Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Patriots Day – a tribute to the people of Boston

Patriots Day was so moving, that when the film was over, a number of people in the theater were openly crying.  The final scenes in the film are interviews with the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Some of these people had lost limbs and others mourned the death of loved ones.  All of the victims spoke of hope and courage and love. Not a single one had a message of hatred or revenge.

Boston Marathon bombing - April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon bombing – April 15, 2013

We had not actually planned on seeing Patriots Day. We we going to watch another movie, but when we got to theater the projector showing our movie was broken. Patriots Day was the only other movie playing at the same time, so we got tickets for it.  The reason we did not plan on seeing Patriots Day was that we were afraid that it would  be too exploitative. After all, the Boston Marathon bombing was on April 15, 2013. It seemed too soon to make a movie about it. The wounds were perhaps too fresh to be reopened.

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and Dzhokhar (right)

Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and his brother  Dzhokhar (right)

However, Patriots Day is not at all exploitative. It follows the events of the bombing and brings to life the tension,  terror and courage of the people of Boston. Like many Americans, we were aware of the basic facts, but did not know all of the details.

The courage of many individuals was amazing. There was Dun Meng (played by Jimmy O. Yang). He is a young  Chinese businessman living in Boston, who was car-jacked by the bombers at gunpoint. After being driven around and threatened repeatedly, he was able to escape from the car and call the police. Most people would have been paralyzed with fear, but somehow Dun Meng had the nerve to open the door and run, when six inches away sat a man with a gun.

Little Martin Richards (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Little Martin Richard (circled in blue) who was killed in the bomb blast. The man in the white hat is the bomber, and the bomb is seen lower right

Sean Collier (played by Jake Picking) was an MIT police officer killed by the bombers who were trying to get his gun. Despite being shot multiple times, he never gave up the gun and the bombers had to flee without it.

There was one very shocking act after the bombing. The younger bomber’s college roommates recognized his picture on T.V. Instead of immediately calling the police to say they knew the bomber, they hid items from his dorm room that would have implicated him in the crime. They later received between 3 and 6 years in prison for obstructing the investigation. That does not seem nearly a long enough punishment.

Marl Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Patriots Day could have been improved slightly by focusing less on Mark Wahlberg.  He plays Tommy Saunders, a fictional  character who is a compilation of numerous  Boston Police officers. The problem with combining all those officers into one character is that it made him too much of a Superman.  In the movie, Tommy Saunders was at the finish line when the bombs went off. He also met with Dun Meng, and helped the FBI and was at two separate shootouts with the bombers.  The movie would have been better if the director had used a number of different actors, instead of making this such a star vehicle for Mark Wahlberg.

However, in total, Patriots Day is a great film. It is much too intense for children, and be warned that even many adults will find parts hard to watch.  The film intersperses actual news and surveillance camera footage into the movie, so at some points you feel as if you are watching the events in real time.

Patriots Day is a tribute to all the people of Boston, and they deserve it.

 

HBO’s “The Young Pope” is so bad it’s a sin

The Young Pope commits the worst sin any T.V. show can make. It is boring. The dullness beings with the opening credits of the first episode, which take 6 minutes to roll by while the New Pope walks in silent slow motion past scowling Cardinals and Nuns. After that, the “action” never really begins. It feels like the whole show is in slow motion, with one interminably long scene after another.

Jude Law as The Young Pope

Jude Law as The Young Pope

The basic concept of The Young Pope is good. The Cardinals select what they think will be a “telegenic puppet” as pope. The old guard at the Vatican thinks they will be able to maintain control of the Roman Catholic Church through this puppet. However, the young pope turns out to be completely uncontrollable, and moves the Church in unexpected directions.Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It should have been. However, the terrible writing and the monotone line delivery by Jude Law (the pope) make the show almost  unwatchable.

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Voiello

The bad guy in the series is Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) who tries unsuccessfully to control the pope. He is a ridiculous stereotype of an evil church figure. He has lustful thought about a naked statue in the pope’s chambers. He is ugly. The makeup people  gave this character an ugly facial mole that is so large it should be credited as it’s own character.  By making this Cardinal bad in every way, the writers have made him very uninteresting. The best bad guys are the most complex and multi-faceted.

The worst character is the Young Pope himself. For one thing, it is inconceivable that this person ever would have been elected pope under any circumstances.  He is supposed to be  47 year-old American Lenny Belardo. (Despite being played by English actor Jude law, who sounds very British in this role).

Lenny Belardo would never have risen in the ranks of the Catholic Church. He is rude to everyone around him, does not seem at all pious, hates being near the general public and has no political skills.

The Catholic Church is one of the world’s oldest and most complex  political institutions. To move up in the ranks takes tremendous skill.  You have to be able to smoothly work with everyone from local parishioners to Bishops to Archbishops and  Cardinals. You have to be able to impress everyone along the way with your skills without ever outwardly seeming ambitious. (Since church officials are supposed to be “humble”).  Lenny Belardo has  none of these abilities . He never would have made it to Monsignor, much less pope.

 

 

 

Live By Night – Ben Affleck’s disappointing gangster film

Live By Night is a disjointed gangster film that is a lot of different movies all mashed together with no main plot. Elle Fanning is superb, but unfortunately her character is only in the movie for about 15 minutes.  Ben Affleck seems to think that just having a lot of Tommy-gun shootouts, car crashes and goons in fancy suits makes a good gangster film.  However, the audience also has to know enough about a character to care who gets killed.

It feels like Live by Night is a series of short movies that don’t really connect to each other. In this 2 hour film, there are at least  5 different plots. As a result, the movie does not spend enough time on any of them. As soon as the audience starts to get interested in one subject, Live By Night suddenly switches gears and goes in a different direction.  Just for fun, let’s list the plots in order of appearance.

  • Ben Affleck is Boston native Joe Coughlin, the son of the Assistant Police Commissioner.  Joe goes off the fight in World War I and comes home violent and disillusioned. He therefore turns to crime. The jaded WWI vet idea  has been done much better in other venues, most recently in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking bored in "Live By Night".

Emma Gould & Ben Affleck looking as  bored as the audience  in “Live By Night”.

  • Joe Coughlin becomes a Boston gangster. The Irish and Italian mobs are at war, and Joe is being recruited by both sides. At the same time, he is having an affair with the Irish mobster’s girlfriend Sienna (played by Emma Gould).  This is compete plagiarism of the plot of Miller’s Crossing.
Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in "Live By Night"

Ben Affleck in one of his gangster suits in “Live By Night”

  • Just when you get set to watch the rest of the Miller’s Crossing remake, Live By Night suddenly changes venues to Florida. It becomes a love story with Joe seducing the beautiful sister of the Cuban crime boss who controls the rum business. Zoe Saldana is Graciela, who says she has no interest in Joe, then immediately goes to bed with him.  Their love story is completely rushed and the two of them seem to have no on-screen chemistry.
Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in "Live by Night"

Zoe Saldana & Ben Affleck in “Live by Night”

  • Then, out of nowhere, the KKK shows up and Joe becomes a freedom fighter. He is no longer a murdering gangster, but actually a guy who is really just providing good jobs  for African and Cuban Americans. Apparently this is not a gangster film but actually a story about civil rights in the 1930s. Joe makes a number of pious speeches about giving hard working people a break.  However, these lectures  all fall flat when we know that he is a ruthless killer who has never felt a second of remorse for anyone he murdered.
Elle Fanning in "Live By Night"

Elle Fanning in “Live By Night”

  • The final and most interesting foe which Joe has to face is the young Evangelical preacher Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning) . She is a “fallen woman” who has come back to Florida to fight the evils of Liquor, Drugs and Gambling. Of course, these are all the industries that make money for Joe Coughlin. He finds that she is much tougher than anyone he has fought before. If he simply kills Loretta it will only make her a martyr and the backlash will destroy his empire. Joe also likes and admires Loretta very much. Despite her past, there is a pure an innocent beauty about her. She is probably the only person Joe has ever met who is completely honest and who wants nothing for herself. She genuinely believes in her cause.

Live By Night should have skipped the other plot lines and focused entirely on the contest between the gangster and the beautiful evangelical preacher.  There is one wonderful scene in the movie where Joe Coughlin and Loretta meet by chance in a cafe, and Loretta honestly shares her deepest thoughts with Joe. He realizes that Loretta is something he has never known existed before. A genuinely good person.

However, we see Loretta for only a fraction of the film. The rest of Live by Night is filled up with car chases and exceedingly long gun battles. There is so much machine gun fire between guys wearing fancy suits that it quickly becomes impossible to tell who is who. They just become anonymous gangsters that we don’t care about.

We know that Ben Affleck can make a great movie. Unfortunately Live by Night is not one of them.

 

 

 

 

THE DOSSIER – a 1984 novel with an eerie similarity to Trump’s “dossier”

The Dossier is a 1984 novel where secrets about a major political figure are contained in a hidden dossier. Today there are reports that Trump’s secrets are tucked away in a dossier held by the Russians.  The Dossier was written by Pierre Salinger and Leonard Gross. Pierre Salinger was well-versed in political intrigue, having been President Kennedy’s press secretary.  The main character of The Dossier is Andre Kohl, the news chief of a U.S. T.V. network. Of course, Andre is a thinly disguised version of Salinger himself.

Street mural spoofing the Putin-Trump "Bromance"

Street mural spoofing the Putin-Trump “Bromance”

The Dossier explores the ethical dilemma  faced by any American  reporter who discovers information that might be damaging to Unites States interests.  How do you weigh the responsibility to show the truth against the potential damage that revealing the truth might cause?

In The Dossier, the French are about to finally elect a President who is very pro-U.S. It seems like he will win by a landslide. He is handsome, well spoken and a war hero. During World War II he was the leader of a French Resistance group.

The Dossier written in 1984

The Dossier written in 1984

However, through his contacts in the intelligence community, Andre begins to hear rumors that there may be a dossier about the French political candidate. Supposedly the dossier contains proof that the candidate was no war hero. In fact, he was actually a Nazi collaborator.

There is a secret war going on to find this dossier. The Soviets want to find and publish it so as to keep a pro-American Frenchman from being elected. The CIA wants to find and destroy all evidence of the dossier. Andre wants the dossier for news purposes, but is not sure what he will do if he actually finds it. Throughout all this, no one is really sure if this mythical dossier really exists.

John Kennedy and Pierre Salinger

John Kennedy and Pierre Salinger

The parallels to the current situation in the United States are amazing. It is rumored that Russia has a dossier containing devastating information about President-elect Trump and are going to use it to blackmail Trump  into favoring Russia in foreign policy. Trump and Russia deny the dossier’s existence. Reporters throughout the world are desperately trying to find the dossier.

The plot of The Dossier is interesting, although the writing is not particularly good.  It has way too many detective novel cliches, and the love story wedged into it is not very romantic or believable.

From a modern perspective, there is also one major flaw in the plot. It is assumed that the dossier has to actually be found to destroy the career of the political candidate. If recent  elections have shown us anything, it is that you do not actually need to have proof of anything  to destroy someone’s reputation.  You simply have to fuel a negative  rumor.

The Soviets could have destroyed the candidate by simply going public with the allegations that the French candidate had been a Nazi collaborator. They then could have truthfully demonstrated that intelligence agencies and news organizations throughout Europe were looking for the dossier.  Even if there was no dossier, the fact that everyone was looking for it would have wrecked the French politician’s career forever.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Dossier is that it demonstrates how much the press and politics have changed since 1984.  Everyone in the book just assumes that the dossier had to be found and verified as real before anything could be revealed to the general public.

In today’s world, no one would wait to find actual proof before releasing a “story”. The days of proof and verification are long  dead. Today the battles are fought with rumors, half-truths, and false news stories. If a real story happens to exist underneath, that is merely coincidence.

The Dossier is still  worth reading for the story and more so for the historical perspective it brings to current events.

 

 

 

 

 

Fences – a good play but a mediocre movie

Denzel Washington’s adaptation of Fences turned a good play into a mediocre movie. Ironically, the problem is that he did not change the play  enough. He simply “filmed a play”. Fences does not come across well on the big screen. A small set and extended soliloquies work well on a stage, where an audience feels it is  sharing an intimate moment with the actors. However, on a huge screen, extreme close-ups, long speeches and no movement makes the audience feel bored and claustrophobic. Movies work best when the audience is shown a story instead of just having actors tell a story.

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

Fences is set in  Pittsburgh in 1956 and is the story of Troy  (Denzel Washington), a middle-age garbage man who is bitter with the way his his life has turned out. Supposedly he was a great baseball player in the Negro League, but was too old to make the transition to the Major Leagues when they became desegregated. As the film progresses we learn that this is not exactly the whole truth.

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Jovan Adepo as Cory in Fences

Almost all of the movie takes place in the backyard. Troy is supposedly building a fence, but spends most of his time lecturing his family and friends about how hard he works and how they are not living their lives properly. The main target of Troy’s wrath is is his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) Cory has the chance to get a football scholarship to college, but Troy is against that.

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Denzel Washington and Stephen Henderson in Fences

Troy is not capable of accepting that things have changed for African-Americans. Troy wants Cory to forget about college and instead learn a trade. Throughout Fences, it is never really clear if Troy is just trying to give advice, or if he is jealous that Cory is being given opportunities that Troy never had. The basic plot is good and the acting is superb.  We learn about Troy’s history in bits and pieces, and the more we learn the more complex a character he becomes.

However, you never get over the feeling that you are just watching a videotape of a play. There are far too many long speeches, and it feels like the entire movie is about 15 minutes too long. Fences should have had  scenes showing us what was happening to Troy instead of having Troy talk about them after the fact.

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

Mykelti Williamson in Fences

For example, we hear that Troy complained to the union that all the men lifting up the trashcans were black and all the drivers of the garbage trucks were white. Troy  was then ordered  to come before the bosses of the company. Troy  thought he was going to get fired, but instead he was promoted to be a truck driver.  That would have been a powerful scene to see. However, we don’t see it. We just get Troy standing in the backyard telling us about it.

The movie also drops some plot lines for no reason. When Troy gets promoted to driver, Troy’s friend Jim (Stephen Henderson) asks Troy how he will be able to drive when Troy does not have  driver’s license and does not know how to read.  But Troy becomes a driver with no problem and the issue is never brought up again. So why was it even mentioned in the first place?

Viola Davis plays Troy’s long suffering wife Rose, who faces each day with intense dignity. Mykelti Williamson is Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel and gives an award-worthy performance.

Overall Fences in an interesting film, but could could have been so much better. The writer of the play, August Wilson also did the movie script, but did not live to see the completed film.  Perhaps Denzel Washington felt it would be disrespectful to make too many changes. But film is a different medium than the stage, and requires a different technique for the audience to get the most out of the work.

 

 

 

The Art Forger – book review

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro is a fascinating novel about a beautiful young artist in Boston who makes a Faustian deal  to create and sell a forgery of a world famous masterpiece by Degas. The Art Forger raises the question of what makes a painting valuable. If a forger can create a piece identical to the “masterpiece” then why is the original artist considered great and the forger a pariah?

B.A. Shapiro author of The Art Forger

B.A. Shapiro author of The Art Forger

The Art Forger’s plot has intertwining mysteries of the present and past. It is a great detective novel, and also ends up educating the reader about the intricacies of the legal and illegal art world. For example, we learn of the great Dutch forger Hans van Meegeren, who sold forged paintings to the Nazis during World War II.

After the war, van Meegeren was charged with treason, for selling stolen Dutch masterpieces to Nazis. To defend himself, he had to prove the paintings were  actually his forgeries, and the only people he had betrayed were the Nazis. To prove his innocence, he had to reveal his techniques in detail in open court.  For the art world, this may not have been a good thing. Hans van Meegeren’s testimony was like a training manual for up and coming art forgers throughout the world. His methods were so ingenious that they are still followed by all modern forgers.

Hans van Meegeren on trial for selling stolen paintings to Nazis

Hans van Meegeren on trial for selling stolen paintings to Nazis

Claire Roth is a struggling Boston artist who is given a proposition by the city’s leading gallery owner, Aiden Markel. If Claire will create a forgery of a Degas piece, Aiden will give her a large amount of money and an exclusive show at his gallery for her own works. He is offering her fortune and a high place in the rarefied art society world.  The fact that Claire and Aiden also have an immediate sexual attraction to each other makes the deal irresistible.

Claire creates a wonderful Degas, following Han van Meegeren’s techniques. B.A. Shaprio describes this in fascinating detail which is enjoyable to read, even for those of us who know nothing about art.  Of course, creating a forgery is one thing. Selling it without getting arrested or even killed is quite another.

one of Degas' After The Bath paintings

one of Degas’ After The Bath paintings

Claire soon discovers that when she crosses the line from artist to forger, she enters an environment for which she is completely unprepared. The police, FBI, high society and even some very violent people take a dim view of art forgers. She is, after all, just a poor young woman in Boston, with nothing to protect herself except her vast knowledge of art and her exceptional talent.

We do not want to give too much away, for fear of spoiling the book. Suffice it to say that, we highly recommend The Art Forger, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

 

6 reasons Channel Awesome Is Great

Channel Awesome is a low budget internet “network” with original shows like The Nostalgic Critic, Some Jerk With A Camera, The Angry Joe Show, The Cinema Snob. As the names indicate, these are not exactly high- budget Hollywood productions, or even independent “artistic”  films. For the most part, the shows on Channel Awesome are people talking into a video camera about things they like and don’t like. Despite that, here are the reasons we think Channel Awesome is great.

  • Channel Awesome directly challenges YouTube. For a long time,  people who  wanted to post videos online and try to make some money found that YouTube was the only game in town. Play by their rules or YouTube pulls your video.  YouTube is famous for taking down videos for “copyright infringement” of a movie, even though it is perfectly legal for a reviewer to show a short clip of a film. Rumors are that major movie studios secretly pay YouTube to delete videos that give bad reviews to a film.
Brad Jones - The Cinema Snob

Brad Jones – The Cinema Snob

  • The shows are so silly they are fun. For example, Brad Jones has a series where he reviews foods. However, Brad is not The Master Chef. Brad is not filming the latest creation in an upscale Soho restaurant.  Instead, Brad reviews foods like The Halloween Burger at Burger King, or the world’s spiciest potato chip.  A lot of his reviews are filmed in his car in the parking lot of whatever fast food place he is reviewing. The honesty of his food reviews  is refreshing. Let’s face it, most Americans eat a lot of their meals at fast food places, and often consume the food in the car. It’s about time we had a show reviewing the junk most of us regularly eat.
Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

Lindsay Ellis- formerly The Nostalgia Chick

  • New Talent gets presented.  Talented, but unknown, actors get to appear in skits or movie spoofs and have their skills seen by thousands of viewers. For example, Malcolm Ray has a recurring  comedy role as the Devil on The Nostalgic Critic. He is joined by Tamara Chambers who has spoofed a number of characters including Wonder Woman.
Malcolm Ray - actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

Malcolm Ray – actor on Channel Awesome famous for playing The Devil

  • Channel Awesome gives us all hope of becoming video stars. The shows are so low budget and sometimes so stupid that you just have to say, “Hell I could have done that!” In fact, after some episodes you will be tempted to run down to Best Buy and get your own video camera to start a show. Instead of sitting at a desk reviewing invoices, wouldn’t you like to make money filming yourself eating cheese fries and reviewing them online?
Tamara Chambers - actress on Channel Awesome

Tamara Chambers – actress on Channel Awesome

  • Channel Awesome is an American Success Story. It is great to see a new idea succeed. The three founders, Mike Michaud, Mike Ellis and Bhargav Dronamraju, started the company in  2008 when they all lost their jobs at Circuit City.  The demise of Circuit City turned out to be the push they needed to try doing something new. Creating success out of a failure is, after all, the classic Horatio Alger story. It is made even better by the fact that the internet vehicle  they created now allows many other people to try to succeed at their own dreams.
Doug Walker - The Nostalgia Critic - (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

Doug Walker – The Nostalgia Critic – (formerly That Guy With Glasses)

  • The viewers are a part of the shows. Channel Awesome is still in its infancy and we predict that in 10 years it may have morphed into a major power on the internet. But we love watching it now, when it is still low-budget and ridiculous. The fact that sometimes the people don’t actually know what they are doing  adds to the enjoyment. It makes the people on the shows seem more like our  friends than “celebrities” we are watching.  This must be how audiences felt  in the early days of Television.  Viewers can comment and get a personal response from the actor or show creator. Shows are changed due to viewer’s responses. Its like watching a minor league baseball team. They may not be the best athletes in the world but they are your team.

 

 

Is Amazon Echo’s Alexa Spying on You? – The police say “yes”.

Is Amazon Echo’s Alexa secretly recording everything that happens in your home and reporting it to Amazon? The police say “Yes”. They have subpoenaed  Amazon in a murder investigation for Echo’s data, and Amazon has refused to comply. What is Amazon afraid of?

James Bates whose Amazon Echo may send to prison

James Bates – his Amazon Echo may have recorded him committing murder.

Victor Collins was murdered in the hot tub of James Bates on the Night of November 22, 2015. Bentonville Arkansas police think that the Amazon Echo device in the home may have heard and recorded the event. Amazon refuses to confirm or deny the possibility.

Victor Collins - murdered in a hot tub in Bentonville Arkansas

Victor Collins – murdered in a hot tub in Bentonville Arkansas – “Alexa who killed him?”

That is a very strange assumption on the part of the police. The Amazon Echo is just supposed to answer your questions when you begin a sentence with the word “Alexa.” Something like “Alexa. What is the temperature?”.  Amazon has never mentioned anything about Echo keeping permanent records, or even doing anything unless the magic word “Alexa” is spoken.

So why doesn’t Amazon just say to the police, “We can’t help you. Our device does not record what happens in people’s homes and we don’t have any such records.” Instead, Amazon has refused answer any questions about Echo’s capability.

Search Warrant document related to Amazon Echo

Search Warrant document related to Amazon Echo

You do not have to be paranoid to wonder what Amazon is trying to hide. If, in fact, the Amazon Echo can help solve the murder, then that would mean that those friendly devices are actually recording everything in your home  24/7. It also means permanent records are being kept. In 1984, George Orwell thought the television set would be doing that job. It turns out instead, that a cute little cylinder nicknamed “Alexa” is doing the task.

Victor Collins and some other men spent the evening watching football at Bates’ home. Bates claimed that he went to bed early and Collins and the other guys stayed late. The next morning Collins was dead in the outdoor hot tub. At first, it was assumed he had been drunk and drowned. However, an autopsy showed that he had been strangled and forcefully held underwater until he died.  Forensics also showed that a hose had been used to wash blood off the deck near the hot tub.

Police have already been successful with some computer evidence in the murder. Victor Collins’ house was equipped with a “smart water meter”, which electronically records how much water is used and when. This smart meter showed that on the night of the murder a large amount of water was used in the middle of the night. This could be consistent with someone hosing blood off the deck around the hot tub.

Amazon is in the ultimate “lose-lose” scenario. If they admit they can help, then they are telling people world-wide that Amazon has been secretly recording every private moment in their homes. If Amazon continues to stonewall, they could be helping a murderer go free just to save their corporate bottom line.

Of course,  this could just be the opening of the floodgates. If Alexa can “testify” in a murder case, what about divorce proceedings or child custody hearings?  Will Brad Pitt subpoena the Amazon Echo in the home he used to share with Angelina Jolie? She says Brad was a bad parent.  Could he use the Amazon Echo recordings to show he was always nice and kind to the kids?

Orwell's advice that Amazon should take note of

Orwell’s advice that Amazon should take note of

We certainly do not mean to make light of this.  In all the theoretical discussions about what Amazon should do, the forgotten man is the murder victim Victor Collins. He suffered a terrible death with someone grabbing him by the neck and holding him under hot water until life left him. Amazon should help the suffering of his family by coming clean and telling the world what Alexa does or does not know.

So in 2017, the Sci-Fi future Orwell warned us about has fully arrived. If you have some deep secret you need to share, don’t mention it near your computerized friend. You can’t trust her.

 

 

Passengers- a terrific Sci-Fi movie but you may hate the ending and despise 1 character you are supposed to like

Passengers is a terrific Sci-Fi movie, but you may hate the ending and despise one character you are supposed to like. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are wonderful together, but the writer Jon Spaihts took the easy path at every turn.  As you can see, we are trying to review Passengers  without spoiling it, which is difficult to achieve. We liked Passengers, and it is definitely  worth seeing on the big screen to get the full impact of the scenes in outer space.

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

Chris Pratt & Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

In Passengers, the spaceship Avalon is taking a  120 year journey to another world (Homestead II). There are 5,000 passengers and 250 crew members in suspended animation. After a malfunction, Chris Pratt (Jim) comes out of hibernation. Once year later Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is also awake.  There is no way to go back into suspended animation and the ship will not arrive that the new planet for another 80 years.

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

Michael Sheen as a bar-tending robot in Passengers

For the year that Chris is the only one awake on the huge space ship he spends half his time trying to figure out how to get back into hibernation and the rest of the time trying to keep busy to not go insane. His only companion is a bar-tending robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen) This part of the film has some very funny scenes, reminiscent of the T.V. show The Last Man On Earth, complete with Jim growing a ridiculous beard.

nnifer Lawrence in Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers

When Aurora is awakened, Passengers becomes a sort of Adam and Eve love story.  Of course, it is very convenient that the only two people awake are probably the two best looking people on the entire ship.  Still, it does have romantic quality. Jim and Aurora take advantage of all the ship has to offer, from lavish meals served by robots, to spacewalks outside the ship.

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

Lawrence Fishburn in Passengers

However, the spaceship continues to deteriorate and a crew member also wakes up. Gus (Lawrence Fishburn) is a technical chief and diagnoses how quickly  the ship is dying and what must be done to save it.

This is where we must stop so as to not ruin the movie. Passengers does have many astoundingly good scenes the make it worth going to see.  At one point Aurora is swimming in a pool when the artificial gravity fails. She suddenly finds herself trapped and drowning in the center of a floating ball of water.

The acting is great and despite being a big budget Sci-Fi film, it really only has four characters. This allows for in depth character development.  There is also very obvious on-screen chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  They are excellent as a couple in love.

However, there is a very disturbing moral choice made by one of the characters, and the ending is also unsatisfying. We wish that the writer, Jon Spaihts,  had taken more risks instead of going so “Hollywood” . The initial concept is great, but then he takes too many shortcuts.

 

 

 

Natalie Portman Is “Jackie”

In Jackie, Natalie Portman give an astoundingly accurate portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the days just after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Jackie Kennedy was a quiet beauty with an inner strength and stubbornness that people continually underestimated.

Natalie Portman perfectly captures the stylized,  precise, almost-a-whisper  way in which Jackie Kennedy spoke . Director Pablo Larrain intersperses actual newsreel footage into the movie with incredible effect.

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Jacqueline Kennedy & Natalie Portman

Despite being in a state of shock after the assasination, Jackie Kennedy fought to make sure that her husband’s place in history would always be remembered. While others wanted a small family funeral in Massachusetts, Jackie insisted on a grand state funeral, modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln.

Caroline, Jackie & "John John" Kennedy at President Kennedy's funeral

Caroline, Jackie & “John John” Kennedy at President Kennedy’s funeral

Jackie shows how Jacqueline Kennedy also managed the press after JFKs death to create the “Camelot” myth of the Kennedy years. Billy Crudup is perfect as LIFE Magazine  reporter Theodore H. White whose lengthy interview with Jackie was read by every person in America.

1964 Issue of Life magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

1964 Issue of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Kennedy

Much of the film is the interaction between the reporter and Jackie, and shows how she was able to manipulate the press in a way that no politician or celebrity would ever be able to do today.  Jackie essentially wrote and edited the LIFE story, including the references to Camelot. Amazingly, Mrs. Kennedy gave this lengthy interview only 1 week after her husband was gunned down in Dallas.

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in "Jackie"

Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman in “Jackie”

Peter Sarsgaard is Robert Kennedy who tries to protect Jackie and also unsuccessfully tries to control her.  As always, Peter Sarsgaard gives a masterful performance.

Caspar Phillipson as "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" and Natalie Portman as "Jackie Kennedy" in JACKIE.

Caspar Phillipson as “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and Natalie Portman as “Jackie Kennedy” in JACKIE.

Casper Phillipson is Jack Kennedy, and accurately captures the smooth confidence  of JFK.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her wedding day

The script by Noah Oppenheim and the acting of Natalie Portman bring Jackie Kennedy alive as a real person. Not as just a legend or a caricature, but as a actual woman, who despite her youth, was able to show dignity and strength when America needed it the most.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office, with Jackie Kennedy still in a state of shock

Many First ladies have come and gone without being remembered, but people will never forget Jackie Kennedy.

 

 

 

Half A Life And Other Stories – Kirill Bulychev’s masterful Sci-Fi Stories

In 1977, Americans were introduced to Kirill Bulychev, a science fiction writer from the Soviet Union, when Half A Life And Other Stories was first published in English. Even today, these stories still hold up as beautifully crafted tales.

The reason these sci-fi stories have not gotten stale is that Kirill Bulychev is much m ore concerned with the emotions and motivations of the people than with the imagined  technical innovations of the future.

Half A Life by Kirill Bulychev

Half A Life by Kirill Bulychev

Kirill Bulychev’s stories were very popular in the Soviet Union, and the authorities never seemed to catch on to the fact that there were hidden anti-Soviet messages in many of the stories. In totalitarian countries, science fiction stories have often been able to get “radical” ideas past the government censors, since Sci-FI is never considered “serious literature.”

The title story Half A Life is about a young Russian woman named Natasha, who is suddenly captured  by robots from outer space. The robots are collecting samples of intelligent life forms from throughout the galaxy and taking them to a sort of prison ship for examination.  Natasha struggles to retain her humanity and dignity, and slowly begins to form a coalition with the other prisoners against the robots. Although the prisoners know there is almost no chance of escape, they agree that their lives would be a waste if they did not at least try to fight back.

Igor Vsevolodovich Mozheiko whose pen name was Kirill Bulychev

Igor Vsevolodovich Mozheiko whose pen name was Kirill Bulychev

Somehow the Soviet censors failed to notice that this alien spaceship actually represented the Soviet Gulag prison system. Natasha simply disappeared one night and her family had no idea what had happened to her or if she would ever return . This is exactly what happened to thousands of ordinary Soviet citizens as they were sent to prison.

Natasha’s struggle against her captors and her pride in survival is reminiscent of the book One Day In the Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. However, unlike Solshenitsyn, Bulychev was never considered a “dissident.”  The social commentary in Bulychev’s science fiction stories was able to sneak right past the Soviet censors.

Another story titled Red Dear White Dear takes place on a planet where intelligent humanoid life has been wiped out by violent ape-like creatures. The story notes that,

Nature is cruel to intelligence. Still untempered and unaware of its potential strength; it hovers always on the brink of extinction.”

Joseph Stalin believed he could create a “workers paradise” using violence and oppression

Joseph Stalin believed he could create a "workers paradise" using violence and oppression

Joseph Stalin believed he could create a “workers paradise” using violence and oppression

This is a clear reference to the days of Stalin’s “workers’ paradise”, when being labeled an intellectual was a sure ticket to the gulag.

Kirill Buluchev himself outlasted the Soviet Union, despite being an intellectual. Kirill Bulychev was the pen name of Igor Vsevolodovich Mozheiko who lived from 1934 to 2003. He had a PhD in Oriental Studies. He was a prolific writer, although many American’s still have not of heard of him.

So if you love short stories and science fiction we recommend you read the works of Kirill Bulychev. It is best to start at the beginning with his 1977 Half A LIfe.

 

 

St. Vincent – a moving film about unexpected heroes

St. Vincent is a moving film about suffering and goodness in a cruel world. It is billed as a comedy, but is much more than that. St. Vincent stars Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, whose combined talents make them perfect for this movie. St. Vincent is a bittersweet story  that shows that when life is at its worst, there can be heroism in just making it through another day.

Melissa McCarthy is Maggie Bronstein, a newly divorced mother who is struggling to make ends meet while caring for her 12 year old son. They move to a small house in Brooklyn and have the misfortune to find Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is their new neighbor. Vincent is a nasty old guy whose life consists of drinking at a bar, seeing a prostitute and being alone in his house with his cat.

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Bill Murray & Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent

Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital and desperately  needs someone to watch her son Oliver and prepare food for him. With no other choice, she finally hires Vincent as the babysitter.

This is where most films would have just turned into silly slapstick comedies. Instead, St. Vincent delves much deeper into the complexities of human nature.  Oliver (perfectly played by Jaeden Lieberher) finds that there is much more to Vincent than meets the eye. Vincent becomes a sort of very flawed father figure to Oliver. Vincent teaches Oliver how to defend himself and stand up for himself against bullies.

Oliver finds that Vincent also has reasons for his depression. Oliver and Vincent make weekly trips to a nursing home to visit Vincent’s wife, who is suffering  from the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Unlike his attitude with most people, Vincent is always kind, patient and loving with his wife, despite the fact that she no longer even recognizes who he is.

Chris O'Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty in St. Vincent

Oliver attends a private Catholic school and is mentored By Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). The school has an annual assembly called “living saints”, in which each child is to give a presentation about  a person still alive but  who has all the attributes of a saint.  Brother Geraghty points out that saints are not perfect people, but people who have done great things despite their own imperfections.

Oliver chooses as his living saint Vincent and decides to secretly research who this old man really is and what his life has been like.

ST. VINCENT (L-R) MELISSA McCARTHY, JAEDEN LIEBERHER and NAOMI WATTS

ST. VINCENT
(L-R) MELISSA McCARTHY, JAEDEN LIEBERHER and NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts is Dakota, a tough as nails, pregnant Russian prostitute. Despite her tough exterior she does like Vincent and Oliver and tries to help them in her own strange ways.

Cris O’Dowd is fantastic as  Brother Geraghty, who has some of the best lines in the movie. Our favorite is that “Catholicism is the best religion because we have the most rules.”

Even the small parts are filled with wonderful actors. Greta Lee is great as a harried bank teller who has the misfortune to become the focus of Vincent’s wrath. Greta Lee is known to most people as Homeless Hannah in the HBO Show High Maintenance.

St. Vincent is a wonderful film and we loved it.

 

 

East Coast Stories Top 7 Posts of 2016

It has been another exciting year at East Coast Stories with growing readership and subscribers. Here is a list of the top 7 stories in 2016 based on the number of views. If you missed any, click on the title to be directed to the story.

  • Roadies Disrespects Those Who Died at the Who Concert in Cincinnati got a huge number of views. Many readers readers knew nothing of this 1979 tragedy in which 11 people were crushed to death in a stampede. Readers were grateful we published the names of the victims. However, some very emotional  readers hated that we criticized the T.V. show Roadies for using this tragedy as a cheap plot device. They were more concerned with the T.V. show than the actual tragedy.
Police cover dead body at The Who Cincinnati concert

Police cover dead body at The Who Cincinnati concert

  • Yelena Isinbayeva Strikes Back is about the greatest female pole vaulter in the world who was banned from the Rio Olympics along with the rest of the Russian Track & Field team. Ironically Yelena Isinbayeva has never taken any drugs and had always been an outspoken critic of the entire Russian doping program.  She is currently trying to change things in Russia by running to become head of the Russian athletic federation.
Yelena Isinbayeva - The world's greatest female pole vaulter

Yelena Isinbayeva – The world’s greatest female pole vaulter

  • Qasim on High Maintenance is about one of the episodes of this quirky show about an upscale marijuana delivery guy in Brooklyn. In this episode, Anna Rose Hopkins finds out that the great new man she just met gives new meaning to the word stranger.
Anna Rose Hopkins in the Qasim episode of High Maintenance

Anna Rose Hopkins in the Qasim episode of High Maintenance

  • Tijen Karas profiles the Turkish Anchorwoman who was on the air when coup leaders burst into the T.V. studio and at gunpoint forced her to read their demands. Her courage and composure is astounding.
Turkish Anchorwoman Tijen Karas

Turkish Anchorwoman Tijen Karas

  • Is Alicia von Rittberg Pregnant? details how a joking Pinterest photo lead to viral internet rumors about this German Movie Actress. Alicia von Rittberg has a huge following in Europe, and  is best known to Americans for her appearance as Emma in Fury.
German Actress Alicia von Rittberg

German Actress Alicia von Rittberg

  • Peter Dinklage in Basking Ridge New Jersey  is the story of how this world famous Game of Thrones star appeared at a purely local event to help his mother raise money for New Jersey’s Somerset Hills Chorus. It was a very hush-hush local event. The only announcements of Peter Dinklage’s participation came from small notices in the local library.
Peter Dinklage appeared at an unadvertised event in Basking Ridge New Jersey

Peter Dinklage appeared at an unadvertised event in Basking Ridge New Jersey

  • The Girl From Greiz and Her New Trabant – is a true story of a young woman growing up in East Germany just as the Berlin wall was about to fall. These major political events turned out to be simply a distraction to her lifetime dreams of getting her degree and a new car.
The Girl From Greiz and Her New Trabant

The Girl From Greiz and Her New Trabant

We hope you enjoyed all our 2016 stories, and we  look forward to enlightening and entertaining you in 2017. Be sure to post your comments (favorable or unfavorable) on any of the stories. Don’t worry, we do not publish your email.

Thanks for Reading!

 

 

Rogue One a Star Wars Story – All Action- No Plot or Character Development

In Rogue One – A Star Wars Story  – all the new characters are so dull that director Gareth Edwards resorted to using CGI to bring back people who actually knew how to act. He was basically admitting the story of Rogue One was so bad that part of prior Star Wars movies had to be spliced in to make it watchable.

Rogue One consists of 2 absurdly long battle scenes, 1 cameo appearance by Princess Leia, and a couple of cameos by Darth Vader. The rest of the movie is just  a sketchy plot filler with one-dimensional characters designed to get us to the battle scenes as fast as possible.

Ingvild Deila provides the body for a CGI superimposed Princess Leia in Rogue One

Ingvild Deila provides the body for a CGI superimposed Princess Leia in Rogue One

A young Princess Leia makes an appearance, with the CGI face of Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher herself did not get any work out of this gig. Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila supplied the svelte body for Princess Leia and computers were used to superimpose the young Carrie Fisher’s face from the original Star Wars film.

A dead actor also make an appearance. Peter Cushing reprises his role as the evil empire’s Grand Moff Tarkin. This is quite a feat, since Peter Cushing died in 1994. Actor Guy Henry played Grand Moff Tarkin and Peter Cushing’s image was superimposed.

Guy Henry provides the movement for Peter Cushing who died in 1994

Guy Henry provides the movement for Peter Cushing who died in 1994

At least James Earl Jones does play Darth Vader with his beautiful and powerful voice. Unfortunately, Darth Vader is not in the movie for very long and we don’t learn anything about him we did not know before.

In the original Stars Wars movies, time was taken for the audience to get to know and care about each character. We loved the action scenes since we loved the people who were in them. Who can ever forget the wise cracking Hans Solo or the scene where Darth Vader tells Luke “I am you father.”

Kids do seem to like Rogue One, especially really young kids. Over the years, the Star Wars movies have morphed from Sci-Fi films exploring the meaning of good and evil in the future, into  action based kids movies whose main goal is to sell toys. Even before the movie started there were a number of commercials in the theater for a multitude of Star War Toys.

So, if your kids are clamoring to see Rogue One, go ahead and bring them. They will love the action and the noise. However, if you are expecting to see anything at all  like the original Star Wars films you remember, you will sadly be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

The Hateful Eight – Cinematic Masterpiece or Disgusting Blood-fest?

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is either a cinematic masterpiece or a disgusting blood-fest depending on your tolerance for extreme violence. The dialogue and ever-increasing  tension is spellbinding. However, like many Tarantino’s movies, the violence becomes absurdly graphic.

The Hateful Eight takes place in large stage coach way-station, a few years after the Civil War.  A  group of very different and very dangerous people are stranded by a blizzard.  The group includes a bounty hunter. “The Hangman”  (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The Hangman is convinced that the other stranded people are going to try to either steal his prisoner for the bounty, or else free her. He may or may not be paranoid.

The Civil War is be over but the hatred from the war is not. Some of the men were confederate soldiers,  and others Union. It does not help that one of the stranded men was a Negro Union Officer. Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) was famous for the number of Confederates he killed. Major Warren’s prize possession is a letter hand-written to him by Abraham Lincoln.

Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell

Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell

Quentin Tarantino is undoubtedly the best writer of dialogue in the film industry. From the very beginning of the film we know that some of the people are innocent travelers and others are lying murderers. Through the long and complex conversations, the movie slowly reveals who the people really are and what each of them is trying to hide.

The Hateful Eight also has fascinating side conversations about violence, justice and passion. In one scene the characters discuss that the fact that the very dispassion of a hangman is what makes executing someone justice rather than revenge. If a hangman cared one way or another it would not be justice.

Jennifer Lawrence was turned down for a role in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Lawrence was turned down for a role in The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfect as the psychotic Daisy , who is being brought to her execution. Every time you think it will be impossible for her to act any more insane, she actually brings it a notch higher.   Jennifer Lawrence really wanted this part, but Tarantino felt she just would not be able to be this “over the top” wacko.

Bruce Dern as a Confeterate General

Bruce Dern as a Confederate General

Bruce Dern is a Confederate General who is not exactly pleased to be sharing lodgings with a Negro Union Officer. The General also has secrets and an agenda of his own.

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren

Of course, nobody does over-the-top crazy better than Samuel L. Jackson. He is a combination of Civil War hero, stone cold killer, and revengeful maniac. He is forced to team up with Southerner  Cris Mannix (Walton Goggons) who may or not be the local Sheriff.

So this is where our reviewers have a split decision on the movie. Adam rates it Five Stars for its perfect dialogue, last  minute twists and action scenes. Greg gives it only Two Stars since he feels the violence takes away from the rest of the movie.  If you are thinking of renting the movie, be advised that it has an arm chopped off, a head exploding, people vomiting blood after being poisoned, and of course many many people being shot.

That being said, we leave it to you our readers to make your own decision according to your personal taste.

 

Confessions Of A Bad Runner

Go to any running race in the tri-state area and you will see me there. Look for the 6 foot tall, thin guy running with a beautiful stride at the front of the race.  That’s not me. Look further back. No – much further.  That’s right, the boxy short guy with grey hair huffing and puffing at the back of the pack.

I never win. I never come close to winning and  never will. There was a time when I thought that I would start winning “age category” medals as I got older. I would keep myself in shape and eventually be able to outrun the old duffers who had let themselves go. This was a miscalculation. It turns out that there are one Hell of a lot of old guys who can still zip by me like I am standing still.

Pack runners

Pack runners

So why do I do it? It is because running races are one of the last true community events that actually bring people closer. Men,and women, teenagers, senior citizens and  kids all run together. They run at different speeds and tremendously different abilities, but they all encourage each other. There is no nastiness of body-shaming. The fact that you are trying is good enough.

The runners at the front of the pack are like beautiful Ferrari or Maserati sports cars gliding  along at top speed.  Those of us in the back are more like boxy little Jeeps bouncing and almost tipping over as we take the turns.

Usain Bolt the world's greatest sprinter

Usain Bolt the world’s greatest sprinter

The best part of any community running race is the finish. Not because it is over, but because the great runners at front who finished long ago wait for and congratulate every single finisher, no matter how long it takes.

I have never gotten a medal when I cross the finish line. I have gotten a lot of free Popsicles, and drinks of rubbery tasting hose water. Sometimes, there is even a free T-Shirt with a charity’s name on it.  Somehow, that’s enough.

 

The Gift – a superb thriller with unexpected plot twists

The Gift  is the  2015 thriller in which the insults and hurts from childhood come back to sabotage the happy marriage of a successful couple. As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have moved from Chicago to Simon’s home town in California, where Simon has taken a new high-powered job. By chance they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old school acquaintance of Simon’s.  Gordo is thrilled to see them and begins showering them with housewarming gifts.

Gordo is obviously a lonely soul, and takes an immediate liking to the kind and gentle Robyn. He helps Robyn with the house, sets up the cable T.V. and continually stops by to lend a hand or just chat. At first it is nice, but after a while he begins to seem just a little too clingy and creepy.

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Joel Edgerton as Gordo on The Gift

Finally, Simon has had enough, and in a very cruel way tells Gordo  he doesn’t want him around anymore. That’s when bad things start to happen to Simon and Robyn. Their dog disappears, the fish in their Coy pond all die, and strange noises are heard at night.`

At this point, it seems like the movie is just going to morph into a  traditional horror movie, but then, exciting  plot twists occur. Robyn had liked Gordo and thought that Simon was unnecessarily brutal in dumping Gordo as a friend. She begins doing some detective work to find out what was the real nature of the past relationship between Simon and Gordo, and why Simon was so eager to force Gordo out of their lives The more she digs the more bizarre and frighting the past becomes.

It is difficult to describe just how good The Gift is without giving too much away and ruining the ending. When you see it, you will be glad we did not spoil anything.

We will simply say that The Gift is a a great mystery movie (NOT a horror movie), that has a completely unexpected double twist ending. The acting is fantastic. Rebecca Hall is perfect as the kind but fragile Robyn who begins to worry about the moral cost of success. Jason Bateman’s acting is superb  as her controlling husband.

Joel Edgerton is the complex Gordo who keeps us guessing as to whether or not he is a misunderstood nice guy or a psychopath. Joel Edgerton was also the writer, director and co-producer of The Gift. His talents are exceptional in all three fields.

High Tech/Low Cost/Made In America – TIPS Sticker Stylus

The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ is a unique new tech product.  It sticks on to the end of a pen or pencil and allows you to use it as a computer stylus.  Apple calls its stylus the Apple Pencil™ and sells it for $99.00.  TIPS™ converts a pencil into a stylus at a cost of $1.99.

TIPS Sticker Stylus comes in a flat envelope

TIPS Sticker Stylus comes in a flat envelope. A pack of 6 costs $11.94, which comes to only $1.99 each.

The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ was designed in the United States and is 100% made in the U.S. by a new entrepreneurial company based on the East Coast. (That’s right –  not all tech entrepreneurs live in California)

TIPS Sticker Stylus

TIPS Sticker Stylus

This innovative yet cost-effective new product has a number of really cool features:

  • Turns any pen or pencil into a capacitive (touchscreen stylus)
  • If you want to, you can use it as a screen stylus and write on  paper simultaneously. Even the Apple Pencil™ cannot do that.  It is  ironic that the Apple Pencil™ cannot function as an actual pencil. The TIPS Sticker Stylus™ can.
TIPS Sticker Stylus fits into a Smartphone case

TIPS Sticker Stylus easily Fits into a Smartphone case

The fact that the TIPS Sticker Stylus™ fits into a smartphone case, means it is easy to carry around without losing it.

If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift  at a reasonable price East Coast Stories recommends the TIPS Sticker Stylus™.

 

 

Hush – a new horror movie in the classic style

Hush is a heart pounding horror movie in which a deaf-mute young woman is forced to fight off a psychotic killer. Hush is crafted in the classic style allowing the audience to get to know and like the character before she is suddenly thrust into a life or death battle.  It is an amazingly well done film, using only four characters.

Hush Killer

Maddie peacefully reviews her emails unaware of the killer approaching

Kate Siegal stars as Maddie, a deaf-mute writer who lives alone in a rural community and works obsessively  on her novels. Her only contact with the outside world comes from an occasional visit from her neighbor, and from emails. It is a peaceful, if lonely existence.

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

Samantha Sloyan as Sarah in Hush

We get to know and like Maddie and her neighbor Sarah (played by Samantha Sloyan), when Sarah comes to visit. Sarah has been learning sign language, and she and Maddie happily converse about cooking, boyfriends and Maddie’s latest novel.  It seems like the beginning of a romantic “chick flick”.

But the tone suddenly changes after Sarah leaves. Maddie is in the kitchen happily cooking, while outside the window we see Sarah come running up, perused by a man with a knife.  As Maddie concentrates on cooking, Sarah is screaming while the man repeatedly plunges a large hunting knife into Sarah’s back. Maddie, despite only being a few feet away, is unaware of the screams.  The killer then turns his attentions on Maddie, who at first, does not even know she is being targeted.

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

John Gallagher Jr. is the killer in Hush

The rest of the movie is Maddie trying to get away from the Killer. When he steals her cell phone and cuts the internet service, Maddie is truly alone.  Hush, of course,  pays homage to the classic play and movie  Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman fighting off a killer. Maddie, realizes that she cannot run from or reason with the killer.  She comes  up with ways to use her very deafness against the killer.

Hush is an independent film where Kate Siegel is not only the main actor, but also the co-writer. Mike Flanagan directed and co-wrote the film. John Gallagher Jr. is excellent as the cold  psychopath.

Hush will keep you on the edge of your seat, frightened as this vulnerable gentle woman struggles to survive against unfathomable evil.

 

Tamara Drewe – a perfect little comedy that takes you Far From The Madding Crowd

Tamara Drewe is a perfect little comedy of intrigue and infidelity at a writers’ retreat in rural England.  It is told through the eyes of two 15 year old schoolgirls who are so bored in their dull country town that they spend their days spying on the adults and causing mischief. Tamara Drewe premiered in 2010 but is just as amusing today, and worth watching if you are in the mood for a bawdy comedy

The setting is the sleepy bucolic fictional  English town of Ewedown, where a successful crime novelist and his wife earn extra money by hosting a “writers camp” on their country estate. They encourage a small group of earnest but spectacularly  unsuccessful would- be writers, who spend their days composing truly awful literature while looking out at the English countryside.

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

This peaceful routine is thrown into chaos by the arrival of the beautiful Tamara Drewe (wonderfully played by Gemma Arterton). Tamara is soon perused by three very different  men, with the whole village guessing as to which one she will chose. In fact, Tamara Drewe is based on the Thomas Hardy novel Far From The Madding Crowd.  A hint to this is that one of the writers is a Professor Bill Camp (played by Glen McCreavy) who is writing a book about Thomas Hardy.

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara DreweCasey Shaw & Jody Long in Tamara Drewe

Charlotte Christie & Jessica Barden in Tamara Drewe

However, unlike Far From The Madding Crowd, this village has two 15 year old schoolgirls spying on everything and, in fact, messing with the plot.  The real stars of Tamara Drewe are Jessica Barden as Jody Long, ans Charlotte Christie as Casey Shaw.

Dominic Cooper

Dominic Cooper as the Rock Star drummer Ben Sergeant

Jody & Casey spend their days sneaking cigarettes and reading magazines about pop stars. Fifteen year old Jody has a mad schoolgirl crush on the rock star Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper.) By chance, Sergeant comes to town and begins dating Tamara. Jody becomes insanely jealous.  She comes up with a bizarre plan to disgrace Tamara and win Sergeant for herself, despite the fact that Sergeant has never even met Jody. At one point, she hacks Tamara’s email account and then, posing as Tamara, sends out a lewd email to the three men interested in Tamara.

All the actors in Tamara Drewe are great, but Jessica Barden is fantastic. After this film she went on to become a well known  British actor, and also had a major role in the movie Hannah with Saoirse Ronan.

Jody and her friend Casey see and hear all that is going on in the village and allow us to see the world anew through the eyes of 15 year olds. Their shock and amazement at the infidelities, hypocrisies and general foolishness of so-called “adults” is what makes Tamada Drewe great. We realize that for teenagers, the great love stories of “older people” just seem ridiculous.

Jody’s absolute  love for her Rock Star idol far surpasses the superficial love adults feel for each other. The fantasy scenes in which Jody imagines what will happen when she finally meets him are hysterical in their “over the top” imagery.  When the Rock Star finally  comes to town, Jody actually does get to interact with him, but not at all in the way she had imagined.

Tamara Drewe is a fun movie  that combines a classic 1874 love story with the unexpected chaos and capaciousness of modern-day life.  We found it a joy to watch.

 

Tracy Ullman is back and better than ever

Comedian Tracy  Ullman is back on HBO with her own show and is better than ever. The more you know about European politics the funnier you will find it.  It is basically a skit show making fun of European politicians and various British stereotypes. One of the funniest is when Tracy Ullman plays Angela Merkel trying to pick out what to wear to a meeting of European Union ministers. Prime Minister Merkel’s closet contains nothing but frumpy pants suits, all in various shades of beige. However, Merkel  is worried that she will look too sexy in them and that will be  distracting for the male members of the EU.

Tracey Ullman as Angela Merkel

Tracey Ullman as Angela Merkel

There is also a dark humor skit of a Very British job interview at a major bank where Tracy is being considered for the position of project manager. Partway through the interview, the bank managers bring up the fact that Tracy had previously  been convicted of “crimes against humanity”  when she worked for an African dictator. Tracey turns that into a favorable attribute, pointing out that it took tremendous project management skills to organize the transportation, imprisonment and execution of huge numbers of people. The bank executives agree, and offer her a high level position.

The Real Angela Merkel

The Real Angela Merkel

Tracey Ullman has the incredible to skill to be able to completely transform into various public figures from Maggie Smith to Angela Merkel to Dame Judi Dench. It feels like you are actually watching the public figure doing strange things, rather than an actor pretending.

Tracey Ullman as Dame Judi Dench

Tracey Ullman as Dame Judi Dench

We are not sure if The Tracey Ullman Show will catch on in the U.S. It may just be too European for American tastes. However, we loved it and give it our highest rating.

The Real Dame Judi Dench

The Real Dame Judi Dench

 

Camp X-Ray – an enthralling psychological drama

Camp X-Ray is an enthralling psychological drama about the interaction between the detainees  and guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Kirsten Stewart gives an amazing performance as a Private Amy  Cole, a new  guard assigned to watch over the “hard core” detainees. The “hard core” prisoners are those  who refuse to accept the rules, and there is a constant grueling psychological  warfare between them and the Army guards.

Although the guards are not supposed to converse or interact with the prisoners, it is almost impossible not to. The guards are stuck in a small windowless hallway for 12 hour shifts,  with their only function to walk back and forth and watch the prisoners.

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi & Kirsten Stewart in Camp X-Ray

A prisoner names Ali (played by Peyman Moaadi) constantly tries to strike up conversations with Cole.  Finally out of sheer boredom and loneliness, Cole begins to answer him. Ali is intelligent, fanatical and somewhat crazy.  He has already been at Guantanamo for 6 years.

Camp X-Ray does not try to take a political position  about whether or not the Guantanamo Bay prison should exist.  It’s focus is simply on two people trying to survive while at the same time remaining true to themselves.

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

Hunger striking prisoner being force fed

At one point Private Cole asks Ali why he doesn’t just follow the rules, since that would make everything easier for him. Ali’s answer is that “if we followed the rules, we would be accepting that you have the right to give us the rules.”

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

Marco Khan as Mahmoud in Camp X-Ray

The punishments for infractions are severe. Prisoners who refuse to eat are force fed through tubes. Those who scream in their cells are brought down and shackled by a 5  soldier team.

The prisoners are allowed to choose books to read, which the guards bring to the cells. Ali is obsessed with Harry Potter and is enraged that for 6 years he has been unable to get the final book. He is convinced that that the Americans purposely withheld the final book to punish him. Is he right, or is he just going crazy?  Kirsten Stewart and Payman Moaadi are amazingly talented actors, and their interactions are riveting.

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

John Carroll Lynch as Colonel Drummond in Camp X-Ray

Payman Moaadi is an Iranian-American actor who has also starred in A Separation, and The Night Of.  His intensity always brings out the best in all the other actors he performs with.

Marco Kahn is Mahmoud, the most violent of all the hard core prisoners. His sheer size makes difficult for even 5 guards to control him during  his rages. The other prisoners respect his resistance, but also feel he is a bit of a an arrogant jerk.  At one point he forces the prisoners to go on a hunger strike to demand a piece of exercise equipment. When the Colonel finally  caves in and gives them the equipment, the prisoners never use it.  The strike was, of course, never about the equipment, but about a test of will.

John Carroll Lynch is Colonel Drummond, the commander of the prison. He openly admits that he hates the assignment.  Col. Drummond points out it is the type of job that if you do it perfectly no one notices, but if you make a mistake it is a major international incident.

Lane Garrison is the tough as nails Corporal Ransdell. At one point, he makes Private Cole guard Ali while Ali is taking a shower. Ransdell knows that for  a Muslim, having a strange woman see you naked is humiliating.

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Peyman Moaadi as Ali in Camp X-Ray

Ransdell gives Cole the assignment anyway, asking her “Are you a soldier, or a Female soldier?”.   The question of people trying to decide who they really are is main focus of Camp X-Ray. In a sense Colonel Drummond, Private Cole and Prisoner Ali are all trying to see if in their insane violent world they can somehow also remain Human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Jane Austen would have loved it

Jane Austen would have loved the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It takes the plot, characters and time period of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the Zombie Apocalypse. Mr.and Mrs. Bennet are trying to find suitable husbands of wealth and breeding for their 5 unmarried daughters, despite the fact that England is overrun with zombies.

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

Bella Heathcote fighting zombies

The upper classes are stoically maintaining their traditions, while at the same time desperately  fighting for their very survival.  What Jane Austen would love about  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, is that the women are the expert zombie fighters. Mr. Bennet made sure that all of his daughters were trained in martial arts, swordplay and firearms.

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet

When zombies attack; the women do not stand by meekly and watch the men fight. The women take the forefront in the assault, and wield swords. Of course, they do this while still attired in  the type of long gowns that a proper young lady would wear.

The movie did not do very well at the box office. Probably because most people who watch zombie movies have never read any of Jane Austen’s works. Regular zombie movie lovers may find the plot too complex to follow. At the same time, Jane Austen readers may find the blood and gore of the zombie scenes a little too much to take.

On the other hand, we loved it. You know exactly from the title what the movie is going to be about. We found that it added a fun new twist to the tired old zombie genre.  The acting is also very good. The movie is never played as a spoof and never tires to be camp.

Even with the zombies present, the movie keeps the gist of the novel’s plot and characters. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcey pursue their tumultuous relationship. Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley fall in and out an in love.

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

Sam Riley and Lily James in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

The actors are all superb. Lily James is terrific as the sword swinging Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote is great as her sister Jane. Sam Riley is perfect as the brooding Mr. Darcey, and Doughlas Both is wonderful as the handsome and wealthy Mr. Bingley.

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Lena Headey in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

There is even a mini Game Of Thrones reunion. Lena Headey (Better known as Cersie Lannister) is Mr. Darcey’s zombie-fighting aunt. In Price & Prejudice & Zombies Charles Dance is now head of the Bennet family instead of being head of the Lannisters. Even Wilko Johnson, who plays The Executioner on Game Of Thrones, shows up as a henchman in Price & Prejudice & Zombies.  It seems like a bunch of the actors from Game Of Thrones said, “Hey, we have some time off, let’s go make a zombie movie.”

Still, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is not for everyone. Some people may think that combing a classic novel by Jane Austen with a silly zombie movie is like having a fine bottle of French Chardonnay with a bowl of Fruit Loops.  But why not give it a try? You may find they go together better that you imagined.

 

Children Of Heaven – A loving look at ordinary Iranians

The 1997 film Children Of Heaven is a beautiful movie about an ordinary poor family in Tehran, Iran. It has no political agenda. Watching it may give you a different perspective on people who many Americans view as nothing more than “enemies”.

Children of Heaven revolves around a lost pair of shoes, and the adventures  of two kids trying to get them back. A middle-school boy named Ali has been given the task to bring his younger sister’s shoes to be repaired by the local cobbler. Through a series of mishaps he ends up losing them on the way home.

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The missing shoes from Children of Heaven

The kids  do not want to tell their father since they know he is too poor to buy a new pair. The brother and sister (Zahra) end up secretly sharing one pair of sneakers between them while desperately searching for the lost shoes

What makes this film so beautiful is that it is not played for pathos. Children of Heaven is not about how poor the family is. The film is about a loving family that cares for each other despite happening to be poor.  Ali’s father is a hard worker and his mother is too ill to work. Despite their problems  the family unit remains strong and caring.

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

A poor but loving Iranian family in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven is also about the natural resilience of children. In one scene Ali and Zahra are washing their one pair of sneakers, and begin playing with the soap bubbles. Their laughter and happiness are wonderful to watch.

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Bahare Seddiqi & Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven also shows parts of Iran that we never see on American T.V. Ali and his father bicycle to the wealthy section of Tehran to look for jobs as gardeners. The houses and gardens shown would be the envy of many rich American suburbanites. There is also a running race in a beautiful park around a huge crystal clear lake.

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

Reza Naji ans Mir Farrokh Hashemian in Children of Heaven

In 1997, Children of Heaven was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film . (The first Iranian film to earn that honor). It came in second to the Italian film Life Is Good.  The acting in the film is perfect. Mir Farrokh Hashemian is Ali and Resa Naji is the little sister. It never feels like they are acting.  It seems as if you are truly watching  the everyday life of kids. Bahare Seddiqi is the hard working, but not too bright father, and Fereshteh Sarabandi is the loving mother.

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Mir Ferrokh Hashemian as Ali in Children of Heaven

Director Majid Majidi made Children Of Heaven for only $180,000. He filmed the  movie  surreptitiously in Tehran so that he could get natural shots of everyday street  and crowd scenes.

We found Children of Heaven a pleasure to watch and give it our highest rating.

 

 

 

 

Election – the 1999 comedy that is better than our current election mess

If, like everyone else in America, you can’t wait for this horrible Presidential election to be over, take a break and watch the 1999 movie Election.  This hilarious comedy stars Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a hyper over-achiever running for Student Council President at a high school in Omaha Nebraska. Tracy is so much smarter, more ambitious and driven than the other students that she assumes there will be no contest.

Reese Witherspoop as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, who is willing to do anything to win the Election

The problem is that the friendly and popular teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) secretly hates her and is doing everything in his power to sabotage her election. While pretending to help her, he goes behind her back and persuades Paul, a nice but dumb football quarterback to run against her. Chris Klein is perfect as the likable but moronic Paul.

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

Matthew Broderick as the popular Mr. McAllister in Election

As Election continues  Tracy and Mr. McAllister turn to ever more devious and underhanded tactics.  Despite the fact that Student Council President is a completely meaningless office, Tracy and Mr. McAllister are willing to do anything to win, including fixing the results.

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Chris Klein & Reese Witherspoon in Election

Be warned that this is sort of a raunchy comedy and not intended for little kids. Mr. McAllister hates Tracy  because Tracy had a secret affair with another teacher. The affair did not become known to the student body, but it ruined the other teacher’s career and his marriage.

There are also quite a few sex jokes. One scene shows each of the main character praying to God before going to bed.  Tracy and Mr. McAllister both pray for things they want. On the other hand, Paul the quarterback gives the following heartfelt prayer.

” Dear God- Thank you for all your blessings. You’ve given me so many good things, like good health, nice parents, a nice truck, and what I’m told is a large penis.”

So, if you are in the mood for a raunchy fun comedy about an Election where the results don’t really matter, take a look at this 1999 film. Perhaps for a short time it can make you forget  the real election mess we are being subjected to right now.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children- an interesting movie in search of an audience

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is an interesting movie that, can’t decide who its audience is supposed to be. It is too scary for kids, too childish for adults and not cool enough for teenagers.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children has been marketed as a kids’ movie. However, it received a well deserved PG-13 rating.  It includes completely unnecessary scenes of monsters eating plates full of children’s eyeballs, people having their eyes gouged out and a dead child kept in a bedroom.  These scenes take away from what is otherwise a joyful and magical film.

Eva Green as Miss Peregrine

Eva Green as Miss Peregrine

The overall plot is wonderfully imaginative.  There are certain children (“Peculiars”) who are born with special powers and have to be hidden away for their own protection. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) protects the kids by keeping them in a time loop. They live in a large English country estate during World War II.

At the end of each day Miss Peregrin re-sets time and the day starts again. In some ways it is a happier sort of  “Groudhog Day”. The children never age, the weather is wonderful, and the outside world does not bother them. The powers of the children are strange and magical. One little girl has super strength. A little boy can project his dreams and show them as movies.

Ella Purnell steals the show

Ella Purnell steals the show

However, there is danger for the children. There are evil adult Peculiars in the outside world who have turned into invisible monsters called Hollows. They search for children’s eyeballs to eat and plot to attack Miss Peregrine’s home and kill the children. They are always looking for an entrance into the time loop.

Asa Butterfield as a young man transported back in time

Asa Butterfield as a young man transported back in time

The cast of the movie is terrific. Eva Green is Miss Peregrine, who has the ability to re-set time and to turn into a falcon. (Hence the name Peregrine). Asa Butterfield  is Jake, a young American who has the ability to see the invisible Hollows.

Ella Purnell steals the show as Emma; a beautiful young woman who is lighter than air and who re-floats a sunken ocean liner. Samuel  L. Jackson is in his element as the evil villain. As always, he brings some fun into his bad guy role. At one point, when  he grabs a kid by the suit jacket he happens to notices what great material the suit is made of.  As he shoves the kid aside he remarks, “Get out of my way. And remind me to get the name of your tailor.”

Samuel L. Jackson a bad guy with class

Samuel L. Jackson a bad guy with class

With some minor changes,  Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children would have been a far better movie. There was no reason to show such gross scenes in this type of movie. We already know that the children in Miss Peregrine’s Home are being protected from the evils of the outside world. Children in the movie-viewing audience do not need to see those  evils in such disgusting detail.  Producers should remember that sometimes kids in the viewing audience need to be protected too.

Where Am I Now? – Mara Wilson, the little girl in Mrs. Doubtfire & Matilda

What ever happened to the little girl from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire?  Where Am I now? is the autobiography of Mara Wilson, who went from child actor to awkward teenager to playwright and stage performer.

Where Am I Now? is a series of very personal introspective essays, which makes it a much more interesting read than the standard self-serving autobiographies which most celebrities produce.

Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson in Matilda

Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson in Matilda

Despite being a child star and coming from a happy home, Mara suffered from OCD and many anxieties. There was a time as a little girl when she was obsessed with death to the point where it was all she could think about.

Mara’s mother was definitely not a stereotypical pushy “stage mother”. She was happy that Mara was a successful actress, but also made sure Mara took her schoolwork seriously and never became stuck-up. Unfortunately Mara’s mother died of cancer during the filming of the movie Matilda.

Danny DeVito, Mara Wilson and Reah Perlman

Danny DeVito, Mara Wilson and Reah Perlman

Danny DeVito is one of the heroes of Where Am I Now?. He was always kind to Mara and was a comfort to her when Mara’s mother died . He and his wife Reah Perlman treated Mara like a member of the family and she loved them for it. Mara was upset that her mother never got to see Matilda.  Years later Mara found out that before the film was even complete Danny DeVito had taken a print of the film to the hospital and had  done a special screening in the cancer ward. Mara’s mother did get to see her little girl as Matilda after all.

Mara Wilson with Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire

Mara Wilson with Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire

Like many child stars, Mara reached a point where she understood she would never become a star as an adult.  In her teens she went to auditions where she met a couple of other actresses. They were friendly and Mara liked them very much. But Mara immediately realized she could not compete with them. One was Kirsten Stewart and the other was Scarlett Johansson.

Mara Wilson Today

Mara Wilson Today

However, it was the normal petty slights  and meanness  in middle and high school that bothered Mara much more than any competition for acting jobs. Mara’s comment about high school girls is something that thousands of other young women have felt for decades. Mara states that:

The ones who scared me, who still scare me, are the girls who see all other girls as competition, who see themselves as the persecuted ones, the ones the pretty and popular girls hate. When you believe you’re persecuted, you will believe anything you do is justified.”

Mara is an excellent writer. She captures the essence of the struggles of a sensitive girl growing up in an ever changing environment. Mara stresses how important is is for women to be supportive of each other. She says,

A lot of men wonder what a woman wants. The answer is power. There are many ways to get it, but the easiest way is to tear other girls down. Any girl can play that game, but there’s no way to win, except not to play at all.”

Mara was very upset over the suicide of Robin Williams. She says that Robin had been wonderful with the kids on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, keeping them entertained and telling them jokes. Mara kept in touch with Robin Williams through the years, and as an adult came to realize that he was actually a very shy person who had trouble communicating when he was not performing.

So where is Mara Wilson now? After graduating from NYU, she stayed in New York. Mara Wilson  writes plays, has a blog and performs stories at various small clubs. She  is very happy with her life.

Mara speaks of when she first moved to New York, and describes it by saying:

I was terrified, and there was nothing I could do but get used to it. New York, I soon learned, wasn’t so much scary as it was indifferent. In Los Angeles, I had felt judged. In New York, I felt ignored. Sometimes that was what I wanted: to disappear. But sometimes I wanted to be cared for, to belong, and I had to find that myself, because the city would not  provide it on its own.”

Mara Wilson did find a way to belong, by becoming part of New York’s artistic community. She faced her fears by expressing  her deepest thoughts and emotions in her writing and stage performances. Of course, this kind of exposure has its risks. Audiences can be mean or worse, indifferent. Internet trolls  are always ready to pounce and ridicule.

We are glad that Mara took the risk bare her emotions in her writings and performances. As Robin Williams once said:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Steve Jobs – Tech Genius or Arrogant Poser?

Who was Steve Jobs? Books, movies and documentaries have never been able to truly capture the unique complexity of Steve Jobs. Unfortunately the 2015 movie simply  titled Steve Jobs is no exception. That said, Steve Jobs is an extraordinary well made film, with superb performances by first rate actors.

The real Steve Jobs

The real Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is structured as a play and could easily be converted to the theater.  It takes place in 3 acts with each one during a major product launch. Key figures from Steve’s past come back stage to have heart-wrenching, long discussions about life, just minutes before Steve has to go on stage to introduce the new product.

Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Wozniak

Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Wozniak

These conversations are dramatic and fascinating, until you realize that they are purely fictional.  They also tend to portray Jobs as a one-dimensional mean-spirited, nasty individual who will not listen to excellent advice from anyone. In real life, Jobs was stubborn and often cruel, but he also could be kind and generous. Jobs also certainly knew how to work with others in a team, and to take input from many different sources.

Apple's famous Super Bowl ad for The Macantosh

Apple’s famous Super Bowl ad for The Macontosh

Steve Jobs however, does explain well and in non-technical terms exactly why some of Job’s product ideas  were successes and other were complete failures. It also shows John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels) in a much different light than most other stories about Apple. Even today most people think of John Sculley  as the idiot who made one of the biggest business blunders in history by firing Steve Jobs.

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen

This film shows that the situation was much more complex and nuanced than that.  The Board of Directors actually got rid of Jobs, in a decision which does seem to make sense when the historical perspective is shown.  Jobs had risked everything on the Apple Macintosh, including a famous Super Bowl ad. After a huge financial gamble by Jobs, the  Macintosh turned out to be a product disaster.

Jobs and Wozniak in the beginning

Jobs and Wozniak in the beginning

Seth Rogan is great as Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. People used to seeing Seth Rogan in comedy roles will see that he is also a very talented dramatic actor. Steve Wozniak himself liked Seth Rogan’s portrayal, but said that Jobs was far nicer and kinder than the film showed.

Kate Winslet plays Apple’s Joanna Hoffman, one of the few people Jobs will discuss his personal life with. Much of the movie focuses on the fact that Jobs refused to acknowledge his daughter Lisa was his. However, at the same time he provided for her financially and had a lot of contact with her.

Steve Jobs is an interesting film but leaves us dissatisfied. After watching it we felt that we had seen a well acted film  about a Hollywood version of Steve Jobs, without ever meeting the real man.

 

The Forest – A Horror Movie Where the Strangest Parts Are True

The Forest is a horror movie where the strangest parts are true. It is about the “Sea Of Trees”, a dense forest at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, where Japanese traditionally go to commit suicide. Stylized suicide has a long history in Japan going back to the days of the samurai.

Even today, people will travel from all over Japan to commit suicide in Aokigahara Forest rather than do the act at home. Often individuals have not yet made a decision, so they will bring tents and camp deep in the forest. Sometimes, days or weeks later, the person will decide to live and return  from the forest. However, more times than not, the person never returns.

Aokigahara Forest (The Sea Of Trees) at the base of Mount Fuji

Aokigahara Forest (The Sea Of Trees) at the base of Mount Fuji

In The Forest, Natalie Dormer is Sara Price, an American who is in Japan searching for Jess, her missing identical twin sister.  Jess is a teacher who went to the Aokigahara Forest more than a week before and has not returned.  Sara cannot accept that Jess has killed herself, and decides to take on the futile task of trying to find Jess in the immense “Sea Of Trees”

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in The Forest

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in The Forest

No Japanese person wants to help Sara search in the Aokigahara Forest. They are afraid of the Yurei, which are demonic figures lurking in the forest trying to trick people into killing themselves.  Then Sara meets  Aiden, another American (played by Taylor Kinney), who is willing to help search. It is only after they are deep in the forest when Sara realizes that perhaps it was not smart for a young woman to go into the woods with a large muscular man who she actually knows nothing about.

Natalie Dormer stalked by a Yurei in The Forest

Natalie Dormer stalked by a Yurei in The Forest

The Forest has all the usual horror movie scares. Strange creatures appear that may be real or may be hallucinations brought on by being alone in  the woods. It has the regular “jump scares” where people or things suddenly pop up.

Taylor Kinney as "Aiden". Nice guy or Killer?

Taylor Kinney as “Aiden”. Nice guy or Killer?

However, we found the the true story of Aokigahara Forest and ritualized suicide in a modern society the most interesting part of the film. Japanese politeness extends even into this darkest hour of human existence.  For example, if you are walking through the forest and see a person camped with a “suicide tent”, you are not to interfere. Japanese feel the decision should be left to the individual and you should not try to “rescue” that person.

There is also the bizarre feature of bright yellow tape crisscrossed in the forest.  People want to kill themselves deep in the woods, but many  also want their body to later be found and taken away by family.  Therefore, when people go deep off the trail to kill themselves they  leave a path of bright colored tape from the trail to their final death location.

The Forest is not a great horror film but it is still worth watching. Unfortunately it has some unintentional humorous  aspects that take away from its scariness.  Natalie Dormer (Sara) keeps showing people a photograph of her identical twin asking if they have seen her. Why does she need to carry around a photo, when they are “identical”?

The funniest scene is when Sara decides to visit the school where her identical twin was a teacher. Remember that Jess has been missing for a long time and presumed dead.  Without thinking about this, Sara walks into the classroom. The children start screaming, believing that Sara is a ghost.  The director of the film (Jason Zada) probably meant this to be scary, but it actually comes across as really funny.

 

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

John McAfee, the inventor of the McAfee antivirus software, is a rapist who has ordered two murders. Those are the allegations made in the Showtime documentary Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee. After making a fortune starting a company to defend against computer viruses, John McAfee’s life seemed to go off track.  He sold his stake in McAfee, bought a huge estate in Colorado and became a Yoga Guru. He then quit that completely and moved to the Central American country of Belize. In Belize, McAfee set himself up like a local god. There are even clips where he refers to himself like Mr. Kurtz from Heart Of Darkness.

John McAfee in Belize

John McAfee in Belize

Belize is a very poor, very dangerous country with a high crime rate and lots of illegal weapons.  McAfee surrounded himself with heavily armed security men who were hired from the worst elements of the local gangs. If John McAfee walked down a tourist beach, he would be surround by 10 or 12 men with shotguns and AK-47s.  He also had vicious dogs roaming the beach near his house.

A local thief named David Middleton had the nerve to rob John McAfee’s house. David Middleton was  later was tortured and killed. The documentary claims that John McAfee had David Middleton killed as a lesson to anyone else in Belize who would dare cross him.

Nanette Burstein director of Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

Nanette Burstein director of Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee is directed by Nanette Burstein who does a fantastic job. She only gets 1 short interview with John McAfee, but does have an email relationship with him over a series of months. As it becomes obvious what information Burstein is after, the emails from McAfee get more ranting and threatening.

The film also alleges that John McAfee raped Allison Adonizio, a Harvard biologist who was working in Belize. McAfee had hired Adonizio and funded a lab for her to do biological research.

Allison Adonizio says she was raped by John McAfee

Allison Adonizio says she was raped by John McAfee

Allison Adonizio is a very sympathetic person on film. She comes across as a shy young woman. She claims that as John McAfee began acting more and more bizarre, she decided to leave the project. When she told him she was quitting, McAfee drugged her drink and raped her.

The second murder McAfee is accused of is that of American Gregory Faull, who had poisoned McAfee’s vicious dogs.  Gregory Faull was a next door neighbor and had  argued with McAfee about the dogs running wild on the beach.  When the dogs turned up poisoned, McAfee went berserk and the film alleges that McAfee ordered Faull killed. When the Belize police tried to question McAfee, he fled the country and made his way back to the United States.

Gregory Faull who allegedly was ordered murdered by John McAfee

Gregory Faull who allegedly was ordered murdered by John McAfee

John McAfee comes across as a nasty, crazy, dangerous person throughout  Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee. However, that does not mean that any of the allegations are true.  It is important to remember that any documentary can be edited to show a particular point of view and lead people to a particular conclusion.

John McAfee states categorically that he had nothing to do with the murders, and points out that he has never been charged for any crime in Belize. He admits to the bodyguards and weapons, but notes that these are a perfectly logical response to being the richest man in a very poor very violent country. He says he left Belize rather than face police questioning, since the police in Belize are so incompetent and corrupt that he could not be assured of a fair hearing.

As for the rape allegation by Allison Adonizio, McAfee also denies that.  He says he fired Allison Adonizio since she was making no progress in her research. McAfee claims that before Adonizio  left she destroyed every sample and document in the lab. He states the rape story is a vicious attempt to discredit him.

John McAfee running for President in 2016

John McAfee running for President in 2016

Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee is a fascinating documentary and we recommend you watch it and come to your own conclusions.  Certain points seem indisputable. One is that you should never visit Belize under any circumstances. The chief homicide detective admits that not only does Belize have a high murder rate, but that less than 10% of the murders are solved. Belize has no DNA testing and even fingerprint analysis is only now  just starting to be used. The fact the the 2 murders noted in  the film are unsolved is nothing unusual in Belize.

The second indisputable fact is that the American political electorate has an odd selection criteria. John McAfee ran for the 2016 Presidential nomination on the Libertine Party and came in second place. People asked him about cyber security and the economy, but the allegations of two murders and one rape never even came up. John McAfee has once again been able to completely re-invent himself. His days as Mr. Kurtz in the Heart of Belize have simply been relegated to a past life.

 

 

 

 

All Things Must Pass – The Rise & Fall of Tower Records

The 2015 documentary All Things Must Pass, is a fascinating look at Tower Records. In 1999 Tower Records  had 1 billion dollars in sales, and by 2006 was forced to declare bankruptcy. All Things Must Pass is now playing on Showtime, and is well worth watching.

Tower Records $1 Billion in sales 1999, bankrupt in 2006

Tower Records $1 Billion in sales 1999, bankrupt in 2006

Russ Solomon started Tower records in 1960 as a young man who knew absolutely nothing about business. However, what he did have was tremendous people skills and a feeling for what customers wanted.  In 1960, other record stores were small with very little selection, high prices and snooty salespeople.  Tower Records came along with a huge selection and inventory, low prices and a friendly atmosphere.

Early days at Tower Records

Early days at Tower Records

The people Russ Solomon hired loved music and loved talking to the customers about music. They were also a little crazy.  Many of the employees at Tower Records came looking for work since no place else would hire them. They had long hair and tattoos. They wore crazy clothing. They has a few drinks at lunch (and sometimes at breakfast). Russ accepted them all, and they loved him for it.

Cocaine charged to Tower Records expense accounts as "hand truck fuel"

Cocaine was charged to Tower Records expense accounts as “hand truck fuel”

The 1960s & 1970s were the era of “sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll” and Tower records was there  for the ride. If the employees had to work late doing things like stocking the shelves or counting inventory they would buy “hand truck fuel” and charge that to the company. Everyone in management knew that “hand truck fuel” was code for cocaine. Tower Records began expanding across the country and across the globe.  Tower Records opened in Japan and was a huge success.

At  its zenith, Tower Records was the place to go, even for megastars of the music industry. Elton John would go to the Hollywood store with his chauffeur following behind him with a box.  Elton John would buy stacks of records and hand them to the chauffeur to put in the box. Elton John bought three of any record he wanted, since he needed a copy at each of his 3 houses.

Most people now assume that Napster is what caused the demise of Tower Records. However, Russ Solomon himself is quick to point out that this is not the case. After all, Tower Records of Japan is still thriving with 85 stores that do a booming business.

There were really three things that caused the downfall of Tower Records.

  1. The greed of the record industry. Every time a new technology came out, the record industry took the opportunity to raise the price even if the new technology actually meant lower production costs for the recording industry. From 1960-2006 the format went from 45s to LPs to 8track tapes to cassettes to CDs.  Each time the price to the consumer went up significantly. In addition, the recording industry made it impossible to buy singles. If you only liked 2 songs by a particular artist, the recording industry forced you to by the whole $20 CD with a bunch of other songs you didn’t want. No wonder people turned to illegal downloading as a protest.
  2. Tower Records started expanding without thinking first. In the beginning, the executives agonized over exactly where to open a new store. Sort of like an Apple store today, a huge amount of forethought went into each new store location. But Tower Records was so successful that they began to think that no matter where they opened it would be an instant success. They jumped into markets like Argentina without ever doing any market research first. The result was that a lot of the new locations were disasters with low sales.
  3. The death of CFO Bob Martin. He was the guy who from the beginning of Tower Records ran all the finances. He was the polar opposite of Russ Solomon. Every time Russ wanted to sped more money, Bob Martin would try to hold him back. They were a perfect Yin-Yang combination. When Bob Martin died, a new CFO let himself get bullied by Russ Solomon into large expansions and took out bonds to finance everything. It was the crushing debt load from these bonds that ultimately bankrupted Tower Records. (Japan was sold off as a separate entity which is why it still thrives today). However, even Bob Martin was not your typical CFO. During working hours he was all business, but at night he became a heavy-drinking, woman chasing party animal.
Director Colin Hanks

All Things Must Pass Director Colin Hanks

All Things Must Pass is directed by Colin Hanks and written by Steven Leckart and Steve Stevens.  It tells the story beautifully with fascinating footage and still pictures of the early days of Tower Records. It also has great interviews with Russ Solomon and many of the original employees from the early days. The ending scene will bring tears to your eyes. Russ Solomon travels to Japan to visit the Tokyo Tower Records mega store. As he walks into the Japan Tower Records headquarters he is greeted with applause by the hundreds of employees paying tribute to this man of vision.

 

 

 

Zombies Represent Gerascophia -A Fear Of Getting Old

Zombies really represent Gerascophia, which is a fear of getting old.  The Zombie genre  is so popular since the fear of getting old is universal. In fact, many  people fear the incapacitates and indignities of old age more than they fear death itself.  The Who song My Generation, comes right our and says  “Hope I die before I get old.”

When the young beautiful people run from  Zombies in movies, they are really running from old age. Here are the hints that show what Zombies are really about.

  • Like old people Zombies don’t remember who they once were. However, they congregate at places like malls which they used to enjoy. Walking aimlessly in malls seems to be a big attraction for zombies (and old people in the real world).
Zombies and old people in Cockneys Versus Zombies

Zombies and old people in Cockneys Versus Zombies

  • In most movies, Zombies walk slowly like old people. (Of course, newer movies have brought in faster Zombies to add to the excitement).
Zombies slowly fall apart as if aging

Zombies slowly fall apart as if aging

  • Zombies never seem to actually die. They just look worse and worse like someone slowly aging.
  • In a huge portion of the zombie movies the people are never able to actually escape the fate of becoming a zombie. No matter how far you run or what you do the zombies (old age) eventually catches up with you.
Beautiful young women fight in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

Beautiful young women fight in Price & Prejudice & Zombies

  • The people best at fighting zombies are the young ad beautiful
  •  In most zombie movies, there is no cure, although many potions get tried. (Just look on the internet sometime and see how many “anti-aging” pills and creams are for sale.)
  • Euthanasia is often practiced in zombie movies.
Einstein points out there are some advantages to being older

Einstein points out there are some advantages to being older

  • If you are touched or bitten by a zombie you will become one. This goes back to fears that many children have of extremely old people. In fact, the terms Gerascophobia (or Gerontophobia) are used to describe both  the fear or getting old and the fear of old people themselves.  People are so afraid of the elderly that that  subconsciously end up envisioning aged people as monsters (Zombies).

So the next time you are screaming at a zombie movie remember that you may really be letting loose your primeval fears of aging. Of course, that means that the primitive part of your brain may be thinking of kindly old Grandma and Grandpa as horrible zombies that would be better off dead.  But don’t feel too bad.  After all you are doing it subconsciously.

So have a good scream. Bring those fears to the surface and let them out. Besides, no matter what you do the zombie (old age) is going to catch up with you in real life, even if the people somehow manage to  get away in the movies.

Then stop worrying about it. Maybe that’s why we love animals so much. They don’t sit around worrying about how old they are or what will happen when they get older. Animals don’t spend their time worrying about their life. They spend their time living it.

 

 

 

Little Bunny Blogger

Little Bunny Blogger is a wonderful  website for Bunny  lovers. It features terrific pictures of rabbits and has useful facts about the care and feeding of these gentle creatures.  It is authored by Carlee, who  has always loved rabbits. One of her earliest memories  as a little girl  is that of hopping around the house pretending to be a rabbit.

Pup, Luna & Carlee from Bunny Bloggers

Pup, Luna & Carlee from Bunny Bloggers

Little Bunny Blogger includes a section on random rabbit facts. We never knew before that rabbits can run 35 miles per hour or that they have 28 teeth and 18 toes.  It also emphasizes that rabbits are not toys, but a “member of the family” that need to be treated with love and care.

Pup enjoying some Timothy Hay

Pup enjoying some Timothy Hay

Little Bunny Blogger is especially useful for those who are first-time rabbit owners, or who are thinking of adopting a rabbit. It has a whole section of “dos and don’ts” explaining useful items like what foods are good and which can be dangerous.

Piper who was found wandering in Arkansas

Piper who was found wandering in Arkansas

Carlee’s love of animals extends to dogs and cats as well. There is an adorable picture of Piper, a Labrador/hound/Beagle mix who was found wandering streets in Arkansas when only 3 weeks old.

It is great to meet another blogger who loves bunnies and other animals as much as we do. We wish Carlee and Little Bunny Blogger great success.

Steve McQueen – The Man & Le Mans – the best documentary about The King Of Cool

Steve McQueen -The Man & Le Mans on Showtime is the best documentary ever made about “The King Of Cool.”  Steve McQueen was a rare combination of strong conflicting forces. He was a brilliant actor, accomplished motorcycle and race car driver, astute businessman and loving father. He was also a philandering husband, unnecessary risk-taker,  and one of the most insecure men ever to be a movie star.

Steve McQueen The King Of Cool

Steve McQueen The King Of Cool

All of these forces came to a head when McQueen set up his own production company to make a movie called Le Mans, about the world-famous 24 hour French auto race. But Steve McQueen was not content to just make a regular Hollywood movie with a romantic plot where car racing was a backdrop. McQueen was obsessed with filming  something where the audience would truly feel exactly what it was like to be  racing in a car at 260 miles per hour. He was so obsessed with the feel of the race that he ignored  other aspects of the movie. They were millions of dollars into production and there was still no script or even a plot.  People began to realize that maybe McQueen didn’t really know what  he was doing.

Steve McQueen, Neile Adams, Chad McQueen

Steve McQueen, Neile Adams, Chad McQueen

At the same time the movie set was a disaster, McQueen was trying to turn Le Mans into a fun family bonding experience. He had brought his wife Neile Adams and their son Chad to Le Mans and they all lived in a rented castle.

Elga Anderson - actress in Le Mans, now a Swedish member of Parliment

Elga Anderson – actress in Le Mans, now a Swedish member of Parliament

Steve McQueen had conflicting goals in his life.  He was having illicit sex with beautiful actresses in his movie trailer every day, and then going home to his lovely wife and son after work.

Steve McQueen with wife Neile Adams

Steve McQueen with wife Neile Adams

At the same time Steve  McQueen was being disloyal to his wife, he demanded absolute loyalty from everyone around him.  One of his close advisors called the studio chiefs to report that the movie was over budget. After that call, Steve McQueen never spoke to that man again for the rest of his life.

One of the most crushing moments in Steve McQueen’s life came when his wife Neile Adams admitted that she too and once had an affair. Although Steve had been unfaithful hundreds of times, he just could not forgive her.

In the end; Le Mans the movie was made and opened to mixed reviews.  People were not sure what to make of this new gritty, realistic style.

Le Mans still has a cult following today, with car enthusiasts praising it as the most true-to-life  car film ever made.  Race car drivers themselves praise it as the one film that depicts who they truly are.  Steve McQueen would be very pleased with that.

 

Meet The Hitlers

Meet The Hitlers sounds like a horrible name  for a terrible sitcom, but it is really a very interesting documentary about people all linked by the name “Hitler”.  It is a psychological drama about how some people accept who they are, while others spend a  lifetime hiding, while still other pretend to be something they are not.

There is a family in Long Island, whose members are direct descendants of the nephew of Adolf Hitler. Their father (the nephew) came to American during World War II and publicly denounced Adolf. Despite this, the sons changed their last name. In fact,  they were so ashamed of their lineage  that they made a pact never to have children. They hide in their houses if a member of the press ever shows up. They will not  appear on film.

Birthday cake for little Adolf Hitler

Birthday cake for little Adolf Hitler

Other Americans with the Hitler last name have refused to take a new name despite the infamous associations. These families come across as much more likable and at peace with themselves. Their attitude is, “this is who I am, judge me for my actions, not those of others.”

Isidore Campbell with son Adolf Hitler

Isidore Campbell with son Adolf Hitler

Meet The Hitlers also has a very disturbing segment about the Campbells, a New Jersey family that named their children Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Unlike the other families in Meet The Hitlers, the Campbells have no actual ties to the Hitler name. The Campbells are White Supremacists who like to dress up in Nazi uniforms.

The Campbells gained national attention when Shoprite supermarkets refused to make a cake with “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler” on it.  Mr. Campbell is a self-professed Nazi, and is covered with tattoos of swastikas.

Deborah & Isidore Hitler claim their children were taken due to their political views

Deborah & Isidore Hitler claim their children were taken due to their political views

The Campbell’s children were taken away by Social Services. The State claims the children was abused. Deborah and Isidore Campbell say their children were taken simply punishment for their parents  political views. The segment does give a fascinating look at the  issue of free speech. Are their limits to free speech? Does teaching children to hate all other races constitute child abuse?

Meet The Hitlers is certainly worth watching and demonstrated the power of a single word. When you see the people linked by “Hitler” you will like many,  hate others, and feel profound sorrow for some.

 

 

Sully – unjustly vilifies the NTSB

Sully is an exciting  movie, but depicts  the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as a bunch of evil buffoons out to destroy  Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully). In reality, the NTSB was very respectful of Captain Sullenberger and praised him profusely. The actual events were interesting enough without Director Clint Eastwood having to invent bad guys like this was on old time Hollywood cowboy movie with Sully as the Sheriff.

Clint Eastwood & Tom Hanks on location for Sully

Clint Eastwood & Tom Hanks on location for Sully

The amount of time Sully spends on the NTSB committee hearings also takes time away from the more interesting events of the real  “Miracle On The Hudson” . The parts of the move that take place in the air and on the water are great. The NTSB hearings come across as unnecessary filler.  Lets take a look at the true events.

“Not again!” was the  thought that ran through the minds of thousands of people in New York and New Jersey  on January 15, 2009 when they looked out their windows and  saw a jet crash into the frigid Hudson river. Only 8 years earlier, on 9/11/01, terrorists had flown two jets into the World Trade Center. Then,  on on 11/11/01  a jet crashed into a Queens neighborhood. On October 11, 2006, New York Yankees Pitcher Cory Lyle crashed his plane into a Manhattan apartment building.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully)

Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully)

The “Miracle On The Hudson” was a huge group effort  that saved all 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1548.  After a bird strike destroyed both engines, Sully  was able to execute a perfect water landing on the Hudson. The plane was evacuated and the people were rescued by ferry boat crews and the NYPD. The movie depicts all of this wonderfully, and we wish it had spent more time here than in the committee rooms.

Because of the amount of time the movie spends vilifying the NTSB, it ends up only lightly touching on many of the more interesting aspects of all the people who worked to save the passengers. The police and ferryboat crews are shown only briefly. The fast thinking of the ferryboat captains on that day deserved more screen time.

Sully did not show that the Hudson river has a tremendously strong current and the jet  was being carried downstream at a rapid pace. The Hudson is no calm lake. The ferryboat captains performed a tremendous feat of seamanship by pushing their vessels in a delicate maneuver to stop the jet from being carried away by the current.  Too little power and the jet would have gone downstream. Too much and the ferryboats could have crushed and sunk the jet. The movie ignored completely  the passengers on the ferryboats, who also helped.

Real Miracle On the Hudson

Real Miracle On the Hudson

The other problem with the NTSB hearing scenes in Sully was that they looked suspiciously like scenes from the movie Flight staring Denzel Washington.  There was also an amazingly large amount of product placement in Sully. The signs for the Marriott downtown hotel was shown so many times that Sully began to look like an informercial. Yes, we know that we have ads on our site; but at least we admit they are advertisements and don’t pretend they are part of the story.

Miracle on the Hudson

Miracle on the Hudson

Don’t get us wrong. Captain Sullenberger, and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles really were heroes. So were the Ferryboat captains and crew, the NYPD & Fire & Rescue teams and all the NY & NJ EMT & hospital workers.  However, you don’t need to have bad guys to have heroes.

 

 

Victims of 9/11 Tell Politicians to Shut Up

If the victims of 9/11 could speak from beyond the grave, it would probably be to tell the politicians to “Shut Up and leave Our Families Alone!” For 15 years we have been watching as American politicians of all political parties  have been jockeying to get close to the families of those who died on 9/11. Memorials and plaques and speeches and dedications seem designed to give the maximum boost to political careers rather than any real comfort to families. Maybe the best way to  honor families is to let them grieve  in private.  Yes, 9/11 impacted all Americans, but not all equally.

Flower wreath for a dead son

Flower wreath for a dead son

One of the strongest childhood memories  I have comes from a day when I was playing on a deserted beach, and a very old man and woman hobbled down to the water’s edge. They threw a handmade wreath of flowers into the ocean and stood still for a long time as the waves carried it out. Then they turned and slowly walked away without looking back.

When I asked my parents about them, I was told  that the old man and woman were honoring their son who was a Sailor killed in World War II. They did this every year on the anniversary of their son’s death. People in the area stayed away from that part of the beach each year on that day to give the old couple privacy. It was only by mistake that as a child I had witnessed this moment.

Those grieving parents did not want plaques or Fourth of July parades or even medals. What they wanted was to privately remember their son, and that is what the people of the town gave them. In the years that followed, I always remembered to stay away from the beach on the anniversary of that Sailor’s death. Even  as a child I knew that the best way I could help the parents on that day  was to leave them alone.

I know it is a lost cause, but I would still like to ask American politicians to show a little class on 9/11. The best thing the politicians could do on 9/11 is to stay home. It is a day for the families of the victims – not for you.