Monthly Archives: July 2019

First Man – The Private life of Neil Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Shearon Armstrong
Janet Shearon Armstrong

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

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

Corey Stoll and Buzz Aldrin
Corey Stoll and Buzz Aldrin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Give First Man Five Stars *****

Be sure to read all our movie reviews

Sweetbitter Season 2 – Murder & Mistrust

Season 2 of Sweetbitter begins with the shocking murder of an innocent pig and has Tess (Ella Purnell) questioning who she can trust and who might be about to knife her in the back. It is an exciting opening and it looks like Season 2 of Sweetbitter may be moving in a whole new direction. Tess is no longer the young innocent newbie, and is starting to notice what really goes on behind the scenes to make a fine restaurant tick.

Ella Purnell & Catlin Fitzgerald in Sweetbitter
Ella Purnell & Catlin Fitzgerald in Sweetbitter

Alright, it is not really a murder, but the slaughter of a farm animal for food. We all know where those delicious pork chops and ribs come from, but no one likes to think about it in detail. Howard (Paul Sparks) has taken the entire restaurant staff to a farm in New Jersey, purportedly to show them where all the fresh food for the restaurant comes from. The real reason is that Howard thinks the staff needed shaking up and he does just that.

We don't really want to think about where that pork came from.
We don’t really want to think about where that pork came from.

The restaurant staff thinks it is so cute when the farmer leads a fat pig into the barn to show them. The farmer then quickly shoots a metal bolt into the pig’s brain like something out of No Country For Old Men. All the New Yorkers are shocked, but Tess has a different reaction than the others. What impressed Tess the most about the slaughter was how completely the pig had trusted the farmer, right up to the second the farmer killed it. She is determined to never be so innocently trustful as that pig

Paul Sparks in Sweetbitter
Paul Sparks in Sweetbitter

From that point on, Tess begins to reevaluate her relationships with all the people around her. Is Howard really the perfect mentor and boss, or is he secretly a sexual predator who purposely uses his position to hire very young very innocent girls? Is Simone (Catlin Fitzgerald) a true friend or someone with a secret agenda?

Ella Purnell & Daniyar in Sweetbitter
Ella Purnell & Daniyar in Sweetbitter

Trust, or the lack therefore, is a fascinating subject in the stratified work environment of this top-flight restaurant. The illegal Hispanic immigrants who work in the kitchen know they cannot really trust the other workers, even the ones who pretend to be friends. Any petty argument or jealousy can lead to someone calling ICE agents to have them taken away.

Sasha (Daniyar) is still teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, but he at least has always enjoyed feeling superior to the illegals. Then his own visa expires and he is suddenly one of the frightened masses himself.

So Season 2 of Sweetbitter has started out very well and we hope this high level continues. Of course, like in Season 1, the workers still have much more time to chat, gossip and drink than any real restaurant workers ever had. We will write that off to a necessary plot device. No one wants to watch a show where the exhausted and sweaty workers spend 2 hours after closing clearing plates, scrubbing tables and kitchen utensils and lugging food into freezers. No, in Sweetbitter, all the workers, including the illegals, can leisurely drink free top quality wine every night, all with the blessing of the owner.  Still, it is an entertainment show, not a documentary.

Code Girls – The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of Work War II

Code Girls by Liza Mundy – is the fascinating story of the thousands of women who worked on the top secret project to crack the German and Japanese codes during World War II.  These woman were not just a part of the project, they were the key component and often leaders of the code breaking success. I can proudly say that my own mother was one of these code breakers; which is what lead me to this book. I recently posted a description of my mother’s work on code breaking. This post was followed almost immediately by both of my sisters calling me and telling me all the details I had gotten wrong. One of my sisters sent me Code Girls, and it turned out to be a fascinating read.

Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls
Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls

Unlike me, Liza Mundy has not missed any of the details. Code Girls was meticulously researched, and Liza Mundy met with many of the surviving people who were part of the World War II code breaking effort. The result is that Code Girls not only gives the technical details of the work, but also has moving personal stories about many of the women.

The Navy recruiting women in World War II
The Navy recruiting women in World War II

The first thing to realize is that the position of American woman at the onset of World War II was vastly different than it is today. At the time, American women were in many ways a huge, yet undiscovered, resource. It was unusual for a woman to attend college, and even more unusual for a woman to study science or mathematics. There were no woman in the Army or Navy, except for nurses.

The American Navy was the first branch of the services to realize how much women would be needed to help win the war. The Navy secretly started searching for the top female talent at the top universities. The American Navy has always been elitist, so it began recruiting at the Seven Sisters of the Ivy League, and at other top universities. Navy officers surreptitiously contacted key Professors to help in the search.

Code Girls were secretly recruited from the Seven Sisters
Code Girls were secretly recruited from the Seven Sisters

 The professors secretly contacted the students they thought would be best suited to the work. The students were given tests and crash courses in code-breaking and the top women were asked to join. Brown University was actually blackballed, since one of the Professors could not resist talking about this exciting project. Once that happened, Brown was scratched off the list. My own mother was at Barnard College of Columbia University when she got the secret nod.

My mother in her Navy officer's uinform in World War II. The mere Army Private is the man who became my father
My mother in her Navy officer’s uinform in World War II. The mere Army Private is the man who became my father

The Navy was also the first to bring the woman in as officers and enlisted women instead of just civilian workers. They began the famous WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). As you can tell from the acronym it was assumed that allowing women into service would be a temporary measure.  (Of course, the woman were so successful at their jobs that they ended up changing the composition of the Navy forever.)

Not only did the Navy want the most brilliant women, they also wanted them to look sharp. Consequently, a huge amount of attention was devoted to designing a beautiful uniform, which even today, many of the Code Girls say was the most flattering outfit they ever owned. As silly as that may seem, the female officers uniforms sent a message that these were important women who mattered.

The American Army was late to the game, and the Navy made it clear that the Ivy League was Navy territory and that the Army better not try to recruit any Ivy League women. Consequently, the Army recruited at colleges throughout the country, especially the South. The Army found that female Southern school teachers were eager to join up, and were very good at code breaking.

By the end of World War II over 200,000 women were in the American Navy and Army, and their work was essential to winning the war.

There were giant code breaking facilities around Washington D.C. mostly staffed and run by women.  The amount of work was staggering. Many thousands of messages in code were constantly being sent by the Germans and Japanese. The more that would be broken the more lives of Allied Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen could be saved. This put tremendous psychological pressure on the code breakers.  They knew that they were not just dealing with columns of numbers and letters and solving complex mathematical problems. They knew that if they failed in their jobs, men might die as a result.

As the war progressed, the code breaking efforts became more and more successful. This was particularly helpful to American submarine warfare. The Pacific Ocean is unimaginably huge, and the possibility of an American sub just happening to find a Japanese ship is almost nonexistent.  The Allies were able to intercept Japanese messages about shipping routes and times, de-code the messages, and transmit instruction to an American sub in time to catch and sink the Japanese ships.

When you think about the staggering distances involved, and the short time available to decode the message, and re-route the submarine, you realize how incredible were the achievements of these code breaking women. In fact, the Japanese thought the American submarine fleet was many times larger than it actually was. There were times when every single American submarine was on route to verified targets due to the code breaking women in Washington D.C.  

Without the Code Girls, World War II would have been much longer than it was, and many more people would have died.

Who knew that my mother had secretly been a code breaker in World War II?
Who knew that my mother had secretly been a code breaker in World War II?

So what became of the Code Girls when the war ended? They blended back into American life, not allowed to talk about what they did during the war. Men had heroic stories to tell, but these women had to lie and pretend they had not done anything much during the war.

Of course, men may not have realized it at the time, but World War II had forever change the position of American women in the world. At the most frantic period of the war there was a huge competition for American Woman.  The Army and the Navy wanted them, but so did factories and offices. Women were given good pay and huge responsibilities.

After the war, most American women became those 1950s American housewives that Hollywood loves to make fun of. But that was not the end of the story. Most people think the feminist revolution began in the late 1960s, but it actually started in World War II. These 1950s housewives had not forgotten what they were capable of. They taught their daughters how truly important women are to society. They made sure their daughters got good educations, and made sure their daughters realized that they were capable of anything.

Well, I hope I have properly gotten all the details of Code Girls correct.  If not, you can be sure that I will soon receive 2 phone calls. One from each of my sisters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shut Up During the Movie!

When I was a kid, people who spoke during movies were punished. A group of large ushers would march down the aisle, and shine powerful flashlights into the faces of The Talkers. Then then ushers would politely but firmly tell The Talkers to leave the theater. The Talkers did not get a refund on their tickets.

In the old days ushers threw out people who talked during the movie.
In the old days ushers threw out people who talked during the movie.

But nowadays movie theaters have become complete chatter-fests. The worst are the “Dine-In Theaters”, where you can order a meal delivered to your seat. It has become difficult to actually hear or see the movie itself. While you are trying to concentrate on key plot points, people are loudly ordering chicken nuggets from the waiter, or else using the lights on their iPhones to read the menus in the darkened theater.

How can you watch a movie sitting behind a group of people having a dinner party?
How can you watch a movie sitting behind a group of people having a dinner party?

You would think there would be a lull in the talking once the food arrives, but that is not the case. Theaters are now designed to make people feel like they are at home in their own living rooms or kitchens watching T.V. Given that vibe, it is not surprising that people act like they are at home. They talk loudly to each other throughout the film, and often turn on bright iPhones to text their friends. All sense of etiquette while being in a public place has apparently vanished from the Earth.

Politely asking a movie talker to be quiet does no good.
Politely asking a movie talker to be quiet does no good.

The theater owners are partly to blame. For people to act like they are in a special place, they need to feel like they are in a special place. When I was a kid, movie theaters were giant, spotless and gorgeous, with names like “The Palace”. There was one giant screen and the floors were not sticky. Now they have names like “Theater 12 on Route 46”, with many small screens jammed into a building that is basically a warehouse.

When movie theaters were palaces.
When movie theaters were palaces.

Let’s bring back a little magic into the movie-going experience. Bring back Palace-like theaters, clean floors and uniformed ushers. Above all, let’s get rid of the Dine-In Theaters. Maybe then we can all enjoy watching the beautiful quiet ending to a romantic love story without hearing someone slurping up nacho cheese fries at the same time.

Notice that the guy in front even brought his computer and office paperwork to the movie.
Notice that the guy in front even brought his computer and office paperwork to the movie.

Of course, this will never happen. The old time movie palaces have disappeared; along with quiet audiences and real butter on the popcorn. Call me a curmudgeon, but I think it is sad that today’s movie audiences don’t even realize what they missed.

Be sure to read all our Nostalgic Stories

Lee Iacocca was a jerk

Lee Iacocca was an arrogant jerk who made horrible cars and took credit for other people’s work. He was not the “father of the 1964 Mustang”, but just one of many people working on that project. The greatest success of Iacocca’s life was that he was able to take 100% credit for the Mustang after it became successful. There is no doubt that if the Mustang had flopped, Iacocca would have made sure his name was never mentioned in connection with it.

The Ford Pinto - a Lee Iacocca special
The Ford Pinto – a Lee Iacocca special

It is time to set the story straight on Lee Iacocca before the news reports turn him into some sort of automobile genius and God. When Iacocca became President of Ford in 1970, the first thing he did was turn out a string of cars that were absolute junk. Iacocca was not the father of the Mustang, but he was the father of the Ford Pinto, the Ford Fiesta, and the Ford Fairmont, three of the worst cars in history. He also temporarily ruined the Mustang by turning it into a sedan with an under-powered engine. It was only after he was fired that Ford re-designed the car and brought it back to its original sporty design.

Iacocca almost ruined the Mustang by turning into this under-powered ugly mess.
Iacocca almost ruined the Mustang by turning into this under-powered ugly mess.

When Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca in 1978, there was a celebration among many of the people who worked for Iacocca. The joke going around Ford at the time was:

“After being fired from Ford, Iacocca was offered the job of Pope. He turned it down, because he did not want to make a lateral career move. The people who worked for Iacocca hoped he would take the job as Pope, because then they would only have to kiss his ring.”

The Ford Fairmont - another Lee Iacocca car. It is difficult to find one not in a junkyard.
The Ford Fairmont – another Lee Iacocca car. It is difficult to find one not in a junkyard.

Lee Iacocca was always more skilled at making political friends then he was at making cars. He was able to convince the U.S. government to bail out Chrysler. Lee Iacocca was at the helm of Chrysler as it designed and sold the truly awful “K-Cars”. The driving public hated the K-Cars, but once again Iacocca used his political expertise to save the day. He successfully lobbied the U.S. government to have thousands of K-Cars bought by government agencies across the country. The U.S. taxpayer was saddled with the high repair costs and zero resale value of these rust-bucket rattletraps.

Lee Iacocca announces the Chrysler K-Car.
Lee Iacocca announces the Chrysler K-Car.

So what is the final legacy of Lee Iacocca? He personally made millions of dollars, but the people who actually built his awful cars did not share in the wealth.

The Chrysler K-Car was known to quickly fall apart
The Chrysler K-Car was known to quickly fall apart

The Detroit population is less than one half what it was in 1978 due to the decline of the auto industry. In the long run Iacocca and the other auto executives did not “save” anything. Lee Iacocca only used his power and influence to get as much as he could for himself. He cared nothing for his workers and turned out a string of truly horrible cars. The one thing Iacocca was great at was creating a myth about himself. He never did become Pope, but the press is treating his passing as if he were a Saint. Lee Iacocca would have loved that.