a moments notice. This happened so often that A.J. considered it a normal part of childhood.

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

April Jeanette’s parents were heavy drinkers and frequent drug users. There was never enough food in the apartment, but there was always beer in the refrigerator. Despite all of this dysfunctional behavior, the Mendez family was actually very loving. A.J. was very close to her brother and sister, and her parents really did try to care for the children. It turns out that A.J.’s mother was suffering un-diagnosed bipolar disorder for many years.

Despite all of this, April Jeanette was an excellent student and got into NYU. In addition to working hard in school, A.J. had worked part-time jobs to save money to go to college. Then it came time to give NYU the $500 initial payment.  A.J. went to the drawer in her desk where she kept her savings, only to discover it empty. A.J.’s mother had stolen all the money and used it for alcohol, drugs and “household expenses”.

A heartbroken A.J. told her high school guidance councilor, Mr. Donnelly, the story and that she would now not be able to attend college. There was only a short time left to get the $500 to NYU on time. A few days later, A.J. received happy news.  Mr. Donnelly and all the kids in the school had collected money, and gave A.J. the $500 she needed.

April Jeanette loved NYU. She loved working on her creative writing, but felt the extreme tension of being on her own and out of her depth. As the pressure mounted A.J. sought help from the psychiatric services NYU provided to students. It was there that A.J. discovered the frighting fact that mental illness is an inherited trait and that she was showing some of the same patterns as her mother. But there was good news. There was treatment for her disorders.

A.J.’s life was on track. She was getting her college education and the medical treatment she needed. Perhaps she could finally get the type of life that other more fortunate people so easily took for granted. Then A.J. got a call from her sister Erica.

“You need to come home. Ma overdosed.”

That was the end of A.J.’s college career. She had to quit school and take a full time job in a Pathmark supermarket so that she could help take care of and support her mother. A.J. reached a low point in her life. Everything  she had worked so hard for her entire life was suddenly taken away. When she was forced to leave NYU, A.J. also lost the psychiatric support at the exact time her life entered a period of maximum stress. Psychiatric services were for students only.

Though she tired her best, A.L. eventually cracked under the pressure. She began taking antidepressant pills she had received from an NYU psychiatrist more than a year earlier. She also took pain killers. Unfortunately, A.J. had been misdiagnosed. She was not suffering from depression, she was in fact bipolar. People who have a bipolar disorder have extreme highs and lows.  Usually they only seek help when they are at the low point, which mimics depression. It can be extremely dangerous for a bipolar person to take antidepressant medication. Bringing pain killers into the mix only makes things worse.

A.J. almost died, and ended up in a New Jersey hospital. This was the turning point in April Jeanette’s life. She decided to make a change. In most pictures of A.J. you will notice that she is wearing three thin black bracelets in her right wrist. These represent her new found freedom. In her own words, A.J. describes what these bracelets mean:

“The day I got home from the hospital, I cut the plastic hospital band off my wrist and replaced it with three thin black bracelets. One representing the life I had lived and the mistakes I had made, one representing the death I had escaped, and the last representing my second chance at life-my rebirth. I have worn them every day since.”

Thus began the new  life of the person who would become known to the world as “A.J. Lee” the professional wrestler whose specialty was playing the “crazy chick” or the “psyco ex-girlfriend.” She went from being a college dropout working in Shoprite to a wrestling superstar loved by millions of fans. The road from the hospital to the wrestling ring was not an easy one.

AJ Lee jokes around with John Cena, who thought of her as a little sister he needed to protect

AJ Lee jokes around with John Cena, who thought of her as a little sister he needed to protect

A.J. Mendez  decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. It was a ridiculous idea. She was too small, too poor and let’s face it, too crazy to attempt such a challenge. But attempt it she did. She trained in gymnasiums with men three times her weight, and eventually the other wrestlers began to see her as a miniature dynamo.

Through hard work and a lot of luck, A.J. got into FSC (Florida Championship Wrestling) which is sort of the minor leagues for professional wrestling.  That was when she discovered the sexist realities of the business. A.J. was very much a tomboy with great athletic skills. But that was not what Management wanted. Management wanted sexpot beauty queens who would stand around the ring in skimpy outfits and longingly watch the male athletes perform.  That was not A.J.’s style. She was not  going to change who she was. In fact, A.J did not even own a pair of high heels.

However, A.J. Mendez finally got to perform (under the state name A.J. Lee.) Management may not have liked A.J. Lee, but the crowds loved her. Fans, especially women, loved seeing a real girl they could relate to. Here was a girl who played video games, wore sneakers and shorts and who actually knew how to wrestle.

A.J. Lee’s big break came when she started playing the “crazy chick.” For those of you unfamiliar with the WWE, suffice it to say that professional wrestling is a show rather than a sport. The wrestlers play various roles in ongoing story lines.  How long the story lines last depends on how well the fans respond.

C.M. Punk and A.J. Lee share what was supposed to be a stage kiss. However the passion turned real. They are now married.

C.M. Punk and A.J. Lee share what was supposed to be a stage kiss. However the passion turned real. They are now married.

A.J. Lee played that crazy vengeful ex-girlfriend that may suddenly show up out of the blue and do anything. A.J. was perfect at it. Crowds went  wild for her performances. She was a ground-breaker  in the WWE, proving to Management that a woman could bring in the big audiences and the big money if given the right opportunity.

Crazy Is my Superpower is a terrific book. A.J. Mendez Brooks is a gifted writer, who is willing to bare her soul and show the readers her  most intimate feelings no mater how painful they are. This is no fluff piece autobiography. It is the story of a young woman facing adversities and accepting who she is. In A.J.’s own words,

Everything I was told should be my greatest insecurities, my biggest roadblocks – everything I’ve been labeled: SHORT, NERDY, SKINNY, WEAK, IMPULSIVE, UGLY, TOMBOY, POOR, REBEL, LOUD, FREAK, CRAZY – turned out to be my greatest strengths. I didn’t become successful in spite of them. I became successful because of them. I am not afraid to be called crazy. Crazy is my superpower.”

In real life, A.J had very little time to be anybody’s girlfriend. Between her family stress, mental health issues and physical training, A.J. had almost never dated. She surprised herself when she and star wrestler C.M. Punk (real name Phil Brooks) fell in love. In one show they were to have a stage kiss, which to their own shock turned into a passionate real life kiss on national T.V. When they were off stage and back in the locker room A.J. was immediately surrounded by the other performers who wanted to know, “what the Hell was that?” “A.J. Lee” and “C.M. Punk” married not long after that first kiss.  They have both since retired from professional wrestling.

A.J. Mendez Brooks and her husband Phil (better known as C.M. Punk)

A.J. Mendez Brooks and her husband Phil (better known as C.M. Punk)

Now that A.J. Mendez Brooks has left wrestling she is not sure what will be next. We at East Coast Stories are sure she will be a success at anything she puts her mind to. Crazy Is My Superpower is proof that she has the skills to pursue a career in writing. Whatever she chooses, we wish her the best.

 

 

 

I’m Dying Up Here – where all comedy comes from pain

Showtime’s fantastic new series I’m Dying Up Here, is based on the old adage that “all comedy comes from pain.” Many comedians use jokes as a bizarre sort of therapy  to try to purge the demons from their souls. From the first slapstick comic who ever slipped on a banana peel, to modern-day jokers  who tell stories about their miserable childhoods, comedians invite audiences to laugh at the comedians’ suffering. Executive producer Jim Carrey drew from his own personal experiences to create I’m Dying Up Here.

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I'M Dying Up Here

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I’M Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here is about a group of young comedians in Hollywood in the 1970’s trying to reach the ultimate pinnacle of success – an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. Getting noticed in the 1970s was a much different process than it is today.  There was no YouTube or Facebook you could use to promote yourself. The gatekeepers to comedic fame and fortune were the owners of sleazy comedy clubs. If you were a comedian  just starting out, a comedy club owner might let you go on stage to tell jokes to a bunch of drunks at 2:30am.

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I'M DYING UP HERE

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I’M DYING UP HERE

The cast of I’m Dying Up Here is terrific. Melissa Leo is Goldie, the tough as nails owner of Goldie’s Comedy Club in Hollywood. She has connections with all the top T.V. producers including those at Johnny Carson. One word from Goldie can make or break a comedian’s career.

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I'M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I’M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor is a Cassie, a young Jewish comic from rural Texas. Because of her unusual background, audiences have a hard time relating to her. She is not the stereotype that audiences expect from a female comedian. She is very attractive, in a world where female comedians are “supposed” to be ugly and base their acts on  making fun of their physical failings. Instead, Cassie has a more sophisticated sense of humor that requires audiences to think. One of her jokes is “There are not very many Jews in my home town. Let’s just say that there are more Jews at a Walt Disney dinner party than in my home town.”

Andrew Santino is Cassie’s boyfriend Bill. All the other comedians hate Bill since his career is starting to be successful. He has developed his act to be in that perfect “middle ground”. Sharp enough to play in the comedy clubs, yet “safe” enough to appear on television. Bill feels the full hatred from the other comics, when he gets tapped to appear on the Midnight Special.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I'm Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I’m Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, an African-American comic, who is too young to be taken seriously by the other comedians. Just to make ends meet, he takes a job as a handyman at Goldie’s house, where he discovers she is much more complex and sensitive than most people believe.

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey 'I'm Dying Up Here' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles,

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey
‘I’m Dying Up Here’ TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 31 May 2017

I’m Dying Up Here is great. It has complex plots and character development, and gives a real feel for the 1970s. A lot of shows about the 1970’s overdo the cliches about afros, bell-bottom trousers and drugs. I’m Dying Up Here gives a much more realistic picture, and remembers that there was a lot of hatred in the country in the 1970s. Divisions over The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and Richard Nixon were pulling at the fabric of the country. It was a perfect time for the relief of comedy.

 

 

When Mr. Potato Head Was A Real Potato

Does anyone remember when Mr. Potato Head was made with a real potato? Today’s Mr. Potato Head is a large, clean plastic potato replica into which you stick plastic ears, eyes noses and lips.  But when I was a kid, Mr. Potato Head was a lot more crude. The Mr. Potato Head toy first came out in 1952, and  was just a little box with all the accessories and nothing else. You had to go out and find a real potato into which you would stick the eyes, ears, nose and anything else you could dig up. Maybe you even gave it hair made from some old lint ball found under the couch.

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

Kids loved the toy and it was an instant hit. Parents liked it too. It was inexpensive, kept kids busy for hours while stimulating kids’ imaginations. Of course using a real potato did have its drawbacks.

Today's modern Mr. Potato Head

Today’s modern Mr. Potato Head

Many a child would let out a terrified scream after finding a forgotten Mr. Potato Head in the back of a closet. After a few months alone, the Mr. Potato Head would be growing new appendages and sprouts and be covered in a fine lumpy mold.  This is probably why you don’t see any toys made from real food anymore.

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

The modern Mr. Potato Head is still a lot of fun. Of course unlike the original toy you can’t eat it when you are done playing.

Baywatch – raunchy and silly and we loved it

The new Baywatch movie is a raunchy, silly comedy based on a cheesy old T.V. show, and we loved it. Come on, don’t be such a snob. When you go to see Baywatch, you know you aren’t going to be seeing Hamlet. Baywatch has action, comedy, an easy-to-follow plot, and beautiful women and men running around  in skimpy bathing suits on a gorgeous beach. Who could ask for more?

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

In other words, Baywatch is pure mindless escapism. With all the troubles and bad news in the world today, that is exactly what audiences need once and a while. Escapist movies have a long cinematic tradition. During The Great Depression, audiences flocked to see musicals about super wealthy people with yachts and mansions. During World War II, comedies were very popular. Winston Churchill would periodically block out the war by locking himself away for a few hours to watch a Marx Brothers film.

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

With the current news filled with nothing but terrorism, wars and bickering politicians, people need mindless entertainment more than ever. Baywatch fits that bill perfectly. Of course, be warned that Baywatch is not a kids’ movie. There are a lot of sexual jokes and extensive male nudity. That’s right, we said male nudity.  Female nudity has been on screen in main-stream movies even since Tarzan And His Mate in 1934. However, the penis has been taboo, except in hard core X-Rated films. Baywatch, on the other hand uses the male appendage as a comic tool (pun intended). Baywatch  has a hilarious scene in a morgue in which a corpse’s private parts play a prominent role.

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

The cast of Baywatch does a fantastic job with the script. It is obvious that the actors really had fun making the movie, and enjoyed each other’s company. Be sure to stay for the extra scenes after the closing credits, to see the out-takes and on-set jokes.

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson stars as  Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard who is not content with just saving people from drowning. He and his team of incredibly   gorgeous fellow lifeguards decide to go undercover to discover who is selling drugs that are so prevalent, bags of crack are washing up on the beach.  Dwayne Johnson, who at one time was the professional wrestler “The Rock”, has become well known as a respected comic actor. He also has the reputation of being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario is Summer Quinn,and Kelly Rohrbach is C.J. These two lifeguards  perform heroic rescues, fight bad guys, and solve crimes all while looking stunningly beautiful in every situation.

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron is Matt Brody, an ex-Olympic gold medal swimmer who thinks he is way too good to be just a lifeguard.  It is obvious that his character is based on Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who made a fool of himself at the Rio Olympics. Ryan Lochte, was the idiot who got drunk, vandalized a Rio gas station, and then claimed he had been robbed when he was forced to pay for the damages. Despite winning swimming medals, Ryan Lochte ended up being hated and ridiculed by his fellow Olympians. Zac Efron plays the part perfectly.

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron's character in Baywatch

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron’s character in Baywatch

Jon Bass is Ronnie, the only lifeguard who has what might be considered a “normal” body. He got on the lifeguard team, because he always  gives 100%, even though his body is no match for the Supermen and Superwomen physiques of the people around him.  This, of course, makes him one of the most likable characters in Baywatch. Ronnie is hopelessly in love with C.J. who is obviously completely out of his league. However, there is more to C.J. than meets the eye and she is also in love with Ronnie. This is an old and corny sub-plot, but it still works.

Of course, no Baywatch movie would be complete without cameo appearances from David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. They both still look great. Apparently all that swimming really does keep a body  in shape.

So stop feeling guilty and go to see Baywatch. Let your mind take a break for a few hours.

 

 

The Lost Book Of The Grail – a fascinating novel of an age-old quest

The Lost Book Of The Grail by Charlie Lovett is a fascinating novel about a modern day hunt for the Holy Grail. Instead of a quest by chivalrous  knights, the searchers are a group of introverted bibliophiles from rural England. However, they  might just have the exact set of skills to succeed, where thousands of others have failed over the centuries.

Charlie Lovett author of The Lost Book Of The Grail

Charlie Lovett author of The Lost Book Of The Grail

The unlikely  hero of The Lost Book Of The Grail is Professor Arthur Prescott, a man who would prefer living in an earlier century. Arthur teaches as little as possible, and spends all his free time in Barchester Cathedral’s  medieval library, studying the ancient manuscripts. Arthur believes the books hold the secret to the location of the Holy Grail, which Arthur has been fascinated with since he was a little boy.

The Holy Grail - The cup from which Jesus drank at The Last Supper

The Holy Grail – The cup from which Jesus drank at The Last Supper

Arthur is a very likeable fellow, but definitely suffers from OCD. His life is completely structured in a series of routines, which revolve around the library and the cathedral.  He attends Evensong at the cathedral each night, walks the grounds of the church with the minister each morning, and once a week meets with a group of fellow book lovers. That is Arthur’s whole life.

Then Arthur’s entire world is changed with the arrival of a beautiful young American woman named Bethany. She is the opposite to Arthur in every way. Bethany is extroverted, well-traveled, computer savvy, and makes friends easily. Arthur is both fascinated by and petrified of Bethany.

The Monty Python crew searches for The Holy Grail

The Monty Python crew searches for The Holy Grail

You see, Bethany is there to destroy what Arthur loves most. Bethany has come to “digitize” the ancient books in the cathedral’s library. That is, copy them into a computer database. There are also rumors that once that is completed, the library will be selling the original  manuscripts for much needed funding.

Arthur comes up with a wild idea of how to save the library and the cathedral. He believes the secret to the location of Holy Grail is hidden in coded messages in the library’s books. If he can find them before Bethany completes her work the Cathedral would become so precious a landmark that nothing would ever have to be sold. As ridiculous as this idea is, we readers desperately want Arthur and his team of bibliophiles to succeed.

Indiana Jones finds The Holy Grail

Indiana Jones finds The Holy Grail

There have been many stories of quests  for the Holy Grail, from Indiana Jones to Monty Python. However, The Lost Book Of The Grail is one of the best. Charlie Lovett is an excellent writer, and brings to life characters who are flawed yet heroic. Arthur Prescott’s search is not just for the Holy Grail, but also to find out who he really is. Despite his life revolving around a church and a holy object, Arthur is himself an atheist. When Bethany points out this inconsistency, Arthur responds,

Just because I don’t believe in God, doesn’t mean I don’t want to.And it doesn’t mean I can’t find comfort in routine and in connecting myself through those words and this space to a hundred generations who have come before me here.”

We recommend The Lost Book Of the Grail, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

 

 

 

 

Goose Family in Park with little goslings

Parks are not just for people. This beautiful goose family is enjoying the day after a long cold spring.

Goose Family in Park

Goose Family in Park

These little down-covered goslings will grow at amazing speed. By the end of the Summer they will be the same size as their giant parents. When Winter starts they will fly south as part of an aerodynamic-shaped V, soaring through the air for a trip of thousands of miles. The goslings are completely unaware of the amazing course their lives will take . Today the little goslings are content to wander through the grass, knowing that they are safe and protected by their watchful parents.

The Lost City Of Z – the best movie most people didn’t see

The Lost City of Z is the best movie in 2017 which most people didn’t see. The cinematography is  stunningly beautiful and the plot is moving and thoughtful. Filmed in the Amazon jungle, it is the story of a British explorer, whose main discovery is about his inner self.

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

The Lost City of Z is the true story of Percival Fawcett, a British Army officer whose life is going nowhere in 1905. Advancement in the British Army was still very dependent upon social status, and unfortunately Percival’s father had been a drunk and a disgrace to the service.

Henry Costin & Charlie Hunnam in "The Lost City Of Z"

Henry Costin & Charlie Hunnam in “The Lost City Of Z”

Desperate to make a name for himself, Percival (played by Charlie Hunnam) agrees to lead an expedition to explore the length of the Amazon river. Amazingly, even by 1905, no European had yet traversed the complete length of the river. Percival really has no interest in the Amazon or the natives who live in the jungle around it, but he does think the trip will make him famous and help his career.

Percival Fawcett finds the South American natives to be kind and intelligent

Percival Fawcett finds the South American natives to be kind and intelligent

Percival is lucky enough to have an excellent team including Herny Costin (played by Robert Pattison) as his tough-as-nails second in command. The trip is excruciatingly exhausting  and dangerous and it changes the men profoundly. Their main discovery is that the South American Indians are not the “savages” the British had assumed. Despite being almost naked, these natives are intelligent, resourceful and kind. The explorers admire the way the natives are able to use the jungle to provide food, clothing and shelter, whereas the British almost starve to death despite bringing food supplies with them.

Fawcett and his team do find the end of the Amazon, and also discover a few pieces of ancient pottery. They hear stories from the natives that there was once a huge and advanced city in the jungle, that could rival the great European cities.

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

When Percival Fawcett returns to England he is hailed as a great explorer and becomes world famous. Despite achieving his dream, the victory is bittersweet. His statements that the South American natives are highly intelligent people are ridiculed. No one but other members of his team believe there is a Lost City of Z waiting to be discovered in the jungle. Percival Fawcett dedicates the rest of his life to finding the city and returns to the Amazon 2 more times.

The Lost City Of Z ambitiously covers the period from 1905-1925, including World War I. It is in many ways a “period piece” showing how difficult it is for even the most intelligent people to rise above the norms of their times. Percival’s wife Nina (played by Sienna Miller) helps him to do all the research and raise the funds for his expeditions. She excitedly wants to join him on his expeditions. Despite his advanced views about the South American natives, Percival still believes that the “proper place” for a British wife is at home. Percival absolutely refuses to let Nina come to South America.

Although it is a wonderful film, The Lost City Of Z did not bring in a big box office, making only  about $12.7 million in theaters in the U.S.  It was a direct theatrical release from Amazon, which is a completely new venture for the company. Apparently Amazon knows how to make a great film for the theaters, but has not yet mastered how to promote a theatrical release.

We highly recommend The Lost City Of Z. If it you cannot find it in the theaters there is no doubt it will be available on Amazon.

 

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – a beautiful Iranian vampire on a skateboard

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night  is about beautiful Iranian vampire who stalks men at night while cruising on her skateboard and wearing a burka. (We are not making this up). It is a terrific independent film that combines elements of Sin City, Dracula,  and High Plains Drifter

Sheila Vand as the vampire

Sheila Vand as the vampire

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is filmed in black & white and the actors all speak Farsi (Persian). They live in Bad City (paying homage to Sin City) which is filled with repugnant violent characters who peddle drugs and abuse women. The hero of the story is Arash (played by Arash Marandi) who is trying to work hard and lead a good life, despite the evil all around him.

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Then into the town comes a strange and beautiful girl who appears only at night. Despite being a “girl alone at night” she is completely unafraid of the men in the town.  This is because she is a vampire, who feeds on the men who disrespect women. No one is aware of her actions as she strikes only single targets late at night.

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash almost becomes one of her victims when he staggers home drunk one night after a party. He becomes lost in the city and runs into the girl. However, she can see that he is somehow different than the other men in Bad City. She takes care of him and, of course, Arash falls in love. Arash makes it his mission to find out who this girl really is, and to win her love.

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Ana Lily Amirpour the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was written and directed by Lily Amirpour an Iranian-American film maker from California. She could have made the movie in English and in color, but it is so much cooler in Farsi and black & white. The whole idea is that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night takes place in a fantasy world. The strange language (for most of us) and the film noir imagery  give A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night a complete “other worldly” feel. It also has a fantastic sound track which adds to the overall experience.

We loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. It is great to see a film where the writer/director has taken a real chance and where it all fits together perfectly.

 

“All Our Wrong Todays” – why don’t we live like The Jetsons?

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is a Sci-Fi novel that explains why we don’t live like the Jetsons. Let’s face it, by this time we were supposed to have flying cars, world peace, Moon Colonies and teleportation machines. What happened to the future that the 1964 World’s Fair promised the Baby Boomers?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

What happened to the future The Jetsons promised us?

Tom Barren, the hero of All Our Wrong Todays is the man who ruined the future for all of us. It turns out that the utopian future really did happen.  Things were going smoothly right up to the point where time travel was invented. That’s when Tom travels to the past, and in a matter of seconds, unintentionally changes human history. When Tom returns to the “present” he finds it has become the messed up  world we live in today. Oh, by the way, his actions also destroyed the time machine, so there is no way he can go back and undo the damage he created.

The 1964 World's Fair promised us a perfect future

The 1964 World’s Fair promised us a perfect future

There have been many time-travel novels, but All Our Wrong Today’s is one of the best. Instead of getting hung up on technical jargon, Elan Mastai delves more into the psychological and ethical issues of experimenting with technology of unlimited power.

When Tom comes back from the past into our “wrong today”, at first all he sees is how technologically backward we are. Then he begins to realize that his  own life has improved. He has merged with the person he is in this new time line.

What really happened when the World's Fair ended

What really happened when the World’s Fair ended

In his own time, Tom was a screw-up only child. In our world, he is a rich and famous architect, with a wonderful sister. Tom also meets a woman and falls in love. Tom realizes   that the technology of his world had muted the senses of people. Our world may be harsh and often terrible, but it also allows people to truly feel every experience.  But is it right for Tom to continue in this false world that was created by accident? Shouldn’t he try to change time back? Is there any way he can get the best of both worlds and merge the two realities?

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

Elan Mastai author of All Our Wrong Todays

We don’t want to reveal too much of the plot for fear of ruining the exciting twists and turns of All Our Wrong Todays. Suffice it to say that Elan Mastai is a brilliant writer who brings all the characters of these fictional time-lines to life. We look forward to reading more by this gifted author.

Girl In Disguise – the woman who saved Lincoln

Girl In Disguise by Greer Macallister is a historical novel which begins in 1856, and is the story of America’s first female private detective. Kate Warne was a real person who worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and who interacted directly with many of the most famous people in American history, including Abraham Lincoln.

Girl In Disguise - a terrific historical novel

Girl In Disguise – a terrific historical novel

Immediately after Abraham Lincoln was elected President,  his life was in  danger. In those days, the government provided no security protection for Presidential candidates or even for the President-elect. There were grave doubts about whether or not Lincoln could make it to Washington alive for his inauguration. Lincoln ended up traveling to Washington in disguise as a invalid, his extreme height hidden by the fact that he was in a wheelchair. Kate Warne traveled with Lincoln as his sister, pushing the wheelchair and handling all of the travel arrangements. Despite this, the name of Kate Warne is virtually unknown in American history.

Greer Macallister author of Girl In Disguise

Greer Macallister author of Girl In Disguise

Girl In Disguise is a terrific novel that brings this fascinating period in American history to life. Greer Macallister shows what it was like for a woman in 1856 trying to make a living in what was very much a man’s profession. At first, no one takes Kate Warne seriously, and everyone assumes that Allan Pinkerton must be sleeping with Kate. (He was not.) However, Kate is quickly able to show her usefulness in the field of private investigation.

Abraham Lincoln's life was in danger even before he became president

Abraham Lincoln’s life was in danger even before he became president

The fact that no one could imagine a woman as a detective is exactly what made her so effective. She could go under cover as a shop girl, a rich socialite, or even a “lady of the evening”.  Men made a lot of assumptions about Kate, but they never suspected she was a detective.

Kate Warne America's first female private detective

Kate Warne America’s first female private detective

Kate Warne’s usefulness to Abraham Lincoln did not end after Lincoln successfully made it to Washington. During the Civil War, Washington was full of Southern spies, and Kate worked undercover to help ferret them out.

Political cartoon lampooning Lincoln for sneaking into Washington in disguise

Political cartoon lampooning Lincoln for sneaking into Washington in disguise

Kate Warne eventually started the woman’s division of the Pinkerton Detective agency and hired a number of female  operatives of various backgrounds, who themselves became great detectives.  Despite Kate Warne’s contribution to the security of the United States, she never got the recognition  she deserved. Her whole life, behind her back, people whispered that the only “work” she really did at the Pinkerton Detective Agency was being Allan Pinkerton’s mistress. There were no medals and no state funeral for Kate Warne when she died of a sudden illness in 1868. She was quietly laid to rest in the Pinkerton family plot. Her name was misspelled on her tombstone.

 

 

 

Get Out – A Horror Movie, Comedy, Racial Commentary

Get Out is a combination Horror Movie, Comedy, and Documentary on American Race Relations. It sounds like an odd mix, but Get Out makes this a wonderful combination for a great movie. Producer/Director Jordan Peel has taken some old genres and mixed them together in a unique way to come up with an entirely new blend. Parts of Get Out are scary as Hell while other parts are uproariously funny. Mixed into all of this is the way Get Out makes us think about the odd sate of race relations in the United States.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Walsh, a young African-American with a beautiful White, wealthy girlfriend named Rose Armitage. Their life is great until they decide to leave the city and spend the weekend in the country  with Rose’s parents. This is where you expect the movie to take the traditional route of having the parents be prejudice. Instead, Get Out goes in the opposite direction. Some of the funniest parts of the film are the scenes where Rose’s parents desperately try to show they are not prejudice. The father (played by Bradley Whitford) constantly talks about how much he liked Barack Obama. Then he makes things worse by trying to talk using what the middle-aged White man thinks is black slang. Rose, of course, is dying from embarrassment.

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

The Horror part of the film begins when Chris meets the other African Americans associated with the Armitage family. The family is very wealthy and has a black gardener (Walter) and a black maid (Georgina). Of course, Mr. Armitage points out how well Walter and Georgina  are paid and that he respects them very much. Still, there is something very creepy about the two. Georgina always seems to be in a daze, and the very muscular Walter is constantly giving hostel looks to Chris.

Without giving anything away, we will say that Get Out does get very bloody and scary as it progresses. There is a reason why Walter and Georgina are so weird, and it is more frighting than can be imagined. Get Out is one of the few movies, where the audience will laugh one second and scream the next.

Milton "Lil Rel" Howery in Get Out

Milton “Lil Rel” Howery in Get Out

As the weekend gets stranger and stranger, Chris keeps calling his friend Rod in the city, to describe how weird everyone is. Rod (perfectly played by Milton “Lil Rel” Howery), is a TSA worker, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. He comes up with the bizarre (and totally incorrect) theory that these rich White people must have captured the African Americans in the community to make them sex slaves. His “proof” is that one young American American man in the community is married to an older White woman. Rod even goes to the police with his allegations assuming that he will be treated with respect as a “fellow law enforcement officer.” Rod is oblivious to the fact than no one in the United States has any respect for the TSA, and the police laugh him out of the building.

The acting throughout Get Out is perfect. Allison Williams is wonderful  as Rose,  the rich beautiful young White woman, who simply takes her privileged place in society for granted. In one scene, she is driving with Chris and accidentally hits a deer.  When the police arrive at the accident the White police officer immediately asks to see Chris’ identification even though Rose had already explained that she was the driver.

Chris meekly gets his I.D. to show to the police, but then Rose steps in.  She calmly refuses to let Chris show the identification to the police and explains to the police office that the police have no right whatsoever to ask to see Chris’s identification. The police officer eventually backs down.  As the police officer walks away, Rose flashes a gorgeous smile and cheerily thanks the officer for his help.

To Rose, police officers are servants working for her. To Chris, police are a force to be afraid of and never to challenge. Despite the fact that this scene comes in a Horror/Comedy movie, it is one of the best examples ever on film of the different attitudes that White and African Americans have towards law enforcement officers.  Allison Williams is best known for her role as Marnie on the HBO series Girls.

Get Out is not at all preachy about race relations. It is a fun Horror/Comedy film that happens to have a racial component to it.  The ending of Get Out is exciting and totally unexpected. There are twists within twists and the audience was clapping at the end of the film.

 

 

Happy Birthday Saoirse Ronan

East Coast Stories would like to wish a happy 23rd birthday to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Despite her young age, Saoiese Ronan is one of the best actors in a generation. She is also one of the hardest working. In just the past year, Saoirse starred in the film Brooklyn, and the Broadway play The Crucible.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

While some actors settle for playing the same type over and over, Saoirse Ronan continually hones her skills in small independent firms playing a wide variety of characters. Saoirse is especially known for her ability to instantly don any type of accent. In fact, the film Brooklyn was one of the few movies where Saoirse actually used her real accent, which is a beautiful Irish brogue.

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

In the independent film How I live Now, Saoirse played an American teenager. Not only did she perfectly capture the American accent, she nailed the sarcastic, condescending attitude of a certain type of overly-privileged American teen. In the quirky comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel , Saoirse Ronan was a baker of fine pastries. Saoirse said that the most difficult part of the film was that she actually had to learn how to make pastries.

Despite the Irish Brogue, Saoirse Ronan is a true East Coast girl, having been born in The Bronx, while her Irish parents were living there. Her parents moved back to Ireland when she was little, but she still holds dual American-Irish citizenship.

So from all of us at East Coast Stories Happy Birthday Saoirse! We look forward to watching all of your future performances.

 

Cool – The Most Dangerous Four Letter Word

Cool is the most dangerous four letter word in the English language. How many thousands of stupid decisions have people made in the never-ending quest to be considered “cool”?  People abuse drugs or alcohol, start smoking cigarettes or drive cars drunk partly so that they can be cool.

Smoking is so Cool

Smoking is so Cool

Somehow cool has maintained a hold over the American psyche, long after other slang words have lost their mystique and died an ignominious death. No one wants to be “groovy” or “boss” or “outta sight” or even “hep”.  In fact, anyone even using those expressions would most likely be laughed out of the room. Yet Cool remains the king.

That's right - I'm Cool!

That’s right – I’m Cool!

The worst part of trying to be cool is not what you do, but what you don’t do. The cool-seekers dissociate themselves from anyone considered un-cool. Loving family, good teachers and childhood friends are all abandoned when it becomes obvious that they are not cool.

At least he walked away

At least he walked away

Sometimes, years in the future, the cool-seekers realize that they have abandoned the best people in their lives. Of course by that time, it it often too late. Those good friends and family  are gone, forever.

What can we say?

What can we say?

So maybe it’s time for Cool to finally exit the stage and go the way of “groovy”. What will be left without people trying to be cool? Maybe, a world where everyone can be happy with who they really are.

So Cool

So Cool

 

A Hero Of France

A Hero Of France by Alan Furst is a novel of the dark days of France in the winter of 1941, when the Nazis controlled Europe  and the Allies were losing the war.  Mathieu is a leader in the French Resistance, trying to help downed British pilots escape back to England.

A Hero Of France by Alan Furst

A Hero Of France by Alan Furst

A Hero of France is the latest in a series of novels by Alan Furst about the French  Resistance. Although the characters are fictional, the facts about the war and the Resistance are well documented. The bravery of the French resistance is truly remarkable.

Hitler in Paris 1940

Hitler in Paris 1940

A Hero Of France shows how the people in the French Resistance were not young trained soldiers, which makes their bravely more remarkable.  Before the war Mathieu owed a small newspaper. Now in German Occupied Paris, his resistance cell consists of people he hopes the Nazis will not suspect as a threat. His Resistance “organization” consists of an elderly professor, a young high school girl, a bar owner, a woman who sells religious statues and an assortment of petty criminals. This is the group that has to try to outsmart German Military Intelligence, French Police, and various French paid informers.

Germany captures Paris while The United States remains neutral

Germany captures Paris while The United States remains neutral

Most people today have the wrong impression of French Resistance “fighters”. In fact, fighting was not the primary function of the French Resistance, for the simple reason that it was suicidal. The Nazis had a brutal system of reprisals. If any German soldier was killed in Occupied Paris, the Germans would immediately gather a minimum of 10 random French citizens and execute them.

Alan Furst, Author of A Hero Of France

Alan Furst, Author of A Hero Of France

A Hero Of France shows what the French Resistance really did in World War II. They saved downed airmen, hid escaped Allied POWs, and gathered intelligence about German troop movements.  Much of this was directed from London by British Intelligence, with which the French Resistance groups had a very tense relationship. On the one hand the French needed the supplies and money the British provided. On the other hand, it was quite obvious that British Intelligence considered the French Resistance groups as expendable commodities.

French woman with German soldier. Maybe she is a collaborator, maybe she is a spy working for the French Resistance

French woman with German soldier. Maybe she is a collaborator, maybe she is a spy working for the French Resistance

The British view was that if the French Resistance could be of help to the war that was good, but if French people got killed in the process it was no big loss. After all they were not “real” soldiers anyway.  However, Mathieu does care about the people in the group. He wants the Allies to win the war, but he also wants all the people in his Resistance cell to still be alive when that happens.

A Hero Of France is an excellent novel and we highly recommend it. It is a tribute the small group of civilians who stood alone in France against the might of the Nazis, while Americans stayed neutral and safe an ocean away.

 

 

Kong Skull Island- A combination of Apocalypse Now and Moby Dick set to rock music

The new Kong Skull Island movie is a combination of Apocalypse Now and Moby Dick, with a fantastic 1960’s & 1970’s soundtrack and wild action scenes. It is far better than any of the modern remakes of the  classic 1933 King Kong and even has  has some improvements.

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

For one thing, the female lead is a war correspondent/photo-journalist instead of a “damsel in distress”. In all other King Kong movies, including the 1933 original, the female lead does nothing but look beautiful and scream constantly.  In Kong Skull Island Mason Weaver (played by Brie Larson) never screams. She is an integral part of the action scenes, rather than being relegated to just watching the men do the action.

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

In fact, there is no damsel in distress in the movie. Tian Jing plays San, a shy scientist on the expedition, who ends up being excellent in combat when the time comes to fight.

Samuel L. Jackson as a modern day Captain Ahab who treats Kong as the White Whale

Samuel L. Jackson as a modern day Captain Ahab who treats Kong as the White Whale

Samuel L. Jackson is Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard but he really plays the role of Captain Ahab. Kong Skull Island takes place just at the end of the Vietnam war, and Packard is filled with rage that all the sacrifices he and his men have made have been for nothing. When he gets a chance to lead a military escort to Skull Island, he lets the full force of his anger out on the wild and innocent King Kong.

In  Moby Dick, written in 1851, Herman Melville understood this kind of rage when he described Captain Ahab by saying:

“He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down.”

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

Kong Skull Island also has a very Apocalypse Now vibe to it. There are helicopter assaults over a jungle, while rock music blasts from the choppers. The solders eagerly follow into battle a leader that, in their hearts, they know to be insane.

One of the best characters in Kong Skull Island is Lieutenant Hank Marlow, perfectly played by John C. Reilly. Marlow was a World War II pilot who was shot down on Skull Island and has been living there for over 30 years. Marlow lives peacefully with the natives, and has come to accept the power and beauty of Kong and the island.

John C. Reilly as a pilot trapped on Skull Island since World War II

John C. Reilly as a pilot trapped on Skull Island since World War II

Marlow’s main goal in life is to find a way to get back to his true love –  the woman he married in Chicago just before he shipped off to war. When this  new expedition arrives on the island Marlow realizes he might be able to finally get home.  However, first he has to guide the expedition and keep them all from getting killed.  Even though Marlow has seen the same violence of war that Packard has, Marlow’s motivating force in life is  love rather than hate.

The unstoppable King Kong

The unstoppable King Kong

Kong Skull Island is a fun movie that can be watched on many levels. Teenagers will love the action, while adults will understand that the film also has some deeper meaning as well. Be warned that it may be a little too intense for small kids. Along with the action scenes comes a huge body count.

 

Life Itself – Film Critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and final days

Life Itself is a beautiful movie about film critic Robert Ebert’s fascinating life and painful final days. Life Itself also delves into the the decades-long love-hate relationship between Robert Ebert and Gene Siskel. Both of them were strong personalities who were best known for their T.V. show Siskel & Ebert At The Movies.

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

We find that Roger Ebert was a much more complex character than most people realize. A brilliant writer from a young age, he brought film criticism to a new level at the Chicago Sun Times. Prior to Ebert, the film reviews were done by whoever happened to see a movie that weekend. Ebert turned it into a high art. He saw a movie every day, and took the time to write an in-depth analysis. In 1975, Roger Ebert was awarded a Pulitzer Price.

Ebert was proud of his Chicago working class roots. The Chicago Sun Times is the paper read by the every day people who ride mass transit. After Ebert won the Pulitzer, he was offered a huge amount of money to move to Washington D.C. and become the film critic for the Washington Post . He turned the offer down flat saying simply that he “did not want to have to learn new streets.”

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

Robert Ebert on the cover of Esquire, after his cancer surgery

However, there was a dark side to Roger Ebert as well. He was a hard drinker with the rest of the reporters, and for a number of years was a complete alcoholic. Then one day, he suddenly had enough. He took a last drink, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and never drank again.

Roger Ebert also had a huge ego. He loved being the center of attention and telling endless stories while a group listened.  Whenever he met anyone new, he somehow was able to work into the conversation that he had won a Pulitzer Prize. Roger wanted to be a wild celebrity with beautiful women at his side. However, the fact that he was about 300 pounds meant that he was never very successful with the ladies. At one point in his career, he wrote the screen play for the cheesy soft core porn film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. He later admitted that the only reason he participated in such trash was that he wanted a chance to meet some of the actresses. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is so bad that it actually became a cult film classic. People still watch it today to laugh at film making at its worst.

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Roger Ebert was not happy to have Gene Siskel come into his life. Both Siskel and Ebert wanted to do a movie review show alone. However, the T.V. producers rightly thought it would be more interesting to have two reviewers discussing a movie, instead of one guy lecturing the audience.

It was the conflict and disagreements between the two that made Siskel & Ebert At The Movies so much fun to watch.  The were both egotists and both convinced that their view was correct and anyone disagreeing with it was an idiot. Their arguments about films were not just for show. Often their fights and discussions about a particular film  would continue for hours even after the  cameras were turned off.

Life Itself has many parts that are difficult to watch, since it also documents the final days when Roger Ebert was dying from cancer.  In attempts to remove the cancer, Ebert’s lower jaw had been removed, and he could no longer speak or eat any solid foods.  However, he refused to give up on life. Roger Ebert became a prolific blogger and continued to review movies constantly. He also adapted his computer so that he could “speak” electronically. He communicated to the world this way for a number of years, and even attended movie conferences and “spoke” to crowds with his electronic keyboard voice.

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Life Itself is brilliantly directed by Steve James, who also created the stunning film Hoop Dreams. There are in-depth interviews with Gene Siskel’s widow, Marlene Iglitzen, as well as Robert’s wife Chaz Ebert. There are also touching interviews with fans ranging from everyday readers to famous movie people like Martin Scorsese. Steve James does not try to make Roger Ebert a larger than life celebrity. He shows Roger Ebert as a real multifaceted individual, whose passing was mourned by all film lovers.

 

Hoop Dreams- the film showing the evil side of “March Madness”

Hoop Dreams  is a documentary that shows how young  African American kids are used and abused by an athletic system that treats them as free labor whose only purpose is to play basketball so that schools can make money. The kids are told they will one day become millionaires playing in the NBA. They are not told that the chance of making  the NBA is about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Win at all costs

Win at all costs

Hoop Dreams takes place over a number of years and details the lives of two inner-city Chicago Kids who are recruited to play basketball for a wealthy suburban high school. St. Joseph High is a Catholic school that has a man scouting Chicago middle and grammar school playgrounds looking for good basketball players. He looks for kids who are athletic and who seem like they will become unusually tall. St. Joseph High then offers these kids a partial scholarship to play for St. Joseph.

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Of course the officials at St. Joseph High talk about how much they are helping the community. In fact, they thought that Hoop Dreams was going to show how great the school is. It did not turn out that way. After Hoop Dreams premiered, various St. Joseph High officials tried to sue the film makers.

St. Joseph High is in an all-White suburb and the African American scholarship kids are seen as only there to play basketball. The first thing you notice is what St. Joseph’s does not have. It does not have anyone looking for inner-city kids with great math or reading or artistic skills. It does not have academic scholarships. The message to kids in the ghetto is clear. Sports is the only way out. Academic skill is not useful.

William Gates in "Hoop Dreams"

William Gates in “Hoop Dreams”

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee who are both recruited and given partial scholarships. They end up being treated very differently at the school, completely based on their athletic skill. William continues to grow very tall and his basketball skills improve. A supporter of the school gives William a part time job to supplement the partial scholarship.

Arthur Agee in" Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee in” Hoop Dreams”

Arthur, on the other hand is not so lucky. He does not grow as tall, and he suffers a knee injury. Coach Pingatore pressures William to play even though the knee is not quite healed. William re-injures the knee and needs a second operation. The injuries and intense pressure the kids are under seems like something from the pros, but you have to keep reminding yourself that these are unpaid high school kids.

When Arthur’s athletic performance becomes bad, the money starts to be a problem.  Unlike William, the school does not find a wealthy supporter to help Arthur.  This is when the school suddenly  reminds Arthur that this is a partial scholarship, and that Arthur will not be able to stay at St. Joseph’s unless his family can pay the back tuition. They cannot come up with the money and Arthur is sent back to the public high school in the inner-city.

As a final insult to Arthur, St. Joseph’s high will not release his transcripts to the public high school, since the back tuition is not paid. This will keep Arthur from graduating high school unless his family comes up with the money.

Neither William or Arthur ever do make the NBA. Both did go to college but even there, the main function was just to play basketball. One went to a large rural college that only had 6 African American kids in the whole college. Five of those 6 kids were on the college basketball team.

Hoop Dreams shows the bad side of American sports that no one likes to talk about. For every one NBA star there are thousands of kids who made sacrifices for  a high school or a college and got nothing in return. Supposedly the kids got an education in return, but many schools were never really interested in trying to educate any of them or give them any real help in life .

At one point in Hoop Dreams Arthur tells the story of when he had some very personal issues with his family that were upsetting him deeply and impacting his schoolwork . He still considered the coach his mentor, so Arthur went to Coach Pingatore to ask for advice.  The coach’s “advice” was very simple. He told Arthur to completely cut ties with his family and girlfriend, since they were interfering  with his ability to play basketball. Thanks coach. Way to help a kid in trouble.

In the 22 years since Hoop Dreams premiered, unfortunately not much has changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In “Logan” The Wolverine’s final enemy is Trump

Logan is The Woverine’s final appearance and in the movie this X-Man hero battles the immigration policies of Donald Trump.  Of course, Trump is never mentioned, but any adults watching the film will get the message. Logan is far different from the proceeding X-Men movies, and covers subjects more geared towards adults than kids.  When a superhero gets old and senile do his powers become a danger to society? Is a simple peaceful life superior to that of a “hero”? Does the government have a right to break  hard-working families apart?

Dafne Keen & Hugh Jackman in "Logan"

Dafne Keen & Hugh Jackman in “Logan”

In Logan, The Wolverine is long retired from the superhero business, and is undercover trying to make a living as a limo driver. He is caring for a 90 year old Professor X, who is going senile and has periodic seizures.  Since Professor X has the most powerful mind in the universe, these seizures are dangerous for anyone around him.  In his demented states, Professor X’s mind can send out powerful waves that harm or kill innocent people.

Partick Stewart as the 90 year old semi-senile Professor X

Partick Stewart as the 90 year old semi-senile Professor X

Logan’s dream is to earn enough money to buy a yacht so that he and Professor X can live far out on the ocean where they will be of no danger to anyone. The Wolverine himself is feeling the effects of age. He still has superpowers, but now walks with a limp and has a chronic cough. He can heal if wounded, but this takes more and more time after each injury.

Dafne Keen give a mischievous smile in "Logan"

Dafne Keen gives a mischievous smile in “Logan”

Logan’s simple life is interrupted when a Hispanic woman recognizes him as The Wolverine and pleads for his help. She and her daughter are being chased by government agents who are trying to capture them and take them away. She offers Logan money to take them to Canada, which is giving sanctuary to undesirables the U.S. government is hunting. (Anyone not seeing the Trump connection at this point must have been living under a rock for the past 2 years).

The Hispanic woman is killed, and Logan is left caring for Laura, the little girl. But she is no ordinary little girl. She is, in fact a Wolverine, just like Logan. Laura is played by Dafne Keen, and she is absolutely the best part of the movie. Laura has superpowers and is great at fighting bad guys, but she is also a little kid with all of a kid’s funny quirks and infuriatingly annoying habits. Laura also desperately wants Logan to be a traditional father figure, despite the fact that he is completely unsuited to this task.

Hugh Jackman & Dafne Keen at the Berlin Film Festival screening of "Logan"

Hugh Jackman & Dafne Keen at the Berlin Film Festival screening of “Logan”

The acting throughout Logan is superb. Patrick Stewart gives a masterful performance as the aging Professor X. Hugh Jackman is perfect as Logan, the man who never wanted to be The Wolverine. Logan sees that with Laura he may have a way to find redemption for all the bad things he has done in his life. Dafne Keen is terrific, and we predict she will go on to become a major star.  She does not speak for most of the film, which means that she has to use her body language and facial expressions to get the meaning across to the audience. That would be a difficult task for even an adult actor, but Dafne Keen handles this challenge with ease.

There is a very moving scene in Logan in which the three superheros get a glimpse into the lives they might have had. They have dinner with a farm family, and the superheros pretend to be a family of their own. Professor X is the grandfather, Logan his son, and Laura is Logan’s daughter. For the only time in the film, they are completely relaxed and enjoy the simple pleasures of a good meal, friends and laughter. It is a picture of what they could be if the government had not labeled them as unwanted aliens.

Logan is an excellent film and despite being a superhero movie, it is not really for kids. It is R rated, has extreme violence and a very high body count.  It is also one of the best X-Men movies yet. It actually concludes a number of stories, and is not one of those films just trying to set up a sequel. We highly recommend Logan.

I Am A Celebrity in Estonia for Naljkad Toointervjuud by Gregory F. Farrell

Like most vain people, I constantly Google my own name to see how the internet perceives me. I was shocked to discover that I have become a celebrity in the country of Estonia for a book I wrote 20 years ago. A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview has been re-released in Estonia as Naljakad Toointervjuud, with a somber  cover.

Naljakad Toointervjuud by Gregory F. Farrell the Estonian business expert

Naljakad Toointervjuud by Gregory F. Farrell the Estonian business expert

Apparently Naljakad Toointervjuud is being marketed with a much more serious tone than A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview was sold in the United States. The scruffy cartoon resume on the cover had been replaced by a pair of serious all-business wing tipped shoes.

A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview by Gregory F. Farrell

A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview by Gregory F. Farrell

The book has become a hit, and there have been a lot of comments from readers on the websites of stores that sell Nalkakad Toointervjuud. Unfortunately, I do not speak Estonian, so I had to use Google Translate to convert the comments to English. Somehow, I think something got lost in translation, resulting in some bizarre comments like:

  • “Anyone can fly ninuli-important back up on its feet”
  • If any of this happens, put it behind the ear, and learn from their mistake.”

However, other comments are really cool and very complimentary.

Estonia

Estonia

So to all my readers in Estonia, Aitah! Good luck on your job search! Remember always that you and your family  are more important than any job, and that things have a way of working out. If the interview goes great you may get the job. If you have nothing but a series of horrible interviews, maybe you were meant to be an author.

 

A Farther Shore – Ireland’s Long Road to Peace

A Farther Shore  by Gerry Adams is the fascinating story of the negotiations that resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which created a road map for peace in Northern Ireland. Some consider Gerry Adams a terrorist, while for others, he is a great civil rights leader. Since 1983, Gerry Adams was the leader of Sinn Fein, the political group closely associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A Farther Shore was written in 2003 when the details of the negotiations were fresh in mind. A Farther Shore still holds up today, and gives the reader a wonderful historic perspective.

British troops in Northern Ireland

British troops in Northern Ireland

It is difficult for people outside of Ireland and the U.K. to understand just how desperate the Northern Ireland situation was in the 1970s through 1990s.  There were daily shootings and bombing. People could be imprisoned indefinitely without trial and the British Army was a large occupying force. At one point in Norther Ireland, there was 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between the ages of 16 and 60.

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

It seemed impossible that there could ever be a negotiated settlement. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and her goal was to militarily destroy the IRA by any means, legal or illegal.  The British have always portrayed themselves to the world as the epitome of “the rule of law”. However, the law did not apply in Northern Ireland.  British SAS forces had orders to “shoot to kill” rather than arrest suspected members of the IRA, even if those people were unarmed.

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was in many ways worse than the British Army. The RUC was supposed to be the police force protecting all the citizens of Norther Ireland. In reality, it was the force of the Protestant majority only, and considered all Catholics to be the enemy.

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

As well as the Catholic IRA, there were many armed Protestant “Unionist” paramilitary groups. The Unionist groups were technically illegal, but in fact were often being given intelligence and weapons by the British and the RUC.

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

The brutal methods of the British and the RUC did not destroy the IRA, and instead made it stronger. Once the British began to treat  ALL Catholics in Northern Ireland as the enemy, the Catholics turned to the IRA as the only force which would protect them.  The IRA itself continued bomb and gun attacks.  On August 27, 1979 the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten in Ireland in a bomb attack and killed 18 British soldiers in a separate attack in Northern Ireland on the same day.

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995 at Queen’s University. Clinton also met with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party  Ian Paisely.

A Farther Shore is the story of how the groups battling in Northern Ireland came through those dark days to sign a peace accord in 1998 which came to be known as the Good Friday Agreement. Gerry Adams admits that his is not an unbiased account. He rightfully states that it may be 50 or 75 years before anyone will be able to write a story about Northern Ireland from a neutral, unemotional perspective. A Further Shore is Gerry Adam’s account of the Sinn Fein struggle and its involvement in the peace process.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

The negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Agreement took decades and included a huge number of people, countries and political and paramilitary organizations. Just to name a few these included, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Ted Kennedy, the IRA, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party, and more.

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

This was not a simple matter of just having groups sit down and talk to each other for a deal. Many of these groups hated each other and would have no direct conversations with each other, even if they were in the same room. The IRA and the various unionists paramilitary organizations were illegal and could therefore not even show up directly for any talks.

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Peace would never have been achieved without the involvement of South Africa and The United States.  At one point,  representatives of all the involved Northern Irish  parties (other than the paramilitary groups) traveled to South Africa. There they met with Nelson Mandela and the ex-leaders of the all -white government.  There were long discussions about how it was possible to achieve a lasting agreement even among groups that had fought each other for decades. The Irish peace negotiators were inspired by the South African example.

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

United States Senator George Mitchell lead the negotiations that resulted in The Good Friday agreement.  Most Americans, even to this day, are not fully aware of the incredible achievement of Senator Mitchell. The fact that he was able to hold together such a diverse group and get a workable accord would have seemed impossible given the history of the conflict.

A Further Shore is a wonderful read, and Gerry Adams is a terrific writer.  Gerry Adams’ writing style is very personal, which makes this tale of an individual’s journey, rather than a dry historical document.  Gerry Adams sprinkles the book with amusing anecdotes. For example, at one point, he took a break from negotiations which were  taking place in an old castle.  As he walked the grounds of the estate he found himself being followed by a herd of wild cats who lived in the nooks and crannies of the old castle. Throughout his political life Gerry Adams has tried to continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and family. Despite having been imprisoned by the British and shot by Unionists, he has kept an amazingly positive outlook on the future and truly believes in the possibility of a better future for future generations throughout the world.

A Further Shore is a very inspirational book since it shows that seemingly “endless” conflicts can be resolved.  It is easy to think of today’s problems in the Middle East and elsewhere as completely insurmountable.  A Further Shore shows that there is always hope and possibility. Of course, the problems of Northern Ireland have not all been solved. The IRA and the Unionist military groups still exist. The political situation is still incredibly complex and fluid.

Just this week an election was held for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Unionist group the DUP came in first 28 seats. In a stunning success, Sinn Fein came in second with 27 seats. It was a hard-fought election, but the fighting was with words, not guns or bombs.  A Further Shore tells the tale of what made this possible.

Fifty Shades Darker- Dull, Unimaginative, Not Erotic

Fifty Shades Darker is dull, unimaginative and not at all erotic. We saw it in an AMC Dine-In Theater, and what the people in front of us were eating was more interesting than the movie. It was a  pasta dish with extra cheese and lots of garlic. They were having a real hard time eating it in the dark. Oh- you want to hear about the movie? Let’s just say that the pasta was hotter and spicier than the sex scenes in Fifty Shades Darker.

Jamie Dornan & Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades Darker

Jamie Dornan & Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades Darker

This is, of course, the much anticipated sequel to Fifty Shades Of Grey.  However the advertising was completely misleading. Fifty Shades Of Grey ended with Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) walking out on Christian (Jamie Dornan) since she refused to be a “submissive” who was going to be brutalized by him. That was the best part of Fifty Shades Of Grey, when she stood up to this abusive creep.

The advertising for Fifty Shades Darker implied that in the sequel, Christian has changed and  they get back together as a regular normal romantic pair of equals. Then, someone from Christian’s dark past tries to stalk and murder the happy couple. Fifty Shades Darker was billed as a romantic mystery-thriller.

However, that is not what happens.  In  Fifty Shades Darker, Anastasia now suddenly  finds the controlling, abusive and stalking behavior of Christian somehow “romantic”.  It is a complete departure from the ending of the first film. Christian controls every aspect of her life. He  slaps her around, ties her up, tells her where to go , and even buys and picks out her clothing. Sorry, but this is not romantic. It is abusive.

There is no point in Fifty Shades Darker where Anastasia behaves at all like a real woman.  In the situations portrayed in Fifty Shades Darker any real woman would have been running for the door and calling the police.

Bella Heathcote as the world least frightening stalker in Fifty Shades Darker

Bella Heathcote as the world least frightening stalker in Fifty Shades Darker

There  is stalker in the film we are supposed to be scared of. Bella Heathcote plays Leila, an ex-submissive who used to be involved with Christian. She is now jealous of Christian and Anastasia and is stalking them. The problem is that she is so meek and mild mannered, that there is no point you ever get the feeling that she could really hurt anyone. She is about as scary as being stalked by a chipmunk.

Kim Basinger in Fifty Shades Darker

Kim Basinger in Fifty Shades Darker

Kim Basinger plays Leila, the older woman who first introduced Christian into the world of S&M. Kim Basinger always gives a terrific performance. The previews make it look like she is a main character in Fifty Shades Darker, but she is actually hardly ever on screen. In fact, the credits of the film just state “with Kim Basinger”.  The “with” connotation is what is traditionally used for someone who does a cameo appearance.

So lets, get back to the main story, about the people in front of us in the theater having their dinner. As Dakota Johnson cavorted naked on screen, there was a loud crash when the couple in front of us somehow knocked all of their silverware onto the floor. Instead of ringing a waiter for more, they decided to use their breadsticks as utensils to eat the rest of the pasta.

Can breadsticks be utensils?

Can breadsticks be utensils?

This creates a technical problem since breadsticks tend to snap if too much pressure is put on them. Perhaps at this point we should point out that as well as food, AMC Dine-In Theaters serve alcohol. Suffice it to say that the breadstick pasta eaters had consumed quite a few cocktails as the film progressed.

This is what people have at the movies now instead of popcorn

This is what people have at the movies now instead of popcorn

So, to wrap it up, we have two recommendations. The first is to skip Fifty Shades Darker. There are a lot of great movies playing right now, but Fifty Shades Darker is not one of them. The second piece of advice is more practical.  Please, if you do see a film in a dine in theater, skip the pasta and order a sandwich instead.

 

 

 

John Wick Chapter 2 – Humorous over-the-top violence and great acting

Saying  that you don’t like John Wick Chapter 2 because it is too violent, is like saying you don’t like the ocean because it is too wet. The violence in John Wick Chapter 2 is meant to be so over-the-top that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.  In many parts of the movie, the theater audiences laugh or break into cheers after a particularly absurd fight scene.

Keanu Reeves & Lawrence Fishburne joke around on the set of "John Wick Chapter 2"

Keanu Reeves & Lawrence Fishburne joke around on the set of “John Wick Chapter 2”

Keanu Reeves is perfect reprising his role as John Wick, the world’s most deadly assassin. John Wick is forced out of retirement to assassinate a Mafia princess (beautifully played by Italian film star Claudia Gerini). She is, of course, one of the world’s most protected people, surrounded by  hundreds of bodyguards that Wick must fight.

Claudia Gerini is the Mafia princess in "John Wick" chapter 2

Claudia Gerini is the Mafia princess in “John Wick” chapter 2

As in the original John Wick movie there are terrific scenes at The Continental, which is a hotel for professional assassins. At The Continental you can order guns, knives and bullet proof suits and have them delivered directly to your room. Ian McShane is the upper class manager of The Continental who provides every service a successful killer could desire.

Ian McShane as the man who runs The Continental in "John Wick Chapter 2"

Ian McShane as the man who runs The Continental in “John Wick Chapter 2”

The casting in John Wick Chapter 2 is excellent as are the locations. The film was beautifully shot at interesting locations in New York and Rome. Many of the fight scenes are in modern museums, or ancient Roman ruins.

Ruby Rose as the silent killer Ares in "John Wick Chapter 2"

Ruby Rose as the silent killer Ares in “John Wick Chapter 2”

Lawrence Fishburne is The Bowery King, who controls an army of homeless beggars throughout New York as a well-armed intelligence gathering network.  After seeing John Wick Chapter 2 you may look differently at the homeless people on the streets of New York.  Is it possible that they really have Uzis under those filthy blankets?

Common does a perfect performance in John Wick Chapter 2

Common does a perfect performance in John Wick Chapter 2

Ruby Rose is wonderful as the deaf-mute killer Ares. Ruby Rose is having an incredible acting year, with major roes in Resident Evil-the Final Chapter, and The Return of Xander Cage. Three key roles in three motion pictures in one year is an amazing accomplishment and must have been exhausting, since each one is a physically demanding action part.

Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., better known by his rap and stage name “Common”, excellently plays the Mafia bodyguard Cassian. Although he and Wick are friends, they are now on opposite sides of a deadly battle.

John Wick Chapter 2 is a fun movie if you are in the right mood for mindless entertainment.  Be aware that it  is rated R for violence. We literally lost count of how many people get killed in the movie, but it had to be well over a hundred.  However, we were in the right mood and thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  We eagerly await John Wick Chapter 3.

Primer- a terrific indie movie made for $7,000

Primer is a terrific independent film made on a budget of just $7,000. Primer is sort of a combination of Silicon Valley and The Time Machine. It starts out like a documentary with 4 techie guys in a garage trying to become the next Apple or Microsoft. Primer then  slowly changes into a story about the dark side of human nature, and forces that people are unprepared to explore.

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in "Primer"

David Sullivan & Shane Carruth in “Primer”

It is incredible that Primer was made for $7,000, when you consider how many terrible Hollywood movies have costs hundreds of millions. There are no special effects and the people are all genuine, but it is definitely a Sci Fi film.

The techie guys start out with really stupid inventions, like a gas that makes refrigerators colder, but has the downside of possibly making the ice cubes poisonous.  Then two of the guys –  Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) – construct a machine that has some wondrous properties they don’t really understand. Aaron and Abe know they are onto something big, but they don’t know what.

Of course, the first thing Aaron and Abe do is to hide the machine from the other members of the team. Anyone who has ever worked in a startup company recognizes how real this scenario is. In startups, everyone is “an important part of the team” until it looks like the company might actually make some money. Then the knives come out.

The machine seems to be able to put out more electricity than it takes in. It also seems to make objects slightly  lighter. Most wondrous of all, it appears that The Machine might impact Time itself.  Adam and Abe don’t know if these events are really happening. The changes are so slight that maybe their instruments are just measuring things wrong. They decide to go the next step and build a huge version of The Machine.

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895

People have been fascinated with the possibility of time travel, ever since H.G. Wells first published The Time Machine in 1895. Primer is one of a huge number of movies that explore the possibilities and pitfalls of trying to tinker with the natural order of time.

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie "The Time Machine"

Rod Taylor in the 1960 movie “The Time Machine”

In Primer, the time machine does work, but only in a very limited way. Arron and Abe are brilliant scientists, and they are well aware of the risks of time travel. Therefore, they set up all sorts of fail-safe ways to protect themselves, the timeline and the world from this most dangerous of inventions. Of course, even the most brilliant scientists cannot think of every possibility.

We will not reveal any more of Primer’s plot, other than to say it has stories within stories and you have to watch very carefully to see exactly what is really going on.  Primer was written by Shane Carruth who also stars as Aaron. Primer first premiered in 2004, and despite its $7,000 budget, took in a Box Office gross of $424,780.  The film still holds up today. Primer shows how good a film can be when movie makers concentrate on great writing instead of car chases and special effects.

Don’t Bother To Knock – Marilyn Monroe shows her true acting skills

In the 1952 film   Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe showed the world that her acting skills deserved  better than the stupid ditzy blonde roles she was normally given. Don’t Bother To Knock is a thriller, in which Marilyn Monroe plays a mentally unstable woman who might kill an innocent child.

Knock" has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

The poster for “Don’t Bother To Knock” has Marilyn Monroe in a sexy outfit that was not in the movie.

Despite this tense  plot, Hollywood could just not resist promoting it as a sexy Marilyn Monroe movie rather than a thriller. The movie poster featured Marilyn Monroe in a skimpy outfit that was not part of the movie. The advertisements called her ” a wicked sensation as the lonely girl”.

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Donna Corcoran & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

In Don’t Bother To Knock, Marilyn Monroe is Nell Forbes, whose pilot boyfriend has been killed in a plane crash. Unable to deal with her loss, Nell attempts suicide and spends time in a mental institution.  After being released, she goes to New York to live with her uncle Eddie (played by Elisha Cook Jr.)

Elisha Cook Jr. in "Don't Bother to Knock"

Elisha Cook Jr. in “Don’t Bother to Knock”

Eddie finds Nell a baby sitting job in the hotel where he is a elevator operator. Nell seems fine and gets along well with Bunny, the little girl (played by Donna Corcoran). However, Nell is actually quite unbalanced. When she meets Jed (Richard Widmark), a pilot staying at the hotel, she believes he is actually her dead boyfriend. In her mind,  Nell creates a fantasy world. When Jed rejects her, Nell thinks it is because he does not want the little girl Bunny keeping them apart. That is when Nell decides to take action against Bunny.

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Anne Bancroft in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock, is a fantastic movie, whose plot and tension still hold up today. It is also the debut film for a stunningly beautiful Anne Bancroft as Lyn Lesley, a lounge singer. This was 15 years before Anne Bancroft would gain international fame as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Richard Widmark & Marilyn Monroe in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Don’t Bother To Knock did well in the theaters and was a critical success. Although she was only 26 years old at the time of her brilliant performance, Marilyn Monroe never went on to a full career as  a true dramatic actor. Hollywood producers continued to  cast her in a series of very profitable “dumb blonde” movies. There were lots of actresses who could do drama, but directors knew that only Marilyn Monroe would be perfect for films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes  (1953)or Some Like It Hot (1959).

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in "Don't Bother To Knock"

Anne Bancroft as a lounge singer in “Don’t Bother To Knock”

Unfortunately, off-screen, Marilyn Monroe had much in common with the mentally troubled woman she played in Don’t Bother To Knock. Despite being a world-wide celebrity, Monroe was very unhappy, and  committed suicide in 1962 at the age of 36.  (Of course, rumors still swirl that The Kennedys actually killed Marilyn Monroe).

 

 

Riverdale – Archie Comics in an Alternate Universe

Baby Boomers who see Riverdale on the CW network will feel like they have entered into an alternate universe. Murder, intrigue and illicit sex have made their way into the Archie Comics town of Riverdale. Archie himself has been transformed from a goofy geek into a major hunk who shows off his six-pack abs every chance he gets.

Classic Archie joke

Classic Archie joke

Despite these changes, Riverdale is actually a good show with an interesting plot and excellent acting. We are just  not sure why the producers chose to base the show on a comic book that first came out in 1941.  The target audience for Riverdale is about 50 years younger than anyone who actually  remembers the classic Archie Comics.

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa as Archie, showing off his abs

KJ Apa is Archie, who like in the comics, is continually caught in the middle between Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). Both Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes really nail their characters. It is not easy to play a comic book character without going “over the top”, but both of these fine actors resist that temptation, and play the characters straight. Like in the comics, we always feel sorry for Betty, who despite being nice and beautiful is relegated to the “just friends” category by Archie.

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Lili Reinhart perfect as Betty

Archie himself is the biggest change from the comics. He is a bulked-up football star, who has an illicit sexual affair with a beautiful young teacher. What happened to the nerdy guy from the comics, who never quite got what was going on?  What made the original Archie great was that he was not cool.

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Camila Mendes & Lili Reinhart

Archie was the average high school guy that kids could identify with. Archie was not a star athlete, or brilliant student. He did have a car, but it was a rattling piece of junk (as opposed to rich Reggie’s sports car).

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

The real Archie definitely did not have the body of a hunk

In Riverale, Archie and his friends investigate what might or might not be a murder. To say much more would be to give away the mystery. Riverdale is actually a good show and teenage viewers will like it. Older viewers of a “certain age” can also have fun taking a look, just to see how times have changed in the sleepy, likable town. Still, Baby Boomers may get a twinge of nostalgic sadness seeing Riverdale.

The original Riverdale in Archie comics was a fantasy even when it was created in 1941. It was a place where nothing bad ever happened. No one ever got hurt, got sick,  changed or grew older.  Kids could read these comics and retreat from the “real world” that was being forced onto them. The CW network’s Riverdale is an interesting place, but if given a choice, we would still choose to live in the original Riverdale from the Archie comics. Let’s face it; the real world is highly overrated.

 

 

 

Split – classic horror intertwined with mystery and psychological drama

Split is the story of three teenage girls kidnapped by a  dangerous psychopath with multiple personalities.  Some of the personalities are kind, some stupid and some dangerous. All of the personalities are afraid of “the monster” which will be unleashed on the girls.

James McAvoy & Anya Taylor-Joy in "Split"

James McAvoy & Anya Taylor-Joy in “Split”

James McAvoy gives a masterful performance as the kidnapper, who becomes increasingly strange and dangerous as the film progresses. Intertwined with the classic horror elements, are themes of mystery and psychological drama.

Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson in "Split"

Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson in “Split”

The three girls kidnapped come from a privileged suburban background, and are completely unprepared for the violence and degradation they are suddenly thrust into.  Their natural tendency is to simply freeze from panic. This is, in fact, the normal response when everyday people are confronted with unexpected violence.   Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson are perfect as two young women trying to cope with a situation beyond their comprehension.

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Split"

Anya Taylor-Joy in “Split”

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey Cooke, the third kidnap victim.  Her background is far different from the other girls. She has had a childhood of sexual abuse, and holds a deep inner shame that she never fought back. Casey is determined that this time will be different.  Anya Taylor-Joy is a fantastic actor, and we noted her skills when she starred in The Witch.

Izzie Coffey plays an abused little girl in Split

Izzie Coffey plays an abused little girl in Split

Izzie Coffey plays 6 year old Casey. In flashbacks we see what she was subjected to, and understand why the teenage Casey is considered “strange” by the other girls. Her damaged childhood is a key to the plot of the film.  As a little girl, Casey was far too small to fight back. Can the teenage Casey now summon the strength and the will?

Betty Buckley as psychiatrist Karen Fletcher in "Split"

Betty Buckley as psychiatrist Karen Fletcher in “Split”

Betty Buckley is Psychiatrist Karen Fletcher who has been treating the multiple personalities of the kidnapper for years. So far, he has been able to successfully hide the violent and evil parts of himself from her. However, she knows there is something she is just not seeing. Something about “the monster”

Director M. Night Shyamalan has created a terrific horror film, with less gore and more mystery than most films of the genre.  It is exciting throughout, with a moving subtext touching on the issue of female vulnerability in a male-dominated world.

 

 

 

I Am Your Father – the man inside the Darth Vader helmet

I Am Your Father is a documentary about David Prowse, the man inside the Darth Vader helmet in the original Star Wars trilogy. He is also a pariah; hated by George Lucas, and  banned from any official Star Wars reunions or conventions.   Lucas believes that he was betrayed by Prowse.

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

Mark Hamill & David Prowse

By the time the first Star Wars movie was made in 1977, David Prowse was already known by film directors in England. He was the the former British weight lifting champion and stood 6 feet 7 inches tall. This physique made David Prowse the go-to actor to play bad guys and monsters. He was particularly popular as the Frankenstein monster.

David Prowse in "A Clockwork Orange"

David Prowse in “A Clockwork Orange”

Then in 1971 he was cast by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, showing that he could play more than grunting monsters. He was the perfect choice for the commanding presence needed for Darth Vader. David Prowse was Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return Of The Jedi (1983).

David Prowse today at age 80

David Prowse today at age 80

So after making 3 of the most successful films in history how did George Lucas and David Prowse end up hating each other?  Betrayal is the word that sums up the issue. Each man feels he was twice  betrayed by the other.

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

David Prowse as the Green Cross Man

The two betrayals by Lucas have to do with Darth Vader’s voice and final death scene. We all know that James Earl Jones is the voice of Darth Vader.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell that to David Prowse ahead of time.  David was the voice of Darth Vader all the way through  the filming of Star Wars.  It was not until the movie premier that David found out his voice had been dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Imaging what it must have been like to sit in the premier and find that every one of your lines in a movie had been replaced by that of another actor.

Lou Ferrigno - friend and defender of David Prowse

Lou Ferrigno – friend and defender of David Prowse

However, David Prowse knew that he would finally get the recognition he deserved, when Darth Vader had his beautiful death scene in Return Of The Jedi. At last, the Darth Vader mask would be removed, and the world would see David. However, this was not to be. Sebastian Shaw was the actor who performed the Darth Vader death scene where Darth’s helmet is removed.

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader's death scene

Sebastian Shaw in Darth Vader’s death scene

Richard Marquand, the director of Return Of The Jedi was very worried about what David’s reaction to this news was going to be. After all, who wants to incur the wrath of a 6 foot 7 inch weight lifter? So the director took the cowardly path of just not telling David. The death scene was filmed in secret in one part of the studio while David was kept busy in another part.  Just in case, however, the director had hired lots of extra security for the day.

But why does George Lucas feel betrayed by David Prowse? Well, David was always a very friendly guy and loved taking to reporters. Somehow, two major secrets were leaked to the press just before the release of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.  The secret that Darth Vader is Luke Skwalker’s father hit the British tabloids before The Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters.  The fact that Darth Vader dies in Return Of The Jedi also hit the press before the movie came out. George Lucas was convinced, and apparently remains convinced, that it was talkative David Prowse who told the reporters. Almost 4 decades later, Lucas is not ready to forgive and forget.

I Am You Father researches the events and presents a very good case that David Prowse, in fact, was not responsible for either of these leaks to the press.  However, to this day, Prowse is banned from any official Star Wars conventions. Consequently, he is relegated to signing autographs at cheesy little “off-brand” conventions. One of Prowse’s good friends and defenders is Lou Ferrigno, best known for playing The Hulk on T.V. Lou knows first hand the struggle of being a weight lifter trying to be taken seriously as an actor.

Ironically, David Prowse’s most important acting gig had nothing to do with Star Wars. In 1975 he appeared in  a series of public service ads in the U.K. as the Green Cross Code Man. This was a superhero who taught kids about crossing the street safely. David went above and beyond what he was originally hired to do. He tirelessly campaigned for road safety and made personal appearances at schools talking to kids.

Statistics show that the deaths of children hit by automobiles in the U.K. went down by 50% as a direct result of David’s campaign. Thousands of kids lives were saved.  Later in life, David Prowse was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for this work. Darth Vader will always be remembered as one of the most evil men in the universe. It turns out that the man behind the mask was actually a good guy all along.

Monsieur Verdoux – Charlie Chaplin as a talkative murderer

In 1947 Charlie Chaplin shocked movie audiences by playing a talkative serial killer in the film Monsieur Verdoux.  It was completely against type for the man famous for playing the lovable little tramp in silent movies.

Martha Raye & Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux

Martha Raye & Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux

Monsieur Verdoux is a very dark comedy in which Charlie Chaplin plays a man who successively marries, then murders,  women so that he can steal their assets. His only redeeming quality is that he is using the money to support his real wife, who is suffering from polio. She thinks he is just a kind successful businessman who travels a lot for work.

Serial killer Henri Desire Landru - he was convicted and sent to the guillotine

Serial killer Henri Desire Landru – he was convicted and sent to the guillotine

Monsieur Verdoux was based on the real-life serial killer Henri Desire Landru. In France between 1914 and 1919, he married then killed 11 women.  Due to World War I, there were thousands of widows in France who were easy prey for Landru. He went undiscovered for a long time, since he would destroy the victims in an oven.

Some of the murder victims of Henri Desire Landru

Some of the murder victims of Henri Desire Landru

It is hard to understand why Charlie Chaplin thought this subject would make a good comedy. However, Monsieur Verdoux does have some amusing parts. The funniest person in the film is Martha Raye, who plays Annabella, one of the unsuspecting women Monsieur Verdoux has married. Unlike the other women, Annabella is basically indestructible. No matter what he tries Monsieur Verdoux simply cannot kill Annabella, but does succeed in almost poisoning  himself.

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp we all know and love

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp we all know and love

Audiences in 1947 did not like Monsieur Verdoux.  World War II has just ended. After years of war and millions of deaths, people wanted to see Chaplin in a light comedy.  No one wanted to be reminded of death and destruction and evil people in the world.

Charlie Chaplin & Marilyn Nash in Monsieur Verdoux

Charlie Chaplin & Marilyn Nash in Monsieur Verdoux

Monsieur Verdoux himself tries to defend his action by saying that what he is doing is nothing compared to the millions killed in war. Marilyn Nash plays a young woman who is lifted out a poverty by marring a weapons manufacturer. These anti-war themes seem grafted into and out of place in the movie.

Even watching the film today, it tends to fall flat. We can see what Chaplin was trying to accomplish, but it just does not come across. In order for the comedy to work, you have to like and root for Monsieur Verdoux. However, we  could not get over the fact that in the film, he does kill many of the woman and burn their bodies in an incinerator.  It would have been much funnier if Monsieur Verdoux was an unsuccessful murderer.  If all of his “wives” were as indestructible as Martha Raye, audience might have cheered for the bumbling little man trying to be a criminal. Instead, they were shocked to see that Charlie Chaplin had turned the lovable little tramp into a bad guy.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox who wrote" "Laugh and the World laugh with you; weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has troubles enough of its own."

Ella Wheeler Wilcox who wrote” “Laugh and the World laughs with you; weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has troubles enough of its own.”

Still, Monsieur Verdoux is a film worth seeing for two reasons. First of all, you get to hear Chaplin speak, which is unusual in itself. More importantly, it gives us a glimpse into the man that Chaplin usually kept hidden from the world. Like many comedians, Charlie Chaplin had a dark side which looked at the world as a place or cruelty and evil. Seeing him as the little tramp, audiences would never guess the depths of his depression. As the character Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin takes off the smiling mask and lets people see the pain beneath.  Chaplin should have realized that no one wanted to see that. He should have remembered the lines of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem Solitude.

“Laugh and the World laughs with you, weep and you weep alone. For the poor old Earth must borrow its mirth, but has trouble enough of its own.”

Lovelace – the sad story behind the star of Deep Throat

Lovelace is the sad story of Linda Boreman, better known as “Linda Lovelace” from the infamous Deep Throat movie.  Based on her book Ordeal, it details how she was forced into adult films and prostitution by her abusive husband Chuck Traynor.  Linda later became a spokeswoman against pornography and for for women’s rights.

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in "Lovelace"

Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried in “Lovelace”

Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) came from a strict Catholic family that was shamed  when she had a child out of wedlock. After that, Linda’s parents became completely over-protective and monitored every aspect of her life. Linda rebelled by marrying Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) the dominating owner of a sleazy topless bar. At first, it seems like life with Chuck will be exciting and fun. However, when Chuck runs into financial problems, he forces Linda into prostitution. After that, the adult film industry actually seems like a step up.

Sharon Stone in "Lovelace"

Sharon Stone in “Lovelace”

Sharon Stone plays Linda’s mother Dorothy. Sharon Stone does such a good job as this uptight cruel woman that we honestly did not realize this was the same actress from Basic Instinct.

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in "Lovelace"

Robert Patrick as the devastated father of a porn star in “Lovelace”

Robert Patrick is John Boreman, who is completely devastated when his daughter becomes a porn star.

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Linda Lovelace & Chuck Traynor

Deep Throat was a cultural phenomena in 1972. It was a porn film that somehow crossed over and attracted mainstream audiences. It was also one of the first porn films available on video tape which meant that people could see it without having to “be seen”. Supposedly Deep Throat made $600 million dollars. For her staring role, Linda Lovelace was paid $1,250.

One of the aspects only lightly touched on in Lovelace, is organized crime’s involvement in the pornographic film industry. Porn films are sleazy, but they are legal. Therefore, the mob funnels the profits from its illegal activities into those films. There is no way that Deep Throat actually grossed $600 million. The Oscar winning Best Picture in 1972 was The French Connection. It had a domestic gross box office of $51 million.

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace. Here the publisher of Ordeal has her take a lie detector test to make sure her story is true. She passed the test.

Amanda Seyfried was perfect as Linda Lovelace. Amanda took a real risk with her career on Lovelace, since prior to this Amanda has always played the sweet innocent girl. Peter Sarsgaard, as always, puts in a powerful performance. He is one of America’s best actors and continually challenges himself with new roles in independent films.

We recommend Lovelace, but be warned that it has strong sexual content. Parts of Lovelace are difficult to watch, with the graphic depiction of the abuses Linda was subjected to.

 

20th Century Women- a quirky comedy with excellent acting

20th Century Women is a wonderful film where Hollywood finally lets a middle aged woman be the star. Annette Bening gives a perfect performance as Dorothea Fields, a single mother trying to raise her teenage son amidst the turbulent changes of the 1970s.

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Annette Bening,  Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women

If you ever get the feeling that real life has no plot, and that you don’t know what you are doing, then you will sympathize with Dorothea. She wants to be the perfect mom, have a fulfilling life, and make everyone around her happy and enlightened. She is a failure at all of these goals, but she never stops trying. You can’t help falling in love with Dorothea.

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Elle Fanning as the rebellious teen Julie in 20th Century Women

Dorothea and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) live in a big old house surrounded by odd characters. There is William (Billy Crudup) a combination hippie/carpenter/car mechanic. Greta Gerwig plays Abbie, a sensitive artist, trying to cope with cervical cancer. The next door neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning) is a rebellious teenager who spends most of her time at Dorothea’s house.

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Annette Bening & Billy Crudup in 20th Century Women

Somehow this odd mix of people becomes a family of sorts, helping each other through trials and changes in their own lives. Jamie never comes out and says he wishes he was in a “normal” family, but you know he has thought about it.

If you are expecting a structured plot and a lot of action then 20th Century Women is not the movie for you. 20th Century Women is more like real life than a movie. Things just happen to people. Sometimes they cope well and sometimes they don’t.

We loved 20th Century Women. Ever character is memorable and every actor gives a great performance.

 

 

The Founder- Ray Kroc builds McDonald’s by being a genius and a McPrick

The Founder is the fascinating story of McDonald’s. In 1954, McDonald’s consisted of 1 hamburger stand and Ray Kroc was a 52 year old milkshake-machine salesman. Today, McDonald’s has 36,615 locations and annual revenues of $24 billion.  Ray Kroc was the man who made that possible. He was a combination of genius, hustler, and smooth-talker. He was also a cold-blooded business shark ready to devour anything or anyone in his way.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

In 1954, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) by chance eats at the only McDonald’s in the country. Mac and Dick McDonald (played by Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch) have invented something entirely new.  The idea of “fast food” seems very routine to us now, but in 1954 it was revolutionary. Before McDonald’s, there was no way to get a quick lunch. At restaurants and drive-ins of the day it took 20-30 minutes to get even the simplest meal.

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton in The Founder

Ray Kroc immediately understood the potential and was frustrated that the McDonald brothers did not realize what they had . Mac and Dick were perfectly happy running their successful little hamburger stand.  They finally let Ray Kroc talk them into the idea of franchising the system, mainly just to shut Ray up. They really didn’t think expansion would work.

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

John Carroll Lynch & Nick Offerman as the McDonald brothers

The Founder is the story of how  Ray Kroc built the business and slowly pushed the McDonald brothers out. Ray Kroc wanted it all. The term “The Founder” is what Ray Kroc eventually put on his business cards, despite the fact that he obviously did not found McDonald’s.

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

B.J. Novak & Michael Keaton in The Founder

Michael Keaton is perfect as Ray Kroc. He is the smiling wolf in sheep’s clothing. B.J. Novak plays Harry J. Sonneborn, the financial wiz-kid who comes up with a revolutionary idea of his own. He shows Kroc that the real money  to be made is from the real estate, not the hamburgers.  He devises a plan for Kroc to own all the land that the franchises are built on, and then making a fortune leasing the land back to the McDonald’s stores.

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland as June Martino

Kate Kneeland plays June Martino, who was the loyal assistant to Ray Kroc from the beginning. Her hard work and loyalty paid off  and she eventually became a hugely successful businesswoman, trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc

So who was the real Ray Kroc? Was he an American icon who built an empire through hard work, or was he a nasty McPrick willing to take credit for other people’s ideas? The truth is he was both. He did push out the McDonald brothers from their own business and told the world he had invented it all. However, he also made Mac and Dick McDonald rich men. In addition, Ray Kroc provided opportunities for thousands of small entrepreneurs  who did very well buying McDonald franchises.

The Founder is an excellent movie. It is a fascinating look at what has become a worldwide institution. From its lowly beginnings, McDonald’s now feeds 1% of the world’s population every day.