Book Review: The Big Goodbye

Goodbye

Chinatown is one of the golden apples of 70s cinema. Sam Wasson has written an interesting, if sometimes overly detailed history on the making of the movie. Wasson brings you into the minds of the creators and participants: Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski, John Alonzo, Jack Nicholson, and Faye Dunaway. It’s also an intimate portrayal of Los Angeles and the Hollywood of the 1970s. Like the movie,  it’s convoluted at times. But the story is fascinating. It took Towne years to write the screenplay and he didn’t want to give up control. But filmmaking is a collaborative art, and the director, especially a director of Polanski’s caliber, has the final say. Wasson writes that the film’s ending is more Polanski’s doing than Towne.

The Big Goodbye is more than about Chinatown. It’s about the end of a golden era in films. Soon movies like Chinatown, The Conversation,   Marathon Man, The Godfather, and Network would give way to mindless blockbusters. There was more money to be made with trashy, splashy lightweight entertainment, lots more money, and after all, that’s what the business is about. Making money and box office trends, not art.

 

 

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 3

Here is scene 3 in my list of Movies Watched in Quarantine.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

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 With the mood, the ambiance, the Miklos Rozsa’s soundtrack, the perfect deadpan voice-over by Steve Martin, we are transported back to 1946 and those dark rain-filled streets of film noir. Well sorta, after all, that is Steve Martin sitting in the detective chair and it is Carl Reiner in the director’s seat. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an affectionate, funny, and technically inspired tribute to the murky cinema of gats, dames, and mean darkly lit streets.

 

Murder By Natural Causes

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Written by William Levinson and Richard Link (creators of Colombo) the 1979 Made for TV movie is a clever and devious story filled with one twist after another, and when you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. A must-see for mystery lovers. I originally saw this on CBS back in 1979. In the late 1990s, I found a used VHS copy at Blockbuster Video and held onto it to this day. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD. The film stars Katherine Ross, Hal Holbrook, and Barry Boswick.

 

The Narrow Margin

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One of my all-time favorite Film Noir’s. Running a rapid 71 minutes, the film’s pace is as hi-speed as the rails they are riding. We are back in time when most people still traveled by train. It’s a world filled with sleeping berths, club cars, dining cars, porters, and whistles shrieking in the dark of the night. Most of all, the film has the great Charles McGraw, the unofficial king of B film noir. Whether portraying a cop or a criminal, his gravel like voice and square jaw looks have graced many film noirs. McGraw meets his hardcore match in Marie Windsor. Known as the “Queen of the B’s,” for the countless low budget films she made in her career. Windsor’s off-beat beauty graced a wide variety of films most importantly, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Windsor’s 5’9” slinky frame, her coldhearted, seen everything looks make her a perfect femme fatale, and a superb counterpoint to McGraw’s rugged honest cop.

 

Broadway Danny Rose

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Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business: a one-legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his client’s worth no matter how bad they are. Allen creates a nostalgic world filled with the lower levels of New York’s show business community that he knew well from his early days as a TV writer and standup comedian. Many of the characters have a colorful Damon Runyon like quality to them. Classic Woody!

 

Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 2

Here are a few more films I  watched while social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic which is still not under control. Here in Florida it continues to spread. I hope everyone is staying safe. Please wear a mask, it’s not that big a sacrifice. I know you can handle it  Anyway, as I shelter from the storm, here are a few thoughts on some of the films I’ve watched. More to come!

Misery

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Whether you are a musician, writer, actor, artist or any other public figure, you know having fans is an integral part of the experience. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted. However, with some fans there comes the point when that devotion takes a turn toward some very dark places; far from the ordinary, toward the bizarre, the maniacal or even worst. Fan is short for fanatic which derives from the Latin adjective fanaticus. The fanatic has lost all perspective of their relationship to the artist. They are overly passionate and unreasonable in their devotion to their idol. Some even feel they know the artist and have a personal relationship where the artist is speaking directly to them. It’s all very delusional, and needless to say, way outside the boundaries of what is considered conventional behavior. Then there is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates).
Misery is one of my favorite Stephen King novels and one of the best adaptations of a King novel. Filled with dark witty humor and a sense of dread that builds throughout. Would have loved to have seen Hitchcock make this film

The Incredible Shrinking Man

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Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. It’s based on Richard Matheson’s novel, The Shrinking Man. On the surface, the film is fun to watch, but it does carry some serious underlying themes. Our Shrinking hero sees his shrinkage as a loss of his masculinity. As he continues to shrink, he feels his manhood and his place as the man of the house are being diminished as well. He is no longer sexually adequate. He also faces a life where everyday objects are now life-threatening. A spider he once would have stepped on is now the size of a prehistoric monster. The pet cat is a predatory beast ready to attack. Small leaks from the basement water heater turn into a major flood for our minuscule hero. He hates being a scientific experiment and a spectacle for the media. He now fights for survival in his own house where everyday objects are now the enemy to his existence. Finally, he must face the biggest question of all. If he continues to shrink, will he eventually even exist?

 

Lost in America

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“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out!” Timothy Leary once proclaimed. Albert Brooks takes it to heart and is born to be wild in this hilarious off-beat comedy, Lost in America is his third feature film as a director and writer (script co-written with, Monica McGowan Johnson). David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard, two materialistic yuppies who have good jobs and a pleasant life in California, but still do not feel fulfilled with their lives. David is expecting a big promotion to Senior Vice-President with the advertising company where he works. However, on the big day, he finds out his boss has other “big” plans for him. A transfer to New York to work on a major new account…and no promotion. David is stunned; His jaw-dropping response is, “a transfer??? I can get that at a bus stop!” He goes on a verbal rampage directed at his boss and is fired. He convinces Linda to quit her job, sell all their assets, buy a Winnebago, and go searching for America just like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper..well almost.

And so they hit the road to the tune of Steppenwolf’s’ Born to Be Wild blasting on the soundtrack. We watch as their new Winnebago heads out on the highway, looking for adventure, in this superb parody of the counterculture hit, Easy Rider.

The free-spirited lifestyle doesn’t work out and the couple comes to realize that dropping out may not be the answer, at least not for them. Two weeks after hitting the road David and Linda make their way to New York with plans and hopes of David begging to get his job back

 

Between the Lines

Between the Lines

I have always had an affinity for newspaper themed films. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole,  Sam Fuller’s Park Row, Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Phil Karlson’s Scandal Sheet, Richard Brooks’ Deadline U.S.A, and more recently Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight are just some of my favorites. As you can tell from this small list, newspaper reporting can be a heroic endeavor or it can be down and dirty, even scandalous.

A forgotten film in this sub-genre is Between the Lines. With the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s, as well as the Vietnam anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement, underground newspapers representing the growing and influential youth market of the time were beginning to pop up throughout the country. The heyday of the underground newspaper was between 1965-1973. By 1977, when this film was made the idealism and the paper’s circulation has faded thanks to an apathetic public. The film works best as a document of its times, capturing the shabby conditions, the idealistic anti-establishment attitude of the characters, and finally the realization that it’s all about to change. The cast includes John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Crouse, Bruno Kirby, Gwen Welles, Stephen Collins, Michael J. Pollard, and others. One of the highlights is a couple of live performances from Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes.

Movie Watching in Quarantine

As a writer, I stay home and write. That’s the nature of the process, but when I put my photographer’s hat on I am outside. Again, that’s the nature of the process. Covid-19 has put my photography on hold. Sure, I can do indoor photography, but my taste has usually run toward the outdoors.
These days, I’m spending more time inside than out. My writing is at its best in the early hours. Subsequently, to pass the time I read, and I have been watching movies, movies and more movies.
I have been posting on Facebook a few thoughts on most and decided to share a few here.

Cape Fear

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Cape Fear one of the great thrillers from the early 60s. Robert Mitchum’s revenge-seeking crazed Max Cady is one of cinema’s great psychopaths. What makes his performance so effectively terrifying is his laid back style. He’s a relentless, vengeful, monster that would put fear in anyone’s heart. The film is a twisted tale that will keep your nails short due to all the biting you will do while sitting on the edge of your seat. Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of his best as is Mitchum’s off-kilter, heavy-lidded, sexually charged, nasty performance.

Carrie

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Brian DePalma’s Carrie is best remembered for the film’s prom night climax: the bucket filled with pig blood dropping on Carrie, the split-screen, the bursting flames of fire, and the deadly revenge filled bloodshed as the highlights in this film. True, it’s one of the most shocking of screen massacres and all-time great sequences in horror. But complementing thasequence is the sequence that comes prior to it. The tense filled scenes beginning with the collection of prom queen ballots to the tracking shot of the bucket’s cord and the fated spilling of blood onto Carrie’s hair and body. That sequence creates a slow, but tense, nail-biting buildup to the final destruction

Three Days Of the Condor

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Paranoia Strikes Deep as Buffalo Springfield once sang. Three Days of the Condor strikes deep into the heart of the CIA. Robert Redford reads books for the agency looking for ideas, plans, secret codes that may be Thembedded. He is not a field agent. So when there is a mass slaughter of his co-workers (with the hits occurring while he is literally out to lunch). Redford calls his superior and wants to be brought in from the cold. One little problem. He finds himself a target not only from the assassins but the Agency itself. Condor is one of the great paranoid thrillers of the day. Sydney Pollack was an efficient filmmaker whose crisp, no nonsense style moves the film along at a sharp pace. There are no fancy shots, and he manages to clearly explain what is sometimes a convoluted tale. Even in quiet, simple scenes like the elevator ride where Redford slowly comes to the realization that Max Van Sydow, his co-rider on the elevator is the enemy Pollack can build up suspense. I did find the love affair that ensues between Redford and Faye Dunaway lacking believability but this is a film I like watching over and over.

The Professionals

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Recently watched Richard Brooks’ classic western, The Professionals, a film that contains one of the great closing lines in cinema. Ralph Bellamy’s arrogant and lying Texas millionaire calls Lee Marvin, one of four men he hired to bring his alleged kidnapped wife back, a bastard. Marvin’s character responds “Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you, you’re a self-made man.”

Real Life Authors as Characters on Screen

I recently watched a couple of films that featured real life authors as characters on screen. There was Hammett (Dashiell) about the Pinkerton detective and author of The Maltese Falcon and other crime classics. Not long after, I watched the 1979 movie, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the famed author. This got me wondering about other authors whose story made it to the big screen. Quite a few as it turns out. Here are some I came up with. This is not a complete list so feel free to add!

Agatha Christie made it on film three times so far, with a fourth film in the works. Only one film though made it to the big screen. Vanessa Redgrave starred as Ms. Christie in the 1979 film Agatha. The movie is a fictional take on Ms. Christie’s eleven day disappearance which to this day has never been explained. Dustin Hoffman plays a fictional American reporter on her trail. Read more here.

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In 2018, our British cousins produced an authorized fictional story called Agatha and the Truth of Murder (now available on Netflix). A second MTM, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar was made by the same folks in 2019. A third film, Agatha and the Midnight Murders recently completed production.

Murder

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared in quite a few MTM productions and TV shows, too many to list. That said, Actors David Warner played  Doyle in Houdini a 1998 MTM, and David Calder portrayed Holmes creator in a 2014 miniseries also called Houdini.

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed Truman Capote and Catherine Keener played Harper Lee in Capote (2005). One year later came Infamous with Toby Jones as  Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee. Both films focused on the period when Capote, and Lee as his assistant, were researching his non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood.

Elle Fanning portrayed Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley in Mary Shelley (2017)

MAry Shelley Elle Fanning

Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles creator, Dashiell Hammett, made it to the big screen with Frederic Forest in the title role. You can read an article I wrote on the author and film Hammett here.

Hammett

Poet, novelist and short story writer, the man Time magazine called the “laureate of American lowlife,” Charles Bukowski is portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the 1997 film, Barfly. In the film, written by Bukowski, the author is given the alter-ego named of Hank Chinaski.

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In 2018, Keira Knightly portrayed French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known more simply as Colette.

Colette

James Franco starred as Beat Poet Allan Ginsberg in the 2010 film Howl. Also portrayed in the film are Jack Kerouac (Todd Rotondi),  Neal Cassady (Jon Prescott), Peter Orlovsky (Peter Tveit), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers)

Howl

Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were back in the 1980 film Heart Beat. John Heard and Nick Nolte starred as the authors with Sissy Spacek as Carolyn Cassady.

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Got Them Ol’ Stuck Inside Down Home Blues, Mama!

PublixLike many of us, my wife and I have been in lockdown. For the first time, in a week we ventured out this morning for food shopping at Publix. There were plenty of people there, but most tried to keep a reasonable distance from each other.  Paper products, sanitizers, pasta, bread, frozen veggies, meats (for meat lovers), some can foods were in short supply or non-existent. We probably got enough of everything needed to hunker down for two weeks before venturing out again.

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So the question becomes what to do while hibernating at home? For me, I find myself with more than enough to keep myself busy. The morning routine hasn’t changed: breakfast, read the headlines, check emails, social media and hopefully do some writing, editing and plenty of rewriting! By now, lunchtime is here, and these days I look for a movie to watch. Over the past few days, I’ve seen The Meyerowitz Stories, Agatha, Agatha and the Truth of Murder, Blow the Man Down, and the Gift. After the movie, it’s time to doing some reading, either articles I have been saving and need to catch up on or a book. I am currently reading D. H. Schleicher’s collection of 11 short stories, And Then We Vanish. After dinner, my wife and I watch a TV show. At that point, we’re both back to reading or social media.

And Then
Oh yeah, there is one other thing that keeps both me and my wife busy. As some of you know, over the past two years we lost four of our five cats. Three to cancer! Our one remaining cat, Natasha, has been on her own since last September. Well, a little over a week ago we adopted an almost 12-year-old, handsome boy by the name of Skeeter. He’s laid back and sweet. Currently, we have him isolated to one room while he acclimates himself and we can work on the introduction between Natasha and her new brother. Anyway, my wife and I take turns during the day spending time with him.

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Skeeter

Along with all this, there is my photography! We’ve put taking photos and travel on hold for now. We canceled a long time planned trip to Alaska scheduled for this coming July. Disappointing, but considering the circumstances we are in, it’s the right thing to do.  So, in my spare time, I will work on some photos that have been ignored for a long time, and any new work will be limited to photographing our two cats! That should keep me busy!
If you stuck at home, which most of us are or should be, make the best of it,  stay active, discover things to do and stay safe!

Anniversaries: New CMBA eBook

I have been working on editing a new collection of film essays for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s  (CMBA) ninth eBook. Each book has its own theme, Banned and Blacklisted, Underseen and Underrated, and Hollywood on Hollywood to name a few. This book is no different. The subject is Anniversaries. Why Anniversaries, you ask? Well, in October of last year the CMBA celebrated its 10th anniversary, so it seemed fitting.

Anniversaries Book Cover

The CMBA began in 2009 as a dream of Rick Armstrong who blogs as the Classic Film and TV Cafe. He was the organization’s first President and its guiding light. Today, there are close to 90 members and going strong.

This book contains 10 essays from celebrating how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other films from 1969 bridged the Old And New Hollywood to how the Spanish Flu of 100 years ago affected the film Industry.

Anniversaries: 10 Years of the CMBA book is now available at Amazon for .99 cents (proceeds are donated to the National Film Preservation Foundation, and at Smashwords for free!

 

 

 

Five Stephen King Films and Characters Who Are Writers

Anyone who has read Stephen King knows many of his characters are writers. I don’t know of any other author who has used a writer in so many of his stories. Many of these stories have been transferred to the movie screen, once again, possibly more than any other author. And there are more on the way. Here are five of my favorites.

 

Misey

Whether you’re a musician, actor, artist or writer you know having fans is an integral part of the experience.  Fans are supportive, financially and artistically. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted.  Sometimes like Annie Wilkes, a little too devoted. In Misery, King created one of his most devoted and deranged fans. One of my favorite King novels and films.

Shining

Every writer needs time alone when he’s working. Solitude to think, research and create. In The Shining, Stephen King’s Jack Torrance is no exception, and he finds his opportunity when he is hired as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, closed for the winter. The fact that the previous caretaker went mad does not deter Jack from taking the job and his family along. HERE’S JOHNNY!

Salem

I read the novel and saw the made for television movie back in the 1970s.  All I can say is that Salem’s Lot remains one of my favorite King novels. A mini-series was made in 2004.

Secret Window

In Secret Window, a psychological thriller (based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from Four Past Midnight), Johnny Depp portrays a successful writer going through a rough divorce. He is stalked by a wannabe writer (John Turturro) who accuses him of plagiarism. I like this film more than a lot of folks do. One of Depp’s finest performances.

 

Big Driver Maria Bello-001

Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver (a TNT film), originally part of King’s Full Night, Dark Stars collection is a tale of not so sweet revenge in line with the film I Spit on Your Grave.  Tess Thorne, an author of cozy mysteries, is attacked, brutally raped repeatedly and left for dead, on an empty back road while she is on her way back home from a speaking and book signing engagement at a library. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape she seeks revenge on those responsible. With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

 

She Took One Step Into The Bedroom…

She took one step into the bedroom framing herself by the open bathroom door. Jimmy stared at her.  Exactly as John Garfield first saw Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, he thought: white shorts, halter top, and turban.   Only this time Margaret added one more accessory… – The Late Show and Other Tales of Celluloid Malice

 

Lana Potman

The Late Show is Coming

THE LATE SHOW AND OTHER TALES OF CELLULOID MALICE includes 8 short stories all with two things in common… Malice and Movies. Below are some of the movies that inspired me to write the stories. Pre-order at Amazon. Available March 3rd

The LAte Show Movie Collage