Movie Watching in Quarantine – Scene 4

Here is scene 3 in my Movies Watched in Quarantine series

The Roaring Twenties

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WNEW Channel 5 broadcast, on Sunday afternoons, one Warner Brothers movie after another. The Roaring Twenties was a mainstay. It was James Cagney’s last gangster film until White Heat some ten years later.
The Roaring Twenties is a rise and fall tale, in this case, of Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) a World War 1 vet who came home alive but with no prospects for the future. His old job as a mechanic is taken. He settles for a job driving a taxi with his old buddy Frank McHugh, that is until he accidentally stumbles in the bootleg business. With prohibition now the law of the land Eddie builds an empire becoming the king of New York. His old war buddy, George (Humphrey Bogart) works with him. However, like in many of his early roles, Bogie is a sniveling weasel who cannot be trusted. He runs true to form here.
Eddie’s world comes crashing down with the end of prohibition, and the girl (Priscilla Lane) he loved, but never loved him back. The film ends with one of the great endings of all time. Severely wounded in a shootout, Eddie is left stumbling along a snowy street, collapsing in front of a church in the arms of another woman (Gladys George). When asked by a cop what he did, she replies, “he used to be a big shot.”
Cagney, along with Raoul Walsh’s sharp direction drives the film never letting a moment of dullness creep in.

Da 5 Bloods

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There are a few rare times in history when art and life collide at the perfect moment in time. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is one of those films that has come out at the right moment when the anguished cries of Black Lives Matter have been in the headlines and history is being made. Lee has delivered what may be the best and most innovative film of the year. The director intercuts archival and newsreel footage into the film, nicely providing historical content. Da 5 Bloods is a thought provoking work about war, America, and race. Delroy Lindo leads the way in a cast of superb performances. There have been many films about The Vietnam War some great (Apocalypse Now Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Hearts and Minds) and others that have been false takes of the war including The Green Berets, any and all Rambo and Missing in Action movies. Fortunately, Spike Lee’s new epic tale falls into the first category. Watch on Netflix.

The Boston Strangler

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Based on Gerold Frank’s non-fiction best-seller. In the early 1960s, 13 women were strangled in the greater Boston area. The unknown killer was labeled the Boston Strangler. It made national news. Albert DeSalvo was eventually arrested and confessed to the hideous crimes. The 1968 film claims to be a true representation, but as with almost all fact based films there is plenty of fiction tossed in. This a typical police procedural spruced up with plenty of unnecessary “modern” split-screen effects that add nothing. Unlike Richard Brooks earlier true crime film, In Cold Blood (1966), which delves deep into the personalities of the killers, the filmmakers here though seeming to want to make a serious film couldn’t help themselves to make a sensationalistic tabloid feature. Tony Curtis gives what may be his best performance and was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination. Henry Fonda co-stars. Look for future stars Sally Kellerman (one of DeSalvo’s victims who survives) and James Brolin. 

Out of Sight

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Elmore Leonard created some of the most quirky characters to ever grace the page. In “Out of Sight,” Steven Soderbergh, along with screenwriter Scott Frank, captures Leonard’s tone and spirit perfectly. Leonard has generally not been served well when translated to the screen. “Get Shorty” and this film are the exceptions. Cheeky, sexy, witty, and poignant with a few unexpected bursts of violence. The performances are all pitch-perfect. Clooney is full of wisecracks and charm. Jennifer Lopez, in a pre J-Lo performance, has never been better possessing both a toughness yet vulnerable facade. The rest of the cast includes. Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Isaiah Washington, Steve Zahn, and Nancy Allen all deliver spot-on performances.

My Vietnam Soundtrack

doorsMore than any other war, Vietnam had a soundtrack. It didn’t start with Apocalypse Now or any other Hollywood production. It began with the soldiers who brought the music with them. For the men and women like me (1) who served in Vietnam, music was a link to home. It was part of our hopes and dreams to make it “back to the world” (as we called the United States). The music became inseparable from the war. I still can’t listen to The Doors’ first album without thinking of ‘Nam. The music connected us to hopes of getting us back to “the world.” Some songs even spoke directly to us, like The Animals We Gotta Get Out of This Place, which became every soldier’s personal anthem.  There were others like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son and Country Joe and the Fish’s I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. Jimi Hendrix’s People Haze and Hey Joe, The Turtles’ It Ain’t Me Babe, Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run, and Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. All mainstays and had connections to the war experience. The music and the war united us. I listened to some soul music before the war, but I met many black soldiers in ‘Nam and thru them, I was exposed to many great Soul songs that did not make the top of the pops. For the first time, I also heard Country music. While I never became a fan of Country, it exposed me to artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and others.

animWhile the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) played the Top 40 of the day, the soldiers had cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes, purchased at the PX, to share. It opened up another world. We were separated from the world, but the music united us. It was a way for us to cope and for a few moments an escape from the insanity. There were also small clubs where Filipino bands played the hits all wanted to hear, Ring of Fire, Proud Mary and the inevitable finale of We Gotta Get Out of This Place which by the end of the night every soldier was on his feet singing along with.

Collectively, the music united the Vietnam soldiers who bore the burden of an unpopular war. The music of The Doors, Aretha Franklin, CCR, Johnny Cash, The Temptations, and many others mattered more to the Vietnam soldiers, maybe more than to any generation since. Even after returning home, the music stayed with us.

Footnote:

(1) I was not an infantryman. I spent my time in a base camp as an armorer, small weapons, assigned to the 124th Signal Unit, part of the 4th Infantry Division. The base camp, Camp Enari, in Pleiku, located in the Central Highlands. It was relatively secure compared to being out in the boonies.

 

Book Review and Interview: Hitchcock’s California

Book Review and interview with photographer Robert Jones on the new book, “Hitchcock’s California: Vista Visions From the Camera Eye.”

Twenty Four Frames

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Photographer Robert Jones, along with film writer Dan Auiler (author of Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic), and photographer Aimee Sinclair have compiled a stunning new book called Hitchcock’s California: Vista Visions from the Camera Eye.Years in the making, the book includes an informative and fascinating introduction by actor Bruce Dern and an afterward by Dorothy Herrmann, daughter of the late composer Bernard Herrmann. One of the highlights of the Dern introduction is when the actor writes about an absorbing short conversation that happened after he introduced Hitchcock to fellow film director, John Frankenheimer. For me, that short exchange that ensued is worth the admission.

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Book Review: And Then We Vanish

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In his first collection of short stories, D.H. Schleicher’s And Then We Vanish gives us an intriguing assortment of 11 tales accumulated over a ten year period. Each story ends with a twist, many of which you will not see coming. In each tale, people’s lives change, not always for the better. “When Night Falls on Niagara,” one of my favorites is both a whimsical and mysterious tale and will make you wonder what’s real and not real about one of America’s most famous landmarks. Another gem, “Upon the Unfortunate News of My Death,” deals with modern-day social media. How spreading rumors and misinformation can so easily change lives. “Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms,” “Somebody You Use to Know,” “Boko Harem’s Greatest Hits” are a few more of my top picks. Schleicher has a style that draws you in and makes you care about each of his characters. There is both humor and chills.  And Then We Vanish is available at Amazon.

Maine, Money, Murder, and Mayhem

Twenty Four Frames

blow-the-man-down-BLOWTHEMANDOWN_JEONG_PARK_1_rgbMaine is one of my favorite states. My wife and I have visited there frequently: Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Portland, Kennebunk, Belfast, Eastport, and many other spots. It’s a state that is visually wide open and very much New England. I fell in love with New England about the same time I fell in love with my wife, she’s originally from Massachusetts. Over the years, every state that makes up New England, but the two we continue to return and visit are Vermont and Maine.

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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!

Stay Safe, Stay Connected!

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These are dangerous times. People are hunkering down, I know I am. My wife and I are only venturing outside our home when it is necessary, canceling all non-essential appointments, travel and more. It’s stressful and isolating.

Fortunately, we live in a time where staying at home does not mean you cannot communicate. Take advantage of it with family and friends. Call them, text or email. Keep the lines of communication open.

And please follow what our medical experts are advising: social distancing, washing your hands, staying home, have two weeks of food on hand (don’t hoard), and don’t forget your pets!

Stay safe and stay connected!

John 

The Late Show…And Other Tales of Celluloid Malice; A Short Story Collection by John Greco

A great review from ALL THINGS THRILLER!

All Things Thriller

John Greco loves movies.

Uh-huh. Lot’s of us do.

He writes about movies.

Yeah? Good for him. There are hundreds…no…thousands of movie blogs out there.

John Greco is a cinephile.

Oh no. Not another film snob going on and on about camera angles and 35 millimeter film…

Okay. Stop it. John’s not that guy.

Yes he’s an encyclopedia of cinema and of film techniques, all of which he presents in a very friendly, accessible way on his superb blog twentyfourframes.

But this post isn’t about his blog. This post is about John Greco the author because, first and foremost, John is a writer of fiction. And what a fine writer he is.

In his third published compilation, The Late Show, John has mined his passion for film in a taunt, page turning collection of eight short stories inspired by classic cinema and reminiscent of the golden age of television (e.g.,

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Book Review: The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke

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Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr is one of my favorite fictional characters. This short story, co-written with Lynn Wood Block who as Mr. Block explains came up with the original idea and did the research. He later sat down and wrote the story.

Bernie Rhodenbarr, used bookstore owner and master thief, meets with Karl Bellermann, an eccentric book collector. Karl’s books are the most important things in his life. Bernie’s there to offer Karl a rare special edition to add to his collection in return for a nice price. Upon his arrival Karl shows Bernie his private library containing his massive collection and tells him of the great lengths he has gone to protect his books from any sort of thief or man-made or natural disaster.

Bernie and Karl have lunch together. Afterward, before any transaction can proceed, it’s time for the eccentric collector to lock himself in his library to read for four hours, something he does like clockwork every day from 2PM to 6PM.

During this four hour interlude, Bernie gets a bit “familiar” with Karl’s beautiful wife. The time passes quickly. When Karl’s wife realizes it’s almost 6PM and her husband will be exiting his book room right on time like he always does, it’s panic time! She jumps out of bed, gets dressed and runs downstairs. The panic increases when the always punctual Karl does not come out of the library at exactly 6PM as he always does. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong.

Lawrence Block has written a fascinating short story, a locked room mystery both absorbing and with an ending carefully explained. The one problem is there are only a few characters making the ‘who done it’ part rather evident but that does not negate from enjoying this tale.

Book Review: The Sublime Life

Sublime  In Jenna Moquin’s short story, The Sublime Life, we meet Deke Mueller. Deke is an aspiring writer, but he fears success. He learned early on bad things can happen. You see, Deke’s mother was an author too and right after she became a success she died of pancreatic cancer. Deke fears life will repeat itself and his life will also be cut short if he is successful. He rather be a living failure than a dead success. Jenna Moquin has created a cautionary tale focusing on the fear of success. You want it but at what cost. Many creative artists fear both failure and success and will easily relate.