Capturing the Moment

Since COVID arrived on the scene my photography has been limited, mostly to my two cats. They are an endless joy of activity and opportunity. Still, all other photography has been on hold. Both my wife and I have underlying conditions so we are super careful where we go. Let’s just say the supermarket and doctors are not very photographic.

This brings me to the other day. My wife was preparing dinner and I was setting up the table and closing the blinds. That’s when I spotted the sky. Florida is known, when the conditions are right, for spectacular sunsets. This night it was perfect. I grabbed my cellphone and told my wife, I’ll be right back. I fortunately hit the right moment. The sky was a spectacular orange, and I had a panoramic view right outside my house. I snapped two pictures and felt the rush I always do when I capture the perfect moment in time. That’s a feeling I had not felt in a long time.

The photo here I thought was the better of the two. Nothing was photo shopped. It was nature at its best.     

Check out my new collection of not so cozy, dark Christmas short stories, Tis the Season. Only .99 cent at Amazon

‘Tis the Season is Here!

Christmas may seem far away, but it’s closer than you think, and will be here before you know it. With that in mind, today is the release date for ‘Tis the Season, my new four short story collection mixing Christmas and crime. The four tales consist one old and three new tales. In Home for the Holidays two brothers reunite on Christmas Eve. Let’s just say it doesn’t turn out well. Next up is a revised version of A Merry Little Christmas which originally appeared in Devious Tales. Favorite Time of the Year deals with a troubled marriage and a final solution. In ‘Tis the Season a hitman with a soft spot for the holidays may or may not have a holly jolly Christmas. The holidays can bring out the worst in everyone, and does so in these four short Christmas themed stories. ‘Tis the Season is not your cozy Christmas.

Download a copy from Amazon now for only .99 cents

Thoughts On Social Media

Social Media is both a curse and a gift. I refuse to argue on Facebook or on any other social media platform. If I disagree with someone’s opinion on any topic, especially if it’s political, I don’t comment.  If I agree, I give it a LIKE and may comment, but once the aggressive, nasty commenters emerge, and they do, I’m out of there. I won’t and don’t respond. It isn’t worth the time and effort. I don’t want to make the world worse than it already is.

Polite conversation, even when you disagree, is possible, at least it used to be, but tolerance seems to be in short supply these days. Many people think the ability to be anonymous in the world of social media gives them a free ticket to insult, condemn, criticize, and spit out nasty name calling without consequence. But there are consequences, maybe not easily apparent, but with so many people feeling free to go down a nasty road they are making the world a less hospitable place than it already is. Maybe they don’t care, but I do, and I sure others care too. Life is too short. I rather use my time doing more constructive and creative endeavors than arguing over every little thing.

What I like about Facebook and other social media is how I have connected with many new online friends and reconnected with older friends and relatives. I think that’s important. It’s important to connect with people, especially in this time of the COVID virus where many of us, including me, can feel isolated. Over the past few weeks, I have connected with a couple of cousins I have not spoken to in years, first through Facebook and soon after with telephone conversations. We live far apart and our lives have taken different paths, but we’re still the same and we are still connected. It pays to be nice in many ways.

‘Tis The Season Now Available for Pre-order

‘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.

Banned Book Week

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

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/decade2019

Missing My Trips to the Library

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.

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 8

Jaws

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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.

M*A*S*H

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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

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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

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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.

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 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.

Book Cover Reveal

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.

Movie Watching in Quarantine Scene 7

Scene 7 in the continuing series Movie Watching in Quarantine.

Annie Hallanniehall

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

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 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.

Point Blank

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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.

Rosemary’s Baby

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 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.

Psycho

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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.

Book Review: Tampa Bay Noir

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.