It’s been a rough a year and I think I’m safe in saying we’re all looking forward to a brighter 2021. Too many people have suffered heartbreaking losses of family and/or friends, lost jobs and more. It’s been a struggle for us all in one way or another. I want to take this moment to wish everyone during this holiday season peace, happiness and a reason to believe. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to stop by and please stay safe.
Finally, after a long delay, I have published my first newsletter. If you are interested in receiving it, send me your email (email@example.com) or PM on Facebook, and say newsletter. For a limited time, I will send to anyone who signs up a copy of my short story, MAKE IT WRITE (Kindle or PDF). Let me know which you prefer.
It seems like there is hardly an author of crime novels who can resist the lure of writing a Chritmas themed novel. Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot’s Christmas), George Simenon (A Maigret Christmas and Other Stories) Ed McBain (Sadie When She Died), and Robert B. Parker (SIlent Night) are among so many others who could not resist the temptation of writing a mystery/crime novel with a Chrisstmas theme.
This year I threw my own entry into the pot with the four story collection calle ‘Tis the Season.The four stories include tales about a hitman who hates the idea of killing people during the holidays, two brothers whose holiday reunion is in no way holly jolly, a shoplifter and the head of security who catches her, and finally a Christmas Eve revenge tale.
So if you need a Christmas themed book with a deadly touch to read, ‘Tis the Season will filled your devilish holiday needs. Available as an eBook for 99 cents at Amazon.
I am both editor and contributor to the latest CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) eBook, POLITICS ON FILM. Thes book contains seventeen essays covering politically tinged films dating back to the 1930s and up thru the 1960s. While not a definitive collection, the articles include a wide range of political points of view from the courageous to corruption to satire. Among the movies included in this collection are well known works like The Best Man, All the King’s Men, Duck Soup, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, to more obscure films such as Medium Cool, What Every Woman Knows, and Left, Right and Center.
Contributors: Paul Batters, Annette Bochenek, Marsha Collock, Jocelyn Dunphy, Patricia Gallagher, Amanda Garrett, Rick Gould, Jess Ilse, Marianne L’Abbate, Kevin Maher, Beth Nevarez and Lora Stocker, Patricia Nolan-Hall, Linda J. Sandahl, Patricia Schneider, Nur Soliman and J.O. Watts.
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
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?”
Here is scene 4 in my Movies Watched in Quarantine series.
The Roaring Twenties
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
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
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
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.
More 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.
While 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.
(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 with photographer Robert Jones on the new book, “Hitchcock’s California: Vista Visions From the Camera Eye.”
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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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.