Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Guess You Had to Be There

Here's one of those movies that arrives on the scene with the wind of wonderful critical reviews powering its ascent.   You can't miss "Paterson" I am told.

Okay, I'll bite.   And I did.    Now I'm wondering if all those hosannas from critics were just something I imagined.  Because, while being a movie that held my interest, "Paterson" was one excruciatingly dull cinematic experience.

The main character in the film is Paterson and, to confuse me even further, he lives in Paterson, NJ.   As a matter of fact, he's a young guy who's never left Paterson.   He goes only as far as the route of the bus that he drives daily.   He goes home to his Iranian wife who spends her day surrounding herself with black and white patterns.   Rounding out the family group is a bulldog named Marvin who Paterson takes for a nightly walk and a visit to the local tavern. The movie follows this schedule for the seven days it depicts and little deviates from the routine.   The only inspiring moments come from when Paterson, in voice over, reads the poetry he has writer because, you see, he's a bus driver/poet. 

If that doesn't sound interesting to you, bingo, we have a winner.   It's not.   Writer-director Jim Jarmusch has you waiting for something profound or monumental to happen.   It never does.   They keep showing Paterson tying Marvin to a fire hydrant while he goes into the bar for a beer.   Okay, I'm thinking, the dog is going to be stolen eventually.  Nope.   Indeed, the only thing that does occur over the two hours is a homage to the old homework excuse..."the dog ate it."   You'll have to see to know what I mean.  If ever a movie needed a psychotic killing spree to play out, it's this one.

Or, on second thought, don't bother.

While the work of Adam Driver as the lead is admirable, I really don't understand what all the critical fuss is about.   Paterson himself is in first gear and the director doesn't know how to pop the clutch for the rest of the film.   

Maybe I should read some more reviews of "Paterson" to see just what it is I'm meaning.

Or, on third thought, I won't bother either.

LEN'S RATING:  One star.

Dinner last night:  Hawaiian chicken and vegetables.




Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 30, 2017

Dogs.  Snow.  Enjoy,

Dinner last night:  Eggplant parm at Miceli's.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - MTM

2016 was a lousy year for losing touchstones of our lives.  Those artists who made a difference. David Bowie.   Prince.  Carrie Fisher.  Debbie Reynolds.   The list is endless.

And, sadly in 2017, it continues.   The latest one stung me the most.   The loss of Mary Tyler Moore, whose charmed life ended with lots of health issues that caused great pain and anguish.   You also remember that she lost her only son to an accidental gunshot several decades ago.   Yet, despite it all, we remember the accomplishments of a gifted and talented actor.  Let's face it.  Not many people get to star in two sitcoms that wind up as hallmarks in television.   I can only conjure up a few.  Lucy. Newhart.  To a lesser extent, Ron Howard and Patricia Heaton.  Lightning rarely strikes once.   When it hits a second time, you are gold.

And Mary was just that.  Golden.  Indeed, she stars in two scenes that probably rank in the top five of the best sitcom moments of all time.   Try this moment from the Dick Van Dyke Show and the phenomenal episode "Coast to Coast Big Mouth."

That scene alone merits a place in the annals.   But she topped it eleven years in her own show with the historic "Chuckles Bites the Dust."

I understand from somebody who was at the filming of this episode that this scene was shot twice and Mary was flawless in both takes.   Amazing.  Okay, you could argue that this is wonderful writing and that no actor could fail with these words.  Not so.  I've seen it with actors I know.  The right performer adds that little extra zing that doesn't show up on the page.

Mary Tyler Moore zinged an awful lot.

In the flood of tributes this past week, lots of people had personal memories of encounters.   Mine was ever so brief.   About eight years ago, Mary and I were on the same American Airlines flight from JFK to LAX.  I did not know this until I was standing next to her at baggage claim.   It was one of those moments where I just turned to the right and realized I was standing next to Mary Tyler Moore.   We exchanged a quick smile.   She didn't look well even then.  I, of course, retreated to my usual stance of not bothering celebrities I see in public.

But I came very close to saying something.   From the accolades this week, a woman in my position on that day might have thanked her for the lifestyle messages the character of Mary Richards provided.   But, for me, had I said something, it would have been about what her shows, most notably "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," meant for somebody who wanted to be a writer.   

The Me-TV channel reruns it every Sunday.   For some bizarre reason I have this programmed into my DVR.  Okay, what the hell am I doing?  Making a television appointment to watch this every week.  I mean, I have the entire series on DVD.

Yeah, but there's something different and unique tuning into a TV show on a regular basis.  Reminiscent of the days before DVRs and even VCRs.  If you wanted to watch something, you had to be home and in front of the tube.

And that's where I always was every Saturday night.  Usually watching with my grandmother.  

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was the first TV show I was addicted to in my semi-adult years.  And, as a result, it wound up at #3 on the list of my Top 25 Favorite TV Shows of All Time.  
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" came around about the time I could actually tell the difference between a great television show and a bad one.

Stuck in the middle of CBS' Saturday night block of the best shows ever telecast together in one single night, MTM, in its own quiet groundbreaking way, raised television comedy writing to a level that has never been achieved since.  Forget "The Office" and "Modern Family" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."   This was the pinnacle of it all and will never be topped again.

Because this show has stayed with me so deeply that it cuts into my own writing.  There have been times when I am working on something and my writing partner will scold me.

"You can't do that line.  It was on Mary."

Or I will resort to what I call a Ted Baxter moment.   You know, somebody says a line about somebody being stupid and in walks Ted.  Big laugh.  Ha ha.  Then I hear it all over again.

"That's what they would do on Mary."

I usually take out the reference, but now wonder what's so bad about that.  Is using "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" as your writing textbook such a negative?Especially these days when one lousy sitcom is a direct and unfortunate copy of another lousy sitcom.

Okay, maybe I have gone too far with my reliance on the MTM world. Actually, I started doing that at a much younger age. Apparently, imitation and borderline plagarism has no age restrictions. I'll splain....and, yes, there I am copying a line from another great comedy.

When I was going to Fordham University in the Bronx, I hung out at the college radio station WFUV which has been previously heralded in this blog. I didn't really have a focus or a concentration there. I did a little celebrity interviewing. I tried baseball play-by-play. I did some on-air news reporting. None of it provided a solid niche. Some of it I was downright awful at.

I was a little lost.

I needed something I could take my own personal pride in. And I hit on an idea that was perfect for me.

A radio version of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Well, not really a direct copy. But so many elements of "Diploma City" were lifted from the MTM show that I realize there's a very fine line of difference between heist and robbery. I created characters and locations very similar, but placed them as college students in a Philadelphia college. Character names were derived from the writing staff of the MTM Show. There was a male version of Rhoda and a female version of Lou Grant. I had a girl Murray and a resident advisor like Phyllis. The only non-gender switch was in the Ted Baxter character. My version was named Milton Harper and the buffoon transferred intact.

I even mimicked the format of the MTM show. Scenes switched from the dorm to the newspaper office back to the dorm and then maybe to the local college hangout. If anybody from MTM Enterprises had cause to put on their car radio while driving through the Bronx, there would be a certain lawsuit.

Of course, while the TV show had such pros as Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, and Edward Asner, my casting coups rotated around my circle of friends.

"Hey, you wanna be on a comedy show?"

Before long, the weekly party was on. Intially, we would try to rehearse prior to taping. Eventually, we realized that rehearsal didn't really make a difference as that is reserved for professional actors of which I had none. Zip. Nada. Now, several of those cast members are still in my world to this day. A few even post comments here on this blog. They are all dear friends.

And most were lousy actors.

Indeed, revisiting some of these tapes today, I could easily publish a book entitled "When Bad Actors Happen to Good Scripts." On second thought, perhaps that should be "When Bad Actors Happen to Mediocre Scripts."

Yeah, I wasn't exactly the comedic hotshot I thought I was. But, for three seasons of 90 episodes, we sure as hell had a lot of fun. The same merging of talent that happens over time on an ensemble comedy TV show also happened on "Diploma City." The acting and writing did improve the more we did it. And the tapings were terrific weekly gatherings for a great bunch of friends. Several started to date each other. If somebody in the cast started dating, we'd cast the new girlfriend or boyfriend as...the character's new girlfriend or boyfriend. Nepotism was rampant, just like in Hollywood.

There was one time where we absolutely had no episodes in the can and we needed one for the following week. But there was no studio time booked. We rolled a ton of equipment over to the dorms and actually taped it in somebody's living room. We flew by the seats of our pants.

And, at least for me, it was pure exhilaration.

In the first year, our little half hour show usually came in a lot shorter than that. No one paid attention to time and I had no concept of how scripts should be paced or moved along. But, eventually, I got my creative chops down and then often had trouble confining the plot and dialogue to 30 minutes. We just got so good at what we were doing that we paid little attention to time constraints, which was fine if you weren't the host of the rock music show that followed. We feuded a bit as each week we cut into the time they had to play Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Nevertheless, we pressed on undaunted. To tighten the MTM connections even further, I hit on a 150 watt light bulb of an idea to promote our show during the station's annual fundraising marathon.

What if I got somebody from the MTM Show to be on our show and make a pitch for WFUV?

I called MTM Enterprises' publicist in Hollywood and this was surprisingly easy to set up. Per my specific request, I was given the appropriate time and phone number so I could engage Ted Knight for the task. We awaited the appointed day and time as if it were Christmas morning. In advance, I fashioned a scene of dialogue that would break the fourth wall between one of our cast members and Ted. Then, Ted would go into his plug for listeners to send dough to WFUV.

At the hour of our reckoning, I called Ted and he was incredibly gracious. I essentially explained to him what we were doing and I recited the dialogue so he could copy it over the phone. We rolled tape and it went well. For about a minute. Suddenly, Ted's mind veered off the road as if he was trying to avoid hitting a deer with his car. He started to ramble about WFUV and Fordham, which made virtually no sense in the context of the show.

Amazingly, my actor followed Ted down into Confusionville and what resulted was a hilariously funny but impromptu conversation that I ran virtually unedited. Besides, I felt I had no creative license to ask Ted Knight for a second take. We were very proud of "Diploma City," but I now realize we could never hold a candle to the work they were doing on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." There are comedic moments in the body of that series that could only be crafted in heaven.

And that's where Mary is now, resting in peace after a magnificent life as an actor, a tireless worker for animal rights and juvenile diabetes, and, from what I am told by people who knew her, a decent human being.

This deserves a curtain call.   As it aired originally on the last episode.


Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch so just a sandwich.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - January 2017

Playing in theaters 60 years ago this month.

Dinner last night:  That one night a year....Big Mac and fries.

Friday, January 27, 2017

What's Your Starbucks Name?

Well, we've all had our names confused when ordered lattes at Starbucks.  But, has anybody been mangled as badly as this?
 Probably more an opinion than a mispronunciation.
Aaron?
 Definitely more an opinion, than a mispronunciation.
That would be my guess.
 Profiling.
 Bianca?
 Courtney?
 Melissa?
 Alexis?
 Caitlin?
 Tiffany?
Madelyn?

Dinner last night:  Still more leftover lasagna.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Len's Recipe of the Month - January 2017

One more time...my recipe of the month is a Valerie Bertinelli concoction.   I swear, the woman never fails me.  Why are we not married?

Anyway, I cooked up this vegetable side dish on Thanksgiving to rave reviews.   But, by the simple addition of one of those tasty Polynesian pork chops from Omaha Steaks, you have yourself a whole meal that is tasty and not tons of calories.  And you can get it done in 15 minutes!

You also don't need many ingredients.

2 cloves of garlic, chopped.

Three or more crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced.  Yes, cleaned.   Come on, folks.   It's flu season and I always see people sneezing in the vegetable department at Ralph's.

A bag of spinach.  Even though the bag is sealed, rinse the spinach.  Trust no one.

In a pan with some EVO, saute the garlic and then toss in the mushrooms. Move them around for about five minutes, so they all blend flavors.

Add the spinach to the skillet.    Don't be shocked when it wilts down to nothing. Pay attention, folks.  It's what spinach does.

Add some salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle some balsamic vinegar over it.  Toss it all together and serve.

You're done.   Of course, you can saute one of those boneless pork chops and serve it right on top for a complete meal.

People will think you cooked for hours.   Spoiler alert: you didn't.  All of this can get done in 20 minutes.

Dinner last night:  More leftover lasagna.   I made a lot of it.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This Date in History - January 25

This is Henry the Eighth, not Sebastian Cabot.  More coming below.

41:  AFTER A NIGHT OF NEGOTIATION, CLAUDIUS IS ACCEPTED AS ROMAN EMPEROR BY THE SENATE.

It pays to have Scott Boras as an agent.

1348:  A STRONG EARTHQUAKE STRIKES THE SOUTH ALPINE REGION OF FRIULI IN MODERN ITALY, CAUSING CONSIDERABLE DAMAGES TO BUILDINGS AS FAR AWAY AS ROME.

1348 and they're already calling it modern Italy???

1533:  HENRY VIII OF ENGLAND SECRETLY MARRIES HIS SECOND WIFE ANNE BOLEYN.

So this really happened?  It wasn't just a Herman's Hermits song?

1573:  IN JAPAN'S BATTLE OF MIKATAGAHARA, TAKEDA SHINGEN DEFEATS TOKUGAWA IEYASU.

You type that sentence fast and see what happens.

1787:  AMERICAN DANIEL SHAYS LEADS A REBELLION TO SEIZE FEDERAL ARSENAL TO PROTEST DEBTOR'S PRISONS.

#OccupyShays.

1791:  THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT PASSES THE CONSTITUTIONAL ACT OF 1791 AND SPLITS QUEBEC INTO UPPER AND LOWER CANADA.

Did this divide a hockey franchise in half, too?

1858:  THE WEDDING MARCH BY FELIX MENDELSSOHN BECOMES A POPULAR WEDDING RECESSIONAL AFTER IT IS PLAYED ON THIS DAY AT THE MARRIAGE OF QUEEN VICTORIA'S DAUGHTER AND FRIEDRICH OF PRUSSIA.

Some now confuse this song with Taps.

1881:  THOMAS EDISON AND ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL FORM THE ORIENTAL TELEPHONE COMPANY.

Did they even know what country they were living in at the time?

1882:  WRITER VIRGINIA WOOLF IS BORN.

Anybody afraid of this?

1890:  NELLIE BLY COMPLETES HER ROUND-THE-WORLD JOURNEY IN 72 DAYS.

Can you imagine what she could have done with more vacation time?

1915:  ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL INAUGURATES U.S. TRANSCONTINENTAL TELEPHONE SERVICE, SPEAKING FROM NEW YORK TO THOMAS WATSON IN SAN FRANCISCO.

So he finally got off that Oriental Phone kick.

1919:  THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS IS FOUNDED.

With no designated hitter.

1919:  JOURNALIST EDWIN NEWMAN IS BORN.

A journalist?  What the heck is that?

1931:  ACTOR DEAN JONES IS BORN.

And Herbie the Love Bug finally gets his driver.

1937:  THE GUIDING LIGHT SOAP OPERA DEBUTS ON NBC RADIO.

And it lasted on CBS television until September of 2009.  That's a whole shitload of residuals for the original writers and creators.

1942:  DURING WORLD WAR II, THAILAND DECLARES WAR ON THE UNITED STATES AND UNITED KINGDOM.

What were these idiots thinking?  Mismatch!!

1945:  THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE ENDS.

Woo hoo.  We can have dessert again.

1947:  GANGSTER AL CAPONE DIES.

It was a heart attack and not a tommy gun that got him.

1949:  IN HOLLYWOOD, THE FIRST EMMY AWARDS ARE PRESENTED.

Regis Philbin was the host.

1961:  IN WASHINGTON DC, PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY DELIVERS THE FIRST LIVE PRESIDENTIAL TELEVISION NEWS CONFERENCE.

Giving Edwin Newman something fun to do on his birthday.

1971:  CHARLES MANSON AND THREE FAMILY MEMBERS ARE FOUND GUILTY OF THE 1969 TATE-LABIANCA MURDERS.

Apparently it was possible for a Los Angeles jury to get one right.

1971:  IDI AMIN LEADS A COUP AND BECOMES UGANDA'S PRESIDENT.

Now there's a real charmer.

1990:  ACTRESS AVA GARDNER DIES.

A stunning movie star and even more noteworthy because she was the only woman who actually could beat Frank Sinatra in a fistfight.

1996:  BILLY BAILEY BECAME THE LAST PERSON TO BE HANGED IN THE UNITED STATES.

You should have listened.  We told you to please come home.

1996:  COMPOSER JONATHAN LARSON DIES.

He did "Rent" and now his lease is up.

2010:  METS ORGANIST JANE JARVIS DIES.

She ran out of Mets to meet.

Dinner last night:   BBQ chopped salad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Reviewer's Quandry

These are the types of movies that test a blog reviewer's mettle.  

Okay, first things first, I don't like Denzel Washington.   Odd because he and I grew up in the same home town of Mount Vernon, New York.   But I just know way too much about the guy personally that makes him very difficult to like.   Let's just suffice it to say...he's not a nice person and we leave it at that.

So, when you see a movie that he stars and also directs...a true vanity project...how can you objectively review the film for an opinion?

Now, "Fences" comes to us from Broadway back in the 80s and it won Tonys plus the Pulitzer Prize.  I never saw it on stage but, given the way the movie adaptation is presented, I might as well have.   Almost 90 percent of the film is set in the backyard of a house where the characters gather to talk.   And talk.   And talk.   And talk.   

Don't get me wrong.   Playwright August Wilson is quite the prolific writer. The movie uses his screenplay, which is interesting since he's been dead since 2005. So I am guessing that the movie script is essentially exactly what was presented on the stage.   It's an interesting tale of a garbage man back in the 50s who once had a baseball career and now is just plain angry at everybody for his plight picking up trash.   He takes it out on his children and his current wife.   And talks.   And talks.   And talks.

Here's where reality and drama become uncomfortably intertwined for me.   As the garbageman Troy, Denzel is so despicable a human being that I couldn't help but hate him and every moment he is speaking.   Which, of course, is 85 percent of the two-hour-plus movie.   But I am wondering if Wilson also wanted you to feel a little pity for his main character?  For me, that was tough.   I had trouble separating the character from the actor.  To me, they were one in the same.   

I mean, the character is verbally abusive to his three children, each of them, by the way, from different women.  (Hmm, more fuzzy reality...I say no more) When Troy finally goes the way you are hoping, I personally was disappointed because his...ahem...comeuppance happens off-camera.  But was I craving the character's plight...or imagining it happening to Denzel himself?  And, beyond the acting, I also found fault with the length of the movie as well as the hammy direction.   Again, am I being objective or just anti-Denzel?

I can tell you that the performance of Viola Davis as the long-suffering wife and Jovan Adepo as the 17-year-old son who battles his dad at every turn.   When they are on screen...alone, I was glued.   But that doesn't occur enough.   For the most part, it is Denzel talking.   And talking.   And talking.

Naturally, "Fences" is getting strong Oscar buzz for its acting and...gasp...directing.   By the way, remember last year and all the hoopla about no diversity being seen in the nominations?   Well, come February, you will see many, many nods to race and ethnicity amongst the nominees.  In most cases, well deserved.   But, when it comes to Denzel Washington...

Oh, there I go again.

LEN'S RATING:  Two-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Leftover lasagna and salad.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 23, 2017

A classic moment from the Mary Tyler Moore Show when she lets a prostitute design a dress for her.

Dinner last night: Homemade lasagna.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Grandma Won't Wait

My grandparents.  Here they are again starring in yet another Sunday Memory Drawer.

We all get our personal traits from the very early adult influences in our lives.  I can tell you that I can be overly stoic and that came from my father.  I can be a bit impulsive and that was handed down from my mother.  If you think about those two particular attributes, you probably can deduce that they don't co-habit in my body very easily.  A mental tug-of-war.   I'm still living both ends of my parents' divorce.

Living with my grandparents, I got to experience even more influential behavior that wound up embedded in me.  Dad and Grandpa were alike so it was a double espresso dose of stoicism. 

From Grandma?  I got my tendency to be incredibly impatient.  If patience is a virtue, impatience is a sin.  And I am a sinner.

Not impatient with people.  That's not the issue here.  No, like my grandmother, I can get very obstinate about having something done when I want it done.  If there's a broken handle on a cabinet, I want it fixed immediately.  If there is a warning light on my car dashboard, I can barely wait until the next morning to get it serviced by the dealer.  Over and over and over.  When I get a bee in my bonnet, I don't let it buzz around long.

Just like Grandma.

This, of course, makes me recall many skirmishes in my house.  Because when my grandmother wanted something done, Grandpa was usually the one who had to do it. 

"Rake the leaves in the yard, Pop."

If it wasn't done within a day, guess who started the job herself.

"I want to go down to the Bronx to pick up some cold cuts."

If they weren't in the car within a day, guess who wasn't talking to Grandpa until they went.

This was the pattern I saw for years. 

Later on, Grandma decided to have aluminum siding put onto the house.  This would be a summer-long project with scaffolding and workmen all over the place.  When you enter into such an undertaking, most folks will take a number of bids from contractors, deliberate on the colors, etc..  Not Grandma.  The first bid was accepted.  And there was absolutely no discussion on the colors.  Green and white.  I guess she made the right choice.  The same panels exist on the house to this day.
Grandma's impatient streak did upend her once.  Actually, she wound up in a whole puddle of trouble. 

Grandpa was gone from our world.  Mom and Dad were both working nights.  The bulk of my day, once I would come home from school, would be spent with Grandma.  Eating dinner, doing my homework while she watched Walter Cronkite, and then enjoying our favorite TV shows together.

Except there was one day when I arrived home to find something amiss.  Major league.  I walked into the house to find Grandma in her living room.  With gauze all over her legs which were bleeding.

She shooed me and my questions away for a few minutes, but I persisted on getting answers.  Was I going to have call my mother to come home?

"NO."

Okay, got it.  Then please tell me what happened.

As I finally got the story out of her, I was mystified, aghast, and impressed all at the same time.

While taking out the garbage, the back door had slammed shut.  And locked.   Okay, I said, there's that hidden extra key that we all knew about and had access to.  On a hook underneath the curtain rod in the vestibule.

Grandma looked at me.  Surprised and ashamed.  She had forgotten all about the key.  Instead, she had resorted to more drastic measures.

She had taken a rock and busted one of the cellar windows.  Somehow, this almost eighty-year-old woman had crawled through the opening and had essentially broken into her own house like a cat burglar.  When I went outside to look at where she had wiggled herself back in, I couldn't believe how she had done this.  Houdini would have been proud.  Of course, the oozing of blood showed me that she had not come through the magic trick unscathed.

I asked Grandma when this had all transpired.  My parents usually left around 1PM.  It was now 4PM.  Had she been outside all this time?

Nope.  She got locked out at 3PM.

I was confused.  She couldn't have waited a single hour for me to come home from school.  After all, I had my own key.  I remembered where the hidden key was.  And, at the very least, I could have gotten through the cellar window a lot easier.  Why, Grandma, didn't you wait?

"My stories were coming on."

She was much less impatient after that.

Dinner last night:   Corned beef Reuben panini at the Arclight Cafe.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Classic TV Theme of the Month - January 2017

Over five seasons, they never ran out of ways to open this series.   She's...that girl!

Dinner last night:  Leftover beef vegetable soup.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Your Weekend Movie Guide for January 2017

In honor of the late Debbie Reynolds.   And this Radio City Music Hall ad from 1961 answers the trivia question of whether Debbie ever made a movie with Fred Astaire.   Of course, those "That's Entertainment" films don't really count.   
Yep, they were real stars then.   What have we got this month?   Well, Oscar hopefuls are still lingering all over the multiplexes.   Let's see.   You know the monthly routine, gang.   I'll zip through the movie pages of the newspaper and give you my knee-jerk reaction to what's out there for our donation of 15 or 16 dollars.   

Essentially, you're enjoying in this virtual page the pleasure of MY company.

La La Land:   Reviewed here recently and I'm still ecstatic.   But it's also fascinating to hear all the wildly diverse reactions to this movie.   When was the last time a film inspired that much conversation?

Fences:   Blog review coming and it was better left on the stage.   If you'd like to watch Denzel Washington being impressed with himself, this is the movie for you.

The Red Turtle:  More Japanese anime.   I prefer Looney Tunes.

Julieta:   A likely contender for Best Foreign Film.   And that's all I know about this.

Toni Erdmann:   A likely contender for Best Foreign Film.   And that's all I know about this one as well.

20th Century Women:   I hear Annette Bening's performance is the only thing interesting here.

Lion:   I hear this is quite good.   Patiently awaiting the screener.

Moonlight:   The main competition for "La La Land" and "Manchester" when it comes to Best Picture.

Silence:   I hear this is a rare Martin Scorsese dud.

Live By Night:   Ben Affleck stars and I hear it stinks.   Dots connected.

Jackie:   Blog review coming.   Spoiler alert: the President dies.

Hidden Figures:   I hear mixed things about this, both raves and pans.   One question: why did it take over 50 years to hear about these women?

Paterson:   Blog review coming.  Skip the bus and take an Uber.   You have to have seen the movie to get that.

Patriots Day:  Blog review ran yesterday.  If you didn't see it, here's a spoiler alert: somebody tries to blow up the Boston Marathon.

Rogue One - A Star Wars Tale:  Blog review coming...not far, far away.

Manchester By The Sea:   Next to "La La Land," one of the best films out there right now.

Arrival:   A great way to nap into a leather-cushioned seat.

Elle:   Where Cockney sinners are afraid to go after they die.

Loving:  I hear this is pretentious and sleep-inducing.  Not an inducement for me to share my fifteen dollars.

The Comedian:   Robert De Niro hasn't made a movie since December.  He's due.   On the other hand, a supporting cast of Danny Devito, Edie Falco, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Patti Lupone, and Harvey Keitel is quite inviting.

The Founder:   There are screeners all over town for this but it is finally opening in theaters today.   I am told the story of Ray Kroc and how he started McDonald's is quite interesting.

Worlds Apart:   Finding love in Greece.   Starring JK Simmons (???!!!)  He's not Greek to me.

Trespass Against Us:   A British knockoff of "The Godfather" with Michael Fassbender.

Staying Vertical:   In love with a shepherdess.   Seriously.   Looking at the title, I was expecting something completely different.

XXX - The Return of Xander Cage:   XXX used to mean you had to be over 18 to get into the theater.

Antarctica - Ice and Sky:  A documentary about...well...cold weather.

The Axe Murders of Villisca:  Wow, even Villisca isn't immune to senseless violence.
Bakery in Brooklyn:  Cousins fight over their aunt's bakery.  Take a number.

Detour:   An innocent law student falls into unexpected intrigue.   Shouldn't he be in the library studying?

My Father, Die:  Directed by Sean Brosnan.  If it's like his dad's movies, it will be gone from theaters by tomorrow.

Doobious Sources:   Stoner buddies want to be journalists.  Frankly, the media's already smoking stuff.

Saving Banksy:  A documentary about collecting art and please tuck me in now.

Split:  A man with 23 distinct personalities.   Isn't he being inaugurated today?

Dinner last night:  Homemade beef vegetable soup.                   

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Donald Trump's Favorite Movie This Year

Well, I think it would be.    Because it embodies everything he's been prattling on about ever since he began his run for the White House.   Problems stemming from immigration.  Terrorism on our shores.  The need for a wall.   He'd be in the front row with a big box of Raisinets.

At the same time, "Patriots Day" is a damn good movie and one you need to put on your list.   It is a painstaking depiction of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the subsequent capture of the two assholes responsible.  You relive every single moment of that fateful week through precise re-enactments with the occasional inclusion of archival footage.   Indeed, you feel the pain all over again and it's a credit to the work of director Peter Berg and star/producer Mark Wahlberg who bleeds Boston.

Even though this stuff happened almost four years ago, it all seemed new to me. I had forgotten there were three fatalities from the blast.   I had also blanked out on the fact that these two scumbags killed a Boston cop.  Hey, maybe it's because we had a couple of more events just like that in the past three plus years.  Yes, I hear you, President Trump.

The really fascinating part of this film for me was the focus on the two shitheads responsible for this mess.   You follow their every action and I was stunned to see just how stupid these terrorists were.   Complete amateurs that could easily be your next door neighbors.   Yes, I hear you again, President Trump.   

The attention to detail extends to the casting when the real folks involved show up for a ten minute mini-documentary at the end.   You see how much cast members Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, and J.K. Simmons look like their real-life counterparts.  Additionally, the words of the actual surviving victims who lost their limbs provide a poignant end to this well-done film.

If "Patriots Day" trips up ever so slightly is with Mark Wahlberg's lead character of a beleaguered Boston policeman with bad knees.  I think this guy is a composite of multiple cops and, because Wahlberg is the star and producer, this character seems to be everywhere in the story.   He is standing several feet away from one of the explosions.   He happens to be the patrolman doing a drive-by to find the carjack victim of the two idiot terrorists.   And he also winds up on the scene in the final Watertown, Massachusetts shoot-out.   He is the Forrest Gump of this tale and, with all the other fine authenticity, this feels a little false.

But don't let that stop you from seeing this marvelous recounting of a moment in our history that should not be forgotten.   And don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting behind some guy with big orange hair who is tweeting his gleeful reaction all the way through the movie.

LEN'S RATING:   Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch so just a sandwich and some salad.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

This Date in History - January 18

Happy birthday, Ollie!  

350:  GENERALLUS MAGNENTIUS DEPOSES ROMAN EMPEROR CONSTANS AND PROCLAIMS HIMSELF EMPEROUR.

Generallus Magnentius?  Sounds like something you take for constipation.

474:  LEO II BRIEFLY BECOMES BYZANTINE EMPEROR.

Briefly translates to...

474:  BYZANTINE EMPEROR LEO II DIES.

He probably didn't even get to try out the throne.

1126:  EMPEROR HUIZONG ABDICATES THE CHINESE THRONE IN FAVOR OF HIS SON EMPEROR QINZONG.

Tough day to be an emperor anywhere.

1520:  KING CHRISTIAN II OF DENMARK AND NORWAY DEFEATS THE SWEDES AT LAKE ASUNDEN.

Or a Swede, for that matter.

1535:  SPANISH CONQUISTADOR FRANCISCO PIZARRO FOUNDED LIMA, THE CAPITAL OF PERU.

And I suppose the Lima bean.

1670:  HENRY MORGAN CAPTURES PANAMA.

Obviously he wasn't content to simply have a seat on the "I've Got a Secret" panel.

1778:  JAMES COOK IS THE FIRST KNOWN EUROPEAN TO DISCOVER THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS, WHICH HE NAMES THE SANDWICH ISLANDS.

Hold the mayo...and the pineapple.

1782:  STATESMAN DANIEL WEBSTER IS BORN.

Say hello to the Devil.

1871:  WILHELM I OF GERMANY IS PROCLAIMED THE FIRST GERMAN EMPEROR IN THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES.  THE EMPIRE IS KNOWN AS THE SECOND REICH TO GERMANS.

Yeah, well, the third one was the real killer.

1886:  MODERN FIELD HOCKEY IS BORN WITH THE FORMATION OF THE HOCKEY ASSOCIATION IN ENGLAND.

And the first fight was...?

1892:  COMEDY STAR OLIVER HARDY IS BORN.

Well, here's another fine mess you got yourself into.

1896:  THE X-RAY MACHINE IS EXHIBITED FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Prior to this, broken bones were simply unhappy surprises.

1903:  PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT SENDS A RADIO MESSAGE TO KING EDWARD VII---THE FIRST TRANSATLANTIC RADIO TRANSMISSION ORIGINATING IN THE UNITED STATES.

First message was "please send moustache trimmer."

1904:  ACTOR CARY GRANT IS BORN.

The birth certificate read "Archie Leach."

1913:  ACTOR DANNY KAYE IS BORN.

I never quite understood his appeal.

1916:  A 611 GRAM CHONDRITE TYPE METEORITE STRIKES A HOUSE IN STONE COUNTY, MISSOURI.

They were looking to put in a sky light anyway.

1933:  INVENTOR RAY DOLBY IS BORN.

He's the reason we cover our ears at the movies.

1941:  DURING WORLD WAR II, BRITISH TROOPS LAUNCH A GENERAL COUNTER-OFFENSIVE AGAINST ITALIAN EAST AFRICA.

Talk about picking on the smallest kid in the school playground.

1941:  SINGER BOBBY GOLDSBORO IS BORN.

Honey, I miss you.

1952:  STOOGE CURLY HOWARD DIES.

Hey, look, Moe, it's the Grim Reaper.

1954:  ACTOR SYDNEY GREENSTREET DIES.

Road closed.

1955:  ACTOR KEVIN COSTNER IS BORN.

If your water breaks, he will come.

1958:  WILLIE O'REE, THE FIRST AFRICAN CANADIAN NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYER, MAKES HIS NHL DEBUT.

First African?  Come on, Wikipedia!  He was Black.  Deal with it.

1967:  BOSTON STRANGLER ALBERT DESALVO IS CONVICTED OF NUMEROUS CRIMES AND SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT.

He could look at the bright side.  He didn't have to watch the Red Sox anymore.

1969:  UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 266 CRASHES INTO SANTA MONICA BAY KILLING ALL 32 PASSENGERS AND SIX CREW MEMBERS.

Wow....that happened like right down the road.

1978:  THE ROOF STRUCTURE OF THE HARTFORD CIVIC CENTER COLLAPSES AFTER A SIGNIFICANT SNOWFALL.

Fittingly, the Ice Capades was appearing there at the time.

1978:  ACTOR CARL BETZ DIES.

Judd no longer for the defense.

1983:  THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE RESTORES JIM THORPE'S OLYMPIC MEDALS TO HIS FAMILY.

Available on e-Bay the very next day.

1990:  WASHINGTON DC MAYOR MARION BARRY IS ARRESTED FOR DRUG POSSESSION IN A FBI STING.

All of you who voted for him should be ashamed.

1990:  ACTOR RUSTY HAMER DIES.

Make room for Daddy's son.

1993:  MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY IS OFFICIALLY OBSERVED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ALL 50 STATES.

Go to J.C. Penney's for their annual White Sale.

1995:  UMPIRE RON LUCIANO DIES.

You're out.

2000:  THE TAGISH LAKE METEORITE IMPACTS THE EARTH.

Hopefully this one didn't land in Missouri.

2011:  POLITICIAN SARGENT SHRIVER DIES.

Peace Corpse.

Dinner last night:  Steak and pan roasted tomatoes in balsamic jam.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Throwback Movie Review

Something funny happened when I went to this movie in 2016.   I thought I was in 1958.  Or, at the very least, tuning into Turner Classic Movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Talk about your relics.  "Allied" is a modern day film that seems like it came from another era.   Not that this is a bad thing.   I actually liked it a lot.  But this is clearly a movie that your grandmother might love and say...

"Gee, they don't make 'em like this any more."

As somebody who grew up on World War II films, "Allied" was a perfect time travel for me.   I wonder, however, just how many current movie goers actually know anything about World War II.  I had older relatives who lived through it and were not afraid to share the memories.   But today's youth?   I am not so sure.  Indeed, that likely explains why "Allied," a perfectly fine piece of entertainment from director Robert Zemeckis, made no money at the box office.

That's a shame because folks missed out on a very engaging story with great performances by Brad Pitt (???!!!) and Marion Cotillard as star-crossed lovers in Europe during WWII.   When we first meet them, they are working to shoot and kill some Nazis in French Morocco.  Casablanca is mentioned a lot and that would make sense since a lot of this film comes off like the movie of the same name.

But, that's only the first half.   Brad and Marion, with a trail of dead Nazis in their wake, re-locate to London circa 1944.  They marry, have a child, and enjoy an idyllic life even if bombs are still going off every night in England.  But, suddenly, Pitt's military superiors tell him that there is evidence that his wife might secretly be a Nazi spy and they insist he investigate her.  

If this all sounds like something that would have starred Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart back in the day, you are right.   Okay, so nobody is playing "As Time Goes By" on the piano, but there is enough of an old Warner Brothers plot to make you think this movie was produced years ago.   That comes off as a bit of a knock, but trust me it's a good thing.  The story, however old it seems, is still compelling.    It's just too bad that fewer people thought so.

So, I heartily recommend "Allied."   The only problem is that you will probably have trouble finding it.   Maybe you wait five years until it turns up on TCM with an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz.  That's where it belongs anyway.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Pork chop with crimini mushrooms and baby spinach saute.