CASABLANCA – BEST MOVIE DIALOGUE

Last night, we watched Casablanca. We watch a lot of old movies, but last night, it was Casablanca, arguably the best of breed. The greatest of the great.

There are other, more exciting movies, more thrilling movies, though I find Casablanca pretty thrilling. What Casablanca gives us is immersion into the war where the passionately dedicated French underground is fighting for freedom and the world is full of the anti-Nazi heroism of ordinary people, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good.

“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.”

Not the way it was, but the way we wanted (maybe needed) it to be. Even now, we want the grandeur of people at their finest. Truth be damned.

And love. Undying love that lasts through war and loss, no matter what the world brings. As we watched — and we know the movie well enough to hear the line coming — Garry looked at me and I grinned back. Wait for it … wait for it … Ah, there..

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

There’s the first of many great lines, There are many more. We went to the movies to see Casablanca on The Big Screen when TCM sponsored a release of the 1943 Oscar-winning classic a few years ago.

“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

The filming of the movie was a crazy time. The script was written — and it’s a great script — page by page. The actors didn’t know what they’d be doing any day until the pages arrived. The set was chaotic and Ingrid Bergman wasn’t happy. Bogie was underpaid — a bad contract with Warner’s he had signed before he was a big star. Casablanca went a long way to fix that. Claude Rains earned more than Bogie —  arguably worth it.

(Standing in front of the plane in the fog.) “I’m saying this because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

“…But what about us?”

However it happened, Casablanca is movie magic. Brilliant, witty script that plays even better on the big screen than it does at home.

“…When I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry.)

“Now, now…”

(Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet, and he repeats–)

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Maybe it’s something about how differently we focus when we watch it in a theater than when we see it at home, with the dogs, the refrigerator, and a “pause” button. A difference in the “presence” of the film. The clarity of the visual presentation.

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I’m sure it was and somewhere, it still is.

AGAIN! GUN SENSE AND SENSIBILITY – BY TOM CURLEY

Given the state of the state, this seemed pretty relevant. I can look through the posts on Serendipity over the months and years … and instead of becoming dated — because we fixed this or that — or at least moved on to a different issue, we are still, months and years later dealing with the exact same stuff. Our “leaders” — such as they are — are spouting the same slogans and platitudes. So … on the subject of guns …

From March 2016 …


I’ve been thinking about why this country is so gun crazy. The craziest of the crazies keep saying: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is, of course, ridiculous.

Then it hit me. It’s our fault so many people believe this kind of thing. By “our fault,” I mean the fault of those of us who grew up in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Our heroes were cowboys. We grew up watching Westerns in which everybody, men and women alike, had guns strapped to their waists. (Dale Evans was a hell of shot. So was Annie Oakley.)

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Everybody had a gun. Good guys. Bad guys. Grandma. But, the world was a lot safer in those westerns than it is now — and not because everyone had a gun. Or two. Or three.

First. The bad guys rarely — if ever — actually hit anybody at whom they shot.

Second. The good guys merely shot the guns out of the bad guys hands. They weren’t trying to kill them.

Third. Grandma just shot people in the ass. Usually with a shotgun filled with rock salt.

Okay, sometimes the good guy would need to be little more extreme, so he’d shoot the bad guy in the shoulder (or “wing em” as we used to say). But it was always just a flesh wound.

BAD GUY: “OW! You shot me in the shoulder!”

GOOD GUY: “Oh stop whining. It’s just a flesh wound.”

BAD BUY: “Well if you shot me between the eyes wouldn’t that technically be a “flesh wound” too?”

GOOD GUY: “Hmm. Never thought of it that way. You know, you’re rather astute for a bad guy.”

BAD GUY: “Thank you.”

Another thing. When the bad guy used up his bullets shooting at the good guy, he ‘d throw the gun at him! I never understood this. Seriously. You just fired a few dozen bullets, each traveling at about 1000 feet per second, at a guy a couple of hundred feet away. You missed every shot.

What exactly do you hope to accomplish by throwing the gun at him? Bonk him on the head?

GOOD GUY: “OW! What the hell?! Did you just throw your gun at me!?”

BAD GUY: “Uh, yeah.”

GOOD GUY: “Well that really hurt! Look! I’ve already got a lump! What’s wrong with you?? Why would you do that?”

BAD GUY: “I ran out of bullets.”

GOOD GUY: “And whose fault is that?! If you’re going to a gun fight, come more prepared.”

BAD GUY: “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

At this point, seeing that the bad guy doesn’t have a gun with to shoot anymore … and all the good guy was intending to do was shoot the gun out of his hand, both go home feeling oddly unfulfilled.

I don’t own a gun, but I took a gun safety course. I’ve done some target shooting. So I know guns are REUSABLE! That’s right! All you gotta do is find more bullets for Pete’s sake — and that gun’s back on the job.

FYI, don’t call them bullets. They’re cartridges. The bullet is the lead part you actually fire from the gun. (See? I told you I took a course.)

One more thing we tend to forget about Westerns. If you went into a town that had a Sheriff, you had to leave your guns at the sheriff’s office. When you left town, you got your guns back.

The Sheriff understood the only reason anyone came to town was to go to the saloon. Which, let’s face it, was a brothel with a liquor license. Letting a bunch of horny, drunken cowboys hang out in a confined space with booze, hookers, and guns is not a great idea.

Even if you were in a town where they let you keep your guns, there were rules.

1. If two bad guys got in a fight, they at least gave everybody a few seconds to move their chairs out of the way, or jump behind the bar.

2. If a good guy and a bad guy got into a disagreement, they would usually schedule the gunfight for the next day in the middle of town. That way, no one else got shot.

3. They set it up for high noon.

Why high noon? Probably because it was the lunch hour. Everybody in town could come out to watch. It also made it easier for the combatants. It wasn’t necessarily easy to get time off for a gunfight.

BAD GUY: “Hey boss? Can I get off early today? I have a gunfight at 2 o’clock.”

BAD GUY’S BOSS: “Okay, but I’ll have to dock your pay.”

BAD GUY: (Sighing) “Never mind. I’ll reschedule it for lunchtime.”

Besides, “Gunfight at Two-ish” doesn’t have the gravitas of “High Noon.”

So yeah, everybody had guns in old Westerns, but they were more mature about using them.

You could argue things were simpler back then. “Things were more black and white,” you say.

To this I reply: “So what? Westerns weren’t more black and white. They were completely black and white.”

They didn’t go to color until the mid-sixties.

These days, everything contains infinitely more shades of gray. With a whole lot of color thrown in.

NOTES FROM THE HOLODECK

For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

network-howard-beale-horizontal-large

Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

daily show trevor noah

Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists. Yet. So they tell us. Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this entire year is a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. And we are all living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because this world cannot be real.

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 2 by ELLIN CURLEY

This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

Michael M poster2

Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

Michael M FInland

Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

Michael M France

The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 1 by ELLIN CURLEY

There is so much I’d like to talk about in the amazing, eye-opening documentary called “Where To Invade Next”. It’s really an old-fashioned travelogue. Michael Moore goes to different countries around the world. But instead of reporting about natural wonders or tourist sites, he reports about one specific thing in each culture. It’s the prison system in one, the equality of women in another, the educational system in others.

There are two major areas where the European approach blew my mind. One is the workplace, which I’ll talk about here. The other is the educational system, which I’ll discuss next Monday.

MichaelM poster

The workplace in Italy and Germany is a place where workers and bosses come together to create a good quality product for the marketplace, make a good profit for the company and provide a good quality of life for the employees. The companies visited were successful, well-known companies; in Italy they visited a high-end clothes factory that produces for such brand names as Dolce and Gabana and the Ducati motorcycle factory. In Germany they went to a world-famous pencil factory and the BMW assembly line.

In Italy unions are very powerful and in Germany, the law mandates that half of all corporate boards must be made up of workers from that company. The result is that corporations there consider and care about the needs and well-being of their workers. And visa versa. It is a commonly held belief in both countries that to maximize productivity you must have a well rested, unstressed, “happy” workforce. A good balance between a worker’s job and home life is considered essential for the business to succeed. Everyone there believes that longer hours and less time off increases sickness, decreases production and destroys morale.

Michael M Italy

All Italians get at least 8 weeks of PAID vacation a year plus around 12 national holidays. They get five months of paid maternity leave that can be shared by both parents. They also get a 13th month of full salary to make sure they have enough money to pay for traveling and other fun activities on their vacations. This is all in addition to a two-hour lunch every day. In Germany, they have a 36 hour workweek but get paid for 40 hours. There is also a law that prohibits employers from emailing of contacting workers after hours, on weekends or when they are on vacation. Embedded in both German and Italian culture is the belief that cultivating friends, time with family, leisure activities and time to enjoy life are as important, if not more important than work.

The bizarre part of this for Americans is the fact that the corporate employers believe they are not only doing the right thing for their workers, but the most expedient and efficient thing for themselves. The bosses believe that a pleasant workplace filled with happy and cooperative people is actually better for their businesses.

They may be right. Statistics show that very few Italians or Germans take sick days off work but that this is a big problem in America. It seriously diminishes overall productivity here. Statistics also show that Italy and America have the same level of workplace productivity. This means that Italians are far more productive per man hour than we are.

Despite the shorter workday and work year in Italy and Germany, all the factory workers Michael Moore talked to made enough money to live a comfortable middle class life. While their taxes may be higher than ours, they don’t have to pay for high cost items like health care, day care, school tuition, etc. The result is enough money to pay for the necessities and many of the luxuries of a middle class life style. The European workers were shocked to hear that middle class Americans have to work two and often three jobs just to make ends meet.

The take away for me was that there are places in the world that value quality of life and mental health for their populations. And this is not seen as undermining the bottom line of the economy in any way. Employers and employees don’t have opposing interests. Everyone is expected to be relaxed and happy and to have a rich, full life, with a wide circle of family and friends. People in parts of Europe seem to take care of each other and care about each other in a way that seems very quaint and outdated in America.

Michael M poster2

Ironically, the labor movement and labor unions were born in America. We just abandoned them somewhere along the way and other parts of the world have continued to embrace them. But this documentary gave me hope that there is a way to make it work for everyone in a society. You just have to have common goals and work together. Unfortunately, I don’t think can happen in America for a long time to come.

BOND IS BACK

The Timothy Dalton Years, by Rich Paschall


James Bond first appeared in film in 1962 with Sean Connery bringing charm and adventure to the world’s greatest spy with a license to kill.  After 6 films by Connery and one by George Lazenby, Roger Moore took the role for seven films.

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After these 14 Eon Productions, a rival production that was a remake of Thunderball (Never Say Never Again) and a spoof (Casino Royale starring David Niven), it might seem that James Bond had reached the end.  Moore’s last film, 1985’s A View To A Kill, did well at the box office, but was not particularly well received with the critics.  It seems Moore was a bit too old for the secret agent.

Eon decided to move forward. Bond was back in the person of Timothy Dalton in the 1987 film, The Living Daylights.  It was based on the Ian Fleming short story of the same name.  This time the film may have retained more of the essence of the Fleming piece than many of the other Bond films had done.

With the first Dalton film you will find more of an intense James Bond than previously revealed.  There is less of the charm and more uncertainty than we are used to in the Bond character.  Dalton is not Connery or Moore in his portrayals of 007.  He is a serious agent at work.  Why the shift?  Whether it was in the script or not, Dalton was attempting to move more toward the Bond as described in the novels rather than the Bond people had already seen.

Reports are that Dalton could be seen on set reading the Fleming novels to see what the original author had meant the character to be.  The books were not describing the Bond seen in previous films.  Some of those movies only used the title and little else from the original author’s story.

First up for Dalton was a film based on the Fleming short story, The Living Daylights.  As in the short story, Bond is set up as a sniper to shoot anyone who might harm a top Soviet defector.  Bond does not kill the other shooter but only wounds her.  Some think it is because the other sniper was a woman.  We later learn she is the girlfriend of the defector Bond was supposed to protect and she was just there to create the illusion of harm.  From there Bond is left to figure out the real roles of the girlfriend, the defector, as well as diamond dealers and drug dealers.  There is a little humor, a little charm, and a lot of intensity.

Next up for James Bond was the film Licence To Kill.  No, you will not find an Ian Fleming story with that title.  It was the first story to use an original title, although the term “licence to kill” was used often in the Bond stories.  In truth many of the films retained almost nothing of the story from which the title was taken.  There are references to other stories and characters in this movie, but the series has clearly gone in a new direction.

The sixteenth Eon production was written with the darker portrayal of Bond in mind.  The charm is left behind as Bond is on more of a personal vendetta against a drug lord who has murdered friends of his.  When one wonders why Bond has taken up the pursuit, someone refers back to something we see at the end of the sixth Bond film and is referred to in one of the Moore films.  I won’t give that away just in case you have not seen it.

With James Bond now seen as a rogue agent, his “double 00” status is revoked.  “Q” takes a vacation so he can help Bond in secret.  This gives character actor Desmond Llewelyn, who played the keeper of all those Bond gadgets, an extended part in a film.  Llewelyn had played the character throughout the series at this point.  Here he is caught up in the action, as unlikely as that may seem.

The Dalton films were directed by John Glen, who also directed the last three Moore films.  Just as before, Bond performs incredible action stunts throughout the features.  Perhaps filming techniques have improved to the point that they can make the sequences appear more dangerous with minimal risk.  Bond’s fight with the villain in Licence To Kill may be the most incredible yet.

Dalton had a six-year, three film deal with Eon Productions to play the super spy.  After Licence To Kill, however, producer Albert Broccoli and his company Danjaq, holders of the Bond copyright, found themselves in a protracted legal battle over the Bond series.  This effectively delayed the series for years as the lawsuit between Danjaq and MGM/UA dragged on.  The movie studio had leased the back catalogue of Bond films to another party at below market value.  MGM, which had previously merged with the UA, who had funded the Bond series at the beginning, was owned by Qintex, which wanted to merge with Pathe Communications so they made the lease deal and… OK, that’s enough of that.

While all of this went on, the six-year deal with Dalton expired.  Dalton reportedly said at the time “My feeling is this will be the last one. I don’t mean my last one, I mean the end of the whole lot.”  We have already seen, however, that James Bond does indeed live more than twice.  Bond will be back.

Related: Bond, James Bond
Never Say Never Again
Moore Bond
For Your Eyes Only

BATTLING CATERPILLARS WHILE REMEMBERING THE DUKE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??

Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.

books and the duke

My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.

John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.

I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.

Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”,  whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.

“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.

I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.

The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.

I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.

john wayne the duke

If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.

We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.

No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.