‘Tis the Season is now available for pre-order. Publication date Oct. 15th. Four Short Christmas stories with deadly consequences. This is not your cozy Christmas. Order it here.
Censorship is alive and well in 2020. Banned Book Week (Sept 27th thru Oct 3rd) is a time to rally around the First Amendment and to remind folks to never take for granted the right to read whatever book you desire. There are many reasons why books are banned: Political viewpoints, religious viewpoints, racism, sexuality, profanity, and intolerance for others. I thought I list ten, of many, books I’ve read that at one time or another have been banned.
I also provided a link below that is a list of the top 100 books banned or challenged during the years 2010-2019
One of the things I miss doing the most since the pandemic hit us is going to the library. I used to go once a week, mostly to either the Clearwater Library or the Dunedin Library, sometimes both on the same day. It was always an adventure whether I was doing research or looking for a book to read for pleasure. Sometimes you found a book long out-of-print. It was like discovering gold.
There is one pleasure I still get from the library these Covid days and that is Kanopy. If you’re not familiar with Kanopy, you’re missing out. Kanopy is a streaming service available through public libraries and universities. It offers a wide variety of films: classic, modern, foreign, documentaries and much more. There are more than 3,000 films in the catalog and more added each week. All you need is a library card from your local library branch to get free access and enjoy its cinematic pleasures. It’s available by downloading an app on your desktop or mobile phone, and via Roku.
Jaws has become more than the prototype of the modern blockbuster. With the pandemic, it has become something of a political statement. Specifically, the Mayor of Amity who insists on keeping the beach open because it’s the 4th of the July weekend, and local businesses will be crushed if the tourists stay away. Hey, it’s just a shark. Never mind that people are dying. Putting that aside the film remains a great thriller/horror story perfect for the summer. Jaws is so perfectly paced that one is always on the edge of your seat, tense even when the scary moments turn out to be false alarms, and just when you start to relax it hits you with the real shocks. Like “Psycho” “Jaws” has become a pop culture icon. There are even bits of dialogue that have become catch phrases (you’re gonna need a bigger boat) which is always a sign that a film has moved on to be more than just a great and entertaining film, but is now embedded into our pop culture.
In January 1970, I was back from Vietnam for about five months or so. A four month stint followed in the states at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and now I was on leave before heading off to Germany to complete my three years of service. While home, I was catching up with family, friends, and movies, lots of movies. It’s well known that director Robert Altman used the Korean War as a metaphor for the then ongoing and unpopular Vietnam War. The film struck a nerve. M*A*S*H was a crass, subversive, and sacrilegious anti-war comedy unlike any other. The film not only mocked military bureaucracy and war but religion takes a bit of a beating too. Like Dr. Strangelove, made some six years earlier, the film laughs at the absurdities of war and the bureaucracy behind it. Egotism, incompetence, and piousness all take a shellacking. The only thing our anti-heroes (Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould as Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John) value is proficiency in the operating room. When the chips are down, saving the wounded men from the insanity that engulfs the world is what matters. Sutherland and Gould lead an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Sally Kellerman, Tom Skerritt, and Robert Duvall among others. While the film has lost some of its shock value over the years it remains a classic.
Lust for Life
Kirk Douglas made for the perfect Vincent Van Gogh. He managed to dig into the emotional depths of his character and is charismatic enough to make the audience believe him to be the tortured artist. It was this movie, and soon after, Irving Stone’s autobiographical novel, that introduced me to the world of art. Eventually, I made my way to read about other artists, going museums and in the process creating a lifelong love for art. “Lust for Life” is the portrait of the artist as someone who suffers for his art. There is rejection and abuse in every one of his relationships. Douglas, in one of his finest performances, was nominated for an Oscar and deserved to win. Instead, the Academy gave the Best Actor award to Yul Brynner for his overly theatrical performance in The King and I.
The Front is a well-intentioned black comedy of an ugly period in American history. The Blacklist ruined many peoples’ lives, destroying careers and livelihood many times without proof or cause. It turned friends and colleagues against each other. Narrow-minded politicians preached hate, and fear listened to by blind narrow-minded followers. The film was written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt, two of the artists blacklisted back in the 1950s. Using Woody Allen as the front lightens the dark subject matter yet they still managed to make a film that conveys the dark times and fears the country was facing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It didn’t matter if you were a member or not of the Communist Party or were a member sometime in the past. If you were friends with someone who was or had knowledge of someone with left-wing leaning, once they got you in their headlights, called before the HUAC and forced to testify; name names, or be blacklisted. Allen plays his usual self-centered coward who eventually finds himself in deep water when he is subpoenaed because he acted as a front for a few friends on the blacklist. Is the film an oversimplification of what happened, yes, but it works at the limited level it is presented. And it has a great closing line!!! “The Front” had one other special memory. John Lennon and Yoko were in the audience! I spotted them after the film ended and the audience began filing out. I never saw Lennon in concert but I did go to the movies with him,,, sort of.
Murder Inc. mixes facts with a fictional love story. The film allegedly tells the true story of the Brooklyn based independent murder for hire crime organization that carried out assassinations for the Mafia and the Jewish Crime Syndicate. Peter Falk plays contract assassin Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a cold hearted killing machine, and he is the best thing in the movie. In real life, and in the film, Reles turned rat after he was marked for a contract himself. Both in the film and in real life, Reles died suspiciously when he was tossed out a window of Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel despite being under 24-hour police protection. The on location shoot gives a realistic feel to it all. The rest of the cast includes Stuart Whitman as his rather stiff self, May Britt, Sarah Vaughn, making her film debut, Sylvia Miles, and Morey Amsterdam as what else but a standup comic. But the worse casting is that of TV comedian Henry Morgan as the real life prosecuting attorney Burton Turkus.
I am excited to reveal the book cover for my new collection of Christmas themed short stories. ‘Tis The Season will be out this coming October. Murder, mayhem and mistletoe for the holidays. It will be available only as an eBook and cost only .99 cents. More details coming soon.
Scene 7 in the continuing series Movie Watching in Quarantine.
It wasn’t the first time Woody and Diane Keaton teamed up on the screen but Annie Hall would solidify their coupling as one of the great screen couples. Neurotic lovers seemingly perfect for each yet destined not to last. What does last is Woody’s second lover in the film, not a person, but the city of New York. In Annie Hall, Allen for the first time puts on screen New York City, or at least his version of New York City, consisting of the Upper East and West Side, movie theaters, bookstores, museums, and restaurants all populated with a closet full of pseudo-intellectuals.
For the first time in his career Woody, while managing to continue the self-deprecating bookish pseudo-intellectual laughs, blends in or rather introduces new colors onto his palette: passion, romance, love, and regret. In “Annie Hall,” Woody gives us the many colors making up the romantic rainbow. Even if you lose in the end, it was great to have had made the trip. With Annie Hall, Woody Allen found his voice.
The 39 Steps
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller speeds along like a shooting star. A moment is not wasted during its tight less than 90 minute running time. Filled with suspense and humor, some risqué for its time, the film is a roller coaster ride that never stops. For the first time, Hitchcock used what would become one of his most famous motifs that of the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. It would surface again in films like The Wrong Man, Saboteur and North by Northwest. Another Hitchcock theme that will appear again and again in his films is the cool blonde; Madeleine Carroll, I believe may be the first in a long line of cool Hitchcock blondes. Spies and secret organizations are another theme that would continue to show up in future works. Of his British period, this ranks for me as his best. The Lady Vanishes, Sabotage and The Man Who Knew Too Much not fare behind.
Based on a novel (The Hunter) by Richard Stark, aka Donald E. Westlake, John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir Point Blank was a revelation when it first came out in 1967 one of the most stylistic and earliest films, along with “Bonnie and Clyde” released the same year, to reflect the influences of the French New Wave. Boorman uses flashbacks, inter cutting, offbeat camera composition to create the paranoid universe Lee Marvin’s Walker travels in attempting to collect the $93,000 owed him. Though dressed in suits and working out of corporate offices, John Boorman’s underworld characters in Point Blank are as treacherous, backstabbing, and a conniving group of low life’s as gangsters from the days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But as slick, as they think they are, they meet their match in Walker a relentless, lifelong criminal, doubled crossed out of his share of money from a robbery and left for dead on Alcatraz Island. More than revenge, Walker wants his damn money.
Don’t bother with the Mel Gibson 1999 remake (Payback). Gibson’s character is less anti-hero and more a crude gorilla dressed up in false modern day movie cool. The film as a whole has no heart or soul. It’s mindless pulp.
Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child, the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and you ask yourself what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out to be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse. Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mommie Dearest, and The Manchurian Candidate. And then there is Rosemary’s Baby.
We have been conditioned to expect witchcraft to be practiced in places like Salem or it’s like. But, not on the Upper West Side of New York City. Rosemary’s Baby can be watched as just a great horror film, but it can also be read as a mother’s worst nightmare. Betrayed by her husband selling her out for a successful acting career, arranging to have her impregnated by the devil, forcing her to be left in the hands of a demonic doctor and some very devilish neighbors. The terror of rape, an unwanted pregnancy, and the fear of abnormal deformed childbirth are also filtered into the storyline. Rosemary becomes isolated, trapped with no family or friends to confide in or help her. Roman Polanski has given us a room full of paranoia with an eerie atmosphere and morbid humor. The acting adds much. The waif-like Mia Farrow makes her look even more vulnerable. John Cassavetes has a perfect demonic look in his eyes. Polanski opens and closes the film with sky-high views of the Bramford apartments where most of the film is shot. The Bramford is of course the famed Dakota Apartments on the Upper West Side, home of many famous people, and sadly most notable for where John Lennon lost his life.
While Psycho may not be as shocking as it was back in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic till outshines the Freddy Krugers, Hannibal Lectors, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees that have followed. Though there are deeply disturbing themes running through the film, Hitchcock always makes it feel entertaining. Shot for under 1 million dollars, the director lures the audience in with masterful editing (the famed shower sequence), suspense, thrills, black humor, and a brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann.
There is something comfortable or maybe not so comfortable reading dark tales about where you live. So I was excited to discover “Tampa Bay Noir.” I was equally disappointed by the book. Not because the stories are bad, they are not, but if you looking for noir, well, at best there are a few noir lite tales. With the title, and the long running series that it is part of, I was expecting darker tales. The stories give us a view of modern Tampa Bay filled with subdivisions, malls and homes by the water. Edited by Collette Bennett, book reviewer for the Tampa Bay Times, who contributes a story, the collection gets off with a good start with Michael Connelly who brings the iconic Harry Bosch to Tampa Bay to help an old friend. Lori Roy follows with another interesting tale, one of the darker ones. Other highlights include stories by Tim Dorsey, Lisa Unger, Ace Atkins, Gale Massey, Danny Lopez, and the previously mentioned Collette Bennett. There is not a bad story, but the dark noir streets are missing.
My wife and I are homebodies, but even for folks like us who don’t mind being at home, it gets challenging. We do like to go out shopping, for lunch or dinner at a restaurant, we like to go out and photograph birds, and the landscape and more. We like going to the movies, and we like seeing relatives and friends. These days all that has come to a screeching halt.
As a photographer, it sucks. These days I do a lot of cat photography. We have two cats. As a writer, staying home is what you do. You sit in front of your computer and hopefully put something down that will lead to a new story. At times, it’s been not easy to concentrate on writing. I didn’t think it would be, but as the virus continues to run amok, it’s tougher and tougher.,
One of the things I do on most days is watch a movie. It’s relaxing, and I have always loved movies. If you are a regular reader, you have seen my post on some of the films I’ve watched while we quarantine.
We have a long road ahead of us with this virus, and anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. A vaccine will help, but it will not end the spread unless it’s 100%, and everyone gets it. We need to try and stay positive and adjust to the life changes the virus has forced on us.
Please stay safe.
The Man With Two Brains
One year after Steve Martin and Carl Reiner spoofed the P.I. genre in “Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid,” (their third of four collaborations), they reteamed to do a takeoff on Mad Scientist flicks in this delightful though sometimes uneven comedy. Martin through sheer talent pulls out enough laughs to make it worth seeing. Some jokes may slip by if you’re not familiar with films like “Frankenstein” and “Donavan’s Brain.” Kathleen Turner makes for a perfect slinky, devilish siren, in a perfect send up on her previous femme fatale in “Body Heat,” who marries our crazy hero only to soak him for his money.
Martin portrays brain surgeon, Dr. Hfuhruhurr who has perfected a new type of brain surgery, something called the cranial screw-top method. He uses it to save the life of a beautiful young woman (Turner) he hit with his Mercedes. The woman turns out to be a golddigger who seduces every hunk she meets while avoiding to sleep with her new husband. Frustrated, our hero falls in love with the brain of another woman — a brain that has been pickled jarred by another mad scientist (David Warner). Despite some bits falling flat, there are more than enough good ones, though it never rises to the level of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”
With Tony Rome, Frank Sinatra found the smart ass, wise guy loner role the public always felt the singer/actor was in real life. He’s a bit too old for the role, he was 51, however, that hard, tired face and look surely adds to the aura. So how good, or bad, is Tony Rome? Well, it’s neither. It’s somewhere in that hazy middle ground of shades of gray. One of the film’s obvious failures is the wardrobe choices Sinatra’s Rome wears. He looks like he came out of a 1950’s film complete with fedora and “ring-a-ding” repartee he is given to pontificate. What was rat pack hip in the late 1950s and early ’60s was completely old fashion in the psychedelic world of Purple Haze, Surrealistic Pillows, and Sgt. Pepper in the late ’60s. Worst is the wardrobe he wears when he is on the houseboat where he lives. The Captain’s hat and white slacks are cheesy God awful. That said, Sinatra handles himself well. He’s convincing as the streetwise loner. The plot is a bit convoluted, but then what P.I. film isn’t? Rome is asked by his ex-partner to help get a rich, drunk teen out of a Miami hotel without being seen and keeping the hotel’s name out of it. It sounds like a quick $200 bucks, but of course, it’s not.
The film is lightweight, more like a TV detective show than say The Maltese Falcon. There’s no deep probing into the meaning of life or Rome questioning his own sense of morality. There are no rain-soaked darky lit mean streets that many shamus roam. The setting is Miami and it’s all sunshine and heat. Sinatra is good with the wisecracks; they come quickly and often. There’s a good supporting cast that includes Richard Conte, Jill St. John, Gena Rowlands, and Sue Lyons. There’s also a cameo by the former middleweight/welterweight champion boxer Rocky Graziano, and daughter Nancy Sinatra sings the title song.
The Wild Bunch
THE WILD BUNCH – Both Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” released in 1969 take a look at the end of an era: the Wild West. They are two films coming at you from different points of view. Butch Cassidy is a loving, romanticized take on the Wild West featuring two of the most charismatic stars of the era. Butch and the Sundance Kid are outlaws but they are fun-loving and good-humored. It’s an honor, as Woodcock (George Furth) the train employee tells Butch, to be robbed by Butch and his gang. With Butch and Sundance it comes down to that you wouldn’t mind having a beer with these guys. Not so much with The Wild Bunch crew. There is an inherent violent streak in this film whether its kids burning a scorpion, or lawman blatantly gunning down innocent townsfolks while attempting to stop a robbery, outlaws shooting U.S. soldiers, outlaws shooting Mexican soldiers or Mexican soldiers torturing outlaws. They kill for revenge, profit, power, fun, and any other reason. It was a way of life.
The Wild Bunch, like “Bonnie and Clyde” a few years earlier was considered violent and bloody. After more than 50 years of cinematic violence, the shock value had numbed us some but it still holds a grip on the audience. Like Butch and Sundance where the future is seen in the form of a bicycle, here it’s represented by the automobile. The closing final shootout is a violent visually poetic take that closes the book on a way of life. Oh yeah, “The Wild Bunch” is a modern day masterpiece of filmmaking.
Pay or Die
For three years, 1906-1909, Lt. Giuseppe “Joseph” Petrosino headed what became known as the Italian Squad of the New York Police Dept. As a detective, Petrosino focused on fighting the Italian criminal element in New York’s Little Italy, a group known as La Mano Nera or the BLACK HAND a forerunner to the Mafia. “Pay or Die” is a vivid account of the life and times of Giuseppe Petrosino. Like most film biographies liberties have been taken but the overall story is true, including an extortion attempt on Opera star Enrico Caruso as portrayed in the film. Though filmed on a studio lot, the film reflects an accurate look at immigrant life at the turn of the 20th Century. Italian immigrants were pouring into the United States mostly from the poorer parts of Italy. Many of these families settled in New York, in what became known as Little Italy. The Black Hand preyed on the Italian community extorting money from store owners. If they didn’t pay, storefronts were blown up or worst. The owners brutally murdered. A note would be left with the body, a black hand imprinted on it as a warning to others. The film provides a tough look at the early days of the Italian criminal element in the United States and how they as predators, extorted and terrorized their own people. The film uses the phrases “Mafia” and “Mafioso” at a time when J. Edgar Hoover only just began to admit that the Mafia even existed (maybe he watched this movie). “Pay or Die” was a small B film that came and went into theaters without much fanfare. Ernest Borgnine is perfectly cast as Petrosino who comes across as a tough honest cop dedicated to cleaning up the Black Hand out of Little Italy and giving honest Italian immigrants the chance to become part of the American dream.
For a time in the 1970s, William Goldman was one of my favorite authors: Magic, Control, Tinsel, and Marathon Man were some of his best sellers. He also was a prolific screenwriter: Harper, No way to Treat a Lady, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, and The Stepford Wives. He also adapted many of his own novels to the screen Including Magic and Marathon Man. Marathon Man is a fast paced, diabolical thriller about former Nazis, smuggled diamonds, a rouge government agent, and a dentist scene that still brings nightmares to me each time I have a dental appointment. John Schlesinger’s film version is not perfect. If plot holes bother you, it could be bothersome, but putting that aside, it’s a thrilling ride. Dustin Hoffman is well cast and Laurence Olivier delivers a frightening performance. After watching this film, you’ll never want to hear your dentist say, “Is it safe?”
Why I took this photo of a typical community board remains a mystery even to me. But it soon became the inspiration for my short story Make it Write. The photograph was taken at the Belfast Co-op in Maine.
Like all community boards, it’s filled with notices of local events, lost pets, local concerts, and business cards for lawyers, dog walkers, cat sitters, etc. This ordinary looking community board made me think about what would happen if there was a business card that read, I CAN HELP. Nothing else on the card except for a phone number. Help with what was the first question that popped up in my mind followed by this must be a scam. I then wondered what would happen if I took one of the cards and called. What would the price be? For my character, George Jensen, a failed novelist, in Make it Write the price may be more than he bargained for.