Category Archives: Movie, Television & Play Reviews

Reviews of Movies, T.V. shows and Plays

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.

The Death of Channel Awesome

Sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, copyright infringement, physical threats and starvation pay are just some of the conditions  that have been rampant at Channel Awesome. This is all according to a 70 page memo issued on line by numerous people formerly associated with the upstart internet company. That’s right seventy pages documenting these abuses.

Michael Michaud CEO of Channel Awesome

Michael Michaud CEO of Channel Awesome

This is disappointing and shocking to those of us who loved watching the shows on Channel Awesome. From the outside,  Channel Awesome appeared to be such a fun place to work, where everyone got along and everyone shared in whatever small profits were to be made. We even posted a story called 6 Reasons Why Channel Awesome Is Great.

Doug Walker - The "Nostalgia Critic" and "That Guy With Glasses"

Doug Walker – The “Nostalgia Critic” and “That Guy With Glasses”

In fact, Channel Awesome was started as an alternative to the internet giant YouTube (which is owned  by Google). Contributors to YouTube complain that it is almost impossible to make much money uploading videos, no matter how many hits they receive. As a near monopoly, Google gets almost all the money, and sets all the terms.  YouTube also takes down videos that receive even the slightest complaint of copyright  infringement, even if the complaint is totally ridiculous.  As a contributor to YouTube, you are basically considered guilty with no right to appeal other than a cumbersome and costly fight.

Holly Brown, former head of H.R. for Channel Awesome

Holly Brown, former head of H.R. for Channel Awesome

However, behind the scenes, Channel Awesome was not the YouTube-alternative paradise  it appeared. Most of the criticism revolves around CEO Michael Michaud, who allegedly is a truly terrible person. Like all great scandals, the Michael Michaud scandal involves sex, violence and money. Michaud is accused of sexually harassing almost every woman who ever worked for Channel Awesome. He also has a violent temper and goes into rages against employees and contributors (those who upload videos to Channel Awesome).

Lindsay Ellis, the former "Nostalgia Chick"

Lindsay Ellis, the former “Nostalgia Chick”

Reportedly Michael Michaud fired the head of H.R. Holly Brown, since she was 15 minutes late for a Skype call. He then made physical threats against her to the point where she had to hide in a “safe house”.

Robert & Doug Walker

Robert & Doug Walker

The money controversy revolves around how much contributors get for their product. Contributors are the people who have their videos on Channel Awesome. Without them Channel Awesome cannot exist. They complain that Channel Awesome became every bit as bad as YouTube, with the contributors doing all the work and Channel Awesome taking almost all the money.  It is tempting to say that maybe this is just a few malcontents complaining. However, the statistics show otherwise.  Contributors to Channel Awesome have been leafing in droves. One year ago there were 41 regular contributors to Channel Awesome. Today there are 10.

Looking at the evolution of Channel Awesome, we are reminded of the George Orwell book Animal Farm. The animals take over the farm, but by the end the new farm is just as corrupt and evil as the old farm.  The Animal Farm line “some animals are more equal than  others” applies perfectly to Channel Awesome. There is a lot of money being made, however, it is being horded by a small few at the top.

There is a lot of debate as to how much blame to attribute to Doug Walker, whose brand names are The Nostalgia Critic and That Guy With Glasses. His show is great,and he seems like such a nice guy in the  videos.  So far, the has been completely silent surrounding the controversies at Channel Awesome.  However, that is the problem. He is too big a star at the station to not take sides. Many say he is committing what Roman Catholics would call Sins Of Omission.  Critics say Doug Walker is a defacto part of management and must take responsibility.

Doug Walker has a real money problem. He does not own the rights to the internet character The Nostalgia Critic. Somehow Michael Michaud was able to get control of that. If Doug Walker leaves Channel Awesome, he has to start over with a completely new character and rebuild followers from scratch. Does he have the courage to walk away from the money to do what is morally right?

However, others say Doug Walker is more directly involved in the problem, especially when it comes to the fun spoof “movies” that Channel Awesome makes. Most of the actors in these films got paid nothing other than airfare. However, Channel Awesome and Doug Walker made lots of money selling DVSs of these movies. The other people involved did not even get a free DVD of the film.

Lindsay Ellis, formerly known as the Nostalgia Chick on Channel Awesome has come out strongly on the side of those criticizing Channel Awesome. This make a difference, as Lindsay Ellis is one of the smartest and most respected people on the internet. Anything she posts or says is fact-based and well researched. If she says something at Channel smells, that you can believe it stinks.

Will Channel Awesome die? In effect, it already has. Even if the company does not go bankrupt, the dream of a place where creators of unique and fun videos would be treated with respect is already dead. The internet continues to be a place where the creators of content are the lowest people on the Totem Pole.  On the internet, budding writers, film makers, video producers and actors make pennies while huge profits go to the the corporations using their work. Maybe someday a new platform will come along to accomplish what Channel Awesome could not.

An Eye For Beauty – A Quebec Love Story

An Eye For Beauty is a love story that takes place in Quebec, but is also a love story about Quebec. The breathtaking beauty of the Province of Quebec is as much a character in the film as the actors themselves.  After watching An Eye For Beauty you will want to immediately pack up and move to Quebec. At the very least you will wish you had paid more attention in French class.

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in "An Eye For Beauty"

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in “An Eye For Beauty”

Eric Bruneau stars as Luc,  a French-Canadian architect living in rural Quebec designing incredibly beautiful homes. His life seems perfect. He is surrounded by a group of loving friends. His wife Stephanie (Melanie Thierry) is smart, talented and gorgeous. Then, bit by bit things start to fall apart. Stephanie is slowly falling into a deep depression, and nothing seems to be able to stop it.

"An Eye for Beauty" features beautiful Quebec homes.

“An Eye for Beauty” features beautiful Quebec homes.

Luc is invited to Toronto to be part of a panel of architects judging the work of promising students. Luc realizes he is the “token French-Canadian”, but decides to join the panel anyway. In Toronto he meets Lindsey,  (Melanie Merkowsky) who is running the panel, and the the two of them begin a passionate affair.

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Thierry in "An Eye For Beauty"

Eric Bruneau & Melanie Merkowsky in “An Eye For Beauty”

The love scenes in An Eye For Beauty are lovely and erotic, since they are quite natural. In fact, unlike most movies, all the people in An Eye For Beauty are real and complex.  An Eye For Beauty demonstrates that being successful and attractive and well off does not insulate a person from the tragedies of every day life.

Quebec

Quebec

In some ways, the beauty seems like a cruel joke to Luc’s wife Stephanie. She asks herself “how can she possibly not be happy.” She should be ecstatic with the perfect life, yet her depression keeps getting worse.

Melanie Thierry is Stephanie in "An Eye For Beauty"

Melanie Thierry is Stephanie in “An Eye For Beauty”

Anyone who has ever dealt with someone truly  clinically depressed will realize how accurate Melanie Thierry’s portrayal is. There is often no outside reason for depression, and seeing everyone around you being happy just makes it feel worse.

Skiing in Quebec

Skiing in Quebec

An Eye For Beauty is is French and English, depending upon what part of Canada the people are in and who is speaking. It is interesting that when the French Canadian goes to Toronto he has to speak English to everyone . However,  when Lindsey from Toronto goes to Quebec, she speaks English to everyone, without even attempting a French word. No doubt this double standard in supposedly bi-lingual Canada drives Quebeckers crazy.

An Eye For Beauty is an exquisitely filmed move. There are stunning scenes of rural Quebec with its breathing vistas, wildlife and homes. The love story is real and the tragedies  and heart wrenching. An Eye For Beauty is a film worth watching.

Red Sparrow – Jennifer Lawerence’s Worst Movie

Even Jennifer Lawrence naked does not make Red Sparrow worth watching. The plot is dull, the acting wooden and the sex scenes amazingly non-erotic. It is also a remake of a low budget 1985 movie called Secret Weapons starring James Franciscus, Linda Hamilton, Gina Davis & Sally Kellerman  The low budget Secret Weapons was actually far better than Red Sparrow.

Jennifer Lawrence & Joel Edgerton in Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence & Joel Edgerton in Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence is one of our favorite actresses, so it was a shame to see her in  Red Sparrow, which seemed to have no purpose other than to show Jennifer Lawrence naked as often as possible. She is naked during spy training; naked in hotel rooms, and she is even naked when being tortured. For her whole career, Jennifer Lawrence has fought against taking roles that exploit women. Why she gave in for a piece of junk like Red Sparrow is a mystery.  Either she needed the money (which we doubt), or she actually thought Red Sparrow would be good. Get a new agent to find better scripts Jennifer.

From Russia With Love - 1964

From Russia With Love – 1964

Jennifer Lawrence plays Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova  who breaks her leg in an accident. She is then recruited by her uncle into a spy school. There  they train beautiful young women and men to become seductive “under cover” agents. She is sent on assignment to seduce a CIA agent (Played by Joel Edgerton) and get all his secrets. Of course, she falls in love with him, just like the female Russian spy in  the James Bond movie From Russia With Love.

Boris & Natasha - the Russian agents from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons

Boris & Natasha – the Russian agents from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons

Not a single actor in Red Sparrow is actually Russian, and they all use a variety of Russian “accents”. The result is that they all sound like people mimicking Boris and Natasha from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.

"Secret Weapons" in 1985 has Sally Kellerman, Linda Hamilton & Gina as seductive Soviet agents

“Secret Weapons” in 1985 has Sally Kellerman, Linda Hamilton & Gina as seductive Soviet agents

The 1985 film Secret Weapons was far better  with more interesting plot twists and even better acting. (The Soviet Union was still around when Secret Weapons was made.) Unlike Red Sparrow, the spy school in Secret Weapons concentrated on much more than the art of seduction. The Soviet spies were being taught to become undercover Americans. They  were trained to have American accents, and were given false American backgrounds. Their goals were to infiltrate the United States and eventually marry high level government and military officials. Red Sparrow would have been better if it had stuck with the original plot instead of concentrating just on the  sex.

Anna Chapman - the real Russian spy who was caught in the U.S. in 2010

Anna Chapman – the real Russian spy who was caught in the U.S. in 2010

The 1985 Secret Weapons actually predicted the real Russian plan which Anna Chapman and her fellow spies tried to carry out over 35 years later. Ironically for the modern Russian spies, the seduction worked in reverse. Anna Chapman and her fellow spies completely fell in love with the materialism of the United States. Instead of gathering secrets they apparently spent most of their time buying expensive luxuries  and demanding more money from their spymasters in Moscow. It would have been much more fun if Red Sparrow had been a comedy about Anna Chapman and her inept secret agents.

Jennifer Lawrence has now chosen 2 terrible movies in a row.  The weird and disgusting Mother, followed by the semi-pornographic Red Sparrow. We hope that she gets back on track and that her next film is worthy of her talents.

The Shape Of Water – A Stupid Choice for Best Picture

The Shape Of Water was a stupid choice for best picture. It plagiarizes Splash and The Creature  From the Black Lagoon but is not as good as either of those two classics. The plot was idiotic and the “creature” absurd. The Shape Of Water is reminiscent of 1950s “monster movie porn”. In the 1950s and even early 1960s movies were very tightly censored. Movie producers knew that they could increase ticket sales by revealing as much of a woman’s naked body as they could get past the censors.

Sally Hawkins (Elisa Esposito) shares lunch with The Creature in The Shape Of Water

Sally Hawkins (Elisa Esposito) shares lunch with The Creature in The Shape Of Water

The solution was what insiders jokingly  called “monster movie porn”. Every monster movie had a beautiful woman and the monster always seemed to attack when that woman was in a nightgown, or a bathing suit, or naked in the bath tub. That way producers could argue that the nudity or implied nudity was “essential to the plot”. In addition, censors tended not to waste much time watching low budget monster movies. The censors main focus was on regulating main stream movies by major studios. Consequently, the cheesy monster movies got away showing a lot more female flesh than  the Feature Films. (Male nudity,  was completely taboo.)

1954 The Creature From The Black Lagoon

1954 The Creature From The Black Lagoon

The Shape of Water pretends to be an intellectual art film about the importance of accepting people of all kinds. However, it manages to get character Sally Hawkins (wonderfully played by Elisa Esposito) naked on screen within the first 5 minutes. The film opens with her alone in her apartment where we see that she is deaf and lonely and poor. Was it really necessary to the plot to then show her naked in the bath tub?

Elisa Esposito & Octavia Spencer in The Shape Of Water

Elisa Esposito & Octavia Spencer in The Shape Of Water

The plot of The Shape Of Water was also ridiculous. The U.S. military has a sea creature locked in a secret facility where Sally and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are cleaners. There are armed guards and closed circuit T.V. cameras everywhere. That is, everywhere except the actual room where the creature is kept. The whole point of the security is to guard the creature, but for some reason there is no guard or T.V. camera in the room where the creature is kept. In fact, security in that room is so lax that Sally often eats her lunch in that room with no one being aware of this.

Michael Shannon in The Shape Of Water

Michael Shannon in The Shape Of Water

Michael Shannon plays the evil Agent Strickland, who wants to kill The Creature. Michael Shannon’s trademark is playing “over-the-top” semi-insane authority figures. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of FBI agent Nelson van Alden in Boardwalk Empire. However, in The Shape Of Water he really overdoes it. In one scene, he literally rips off two of his own fingers, throws them away and then continues on his quest to kill The Creature. This really seems like something that belongs in a 1950s drive-in movie horror film and not in The Best Picture Of The Year.

Julie Adams in a very revealing outfit in the 1954 The Creature From The Black Lagoon

Julie Adams in a very revealing outfit in the 1954 The Creature From The Black Lagoon

The ending of The Shape of Water (spoiler alert) is a complete rip off of Splash. At the end of  the 1984 film Splash, Tom Hanks dives into the water after the Mermaid (Daryl Hannah) only to discover that he can actually breathe underwater. At the end of  The Shape Of Water Sally dives into the water after the creature, only to discover that she can breathe underwater.

Daryl Hannah in Splash

Daryl Hannah in Splash

The worst part of The Shape Of Water getting Best Picture is that there were so many wonderful movies in 2017 that would have been better choices.  Ladybird and Get Out were both terrific movies. There was also Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Any one of these would have been a better pick for best picture than The Shape of Water.

Ratings for the Oscars ceremony have been falling for years. This is partly due to the fact that the (pompously named) Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems further and further out of touch with the actual movie-viewing public.

Counterpart – a terrific Sci-Fi/spy thriller

Counterpart on the Starz network is a fantastic  sci-fi/spy story thriller with a fascinating plot and great acting. Counterpart explores the possibilities of what our  lives would be like if just one or two decisions had been different. Haven’t we all wondered what the trajectories of our lives might have been if we had just made one key choice differently?

Sara Serraiocco in "Counterpart"

Sara Serraiocco in “Counterpart”

J.K. Simmonds plays Howard Silk, a low level worker at a secret agency that monitors a portal to a parallel world. Until 30 years ago the two worlds were exactly alike, including all the people, places and events. Each person has a duplicate in the other world. Then one day he is confronted by his counterpart (duplicate) from the other world, who expects Howard to help stop a deadly murderer.

J.K. Simmonds in Starz "Counterpart"

J.K. Simmonds in Starz “Counterpart”

For some unknown reason, 30 years ago the 2 worlds began to diverge. Now, the people in the two worlds are still duplicates, but their lives are different. Sara Serraiocco in our world is an accomplished violinist, but in the other world she is a deadly assassin.

Olivia Williams as Emily in "Counterpart"

Olivia Williams as Emily in “Counterpart”

Counterpart is great because it is much more of a physiological spy mystery than it is a sci-fi series. There are plots within plots and each of the characters are complex individuals. In our world Howard Silk is an unsuccessful career man, but a very good person. In the other world he is quite the opposite. Yet,  in the Ying and Yang of life there is no such things as 100% good or 100% evil. All people are a mixture of both.

Nazanin Boniadi and Sara Serraiocco in "Counterpart"

Nazanin Boniadi and Sara Serraiocco in “Counterpart”

Olivia Williams is Howard’s wife, Emily,  who is not what she seems in either world. Nazanin Boniadi is Clare,  whose motives are not truly revealed until the final episode. Harry Lloyd is Peter Quayle, a high level spy who ties to keep peace between the two worlds while sill maintaining secrecy and his job.

Harry Lloyd and J.K. Simmonds in "Counterpart"

Harry Lloyd and J.K. Simmonds in “Counterpart”

As you can tell, we are purposely trying not to give away too much of the plot. Counterpart is fascinating and beautifully acted.   In one moving episode, the Howard Silk (J.K. Simmonds)  from our world exchanges places with the “other” Howard, and secretly goes to the other world.  There he discovers he has a daughter (played by Sarah Bolger) that he never had in his world. What is worse is that the daughter cannot stand him.

Sarah Bolger

Sarah Bolger

The scenes between Sarah Bolger and J.K. Simmonds are moving and beautiful. Howard tries desperately to reconnect with his estranged daughter, without revealing that he is not actually the father she knew.

Counterpart is a series you will definitely want to binge watch. We give it our highest rating.

Chuck- The Bayonne Bleeder or the Real Rocky Balboa

Chuck is the story of boxer Chuck Wepner, the real-life inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. In 1975 Chuck Wepner fought Muhammad Ali for 15 rounds, when everyone said   Wepner would never last more than 3. This should have lead to a happy ending, just like the Rocky movie.  However, after the fight  Wepner’s life went on a  path of arrogance, self-destruction and eventually prison.

Chuck Wepner & Muhammad Ali fight in 1975

Chuck Wepner & Muhammad Ali fight in 1975

People love the movie character Rocky since he is a humble guy who passionately loves Adrian and never even looks at another woman. That’s not Chuck Wepner. After his fight with Ali, Wepner suddenly had the fame and respect he had never received before, and it went to his head.

Liev Schreiber & Elizabeth Moss in "Chuck"

Liev Schreiber & Elizabeth Moss in “Chuck”

Before the Ali fight , Wepner’s nickname had been  the Bayonne  Bleeder, for his tendency to bleed profusely if hit in the face. Although ranked as a “contender”, he was considered a joke in boxing circles.  He could not even make enough money to box full time. Chuck Wepner was a liquor route salesman who happened to pick up  some extra money boxing in clubs and small venues.

In 1975, Muhammad Ali thought he could make a fortune defending his heavyweight title against a White fighter, due to all the racial tension of the times.  Chuck Wepner was the only White fighter ranked in the top 10, and Wepner got the call to fight Ali. Just like the Rocky movie, Ali thought of the fight as a show, but Chuck Wepner trained hard. He even knocked Ali down during the fight.

Chuck & Linda Wepner with Liev Schreiber

Chuck & Linda Wepner with Liev Schreiber

After the fight, Wepner’s new found fame went to his head. He became a jerk, drinking  to excess and cheating on his wife. Then in 1976 the movie Rocky came out and things got 100 times worse. Wepner and his friends  thought he was Rocky, and starting referring to his movie.

Michael Rapaport is Don Wepner in "Chuck"

Michael Rapaport is Don Wepner in “Chuck”

Everyone assumed Chuck Wepner had made a fortune from the Rocky movie. However, Wepner had never even met Sylvester Stallone and never got a penny from the film. But Chuck started spending money like he was a wealthy Hollywood film star. He got into using cocaine and then started selling drugs to support his spending habits.

Chuck is a excellent and honest film. Unlike the Rocky movie, Chuck Wepner was fully involved in the production, which makes its honesty that much more remarkable.

Liev Schreiber is perfect as Chuck Wepner. Very few actors would have the physical ability to portray a 6 foot five inch bruiser, and still be able to show him as a complex character. Elizabeth Moss plays Chuck’s long-suffering wife Phyllis who inwardly is actually much tougher that Chuck as she tries to save her family.

Michael Rapaport is Chuck’s brother Don, who turns out to be a real hero when Chuck needs him most. Naomi Watts is Linda, the woman Chuck turns to as his life falls apart. Naomi Watts is so good at portraying Linda, that we never even realized it was Naomi playing the role.

Like the original Rocky movie, Chuck does have a happy ending. However, the redemption does not take place inside the boxing ring but out in the much tougher real world. Wepner finally comes to realize  that he is not Rocky Balboa, or Sylvester Stallone or even the Bayonne Bleeder. He is just Chuck from Bayonne New Jersey with only a small group of friends and family that actually know him and care who is really is. It turns out that when he finally accepts that and learns to return the love they give him it is better than being with all the shallow adoring fans. Maybe that’s not as dramatic as a Hollywood movie ending. Or maybe it is even better.

Will Season 3 Of “The Crown” Dare Mention Northern Ireland?

The Crown has so far managed to go through two complete seasons without once touching on Ireland or any Irish political struggles. The Crown has covered events in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eqypt, and even showed Prince Philip visiting Antarctica. However, Ireland has been a taboo subject.  This will be a hard policy to maintain in Season 3 of The Crown , which is already in production.

Newspaper account of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland

Newspaper account of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland

Season 2 of The Crown  ended in 1964, which means that the violent period known as The Troubles are just about to begin in Northern Ireland.  It is difficult to see how going forward The Crown will be able to present a series about Queen Elizabeth II and continue to avoid the topic of Ireland.

Below is a quick timeline of Irish events from one perspective, quoted from Gerry Adams’ Book A Farther Shore.

  • 1964 Divis Street Riots in Belfast
  • 1967 Civil Rights Association established in the north.
  • 1968  The Royal Ulster Constabulary – RUC- attack civil rights marchers in Derry.
  • 1969 Explosions occur which are initially blamed on the IRA. It subsequently emerges that they are carried out by the unionist paramilitary organization the Ulster Volunteer Force – UVF.
  • 1970 – The siege of St Matthews in The Short Strand in East Belfast and the Falls curfew by the British Army leads to significant support for the IRA.
  • 1971 – The war between the British Army and the IRA intensifies. Internment without trial is introduced.
  • 1972 – Fourteen civilians are killed on Bloody Sunday in Derry when the British Army attacks a civil rights march.
  • 1973 Bomb attacks in London.
A file photo taken on June 11, 2010 shows a memorial in Londonderry (or Derry) Northern Ireland, depicting the names of the 13 people who died on January 30, 1972, known as "Bloody Sunday" and John Johnson who died later from his injuries sustained the same day. British police said on November 10, 2015, they had arrested a former soldier for the Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry in 1972, one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland's three decades of unrest. It was the first arrest since a murder investigation was opened in 2012 into the killings of 13 civil rights protesters in the streets that day. AFP PHOTO / PETER MUHLYPETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

A file photo taken on June 11, 2010 shows a memorial in Londonderry (or Derry) Northern Ireland, depicting the names of the 13 people who died on January 30, 1972, known as “Bloody Sunday” and John Johnson who died later from his injuries sustained the same day. British police said on November 10, 2015, they had arrested a former soldier for the Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry in 1972, one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland’s three decades of unrest. It was the first arrest since a murder investigation was opened in 2012 into the killings of 13 civil rights protesters in the streets that day. AFP PHOTO / PETER MUHLYPETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

Season 3 of The Crown will be taking place exactly when all these events occurred. Will The Crown continue to ignore Ireland and instead focus only on the various royal sex scandals? We hope that instead, The Crown will take the riskier approach of trying to show the reaction of  Queen Elizabeth II as a part or her “empire” is being torn apart and its citizens killing each other.

Queen Elizabeth II & Lord Mountbatten

Queen Elizabeth II & Lord Mountbatten

It is hard to imagine that The Crown Season 3 will possibly be able to ignore August 27, 1979. That was the day an IRA bomb killed Lord Mountbatten, who was the great uncle of Prince Charles. He had been a mentor to Charles, who was devastated by his death. On that same day, in an IRA shootout and ambush, the IRA killed 17 British soldiers in Northern Ireland.

Of course, the Queen is forbidden by the Constitution from taking a political stance. However, as we have seen in the first two seasons of The Crown  Queen Elizabeth II is quite determined to have a behind-the-scenes influence on major world events.

What exactly are the views of Queen Elizabeth II in regards to Ireland, Northern Ireland and the various political and paramilitary groups? Did she play any role in bringing  the warring factions together for  the eventual peace process ? Was she aware that the elite British SAS force was  being used as an assassination squad in Northern Ireland to kill suspected members of the IRA with no trial and many times no evidence? Perhaps the producers of The Crown don’t really know and don’t want to take a chance by making wild guesses about such a touchy subject.

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness

The Good Friday Agreement was only signed in 1998 and many people in Ireland and the U.K.  have been walking on eggshells ever since, worried that the slightest insult, or misunderstanding could set off events in Northern Ireland. Maybe that is just too much pressure for the writers of The Crown to face.

Prince Charles & Gerry Adams share a handshake & conversation.

Prince Charles & Gerry Adams share a handshake & conversation.

Tourists  to Ireland and Northern Ireland often quickly find out how hard it is to get the Irish to talk to outsiders about any political subject. Ask about the IRA or the UVF or any events of The Troubles and you will find the Irish quickly and politely change the subject to a nice friendly chat about the weather or local sporting events.

American author William Faulkner famously wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Of course, he was not referring to Northern Ireland, but that quote describes perfectly the Irish “situation.”

Every word spoken about Northern Ireland is a potential landmine, which is undoubtedly why The Crown has chosen so far to pretend that Northern Ireland does not exist. Even today, a fight can quickly ensue depending on whether or not you refer to  a particular town in Northern Ireland as  Derry or Londenderry

So will Season 3 of  The Crown dare take on Northern Ireland? Well, no  matter which direction Season 3 of The Crown takes, we know one thing for sure. We will be watching it.

Loving Vincent – The Mystery of Vincent van Gogh’s Death

Loving Vincent is an exquisitely drawn film exploring the final days of Vincent van Gogh, and the mystery of van Gogh’s death.  Don’t dare call it a cartoon. Over 100 original painting’s in the van Gogh style were commissioned for this film. Top tier actors and a fascinating plot make you feel like you have actually stepped inside a van Gogh painting.

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in "Loving Vincent"

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent envelopes the audience in an 1890 world of vibrant colors, emotions and characters that van Gogh was able to capture for all time in his paintings. The plot delves into the mystery surrounding the death of Vincent van Gogh. Most people today simply accept as fact that the emotionally unstable van Gogh committed suicide. However, Loving Vincent shows that van Gogh actually might have been murdered.

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in "Loving Vincent"

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent is the true story of a quest undertaken by Armand Roulen (played by Douglas Booth) to deliver to Vincent van Gogh’s brother the last letter than Vincent ever wrote. Along the way. Roulen discovers that van Gogh’s death may have been more that just a straight forward suicide.

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh died on July 29th, 1980 of a gunshot wound inflicted 2 days earlier. Although van Gogh himself insisted he had tried to kill himself, the physical facts made no sense.  Who shoots himself in the stomach when trying to commit suicide? Was van Gogh trying to protect someone by claiming he had actually shot himself?

The list of murder suspects is long. Today the world reveres Vincent van Gogh as an artistic genius. However, while he was alive, he was considered a crazy trouble maker whose artwork was idiotic and bad.

van Gogh self portrait

van Gogh self portrait

In his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting. He lived off the charity of others. His brother Theo gave Vincent so much money over the years that Theo almost went bankrupt.

Vincent van Gogh’s main patron was Doctor Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn). Doctor Gachet recognized the artistic genius of van Gogh but was also extremely jealous of it. Vincent even lived with the Gachet family for a time, and gave most of his paintings to Dr. Gachet in return for Gachet’s help.

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

However, Dr. Gachet did not like that Vincent was becoming too close to Gachet’s daughter Margaret (played by Saoirse Ronan). Doctor Gachet and Vincent had a huge, almost violent,  argument and Vincent was no longer welcome at the Gachet home. Margaret Gachet never married, and her whole live she proudly displayed in her home, a painting van Gogh had done of her at a piano.

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

Like van Gogh’s paintings themselves, Loving Vincent is not intended to be an exact representation of reality. Vincent van Gogh’s painting were meant to elicit an emotional response. They show the beauty, complexity and hidden colors and feelings in every day scenes that most people take for granted. Loving Vincent shows the beauty and hidden depth of a man who was at the time either ridiculed or overlooked by most people.

Van Gogh’s simple painting of flowers  sold at auction for $109,400,000. Do people really see today what Vincent van Gogh was trying to show them, or are they just interested in a good investment? We wonder what van Gogh would think of the fabulous sums of money rich people are now willing to pay for his paintings. Ironically, van Gogh was never interested in rich people. His painting were not portraits of the wealthy, but views of ordinary people, scenes and events.

Loving Vincent is a wonderful film and we highly recommend it.

Cablevision drops Starz and Encore and Cheats Its Customers

Cablevision just dropped the Starz and Encore networks, without any drop in price to Cablevision customers. In fact, this was just one month after Cablevision had actually raised its prices. Less service for a higher price. Starz has some of our favorite shows, including, Outlander, Power and Ash vs Evil Dead, all of which we have reviewed on this blog.

Cablevision abruptly dropped Starz, but did not lower the fees to Cablevision customers

Cablevision abruptly dropped Starz, but did not lower the fees to Cablevision customers

This move by Cablevision  is typical of the way that all cable providers continue to behave as if they still have a monopoly and can treat customers any way they want. In fact, cable companies should be bending over backwards to be giving more service to customers and lowering their prices. People no longer need cable companies to get access to shows. Many people are going “unplugged “and getting access through the internet or satellite with no payments to any cable provider.

Outlander is gone from Cablevision

Outlander is gone from Cablevision

The behavior of Cablevision and other cable providers is reminiscent of the way that Blockbuster once treated its customers. Blockbuster not only charged a lot to rent movies, it also hit up  their customers with ridiculous late fees. You had to physically return a video before the due date, but the system was rigged to maximize the late fees.

Will Cablevision one day go the way of Blockbuster?

Will Cablevision one day go the way of Blockbuster?

Most people rented movies on Saturday or Sunday, since it was hard to get to Blockbuster during the work week. However, if you rented on a Saturday, the movie was due by Wednesday. If you returned it the next Saturday, you owed as much on late fees as you had paid to rent the movie. In the early days of Blockbuster, they even charged a 50 cent “rewind fee” on tapes. (Remember the days before DVDs when you had to rewind tapes?)

Power is no longer available on Cablevision

Power is no longer available on Cablevision

While Blockbuster was squeezing their customers for every nickle, Netflix was busy reinventing the business. With Nexflix, customers could get videos at home and keep them as long as they wanted with no late fees. Blockbuster could have beaten Netflix, if Blockbuster had reacted quickly. In the early days, Blockbuster actually had many more titles available than Netflix.

Tower records once seemed like a money making machine.

Tower records once seemed like a money making machine.

Blockbuster should have eliminated late fees, and started letting people order movies online and shipping them to people’s homes. At the time, Blockbuster had the financial might, the customer base and the video library to be able to wipe out Netflix. However, Blockbuster was so intent on trying to maximize short term profits, that it ignored the anger of its customers.

Towards  the end, Blockbuster finally realized the danger it was in, and did try  to fight back against Netflix. Blockbuster eliminated all late fees, lowered its rental charges and began using the internet. But it was too late. Angry customers had left Blockbuster in droves and they never came back.  Blockbuster went bankrupt and its outlets closed.

Cablevision thinks it can cheat its customers forever.

Cablevision thinks it can cheat its customers forever.

Will Cablevision and the other cable providers one day go the way of Blockbuster? They are certainly making the same mistakes as Blockbuster, by arrogantly ignoring competition from new technologies. Some day, perhaps sooner than expected, the idea of paying a company hundreds of dollars a month for video content will seem as as antiquated as dial up internet access.

So our message to Cablevision is simple. Ignore the best interests of you customers and soon they will ignore you. If you think you can last forever, just remember Yahoo, AOL, Tower Records and Blockbuster.

Editor’s note: Since the first  publication of this story, Optimum Online Cablevision has announced that it made a deal with Starz. The Starz Network will be returning to Cablevision, along with Encore. This is planned for the end of February 2018.  Of course, Cablevision is not planning any refund to Cablevision customers for the 2 months they did not have Starz or Encore. Congratulations to the thousands of Cablevision customers who called and emailed Cablevision to demand the return of Starz and Enclore. Customers need to continually remind the large cable companies that the ultimate power lies with the customer.

SMILF- Rosie O’Donnell Gives The Best Performances Of Her Career

In Showtime’s series SMILF, Rosie O’Donnell gives the best performances of her career. Her character is “Tutu”, a tough, loud, crazy,  but loving Boston-Irish mother whose entire goal is to make sure that her daughter has a better life than Tutu’s own miserable upbringing. It is the role of a lifetime for Rosie O’Donnell, and she is perfect in the part.

Rosie O'Donnell is perfect as Tutu on SMILF

Rosie O’Donnell is perfect as Tutu on SMILF

The SMILF (Single Mom I’d Like to F**K) herself is Bridgette Bird, Tutu’s daughter. Brigitte is played by Frankie Shaw, who is also SMILF’s creator  and main writer. Frankie Shaw’s writing  and acting talents are amazing.  SMILF has comedy, pathos, fantasy sequences, and yet the characters are always true to life. Some of the best scenes are the interactions between Tutu and her daughter Brigitte. A scene may begin with the two of them having a screaming argument but end with Tutu gently giving her winter coat to Bridgette and making sure Bridgette does not get cold walking  home. SMILF reflects the hate-love-insane relationship between a mother and daughter when both are strong willed, stubborn, independent women.

Frankie Shaw as Wonder Woman on SMILF

Frankie Shaw as Wonder Woman on SMILF

In many ways Rosie O’Donnell is like the character she plays on SMILF. Rosie’s career and life have had huge ups and downs. The downs are usually because Rosie O’Donnell does something crazy to sabotage herself. For example, Rosie O’Donnell at one point said that she thought there might actually be something to the conspiracy theories claiming that the Bush Administration, not outside terrorists, was responsible for destroying the World Trade Center on 9/11. This idiotic statement got her hated for years, especially in the New York area.

SMILF pay homage to the German film Run Lola Run

SMILF pays homage to the German film Run Lola Run

Rosie O’Donnell also managed to get herself fired from The View, not once but twice. The View is that obnoxious T.V. show where a bunch of very loud women sit around screeching about subjects that they think are interesting.  If you can watch this show for more than 10 minutes you deserve a medal. Rosie simply could not take a back seat to any of the other women, especially Barbra Walters or Whoopi Goldberg. In any difference of opinion Rosie just could not let go of the argument. Apparently when the cameras were off,  there were several occasions where Rosie O’Donnell had to be physically restrained from attacking one or more of the other women back stage.

Samara Weaving as Nelson Rose in SMILF (Season 1, Episode 3). - Photo Credit: Lacey Terrell/SHOWTIME. - Photo ID: SMILF_103_1550.R.jpg

Samara Weaving as Nelson Rose in SMILF (Season 1, Episode 3). – Photo Credit: Lacey Terrell/SHOWTIME. – Photo ID: SMILF_103_1550.R.jpg

However, these  very personality flaws are what make Rosie O’Donnell so perfect to play the wild mother in SMILF. In one episode Tutu (Rosie) has a manic episode in whcih she wades into Boston harbor in the middle of winter. She then walks to her local bank to withdraw money. When a concerned bank official points out that she is soaking wet, Tutu calmly and politely points out that as far as she knows there are no rules against withdrawing funds while wearing wet clothing.

Ravin Goodwin & Frankie Shaw on SMILF

Ravin Goodwin & Frankie Shaw on SMILF

The apple does not fall far from the tree for Tutu’s daughter Bridgette. This single mom has a very hard life tying to make ends meet on a series of dead-end jobs. However, she does have a wild fantasy life where she imagines what her life should be. In one episode, Bridgette imagines herself as Wonder Woman, complete with the costume and swordplay. Another episode of SMILF is a takeoff on the famous German film Run Lola Run. (If you have never seen Run Lola Run, we highly recommend it). The Run Bridgette Run  episode of SMILF  even has parts where Bridgette’s hair turns bright red, and she starts speakign German. Viewers who had never seen the German original probably wondered what the Hell was going on.

Frankie Shaw on SMILF. Beautiful, crazy, complex, but a great mom.

Frankie Shaw on SMILF. Beautiful, crazy, complex, but a great mom.

Frankie Shaw has taken a real chance in creating the character of Bridgette Bird on SMILF. Bridgette is not perfect at all. She is beautiful, but also very self centered. There are times where Bridgette is unnecessarily cruel to her friends and especially her mother. However, Bridgette’s redeeming quality is that her son Larry (yes she named her son Larry Bird) is always the most important aspect of her life. No matter what other stresses there are, Bridgette never loses her patience with Larry, and always makes sure he is well taken care of.

Connie Britton as Ally in SMILF Rich but half crazy

Connie Britton as Ally in SMILF Rich but half crazy

The rest of the cast is also terrific. Rafi Gomez is Rafi, the baby daddy, who has his own struggles with alcoholism and relationships. Connie Britton is Ally, a rich Bostonian who Bridgette works for part time as a handy woman and confidant. Ally shows that even people with lots of money can have crazy lives. Samara Weaving is Nelson Rose, Rafi’s new girlfriend. She is optimistic, cheerful and successful; everything Bridgette is not, and it drives Bridgette crazy. Raven Goodwin plays Bridgette’s best friend Eliza, who is responsible for bringing some sense of sanity into Bridgette’s life. Everyone needs a best friend like Eliza.

We recommend SMILF as one of the best new shows.

Hamlet 2 – The Musical sequel to Shakespeare’s classic play

Hamlet 2 is a hilarious 2008  comedy about a high school drama teacher who decides to create a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The fact that every character dies in the original Hamlet is the first obstacle to overcome. Drama teacher Dana Marschz (played by Steve Coogan) has a bizarre solution.  Hamlet 2 uses a time machine, Jesus, and a collection of semi-obscene musical numbers to set everything right.

Steve Coogan as Jesus in "Hamlet 2"

Steve Coogan as Jesus in “Hamlet 2”

The drama students all realize that Mr. Marschz is having some sort of mental breakdown. His marriage is falling apart and his career is a failure. He so desperately wants Hamlet 2 to work, that his students decide to give it their all; knowing that an idea of a sequel to Hamlet is idiotic.

Joseph Julia Soria in “Hamlet 2”

Joseph Julian Soria is Octavio Marquez, the de facto leader of the students. He pretends to be a tough street-wise kid, but actually comes from a wealthy and well-educated family. When the school administrators decide to ban Hamlet 2, Octavio takes this as a chance to become the rebel he has always wanted to be.

Skylar Astin & Phoebe Strole discuss "Hamlet 2"

Skylar Astin & Phoebe Strole discuss “Hamlet 2”

Elizabeth Shue plays herself, as a frustrated actress who has left Hollywood due to all the insincerity  the business. However, when she sees the passion behind the attempt to make Hamlet 2, it rekindles her love of acting. Phoebe Strole is student Epiphany, who is a star in Hamlet 2 and one of the main singers, with a beautiful voice. Skylar Astin is Rand, who changes from believing that Mr. Marschz is crazy to  simply believing in Mr. Marschz.

Steve Coogan & Elizabeth Shue in Hamlet 2

Steve Coogan & Elizabeth Shue in Hamlet 2

One of the best parts of Hamlet 2 is that we actually do get to see the the play. “Incredible” is the only word that describes it. Hamlet 2 is sort of a cross between Jesus Christ Superstar, The Time Machine, and Grease. One of the parents (played by Marco Rodriguez) states it best when he says. “I am at once both horrified yet fascinated”.

Hamlet 2 is a fun, silly movie to watch. It reminds us how important it is to believe in our friends’  ideas, no matter how idiotic  or impossible to achieve their ideas may seem.

“The Crown” Insults Jackie Kennedy

Netflix The Crown portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy as a drug addicted, anorexic idiot who felt completely inferior to Queen Elizabeth. President John F. Kennedy was portrayed as a wife-beating moron who did not know how properly address Royalty and who pumped Jackie full of drugs against her will. The Crown episode “Dear Mrs. Kennedy”  is an insult to the memories of Jack & Jackie Kennedy.

Jodi Balfor as Jackie Kennedy in The Crown

Jodi Balfour as Jackie Kennedy in The Crown

Jodi Balfour gives one of the worst Jackie Kennedy impressions of all time. This South African actress somehow makes the elegant Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy sound like she has a thick New York accent.  In addition, Jodi Balfour does not look like Jackie Kennedy. The real Mrs. Kennedy was slim and elegant. Jodi Balfour simply looked anorexic; like a bread-stick in an evening gown.

Michael C. Hall as Jack Kennedy in "The Crown"

Michael C. Hall as Jack Kennedy in “The Crown”

Michael C. Hall as John F. Kennedy was just awful. Michael C. Hall, is best known as the star of Dexter, in which he was perfect.  In The Crown, Michael C. Hall kept trying to do what was supposed to be a Boston Accent. It was not. He also had Jack Kennedy being tongue tied and awkward when speaking to the Royal family. The real Jack Kennedy was never awkward. The real Jack Kennedy was at ease addressing people of any station in life. It was one of his greatest strengths.

.S. President John Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy return to the Quai d'Orsay in Paris, France on May 31, 1961. The President and the First Lady return from a formal dinner given at the Elysees Palace as guests of French President Charles De Gaulle. (AP Photo)

U.S. President John Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy return to the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, France on May 31, 1961. The President and the First Lady return from a formal dinner given at the Elysees Palace as guests of French President Charles De Gaulle. (AP Photo)

As bad as the acting was, the plot was worse, and completely false. The Dear Mrs. Kennedy Episode of The Crown  takes place just after the Kennedy’s triumphant trip to Paris, during which Jackie Kennedy charmed Charles de Gaulle with her fluent French. In the  actual historical event President Kennedy was thrilled with the way all of France fell in love with  Jackie Kennedy. Charles de Gaulle was notoriously difficult to negotiate with, and Jackie Kennedy smoothed the way for a successful negotiation between the French and the Americans. Jackie Kennedy was more useful than all the ambassadors and State Department professionals put together.

Jack & Jackie Kennedy with Charles de Gaulle

Jack & Jackie Kennedy with Charles de Gaulle

However, in The Crown,  the show has President Kennedy  being jealous of Jackie to the point where he physically beats her after the dinner with de Gaulle. It also has Jack Kennedy as a drug addict who gives drugs to Jacqueline to make her perform better at public events.

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy

This is such a twisting of facts that it it obscene. President Kennedy suffered from Addison’s Disease and also had back pain from injuries suffered in World War II. During the War his PT Boat 109 was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. He had to swim miles to shore, dragging a wounded man through the water. This gave him permanent back trouble.  Jack Kennedy took doctor prescribed medications for these ailments. He was not a drug addict. He was a war hero. He did have affairs with many women. However, the idea of Jack Kennedy physically attacking Jacqueline is absurd.

05 June 1961 Buckingham Palace Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip host Queen's Dinner for President and Mrs. Kennedy. U. S. Department of State photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

05 June 1961 Buckingham Palace Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip host Queen’s Dinner for President and Mrs. Kennedy. U. S. Department of State photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

The real Jacqueline Kennedy took no drugs and was not a heavy drinker. Jackie Kennedy’s father, the strikingly handsome “Black Jack” Bouvier was an alcoholic, and in fact was so inebriated that he could not attend Jacqueline’s wedding to Jack Kennedy. Because of this, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was very careful her whole life not to follow in her father’s footsteps. She never drank to excess and never got into illegal drugs.

"Black Jack" Bouvier, the father of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy

“Black Jack” Bouvier, the father of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy

In The Crown, Jackie Kennedy is at a party high on drugs and alcohol and says insulting things about Queen Elizabeth II. Later in the episode, Jackie begs forgiveness of the Queen in a private meeting, basically grovelling and confessing that Jack Kennedy beats her and gives her drugs.

Michael C. Hall & Jodi Balfor as Jack & Jackie Kennedy

Michael C. Hall & Jodi Balfour as Jack & Jackie Kennedy

The Crown is generally an excellent show and fun to watch . However, the Dear Mrs. Kennedy episode is such an inaccurate portrayal of Jack & Jackie Kennedy  that it makes one  question the accuracy of any of the historic figures shown in the series.

"The Crown" writer Peter Morgan

“The Crown” writer Peter Morgan

Is The Crown just a fictional result of British writer Peter Morgan pretending that The United Kingdom is the center of the universe? Many people today argue that  the modern U.K. is a third-rate power and that Queen Elizabeth II is closer to a Disneyland attraction than she is to a World Leader. Her only function is to attract tourists to the U.K., much like the Disney Princesses bringing in the crowds to the theme park.  Is the writer Peter Morgan having The Crown change historical events to make it look like Queen Elizabeth II really was a major world leader at one time?

The real Jack & Jackie Kennedy

The real Jack & Jackie Kennedy

If the writer of The Crown wants to make Queen Elisabeth II seem more interesting and stronger than she really is; that is fine. Just don’t do it by insulting the memory of Jacqueline Kennedy who was one of the strongest women of the century in all the ways that truly matter.  She deserves better than that.

ILL Behaviour – The comedy about Cancer & Kidnapping

ILL Behaviour is the British  comedy about Cancer & Kidnapping now playing on Showtime. As bizarre as this sounds, it is really funny. Tom Riley plays Charlie, who has just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The good news is that chemotherapy has a 94% cure rate for this disease. The bad news is that Charlie refuses chemo and instead decides trying to cure himself using only fruit juices, beet paste and other “natural” medicines.

Tom Riley & Lizzy Caplan in ILL Behaviour

Tom Riley & Lizzy Caplan in ILL Behaviour

Charlie’s Friends Tess (Jessica Regan) and Joel (Chris Geere) decide that they cannot simply stand by and let Charlie die just because he is too pig headed to take chemo. Luckily, Joel is fabulously wealthy. He comes up with a plan to kidnap Charlie, hold him prisoner in a rented castle and pump him full of anti-cancer drugs against his will.

Lizzy Caplan, Chris Geere, Jessica Regan & Tom Riley (seated) in ILL Behaviour

Of course to do this, they will need an actual doctor. In comes Nadia (Lizzy Caplan), an American doctor in England, who also happens to be an alcoholic coke-head in desperate need of money. She agrees to the plot, and the kidnapping is on.

Christina Chong is Kira in ILL Behavior

Christina Chong is Kira in ILL Behavior

ILL Behaviour is a show where  the British understated sense of humor really works perfectly. Even though Joel and Tess have kidnapped Charlie, and hold him in an old castle, they want to make his life “fun.” They even give him an internet Call Of Duty game to play with, unaware that this allows Charlie to contact the other players around the world. When Charlie tells the other players that he is being held in an old castle and being given drugs against his will, the other players think it is just part of the game. “Cool. How do I get to that level?”, is the response from the other players.

Ill Behaviour's Tess (JESSICA REGAN), Joel (CHRIS GEERE) - (C) Fudge Park Too LTD - Photographer: Jon Hall

Ill Behaviour’s Tess (JESSICA REGAN), Joel (CHRIS GEERE) – (C) Fudge Park Too LTD – Photographer: Jon Hall

As the episodes go on, the plot of ILL Behaviour gets darker and darker. Charlie is married to Kira (Christina Chong) and has two kids. Kira, of course, is very upset that Charlie has disappeared, so Joel keeps going over to “console” her. Kira is beautiful and kind and Charlie starts getting used to the idea of this becoming His family.

ILL Behaviour is not for everyone. Some people may find the humor too dark and the concept too strange. However, we loved it.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” – The Sexual Predator’s Christmas Song

Baby It’s Cold Outside is the sexual predator’s Christmas song that gets played this time of year. It is meant to be a romantic duet. But if  you really listen to the words you will see it  is a song saying that sexual harassment is O.K.  It is  the story of a young woman repeating over and over that she wants to leave.  An older, more powerful  man keeps making unwelcome sexual advances while he pressures her to stay. The “romantic” conclusion to the song is that the young woman finally gives in and stays with the man, even though this will completely destroy her reputation with her family and neighbors.

Ricardo Montalban & Ester Williams singing "Baby It's Cold Outside". Ester Williams definitely looks like a woman being sexually harassed

Ricardo Montalban & Ester Williams singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Ester Williams definitely looks like a woman being sexually harassed

Baby It’s Cold Outside was written by Frank Loesser for the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter. The surprising part is that the original song in the film is sung by Ricardo Montalban and Ester Williams, who are not known as singers.  In that version, Ricardo Montalban gets very “handsy” with Ester Williams. Several times she tries to leave his apartment and every time, he grabs her arm and moves her back onto the couch.

Ricardo Montalban forces Ester Williams back on to a couch while singing "Baby It's Cold Outside", in the film Neptune's Daughter

Ricardo Montalban forces Ester Williams back on to a couch while singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, in the film Neptune’s Daughter

The more times we read the lyrics to Baby It’s Cold Outside, the creepier the song seems. Especially  disturbing is the fact that the woman says “Say, what’s in this drink?” right after drinking something the man gives her. It sounds like the guy is using a page right out of Bill Cosby’s playbook. The song has been covered many times, with Dean Martin singing many versions with many different female vocalists. One of Dean Martin’s versions is what you usually hear on the radio.

Bill Cosby would be the perfect singer for "Baby It's Cold Outside."

Bill Cosby would be the perfect singer for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

So, here are the complete  lyrics of the duet  Baby It’s Cold Outside, and we have indicated the man and the woman’s parts. Read them and decide for yourself, if this is innocent flirtation, or a creep trying to force a young woman into doing something against her will?

Woman:   I really can’t stay
Man:          but baby, it’s cold outside
Woman:  I’ve got to go away
Man:         but baby, it’s cold outside
Woman: This evening has been
Man:        been hoping that you’d drop in
Woman: So very nice
Man         I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice.
Woman: My mother will start to worry
Man:        Beautiful what’s your hurry?
Woman: My father will be pacing the floor
Man         listen to the fireplace roar
Woman: So really I’d better scurry
Man:        beautiful please don’t hurry
Woman: But maybe just a half a drink more
Man:        put some records on while I pour
Woman: The neighbors might think
Man:        baby, it’s bad out there
Woman: Say what’s in this drink?
Man:        no cabs to be had out there
Woman: I wish I knew how
Man:      your eyes are like starlight now
Woman:  To break this spell
Man:        I‘ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
Woman:  I ought to say, no, no, no sir
Man:        mind if I move in closer?
Woman: At least I’m gonna say that I tried
Man:        what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?
Woman: I really can’t stay
Man:       oh baby don’t hold out But baby, it’s cold outside
Woman I simply must go
Man:         but baby, it’s cold outside
Woman:  The answer is no
Man:         but baby, it’s cold outside
Woman: Your welcome has been
Man:       how lucky that you dropped in
Woman: So nice and warm
Man:     look out the window at this dawn
Woman: My sister will be suspicious
Man:       gosh your lips look delicious
Woman: My brother will be there at the door
Man:       waves upon the tropical shore
Woman: My maiden aunts mind is vicious
Man:       gosh your lips are delicious
Woman: But maybe just a cigarette more
Man:        never such a blizzard before
Woman: I’ve gotta get home
Man:         but baby, you’d freeze out there
Woman:  Say lend me a coat
Man:          it’s up to your knees out there
Woman:   You’ve really been grand
Man:          i thrill when you touch my hand
Woman:   But don’t you see?
Man:         how can you do this thing to me?
Woman:   There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
Man:        think of my lifelong sorrow
Woman: At least there will be plenty implied
Man       if you got pneumonia and died
Woman:  I really can’t stay
Man:      get over that old out
Woman: Baby, it’s cold
Man:        Baby, it’s cold outside
The clear message in this 1949 song is that a woman’s “no” does not really mean “no”. The message to men is that if you simply refuse to let a woman leave, keep giving her drinks, and over and over keep pressuring her for sex, then eventually you will be successful.
Time Magazine's 2017 Person Of The Year, "The Silence Breakers"

Time Magazine’s 2017 Person Of The Year, “The Silence Breakers”

Time Magazine just named The Silence Breakers as their 2017 “Person Of The Year.” Along with the five women whose faces are shown, there is a sixth women on the cover, where we see only her elbow. That unnamed women is meant to represent the thousands of women who have been sexually harassed over the years , but whose stories have never become public. Like the woman in Baby It’s Cold Outside, who is trying over and over to politely get away from a man who simply will not stop grabbing at her.

 So we at East Cost Stories say that  2017  is the year that radio stations should finally stop playing that “Christmas Classic” Baby It’s Cold Outside. Goodbye and good riddance to this song.

The Orville – better than Star Trek Next Generation

The Orville is a high quality Sci-Fi show with good character development and great plots. We were afraid that Seth MacFarlane would give us a one-dimensional low brow Star Trek spoof. Instead, The Orville has high production values, great special effects, and plots that give interesting social commentary.

Giorgia Whigham & Seth MacFarlane star in The Orville

Giorgia Whigham & Seth MacFarlane star in The Orville

Our favorite The Orville is Episode  called Majority Rule, which is a about a planet completely run by social media. Every person of the planet wears a badge showing exactly how many “likes” or “dislikes” they have received in their lives. You career, your social standing, even whether or not you get arrested is entirely dependent on being popular. What is true or real or right no longer matters. All that matters on that planet is being popular. Of course, this is a commentary on America’s current political climate, where truth and facts no longer seem to matter.

Giorgia Whigham and the crew of The Orville

Giorgia Whigham and the crew of The Orville

Seth MacFarlane has been able to bring together a great group of actors for the crew of The Orville and each week’s episode has terrific guest stars. Charlize Theron is a traveler from the future who tries to kidnap the crew. Giorgia Whigham stars in The Majority Rule episode.

Scott Grimes, Charlize Theron & J Lee in The Orville

Scott Grimes, Charlize Theron & J Lee in The Orville

Scott Grimes is Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, and  J. Lee is Lieutenant John Lamarr. Malloy and Lamarr enjoy playing jokes and gossiping about the fellow crew members as much as they enjoy piloting The Orville.

Seth MacFarlane & Adrianne Palicki in The Orville

Seth MacFarlane & Adrianne Palicki in The Orville

Adrianne Palicki is the Kelly Grayson, the second in command of the ship, and coincidentally the ex-wife of the commander, Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane). You may remember Adrianne Palicki as the fun contract killer in John Wick. Fortunately, her character’s life expectancy is a lot longer in The Orville.

Halston Sage when she is not in her The Orville makeup

Halston Sage when she is not in her The Orville makeup

One of the most interesting characters is head of security Alara Kitan (perfectly played by Halston Sage). Despite being young and small, Alara is super strong compared to humans, since she comes from a large planet with  huge gravitational pull. Her super strength intimidates all the young men she tries to date and pretty much ruins any change for a love-life. Halston Sage herself is only 24 years old, and does a remarkable job bringing this character to life.

Halston Sage as Alara Kitan in The Orville

Halston Sage as Alara Kitan in The Orville

O.K. Star Trek fans brace yourselves. We actually prefer The Orville to Star Trek Next Generation. The crew of The Orville knows how to have fun and consequently the show is fun too. Star Trek Next Generation, and especially Patrick Stewart were just so serious all the time that it got to be ridiculous.

Patrick Stewart over-acting as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek Next Generation

Patrick Stewart over-acting as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek Next Generation

We all know that Patrick Stewart is a great Shakespearean actor, who used to have contests with Sir Lawrence Olivier. However, Star Trek Next Generation was NOT Shakespeare and it got to be a little tedious watching Patrick Stewart pretending it was.

Peter Macon as Bortus in the new space adventure series THE ORVILLE

Peter Macon as Bortus in the new space adventure series THE ORVILLE

Peter Macon is Bortus, a macho alien from an all male planet, who lives with his husband on the ship. One of the most moving and serious episodes of The Orville is when Bortus  and his mate  have a baby that turns out to be female, which is a one in a billion chance for that species.  They have to decide whether to accept the child as is and condemn her to a life as an outcast, or else force a sex-change operation on the infant.

Adrianne Palicki & Charlize Theron in The Orville

Adrianne Palicki & Charlize Theron in The Orville

Completing the main cast is Penny Johnson Jerald as Doctor Claire Finn, who is also trying to be a single mother aboard the ship. Of the two jobs, being the doctor is far easier than being the mother. There is also an episode where Claire has one of the weirdest sexual encounters ever shown on regular. T.V. Let’s just say it includes a naked Penny Johnson Jerald, an alien blob and background music that sounds like a cheesy 1970’s porn soundtrack. It is disturbing and hilarious at the same time.

Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn in the new space adventure series THE ORVILLE

Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn in the new space adventure series THE ORVILLE

So have fun watching The Orville. We certainly did.

Rape & Murder in Hollywood – Virginia Rappe & Fatty Arbuckle

In 1921,  Hollywood film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was accused of the brutal rape and murder of beautiful 26 year old actress Virginia Rappe. Fatty Arbuckle went to trial for manslaughter 3 times, resulting in 2 hung juries and finally an acquittal. Despite the “not guilty” verdict, Fatty Arbuckle’s career was ruined and his life left in shatters.  He died in 1933 of a heart attack at the age of 46. Before the rape allegations, he had been earning $1 million a year; an incredible amount for 1921.

Virginia Rappe, who allegedly was raped and murdered by film star Fatty Arbuckle

Virginia Rappe, who allegedly was raped and murdered by film star Fatty Arbuckle

But what really happened the night of September 5, 1921 in Fatty Arbuckle’s hotel room, that resulted in the death of Virginia Rappe? The tabloids wrote  that after a wild party filled with drinking illegal booze (it was Prohibition), Fatty went wild and raped Virginia Rappe. His great weight was such that his attack actually caused the Virginia Rappe’s bladder to rupture. She died in horrible agony.

Film comedian Roscoe "Fatty Arbuckle, accused of rape and murder

Film comedian Roscoe “Fatty Arbuckle, accused of rape and murder

The titillating details of the scandal sold newspapers by the thousands, and the Tabloid Press went into a feeding frenzy attacking Fatty Arbuckle. The public could not get enough. People no longer saw Fatty Arbuckle as the adorable overweight clown. He was now just an oversized sex-crazed monster.

The Fatty Arbuckle story sold thousands of newspapers

The Fatty Arbuckle story sold thousands of newspapers

The truth is that Virginia Rappe did die of a ruptured bladder, but she was not raped and did not even  have sex on the night of the party. Despite her beauty, Virginia Rappe was a very unhealthy young woman. Months of drinking poor quality Prohibition-era liquor had done its damage, as did the several illegal abortions she had undergone. She also had cancer, which is the most likely cause of the rupture that resulted in  her death.

Virginia Rappe who despite her healthy looks was actually very ill

Virginia Rappe who despite her healthy looks was actually very ill

However, the truth did not  matter to San Fransisco District Attorney Matthew Brady. He wanted to get elected Governor of California, and the fame surrounding the Arbuckle trial was his ticket to becoming known as the “law & order” candidate who sent a crazed sex maniac to the gas chamber. Brady intimidated witnesses, kept key information from the defense team, and outright lied.

Minta Durfee- Fatty Arbuckle's ex-wife. Someone tried to kill her outside the courthouse.

Minta Durfee- Fatty Arbuckle’s ex-wife. Someone tried to kill her outside the courthouse.

The public and press had already decided that Arbuckle was guilty, even before the trial began. Fatty Arbuckle’s ex-wife  Minta Durfee came to court to show support and testify as to his good character. Her appearance was cut short when someone fired a gun at her outside the courthouse.

Film comedian Roscoe "Fatty Arbuckle, accused of rape and murder

Film comedian Roscoe “Fatty Arbuckle, accused of rape and murder

The public did not seem to care about the facts of the case. The first fact was that no rape charges were ever even filed, since there was no evidence of any sexual activity. The second fact was that the Hearst newspapers were paying big bucks for the “true stories” of anyone who was at the party or claimed to be. Hearst knew that the headline”actress raped and murdered” sells a lot more papers than “actress dies of cancer.”

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle on trial

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle on trial

There was some damning testimony from the Prosecution. An “expert criminologist” was produced, who said he found Arbuckle’s bloody fingerprints all over the wall in  Virginia Rappe’s hotel room. The Defense team, however, brought forth the hotel maid who testified that she had completely cleaned the room days before this so called “criminologist” had ever even been allowed to  examined it. She also stated there  was no blood and no bloody fingerprints on the wall even before she had cleaned the room.

The Hotel Doctor, Arthur Beardslee testified that Virginia Rappe’s injuries were caused by the external force of a large weight on her (like Fatty Arbuckle). In fact, the doctor was really just trying to save his own career and medical license . Early at the party, Virginia Rappe was in extreme pain and Arbuckle  had immediately called the hotel doctor (Beardslee). The doctor’s diagnosis was that “This girl’s just drunk. Let her sleep it off.” Arbuckle followed the doctor’s advice and put her in a separate room while the party continued in the main room. Poor Virginia Rappe died alone and in agony in a hotel room, while a wild party raged a few rooms down.

It took 3 trials, and bit by bit the Defense team was able to bring the true facts to light.  The third jury came in with a Not Guilty verdict, and even wrote a letter of apology to Mr. Arbuckle for all he had been through.

But the stress and financial burden of the trials had been too much. Fatty Arbuckle was never the same again. Even today,  the majority of people who recognize the name “Fatty Arbuckle” identify him as “an old-time movie star who raped and murdered a young woman.”  The Truth has a short lifespan, but really juicy Rumors and Lies live forever.

Lady Bird – The Best Independent Film Of The Year

Lady Bird is, without doubt, the best independent film of the year. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento high school senior discovering who she is and what is really important in life. Unlike most “high school” movies, the characters in Lady Bird all come across as real people coping with real problems.

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

The main dynamic of the film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion (perfectly played by Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird is trying to be independent, while her mother is constantly trying to help by giving well meaning advice, and more advice and even more advice. The resulting mother-daughter clashes are humorous, and something that every parent will instantly recognize. There is no bad guy in the film. We sympathize with both Lady Bird and her mother, even when their views are in direct opposition.

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

In addition to dealing with an over-protective mother, Lady Bird is facing a number of moral and ethical choices   at school. Like all teenagers, sometimes she makes the right choice and sometimes she does not. Lady Bird attends  a private Catholic school, and it is nice to see a film that does not resort to Catholic stereotypes for cheap laughs. The school is a well run caring place  using modern teaching techniques while trying to maintain the Catholic faith.

Odeya Rush

Odeya Rush

Lady Bird is lucky enough to have a wonderful caring best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who Lady Bird does not appreciate as much as she should, and instead is drawn to a beautiful rich classmate Jenna (Odeya Rush). Again the film Lady Bird avoids using any of the cliches we see in so many movies. Jenna is not a “rich bitch”. She is nice, but simply part of a completely different group.

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Director Greta Gerwig has done a masterful job of having Lady Bird be an honest, witty and fun film about the challenges faced by young women in today’s world. Despite a very limited release, Lady Bird is one of the top films in the U.S. playing to full houses every night. If you are lucky enough to find Lady Bird playing near you, it is definitely  a film you should experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Laughton an the decadent Nero in Sigh Of The Cross

Charles Laughton an the decadent Nero in Sigh Of The Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother – the movie explained

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

Jennifer Lawrence as the confused main character in "Mother"

Jennifer Lawrence as the confused main character in “Mother”

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in "Mother"

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in “Mother”

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

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

Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer in “Mother”

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

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem in the strange world of Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in "3 Generations"

Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in “3 Generations”

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

Naomi Watts & Elle Fanning in "3 Generations"

Naomi Watts & Elle Fanning in “3 Generations”

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

Tate Donovan & Naomi Watts in "3 Generations"

Tate Donovan & Naomi Watts in “3 Generations”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rememory – murder with a science fiction and psychological twist

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

Peter Dinklage as Sam Bloom in Rememory

Peter Dinklage as Sam Bloom in Rememory

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

The Rememory Machine

The Rememory Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Vukadinovich, co-author of Rememory

Michael Vukadinovich, co-author of Rememory

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

Julia Ormond stars as Carolyn Dunn in Rememory

Julia Ormond stars as Carolyn Dunn in Rememory

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

Matt Ellis is rock star Sam Bloom in Rememory

Matt Ellis is rock star Sam Bloom in Rememory

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

Mark Palansky - Director & co-author of Rememory

Mark Palansky – Director & co-author of Rememory

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

Wind River- Murder On An Indian Reservation

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

Jeremy Renner & Gil Birmingham in Wind River

Jeremy Renner & Gil Birmingham in Wind River

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

Kelsey Chow as murder victim Natalie Hanson in Wind River

Kelsey Chow as murder victim Natalie Hanson in Wind River

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

Elizabeth Olson & Graham Greene in Wind River

Elizabeth Olsen & Graham Greene in Wind River

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

Jeremy Renner as the hunter Cory Lambert in Wind River

Jeremy Renner as the hunter Cory Lambert in Wind River

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

Julia Jones

Julia Jones

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

The bitter Winter on Wind River Reservation

The bitter Winter on Wind River Reservation

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

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

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

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

Natasha Leggero

Natasha Leggero

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

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

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

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

Straight Man Bud Abbott with Lou Costello

Straight Man Bud Abbott with Lou Costello

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

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

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

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

Straight Desi Arnaz with Lucille Ball

Straight Desi Arnaz with Lucille Ball

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

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

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

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

Natasha Leggero

Natasha Leggero

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

The Last Supper – Liberals Kill Right-Wing Wackos

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

Jonathan Penner & Bill Paxton in The Last Supper

Jonathan Penner & Bill Paxton in The Last Supper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder By Death

Murder By Death

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

Clue

Clue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

Jason Jones pretending to be an American Spy

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

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

Gael Garcia Bernal & Kim Bodnia in Rosewater

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

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

Golshifeth Farahani in Rosewater

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

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

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

Claire Foy at the Premier of Rosewater

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

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari & Jon Stewart

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

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

Jon Stewart on the set of Rosewater

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen Wilson as a psychopathic killer in The Minus Man

Owen Wilson as a psychopathic killer in The Minus Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis Haysbert as a fictitious cop in The Minus Man

Dennis Haysbert as a fictitious cop in The Minus Man

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

Brian Cox in The Minus Man

Brian Cox in The Minus Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Chambers- The Preppie Killer who murdered Jennifer Levin

Robert Chambers- The Preppie Killer who murdered Jennifer Levin

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

Dzhokhat Tsarnaev one of the Boston Bombers

Dzhokhat Tsarnaev one of the Boston Bombers

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

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

Becoming Carey Grant – the sad secrets of a movie star

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

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn

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

Carey Grant's mother - Elsie Leach

Carey Grant’s mother – Elsie Leach

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

Carey Grant's father- Elias James Leach

Carey Grant’s father- Elias James Leach

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

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

Carey Grant taking home movies

Carey Grant taking home movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

Lily James & Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

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

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

Eiza Gonzalez & Jon Hamm in Baby Driver

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

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey & Edgar Wright on the set of Baby Driver

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

Ansel Elgort is "Baby" in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort is “Baby” in Baby Driver

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

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

The Beguiled- Civil War sex but no slaves

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

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

Mae Mercer & Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled in 1971

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

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

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

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

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

Elle Fanning & Nicole Fanning in The Beguiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

The 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

Ooon Lawrence is excellent in The Beguiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I'M DYING UP HERE

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I’M DYING UP HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baywatch – raunchy and silly and we loved it

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

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

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

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

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

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

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

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

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

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

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

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percival Fawcett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheila Vand as the vampire

Sheila Vand as the vampire

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

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi and Masuka the cat

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

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

Arash Marandi & Sheila Vand

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

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

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

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

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

Get Out – A Horror Movie, Comedy, Racial Commentary

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

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get Out

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

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

Betty Gabriel as the creepy maid in Get Out

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

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

Milton "Lil Rel" Howery in Get Out

Milton “Lil Rel” Howery in Get Out

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Saoirse Ronan

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

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

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

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

Tian Jing in Kong Skull Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

The final resting place for Captain Ahab and all his hatred

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

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

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

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

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

The unstoppable King Kong

The unstoppable King Kong

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

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

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

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

Robert Ebert & Gene Siskel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

Marlene Iglitsen & Chaz Ebert

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

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

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

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

Robert Ebert & Martin Scorsese

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

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

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

Win at all costs

Win at all costs

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

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

Coach Gene Pingatore of St. Joseph High School

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

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

William Gates in "Hoop Dreams"

William Gates in “Hoop Dreams”

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

Arthur Agee in" Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee in” Hoop Dreams”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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