ROKU – BETTER THAN EVER AND JUST AS CHEAP

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. 

Enter the Roku, a little streaming device that runs off your WiFi so you can stream movies, TV shows and other channels both free and subscription-based on your television. The price is right: the entry-level model is $49.99, and even the top of the line is less than $100, cheaper than a modest game system.

Roku-1

The Roku comes in different flavors though they all work the same way. Advanced models offer additional bells and whistles including an earphone connection through the remote control. In our case, there is no point in getting an advanced model. Both our television have just one high-definition port and it’s already in use by the cable box. Also, we have wireless Sennheiser headphones hook-ups for both televisions.

plugs roku and headphones

Roku is small, the size of a little bar of soap. Connecting is simple. I did it alone and despite a few humorous moments caused when I didn’t notice I’d accidentally turned off the power strip, it went smoothly. Roku is as easy to install as the ads promise. It works. And keeps working.

Plug A into B, B into C. Insert batteries (2 AAAs, included) into the remote. Turn on the TV and follow the prompts. The single item the instructions don’t cover is reminding you to switch your TV input to whatever input you are using for Roku. This was easy on the newer TV in the bedroom where inputs on the back of the set are labeled. The bigger (older) TV in the living room makes you guess, so you have to click through the inputs until Roku appears. Mostly, you need to know to take this step or you will sit there staring at an empty screen, wondering why you aren’t seeing Roku.

roku to TV + headphones

The instructions promise installing the Roku will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hidden. I just don’t like hardware. In my secret heart, I believe electricity is waiting for the right moment to spill out of the walls. I don’t trust hardware and I believe the feeling is mutual.

Regardless, I set it up and by golly, it works. This was my second installation, so I’m two for two. Yay me. It took about half an hour, most of which involved getting the wires out of the way and finding a place to put Roku where it is accessible yet close enough to plug into a power strip. Compromise was required. I wish manufacturers would include longer power cords longer on electronic devices. They are all — including Roku — about a foot short of convenient.

Despite advertisements to the contrary, there are only few free services. Almost everything is either subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime) or pay-per-use (Blockbuster On Demand).

I was pleased to see that improvements have been made to the remote. The older version works, but it’s awkward and not very responsive.The newer unit has dedicated keys for major channels (nice!) and the unit is much more responsive. I wonder if I can get a newer remote for an older Roku? I’ll have to check.

The “search” capabilities are primitive using the remote, so search on a computer and put everything you want to watch on wish lists. Use the remote only to make selections. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Be aware: You can’t install Roku without a computer. To activate your unit, you must enter a generated code from the television into your account on the computer. 

Closed captions are available on almost everything. Some old television series and movies don’t have them, but that’s true on cable too.

roku and headphones

Is Roku going to replace expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently can’t afford movie packages from your cable or dish provider, this is affordable and easy to use — as easy as they say it is and getting more versatile every day. You will find that Netflix streaming video does not include most popular movies. For that, you need to sign up for their DVD service too … and I won’t do it. I’m not really thrilled with Netflix, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that. I’m tempted to try a different streaming service to see if it’s any better. I’m an Amazon Prime member and while their free selection is smaller than Netflix, it is higher quality.

You need one Roku per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account for a household, no matter how many televisions you have, is enough.

Roku is great addition to your entertainment package, especially for the price. It delivers the goods, is more than worth the money, whether you buy the economy model or top of the line. Whether or not it can replace other services is subjective.

LEDA AND THE SWAN – THE MUSICAL

Back in my bright college days, I was a music major. I hung out on the quad with other wannabe musicians on warm sunny days where we planned projects which would make us famous. Symphonies. Great achievements as conductors and composers though my class never produced anyone huge. Medium is as good as we got.

The Concept

My great project was going to be musical comedy based on the myth of Leda and the Swan.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces — or rapes – Leda. I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing being rape by a swan.

Zeus or not, swans are slow and clumsy on land, unlikely to successfully attack anyone or anything. Being heavy-bodied, they have trouble getting airborne. Without hands or arms, rape seems unlikely.

Leda becomes pregnant from the experience. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus. Simultaneously (and I’d like to know how she managed this), she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra – the offspring of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

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Leda is able to convince her parents and husband that her extraneous pregnancy is not the result of a lover or promiscuity. “No! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, Mom, Dad, Tyndy … it was Zeus! Not some guy. He was a swan! Really.” Right.

The first … and perhaps my favorite scene … would have to be the first act closer. In this highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. In it, she explains that it really truly was Zeus.

I could imagine another hilarious show-stopping moment. The eggs. Her Zeus children are born as eggs. Who sat on the eggs? Did they build a nest on her throne? Did she get her ladies-in-waiting to sit on them while she did her Queen business?

Dialog Tidbit

Leda: The swan didn’t fool me. I knew it was Zeus. You all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having some problems.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. As a swan. You know how tricky he is.

The All-Important Dream Ballet

In a brilliantly choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. Some of the technical aspects of the experience make interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … ? It will make a heck of a scene.

How Many Curtain Calls?

I’m telling you — the audience will be on its collective feet! I can hear the applause already. I see the royalties rolling in.

Swan's Nest

I’m a bit long in the tooth now for to write a musical comedy, but I freely offer this incredible concept to anyone who wants to flush it out. It might launch more than one career.

You think?

THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

In the dark, glowing Jack O Lanterns

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot!). … but lacking that, any horror movie would do. It was the centerpiece of the weekend’s entertainment … in addition to the fun of getting together to see each other.

Devil Jones rubberThe last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down on Long Island,  the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.” It sounded like a horror movie to them. Devil? Halloween. Right?

Given the audience and its condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties were more elaborate, bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at theme parks … but the year we all watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was definitely one of your finer efforts.

BLAST FROM THE PAST -The Best Medicine

Life in shreds? Out of work? Evicted? Hiding from the repo guys? Other half dumped you? Bank threatening to foreclose? Don’t take it personally. It’s just  a joke. No, really. Disaster is life’s cute and funny way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate. Don’t cry. No one likes a cry-baby. Smile! That’s it! Go on, now, no suffering allowed. This personal disaster is your cue to laugh. No one wants to hear your sad story … unless you turn it into a funny story! Then everyone wants to listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart (though it lasted longer than it ought because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made), I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling as if I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Misery, mistakes, and disasters are high comedy. Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now, well, yeah, they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

And about those fake tits: I own tee shirts that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” I’m wearing one right now. It’s a killer at parties and is the high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, a lot of folks who were sort of friends eye you with suspicion (is bad luck contagious?), but also with a subtle hint, a light whiff, of profound satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they are overjoyed that it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really. (Furtive, slightly smug grin.)

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at the very least, a Freshly Pressed badge from WordPress. Yay! See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through unscathed. So mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there. Watch out for the flames (OUCH).

HOLLYWOOD BIZARRE – FLYPAPER AND OTHER WEIRD STUFF

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even in our world is not a huge amount of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. The 2012 movie  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 – the lowest-grossing film of 2012. And 2006′s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl grossed $30

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900 which, for a Hollywood bomb, is small potatoes. The movie was universally panned, opened in just one movie house (where?) on two screens, then disappeared, never to be heard from again until it popped up the other night on one of our cable movie channels.

Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. One night, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. As a rule, there are many things I find funny that he doesn’t find amusing, but never has the reverse been true. If he thinks its funny, it’s funny.

Flypaper  is actually a good little comedy. It’s a spoof, a farce, a parody of bank heist movies plus slapstick, technobabble and a few good explosions. The dialogue is witty.

The cast features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. The same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it’s fun. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from the studio. Showing it for one week in one movie theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a big opening. It deserved better.

The writeups in both IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate that whoever wrote them never watched the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. Shame on whoever wrote them. I guess anonymity is not always a bad thing. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t write about something I’d never watched. Call me old-fashioned, but it bothers me.

When I read movie reviews, I frequently wonder if the reviewer watched the same movie I did. Or watched any movie at all. They heap praise on movies that are boring and sometimes much worse than that. They pan movies that are creative, unique and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one could possibly be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best PictureBest DirectorBest Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

It stunk. It was affectedartsy, pretentious and incoherent. Did I forget annoying and dull?

Take this “interpretation” from Wikipedia as an example of just how thrilling it was:

Academics have offered many possible readings of American Beauty; film critics are similarly divided, not so much about the quality of the film as their interpretations of it. Described by many as about “the meaning of life” or “gender identification” or “the hollow existence of the American suburbs”, the film has defied categorization by even the filmmakers. Mendes is indecisive, saying the script seemed to be about something different each time he read it: “a mystery story, a kaleidoscopic journey through American suburbia, a series of love stories … it was about imprisonment … loneliness [and] beauty. It was funny; it was angry, sad.” (Translation: Mendes, the director, didn’t have a clue what the script was about.)

In essence, no one knew what, if anything, the movie was about, but it was so “au courant” no one was would admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. Because it was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group of well-read individualists looked at each other and briefly conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? Then why were we watching it?  We promptly popped the movie out of the machine and moved on with our evening. Pop corn goes well with conversation, too.

It reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track.

He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it. There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

My point is simple: Unless we are utterly lacking in critical judgment, I doubt the critics actually watched Flypaper. Maybe one guy watched it, didn’t like it, told the others who all followed his leader.

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it. It’s up there with some of the Zucker brothers nuttier comedies and a few of Mel Brooks’ later efforts. It’s as good as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and the same genre.

We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does.

Flypaper is every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running rampant. Absolutely everything that can go wrong does so in the most spectacular way. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke. The bomb is going to blow everyone to kingdom come. The fancy electronic computer gadgets won’t work. The money in the vault will be drachma, not dollars. You don’t care. The pacing is appropriately frantic, the actors manage to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative.

The more time I spend writing about movies, the less I understand critics.

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LEDA DOES THE SWAN

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The happy couple.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.

Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!

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Hey, Zeus? Is that you?

My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad —  it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!

There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?

Zeus and Leda?

Zeus and Leda?

Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?

Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?

I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?

Reviewing the Oldies: Along Came Jones (1945)

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the tra...

I love western movies. I love horses. I love to laugh. What’s better than a funny western? Not much in my opinion.

My favorite — but little-celebrated — movies are western comedies. It isn’t the most popular movie genre, yet there are a reasonable number worth watching. Almost everybody has seen City Slickers and Blazing Saddles. How many people remember Cat Ballou, or have seen Rustler’s Rhapsody? Both charming and very funny movies. Lee Marvin got his only Academy Award for his role in Cat Ballou. On acceptance, he gave credit to his horse who deserved it. But I digress.

Along Came Jones is funny, but it’s gentle and sweet. It’s a love story with Loretta Young as the romantic interest, with Cooper in a role that it pokes fun at westerns and Coop himself without being mean-spirited. The plot is the basic mistaken-identity tale. Easygoing and slightly inept Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George (William Demarest) ride into a town. Jones is mistaken for a badass bandit named Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea) mostly because he has the same initials on his saddle. The mixup earns him a lot of unexpected respect (which he likes) then rapidly changes to trouble and finally love. The real Jarrad is hiding out in the home of his girlfriend Cherry (Loretta Young). In the beginning, she uses Melody to send the law off in the wrong direction, but as she gets to know Jones, her feelings change. There is a happy ending for all.

Cover of "Along Came Jones (Sub)"

Gary Cooper produced the movie and put his own money into it. It gave him a chance to be something other than the grim hero he so often played. In this, he is a lighter and more humorous version of his typical role. It was the only feature film Cooper produced during his more than 40-year movie career and Melody Jones was his favorite role. It’s easy to see why.

It’s a rare feel-good movie that isn’t trite. Cooper poking fun at Cooper is amusing without being over the top. His slow-talking, aw shucks style is perfect. This is an oldie that doesn’t play very often on cable, but it does pop up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. If you find it, it’s worth watching. If you get TCM, you can find out when it’s playing on their website.

It has stood the test of time surprisingly well. You can see where financial corners were cut, but it doesn’t matter. The movie is character-driven and the scenery is just a stage set.  When we got a DVD player, it was the first movie I bought. It’s available at Amazon in combination with other Cooper movies and rather expensively on its own.

Cropped screenshot of Loretta Young from the t...

There’s no fancy cinematography, no nudity, cussin’, or graphic violence. A bit of shooting, no gobs of blood flowing. The tension won’t raise your blood pressure. It’s got some laughs and lots of smiles.  It’s a pleasant way to dump reality and visit a version of the old west that never was.

From Garry Armstrong, AKA “The Movie Maven”:

I spotted “Jones” when I was surfin’ the overnight movie fare and knew I’d struck gold for both of us. Charlton Heston once told me that Gary Cooper was his favorite actor and inspiration for his own little western “Will Penny”.

Coop was the idol of many, including one young woman in Brooklyn, New York, who decided to name her first-born after the legendary star in 1942. I digress, as usual, when talking about movies. After 15 years of commercial and critical hits, Gary Cooper was top gun at the box office in 1945. One of his favorites was “The Westerner” done 5 years earlier but that was stolen from him by Walter Brennan’s “Judge Roy Bean”.

Cover of "The Westerner"

Cooper loved his character in “The Westerner” and wanted to give him another go on his own terms. Melody Jones would be that guy. A Coop bio I read long ago says he made “Jones” mostly with his own money. Got it released as an independent so he would have last cut rights.

You’ll notice it’s low-budget by the exteriors and “rear projection” scenes, but that hardly matters. Loretta Young also did the movie “for a song”. Coop hand-picked Dan Duryea who was still a very young and aspiring actor with few major film notches, except for “Pride of the Yankees.”

Lane Chandler, one of the bad guys in the film, was originally supposed to do “Wings” (I believe), the silent that gave Coop his big closeup and break for stardom. Coop got that cameo not Chandler — and the rest is history.

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Now Playing on Walpole Community Television

Garry Armstrong, Tom Ellis with Guy Giampapa on Walpole Community Television.

September 2013.

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Breaking News!

GarryCloseSmileTIGHTGarry Armstrong will be on NECN (New England Cable News) this evening, from 6PM to 6:15PM — possibly a few minutes longer.

NECN’s Broadside With Jim Braude is a nightly news and analysis program carried in six states in New England.

The subject is President Obama’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The program is LIVE at 6 p.m. from their studio in Newton. Garry met Dr. King quite a few times and was present in Washington for the march.

If you live anywhere in the New England area, you can probably get the show. Check your local listing for information. See you later!

Tis a gift to be simple … or is it?

If you love it, set it free … Really?

The whole quote is:

If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be. – Unknown

We yearn for simple answer to complex questions. But honestly, do you genuinely believe it’s what your spouse, lover or friend wants? To be set free? To be let go? Doesn’t this sound like a bogus excuse for dumping someone you wanted to get rid of anyway, but couldn’t find an excuse beyond “Wow, I’m really up for something new. See you around, okay? … I’m outta here!”

Sayings … platitudes … are a cheesy way to over-simplify the complexities of life. Especially when you can’t think of a good exit line. Kind of like using “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” and pretending to be Rhett Butler on your way out the door … or mumbling “No, no, no it ain’t me babe … ” thus attempting (and failing) to make someone think you’re Bob Dylan incarnate. Dylan was personally a social loser despite enormous talent as a poet — but lord, he could NOT sing worth a plugged nickel and still can’t …

Which is why his songs always sound so much better when his ex girlfriend, Joan Baez, sings them. I’m just saying …

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

This is the anniversary of when I discovered this great piece of real estate. Is it still for sale? It’s still on the Internet, but as we all know, things stay permanently in cyberspace. Regardless, if you are (rightfully) concerned about the zombie apocalypse, this is the house for you!

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Until I started using Facebook, I honestly never much worried about the zombie apocalypse. Naiveté? Maybe.

In my innocence, I worried about other things … the Republican Party taking over both houses of Congress … lack of health care … polluting our environment … cutting down the rain forests … extinction of so many species … whether or not I was going to survive cancer and if I’d continue to be able to afford to have a roof over my head. Some sage — no, I don’t remember who it was — said you can only worry about 7 things at a time. As soon as you add another one, one of the previous batch just goes away. Maybe my poor brain just had no room to worry about zombies,  much less the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse.

But then Facebook became a part of my world and soon I realized that I had been remiss. I wasn’t worrying about the truly important stuff. What WOULD I do when the crazed zombies attacked?

When I saw this property for sale, I realized the solution was at hand. Suddenly, my mind was at peace. Because I really care about all of you, I am passing along this important information. Maybe we could create a group and buy it, forming a commune that would be a safe haven against the day of The Big Attack.

Who knows? Here’s a link for those of you with the foresight to know a great deal when you see one … plus a few juicy pictures to whet your appetite. I feel so much better now that I’ve shared this critical information and solved one of the big problems facing the world today.

It looks perfectly normal from above.

A second view of the house and it’s sub levels.

It’s when you start going down to lower levels that you realize you’ve come to the perfect safe house.

Aerial view

Aerial view

Just a beautiful house in the mountains … that’s all you see from the air. Near beautiful woods, lakes and streams. Idyllic. Room for everything, even your own aircraft.

And it gets better the deeper you go. Literally.

BelowGroundZombie

Underground, you have a whole complete world. Check out the media room.

Really great media room!

Safe from the hoards of flesh-eating, lurching zombies. Secure? Here’s secure!

Worry no more. We have your back if you have the check.

EvenlowerZombie

 

The Barrymores: Show Business’ Royal Family

220px-John_Barrymore_Hamlet_1922Drew Barrymore has been working regularly on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne talking about classic movies and introducing them. Her face has changed quite a bit in recent years. I realized she finally really looks like a Barrymore.

That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.

Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years. The royal family of the theatre, the Barrymores.

The Family

  1. Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blyth (aka Maurice Barrymore)
  2. ∞ married Georgiana Emma Drew, and had three children: Lionel, Ethel, and John.
    1. Lionel Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married Doris Rankin (first wife), and had two daughters. Marriage ended in divorce.
        1. Mary Barrymore (died at infancy)
        2. Ethel Barrymore II (died at infancy).
      2. ∞ Married to Irene Fenwick (second wife, until her death)
    2. Ethel Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married Russell Griswold Colt, and had three children. Ethel’s children also acted, primarily on the stage.
        1. Samuel Peabody Colt
        2. John Drew Colt
        3. Ethel Barrymore Colt. ∞ Married John Romeo Miglietta, and had John Drew Miglietta (born 10 September 1946)
    3. John Barrymore
      1. ∞ Married to Katherine Corri Harris (first wife, divorced)
      2. ∞ Married Blanche Oelrichs (second wife, divorced), and had:
        1. Diana Blanche Barrymore
          1. ∞ Married Bramwell Fletcher
          2. ∞ Married John R. Howard
          3. ∞ Married Robert Wilcox
      3. ∞ Married Dolores Costello (third wife, divorced), and had:
        1. Dolores Ethel Mae Barrymore (living).
          1. ∞ Married Thomas Fairbanks (first husband, divorced) and had a daughter Hillary Klaradru Fairbanks (living), who ∞ married Thomas Randolph and had a daughter Isabelle Harrison Barrymore Randolph. Also she had a son Anthony John Barrymore Fairbanks who ∞ married Dianne Zaninovich and had a daughter Samantha Mae Barrymore Fairbanks.
          2. ∞ Married Lew Bedell (second husband) and had two children Dore Lewis Bedell and Stephanie Mae Bedell
        2. John Drew Barrymore (Jr.)
          1. ∞ Married Cara Williams (first wife, divorced)
            1. John Blyth Barrymore
              1. ∞ Married Rebecca Pogrow
                1. Blyth Lane Barrymore
                2. Sabrina Brooke Barrymore
              2. ∞ Married Jacqueline Manes
                1. John Blyth Barrymore IV
          2. ∞ Married Gabriella Palazzoli (second wife, divorced)
            1. Blyth Dolores Barrymore. ∞ Married Antonio Gioffredi and had two children Gabriella Gioffredi and Nicole Gioffredi
          3. ∞ Married Nina Wayne (third wife, divorced)
            1. Jessica Barrymore
          4. ∞ Married Ildiko Jaid (fourth wife, divorced)
            1. Drew Barrymore
              1. ∞ Married Jeremy Thomas (first husband, divorced)
              2. ∞ Married Tom Green (second husband, divorced)
              3. ∞ Married Will Kopelman (third husband)
                1. Olive Barrymore Kopelman
      4. ∞ Married to Elaine Barrie née Jacobs. (fourth wife of John Barrymore, Sr., divorced)

As of this writing, other than John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth, none of the other members of John Barrymore‘s family entered the entertainment industry.

Louisa Lane Drew 1840-48

Louisa Lane Drew 1840-48

Drew’s family

Family of Georgiana Emma Drew, mother of Lionel, Ethel, and John, also quit acting.

  1. John Drew, actor
  2. ∞ Louisa Lane Drew, actress
    1. Georgiana Emma Drew, ∞ wife of Maurice Barrymore and mother of Lionel, Ethel, and John.
    2. John Drew Jr.
      1. Louise Drew, ∞ married performer Jack Devereaux; their son John Drew Devereaux was a Broadway stage manager
    3. Sidney Drew, known for the Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew comedy act
      1. Sidney Rankin Drew, left his acting career to join the Lafayette Escadrille, and was killed in action
    4. Louisa Drew, actress

What got this post started? Garry and I got to talking and speculating how many genuine acting dynasties we could think of with at least three generations where at least one member of each generation has done something noteworthy as a performer. Not a director, producer or writer. An actor. Only.

dynasties_01

Define “noteworthy” please!

It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be a member of the same family. However, they are all directors. No actors. So they don’t count in this particular equation.

If you want to play movie trivia with Garry, you play by his rules. He declared that in order to count as an actor for that generation, he or she must have “made a mark,” that is, have done something that in Garry’s opinion counts, eliminating families like the Osbournes which probably should be eliminated on principle anyhow. Reality shows, no matter how popular, do not count. Nor does working as a reporter. Don’t argue with Garry about this. You will lose.

This genealogy got a lot more complicated than I expected. The members of acting dynasties marry each other, divorce each other, have children by each other as well as with other partners. Then there are the adopted and step children of everybody’s former marriages. It gets hard to keep track.

barrymore-family-tree

It turns out, following the Garry Guidelines, there are not as many families as I thought. Plenty of two generation families, a handful of three generation families — and only one family that has more than three generations. Barrymore.

Chaplin @ Barrymore Theatre on Broadway

Of this great family, Drew is only working member, its only current representative.There are many other members of the family. Although none of them are acting, it doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy to live up to. Talk about pressure.

If you want to see the other families or at least most of them,  you can look them up; just Google “multi-generational acting families”. The Wikipedia entry omits several significant British acting families. This link takes you to an alphabetical list of show business families. The intricacies of the marriages, divorces and resulting complex relationships will make your head spin.

The Barrymore family reigns. No other family comes near the prominence or longevity of this family of actors.

The Wikipedia entry on the Barrymore family tree includes actors and non-actors. There are quite a few family members who are not in show business. The acting family members are in blue. Most of the Barrymores  married no more than once or twice, so it’s easier to track them than some other families.

Daily Prompt: If you feel successful, you are.

96-90,000Hits-NK-1

You can’t write about success  without defining the term. Success is relative, after all. When I started blogging, success was ten hits in a day, five of which were no doubt my husband. Then, as numbers rose, I  began to get the hang of it. The election kicked into high gear and a monster storm battered the east coast. I wrote about them and began to see pretty large numbers. My expectations rose accordingly, while simultaneously, my definition of success subtly altered.

September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012

Driving home last night from the Cape, I began thinking about where I am these day with my blog. I passed 90,000, close to 91,000 now. When it gets to 100,000 … I’ll celebrate. Maybe. Or when my followers, now at 476 (more or less, last I checked) hit 500.

The thing is, my numbers have slowed. Or maybe stabilized … sort of. I could push to speed them up … but I don’t want to. Because that would mean I’d have to write about things only to pull people in rather than what I feel like writing about. If I do that, I won’t have so much fun. My readership seems more or less steady. I’ve got friends out there. Maybe that is success.

My most popular all time post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for it in about an hour plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour. It’s time has, I think, finally expired. I used to get a steady 50 or more hits a day from it, but it no longer makes the top 10. Just as well. It was a false statistic and only obscured the more important numbers.

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

June 2013

June 2013

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows. Be lucky. It helps if Google has you at the top — or near — of the search results. I wrote a little piece quickly, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook: The man who saw the future …

Other very successful posts (in a viral kind of way) include reblogs, tech reviews, and photo galleries. The pictures never go “viral” like writing can, but good pictures get looked at. Nice and steady.

August 2012

August 2012

And well-written articles get read. Not as much as pictures get looked at, though. In the grand scheme of things, probably 75% of my followers come for photography. Which is okay. I make pretty pictures. Photography has been an important hobby for more than 40 years, though writing and editing has been my profession. I’ll bet a lot of people who follow me don’t think of me as a writer at all, but as a photographer.

We have, some of us, many lives. I have one friend who still thinks of me as a musician. When we were closest, back in college, we were both musicians. He stayed a musician, or at least, music has remained the center of his world, even if performing is no longer how he earns his daily bread. Me? I didn’t entirely abandon music, but I went back to writing — my first love, nearest and dearest to my heart. And stayed there for nearly 50 years. I took pictures too. But never professionally.

December 2012

December 2012

The thing is, I write about what I love and many of them, being books, are not my most popular posts. I also write about history and love those articles because ferreting out obscure historical stuff is fun. Doing it makes me feel like “The Time Detective.” If only numbers counted as success, these not-so-popular posts would disappear. Sure, I wish more people read them but I don’t write just for numbers. If that were the single reason to keep blogging, it would be work.

Blogging would stop being fun — and I would stop blogging. I would be poorer for my loss and maybe, here and there, a few others would note my disappearance.

Fortunately, there are times and areas where high interest (on the public side) and my interest (on the writing end) coincide. That’s when things get a little “hot.” Comments and hits roll and it’s fun, but I know the curve will continue to roll up and down and I have to live with that or become something I don’t want to be.

The real bottom line success is I love writing, love the interchange with readers. Love the conversations, pictures, life stories, new relationships. I love reviewing new books, even though they are my least popular posts.

The Best Moment Award - April 2013 from Mike Smith

The Best Moment Award – April 2013 from Mike Smith.

I am mad about books and being even a tangential part of that world makes me happy. That IS success, though there’s no statistical way to compile it.

I’m not a one-subject, focused blogger. When big events or issues are in the news, I write about them and reap a statistical bump from them. I enjoy it when it happens and if I can tie in news and other trendy stuff to this blog, I do. But I won’t force the issue.

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BLUE DIAMOND DELIVERY — A Sci Fi Fairy Tale for Grownups

BLUE DIAMOND DELIVERY, by Anne Johnson

Publication Date: June 25, 2013

I didn’t realize until I was quite a few pages into the book that this is the sequel to a book I have not read, Green Light Delivery. It offers a second look into the worlds of the more-than-a-little strange inhabitants of the Raralt Planetary Circle. In particular, it’s about Webrid, Stravin and Zatell. Each is a different species. Stravin and Zatell are scientists. Stravin has feathers, while Zatell has many limbs. Webrid — our hero — is a hulking furry dude.

There’s a supporting cast of weirdos, most of whom who spend lots of time drinking themselves into a stupor while contemplating sex with oddly configured other species.

The basic plot? Webrid — a Yeril — is a carter. He delivers stuff throughout the planetary system. Or used to, before he saved the world. Which was when he got very rich and didn’t have to cart anymore.

Webrid doesn’t live like a rich guy. He lives like a drunken slob because it’s what he is. And exactly what he wants to be. He just happens to be a multi-millionaire drunken slob.

When his world is rocked by massive earthquakes that destroy his home and threaten to wipe out his city, planet and the entire Raralt Circle of planets, he isn’t surprised the government calls on him to deliver a gigantic blue diamond to fix the machine holding the planets in orbit. This is no ordinary delivery. The fate of every living creature on all the planets in the Circle depends on it and on Webrid. Or, more to the point, Webrid and his pals.

Webrid owns the cart and has the brawn and determination to get the job done. His pals Stravin and Zatell have the brains to figure out how. Zatell also has her own rocket, an important component to their mission (transportation is not supplied), while Stravin has a few other critical items they’re going to need to pull off this “saving the world” thing.

Webrid is not a hero, even a reluctant one, but he’s a good carter. If he has a delivery to make, he will make it or die trying, though he is not averse to hot babes and a sea of booze en route. He figures the booze and hot babes are the whole point of the exercise. Yerils are big and strong, but his species is firmly committed to cowardice and self-interest. Odd how Webrid keeps saving the day, even though he doesn’t know what or why he’s doing what he’s doing. Usually.

It took me a while to get into the spirit of the book. Talk about over-thinking a story, I was trying to figure out what the characters would actually look like. It was very distracting — until I realized it didn’t matter. All I had to do was to read and enjoy it. After I stopped trying to figure it out, I enjoyed it very much.

I’m glad I stuck with the book. It got funnier and funnier as it went along until I found myself laughing out loud at the delicious silliness of the characters and story.

I highly recommend the book if you (a) have a taste for bizarre science fiction and (b) don’t mind species with incomprehensible body designs. If you just roll with it, you’ll enjoy clever dialogue, weird inventions and outlandish technology. Blue Diamond Delivery could be a great animated feature film. It’s pure fun, a kid’s book aimed at adults who enjoy a healthy dollop of humor with their fiction. Like me.

Available in paperback and Kindle. It’s a fun, fast read you’ll enjoy from start to finish.

A Late Quartet (2012) – A Review

A Late Quartet refers to one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven at the end of his life, in this case, specifically Opus 131.

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.

Garry and I watched A Late Quartet the other day. I bought it from Amazon a few weeks ago after reading some good reviews. It sounded like a movie for grown-ups and there have been a dearth movies that don’t star fresh-faced children. It turns out the reviewers were right.

It’s a lovely film. If anyone is a “hero” in this film, it’s Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir, who usually plays Israeli heavies on NCIS and other crime shows (he actually is from Israel and is an actual hero) as the dedicated and ever so slightly demon-haunted violinist, plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman doing his usual workmanlike job and Catherine Keener on viola and as “could be better” wife to Hoffman’s second violin  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. I know they were not actually the group used to produce the sound track but it looked to this ex-music major as if they knew their way around string instruments. Some may have had some early training, others were coached for the movie. Whatever the means, it enabled the cinematographer to follow the actors’ movement closely, without resorting to long shots that disguise the real identities of the performers. Well done.

While doing a little side bar reasearch on the stars, I discovered — entirely to my surprise — that Walken actually attended the same college as Garry and I and probably was there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. He was only there for one year and left for a gig in an off-broadway show, but it was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree to begin highly successful careers. We had a very good drama department and perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of the students in the program were “discovered” before they got degrees and went on to fame and fortune without benefit of that all-important piece of paper.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music and particularly, if you understand the cutthroat world of classical performers, but if you don’t, you can still enjoy the movie.

The plot? It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. The world is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of the problems were not enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, and not even slightly crazy member of the group.

The music — especially Opus 131, the late quartet — is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed. It’s an exceptionally challenging piece of music, written when Beethoven was already swathed in silence by the loss of his hearing, yet still able to hear it in his head and write some of the most advanced, complex and intense music of his life.

I admit to being inclined in advance to like this movie. I love the music, studied classical music for many long years. I love Beethoven, probably my all time favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys throughout my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what is possible, these adults work out their problems, musical, health, personal and relationship, like … adults.

It is a nice change from watching stupid kids running around like stupid kids, clearly clueless about life and from the looks of things, not likely to become wiser assuming they manage to survive to grow older.

It’s very much worth a couple of hours of your time, if just for the music. But it is really better than just the music. The DVD is available on Amazon (which is where I got it) and the soundtrack is available separately.