Category Archives: Movie, Television & Play Reviews

Reviews of Movies, T.V. shows and Plays

Ascension – A Trashy Soap Opera in Outer Space

Ascension on Netflix has sex, murders, betrayals and partial nudity – all on a fantastic spaceship traveling to a new planet. For pure escapist fun, Ascension is great. It begins with the murder of a beautiful Stewardess (yes- this futuristic spaceship has plenty of Stewardesses parading around in skimpy outfits). The search for her murderer undercovers secrets withing secrets that threaten to destroy the entire mission of the Ascension. But don’t feel too badly for the murdered woman. She does get to come back in later episodes as a ghost.

Jessica Sipos & Tricia Helfer on "Ascension"
Jessica Sipos & Tricia Helfer on “Ascension”

The plot of Ascension is that President Kennedy launched a secret mission to send 600 people into space to colonize a distant planet. The flight would take so long that only the descendants of the original crew would live long enough to reach the new world. It is now more than 50 years later and the Ascension is in deep space and none of the people living on it have ever been to Earth.

Brad Carter & Jacqueline Byers in "ascension"
Brad Carter & Jacqueline Byers in “ascension”

With not much to do on the ship except to wait for it to reach a new planet, the 600 people on board seem to spend most of their time having casual affairs, plotting to improve their social positions and drinking as much alcohol as possible.

Like all good Soap Operas, Ascension is never played for laughs. The spaceship has all the infighting, backstabbing and social posturing that would exist in a small town. There is a strict social order with Captain William Denniger (played by Brian Van Holt) at the very top. His beautiful wife Viondra (Tricia Helfer) loves being at the top of the pyramid and is willing to do anything to stay there.

Jessica Helfer & Brian Van Holt on "Ascension
Jessica Helfer & Brian Van Holt on “Ascension

However, Viondra has also made sure to hedge her bets. She is having an affair with Councilman Rose (Al Sapienza) who has a political faction that wants a new Captain. Viondra has made sure that no matter who wins, she will remain the Alpha Female.

The bottom of the social order is populated by the people in the “lower decks”. They grow the food, maintain the machinery and basically do all the real work on the spaceship. They are getting tired of their lot in life and there is talk of a revolution.

Brad Carter gives a powerful performance as a stockyard manager from the lower decks. He is crude, dirty and violent, but also much more intelligent than people give him credit for. Of course, he is the number one suspect when the murder happens. He is also the one who finds out about the real secret of Ascension. (That secret is revealed partway into the series and it is so startling that we will not spoil it here).

Jacqueline Byers is Nora, a teenager who is trying to cope with the reality that her entire world consists of only 600 people, and will never expand.

Ascension was originally on the Sci-Fy Channel and is now on Netflix. Since Sci-Fy is basic cable, they were not allowed to show nudity. But Ascension also wanted to show as much flesh as possible to titillate the Sci-Fy geeks.

That’s why the spaceship has an artificial beach and pool set up to look like a lagoon. This is supposed to make the crew feel like they are on Earth. Of course, the real reason is for Ascension to show beautiful women in skimpy bikinis as often as possible. For a show that takes place in space, an incredible number of the scenes happen on the beach. Ascension does show a few bare bottoms, and side views of almost nudity, which was the most basic cable would allow.

Ascension is pure mindless entertainment and you may enjoy the Guilty Pleasure of binge watching the entire season on weekend. They never did make a second season, but Season One of Ascension does end with a bang that makes it worth watching.

Read all our T.V. & Movie reviews.

Read When Men Wore Hats – a poem to President John F. Kennedy

Read Naked and Afraid – The Stupid Show Everyone Watches

First Man – The Private life of Neil Armstrong

First Man explores the private life of Neil Armstrong, perhaps the most private, world-famous person who ever existed. Marco Rubio, Fox News and even Buzz Aldrin have called First Man “un-American”. We found First Man to be a beautiful film, which showed that Neil Armstrong was truly an American hero in the best tradition of the word.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in "First Man"
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in “First Man”

Neil Armstrong never sought fame or fortune and never called himself a hero. He was an intellectually gifted engineer, who took space flight very seriously. His ability to keep his emotions in check and stay calm in unimaginably stressful situations is what made him a great astronaut.

Claire Foy as Janet Shearon Armstrong in "First Man"
Claire Foy as Janet Shearon Armstrong in “First Man”

First Flight shows the harrowing flight of Gemini 8 on which Dave Scott and Neil Armstrong were within seconds of dying in space. The valve for a maneuvering rocket malfunctioned and would not shut off. This started the spacecraft spinning faster and faster until it was rotating at 1 revolution per second and accelerating. The astronauts were withing 40 seconds of passing out, after which the Gemini 8 capsule would have become their metal space tomb. Neil Armstrong stayed calm, took manual control from the computer, and saved their lives. He was annoyed later that after the flight, Time Magazine made a cover story of the event.

Janet Shearon Armstrong
Janet Shearon Armstrong

The most important thing in Neil Armstrong’s life was not his NASA career, but his family. Neil Armstrong was devastated when his young daughter died of cancer. After that, he was so upset he had trouble talking about her, even with his wife Janet. During his daughter’s early cancer treatment, Neil Armstrong stayed out of the space program so that he could spend time with his daughter.

Ryan Gosling is perfect as Neil Armstrong. Claire Foy is wonderful as Janet Shearon Armstrong, showing how difficult it is to remain strong and run a family when your husband might die at any second.

Corey Stoll and Buzz Aldrin
Corey Stoll and Buzz Aldrin

Jason Clarke plays Ed White, a fellow astronaut. Ed and Patricia White (played by Olivia Hamilton), were close friends of the Armstrongs.

Olivia Hamilton as Patricia White in "First Man"
Olivia Hamilton as Patricia White in “First Man”

It was devastating when Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee were burned to death during a freak accident on the Apollo launch pad.

The Apollo 1 Astronauts burned to death.
The Apollo 1 Astronauts burned to death.

So why is First Man controversial with some people? They complain that First Man did not focus on the planting of the American flag on the moon, or the fact that 100% of the spacecraft was manufactured in the United States. They complain that First Man showed that there were people who were against the billions of dollars spent on the space program instead of being spent to help poor Americans.

Neil Armstrong and his son Mark
Neil Armstrong and his son Mark

People who call First Man un-American miss the whole point of the show. First Man was not about the country as a whole, or the legend of Neil Armstrong. As the title implies, First Man is about the man Neil Armstrong, who remains shrouded in mystery despite being one of the best known American Heroes in history.

Even after becoming the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong chose to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. He could have gone into politics or made a fortune working for an aerospace company. Instead, he continued working for NASA, and after retiring from NASA ended his career as a college professor.

So what did the people who knew Neil Armstrong best think of First Flight? Neil’s son Mark Armstrong has said that First Man gives a true portrayal of his parents. That is good enough for us.

We Give First Man Five Stars *****

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In the Dark- A Blind, Sexy Detective looks for Love and a Murderer

In the Dark stars Perry Mattfeld as Murphy; a beautiful, blind woman with an enormous appetite for alcohol and sex, who is searching for the murderer of her best friend. In the Dark is an astoundingly good series, originally shown on CW, but now on Netflix.

Perry Mattfeld as Murphy on "In the Dark"
Perry Mattfeld as Murphy on “In the Dark”

Murphy is a very flawed person, and not just because of her disability. She is selfish, lazy and not above using her disability to manipulate people to get what she wants. But we like her nevertheless, since she is completely loyal to her small group of close friends. Murphy’s best friend is Tyson Parker (Thamela Mpumlwana), a teenager who once saved Murphy from a vicious attacker.

Perry Mattfeld & Thamela Mpumlwana on "In the Dark"
Perry Mattfeld & Thamela Mpumlwana on “In the Dark”

Murphy and Tyson developed a close bond, sharing secrets and exploring the city of Chicago. Unfortunately we learn all this in flashbacks, since in the first episode Murphy discovers Tyson’s body in the alley behind her apartment building. Murphy returns to her apartment and calls the police, but when they arrive the body is gone.

Murphy tries to explain to the police that she is sure the body was Tyson’s and that he was definitely dead. She had felt Tyson’s face, but that does not convince the police. They are sure they are simply dealing with an hysterical blind woman who stumbled upon a homeless drunk in an alley.

Murphy decides that if the police are not going to do their jobs, then she and her friends will solve Tyson’s murder themselves. The plot of In the Dark is exciting and intricate, and the acting is superb.

Kathleen York and Derek Webster are Joy and Hank Mason, Murphy’s long-suffering parents. They love Murphy and want what is best for her, but at the same time Murphy finds them frustratingly overprotective.

Perry Mattfeld & Brooke Markham on "In the Dark"
Perry Mattfeld & Brooke Markham on “In the Dark”

Brooke Markham is Jess, Murphy’s roommate, who secretly watches over Murphy by installing a tracking device in Murphy’s iPhone. They share a close bond that overcomes any petty roommate arguments.

Rich Sommer is Detective Dean Riley who believes Murphy about the murder and who tries to help her whenever possible. Dean’s young daughter Chloe (Calle Walton) is blind, and Murphy becomes a much-needed mentor to the little girl

Calle Walton is Chloe on "In the Dark"
Calle Walton is Chloe on “In the Dark”

Casey Diedrick plays Murphy’s “boyfriend”, if she is actually capable of having any relationship with a man long enough to use that term.

In the Dark is one of those rare series that gets more and more interesting as it progresses and the characters become more complex. In the beginning, Murphy seems like nothing more than a semi-alcoholic sex-crazed narcissist. However, we slowly learn what makes her tick and see that she does indeed have wonderful redeeming qualities.

In the Dark is definitely a series worth binge-watching. East Cost Stories gives In the Dark its highest rating of Five Stars.

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The Rook – John le Carré spies in a Marvel Comics Universe

The Rook on Starz is like a John le Carré spy thriller set in a Marvel Comics universe where the secret agents all have superpowers. As odd as that sounds, the combination actually works. The key is that the tone is deadly serious, and never switches the genre into comedy or camp. Emma Greenwell is Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up on a London street at the scene of a mass murder, unable to remember who she is. As The Rook progresses, she discovers that she is part of a secret British government organization and that someone has intentionally wiped out key parts of her memory. Like a John le Carré  novel, the first thing Myfanwy learns is that no one in authority is to be trusted.

Emma Greenwell in "The Rook" on Starz
Emma Greenwell in “The Rook” on Starz

Myfanwy also discovers that she has a special power to defend herself from anyone who tries to attack her, and a lot of people are trying to get her.  In fact, everyone at the secret agency has some sort of power, some more powerful than others. But unlike a Marvel Comics universe, the people in The Rook are “morally flexible”, and often use their powers for purely personal profit and gratification. Adrian Lester is Conrad, whose power is the ability to control other people’s bodies. He is having an affair with a married women, and uses his power to have her husband fall into a deep sleep whenever Conrad wants to have a tryst with his lover. (Not exactly something Captain America would do).

Adrian Lester in "The Rook"
Adrian Lester in “The Rook”

Olivia Munn is Monica, an American agent the British are supposed to work with. However, in traditional British fashion, the Brits are outwardly polite while at the same time giving her absolutely no information or help. Monica herself seems to exhibit instances of extreme physical strength, and must try to solve the murders without the help of the British.

Olivia Munn in "The Rook"
Olivia Munn in “The Rook”

The secret organization is headed up by Lady Farrier (Joely Richardson) who is the only one who realizes that Myfanwy’s memory has been wiped. She tries to help Myfanwy through this crisis, but can she really be trusted? (Speaking of superpowers, Joely Richardson actually demonstrated some in real-life. While filming one of the episodes of The Rook, Joely Richardson spotted a man who was drowning in a nearby river. Joely and the cast and crew of The Rook saved the man).

Emma Greenwell & Joely Richardson in "The Rook"
Emma Greenwell & Joely Richardson in “The Rook”

We recommend taking a look at The Rook. The combination of Sci-Fi and Spy may surprise you.

The Spanish Princess on Starz- Sexy and Surprising

Charlotte Hope is a redheaded, sexy and devious Catherine of Aragon in the Starz series The Spanish Princess. This may come as a shock to people who loved dark-haired Maria Doyle Kennedy as the pious Queen Catherine in The Tudors.  However, Charlotte Hope is much closer to the real Catherine of Aragon than many other portrayals. In fact, many parts of The Spanish Princess that viewers will assume have been added for effect, are really historical facts. Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits:

Catherine of Aragon did have light skin, blue eyes and red hair. Since she was Spanish, basically every movie or T.V. rendition has her with dark hair and often dark skin. In reality, she looked Scottish.

Ruairi O'Connor & Charlotte Hope in "The Spanish Princess"
Ruairi O’Connor & Charlotte Hope in “The Spanish Princess”

In 1501, Catherine of Aragon brought African servants with her to the English court and they turned out to be very popular. In particular, the English liked John Blanke who was known as an excellent trumpeter. For most English people in 1501, these were the first Africans they had even seen.  Most viewers probably assumed that the black servants in The Spanish Princess have been added just to make the show more appealing to modern audiences.  

Stephanie Levi-John in "The Spanish Princess"
Stephanie Levi-John in “The Spanish Princess”

In The Spanish Princess, Stephanie Levi-John is captivating as the real-life Lina de Cardonnes, the Lady in Waiting to Catherine and the first black woman to be a Lady in the English court. Aaron Cobham is Oviedo, a Moor who is the love interest of Lina and who was also a real person. Their fascinating love story shows how they try to serve Catherine loyally while still making a life for themselves. The writers of The Spanish Princess should be commended for focusing on people of color who have been consistently left out of most English histories of that time period.  

Aaron Cobham in "The Spanish Princess"
Aaron Cobham in “The Spanish Princess”

Catherine of Aragon was only 16 when she arrived in England but was already incredibly well educated. She was fluent and Latin and Greek and knew complex mathematics and logic. Members of the English Court who assumed they could outwit this “girl” soon found out they were no match for her sharp mind.

Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon in "The Spanish Princess"
Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon in “The Spanish Princess”

Young Catherine of Aragon was one of the most beautiful women of her time and blatantly used her sex appeal to control the man who eventually became King Henry VIII. When they married, Henry was just 18 and Catherine was 23. We all know that more than 20 years later, Henry would dump Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn. However, in the beginning, the woman who Henry lusted for was Catherine of Aragon.

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon in "The Tudors"
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon in “The Tudors”

Our only complaint about The Spanish Princess, is that Henry VIII (played by Ruairi O’Connor) is portrayed too much like the womanizer Henry became in his later years. The young Henry was, in fact, very serious in his studies of Theology and Music. Since he was the second son, he was never destined to become King until his brother Arthur died unexpectedly.  Henry had lived a very sheltered life and it was assumed he would enter the church or become a composer. It was Catherine who seduced Henry, not the other way around.

Of course, The Spanish Princess is meant to be an exciting series, not a documentary, and in that it succeeds very well.  

Revolutionary Road – Kate Winslet & Leonardo DiCaprio turn from Lovers to Haters

The 2008 movie Revolutionary Road is a shock to everyone who remembers Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as the young lovers from the 1997 film Titanic. In Revolutionary Road Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are April and Frank Wheeler, a 1950’s suburban couple who hate each other.  Revolutionary Road is an incredibly well-made film where the tension and suspense slowly build towards a final explosive ending.

Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet as an unhappy 1950s couple in Revolutionary Road
Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet as an unhappy 1950s couple in Revolutionary Road

In a way, Revolutionary Road is a new version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but in some ways even more shocking. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it is obvious from the beginning that the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor characters loath each other. In Revolutionary Road, April and Frank Wheeler at first appear to have a perfect life, with the small exception that they are slightly bored.

Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

But things start to spin out of control when April comes up with the wild idea that they should drop everything and begin a new life in Paris. The idea is absurd. Neither April nor Frank speak French, they have two small children and no job prospects other than April’s notion that she can work as a secretary for U.S. government agencies in Paris. Nevertheless, Frank jumps at the idea and looks forward to quitting his boring job and “discovering himself” in France.

Kathy Bates as a devious realtor in Revolutionary Road
Kathy Bates as a devious realtor in Revolutionary Road

Then reality and success start to split Frank and April apart. As soon as Frank knows he will been quitting his job, his performance improves. Since he is no longer afraid of being fired, he takes more chances and submits more creative ideas to senior management. This gets him noticed and promoted. There is also the added excitement of beginning an affair with a young secretary.  The more successful he becomes, the more he realizes how idiotic it would be to drop everything and move to Paris.

Zoe Kazan as a sexually harassed secretary in the 1950s in Revolutionary Road
Zoe Kazan as a sexually harassed secretary in the 1950s in Revolutionary Road

April, meanwhile is living more and more in a dream world and makes all the preparations to move, including putting the house up for sale and telling the kids they are moving. She starts to hate Frank when she understands that he no longer believes in the fantasy.

David Harbour & Kathryn Hahn in Revolutionary Road
David Harbour & Kathryn Hahn in Revolutionary Road

What makes Revolutionary Road so good is the extraordinarily powerful cast. Kathy Bates is Helen, a mild-mannered but devious realtor willing to say anything to make a sale. Michael Shannon is Helen’s grown son, who is a PhD in math but also very mentally disturbed.

Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road

He enjoys saying exactly the right things to help drive Frank and April apart. His superior intelligence means he knows precisely which wounds to prod to cause the maximum pain.

David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn are the next door neighbors, who are immensely jealous of Frank and April, but pretend to be their best friends.  Zoe Kazan is the secretary Frank has an affair with. Zoe Kazan perfectly portrays the emotions of a young woman in the 1950’s in a compromising position.

Why didn't Rose move over and let Jack climb onto the door?
Why didn’t Rose move over and let Jack climb onto the door?

One unexpected impact of seeing Revolutionary Road is that it makes us look at the movie Titanic in a whole new light. What would have happened to Jack Dawson and (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) if Jack had not drown in the cold Atlantic? Would they have lived happily ever after, or would they have become a miserable pair, slowly growing to hate the sight or each other? Would Rose have resented being married to an uneducated, unsuccessful artist? Would Jack have longed for all the other women he could have been with instead of Rose? (Or course, the most common question most people ask about Titanic, is “why didn’t Rose just move her fat butt over a little and let Jack climb up onto the floating door with her?”)

Leonardo DiCaprio jokingly addresses the Titanic controversy
Leonardo DiCaprio jokingly addresses the Titanic controversy

Titanic meanderings aside, Revolutionary Road is a powerful film and is well worth watching. Revolutionary Road has top actors at the top of their craft, with a riveting plot and an unexpected ending. We give it our highest rating.

The Lobster – A strange but compelling independent film

The Lobster takes place in a world where single people who cannot find their soulmates are turned into animals. They do get to pick which animal they will be turned into. The Lobster’s main character, David (Colin Farrell) has decided to become a lobster if he cannot find a mate. His logic is that he has always enjoyed the water and lobsters live a long time. Most people choose to become dogs, although beautiful horses are also popular.

Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster
Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell in The Lobster

As with a lot of strange independent films, The Lobster has a cast of well known incredibly talented actors. Most of the characters don’t even have names. Rachael Weisz is a nearsighted woman who is probably the soulmate of David. In the strange world of The Lobster, you cannot just fall in love with someone. You and your soulmate must have the same affliction. Thus, David is attracted to the myopic woman because he also wears glasses. If he had perfect eyesight, the two could not be together.

Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster
Lea Seydoux as the leader of The Loners in The Lobster

Lea Seydoux is the violent leader of The Loners, an outlaw group that has refused to be turned into animals. The Loners live in the woods where they are constantly hunted. They refuse to be matched with anyone, and in The Loner society any paring up is met with extreme punishments.

Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster
Ready to hunt Loners and turn them into animals in The Lobster

One of our favorite characters is a beautiful young woman with constant nosebleeds (wonderfully played by Jessica Barden). Ben Whishaw becomes her “soulmate” by purposely giving himself nosebleeds and pretending they are natural. He has decided that hurting his nose periodically is a better fate than being turned into an animal.

Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster
Jessica Barden & Ben Whishaw celebrate the release of The Lobster

The Lobster is about 100 times more strange than we have been able to describe in this brief summary. Most viewers will hate it, but aficionados of quirky independent films will recognize it as an instant cult classic.

Normally we rate movies in terms of Stars. However, in unusual circumstances we rate movies with question marks. This is for movies where even after you have seen them you are still not sure what they were about. We rate The Lobster Five Question Marks. The last independent film to achieve this rating was Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson.

Whether you love The Lobster or hate it, once thing is certain. You will never forget The Lobster.

We give The Lobster Five Question Marks ?????

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The Naked Bath Murder – Jean Harlow and the 1932 Shocker Red Dust

In 1932 Jean Harlow was completely naked on-screen in the film Red Dust.  She was only 21 at the time. Even more shocking was that while Red Dust was still in production, Jean Harlow murdered her husband, wealthy MGM executive Paul Bern, and got away with the crime. Like most Hollywood legends, this is a combination of fact and fantasy.

Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust
Jean Harlow & Clark Gable in the famous bath scene of Red Dust

Let’s start with the murder. The fact is that Paul Bern did die of a gunshot wound while Red Dust was being filmed. The official story was that it suicide, but rumors swirled that Jean Harlow had killed him. After all, Jean Harlow had already gotten al she needed from Bern, who was twice her age. He had persuaded MGM to hire Harlow, and star her in Red Dust. Who needed him around after that?

Paul Bern & Jean Harlow
Paul Bern & Jean Harlow

In reality, Bern’s death almost cost Jean Harlow the role. MGM was aware of the murder rumors and wanted to dump Harlow from Red Dust. MGM offered the starring part to Tallulah Bankhead. However, Ms. Bankhead always had real class, and she refused to take a movie role away from a young woman whose husband had just died.

Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern
Dorthy Millette who may have been the real killer o Paul Bern

As an added twist to the tale, the most likely explanation is that Paul Bern actually was murdered, but not by Jean Harlow. Decades later, ex-cops and MGM security people admitted that Paul Bern was probably murdered by his ex-lover Dorthy Millette, who was mentally unbalanced. Dorthy Millette had been released from a mental institution the day before Paul Bern’s murder. The day after Paul Bern’s death Dorthy Millette herself committed suicide by jumping off a Ferryboat.

Paul Berne's supposed suicide note
Paul Berne’s supposed suicide note

MGM’s people re-arranged the crime scene to make it look like a suicide, thinking that a suicide would somehow damage the company’s reputation less than a murder. They also created a bizarre hand-written suicide note. At the time of the supposed “suicide” very little police investigation was undertaken. Pointedly, the police did not have a handwriting expert examine the letter to see if it was really penned by Paul Bern. Such was the power of the major movie studios over the police in 1932.

There are also multiple stories about the naked bath. Anyone viewing Red Dust today will quickly see that Jean Harlow does not appear naked on screen. There is implied nudity, exhibitionism and voyeurism, but nothing is actually shown.

Mary Astor and Clark Gable in "Red Dust"
Mary Astor and Clark Gable in “Red Dust”

Red Dust is a story about love and sex on an isolated rubber plantation in French Indochina (current day Vietnam). Clark Gable is Dennis Carson, the owner of the plantation, and Jean Harlow is Vantine, a wild type who shows up from Saigon. It is strongly implied that Vantine is a prostitute on the run.

Dennis and Vantine seem perfect for each other since both are rough and sexually easy going, with the attitude that life should be fun. But this is complicated by the arrival of the married couple Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his wife Barbara (Mary Astor).

Dennis immediately falls for the beautiful sophisticated Barbara, despite the fact that she is a married woman. Vantine, knows that she can never compete with a woman like Barbara and is extremely jealous.

Clark Cable's arms against Jean Harlow's breasts in "Red Dust"
Clark Cable’s arms against Jean Harlow’s breasts in “Red Dust”

However, Red Dust is not known for its forgettable and formulaic plot, but rather for two scenes with Jean Harlow. The first is the naked bath scene where Vantine (Harlow) bathes naked in a rain barrel while Dennis (Gable) stands over her playing with her hair. Dennis is looking straight down into the barrel seeing Vantine nude. He is not even pretending to look away.

The implied sexuality in this scene is so blatant that many viewers of the film swore later that they really had seen Jean Harlow naked. In fact, Jean Harlow’s body is completely hidden by the barrel and the audience sees nothing. Clark Gable’s acting was so good that the look on his face convinced viewers that he really was was staring at a beautiful naked woman. In film it is often the implied actions that are the most erotic.

There is also the movie lore that Jean Harlow really was naked and that after the scene was shot, she stood up and got out of the barrel, giving giving the film crew a full view of her nude body. This is complete nonsense, but members of the film crew were able to get free drinks in Hollywood for years by claiming they had been on set when Jean Harlow paraded around nude.

However, it was another scene that really shocked 1932 audiences. Valentine is leaning back against Dennis and his arms are wrapped around her. Instead of having his arms discretely around her waist, Clark Gable’s arms are definitely around Jean Harlow’s voluptious breasts. There was nothing implied about this. It broke the unwritten rule of what could be shown touching what in a mainstream film, and one of the factors that lead to film censorship a few years later.

Red Dust is amazingly mild by today’s standards, and at the most would get a PG-13 rating. Critics have always panned the acting abilities of Jean Harlow, but considering the circumstances she did an amazing job. Here was a 21 year old woman who was able to perform, while at the same time having the general public whispering that she was a slut and murderer. It is incredible that she was able to take the pressures of that type of life and even show up to work.

Red Dust ends up being the type of film where the story about the movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Many one day someone will make a movie about the making of Red Dust. Now that would be worth seeing.

We rate Red Dust 4 Stars ****

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Quicksand – Sweden mass shooting mystery

Quicksand on Netflix is a chilling series about a fictional mass shooting at a high school in Sweden.   It is a combination mystery, courtroom drama and psychological study. Hanna Ardéhn is high school senior Maja, who is either a mass murderer or a wrongly accused hero and victim.  We first see Maja at the scene of the shooting, covered in blood, and shivering in a state of shock. But there is a high-powered rifle by her side and Maja is the only survivor. Maja is charged with murder and taken into custody.

Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Felix Sandman & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

Quicksand is told in flashbacks of the events leading up to the shooting, and culminates in the murder trial. It is the best crime drama we have seen since The Night of. It is fascinating to see the legal and police procedures in Sweden, which are similar to but still have major differences to those of The United States.

Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
Ella Rappich & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

The key to the mystery is Sebastian (Felix Sandman), the handsome, incredibly wealthy high school senior who changed Maja’s life when he suddenly took an interest in her. She was immediately propelled into a world she never previously dreamed of. Wild parties, vacations on a huge yacht in the Mediterranean and acceptance into what used to be called “the in crowd”. Sebastian simply takes his family’s wealth and superiority for granted. His personal car for driving to high school is a brand new Porsche.  

David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand
David Denick & Hanna Ardehn in Quicksand

We know from the beginning of Quicksand that Sebastian is the mass shooter and that Maja killed him. The police have charged Maja with being an accomplice who helped plan and then participated in the killings. Maja herself is in such a state of shock that she cannot remember exactly what happened that day. Awaiting trial she desperately ties to piece together the events of her past that lead to the violent conclusion.

William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand
William Spetz is Samir in Quicksand

Samir (William Spetz) is another high school senior. He is an Iraqi immigrant, and a top student. Samir is good friends with Maja, who is also an excellent student. Samir warns of the dark side to Sebastian. Samir has seen firsthand that Sebastian is a drug-abusing immigrant-hater.

Quicksand is riveting to watch and the acting is superb. Ella Rappich is Amanda, Maja’s best friend and confidant. David Dencik is Peder, Maja’s defense attorney who is trying to obtain the facts to win the case while at the same time keeping Maja from going completely catatonic.

Hanna Adrehn as Maja in "Quicksand"
Hanna Adrehn as Maja in “Quicksand”

Due to the nature of the crime, Maja is kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Quicksand  (Swedish title Storst av allt) is so well filmed that the feeling of prison claustrophobia is palpable to the audience. Maja is not allowed a cell phone or watch and intensely feels the pressure of having no idea what time it is. When told she will be able to meet with her lawyer in 3 hours, she sits on the floor with her back to the wall and counts off the seconds and continually calculates how much longer she must wait

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We rate Quicksand 5 Stars *****

The Day I made Carol Channing Laugh

Years ago, I shared a laugh with Carol Channing in New York. I was walking down 56th Street towards 5th Avenue. As I turned the corner I almost bumped into Carol Channing coming out of Harry Winston, which is one of the premier jewelry stores in the world. Even then, Carol Channing looked ancient. She was holding onto the arm of a large muscular man who was obviously a chauffeur walking her to the car. It was also obvious that she was so frail she would have fallen over if she was not holding onto the chauffeur’s arm.

Despite this, Carol Channing was “dressed to the nines”, wearing full makeup, and a huge amount of jewelry. When we almost ran into each other I found myself face to face with Carol Channing no more than 1 foot away. Somehow, instead of just saying “excuse me” I decided to take a chance. I looked at Carol Channing and said,

“Visiting your best friends Ms Channing?”

Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly
Carol Channing on stage in Hello Dolly

Other celebrities might have been annoyed at having a fan dare to speak to them directly, but not Carol Channing.  She laughed, and her whole countenance changed. Her face lit up in a smile and she stood up straighter.

Carol Channing reached out and gently touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for remembering sweetie.”

Then, without another word, Caron Channing and the chauffeur moved down the block, and I went on to my appointment on 5th avenue.

Carol Channing, of course, was the original singer of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. This was before Marilyn Monroe performed the song. It was decades before Madonna paid a tribute to the song with the video and song Material Girl. That’s why it was perfect to see this icon visiting a jewelry store. Where else would one expect to find Carol Channing?

Marilyn Monroe performing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".
Marilyn Monroe performing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

Carol Channing never had the beauty of a Marilyn Monroe or the voice of Madonna, but there was something that drew audiences to her. The sheer vibrant enthusiasm of Carol Channing made every performance an event. Audiences loved Carol Channing, especially in New York.

Madonna performing "Material Girl"
Madonna performing “Material Girl”

In addition to movie and Television appearances, Carol Channing performed in literally thousands of stage musicals and comedies. Hello Dolly was perhaps her best known and best loved. Carol Channing continued to perform late into her life. In one of her final Hello Dolly performances, Carol Channing had to do the entire musical while onstage in a wheelchair. Her performance was still terrific and the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Unlike many other celebrities Carol Channing never let her success go to her head and was always willing to make fun of herself. She once performed a duet of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend with Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

Carol Channing performs "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" with Miss Piggy on The Muppets
Carol Channing performs “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” with Miss Piggy on The Muppets

Carol Channing died on January 15, 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday. Thousands of fans throughout the world remember her for her movie and stage work. However, I will always remember Carol Channing for the smile and laugh she shared just with me.

I always found it odd that Carol Channing said , “thanks for remembering”, like somehow the word had forgotten her. There is no chance that fans will ever forget the vibrant unique talent of Carol Channing.

Be sure to read The Real Dick Clark

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Traitors – Spies, Sex & Murder in Post- World War II London

Traitors on Netflix is a perfect spy series where sex, murder and lies are all part of the great game of world espionage. Emma Appleton stars as Feef Symonds a beautiful upper-class young British woman who is recruited by the Americans to spy on her own government. Seduced by the excitement, Feef soon learns that her actions can end the lives of real people, including herself.

Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in "Traitors"
Emma Appleton as the spy Feef in “Traitors”

Michael Stuhlbarg is the American spymaster Rowe, who is a zealot about destroying the beginnings of Communism in the U.K. Rowe is convinced that the new British Socialist government was put into power by the Russians and is being controlled by them.  Rowe is so intense in his beliefs that we are never sure if he is a strategic genius or a dangerous lunatic.

Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in "Traitors"
Michael Stuhbarg is the spymaster Rowe in “Traitors”

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson, Rowe’s American colored driver. (The term African-American did not yet exist). Jackson’s only goal is to earn as much money as he can and Rowe has access to cash. For envelopes full of money, Jackson will silently eliminate problems, or even bodies. As the series progresses, however, we see that Jackson is much more complex than people realize. His greatest asset in the spy world is that everyone underestimates him.

Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in "Traitors"
Brandon P. Bell is Jackson in “Traitors”

A communist threat in post war England was not just something Americans imagined. The Soviet Union was determined to spread its workers revolt worldwide.

Traitors was a joint collaboration between Netflix and U.K. Channel 4, and the British slant really shows. In fact, that is the one part of the series that gets to be a little too much. The Americans are crude violent zealots, while the British, even the British Communists, are multifaceted and sensitive.

Traitors glosses over why the Americans ran their own intelligence operations without consulting the British. It is a historic fact that during this time period any secrets the Americans told the U.K. government immediately found their way to the Soviet Union. The American OSS was not being paranoid when it decided to spy on the U.K. government to stop the leaks.

In real life, it was British class arrogance that allowed the U.K. government to become infiltrated by Communists. The British took it for granted that members of the upper classes who had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge would naturally be completely loyal to The Crown.

"Kim" Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class
“Kim” Philby who the British never suspected as a spy because he came from the upper class

In fact, the Soviet Union had cleverly recruited to Communism students who were from “the best” families in England, and who would be well placed in government after graduation. The most successful of these was Kim Philby who was actually working for the Soviet Union while he was head of all counterintelligence in the U.K. He was not discovered until 1963, and even then escaped to the Soviet Union before British Authorities could arrest him.

Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in 'Traitors"
Keeley Hawes as Priscilla in ‘Traitors”

Traitors ignores these historic facts, but Traitors is not trying to be a historical documentary. Traitors is an exciting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat trying to guess who is really a traitor, and who is just an innocent victim. Emma Appleton is perfect as the sensuous, fragile yet dangerous Feef. Keeley Hawes is wonderful as Priscilla, a high ranking government bureaucrat who feels that women must downplay and hide their own sexuality in order to rise through the ranks in a government dominated by men.

Like all great spy stories, Traitors has plots within plots and people are never exactly who they seem. This combined with the action, eroticism and mystery make it a “must-see series.”

We rate Traitors Five Stars *****

Read – Will Season 3 of The Crown Dare Mention Northern Ireland?

Read all our T.V. & Movie reviews

“Billions” uses The Holocaust as a joke. This is a disgrace.

In its Chickentown episode, Billions uses The Holocaust as a trivial punchline to refer to the  killing of chickens. It is disgraceful that the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is so trivialized that it is compared to the death of chickens. Has American culture really gotten to the point where anything, no matter how horrible, is simply fodder for stupid humor?

Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103
Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for “scientific” experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103

It is bad enough that the United States has growing numbers of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who insist that The Holocaust never actually happened. This Billions episode may indicate that there are even more people who know The Holocaust happened, but simply don’t care. Sadly there has been no protest against Billions. The only fan reaction on the internet was that the Billions Chickentown episode was not very good compared to the normal high quality of Billions.

Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.
Protestors claiming The Holocaust never actually happened.

In the Billions Chickentown episode, trader “Dollar Bill” (played by the aptly named Kelly AuCoin) needs chicken prices to rise or Axe Capital will lose a fortune. However, there is an oversupply of chickens and the price is going to plummet. Dollar Bill calls Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and announces he has found a “final solution” to the overabundance of chickens. After the phone call Bobby asks, “Did he just say what I think he said? Is he talking about a Chicken Holocaust?”

Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.
Kelly AuCoin is Dollar Bill on Billions.

Sure enough, Dollar Bill’s plan is to smuggle a diseased chicken into the stock of healthy chickens, thereby poisoning thousands of birds. Bobby Axelrod ends this idiotic idea. The entire episode was not very good and the comic use of the word Holocaust by the Jewish Bobby Axelrod does not ring true.

Damian Lewis as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, "The Wrong Maria Gonzalez"). - Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg
Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod in BILLIONS (Season 3, Episode 02, “The Wrong Maria Gonzalez”). – Photo: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME – Photo ID: BILLIONS_302_1419.R.jpg

We hope that in the future Billions goes back to its usual superb writing and does not trivialize something as tragic in human history as The Holocaust.

The Inventor – Out for blood in Silicon Valley

The Inventor – out for blood in Silicon Valley – is a fascinating HBO documentary about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the scam artist who was once praised on the cover of Fortune Magazine as the next Steve Jobs. In addition to losing millions of dollars of investor’s money, Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, actually put people’s lives at risk by marketing a blood testing machine that gave false results to patients.

Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.
Older men found Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, irresistible.

Elizabeth Holmes is a type of genius. She was able to identify a real problem in the healthcare system that people desperately wanted fixed, and she offered them a solution. Anyone who has ever had a blood test knows that they are expensive and that the technicians take large quantities of blood from a vein to do even a simple test. Consequently many people risk their own health by avoiding blood tests completely.

Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes
Former Secretary of State Charles Schultz, who still believes in Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes claimed she had invented a machine that could perform 200 blood tests with a single drop of blood, at a fraction of the cost that Quest or LabCorp charged. It was a revolution in the medical field.

The Theranos blood testing machine
The Theranos blood testing machine

However, the real genius of Elizabeth Holmes was her ability to promote herself. She was especially adept at attracting the attention of older, powerful men. Former Secretary of State George Schultz, was one of her most ardent supporters.

Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.
Elizabeth Holmes demonstrates how a tiny droop of blood is all that is needed for 200 tests.

Elizabeth Holmes has incredibly huge blue eyes, porcelain pale skin, a husky voice with an intense manner of speaking. She always dresses in black, trying to present herself as the female Steve Jobs. All of this enabled Elizabeth Holmes to attract a cult-like following of employees and investors.

Theranos was set up in Silicon Valley and the company got to work building the blood testing machine. It was beautiful. The only problem was that after millions of dollars and thousands of hours of testing, the doctors, engineers and computer scientists could not get the machine to work properly. Tests were wrong, blood got spilled, machine parts broke.

The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion
The Theranos headquarters when the company was valued at $6 billion

Elizabeth Holmes reported none of this to her investors. In fact, she stated that the machines worked perfectly. They were put in place in Walgreens stores and blood tests were begun on real patients.

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a fascinating study of the whole disaster. Elizabeth Holmes is not presented as an evil character, but as a complex, possibly mentally unbalanced semi-genius who actually believes her own lies. It seems she truly thought that if she said something enough, it could actual happen.

Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos
Tyler Schultz & Erika Cheung, the whistle blowers who brought down Theranos

Ironically it was Tyler Schultz, the grandson of Charles Schultz, who brought down Theranos. By that time the Silicon Valley start-up was valued at more than $6 billion and Tyler Schultz worked in the labs. He saw that Theranos was giving false medical information to patients. False data that could possibly result in a patient death. Tyler Schultz along with fellow lab worker Erika Cheung became whistle blowers. Tyler went to the Wall Street Journal and Erika to the Food and Drug Administration.

They were both immediately sued and put through Hell by Theranos lawyers. Legal fees for Tyler Schultz were over $500,000. His parents had to drain their personal savings and mortgage their house to help him pay the legal fees. Tyler’s grandfather, former Secretary of State Charles Schultz to this day, still believes that Elizabeth Holmes is an honest woman.

Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune
Elizabeth Holmes on the cover of Fortune

The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley shows the dangers of blindly believing in the hype of every wannabe tech genius. Just wearing black clothes and having a flashy presentation does not make someone a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

In the end Theranos want bankrupt and all the employees lost their jobs. The investors lost all their money and Elizabeth Holmes and other executives are being sued. The only good news is that no one got killed by the Theranos “miracle” machine. As my grandfather used to say, “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

We rate The Inventor – out for Blood in Silicon Valley 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our T.V. Reviews.

Modern Farmer- What Baby Boomers watched before cartoons

Modern Farmer is the T.V. show that taught Baby Boomers from the cities and suburbs all they ever learned about farming. Modern Farmer was on at 6:30 am Saturday mornings and the cartoons did not begin until 7AM. Kids sat through Modern Farmer because they did not want to take a chance of missing even a second of the precious Saturday cartoons.

Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.
Baby Boomers watched Modern Farmer every Saturday before cartoons started.

When Baby Boomers were kids there was no way to instantly get a cartoon. No “on demand” channels, no VCRs or DVDs. Not even an internet. If you missed a cartoon you wanted to see, you had missed it forever.

Therefore, Baby Boomers got up extra early every Saturday and watched Modern Farmer while waiting for the cartoons. Modern Farmer was not a cartoon, and was not even a kids’ show. It was a public service documentary designed to instruct farmers about all the most recent technological advances in American Farming. Modern Farming showed how harvesters and combines worked. It demonstrated the importance of rotating crops, and the most efficient methods of irrigation. It had films of real American farms producing the vast supply of food that is one of the country’s greatest strengths.

Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from
Modern Farmer showed Baby Boomers the complex world of where food comes from

Modern Farming was not designed to be a show to teach kids, but teach kids it did. Children have amazing absorbent minds, and millions of children throughout the United States learned about farming while waiting for cartoons.

Ironically, I remember a lot more about Modern Farming than I do about the Saturday cartoons. To this day, I have a tremendous respect for American farmers and the complexity of their profession, all thanks to Modern Farmer.

The impact of Modern Farmer should have lessons for today’s T.V. producers. Children are much smarter than producer think, and kids have an amazing capacity to learn. Teaching them something worthwhile is up to us.

So what ever happened to Modern Farmer? It actually never went away. Various versions of the show are popular throughout the world. German Farmer, Japanese Farmer and Korean Farmer have all been made.

Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.
Farm Sim is a popular computer game where you try to run your own farm without going bankrupt.

There are even many video farming games where kids can get a feel for how hard it is to run a farm.

Very few Baby Boomers ever became real farmers. Food production in the United States is so efficient that the number of farmers has been decreasing for decades. However, Modern Farmer did teach a whole generation of kids that food does not just magically appear on the table. It gave them an appreciation for a complex and fascinating world just a few miles away from the cities and suburbs.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic stories.

The Green Book – a feel-good movie but a complete lie

The Green Book is a “feel good” movie that also happens to be a complete lie about race relations in America. It is supposedly the true story of pianist Don Shirley’s 1962 tour of the Deep South where he played for all-White audiences. Fearing for his safety, Don Shirley recruited tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga to be his chauffeur.  Though completely opposite personalities, they come to understand and respect each other, leading to a life-long friendship.

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in "The Green Book"
Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali in “The Green Book”

Mahershala Ali is perfect as Don Shirley, as is Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip. The action is exciting and well filmed, and audiences leave the theater feeling uplifted. However, The Green Book has been widely criticized by African Americans, especially Spike Lee, because Hollywood’s portrayal of the 1962 tour does not match what really happened. Here is a list of the major flaws with The Green Book.

The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was distributed by Esso gas stations.

Don Shirley was not playing for White Audiences in the South. It was a tour of historically African American colleges in the South and the audiences were African American. The whole scene of Shirley playing for rich White folks in a private home and then being told he could not use the bathroom never happened. It was a pivotal plot point in The Green Book but was a complete Hollywood fabrication.

Don Shirley
Don Shirley

Don Shirley was not estranged from his family. He had a close relationship with his siblings, nephews and nieces his entire life. Writers Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Peter Farrelly and Brian Currie are all White. They did not contact Shirley’s family while making The Green Book. Nick Vallelonga has openly admitted that he did not even know that any of Don Shirley’s family still existed. Instead, The Green Book portrays Don Shirley as a lonely, isolated man who is “saved” by being invited to dinner with the Vallelonga family. In fact, some members of Don Shirley’s family actually attended many of his concerts in the South.

Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.
Spike Lee does not think The Green Book should have won Best Picture.

The Green Book pretends that racial profiling by police officers only happens in the South. The Green Book has several scenes where Don and Tony are roughed up by Southern policemen who seem to automatically hate all African Americans or Italians. Then when they are returning home, as soon as they cross the Mason-Dixon Line the police become friendly helpers. A police officer points out that their rear tire is flat, and then stays with them to direct traffic around the car in a raging blizzard. Following the logic of The Green Book, relations between the police and the African American community in the Northern city of Chicago must be excellent.

Nick Vallelonga
Nick Vallelonga

The Green Book gives the impression that racial tensions are somehow relegated to the past. After all, the Deep South no longer has legalized segregation and even the police forces are now integrated. Most people today don’t even realize that there actually was something called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a guide to what hotels and dining establishments African American’s were allowed to use in the South. The fact that this legalized racism no longer exists makes audiences feel good about how much progress has been made.  Spike Lee has stated that The Green Book gives a false sense of progress, and is a feel-good movie on race relations designed for an old audience. Spike Lee may have a point. At the theater where we saw The Green Book, the average age of the audience was about 67.

Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in "The Green Book"
Linda Cardellini & Viggo Mortensen in “The Green Book”

The Green Book is a “White Savior” Story. Tony Lip has to teach Don Shirley how to stand up for himself and be tough. Time after time in The Green Book, Tony saves Don from problems brought about by Don’s timid nature, or his own stupidity of going places without bringing Tony along to protect him. This is repeated so often in the film that you begin to wonder how Don Shirley actually survived in the world before he met his White Protector. Hollywood has a long history of making “White Savior” films. These include The Blind Side, Dangerous Minds, and even To Kill a Mockingbird. The mark of a White Savior movie is that its focus is about how heroic the White person is to be helping the unfortunate African American who would be lost without the savior. The main star is the White character, with the African Americans playing only supporting roles.

This may be a little bit of a hard judgment for The Green Book. After all, Don Shirley is portrayed as being immensely more talented, educated and literate than Tony Lip. In fact, the most amusing parts of The Green Book are when Don Shirley helps the almost illiterate Tony write beautiful love letters to Tony’s wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). Don Shirley’s letters are so elaborate and romantic that Dolores begins reading them to her jealous friends.

Tony "Lip" Vallelonga
Tony “Lip” Vallelonga

Overall, The Green Book is an enjoyable film to watch, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you are seeing an actual portrayal of history. We can’t help thinking that it would have been so much better if the writers had taken the time to fully research the events and get input from Don Shirley’s family. It is true that despite their different backgrounds Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga did become lifelong friends. It would be fascinating to know what really happened when the toured the Deep South 57 years ago.

The Thin Man movies – when drunks were funny

In 1934,  a “B” movie titled The Thin Man premiered. Audiences loved it so much, it spawned 5 Thin Man sequels which were given top  “A” billing. The Thin Man movies are still fun to watch, but the first thing modern viewers notice  is how much public attitudes towards alcohol changed, even during the course of the series.

William Powell & Myrna Loy in "The Thin Man"

William Powell & Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man”

William Powell stars as the heavy drinking private detective Nick Charles. He is helped in all his capers by his beautiful upper class wife Nora (Myrna Loy).  As The Thin Man series progresses, we learn that Nora fell in love with Nick partly because she found his world of crime and adventure so much more exciting than her sterile existence as a wealthy socialite.

The beautiful Myrna Loy

The beautiful Myrna Loy

Having people from different social classes fall in love was a popular theme in the 1930s. Most people today do not realize that Blondie was originally a showgirl (which is why she is so well-endowed). Dagwood came from a wealthy family, and it was considered shocking that he would actually marry such a “loose woman”. The Blondie comic strip first appeared in 1930 and Dagwood was disowned by his family when he married Blondie. He was forced to get a job for the first time in his life. That is why Dagwood is such an inept employee.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

Blondie was a showgirl and Dagwood from a wealthy family.

 In The Thin Man movies, Nora is beautiful, intelligent and madly in love with Nick. They were a very modern couple for the 1930s. They treated each other as equals, solved crimes together and were never jealous.

Then there was the drinking. Nick is shown drinking in almost every scene of the original The Thin Man. It is considered an amusing quirk of his personality.

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

Blondie in French 1931-1931. The mismatched couple was popular world wide

The 6 Thin Man movies went from 1934-1947, with Nick drinking less alcohol in each film until he eventually gives up drinking completely. Being a drunk was no longer socially acceptable in American society.

Still, The Thin Man movies are fun to watch and are very cleverly written. The finale of every Thin Man Movie is when Nick and Nora gather all the murder suspects into a single room and reveal exactly who the murderer is. This format has been followed in countless movies and T.V. shows ever since.

So for for some fun, watch The Thin Man movies and see a modern lovely couple solve crimes 84 years ago. And what the heck, have a few drinks while you watch.

 

 

Mary Shelley – the sad story of the woman who wrote Frankenstein

Mary Shelley stars Elle Fanning as the woman who wrote Frankenstein in 1816 when she was only 18 years old. The first addition of Frankenstein in 1818 was published anonymously, since the publisher did not believe the public would take a female author seriously.

Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in "Mary Shelley"
Douglas Booth & Elle Fanning in “Mary Shelley”

Women in 1818 were supposed to admire great works of literature, not actually write any. Lord Byron (excellently played by Tom Sturridge) openly admits that he wants the women in his life to be intelligent enough to see how clever he is, but not so smart as to be able to challenge any of his ideas.

Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of "Frankenstein"
Mary Woolstonecraft Godwin Shelly, author of “Frankenstein”

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin to a radical literary family, Mary had an unusual upbringing to say the least. Her mother had been an outspoken feminist who died shortly after Mary was born. Mary’s father William (played by Stephen Dillane) educated Mary and her half-sister Claire (Bel Powley) in English literature, Greek and Latin.

Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Storridge in "Mary Shelley"
Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth & Tom Sturridge in “Mary Shelley”

However, just being an intellectual does not pay the bills or put food on the table. At the age of 16 Mary runs off with the 21 year old Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). It is obvious to anyone but a 16 year old that Percy is what today we would call a poser and a lech. Percy Shelley is already married, and makes almost no money from his poems. He lives entirely on his father’s money, and when his father cuts him off, Mary and Percy are impoverished. To make matters worse, Mary’s younger half sister Claire has also run off with them and become the under aged mistress of Lord Byron.

The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly's name as the author.
The first edition of Frankenstein did not have Mary Shelly’s name as the author.

Mary Shelley is a excellent film, and shows how the monster in Frankenstein was the manifestation of all the miseries in Mary’s existence brought to life. By the age of 18 Mary had known more sorrow than most people ever have to face in a lifetime. Mary Godwin had been treated horribly by a man she trusted, lived in poverty and had her beautiful baby die.

Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of "Mary Shelley"
Elle Fanning poses for a picture with a fan at the premier of “Mary Shelley”

The “monster” in Frankenstein was actually Mary Goodwin herself. From the moment the monster is born it is treated badly. It searches for love and kindness and instead is met with violence and misunderstanding.

The film Mary Shelley somehow did not get much attention when it was released, but is well worth watching. It is a psychological drama that is also an excellent “period piece”. Elle Fanning is perfect as Mary Shelley, with a combination of intelligence, vulnerability and iron will. Once you see the film Mary Shelley it will change your view of Frankenstein forever.

We Rate Mary Shelley 5 Stars *****

Be sure to read all our movie reviews.

Read about Elle Fanning in The Beguiled -Civil War Sex but no slaves.


Everything Wrong With “The Deuce” – Sex, Corruption & Money in NYC 1971-1978


The Deuce is the HBO series that is supposed to be a realistic look at 42nd street in the 1970s. While fun to watch, it has a lot of factual errors that make it more fantasy than reality. Here are just a few of the errors:

The prostitutes in The Deuce are too beautiful, too clean and too well spoken. Movie and T.V. producers have a long history of glamorizing prostitution. The most extreme example of this was Julia Roberts as a Street Walker in Pretty Woman. Her character was gorgeous, well-spoken and had no pimp,  drug addictions or venereal diseases. The Deuce on the other hand, pretends to portray the “dark side” of prostitution but has been cleaned things up so much that it makes the business look exciting instead of disgusting. Like many so called “gritty” shows about prostitutes, The Deuce could not resist showing beautiful naked women as often as possible. Consequently, The Deuce, ends up sanitizing the entire business of the virtual enslavement of young women as sex workers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Deuce".
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Deuce”.

The Deuce pretends that violent crime in New York was limited to 42nd Street. Season 1 of The Deuce takes place from 1971-1972. Season 2 of The Deuce happens in 1977-1978.  In those time periods, violent crime was rampant throughout New York City. In 1972 there were 2,026 murders in New York City compared to 290 in 2017. In other words, the murder rate in NYC during the time of The Deuce was almost 600% higher than it is now! Anyone watching The Deuce would think that crime on 42nd street was completely due to lazy and corrupt cops. In fact, the NYC police force in the 1970s was simply overwhelmed by crime in every neighborhood in New York.

Times Square 1970s
Times Square 1970s

The real reason the Mafia was interested in X-Rated movies is never mentioned in The Deuce. The Mafia actually did not care if X-rated films were profitable or not. For the Mafia, the most important aspect of companies making X-rated movies is that they were legal businesses that could file tax returns. The Mob needed someplace to hide all the profits from their illegal businesses. Organized crime bosses feared the IRS more than anything else. The Mafia bosses needed “legitimate business interests” that could explain how they afforded their cars, homes, boats and mistresses. The X-rated film industry provided the perfect cover. That is why in 1972 the X-Rated Deep Throat declared on tax returns gross box office sales of $600 million. In that same year The Godfather took in box office receipts of $133 million. No one knows how much the real box office sales were for Deep Throat. The $600 million figure was a way for the Mob to legally declare its income from drugs, gambling, extortion and prostitution.

Did "Deep Throat" really make more money than "The Godfather?"
Did “Deep Throat” really make more money than “The Godfather?”

The Deuce pretends that Mafia involvement in the porn industry is limited to New York City. At the end of Season 2 of the The Deuce, two of the main characters escape the grip of Organized Crime by simply going to California.  Ex-prostitute, turned porn star Lori (Emily Meade), begins a beautiful new life in the Sunshine of Los Angeles. Wearing a lovely white dress, she steps out of the airport into the arms of her rich, handsome, sports car-driving new boyfriend. By leaving New York Lori has escaped cold, dirt, her pimp, and the Mob. It is an idiotic ending. Emily Meade, of course, is also one of the actresses who is far too beautiful to be playing a street prostitute. Her character also has no drug problem or STDs. Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is able to get Mob-free financing from an investor in California.

Emily Meade in "The Deuce"
Emily Meade in “The Deuce”

Eileen also has a happy California ending. Her first X-rated production (Red) was almost completely Mafia financed and as a result she got almost no profit from it. (Mainly because her idiot producer, played by James Franco, sold more than 100% of the movie to 2 different Mafia Capos.)

James Franco in "The Deuce".
James Franco in “The Deuce”.

However, at the end of Season 2 of The Deuce it is implied that Eileen will be able to get future “clean” money from California investors. She will continue to make the films in New York, but the money will come from legitimate California sources.  This scenario is absurd. People in Mafia-controlled businesses do not simply “walk away” and tell the mob bosses that they have found different investors. The 2 New York Capos who financed Red are certainly not going to let Eileen continue to make films in New York without their involvement.  Organized Crime is a world-wide phenomenon. The Deuce implying that the mob is not involved in the California porn industry is ridiculous.  By the way, all the Linda Lovelace scenes in Deep Throat were filmed in Florida.

Despite all its flaws, The Deuce is an interesting and well-acted series. People not old enough to have seen Times Square in the 1970s probably think The Deuce is making things look worse than they really were. In fact, The Deuce is considerably understating the sleaze and dirt of the old Times Square. In the 1970s no one would have believed that in the future Time Square would have been filled with tourists and their small children posing for photos with cartoon characters.

Times Square today
Times Square today

The Deuce  Season 3 is planned for this year. Apparently the time-line of The Deuce will jump to 1980s. This is when the combination of AIDS, cocaine-fueled gang violence and soaring real-estate prices kills or forces out of Times Square all the people who used to call it home. Season 3 of The Deuce will probably be rather depressing. The chance of gay bar owner Paul (Chris Coy) living through the AIDS epidemic seems very slight.

Chris Coy in "The Deuce."
Chris Coy in “The Deuce.”

Of course, the biggest change to the entire porn industry actually  occurred in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet. Once the internet really got going, no one ever had to physically venture out of the house to view porn. The difficult part now is trying to avoid pornographic images.  Prostitution and sex trafficking, of course, still exist but the internet has helped it become more hidden from the general public.

Finally, no one ever called 42nd Street “The Deuce”. It has always simply been known as” 42nd Street” or “Times Square”.

The Deuce does its best to try to recreate a time and place that many New Yorkers would rather just forget. The Deuce fails in  some aspects but is still an intriguing show.

IO – Beauty & Courage on a post-apocalyptic Earth

IO on Netflix is the story of a young woman’s will to survive on Earth long after everyone else has fled to a space station orbiting Jupiter’s moon Io. Though technically a Science Fiction film, Io is more a psychological study of the personal choices  that make us who we are.  Margaret Qualley gives a perfect performance as “Sam” Walden, a research scientist trying to find a way for life to continue on Earth. She is carrying on the work of her father, Doctor Henry Walden (Danny Huston) who vocally tried to persuade people not to leave earth.

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in "Io".

Margaret Qualley & Anthony Mackie in “Io”.

The Earth has been ravaged by events that have left most of the atmosphere poisonous. Small pockets of clean air survive on mountaintops, one of which is where Sam has her laboratory.  She is trying to develop a vaccine which will allow animals and people to breathe the noxious air below. Every day she broadcasts on the radio her father’s speeches, just in case there is anyone left out there to listen. The sacrifice of her research is especially hard for Sam, since she has a boyfriend on the Io space station, who constantly sends messages to her.

Danny Huston in "Io".

Danny Huston in “Io”.

Out of the sky appears a balloon carrying Micha (Anthony Mackie), who has heard the broadcasts and has  come to meet Sam’s father. Micha tells her there is one last shuttle leaving for Io and that they could use the balloon to get to the shuttle. Of course, leaving would mean abandoning the research and giving up all hope of saving life on Earth.

Margaret Qualley in "Io".

Margaret Qualley in “Io”.

We loved this independent film, although Io only got a 42% favorable rating from Netflix viewers. Perhaps the low ratings were because Io has no fast action sequences or dramatic long speeches. There are just people trying to make decisions in situations no one should ever have to face. They are conflicted and unsure what to do, which is exactly how people would really behave in an emergency. There are only 3 actors in the entire movie, and yet they are able to hold our attention and have us care about them.

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Io director Jonathan Helpert

Sam’s last name Walden, or course, refers to Henry David Thoreau’s book about the 2 years he spent living a simple lonely life in Walden Pond Massachusetts. Directed by Johnathan Helpert,  Io is able to capture the beautiful yet lonely existence of a completely independent life.

Io had similarities to Thoreau's "Walden"

Io had similarities to Thoreau’s “Walden”

“FYRE – The Greatest Party That Never Happened” – The Supermodel Scam

FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows the disastrous results when people blindly follow the advice of Kendall Jenner, Supermodels and other social media “Influencers.” The best thing that can be said of the 2017 Fyre Festival in The Bahamas is that nobody got killed or seriously injured. Rich Millennials paid thousands of dollars to attend an exclusive music festival on a private tropical island, where they would be served gourmet food, frolic with supermodels and sleep in luxury accommodations.

Supermodels promoting the Fyre Festival

Supermodels promoting the Fyre Festival

Fyre was supposed to be a Woodstock for arrogant wealthy posers who thought they were just too good to mingle with the unwashed masses who attend all those “non-exclusive” rock festivals. Over 3,000 bought tickets with the “VIP Package” costing as much as $12,000. They expected a time in poser Heaven.

The "gourmet food" served at FYRE

The “gourmet food” served at FYRE

What they got was a trip to Hell, with no music and no supermodels. The gourmet food was water and soggy cheese sandwiches. The luxury accommodations were rain-soaked mattresses inside ripped tents that looked like they belonged in a refugee camp. No electricity, no toilets, no transportation, no security, no medical facilities.   The Festival was cancelled after 1 day and no one got a refund.  People were forced to find their own way back to the airport and try to somehow get home.

The "Luxury accommodations" at the Fyre Festival

The “Luxury accommodations” at the Fyre Festival

The Netflix documentary, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows in fascinating detail exactly how all this happened.  It all began with internet promoter Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule.  They had zero experience in setting up a concert, but they were experts in internet promotion and raising money. They were able to get venture capitalists to invest millions of dollars just on the idea of Fyre.

Kendal Jenner received $250,000 to promote Fyre, while the Bahamian workers laborers never got paid

Kendal Jenner received $250,000 to promote Fyre, while the Bahamian workers laborers never got paid

The initial money was spent to fly Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Bella Hadid and other models to the Bahamas for a promotional shoot. Instead, it ended up being a wild multi-day party with no direction and very little filming.  Some of the professional models were astonished and even shocked. Paying for professional top models is very expensive. Consequently, these women are accustomed to doing very well organized,fast photo shoots that waste no time. Billy McFarland, on the other hand, was throwing away huge amounts of his investors’ money paying models just to play on the beach.

Ja Rule & Billy McFarland promoting the FYRE Festival

Ja Rule & Billy McFarland promoting the FYRE Festival

The promotional shoot should have been a tip off that Billy McFarland really didn’t know what he was doing, but the investors did not seem to notice. The models posted pictures of the beach party on their professional internet accounts, and talk of the upcoming Fyre Festival went viral. What people did not know was that the models and other internet “influencers” were being paid to continually send out postings to promote the festival.  Kendal Jenner was paid $250,000 just to talk about how great the Fyre Festival was going to be. None of the Influencers disclosed that they were being paid for these posts. In addition, there was an entire agency of paid internet professionals working day and night promoting the festival on-line.

(By the way, East Coast Stories never takes any money from anyone. If we give something a good review, it is because we actually liked it).

The FYRE logo was everywhere on social media before the disastrous festival

The FYRE logo was everywhere on social media before the disastrous festival

Investors thought Billy McFarland was a genius. The Fyre Festival sold out with over 3,000 tickets. The only problem was there was no festival. Everyone was working on doing the promotion and no one was actually setting up a festival. There was not enough money left to give people anything close to what had been promised. But the people hired by Billy McFarland tried.

Billy McFarland went to jail for the FYRE fraud.

Billy McFarland went to jail for the FYRE fraud.

Somehow, Billy McFarland was able to inspire a group of very dedicated hard working people to try to set up the physical project. In addition to the people who bought tickets to Fyre, many of the people who worked for the project got very hurt financially. Hundreds of Bahamian laborers spent weeks building stages and infrastructure and never got paid a penny. One local caterer ended up spending $50,000 of her own money to buy food supplies and  pay her workers. All her money was lost.

In the end, Billy McFarland went to jail for fraud and his investors lost all their money. How Ja Rule escaped going to jail is still a mystery. Most of  the people who worked on the project lost money, lost jobs and reputations. People who bought tickets to the festival went home with nothing and were happy to get away uninjured.

For one group, however the Fyre Festival was a complete success. That is the group of Supermodels and Internet influencers that started the whole hype to begin with. Models and internet influencers have learned long ago that, whatever the project, they are always selling a fantasy not reality.

Unlike those gullible enough to believe their posts, Supermodels and Influencers know the difference between the internet and real life. That’s why in real life they follow the motto, always get paid up-front, and don’t do any work until the check clears.”

Vice- A Funny Farce or a Disgusting Insult?

Vice is an amusing political farce, or a vicious attack on an American patriot. It all depends on your preexisting opinion of Dick Cheney. Christian Bale does an amazing job at capturing the voice, mannerisms and physical appearance of Dick Cheney. However, Vice is always meant to show a caricature of Dick Cheney rather than the real person.

Christian Bale transforms himself into Dick Cheney in "Vice"

Christian Bale transforms himself into Dick Cheney in “Vice”

The funniest part of Vice is the “alternate ending”. Dick Cheney does not become Vice President, but instead stays in the private sector, gets himself into fantastic physical condition and travels the world entering Iron Man competitions. Unfortunately, Vice often cannot decide if it wants to be a serious biography or a spoof. It does not work when a film swings back and forth between these two genres.

Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld in "Vice"

Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld in “Vice”

Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld as a wisecracking, somewhat crude individual. However, Steve Carell never is able to accurately portray the absolute arrogance of Rumsfeld which ended up making enemies of both Republicans and Democrats. It is also odd that Vice did not use the most infamous of all Rumsfeld quotes. In 2002 Donald Rumsfeld was asked how long the Iraq War would last. With complete confidence, Rumsfeld replied,

“I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months. But it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that”.

Vice follows Dick Cheney’s rise from a drunken college dropout to the man who ended up being the most powerful Vice President in American history. However, we never learn how Cheney was able to accomplish this. There are large gaps in Vice. We see Dick Cheney as a low level nobody in the Nixon White House. The next time Vice shows Cheney, he has already been Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush and head of Halliburton. In a film about Dick Cheney’s rise to power, why did Vice skip the time period in which Cheney actually rose to power?

Christian Bale & Sam Rockwell in "Vice"

Christian Bale & Sam Rockwell in “Vice”

Sam Rockwell plays President George W. Bush as a complete buffoon, who never notices that he has handed over all his power to Vice President Cheney. Many people have this opinion. An opposing view is that Cheney and Bush were in complete alignment on their political views and that Bush used Cheney to his maximum potential. In any case, President George W. Bush is almost a complete non-entity in Vice, and only appears in 3 scenes.

Alison Pill is Mary Cheney in "Vice".

Alison Pill is Mary Cheney in “Vice”.

The most interesting sub-plot in Vice is the battle over gay marriage between Dick Cheney’s daughters. Mary Cheney (played by Alison Pill) is a lesbian married to a woman. Liz Cheney (played by Lily Rabe) took a strong anti-gay marriage stance when running for the House of Representatives. Liz Cheney won her House seat, but lost the love and respect of her sister forever. We wish that this had been more fleshed out and had been made as a serious stand-alone film. Is Liz Cheney really morally against gay marriage, or did she just take this stand because it was what was required to win in Wyoming?

Lily Rabe is Liz Cheney in "Vice"

Lily Rabe is Liz Cheney in “Vice”

Amy Adams is excellent as Lynne Cheney the wife who demands early in the marriage that Dick turn his life around or she will be gone.

Vice is fun, but it would have been more interesting to see an actual balanced biography rather than a spoof. Perhaps it is still too early for this to happen. Dick Cheney remains such a polarizing figure that it may be decades before any type of neutral treatment is possible.

Thousands of intelligent, ambitious and ruthless people have come to Washington seeking power, but very few of them ever achieve it. Vice never really shows us how Dick Cheney was able to rise to the top while most of the power-seekers remain low level bureaucrats. Like so much in his life, the wizardry that brought Dick Cheney to the pinnacle of power remains a closely guarded secret.

You – A Stalker’s Love Story

Fans of Dexter will love the series YouCan a dangerous stalker really find true love in Soho New York? Penn Badgley is Joe Goldberg, a book store manager who experiences love at first sight when a beautiful young woman walks into his store.

Elizabeth Lail & Penn Badgley in "You"

Elizabeth Lail & Penn Badgley in “You”

Beck (Elizabeth Lail) is a struggling young writer who is the perfect woman for Joe. She shares his love of literature and old books, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Joe and Beck have a flirty conversation in the bookstore and she pays by credit card so that Joe will know her full name and address. Obviously she wants to see Joe again.

However, Joe has already moved past the mere dating stage. He has decided that Beck will be the love of his life and he wants to do everything he can to assure that will happen.  This is when we see that that there is a dark side to this unassuming book store geek.

YOU - Season 1, Episode 2 Penn Badgley and Lou Taylor Pucci star in Lifetime’s new series YOU, Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT. Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime Copyright 2018

YOU – Season 1, Episode 2
Penn Badgley and Lou Taylor Pucci star in Lifetime’s new series YOU, Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT.
Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime
Copyright 2018

Joe becomes a full scale physical and electronic stalker, and unfortunately Beck has been very lax at password protecting her information. Joe also decides to “improve” Beck’s life by saving her from her bad boyfriends and girlfriends.  It is unclear just how far Joe will go to implement his plans. Is he just a little weird, or is there actual violent potential?

The writing and acting in You is excellent. The same way that Dexter got us to cheer for a serial killer, You has us rooting for a Stalker.  We like Joe Goldberg, since his motivations and insights are real. Beck does have a narcissistic boyfriend who takes Beck for granted, and her girlfriends are no better.  Beck’s  “friends” are all rich girls who treat Beck like a poor step-sister. They consider her attempts to be a writer an unrealistic waste of time.

Beck is a nickname. Her real name is Guinevere, like King Arthur’s wife. This is very appropriate, since Joe sees himself as an ancient Knight, protecting the beautiful Guinevere from the dangers of the world.  However, the questions is now much is Joe really willing to do to protect Guinevere? Is he willing to kill for his true love?

Lou Taylor Pucci is Benji, who is Beck’s current boyfriend and the man Joe must get out of the way if he wants to win Beck’s heart. Benji is a total jerk. Great looking, rich and conceited, he only uses Beck for quick and meaningless “hook-ups”.  Lou Taylor Pucci is perfect at  playing the kind of guy that all other guys instantly hate.

Shay Mitchell as Peach Salinger in "You"

Shay Mitchell as Peach Salinger in “You”

Shay Mitchell is Beck’s friend Peach Salinger, who wants Beck around as long as Beck is unsuccessful and subservient. Peach is wealthy, incredibility beautiful and also connected to the New York publishing community. (Yes, she is related to J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher In The Rye.) Despite this, Peach does nothing to help Beck. Peach likes Beck as a struggling writer; not a successful one.

Peach is the biggest threat to Joe’s happiness. Being a natural predator herself, Peach sees right through Joe’s nice guy routine. Peach senses there is a  danger to Joe that Beck is to naive to notice. Peach makes it her mission in life to beat Joe at his own game.

You was originally on the Lifetime Channel and now can be seen on Netflix. Take a look, and we think you will immediately be drawn in to the exciting world of You.

The Death of Stalin – a Funny Movie about an Evil Man

The Death of Stalin is a farce about the struggle for power in the Soviet Union after the death one of the most evil men that ever existed. It is hilarious, as long as you don’t concentrate too much on the fact that the events were real.

The Death of Stalin movie is not for everyone

The Death of Stalin movie is not for everyone

The year is 1953 and the people of the Soviet Union live under the constant threat that anyone at any time might suddenly be taken away by the Secret Police. Joseph Stalin has executed by the thousands his perceived enemies -real or imagined.

Olga Kuryenko in The Death if Stalin

Olga Kuryenko in The Death if Stalin

It does not sound like this could make a comedy film, but somehow, The Death of Stalin actually works. It shows in a comedic way the absurd lengths people will go to in order to avoid doing anything that may even slightly displease Stalin.

Andrea Riseborough & Steve Buscemi in "The Death of Stalin"

Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough & Steve Buscemi in “The Death of Stalin”

The Death of Stalin opens up with a beautiful classical music concert which is being broadcast on the radio. Stalin is in his dacha enjoying the broadcast. He calls the concert hall and tells them he liked the recital so much that he will be sending men over to the concert hall to pick up a copy of the recording.

Steve Buscemi & Jeffrey Tambor in The Death of Stalin

Steve Buscemi & Jeffrey Tambor in The Death of Stalin

The problem is that while the concert was being broadcast it was not actually being recorded.  Of course, no one dares tell Stalin that. The only solution is for the musicians to immediately perform the entire concert again from the beginning and record it. Half the audience had already left, and the conductor points out that the acoustics will be bad in a half-empty hall.  The concert hall manager is forced to literally drag workers off the street to fill the hall.

Jason Isaacs in The Death of Stalin

Jason Isaacs in The Death of Stalin

Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev, who has worked out a system to make sure he always pleases  Stalin. In The Death of Stalin, Khrushchev comes home after a night of heavy drinking with Stalin. Before Khrushchev goes to sleep, he writes down exactly which jokes and subjects Stalin did or did not like that night. Khrushchev  would review these notes before his next visit with Stalin as if he was studying for an exam. In real  life, Khrushchev actually did this, which only shows that even the highest level people in the Soviet Union depended completely on keeping Stalin happy.

Khrushchev wanted to make sweeping changes to the Soviet Union, like releasing thousands of prisoners from the gulags, and removing restrictions on writers. However, if Stalin ever found out about these plans, then Khrushchev himself would have been sent to a gulag.

When Stalin suddenly dies, you would think it would be a time for celebration. Instead there is open panic. Beriya (Simon Russell Beale), the head of the Secret Police, plans to replace Stalin and begins arresting and executing  anyone who gets in his way.

Caught in the middle of all this is the beautiful concert pianist Maria (Olga Kurylenko). She wants to make a stand and  writes a letter directly criticizing Stalin. Khrushchev feels protective of Maria, since at one time she had given piano lessons to Khrushchev’s niece. Khrushchev must go to extreme lengths to keep the naive, idealistic Maria from being executed.

Throughout The Death of Stalin, all of the actors use their real accents. You are always aware of who they really are, which is part of the point. They are are doing an absurd spoof of a period in time which is almost too terrible to be shown literally.

The real Field Marshal Zhukov

The real Field Marshal Zhukov

One of our favorite actors in The Death of Stalin is Jason Isaacs who plays Field Marshal Zhukov, head of the Soviet Army. Zhukov is the one man who is not afraid of Stalin. The real Zhukov was one of the toughest men that ever walked the Earth, and the one man Stalin was afraid to have arrested. Stalin considered Zhukov a rival, but Zhukov was so popular with the rank and file for the Soviet Army that Stalin never dared touch him.

Khrushchev and Zhukov have a mutual hatred of Beriya, and plan to eliminate that monster. Beriya may control the State Security Forces, but Zhukov has the entire Soviet Army.

Jeffrey Tambor is Malenkov. Theoretically he is second in command after Stalin. However he is a weak individual easily manipulated by the stronger men around him.

1936 file photo shows Joseph Stalin holding his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin. Svetlana defected in 1967 and settled in the U.S., dealing the Kremlin a very public and bitter humiliation. (AP Photo/File)

1936 file photo shows Joseph Stalin holding his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin. Svetlana defected in 1967 and settled in the U.S., dealing the Kremlin a very public and bitter humiliation. (AP Photo/File)

Andrea Riseborough is Stalin’a daughter Svetlana. It takes her a while to understand how much danger she is in once he father dies. No one looking to take the top leadership wants anyone with the name Stalin around anymore.

By the end of The Death of Stalin you will be laughing, while at the same time thinking, “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this.”

Derry Girls – A Northern Ireland Comedy during The Troubles

Derry Girls on Netflix is a comedy about a group of Irish Catholic school girls in Northern Ireland during the violent period known as “The Troubles”.  It may seem odd to have a situation-comedy set during one of the darkest periods of a country’s history, but the show is brilliant and hilarious.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O'Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls was created and written by Lisa McGee and every episode is great. The occupation of Londonderry by the British Army is always in the background, but it is not the main focus of the girls’ lives. Derry Girls shows how young people tend to live in their own special world of adventures, petty jealousies and enduring friendships, no matter what is going on in the adult world.

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in "Derry Girls

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in “Derry Girls”

In one episode, the girls find a little dog and convince themselves that it is their old dog risen from the dead. They are even able to persuade a young naive priest that this miracle must be investigated. It is only the school principal who notices that this “miracle” investigation happens to be taking place on the same day that the girls would otherwise be taking a difficult history exam that none of the girls had studied for.

Lisa McGee - writer and creator of Derry Girls.

Lisa McGee – writer and creator of Derry Girls.

In an especially moving episode, the girls are at school doing a silly dance for a talent show. Unbeknownst to them, a deadly bomb has just exploded in another part of Londonderry. The juxtaposition of joy and tragedy highlights the complexity of growing up during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The cast of Derry Girls is wonderful. Siobhan McSweeney is Sister Michael, the school principal whose dry sense of humor is one of the highlights of every episode.  She has developed such a fan base of her own that  entire websites have sprung up devoted to quotes from Sister Michael.

Jamie-Lee O'Donnell poses with a fan.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell poses with a fan.

Dylan Llewellyn is James, an English cousin who has been forced to move in with his Irish relatives in Derry. James has to attend the girls Catholic school, since it would be too physically dangerous for an English boy to attend school with the Irish Catholic boys. He eventually becomes accepted by the girls and fits in to their group.

Ian McElhinney is Granda Joe whose main joys in life seem to be tormenting his son in law, and hating the Protestants.

Louisa Harland is Orla, a likable but somewhat crazy schoolgirl who may be the world’s worst dancer.  Saoirse-Monica Jackson is Erin, who realizes that the main problem in Derry is that everyone knows everything about everybody else all the time.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell plays Michelle, one of our favorite characters in Derry Girls.  Michelle is the trouble maker of the group. Her friends never seem to learn that any idea Michelle comes up with is bound to get them all in trouble.

Nicola Coughlan is Claire, the tiniest member of the group, who is perpetually worried and who  holds a secret not revealed until the last episode.

Derry Girls has become very popular in the United States. However, many Americans watch the show with the subtitles tuned on, since they find the Northern Irish accents just too hard to follow. We urge Americans not to use the subtitles, and you will be amazed at how quickly your ear becomes accustomed to the language and slang. Constantly reading the subtitles can make you miss the subtle nuances in tone and dialect that are a part of the presentation.

Derry Girls is a breath of fresh air in a land of look-alike comedies. We loved it.

Is “High Maintenance” actually an anti-drug show?

HBO’s High Maintenance took on a distinctly anti-drug vibe in the last episode of Season 2. The Guy (Ben Sinclair)  is revealed to be a loser with no friends and nothing in his life except drugs. In High Maintenance’s Googie episode The Guy has a broken arm and as result he is forced temporarily outsource the drug business to an Uber Driver (Abdulla Saeed).

Ben Sinclair in The Googie episode of High Maintenance

Ben Sinclair in The Googie episode of High Maintenance

A series of events happen to The Guy that reveal his life is really at a dead end and is  going nowhere.  The Guy goes to a restaurant where he is recognized by a fellow he once knew at college. (Interestingly, The Guy actually went to Vassar class of 2006, which makes The Guy about 33 years old. This is one of the few pieces of personal information we ever learn about The Guy.) As The Guy sits alone at the bar, he sees that his old buddy is now a successful entrepreneur sharing business stories with a table full  of other successful people.

With his days off, the Guy has no friends he can call to spend time with and nothing to occupy himself except take psychedelic mushrooms. When The Guy finally leaves his apartment, he wanders aimlessly  around, looking like the type of crazy person all New Yorkers instinctively know to avoid. When The Guy tries to helps a little girl get her ball back, the girl’s mother immediately takes the girl and runs away.

Katja Blichfeld & Ben Sinclair the writers & creators of High Maintenance

Did Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld put an anti-drug message into a show where the hero is a drug delivery-man? Is the High Maintenance Googie episode warning us that drugs are not really as cool as they seem?

Sinclair at the "underground weed party" for the press.

Abdullah Saeed & Ben Sinclair at the “underground weed party” for the press.

The Guy at first seems t have a terrific life, but it is really all fake. There are a lot of people who are friendly with him, but he has no actual friends. All the friendly people are his drug customers, who don’t even know his name. The Guy lives hand to mouth, and at any minute could end up doing long jail time. Personal possession of marijuana may be semi-legal, but dealing marijuana still carries a jail sentence. The Guy must lie to his father about what he does for a living. His girlfriend cannot even be  bothered to visit him in the hospital when he breaks his arm. His girlfriend ends up leaving him and Season 2  ends with The Guy all alone.

Every episode of High Maintenance is terrific. Season 3 of High Maintenance premiers on January 20, 2019. It will be interesting to see if any of the anti-drug theme continues, or if the Googie episode was a one time event. Either way we want only good things to happen to The Guy in the future.

The “Endless Summer” Movie – Beauty and Innocence in 1966

In 1966, the documentary Endless Summer premiered, and America fell in love with surfing. What strikes us most about Endless Summer is the pure innocence of the film. Two surfers travel around the world looking for the perfect wave, yet there were no security concerns. No hours in  long lines at airports, no sub-machine gun carrying guards in public spaces. Has the world really changed that much since 1966, or were the surfers living in a fantasy world even then?

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

In 1966 America fell in love with Endless Summer

Endless Summer stars surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August, and is filmed and narrated by Bruce Brown. It was a low budget documentary, but it still holds up as a beautiful film. Bruce Brown was able to get some incredible surfing footage, especially considering that he was working with a hand-held camera. Much of the time, Bruce Brown is on a surfboard himself while he is filming Mike and Robert.

Michale Hyson in 1966 - Everybody wanted to be that cool.

Michale Hyson in 1966 – Everybody wanted to be that cool.

The 3 young men literally travel the world looking for the perfect wave. They visit Africa, Tahiti, California and Hawaii. They do, in fact, find the perfect wave in South Africa. They find a deserted beach, that had medium sized waves that come in at a perfect angle for long rides. Mike and Robert are able to surf on a single wave for over 45 minutes. And every wave at this South African beach is exactly like the one before.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Teenagers throughout the world wanted to be cool, and in 1966 nothing was cooler than an American surfer. The Beach Boys had released the album Surfin’ Safari in 1962 and it was a smash hit. Their publicity agents hid the fact that only 1 of the Beach Boys actually knew how to surf.

Robert Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Michael Hynson & Robert August in Endless Summer

Endless Summer in 1966  was pure escapism.  Dreaming about spending your life searching for the perfect wave was a way for people to forget about what was really going on in the world.  President Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, American troops were in Vietnam, the Soviet Union was at the height of its power and racial tensions were growing.

Bruce Brown - a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

Bruce Brown – a pioneer in the art of filming surfers

In fact, in South Africa Nelson Mandela was in prison at the same time the surfers were riding the Perfect Wave not many miles away. Mandel would remain in prison for another 25 years after the surfers left South Africa.

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

Only a handful of surfers in the world are qualified to ride the big waves

So take a look at Endless Summer and see it for the beautiful film it is. However don’t get overtaken by nostalgia and believe that was the way the World was in 1966. Rather, Endless Summer is a glimpse into how everyone wanted the world to be. Beautiful people riding perfect waves on clean empty beaches. A never-ending paradise in a world that is always sunny and full of love and adventure.

Mister Baseball – Tom Selleck’s best movie

The 1992 film Mister Baseball stars Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot, a major league baseball player who is sent off to play in Japan. There Jack acts like the stereotypical Ugly American. Jack is loud, condescending and thinks that Japan has nothing for him. Slowly he comes to the realization that the Japanese do have something to teach him about baseball, and more importantly, about life.

Tom Selleck in "Mister Baseball"

Tom Selleck in “Mister Baseball”

Mister Baseball is a fascinating look at sports and everyday life in Japan. The Japanese love the American game of baseball, but they play it very much with a Japanese style. Teamwork and harmony are valued more than individual “showboat” behavior, something which does not fit with Jack’s style.

Tom Selleck & Ken Takakura in Mister Baseball

Tom Selleck & Ken Takakura in Mister Baseball

Of course, there is a reason that Jack was demoted from the American Major Leagues and sent to play in Japan. A onetime home-run leader, his batting average had dropped and no American team wanted him. However, the Japanese manager Uchiyama (Ken Takakura) feels he can break Jack’s bad habits and make him a better baseball player than ever. If only Jack will listen.

Aya Takanachi & Tom Selleck in Mister Baseball

Aya Takanachi & Tom Selleck in Mister Baseball

Even if you are not really into “sports movies” we think you will like Mister Baseball. It is actually more about interpersonal behavior than about baseball. All of the characters and actors are terrific.  Aya Takanachi is Hiroko, the beautiful advertising executive who is assigned to help Jack film Japanese T.V. commercials. Hiroko refuses to be treated like the bimbos Jack liked in America. Hiroko is soft spoken and polite, but Jack soon discovers that she is also as tough as a bar of steel.

Toshi Shioya is Yoji, who has been assigned as Jack’s translator, is a master diplomat. Yoji helps make Jack popular in Japan, by purposely mis-translating most of what Jack says. Yoji translates Jack’s rude comments about Japan so that they come out as poetic compliments.

Toshi Shioya is the diplomatic translator in Mister Baseball

Toshi Shioya is the diplomatic translator in Mister Baseball

Dennis Haysbert is Max “Hammer” Dubois, a fellow American ballplayer who has been on the Japanese team for a number of years. The Hammer is as big and powerful as Jack, and takes the time to explain how things really are for foreign athletes working in Japan.

Dennis Haysbert in Mister Baseball

Dennis Haysbert in Mister Baseball

Mister Baseball is a fun movie to watch. There are conflicts but no violence. In some ways, Mister Baseball is like the Rocky of Baseball.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore – A Quirky Comedy

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is the perfect movie if you feel that rude, nasty people have taken over the world and that being a good person is no longer valued in our society. Melanie Lynskey stars as Ruth, a sensitive nurse trying to survive in an insensitive world. Just when it seems that everyday life cannot get any worse, Ruth comes home to find that her house has been broken into and all her things stolen.  The police are no help and seem to simply blame Ruth for not having better locks on her house.

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Elijah Wood & Melanie Lynskey in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

But Ruth has a secret weapon. Her stolen computer has as tracking device built into it, and Ruth discovers that her computer is in another house just a few miles away. Ruth triumphantly brings this news to Detective Bendix (Gary Anthony Williams). She is shocked to discover that the detective cannot just drive over and arrest the thief. There is no search warrant and a convoluted system to try to get one. A bigger issue is that Detective Bendix is going through an emotional crisis of his own and is much more concerned about his upcoming divorce than anything as insignificant as a stolen laptop.

I Don't Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore - a dark comedy with a violent streak.

I Don’t Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore – a dark comedy with a violent streak.

Ruth decides to take action on her own and enlists the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), an introverted geek. Together they surprise the people with the stolen laptop and demand it back. They barge in, act tough and successfully intimidate the people into giving the  computer back.

Gary Anthony Williams in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Gary Anthony Williams in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

This is when I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore starts to take a very dark comedic turn. It turns out the people with the stolen computer did not know it was stolen, and bought it at a flee market. Ruth and Tony decide to track down the real thieves and bring them to justice.

Christine Woods as a bored housewife in "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore"

Christine Woods as a bored housewife in “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”

The problem is that the real thieves are a group of dangerous, violent professional criminals. Ruth and Tony, on the other hand, are simply two average suburbanites pretending to be tough. Tony carries around nunchucks and a throwing star. However, the only thing he knows about real fighting is what he has seen in movies and video games.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is hilarious and the acting of all the characters is superb. The plot has a number of unexpected convoluted twists, mixing farce, comedy and action. You want Ruth and Tony to succeed at their idiotic plans.

In one scene, they decide to pretend to be police, but they need badges. Their solution is to purchase boxes of a kids’ cereal that has inside it a free “junior detective badge.” Christine Woods plays a wealthy housewife who lets herself be interviewed by these two “detectives”. She knows immediately that they are not real cops, but she is so bored that she is happy to let these two strangers into her house and pass the afternoon with them.

We will warn you, however, that the film turns more and more violent as it progresses, although still in a comic way. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is definitely not a kids’ movie.

I Don’t Feel At Home Alone In This World Anymore is fun because it never gets “preachy” or tries to take itself too seriously. It is just a comedy about two lonely, sensitive  geeks trying for once to stand up to the so-called real world.

Escape At Dannemora – A Riveting Prison-Break Series

Showtime’s Escape At  Dannemora is an exciting mini-series based on the true story of an escape from an upstate New York prison. It takes pace at the Clinton Correctional facility, which  is a bleak, cold version of Hell, located in the Village of Dannemora, New York. Convicted murders are sent to this frozen wasteland to serve life sentences far out of sight from the civilized people of the world.

Benicio Del Toro & David Morse in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro & David Morse in Escape At Dannemora

In 2015, two murders escaped from this prison with the help of a middle-aged  female prison employee. We are not spoiling the series, since this fact is known from the first scene of Escape At Dannemora. The plot then takes us back in time and details exactly what happened.

Ben Stiller behind the scenes on Escape at Dannemora (Episode 4). -Photo: Christopher Saunders/Showtime

Ben Stiller behind the scenes on Escape at Dannemora (Episode 4). -Photo: Christopher Saunders/Showtime

The cast is one of the best ensembles of actors that ever worked together. Escape At Dannemora is directed by Ben Stiller, in a complete switch from his usual comedic work. His direction is amazing, with the ability to show the loneliness and desperation at the  prison with the sweep of a singe camera shot. Somehow, Ben Stiller was able to get permission to film at the actual prison where the escape took place.

Patricia Arquette in Escape At Dannemora

Patricia Arquette in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro is Richard Matt,  one of the murderers who is the the mastermind of the escape plan. Richard is tough enough to have the respect of the other prisoners, but clever enough to win favors from the guards and civilian workers at the prison. Richard is a talented artist, and paints beautiful pictures and portraits as gifts for the guards.

Benicio Del Toro & Paul Dano in Escape At Dannemora

Benicio Del Toro & Paul Dano in Escape At Dannemora

David Morse is prison Guard Glen Palmer, who knows that his real job is simply to make sure that nothing violent ever happens at the prison. He is willing to make deals with “boss cons” and even use his tremendous physical  strength to smack some prisoners around when needed.

Paul Dano is David Sweat, a cop killer and the second member of the escape plan. He is young and not too bright, but he has developed a sexual relationship with civilian worker Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette). David is using this relationship only to get extra food. It is Richard who realizes that they may be able to manipulate Tilly into helping them escape.

Escape At Dannemora is a story of the loneliness and desperation of the people who polite society does not want to think about. The Guards and Civilian workers are as much prisoners as are the actual inmates.  The Guards and Civilian workers spend their lives in confined areas outnumbered by dangerous violent men. A combination of boredom  and fear permeate all aspects of their lives.

The inmates have to look out at the vast woods of upstate New York knowing that this will be the only view they will see for the rest of their lives. This situation leads to a slow, inevitable build up of pressure that eventually must explode.

Alone in Berlin – 2 Old Germans Who Stood Up To Hitler

Alone in Berlin is the true story of middle-aged couple Anna (Emma Thompson) and Otto (Brendan Gleeson) who tried to oppose Adolf Hitler. In was an incredible act of bravery in Nazi Germany, but Anna and Otto felt they had nothing left  to lose, since their only son had already been killed in combat.

Brendan Gleeson & Emma Thompson in "Alone in Berlin"

Brendan Gleeson & Emma Thompson in “Alone in Berlin”

It is hard for us in the modern era to understand how difficult it was to oppose Hitler within Germany. There was no free press, no cellphones and no internet on which to post anonymous comments against the government. The couple hand-wrote postcards critical of Hitler and the government and secretly left them in public buildings where people could find and read them.

Adolf Hitler at the height of his power.

Adolf Hitler at the height of his power.

When the postcards began to show up, Germans who found them were petrified. They knew it was dangerous even to read something like this. People who found the cards were afraid that the police had placed the cards as a trap to test German’s loyalty. Distributing anything critical of Hitler was considered treason and was a death penalty offense.

Daniel Bruhl in "Alone in Berlin".

Daniel Bruhl in “Alone in Berlin”.

However, Otto and Anna were relentless and soon had placed more than 100 cards throughout Berlin. When people began turning the cards into the police, the SS Officers and high ranking Police officials were furious. They needed to catch the anti-Hitler writers and punish them as an example to other dissenters.

Postcard placed by Otto & Elise Hampel

Postcard placed by Otto & Elise Hampel

Police Inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhl) thinks it will be easy to catch these traitors, but they are far cleverer than he imagines. There are no fingerprints on the postcards, no witnesses, and no clear pattern of where they are distributed. What he does not know is that Anna and Otto are hiding in plain sight. No one really pays attention to an ordinary looking middle-aged couple. The Police and SS did not have  that profile in mind when they think of a resistance fighter.

Otto & Elise Hampel - true German Heros

Otto & Elise Hampel – true German Heroes

Anna and Otto know their small gesture cannot stop Hitler. However, Otto is a master machinist and he likens their post cards to putting sand in the German war machine. He says that a little sand will not destroy the gears of a machine. However, if the movement catches on, more and more people will throw sand in the gears, and perhaps the terror of the Nazis will grind to a halt.

Hans Fallada - author of the book Alone in Berlin

Hans Fallada – author of the book Alone in Berlin

The Film Alone in Berlin is from the novel by Hans Fallada. The real people were named Otto and Elise Hampel, and they actually did place cards around Berlin just as in the movie.

Berlin at the end of World War II

Berlin at the end of World War II

Of course, we all know that Hitler was not stopped by resistance from within.  However, the bravery of the Hampels can still be admired all these decades later. We also know from history that there were many thousands of Germans who hated Hitler but who were simply too afraid to say anything, much less take any action. Alone in Berlin is the story of two  old people who showed true bravery in the face of absolute evil.

My Dinner With Herve – The last interview with Herve Villechaize

The HBO Original movie My Dinner With Herve, stars Peter Dinklage as Herve Villechaize, the French actor best know for his role as Tattoo on Fantasy Island. The dinner takes place shortly before Herve’s suicide, as Herve attempts to reveal the truth about of his life.

Jamie Dornan & Peter Dinklage in "My Dinner With Herve"

Jamie Dornan & Peter Dinklage in “My Dinner With Herve”

Herve is being interviewed by Danny Tate, (Jamie Dornan), an Irish journalist who was told to write a short funny piece basically ridiculing Herve Villechaize. However, Herve is having none of that. Herve knows the world treats him as a joke. Herve decides to take control of the interview himself and give the journalist the story of a lifetime.

My Dinner With Herve takes us on a wild ride through the sad and tumultuous life of Herve Villechaize. Throughout the movie, we are never quite sure exactly what parts of the story are true and which are myths created by Herve himself. The movie is based on the actual wild evening Herve spent with Sacha Gervasi, who wrote and directed  My Dinner With Herve.

Herve Villechaize & Sacha Gervasi on a wild night out

Herve Villechaize & Sacha Gervasi on a wild night out

Herve decides to open up to this particular journalist since he recognizes a kindred spirit. Danny Tate is a recovering alcoholic who is at a low point in his own personal life and career. The only reason he was assigned to interview Herve is because none of the other reporters wanted to waste their time with such as has-been.

Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack in The Man With The Golden Gun

Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack in The Man With The Golden Gun

Herve Villechaize came from a wealthy French family.  His mother always was ashamed that Herve was a dwarf, and never showed any kind of love.  Herve’s father was a doctor, who kept trying to cure Herve’s dwarfism. While Herve just wanted to spend time and play with his dad, the father was constantly subjecting Herve to experimental and painful quack medical treatments.

Peter Dinklage & Andy Garcia in "My Dinner With Herve"

Peter Dinklage & Andy Garcia in “My Dinner With Herve”

How exactly Herve became a star is still a mystery. In My Dinner With Herve, he simply shows up in Hollywood, threatens talent agent Marty Rothstein (David Strathaim) with a knife, and thereby gets himself a top agent. Of course, this is a myth made up by Herve himself.

Herve Villechaize’s rise and fall was chronicled in the tabloids. Herve was cast as Nick Nack in the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun, and overnight he became world-famous. However, the money did not last long. His whole life, Herve was a womanizer and spent money like water. He was down t his last penny when he was cast on Fantasy Island, at a salary of $35,000 per week. Unfortunately, Herve’s own self destructive behavior ruined it all.  Drinking, wild parties, a marriage and a divorce, and temper tantrums on the set. Like many other Hollywood stars before and since, Herve Villechaize threw it all away.

My Dinner With Herve, takes place many years after Herve’s tabloid heyday, yet he is still trying to come to grips with the mistakes of his past. The acting and casting in My Dinner With Herve are wonderful. Every part is played to perfection.  Jamie Dornan brings a wonderful complexity to the role of Danny Tate.  Danny comes to realize how hypocritical it is for him to criticize celebrities in his articles, while his own personal life is such a complete mess. Andy Garcia becomes Ricardo Montalban in looks an mannerisms to the point where it seems like Ricardo Montalban was somehow reincarnated for the movie.

Of course , New Jersey native Peter Dinklage is perfect has Herve. We had the pleasure of seeing Peter Dinklage in person in Basking Ridge New Jersey when he helped his mother and brother raise money for the Somerset Hills Chorus. Peter Dinklage brings a powerful presence to any role he is in. My Dinner with Herve is one of his best performances.

Kidding – if Mister Rogers was on the edge of insanity.

In Showtime’s Kidding, Jim Carrey plays “Mr. Pickles”, who is exactly like Mister Rogers except that Mister Pickles is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. Kidding is a wonderful series, and explores what it is like to try to be a truly good person in a violent and unfair world.

Danny Trejo & Jim Carrey in "KIdding"

Danny Trejo & Jim Carrey in “KIdding”

For a long time life was perfect for Jeff Piccirillo (Mr. Pickles). He had a children’s show loved by the world. He and his beautiful wife Jill (Judy Greer) had twin sons. Then the unthinkable happens. A stoplight malfunctions. His wife and children are in a horrific car accident and one of the boys is killed.

Catherine Keener & Frank Langella in "Kidding"

Catherine Keener & Frank Langella in “Kidding”

How does a family recover from that? In the real world, many families never recover. Jeff and his wife separate, and the remaining child, William (Cole Allen), begins acting out in school and hanging around with older troublemakers.

Judy Greer, Jim Carrey & Catherine Keener at the premier of "Kidding"

Judy Greer, Jim Carrey & Catherine Keener at the premier of “Kidding”

While all this is going on, Jeff must still be the happy Mr. Pickles to the world. He has to show up to work every day and sing happy songs to adoring children and parents who love him. And the truth of it all is that Jeff (Jim Carrey) actually is a good person who believes the world can be a wonderful place.

Ginger Gonzaga plays Jim Carrey's cancer-patient girlfriend in "Kidding"

Ginger Gonzaga plays Jim Carrey’s cancer-patient girlfriend in “Kidding”

Jeff wants to use his own tragedy as a learning experience for children. He does a wonderful, gentle episode talking to kids about death, but the production company won’t allow that episode on the air. The production company is controlled by Jeff’s father Sebastian (Frank Langella). Unlike the gentle Jeff, Sebastian is a nasty son of a bitch who is more interested in the money than the message.

Bernard White & Cole Allen on the set of Kidding

Bernard White & Cole Allen on the set of Kidding

Instead of trying to help his son, Sebastian wants to replace him with an animated Mr. Pickles. A cartoon character would never get depressed or try to introduce messages that would make the sponsors uncomfortable. The real Fred Rogers made sure to never commercialize Mister Rogers. Unfortunately Sebastian has turned Mr. Pickles into a money making machine, with advertisers and product tie-ins to toys and kids food.

The cast in Kidding is terrific. Judy Greer is wonderful as the wife who can no longer take being married to “America’s saint.” She no longer wants to try to be forgiving and happy all the time. She hates the driver who smashed into her car, and thinks it is not natural that Jeff tries to find “meaning” in every event.

Catherine Keener is Jeff’s sister Deirdre. She loves Jeff, but still agrees with her father that Jeff needs to be replaced. It does not help that her own personal life is a mess, with her husband Scott (Bernard White) leading a double life.

Cole Allen (William) is perfect as the troubled surviving twin son. Most shows do not know how to properly portray kids just entering their teens. Most shows either have the parts played by people in their 30s, or else the lines are like nothing a real kid would say. Kids and teenagers don’t handle tragedies the same way adults do. They tend to shut down, act out or both. Cole Allen has remarkable acting skills even at his early age.

Ginger Gonzaga is Vivian, a beautiful cancer patient who Jeff befriends while he is touring a hospital as Mr. Pickles. The two quickly become passionate lovers, but others question if the relationship is healthy. Has Jeff really fallen in love or has he purposely chosen a woman who he knows will not be on this Earth for very long? Is Jeff so afraid of losing another loved one that he went out of his way to pick someone who he knew ahead of time he is going to lose?  Vivian herself is aware of this situation and questions the relationship. However, she and Jeff are kindred spirits who can show each other their deepest fears and emotions.

Kidding is a wonderful show. It is a dark comedy without ever getting too dark or too silly. Jim Carrey plays Jeff as complex and conflicted individual who we want good things to happen to.

  • We give Kidding 4 Stars **** The only reason we did not give it our highest rating of 5 stars is that it has a couple of raunchy sex scenes that the series would be better off without. Some of the gay sex jokes are a little much and don’t really fit with the tone of the rest of the show.
  • Be sure to read all our T.V. & Movie Reviews.

4 Movies Trump Needs to See To Make him a Better Person

There are 4 movies that Donald Trump needs to watch, in order to make him a more knowledgeable and compassionate human being.

Lincoln – This film stars Danial Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, and chronicles Lincoln’s  fight to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in The United States. Lincoln’s great fear was that even after the Civil War ended slavery would continue in the Southern States and that former slaves who had escaped to the North would have to be returned to slavery. Three years after Lincoln’s assassination, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which made all people born in the United States citizens. This was required so that former slaves would not exist in a netherworld where they were called “free”but did not have the rights of citizens.  It is this Fourteenth Amendment that Trump erroneously believes he can eliminate with the stroke of a pen. Trump still does not understand The Constitution and seems to think he was elected King rather than President.

Abraham Lincoln was afraid slavery would continue even after the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln was afraid slavery would continue even after the Civil War

The movie Lincoln shows that it was the Republican Party which pushed for the freedom of slaves and the rights for dignity of all people. It is sad and painful that this compassionate Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln has now degenerated into a grotesque mob of haters that welcomes gun-toting, bomb throwing Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.

Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind"

Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly in “A Beautiful Mind”

A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, Princeton’s mathematical genius.  Nash proved mathematically  that the best solutions to conflicts are ones where all sides do what is best for the group as a whole. This solution also ends up being the best solution for each individual participant. Trump continues to approach every negotiation with the long-ago reputed Zero Sum Theory. Trump believes that the only way the United States can get anything worthwhile is to take it from someone else. This has led to the disastrous policy of ever increasing tariffs, which simply raises prices and destroys wealth in The United States and throughout the world.

Larry Hagman & Henry Fonda in "Fail Safe"

Larry Hagman & Henry Fonda in “Fail Safe”

Fail Safe –is a film about nuclear war starring Henry Fonda and Larry Hagman. Donald Trump has often threatened to launch nuclear weapons, completely ignoring the hundreds of thousands of people who would die as a result. Trump also seems to think there would be zero risk to Americans if he were to attack another country with nuclear weapons. In Fail Safe, a glitch in a computer circuit erroneously sends a coded message to American B52 bombers telling them to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. There is a desperate scramble to try to prevent the attack. The Soviet Union vows immediate retaliatory strikes. Mr. Trump should learn from Fail Safe that there no such thing as playing with nuclear weapons. A nuclear strike is not a lawsuit against a business rival (for which Donald Trump is famous). Killing hundreds of thousands with the most destructive weapons ever devised is not a game. Once the nuclear bombs begin there is no way to predict when they will stop.

Max von Sydow in "Voyage of the Damned"

Max von Sydow in “Voyage of the Damned”

Voyage of the Dammed is based on the 1939 voyage of the MS St. Louis ocean liner which was taking Jews out of Nazi Germany. When the world was criticizing the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany, Hitler played a clever political game. Hitler authorized 937 Jews to leave Germany on the MS St. Louis. The problem was that other countries did not want these refugees. The ocean liner went to Cuba but was denied entry. The ship  then turned to the United States hoping for sanctuary. Instead of helping the fleeing Jews,  America sent out destroyers to meet the ship and threatened to sink the MS St. Louis if it tried to enter American waters. Hitler loved this. It validated the Nazi view that Jews were a “problem people” that no one wanted. The MS St. Louis had to wander around the Atlantic until finally The United Kingdom, Belgium and France agreed to each take a portion of the Jewish refugees. About 400 ended up in The United Kingdom. Of the remaining 537 who went to France, Belgium and The Netherlands, most were rounded up and sent to concentration camps when Germany later invaded those countries. Many of the people died in the camps. All would have survived if The United States had welcomed these pour souls instead of chasing them away with destroyers. Today Donald Trump is sending armed troops to chase away desperate people fleeing persecution in Guatemala and other countries. These woman and children will be no match for U.S. soldier’s guns. But when they are turned back is it really a proud day for America? Are we proud the United States sent the Jews of the MS St. Louis back to concentration camps?

Maybe if Donald Trump watches these it will give him a little historical perspective on how Presidential power should be used.  We don’t think so, but in these desperate times, anything is worth a try.

The 4 Best Thanksgiving Movies & T.V. Episodes

Here is our list of the 4 Best Movies & T.V. Episodes with Thanksgiving Themes.

Planes Train and Automobiles. This 1987 movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy continues to hold up as one of the funniest and most moving Thanksgiving films ever made. Steve Martin is Neal Page, a Chicago executive willing to do anything to get back home to Chicago in time for his family Thanksgiving. That is, Neal is willing to do anything except actually be nice to the people around him and notice that he is not the only person in America trying to get home. His nasty attitude makes him his own worst enemy and constantly sabotages his chances of getting home for Thanksgiving. Neal is helped by the happy, optimistic and somewhat crazy salesman Del Griffith, perfectly played by John Candy.

Steve Martin & John Candy in "Planes Trains and Automobiles"

Steve Martin & John Candy in “Planes Trains and Automobiles”

Del makes friends wherever he goes, and never gets angry or lashes out when things go wrong. One the other hand, Neil is so self-centered that he never once stops to wonder why Del is spending so much effort to help a stranger make it home. When Del’s secret is finally revealed it still brings tears to our eyes. John Candy’s performance in this scene is incredibly moving.

Unfortunately, John Candy died in 1994 at the age of 43. His performance in Planes Trains and Automobiles demonstrates that he had the talent to become a truly great dramatic actor. The word lost this talented Canadian far too soon.

Frank Bonner and Gordon Jump in "WKRP in Cincinnati" "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly"

Frank Bonner and Gordon Jump in “WKRP in Cincinnati” “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”

WKRP in Cincinnati Turkey Bombs Episode 1978, has been replayed on T.V. every Thanksgiving for the past 39 years, but is still funny. It is hard to believe there is anyone in America who has not seen it. The WKRP sales manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) and station owner Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump) hatch a plot to give a Thanksgiving surprise to the people of Cincinnati. What they don’t tell anyone is that the surprise consists of the release of live turkeys from a blimp over a crowd of unsuspecting Cincinnati citizens. While wild turkeys are beautiful in flight, domestic farm turkeys are too fat to ever get off the ground. Herb and Mr. Carlson release 100 farm turkeys from the blimp expecting them to soar though the sky. Instead they plummet to the ground like 20 pound bombs, smashing windshields, and causing the waiting crowd to run for cover.

Richard Sanders in "WKRP in Cincinnati"

Richard Sanders in “WKRP in Cincinnati”

The funniest part of the episode is Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) reporting the event on the radio exactly like it is the 1937 Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst New Jersey. Richard Sanders does a perfect impression of radio reporter Herbert Morrison, who broke down on air while reporting the Hindenburg crash.

BEWITCHED - "Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember" - Airdate: November 23, 1967. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY;DICK YORK

BEWITCHED – “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember” – Airdate: November 23, 1967. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY;DICK YORK

Bewitched – Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember (1967), where the entire family is transported back to the original Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving through a magic spell. Darin (Dick York) is so worried that the Pilgrims will figure out that Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) is a witch that he fails to pay attention his own behavior. Darin’s use of modern language and slang quickly gets him branded as a witch. Bewitched was a silly, fun show with an ensemble cast of actors that truly enjoyed with each other. Dick York eventually had to leave the show; unable to work due to severe back problems. Actors in those days did not get paid the enormous sums they make today, and Dick York had real financial problems later in life. Despite his health and financial problems he never complained, and spent huge amount of time working tirelessly to help the homeless.

Rocky – Most people do not think of Rocky as a Thanksgiving movie, but Rocky is a film that shows the dark side of Thanksgiving. Rocky is not really a boxing film. Rocky  is a movie about lonely people trying desperately to prove  that they actually matter in the world. When Paulie (Burt Young) ruins Thanksgiving dinner, Adrian (Talia Shire) tells Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) how upset that made her. Rocky, responds, “to you its Thanksgiving. To me its Thursday.”

To many people Thanksgiving is the worst day of the year. People who are alone and desperate see television and movies over and over emphasize that everyone else in America is spending the day with loving friends and family. No wonder that Thanksgiving has one of the highest suicide rates of the year.

Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

Rocky is not about winning a boxing match. Rocky is about Rocky, Adrian, and Micky (Burgess Meredith) all winning their self respect. Paulie never does quite get his self respect, but he does have Adrian and Rocky continue to  stand by him, despite his faults.

You may notice that we don’t have any new shows on this list. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but we really fell that these old shows captured the true spirit of the holiday.

We at East Coast Stories wish our readers a happy Thanksgiving. If like , Rocky you find that the day is not Thanksgiving but just another Thursday, don’t despair. There are thousands of people who feel just like you. Things will get better.

Drinking Buddies -Can a man really be “Just Friends” with a beautiful woman?

Drinking Buddies is a clever independent film about 4 people who each seem to be with the wrong partners. The plot revolves around people work at a small craft brewery. It is nice for a change to have a film where the characters are not cops, doctors or lawyers. They are real people with real issues, that need to be solved without car chases, gunfights or dramatic court scenes.

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson in "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate (Olivia Wilde) works at Revolution Brewing with her best friend Luke (Jake Johnson). There is no romantic connection, but they love playing practical jokes on each other and telling silly jokes at lunchtime. Every night Kate and Luke go out with the rest of the workers for drinks and food. In fact, Revolution Brewing seems like the kind of place we would all love to work.

Anna Kendrick & Ron Livingston in "Drinking Buddies"

Anna Kendrick & Ron Livingston in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate and Luke both have full time partners. Luke lives with Jill (Anna Kendrick), who is a Special Education teacher with a masters degree.  She is very different than Kate. Jill is shy and introverted, whereas Kate is outgoing to the extreme. Jill never really gets cray while Kate  loves beer perhaps a little too much.

Olivia Wilde & Ron Livingston in "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Ron Livingston in “Drinking Buddies”

Kate’s boyfriend is Chris (Ron Livingston), an intellectual who loves books, nature and hiking. He invites Jill and Luke to spend a weekend with he and Kate at his beautiful cabin in the woods. Don’t worry, Drinking Buddies does not suddenly turn into a horror movie. No killer in a Halloween mask suddenly comes out of the lake. However,it does become obvious that the matching of the couples seems wrong. Jill and Chris want to spend the time hiking and enjoying nature while Kate and Luke are happy to spend all their time drinking beer, staying indoors playing board games and telling stupid jokes.

A badly written movie would have them all simply switch partners at the cabin, but real life is more complicated than that.  Drinking Buddies takes a realistic approach. The weekend ends with relationships supposedly unchanged. However, you can tell that the encounter has altered forever the way they all think about each other.

Could a man really be "just friends" with Olivia Wilde?

Could a man really be “just friends” with Olivia Wilde?

We will not spoil the plot by going any further, other than to say that the ending is beautiful and satisfying.

Some people might find Drinking Buddies too slow-moving. There never is a real action scene. If you are expecting a Hollywood blockbuster type of plot then Drinking Buddies is not for you. However, if you love independent films where the characters are real, then we hope you enjoy Drinking Buddies as much as we did.

Advice and Consent – A film about a Senate confirmation hearing with Sex, Blackmail and Perjury

Advice and Consent is the 1962 movie about a Senate confirmation hearing where sex, blackmail, and perjury become more important than the technical qualifications of the nominee. Henry Fonda stars as Robert Leffingwell, who has been nominated by the President (Franchot Tone) to be the Secretary of State. He is a controversial pick, and his nomination sets off a no-holds barred fight with both pro and con forces using every dirty trick possible.

Henry Fonda facing a Senate inquiry in Advice and Consent

Henry Fonda facing a Senate inquiry in Advice and Consent

At the time Advice and Consent was released, audiences thought it was an exciting but ridiculously “over the top” piece of fiction. In 1962, the American public still believed in the dignity and decency of its public officials. Of course, that was decades before the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

Former Vice President Richard Nixon was offered the role of Vice President  in Advice and Consent, but turned it down. Richard Nixon said Advice and Consent  contained too many obvious errors about how the government actually functions.

However, Advise and Consent does have former Arizona Senator Henry F. Ashurst, who had served 30 years in the Senate. He was 87 years old when Advice and Consent was filmed. Ashurst plays an old Senator who sleeps through most of the proceedings, but who vehemently shouts “Opposed!” whenever something disturbs his slumber.

Advice and Consent shocked 1962 audiences by broaching the subject of homosexuality, and for the first time on the silver screen showing a gay bar. In Advice and Consent, one of the married Senators had a homosexual affair in college, and he is being blackmailed to pressure him to vote in the proper direction.

Charles Laughton & Walter Pidgeon in the 1962 film Advice and Consent

Charles Laughton & Walter Pidgeon in the 1962 film Advice and Consent

The casting in Advice and Consent was a deliberate snub at the McCarthy-era investigations. Many of the actors cast in Advice and Consent had been directly impacted by the Hollywood “black list”. It was also risky to cast Charles Laughton in a film that mentioned homosexuality. Charles Laughton was one of the few actors who were openly gay in 1962.

The 1962 film Advice and Consent was considered exciting fiction that could never actually happen.

The 1962 film Advice and Consent was considered exciting fiction that could never actually happen.

There have been few films that had such an all star cast as Advice and Consent. In addition to Henry Fonda, Advice and Consent features Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and Betty White. A part was even offered to Martin Luther King Jr. He was to play an Ambassador, even though in 1962 The United States did not actually have any African-American Ambassadors. However, Martin Luther King Jr. felt that appearing in Advice and Consent would take focus away fro his civil rights work.

Clarence Thomas & Brett Kavanaugh

Clarence Thomas & Brett Kavanaugh

Advice and Consent is an excellent film and is fascinating to watch from today’s perspective. One interesting point is that in Advice and Consent, all the really dirty tactics, accusations and  attacks take place out of view of the American public. Unlike today’s televised hearings, in Advice and Consent, the Senators were able to keep the really unsavory working of the government hidden from the general population. Perhaps this was better. As Prince Otto von Bismarck once said, “no one really wants to know how the sausage is made.”

Mississippi Grind – a losing gambler meets his Mississippi savior

Mississippi Grind on Netflix is the story of a losing gambler and his last chance to set his world right.  Ben Mendelsohn is Gerry, a down-and-outer who owes everybody money. Gerry keeps making things worse by trying to gamble his way out of his debt. Gerry’s world suddenly changes when he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) at a poker game in Dubuque Iowa. Curtis is everything Gerry is not. Curtis is handsome, well dressed, personable and most of all; a winner.

Ryan Reynolds & Ben Mendelsohn in Mississippi Grind

Ryan Reynolds & Ben Mendelsohn in Mississippi Grind

Curtis takes Gerry under his wing and Curtis’ luck begins to change. He starts to win. The two gamblers become friends and Curtis forms a wild plan to solve all of Gerry’s problems.  They will drive south on roads following the Mississippi River and stop to gamble at every legal and illegal establishment they know. By the time they reach New Orleans they will be rich.

Of course it is an idiotic idea, but you want them to succeed. Gerry is a self-destructive loser but you can’t help liking him. Curtis, on the other hand, is something of a mystery. No one could possibly be as relaxed and easy going as Curtis pretends to be. As the trip progresses we begin to see his dark side and worry if he is simply leading Gerry on a path of destruction.

Mississippi Grind accurately depicts how true gamblers are driven more by the need for excitement and companionship than they are by the money. Gerry and Curtis will bet on anything. Poker, Blackjack, Roulette, Dog Races and even flipping coins are just some of the things they try. Telling stories about past big wins and losses and famous gamblers they have met are all part of the fun.

Curtis tells one story which perfectly describes the mindset of a pure gambler. He says that a man went to a Los Vegas casino with only $60 in his pocket. He gambled all day and into the night and kept winning until eventually he had $10,000. Then he bet the entire $10,000 on one roll of the dice, and lost it all. As the man left the casino someone asked him “Aren’t you upset that you just lost $10,000?” The gambler smiled and happily replied, “What are you taking about? I only lost $60.”

Alfre Woodard is a cold as ice bookie in Mississippi Grind

Alfre Woodard is a cold as ice bookie in Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind is a fascinating movie, and it is nice to see a “buddy-movie” that is not about cops. The plot is great and the acting superb. Even the actors with small scenes in the film are terrific. Alfre Woodard is a bookie who meets Gerry in a diner and who seems genuinely concerned about Gerry. Then when Gerry admits he does not have the cash to pay his debts, a whole different side to the bookie is revealed.

Sienna Miller in Mississippi Grind

Sienna Miller in Mississippi Grind

Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton are Simone and Vanessa; casino waitresses/part time prostitutes who Curtis and Gerry stay with for a short time. Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton make these characters complex and in depth instead of going for the easy stereotype stock characterizations.

Analeigh Tipton & Ben Mendelshon in Mississippi Grind

Analeigh Tipton & Ben Mendelshon in Mississippi Grind

`There is a building tension as Mississippi Grind progresses. Curtis keeps talking about the need to know when to finally quit and walk away from it all. He calls it “Machu Piccu Time.”  This is when you give up the gambling life and go someplace far away and relaxing, never to gamble again. The only question is, will he have the strength to follow his own advice?

BlacKkKlansman – a powerful film of race relations in America – NOT a comedy

BlacKkKansman is a powerful and moving film about race relations. Unfortunately it is being marketed as a light comedy. BlacKkKlansman is the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American Colorado police officer who went undercover to expose the Ku Klux Klan and its violence in the late 1960s & early 1970s.  BlacKkKlansman is a clever film, since it tricks audiences by starting out as a silly comedy, and then slowly becomes more and more serious as the movie progresses.

John David Washington & Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman

John David Washington & Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman

At first, the whole idea seems ridiculous. How could a black man go under cover in the Ku Klux Klan? It starts with detective Ron Stallworth (perfectly played by John David Washington) answering an ad which is looking for new members in the Ku Klux Klan. Ron thought he would just get some literature in the mail which he could then file in the police records. Instead, he ends up speaking to the head of the local Klan, and getting invited to a meeting.

Adam Driver & John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver & John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

Of course, Ron cannot possibly attend the meeting himself, so he sends an undercover White police officer instead. The undercover cop is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who as the name suggests is Jewish. Flip has to hide this fact, since the Ku Klux Klan hates Jews at least as much as it hates black people. The Klan also hates Catholics, Hindus and Muslims.

John David Washington, Laura Harrier, Adam Driver & Spike Lee at the premier of BlacKkKlansman

John David Washington, Laura Harrier, Adam Driver & Spike Lee at the premier of BlacKkKlansman

Meeting the Klan members is when we begin to get hints that the movie is going in a whole new direction. The Klan members have illegal guns and explosives and plan to use them. Some of the members are active duty Army soldiers and have been stealing explosives from the military.

Topher Grace as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman

Topher Grace as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman also shows the African-American side of this same period in American history. Some aspects of the late 1960s and early 1970s always seem silly. Giant Afros, sequined Bell Bottoms, and people using expressions like “right-on brother.” However, behind this silliness, were serious life-changing issues. As well as reporting on the Ku Klux Klan, Officer Ron Stallworth has been assigned to infiltrate the Black Student Union at the local college, to see if anyone is considering violent action against the police. There he meets and immediately falls in love with Patrice (Laura Harrier), the beautiful head of the Black Student Union. He cannot tell her who he really is, especially when she refers to all police officer as “pigs” and reserves her highest hatred for Black police officers. Ron keeps trying to convince her that the system can be changed for within.

Heather Danielle Heyer - murdered by a neo-Nazi

Heather Danielle Heyer – murdered by a neo-Nazi

The acting in BlacKkKlansman is powerful and comes from some unexpected sources. David Duke is played by Topher Grace, who most people remember best as Eric in That 70s Show. He is frighteningly realistic in the role as David Duke, the national director of the Ku Klux Klan. He is the well-spoken, reasonable face of the Klan. He states openly that his goal is to make the racist views of the Klan more and more acceptable to main stream America, until eventually a White Supremacist can get elected to the White House.

Harry Belafonte in BlacKkKlansman

Harry Belafonte in BlacKkKlansman

The most moving scene in BlacKkKlansman comes from Harry Belafonte, as Mr.Turrentine, an old man who is brought in as a guest speaker to the Black Student Union. He describes in graphic detail an event he witnessed as a young man. A friend of his had been accused of raping a White woman, and a crowd tortured, castrated and lynched the accused man. None of this is shown on screen. We just see the old Mr. Turrentine and hear his words. Somehow that is more powerful and real.

Trump statement about the KKK and David Duke

Trump statement about the KKK and David Duke

BlacKkKlansman is one of the best movies we have seen this year. It is also the most depressing, because there is the overwhelming feeling that things have not gotten better. The movie ends with news footage showing the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville Virginia, with gun toting White Supremacists carrying Nazi Flags. The news footage shows James Alex Fields drive his car into the crowd of peaceful counter-protestors, killing Heather Danielle Heyer. The film then switches to President Donald Trump refusing to condemn the White Supremacists and, in fact, stating that many of the Unite the Right group are “good people.”

So, BlacKkKlansman is a film that sneaks up on the audience and takes it in a totally unexpected path. That is part of what makes it so good. We saw BlacKkKlansman in a very crowded theater and yet there was dead silence when the movie ended. The stunned audience filed out quietly with their heads down; ashamed that America’s racial issues have not been solved, and frightened that perhaps they never will be.

Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee – delightful & fascinating

Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, is a fascinating look at well-known comedians when they are not on stage. Jerry Seinfeld is the perfect host, letting the guests lead the conversation. As the talking meanders during coffee and lunch, the celebrities open up much more about themselves than they ever do on the structured late-night talk shows.

Sarah Jessica Parker & Jerry Seinfeld

Sarah Jessica Parker & Jerry Seinfeld

The setup of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is exactly what the title says. Jerry Seinfeld picks up the celebrity in a car, and the first part of the conversation takes place in the car while they are driving to the coffee shop. However, Jerry Seinfeld does not just use any car. He specifically picks a car that evokes strong emotions for that celebrity. Sarah Jessica Parker was thrilled when Jerry Seinfeld picked her up in an old Ford LTD Station Wagon.  For Sarah Jessica Parker the station wagon brought back fun memories of her childhood, when she would ride in the way way back with the other kids.

Jerry Lewis & Jerry Seinfeld. Notice the mobster's pinky ring on Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis & Jerry Seinfeld. Notice the mobster’s pinky ring on Jerry Lewis

For Jerry Lewis, the car chosen was a Spider sports car, which is exactly the type Jerry Lewis owned when he was a young playboy. Jerry Lewis’ appearance on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was his final interview before his death, yet his mind was still sharp as a tack and he had fascinating stories. Jerry Lewis always wears a gold pinky ring, and he explained that it was given to him by a member of organized crime. Lewis said that in the old days organized crime was very big in the comedy nightclub circuit. Jerry Lewis referred to gangsters as “the boys.” Jerry Lewis explained that if one of “the boys” gave you a pinky ring as a sign of friendship then you better wear it all the time, in order to show respect to that gangster. Once you wore that ring it was a symbol other gangsters recognized, and they would come up to you and ask who gave it to you.

Jay Leno & Jerry Seinfeld

Jay Leno & Jerry Seinfeld

Jay Leno also had a gangster story from when Leno was a young comedian. Leno got a call from one of Frank Sinatra’s assistants asking Leno to perform at Frank Sinatra’s birthday party. Leno told the assistant that unfortunately he was booked at a club in the Catskills for the entire month, and would not be able to make Sinatra’s birthday. The assistant politely thanked Leno and hung up. Ten minutes later, Jay Leno’s agent called with the news, “the Catskills club doesn’t need you anymore.”  Leno got the hint, and ended up performing at Frank Sinatra’s birthday party.

Michael Richards seed the battered van Jerry Seinfeld has chosen for him

Michael Richards seed the battered van Jerry Seinfeld has chosen for him

The Michael Richards interview was perhaps the most revealing. Michael Richard’s, of course, played Kramer on Seinfeld. After the Seinfeld show ended, Richards tried to go back to stand-up comedy, with spectacularly disastrous results. His jokes were not funny. In 2006, he responded to an African –American heckler by unleashing a torrent or screaming racial slurs. It was all captured on a cell phone video and went viral, thus making Richards an instant pariah.  When Michael Richards was on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, we wondered if he or Jerry would mention the racial incident, or just ignore it completely.

For quite a while in the interview, Michael Richards was simply doing his shtick and being his character. Then he finally loosened up and got real. He talked  about how ashamed he was of that rant and how he had lost sight of who he really was and the fact that he was supposed to be on stage to bring enjoyment to people . He also thanked Jerry Seinfeld for standing by him during those dark times. Appropriately, the car chosen for Richards was an old Volkswagen van which had been converted into a flatbed delivery vehicle. It was battered and rusted but somehow still chugging along. Just like Michael Richards himself.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is worth a look. Jerry Seinfeld, of course, is at a stage in his career where he no longer has to worry about achieving fame or financial success. He is relaxed and at ease and does Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee for the pure love of his craft and his fellow comedians.

Marcella – A British Detective series with a Dark Psychological twist

Marcella on Netflix is a murder mystery, with the added twist that the investigating detective might be a murderer herself. Set in modern-day London, the police are trying to track down a brutal serial killer before the murderer strikes again. Anna Friel is Detective Marcella Backland whose personal life is a disaster. Her husband Jason (Nicholas Pinnock) is an ice-cold corporate lawyer who walks out of the marriage to be with his beautiful and wealthy mistress. Shortly after that, his mistress turns up murdered in the same  style of the serial killer that Marcella is tracking. Is it coincidence, or did Marcella just find a perfect way to kill her husband’s mistress and get away with it?

Nicholas Pinnock & Anna Friel in "Marcella"

Nicholas Pinnock & Anna Friel in “Marcella”

No one suspects Marcella, and even she does not know if she is the murderer. For years, Marcella has been hiding the fact that she suffers periodic blackouts when she is under extreme stress. Minutes and sometimes even hours are simply missing from her memory. As the story progresses, Marcella is investigating all the murders, while at the same time doing all she can to cover up any connection she might have to her husband’s mistress.

Ray Panthaki & Anna Friel in Marcella

Ray Panthaki & Anna Friel in Marcella

The plot and acting in Marcella are fantastic. Ray Panthaki is Detective Inspector Rav Sangha, who is not happy that Marcella has been forced onto his team. The fact that Marcella is often investigating on her own without keeping him informed only confirms his suspicions that there is something not quite right about Marcella.

London, UK. Nina Sosanya at The Sky Arts Awards at the Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London on Sunday 7 June 2015. Ref: LMK392 -51429-080615 Vivienne Vincent/Landmark Media. WWW.LMKMEDIA.COM.

London, UK. Nina Sosanya at The Sky Arts Awards at the Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London on Sunday 7 June 2015.Ref: LMK392 -51429-080615
Vivienne Vincent/Landmark Media. WWW.LMKMEDIA.COM.

Nina Sosanya is Detective Chief Inspector Laura Porter, who is trying to keep the investigations on track despite the conflicting personalities of all her officers.

Anna Friel washes off blood in Marcella

Anna Friel washes off blood in Marcella

Marcella is one of those addictive series that is perfect for binge watching. It has 3 complete seasons on Netflix, and once you start watching it you will find it hard to stop. We Marcella our highest rating.

The Affair Season 4- Dull, repetitive, not worth watching

The Affair should have ended the series after Season 3. Brandon Frazier’s character as the friendly prison guard (John Gunther), turned sadistic stalker was perfect. This double twist became a triple twist when it was revealed that Gunther was actually the loving father of an autistic boy and the true attempted assassin was revealed.

Brendan Frasier & Dominic West in Season 3 of The Affair

Brendan Frasier & Dominic West in Season 3 of The Affair

However, with the exception of Seinfield, television producers just cannot walk away from a franchise while it still has a chance to make more money. So The Affair went on to Season 4 with new characters, new locations and new plot lines. They are all awful.

Final Seinfield goodbyes -1998

Final Seinfield goodbyes -1998

One of the problems with The Affair Season 4 is that half of the characters have  moved to California. The hallmark of the prior seasons of The Affair was that it was definitely an East Coast show. The Affair perfectly captured the real-life tension between the local Montauk Long Island residents and the wealthy New York City people who come out for the summer. The locals hate the pushy condescending New Yorkers, but have to suck up to them, since the New Yorkers provide all the money for the community. When the Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson) and Noah Solloway (Dominic West) affair was revealed, it was more than just a private matter. The entire Montauk community took sides, because the affair was between a New Yorker and a local. Alison was quickly branded a “slut” by the other locals. Noah was ridiculed by the New Yorkers because he had slept “below his station”. If he had conducted a discrete affair with a professional woman back in New York City, his marriage would probably not have ended. However, he had slept with a local waitress in a vacation town so small they had no chance of keeping it secret.

Maura Tierney, Dominic West, Ruth Wilson & Joshua Johnson in The Affair

Maura Tierney, Dominic West, Ruth Wilson & Joshua Johnson in The Affair

Season 4 of The Affair tries to be bi-coastal, and like all bi-coastal relationships, it  just doesn’t work. The various plot lines are disjointed and uninteresting.  Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney) and the kids have moved to Los Angeles, and Noah has taken a teaching job at a local school to be near them. It is ridiculous that a Charter School would hire a teacher who has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter. Noah Solloway’s conviction was big news in the tabloid press. Are we supposed to believe that the kid’s parents’ are OK with a murderer teaching their children?

Noah and Helen fight constantly about who gets to spend time with the kids. This is not an exciting plot. It is just a divorced couple’s squabble that you can hear from any divorced couple anywhere in the country.

Joshua Johnson & Catalina Sandino Moreno in The Affair

Joshua Johnson & Catalina Sandino Moreno in The Affair

The plot on the East Coast is not any more interesting that that in Los Angeles. Alison is working at center trying to help people with PTSD. Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson) is now a successful businessman, while his wife Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is worried she might be deported since she is an illegal immigrant. All you have to do is turn on the news to see 100 more interesting stories about illegal immigrants  than the Luisa immigration issue being forced into The Affair.

Another problem with Season 4 of The Affair is that No One Is Having An Affair! There are just a lot of family squabbles and arguments between married or divorced people. The first three seasons of The Affair had the sexual excitement of reckless behavior taken to the extreme. This was followed by the devastating consequences of the affair, which destroyed whole families, careers and a life. In Season 4 of The Affair, on the other hand, Noah, Cole and Alison are all so reasonable and centered that it is just dull.

There is supposed to be a mystery, which apparently will be dragged out through Season 4. Someone has disappeared (probably Alison, but it could be Luisa). Cole and Noah are working together in Montauk to find her. This scenario seems very forced. Are we really supposed to believe that Noah and Cole are now capable of working together as mature adults, even though Cole believes Noah killed Cole’s brother? This plot line just seems like something a hack T.V. writer came up with after running out of ideas.

Dominic West as Noah and Sanaa Lathan as Janelle in The Affair (Season 4, Episode 1). -Photo: Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME -Photo ID: The Affair_401_0931

Dominic West as Noah and Sanaa Lathan as Janelle in The Affair (Season 4, Episode 1). -Photo: Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME -Photo ID: The Affair_401_0931

There are some new sub-characters that have been forced into the West Coast plot, but they all seem like rejects from other T.V. shows. The students at Noah’s school are sassy and speak and act the way no real High School kids speak or act. The Principal is an angry African American (Sanna Lathan) who feels she has to always act formally and never lose control. It angers her that  her son  always wears a hoodie in class and speaks “ghetto” even though he is intelligent and well educated.  Could this portrayal of African Americans in education possibly be any more condescending? When did The Affair turn into an after school special about race in American education?

On the East Coast, Alison seems to be heading towards a sexual relationship with a veteran who helps other vets suffering from PTSD (Ramon Rodriguez).  But who really cares? Neither of them are married and there is a complete lack of on-screen chemistry or excitement between them.

It is a shame to see how much The Affair has gone downhill. We loved the first three seasons of The Affair, but recommend you skip Season 4.

A Stupid and Futile Gesture – The Rise and Fall of National Lampoon

A Stupid and Futile Gesture on Netflix is the fascinating story of the meteoric rise and tragic crash of National Lampoon; the magazine that changed American humor and culture forever.  National Lampoon created Animal House, Caddyshack, the Chevy Chase Vacation movies, and of course, one of the best humor magazines ever published. Saturday Night Live was started by people who were lured away from National Lampoon. Lorne Michaels still gets credit for being a creative genius, but all he did was take the actors and writers of The National Lampoon Radio Hour and offer them more money to come to NBC and start Saturday Night Live.

The Dog Killer National Lampoon Cover

The Dog Killer National Lampoon Cover

Will Forte plays Doug Kenney, and Domhnall Gleeson plays Henry Beard, the two co-founders of National Lampoon. Doug and Henry ran the Harvard Lampoon, and did not want the fun to stop when they graduated.  Henry Beard had been accepted to Columbia Law School, but somehow Doug Kenney was able to convince him to forego law school and join Doug’s quest to start National Lampoon. It was a ridiculous idea.  They had no money, no business experience, and had never managed anything other than a college magazine. Every publisher turned them down, except a company whose only “major” publication was Weight Watcher’s Magazine.

Will Forte & Domhnall Gleeson in "A Stupid & Futile Gesture"

Will Forte & Domhnall Gleeson in “A Stupid & Futile Gesture”

A Stupid and Futile Gesture captures the wild 1970’s. National Lampoon Magazine was based in New York City and was able to attract a group of hugely talented, somewhat insane  writers, artists and actors. They were fueled by caffeine, cocaine, alcohol and creative genius.

Doug Kenney & Henry Beard

Doug Kenney & Henry Beard

National Lampoon Magazine spoofed American culture. The magazine started at a perfect time, since to many it appeared that “traditional” America had gone crazy. The Vietnam War was a disaster, there was social and racial unrest, crime rates were rising and drug use was skyrocketing. In the true tradition of comedy, National Lampoon made fun of it all.

National Lampoon's High School Yearbook Parody- its best selling issue ever.

National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook Parody- its best selling issue ever.

Nothing was sacred to National Lampoon. Perhaps its most famous cover was the one where a nice but worried looking dog has a gun held to its head. In bold letters, the cover says, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

National Lampoon had nudity, dirty jokes, political satire and very dark humor. In one issue there was an advertisement that was a spoof of the Save The Children Foundation.  The advertisement was for Lieutenant William Calley’s Kill The Children Foundation. Of course, Lieutenant Calley was the man whose unit murdered 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre.

National Lampoon's Nixon cover

National Lampoon’s Nixon cover

Doug Kenney and Henry Beard were ready for anything, except the tremendous success of National Lampoon. As National Lampoon grew, so did the hours and the pressure. They went from being a couple of guys having fun at a college magazine, to being men who had to run a major national publication, a radio show and various movie ventures. Doug tried to cope by using more and more drugs. Henry just wanted out.

The publication company was contractually obligated to offer Doug and Henry a payout based on the magazine’s profits. The profits were by then so large that the bonuses would be a major cash drain on the company, to the point of actually threatening the survival of National Lampoon. Doug and Henry insisted on taking the payout in a lump sum, instead of spreading it out over a number of years like the publication company wanted.

What happened next is accurately portrayed in A Stupid and Futile Gesture, although many viewers will probably assume it was an exaggeration for the movie. Henry Beard took his payout check and immediacy cleaned out his desk.  He then stood in the main room of the magazine and said to the writers and artists, “Goodbye and F*** You.”. Henry Beard then left National Lampoon and never came back.

Doug Kenney stayed on and tried to run everything himself. Neither Doug nor Henry every shared a penny of their bonuses with any of the writers, artists, actors or anyone else who had helped create National Lampoon.

People continue to copy National Lampoon

People continue to copy National Lampoon

Doug Kenney could not run it all alone. Even when Henry had been there, Doug had never been very steady, sometimes disappearing for months at a time. Eventually he just had to get away and he took off to Hawaii.  What happened next is still a mystery. Did he get clean of drugs in Hawaii, or did he fall further into drug dependence? All we know for sure is that he went out for a hike one day, went off a tall cliff and died. To this day, people argue about whether he committed suicide or simply fell.

Henry Beard is often asked whether Doug jumped from the cliff or fell.  Henry always give the same dark humorous answer. Henry says, “Doug probably fell off the cliff while looking for a place to jump.” Some people might find that a sick joke, but it is exactly the type of humor Doug Kenney would have laughed at.

Secret City – An Australian Spy/Diplomatic Thriller

Secret City (now on Netflix) is a fascinating diplomatic/spy series filmed in Australia’s capital city of CanberraAnna Torv is journalist Harriet Dunkley, who is trying to find the truth in a complex web of lies involving escalating conflicts  between  China and The United States, with Australia caught in the middle.

Anna Torv is journalist Harriet Dunkley in "Secret City"

Anna Torv is journalist Harriet Dunkley in “Secret City”

It begins when  young Australian protestor Sabine Hobbs (wonderfully played by Alice Chaston) sets herself on fire in China to protest China’s treatment of Tibet. She does not die, and for some unknown reason, the Chinese make the political blunder of holding her prisoner instead of sending her back home to Australia. This sets off a wave of anti-Chinese demonstrations in Australia. The Americans intend to take full advantage of this and press the Australian Navy to join them in military exercises close to the Chinese coast.

Alice Chaston from Secret City

Alice Chaston from Secret City

Secret City is a fascinating look at the complexities of Australian politics, which most foreigners do not understand at all. Australia finds itself in an almost impossible situation. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, whereas The United States is Australia’s strongest military ally. The government of Australia wants to be friends with both, but is constantly being pressed to choose one side or the other.

Daniel Wylie as Defense Minister Mal Paxton in "Secret City"

Daniel Wylie as Defense Minister Mal Paxton in “Secret City”

Daniel Wylie is the new defense minister Mel Paxton. He is from the Labor Party and wants to keep Australia’s employment rate high and its defense spending low. The best way to do this is to maintain good relations with China. However, there are events in his past that make it possible he is actually being blackmailed into this stance by the Chinese.

Jacki Weaver in Secret City

Jacki Weaver in Secret City

Jacki Weaver is Attorney General Catriona Bailey. She wants maximum power for herself and a complete alliance with the Americans against the Chinese. Minister Bailey wants the country to enact something called the “Safe Australia Act”. This would give the Australian government the power to arrest any journalist who published something “not in the national interest”. Of course, she would have complete power to decide what is and is not in Australia’s “national interest”.

Damon Herriman & Anna Torv in Secret City

Damon Herriman & Anna Torv in Secret City

In the middle of all of this is political reporter Harriet Dunkley who in trying to discover the truth begins to realize that there might be no truth at all . Everyone she meets is lying to her. The only question is whose lies are doing the most harm.

Canberra Australia

Canberra Australia

Harriet’s personal life is as much a mess as her personal life. Her ex-husband Kim divorced her when he decided to go the trans-gender route and become a woman. Damon Herriman is perfect as Kim, who still cares deeply for Harriet and tries to protect her whenever possible. Kim is an Australian intelligence officer with access to most, but not all, of the city’s secrets. Even Kim never knows the whole truth.

In Secret City, Australia’s capital of Canberra is almost a character itself. For outsiders, Canberra is vastly different than the pictures one is normally used to seeing of Sydney.  Unlike Sydney, Canberra is cold and has a somewhat sterile quality. All of the buildings are new and spotlessly clean, but somehow seem lifeless and foreboding. Of course, Secret City filmed them this way to add to the tension,. However, it is quite effective.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor – a beautiful film about the life of Mister Rogers

Won’t You  Be My Neighbor is a beautiful documentary about Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who had a completely new vision for children’s television. Fred Rogers was disgusted with fact that commercial television’s children’s shows were violent or stupid and treated kids as idiots. Mister Rogers wanted a show that would actually communicate with children and talk to them about important issues in their lives.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" - a must-see movie

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” – a must-see movie

Despite having no training in T.V.  Fred Rogers was able to get a show on Pittsburgh Public Television. It was low budget, slow moving and kids loved it. The station did not realize how popular it was until one day they ran a promotion allowing kids and parents to come in and meet Fred Rogers personally. Lines of kids and parents stretched down the block like it was a Hollywood premier. Mister Rogers became the first Public Television star.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Mister Rogers believed in actively working t make the world a better place.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor has some amazing footage of Fred Rogers. In 1969, President Nixon wanted to get rid of all government funding to Public Television and instead use the money for the Vietnam War. Senator John Pastore held public hearings about the cut, which Senator Pastore was very much in favor of. Won’t You Be My Neighbor shows Fred Rogers appearing before a very hostile, rude and confrontational Senate panel. Instead of responding with anger, Mister Rogers calmly discusses the importance of treating children with love and respect, and Mister Rogers even reads the words of one of the songs he sings on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ words deeply move Senator Pastore who says, “that was beautiful” and the Senator recommends granting $20 Million to Public television.

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Children loved Mr. Rogers

Despite its appearance,  Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a very structured show and actors had to stick strictly to the script. Fred Rogers had very specific ideas he wanted to teach to children. Most importantly he wanted to make sure kids understood the difference between fantasy and reality. Part of each show, the Magic Trolley would travel into the Land Of Make Believe.  That fantasy world was full of puppets and other special characters, but Mister Rogers himself never appeared in the Land Of Make Believe. Fred Rogers was very upset about reports of kids jumping out of windows thinking they could fly like Superman. He wanted to use Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to teach kids about what is real and what is not.

Mister Rogers also spoke directly on the show to children about very difficult subjects. After the Robert Kennedy assassination,  Mister Rogers  Neighborhood discussed death. There were shows about divorce and acceptance of other people. Mister Rogers was retired when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Fred Rogers came out of retirement and did a special show to help sooth the fears of children throughout the country.

There is really no one on the air like Fred Rogers today. As the country and the World become more polarized, his message of love and understanding can easily get lost amid the shouting and hatred. Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003. He is survived by his wife and children. At his memorial service protestors showed up across the street carrying signs that read “God Hates Fags”. One of the mourners walked across the street and asked if they were claiming Fred Rogers was gay. (He was not.) The protestor replied that they did not think Mister Rogers was gay, but that they hated him because he tolerated gays.

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Protesters at Mister Rogers Funeral

Fred Rogers was a profoundly religious man whose view of Christianity was diametrically opposed to that of the protestors. Fred Rogers believed in a God of love and acceptance. Mister Rogers believed that the good people of the World can persevere and win against hatred, violence and stupidity. Fred Rogers believed that the real message of God is and has always been a message of Love.

On Chesil Beach – love before the sexual revolution

On Chesil Beach is a beautiful, yet sad, film about a young English couple struggling with intimacy. It is a wonderful movie with humor, mystery, and pathos, set in 1962 England just before the sexual revolution takes hold. Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are trying to have a romantic wedding night in a very unromantic location. They are in a stuffy, cold hotel on a rocky beach, where the other guests are all senior citizens. The staff and guests of the hotel seem to treat Florence and Edward as the one source of entertainment in this dreary location.

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in "On Chesil Beach"

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in “On Chesil Beach”

Through flashbacks we see how Edward  and Florence met and fell in love back when they were both brilliant university students. It turns out they both have very complex family situations. Edward’s mother Marjorie (Ann-Marie Duff) is a talented artist who suffered a traumatic brain injury. To most of the world she seem crazy, yet Florence is able to connect with her. This makes Edward love Florence even more.

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew's mother, in "On Chesil Beach." (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew’s mother, in “On Chesil Beach.” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Florence’s father Geoffrey (Samuel West) seems like a stuffy, yet polite, British middle class family man. However, there are brief intense flashes of anger that make one wonder what he is really capable of.

Despite their deep connection, Florence and Edward do not know each other at all sexually. Both of them are virgins on their wedding night and both are petrified. For them to really succeed in their marriage, they must be willing to be honest and understanding with each other in ways they have never known before.

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

The acting  On Chesil Beach is wonderful. We come to deeply care for both Florence and Edward and hope that true love really can conquer all. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach is able to keep in the film all the complexities of the characters that were evident in the novel.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are amazing actors, as are all of the supporting characters, right down to the smallest roles. As you can tell, we are trying to write the review in such a way as to not give away too much of the plot. We will say that it is a deeply moving film and we highly recommend On Chesil Beach.

The Great White Hope – the movie about the boxer Trump just pardoned

The Great White Hope is a film about Jack Johnson, who in 1908 became first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. In May 2018,  Jack Johnson was posthumously pardoned by President Trump for the federal crime of “transporting a woman across State lines for immoral purposes”.

James Earl Jones in "The Great White Hope"

James Earl Jones in “The Great White Hope”

The Great White Hope is a terrific 1970 movie starring James Earl Jones as Jack Johnson. It is probably hard for you to imagine that today’s rather obese James Earl Jones once played the world’s top athlete.  However, in 1970, James Earl Jones was in such great shape for the film that reporters commonly asked Jones if he had ever been a boxer himself. (The answer is no – James Earl Jones was just a dedicated actor who got himself in the best physical shape of his life in order to perform the role to perfection).  The Great White Hope was a Broadway play before it was a movie, and James Earl Jones had also starred in the theatrical production.  For some unknown reason, The Great White Hope calls the heavyweight champ Jack Jefferson instead of Jack Johnson, although everyone knew who the movie was really about.

Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxing champ

Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxing champ

In 1908, being the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion was a much bigger deal than it is today. There were not multiple titles, there was no Ultimate Fighting champ, and no one pushing to ban the sport. The average citizen followed boxing with the same passion that people today follow football, basketball, soccer and baseball.

Unlike other sports of the day, boxing in 1908 was fully integrated. This is an amazing fact, when you consider that Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball and that was not until 1947. However, for its entire history, the heavyweight boxing champions had always been White.  From John L. Sullivan in 1882 all the way to 1908 , the heavyweight champs were White men whose accomplishments sports writers spoke of with awe.

President Trump pardons Jack Johnson the first African American heavyweight boxing champ.

President Trump pardons Jack Johnson the first African American heavyweight boxing champ.

Then came Jack Johnson, nicknamed the “Galveston Giant” who won the crown. Of course, there was open racism, but boxing is one of those sports where the winner is absolutely clear. Many White people hated Jack Johnson, but had to grudgingly admit he was the best boxer in the world. Sports writers, fans and boxing promoters started searching for what became known as “The Great White Hope.” Promoters were under pressure to find some White boxer who could beat Jack Johnson.

Then Jack Johnson went one step too far. He married a White woman and had affairs with several other White women. That was when the government charged him with violating the Mann Act, a Federal law forbidding the transportation of a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. The Mann Act was designed as a law to prosecute pimps. It was never intended to be a way to prosecute a man who happens to drive with his girlfriend over a state border.

Hattie McClay & Jack Johnson 1909

Hattie McClay & Jack Johnson 1909

Jack Johnson fled the Unites States and for 7 years lived in Europe continuing to box and defend his World Championship.

The Great White Hope chronicles this exciting period in history, and James Earl Jones is perfect in the lead role. Jane Alexander plays the White girlfriend who eventually becomes Jack’s wife, and  who is naïve enough to think they can somehow have a normal life. Chester Morris is Pop Weaver, Jack’s manager & promoter who is making a fortune on the fights, but who actually cares about Jack as a person.

So what actually happened to the real Jack Johnson? On April 5, 1915 Jack Johnson lost the heavyweight title to White boxer Jess Willard, in Havana Cuba in the 26th round. Fights were much longer than they are today. The match had been scheduled to last 45 rounds! Even though that match was 103 years ago, fight fans still argue about whether or not Jack Johnson took a dive. Johnson always said he never took dive. He pointed out that no one who planned to take a dive would let themselves take a beating for 26 rounds before going down.

In May of 2018, President Donald Trump officially pardoned Jack Johnson of the Mann Act charges. This is long overdue, but a posthumous pardon always has a hollow ring to it. Jack Johnson died in a car crash on June 10, 1946 at the age of 68. It would have been nice if one of the prior Presidents had pardoned the champ while Johnson was still alive.

The 1970 film The Great White Hope still holds up as a good movie to watch today. If you are interested in the fascinating story of the man who Trump just pardoned, we recommend the film.

Steve Martin & Martin Short on Netflix – Like an evening with old friends

Watching the Nexflix special – Steve Martin & Martin Short – An Evening You will Forget For the Rest Of Your Life, is like spending an enjoyable time with old friends. After all, the viewing public has known these two comedians since the 1970s. The Netflix comedy special is terrific. They tell jokes, Steve Martin plays the banjo expertly and Martin Short has a beautiful singing voice. (Who knew?). It is also obvious that these two guys really like each other as people.

Chevy Chase, Steve Martin & Martin Short in "The Three Amigos"

Chevy Chase, Steve Martin & Martin Short in “The Three Amigos”

They first met on the 1986 movie The Three Amigos in which Chevy Chase was the third Amigo. At the time, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase were much bigger stars than Martin Short. Despite this, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase insisted that the studio give equal billing to Martin Short – a kindness he never forgot. Of course, Steve and Chevy could not let the new guy off without a little practical joke. At the premier of the film  the studio told the 3 stars to all wear their complete Three Amigos costumes, and they all agreed. Then Steve Martin and Chevy Chase secretly decided to wear tuxedos to the premier and not tell Martin Short. On the night of the premier, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase looked like sophisticated Hollywood stars in their tuxedos, while Martin Short looked ridiculous in a huge sombrero and skintight toreador pants.

Steve Martin & Martin Short on Netflix

Steve Martin & Martin Short on Netflix

These are the types of stories they tell in Steve Martin & Martin ShortAn Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life. They show childhood photos, and talk about their early days in showbiz as well as doing somewhat raunchy jokes. The comedy switches back and forth between the two, each testing what type of comedy the audience likes the best.

Steve Martin as King Tut on "Saturday Night Live"

Steve Martin as King Tut on “Saturday Night Live”

The Steve Martin & Martin Short Netflix special is not very long. Like all great performers they know when to leave the stage with the audience begging for more.

A Good Man In Africa – Sean Connery’s 1994 Comedy

A Good Man in Africa shows that Sean Connery (best known as James Bond) can be terrific in a silly comedy. He plays one of the few sane people in the film, setting up the jokes so that the other actors can “go big”.  The film take place in the fictional African country of Kinjanja, and revolves around the lives of British diplomats who have no interest in the country other than how much they can personally get out of it. Colin Friels plays Morgan Leafy, a lower level diplomat who spends his time bedding as many women as possible, when he is not drinking to excess.

Sean Connery in A Good Man in Africa (1994) Directed by Bruce Beresford

Sean Connery in A Good Man in Africa (1994)
Directed by Bruce Beresford

John Lithgow is the British Ambassador Arthur Franshawe, who hates being posted to Africa and wants only to get reassigned to a “good” diplomatic post. When he meets with the President of Kinjanja (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) the Ambassador condescendingly talks about how violent Africa is. The President responds by pointing out that while Africa remained peaceful, Europe had 2 World Wars, The Holocaust and a Russian Revolution.

John Lithgow as a pompous British ambassador in "A Good Man in Africa"

John Lithgow as a pompous British ambassador in “A Good Man in Africa”

In the middle of all this is the Scottish Doctor Alex Murray (Sean Connery). Unlike the British diplomats, Dr. Murray spends his days treating patients and doing as much he can to help everyone. The Africans have given him the ultimate compliment of referring to him as a “good man”. Through a series of comic events, low level diplomat Morgan Leafy ends up spending a lot of time with Dr. Murray. As this happens, Morgan gradually comes to compare his own life with that of Dr. Murray, and Morgan realizes how useless his own lifestyle is. Morgan belatedly decides to try to become a good man himself.

Louis Gossett Jr. in "A Good Man in Africa"

Louis Gossett Jr. in “A Good Man in Africa”

In a comic way, A Good Man in Africa points out African issues that still exist today. Western counties still condescendingly look down on African countries, and see them as only potential sources of raw material. In A Good Man in Africa the main mission of the British diplomats is to get an oil contract signed before the Americans can offer a better deal.  Diana Rigg plays the Ambassador’s wife, who is completely bored with the whole diplomatic scene and who realizes that the Ambassador is an idiot.

A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA, Sean Connery, Colin Friels, 1994. ©Gramercy Pictures

A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA, Sean Connery, Colin Friels, 1994. ©Gramercy Pictures

Jackie Mofokeng plays Hazel, the African girlfriend of Morgan. Her subplot shows that the British diplomats, despite being posted in Africa are basically latent racists. Although Hazel is an intelligent and beautiful young woman, Morgan never brings her to any embassy parties, or even out to any nice restaurants where they might be seen by other diplomats.

A Good Man in Africa did not get good reviews when it premiered. Reviewers were disappointed that it was not as serious as the novel by William Boyd, on which it is based. However, we liked it. It is meant to be watched and enjoyed as a comedy, not as a “social message film”.  It has slapstick scenes, silly sexual innuendos, and people getting into ridiculous situations. One reviewer complained that John Lithgow’s British accent was “ridiculously exaggerated”. That reviewer missed the point that Lithgow was playing a caricature of a pompous British boor in a foreign country.

A Good Man in Africa, is fun to watch, yet it still gets you to think about what it really  means to be a “good man”.

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” – The First Feminist on T.V.

Marlo Thomas was the first T.V. feminist in the 1966 show That Girl on ABC. That Girl was a revolutionary show since it was about a single young career woman (Ann Marie) alone in New York. This was 4 years before the appearance of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS. Marlo Thomas had to fight the ABC executives every step of the way to keep the main character in That Girl on track as a career woman. Until That Girl every woman on television was a wife and mother or maybe some main male character’s girlfriend.

Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That Girl is about Anne Marie (Marlo Thomas), who moves to New York City with the goal of being a professional actress. Her goal is not to find a man, or to be an actress until she gets married. Her goal is to be an actress.

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in “That Girl”

However, the T.V. executives insisted that the main character in That Girl must have a boyfriend. They simply refused to make the show without that. Therefore, Ted Bessell was cast as Ann Marie’s boyfriend Donald Hollinger. Although Ted Bessell is a good actor, it is obvious that his character was forced into the That Girl plots. There is simply no on-screen romantic chemistry between Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell. In his appearances on That Girl he seems more like a family friend or an order brother than a boyfriend.

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

From the very beginning Marlo Thomas said That Girl would never have a marriage episode. Marlo Thomas told the writers that she would quit the show if they ever handed her a That Girl with a wedding scene. The final episode of That Girl does have Ann Marie getting engaged. Marlo Thomas is still angry about that.  She thinks it would have been much more poignant to have her character break up with the boyfriend and remain in New York completely alone. However when the final episode aired in 1971, ABC was not quite ready for that.

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That girl had a terrific group of supporting actors, such as Bernie Kopell and Ruth Buzzi who would go on to huge television success.

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in “That Girl”

So, if you get a chance, take a look at  That Girl. While by today’s standards That Girl may just seem like a silly T.V. sitcom, it was actually the beginning of a feminist revolution.

Meeks Cutoff – People either love or hate this Independent film

Meeks Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt, is a realistic, gripping drama about the struggle for survival on the 1849 Oregon Trail. It is not fair to call this film a Western, since it has none of the Hollywood clichés usually associated with that genre. It follows a group of settlers trying to cross the high plains by wagon, as they slowly realize that they might not survive the trip.

The settlers are guided by Steven Meek (perfectly played by Bruce Greenwood), who looks like an expert  guide. He is completely self-confident, has the long hair, beard and buckskin jacket associated with pioneer scouts. Meek loves entertaining everyone with tails of his past adventures.

Settlers in Meeks Cutoff in search of water

Settlers in Meeks Cutoff in search of water

However, the settlers have endured weeks of wandering and are running low on food and water. They are quickly coming to the conclusion that despite his bravado, Meek has no idea what he is doing or where they are.

Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Meek in "Meeks Cutoff"

Bruce Greenwood as Mr. Meek in “Meeks Cutoff”

Kelly Reichardt’s direction and filming are wonderful. You can feel the thirst and exhaustion of these travelers. There is no background music and at times there is no sound other than the repetitive scraping of an ungreased wagon wheel.

Rod Rondeaux as the mysterious Indian in Meeks Cutoff

Rod Rondeaux as the mysterious Indian in Meeks Cutoff

There is a panic when the group discovers they are being followed by a Cayuse Indian (brilliantly played by Rod Rondeaux). Meek and the other men capture the Indian. Meek wants to kill him immediately before he can alert other “savages”. However Meek is faced down by Emily Tetherow (wonderfully portrayed by Michelle Williams). Her argument is not that it would be immoral to kill the Indian. Instead, she points out that since the Indian is alive, he must know where water is.

Michelle Williams in Meeks Cutoff

Michelle Williams in Meeks Cutoff

No one, including Meek can speak the Indian’s language. In fact, it is only Meek’s guess that the Indian is a Cayuse. However, they give the Indian a good blanket and try their best to demonstrate that they will give him another blanket in payment if he leads them to water.

The Indian gets the idea, and begins leading the little wagon train, while Meek closely watches him. It is unclear if they are being lead to water, or an ambush.

Meeks Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt

Meeks Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt

Moviegoers tend to either love of hate films by Kelly Reichardt, with no in between. People who hate Kelly Reichardt films find them too slow moving and are frustrated that they many times have no conclusion. Often her movies seem to just stop at a certain point. It can seem like the movies simply end whenever Kelly Reichardt happens to run out of film.

However, we are in the group of people who love Kelly Reichardt movies. The subject material is always fascinating. In stressful situations the characters behave like real people rather than Hollywood action heroes. As for the way Kelly Reichardt ends movies, as frustrating as that is, this is one of the things that make her films so realistic. In real life you don’t get all the answers, see poetic justice, or find out what happened to everyone. The endings of Kelly Reichardt films are what makes people continue to discuss and debate the films years after having seen them.