First, the good news. The cinematography is sometimes brilliant. A bit dark. Okay for the big screen, but I hope they brighten it up for viewing at home. Dark doesn’t play well on a small screen.

It’s a very loud movie. The explosions range from loud, to louder, to loudest. Don’t worry about hearing the dialogue though because there isn’t any. No one says anything memorable. Pity about that because given half a chance, I’m pretty sure Daniel Craig can act, but you’d never know it from “Spectre.”

spectre daniel craig

The movie is at least 20 minutes too long and has half a dozen false endings. Deleting a few false endings might have improved it.

Motivation? Plot?

Bad guys want to take over the world because they are evil. Good guys want to stop them because they are, you know, good. There are some women, too.

Sex? Either too much or not enough. I’m not sure which. Gratuitous violence? Absolutely. There were at least two scenes too violent for me during which I had to hide my eyes.

Bond survives (to make at least one more movie) in the usual way. Which is to say, the evil head of Spectre doesn’t know when to shut up. He has a devilish, incredibly complicated (slow) way to kill Bond. The bad guy has lots of time to recap every horrible thing he has ever done to Bond … while giving 007 ample opportunity to escape.


There are bad guys who refuse to die. Bond keeps killing them, but wait, they’re back! What a surprise! We’ve never seen anything like that before. Much of this was tired by the time Roger Moore was playing 007. It has gotten older, but not better. Except — the old Bond movies were usually amusing. Funny. Clever. Witty.

Spectre isn’t funny, clever or witty. It’s car chases, stunt flying, destruction of expensive machinery including at least one airplane … and of course killing. Motivation is murky, characters do stuff without apparent rhyme or reason. The high point of the movie is when Bond — in the midst of a car chase — gets stuck behind a slow driver. Sadly, that moment was over too soon, leaving a long way to the final credits.

It wouldn’t cost more to have a script. To add dialogue and a hint of motivation for characters. They have writers, so why not allow them to write? They should also hire an editor and tighten up everything, from end to end. My butt fell asleep. My brain clicked off. By the time the credits rolled, Garry and I had wicked headaches. Too many explosions, too little dialogue.

The final, perfect touch? It cost $4.75 for a bottle of water and $5.75 for a pretzel. I was short twenty cents, but they let me keep it anyway.

Wait for it to come to cable. Make your own microwave popcorn.

If you think I’m the only wet blanket who doesn’t like it, check out the review by Scott Mendelson from Forbes. And other places. It’s not a great or even good movie, but I’m sure it’ll make money. I’m sorry some it was ours.


No Apologies – What’s the one guilty pleasure you have that’s so good, you no longer feel guilty about it?

That’s what Gibbs says. And that’s what The Duke always said. It turns out, in reality, most of us do a great deal of apologizing for all kinds of stuff. But never because things we love are currently out of popular favor.

casablanca movie-movie

This brings me to guilty pleasures via the back door. In our household, that phrase has a very specific meaning. It means movies or television shows we love and watch no matter what anyone else thinks of them. Into this category fit all kinds of stuff — from movies we loved when we were teenagers to reruns of TV shows about vampire cops in Canada.


When I was young, it was “A Summer Place” the music of Percy Faith and hunky Troy Donahue. I was only 14, so what do you want to make of it?

To balance the ledger, much later in life, I was so addicted to “Law and Order” I couldn’t go a day without at least one viewing. Fortunately it is always playing somewhere. Cable is good that way.

For Garry, it’s old TV cowboy movies and TV shows replayed on the many oldie channels. One year, we got the entire run of “Have Gun, Will Travel” and sang along with the theme song. It was swell.

And now we come to the “guilty” and “apologies” section. We are too old to apologize. If you don’t like our choices, feel free to not partake, to do your own thing.

Do you have a “thing?”


Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Turner Classics was playing “Singin’ in the Rain,” so of course, we had to watch it. It wasn’t raining, but it didn’t matter. We never get tired of it. It has been remastered it, so it looks brand new.

Sometimes, it’s not hard to figure out why a movie becomes a classic. Singin’ in the Rain is an MGM musical comedy made in 1952. It stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography, It is magic.

There’s quite of bit of back story and gossip attached to the movie. Debbie Reynolds hasn’t been shy about sharing her story. The dissatisfaction of Gene Kelly at having to work with Debbie Reynolds — who he had to teach to dance for her role.

By the end of each day of shooting, Debbie’s feet would be bleeding. Kelly was a perfectionist and no kinder than he had to be, but it’s hard to argue with the result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the result is a masterpiece. Sixty-one years after the original opening, it’s fresh and funny, and the choreography is a wonder and carefully works around Debbie Reynolds more limited dancing skills. If you watch “Good Morning” carefully, notice how often she is posed while Kelly and O’Connor carry the complex dance numbers.

The plot is a light-hearted look at the movie business during the transition from silent to talking movies.

There had been several versions of Singing In the Rain before, but none of them enjoyed the success of the 1952 MGM production. How you could improve on perfection?

After more than 60 years, it still plays beautifully. A pleasure to watch and a family favorite. Many great musicals have been produced since this classic. Many were and are brilliant, but although they may be as good, they are not better. In many way, Singing in the Rain set the bar.

Until they make a new Gene Kelly, they won’t improve on it.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

It was greeted with no great enthusiasm when released, yet with each passing year, its popularity grows. That is, perhaps, the true definition of a classic when the years only increase respect for a film. Time has not diminished Singin’ In the Rain. 


A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.

rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.

Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

Take a look at “Steeds of Renown” on My Favorite Westerns. It’s a good one.


“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Malcolm Reynolds, “Serenity.”

We finally watched “Serenity.” It’s a consolation prize, a followup movie to the all-too-brief television series “Firefly.” We loved it. It went a small distance to answer the questions left in the wake of the premature ending of what should have been the best ever science fiction television show.


Nathan Fillion was a fine, dashing, surprisingly believable hero. He was just un-heroic enough to be witty and upbeat, but brave enough to save the universe.

Despite space ships and a futuristic other planetary setting for the movie, it’s a western. It’s “Tombstone” and “The Magnificent Seven.” A dollop of “Ride the High Country.” It is every thriller, western, and space opera you’ve seen. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Forbidden Planet,” too.


It’s based on “Firefly”, currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime — so if you haven’t seen it and you like science fiction and/or westerns and/or thrillers, you can’t help but love this.

Heroes curse in Chinese. Some have super powers or maybe they aren’t super powers, but they sure do seem pretty super to me. Beautiful women, handsome men. Terrific pseudo-science that you are pretty sure you almost understand because it uses familiar gobbledygook language.

Serenity movie cast

No warp drive. I suppose that means that going from galaxy to galaxy on a whim isn’t going to happen. No one exactly says where the story takes place. It’s a “terraformed” planetary configuration that you would call a solar system, except that technically, there’s only one solar system because there’s only one “Sol.”

And then The Hero, Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, said it. He’s the kind of guy you probably don’t want mad at you, so when he came out with a line this terrific, I wrote it down on the back of an envelope before I forgot it. I knew I would write about it.

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Spoken by Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of “Serenity.”

I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, steam punk and weird mysteries involving some kind of magical or futuristic technology. But I also read a lot of history, recently a lot of history that essentially debunks all the history I read in the past and makes me completely rethink everything I thought I knew. Tony Judt’s “Postwar” was one such book, but there have been a bunch of others. Some of them I’ve reviewed or otherwise written about. Others, I will talk about in the future.

serenity movies firefly science fiction 1024x768 Fillion

But this so well summed up history as we know it. Not the “mythology” of history, which is what we were fed in school. Not mainstream history we are told is Truth with the capital “T” and that the majority of people accept at face value, if  they remember any history at all.

History isn’t about telling later generations what really happened. It ought to be — in my opinion — but actually, it’s about getting everyone to believe a story that supports the current power structure. Debunking those stories comes in the future, when a new power structure needs a different story.

Nathan Fillion Hero

Take your history with many grains of salt. Not because I said so, but because Mal Reynolds said so. He saved the universe, so he ought to know.


It isn’t just culture that divides us into classes. What we watch on television, see in the movies, and read also puts us into a category, often unfairly by people who don’t “get” why we like what we like.


I read a post about how dreadful — yet gripping — romance novels can be. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that anyone who reads them is probably not too bright. While it’s true that romance novels are the potato chips of the literary world (bet you can’t eat just one) that’s not the point.

double dip in bookcase

As a former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I assure you that research showed readers of romance novels are better educated than most readers.

They read romance novels because they are pulp. These readers aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down, and forget. If life gets in the way, they can just never finish the story — without regret.

72--cook books_07

I read each 3-book volume, every month. Three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would prefer people enjoy, people don’t always read good books. I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where that book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it. Don’t enjoy the subject matter. Don’t need to be further depressed by the ugly realities of life or history.

Good books can be too intense, too serious, or educational for this moment in time. Too close to reality. I read to be entertained. I’m not seeking enlightenment through literature. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment through literature. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

75-Books and stuffNK-1

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many. Enough genres, themes, and styles for everyone. An infinity of literature. No matter what your taste — low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.


I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too.

Snobs suck the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s okay with me. I love reading about vampires and witches. I’d be more than a hypocrite to act as if your taste is inferior to mine.

old favorite books

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for anything serious — except maybe a conversation. Tastes change over time. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I want to escape, Reality will still be there when I get back.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in those books. I believe for him, there was.


Open Range (2003) stars Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi and a lot of other people, but notably Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter) as the stupidest villain in the old west.

Mind you, Open Range isn’t a bad western, as these things go. It’s pretty standard, with a rather better cast than most westerns. All the good clichés are included and the movie builds up to a massive shootout between Duvall and Costner against Gambon and his thugs.

Open Range Poster

Here’s the plot. It contains spoilers, but I feel safe in saying the movie has no surprises, so really, there’s nothing to spoil.

Old West, 1882. “Boss” Spearman (Duvall) is an open range cattleman, who, with hired hands Charley (Costner), and Mose (Benrubi) (et al), is driving a herd cross-country. Charley, a former soldier who fought in the Civil War, feels guilty over his past as a killer. 

Boss sends Mose to the nearby town of Harmonville for supplies, a town controlled by ruthless land baron, Denton Baxter. Mose is beaten and jailed by the marshal (owned body and soul by Baxter). The only friendly resident owns the livery stable.

Boss and Charley worry when Mose doesn’t return. The get him out of jail but are warned to not free-graze on Baxter’s land. Mose’s injuries are severe, so Boss and Charley take him to Doc Barlow where they meet Sue Barlow, the doctor’s sister.

Killing and skullduggery follow. Charley and Boss vow to avenge the various murders and injustice. Charley declares his feeling for Sue and she gives him a locket for luck. 

Boss and Charley are pitted against Baxter and his men. A gun battle erupts in the street, with Boss and Charley heavily outnumbered … until the townspeople begin to fight.

It’s an shootout of Biblical proportions. Epic. Costner is the troubled hero, which is just as well because he directed and co-produced the movie. Gambon, a murderous Irish immigrant with a killer brogue, is a brutal tyrant with no compunctions about slaughtering anyone. Everyone. He owns the sheriff, he owns the town. He has a lot of cows, but it’s not enough. It will never be enough.

He is the consummate villain of the old west, an out-of-control, power-mad cattle baron. You just know there’s going to be a lot of killing.

Skipping over the early individual killings to get to the big battle, it’s now the final quarter of the gun battle. It’s a high body count. I’ve lost count and I swear some of the actors died more than once, but maybe it’s just me.

The first seriously stupid bad guy moment comes when Baxter’s ace hired gun stands in front of Costner — who is loaded for bear and hates the son-of-a-bitch — and taunts him. So Costner shoots him through the head. One shot, dead center of his forehead.

I look at Garry and say “Well, what did he think was going to happen?” The fight was on.

A few minutes later, corpses litter the landscape. Heads are exploding right, left, and center. The townsfolk are unhappy about being under the thumb of Baxter, the power-mad cattle baron, but they’re too wimpy and cowardly to do anything about him.

Until Baxter, the asshole, stands up in front of the whole town (they’ve come out to watch the shootout because they don’t have anything else to do) and tells them that as soon as he gets through killing the good guys, he’s going to start killing them. “All your children will be orphans” he rants.

Say what?

Guess what happens next? Right you are! The townspeople, realizing they have nothing to lose, pick up their guns and start killing Baxter’s men. What a shock.

Costner marries the pretty sister of the doctor. Duvall offloads the cattle. Costner and Duvall take over the saloon and everyone lives happily ever after. I assume they bury the corpses.

This one gets my vote for the dumbest bad guy in the west. But maybe you know something I don’t know …