FILM NOIR OVERLOAD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is too good to run just once. And it’s Saturday. Movie night.

SERENDIPITY

Dark, rain-glistened streets. Ominous shadows hover in trash littered alleyways. Cats screech in the distance. Gunshots ring out and a body slumps into the gutter.

The world of film noir.

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As a kid, these were the second show in an afternoon at the movies. The “B” movie. Always in black and white, less than 90 minutes. Featuring the nearly-stars such as Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.

The titles were straightforward. “Where The Sidewalk Ends”, “This Gun For Hire”, “Kiss of Death”, “The Street With No Name”, “The Narrow Margin,” and “The Killers” among other small films now considered film noir classics.

The people were familiar too. The P.I. (Private Eye). He usually had a five o’clock shadow, chain-smoked, drank cheap whiskey out of the bottle or a paper cup. He worked in a dingy second floor office. The client? Usually a husky voiced, chain-smoking, heavily made up siren out of the…

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BINGE WATCHING “OUTLANDER” by ELLIN CURLEY

I am currently binge-watching a show called “Outlander” on Starz. I’m late to the game on this one.  It is in its second season and has legions of loyal fans.

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It takes place in the lush and magnificent Highlands of Scotland and the time period switches back and forth between 1945 and 1745. I am a huge time travel fan so this is a big draw for me. However the butterfly effect is totally ignored. No attention is paid to the fact that the main character would be changing the timeline right and left as she went through each day two hundred years in the past. This is not an intellectual or theoretical endeavor.

The story centers on a married, British WWII nurse who is sucked back in time to 1745 Scotland. She ends up married to and madly in love with (in that order), a young Scottish gentleman who has a price on his head by the British occupiers.

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For me, the key to “Outlander’s” success is that it focuses narrowly on these two main characters – the nurse, Claire and her 1745 husband, Jamie. The subsidiary characters have few plot lines of their own. They are almost exclusively seen with and in relation to Claire and Jamie, which intensifies the viewers’ connection with them. They are both richly complex and appealing characters, played by extraordinarily talented and attractive actors. They are riveting to watch and their fascinating relationship changes and deepens as time goes by.

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The show highlights period costumes and period customs. There is also plenty of romance, nudity and beautiful sex scenes. The writing is fantastic although the heavy dialects often make it hard to understand all of the dialogue. The balance is spot on between high drama and intimate moments; between politics (at all levels) and personal relationships; and between heavy, dark plot lines (including lots of sword fights) and humor and humanity.

On top of everything else, the theme song is permanently stuck in my head as well as my husband’s. The melody is a lyrical old Celtic tune and the lyrics used here are based on a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. The song permeates the lush background music and adds atmosphere throughout the series.

I’m usually circumspect about what I recommend to other people on TV, especially when it requires an investment of 16 hours, just for the first season! However, the variety of people who have extolled this show to me makes me confident that it will appeal to a wide range of blog readers as well.

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If you’ve already seen it, tell me what YOU think of it. If you watch it in the future, you’re in for a real treat.

IN PRAISE OF THE OLD-FASHIONED MUSICAL by ELLIN CURLEY

I normally wouldn’t write a blog about a Broadway show since most blog readers would not have the opportunity to ever see the show themselves. However, I just saw “She Loves Me”, a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable musical that most of you will be able to see because the show is being filmed, live. It will be streamed starting on June 30. So you too can revel in this charming piece, with the added benefits of close-ups, which I didn’t get in my viewing from the nose bleed seats high in the Mezzanine.

“She Loves Me” was nominated for a Tony Award for best revival of a musical. It also got glowing reviews, all well deserved. It was often referred to as “old-fashioned” and “a jewel of a musical”. Those phrases aptly describe it’s character and ambiance.

It is definitely an old style romance set in a Parfumerie in 1934 Budapest. The story is based on the book that also provided the plots for two movies, “The Shop Around The Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail”. The latter is the more modern, computer age version. In all three, the main characters work together and don’t get along. However, unbeknownst to them, they are falling in love as anonymous “pen pals” through a lonely hearts club (an online dating service in “You’ve Got Mail”).

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In the show, there are seven main characters who work in the Parfumerie. Each has his own plot line and solo number. The delivery boy who dreams of being a sales clerk; the brown-nosing employee who will do anything to keep his job; the young woman who is “used” by the womanizing co-worker she is having an affair with. You get to know and like all these people as well as the verbally sparring leads.

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The dialogue is well written and quite funny. The sets are sophisticated and beautiful, as are the costumes. The lead actors are perfect. The music is melodic and the lyrics artfully develop character and move the plot along. The staging and choreography are brilliant, intricate and fast-paced. The full cast, including eleven subsidiary characters, work together like a well oiled machine.

The show creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t get often any more in the musical theater. I prefer like this kind of “small,” character driven show. It’s the thing theater can do better than movies or TV. Seeing this kind of show gives you an experience you wan’t readily get from other entertainment medium.

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You can see a video montage from the show at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx. Scroll down to Videos / Montage

But I urge you to sit back and enjoy 2 ¼ hours of pure entertainment and simple joy. You’ll be smiling and tapping your foot through most of it.

Here’s how you can watch it:

“She Loves Me” will be streamed by a new company called Broadway HD. Their goal is to stream as many theater performances as possible so theater will reach a wider audience. The show will be filmed using nine or ten cameras, so I expect the watching experience will be somewhere between live theater, and movies or TV. It will cost $9.99 to watch it on the Broadway HD website. It will also be available via Roku and Apple TV ( I don’t know about costs on those).

ENJOY!

TACHYON WAVES, WARP DRIVES, AND A TOASTER OVEN

Garry and I binge watched the entire “Star Trek: Next Generation.” On Netflix. We had missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were busy years full of work, moving houses, digging into careers. Getting married. Moving again. Watching TV wasn’t a priority back then.

BBC America showed the series last year, but not in order. When Netflix gave us the opportunity to catch up, we did, viewing two, three, four episodes each night.

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There’s a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side of tachyon particles. I understand their science as well as I understand anything. Which is to say, not at all. I understand the engines on the Enterprise as well as I understand my toaster oven.

Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

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Effectively, life and everything in it is a giant mystery to me, yet I feel as if I understand it. When they talk about it, I nod because I get it. I’ve been listening to this mumbo jumbo for so many years, it has achieved a pseudo-reality. Because when I look closely, there’s nothing there. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st.

How many of you know how the stuff you use works? Some of you do, but most of us know how to use our devices and gadgets, but have no idea why or how it works. I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same.

Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

TRUMPED: REALITY, REALITY SHOWS, AND REAL TV – TOM CURLEY

It’s Tuesday again. Surely a super Tuesday because this year, all Tuesdays have been super. To honor the day, I’m rerunning my favorite yet still relevant political post by Mr. Thomas Curley, News Guy Supreme and Chief Editorial Satirist at Serendipity.


Ellin and I were on a brief ski trip last April and were away for a couple of weeks ago in Vermont. We learned three things.

  1. We are still not too old to ski.
  2. Gravity is a harsh mistress.
  3. It’s getting harder and harder to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

Let me explain.

We were on our trip on a Tuesday. One of the Super Tuesdays. I forget which one because they’re all Super now. We’re both fascinated by this incredibly bizarre presidential campaign, so of course we were watching …

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House of Cards on Netflix. We love that show.

In between binge watching episode after episode, we’d check in on the (real) election coverage. And that’s when I noticed that on House of Cards, the characters are constantly on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, CBS This Morning, and so on. All this stuff is shot on the actual news sets with real people playing themselves — while reporting on a fictional presidential campaign.

I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, but this season’s episodes were filmed way before the actual election began. Despite this, the show (House of Cards) contains a lot of surprisingly prescient plot lines.

We sat there watching CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other news shows interview and talk with Frank Underwood as he brilliantly manipulates the government and the world to get whatever he wants.

Then we’d change the channel to watch CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other news shows talk — with Donald Trump — where they were debating whether or not Trump has a large penis.

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Then, a bunch of pundits complained this (real) campaign is nothing more than a bad reality show. They are correct. The Republicans are currently trying to throw their leading candidate off the island, but inextricably, he keeps winning the immunity idol.

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The other questions everyone keeps asking is “How did a reality show star end up running for President?”

Good question. But I know the answer.

It’s all Dan Quayle’s fault.

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You remember Dan Quayle, the guy who was George Bush Senior’s Vice President, don’t you? Dan had a reputation for not being the sharpest pencil in the box.

He was famous for misspelling potato as “potatoe” at a campaign stop at an elementary school in 1992.

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Most people have forgotten the other important thing he did.

He started a fight with Murphy Brown.

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Murphy Brown was the fictional TV journalist and anchor. Played by Candice Bergen, she headed the cast in a 90’s sitcom about a fictional news show called FYI.

In one of the late seasons, she got pregnant and was going to be a single mother. Quayle gave a campaign speech (real) calling her out as being against “Family Values” because she didn’t have a husband. Murphy Brown was “mocking the importance of fathers” (an actual quote from Quayle’s speech).

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Here’s where it got brilliant. The producers and writers of the show didn’t put out a statement denouncing his speech. They had Murphy Brown go after Quayle on the television show. It made front page headlines (real) all across the country.

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So, now you had Dan Quayle fighting with — and being mocked by — a fictional character on a fictional show. And he fought back. In real life.

Pretty much nobody said “Has anyone noticed the Vice President of the United States is fighting with A FICTIONAL TV CHARACTER ????”

No one appeared to notice. Or care.

That’s was the beginning of the end, when American politics started down the rabbit hole. What began as a real-life politician appearing on a fictional TV news show, morphed into fictional politicians on real TV news shows. And real news shows showing up on fictional TV shows.

And a bad reality host running for President of the United States.

In the real world.

At least I think it’s the real world. I’m not sure anymore. I used to have to take drugs to get this confused. Personally I’d rather watch House of Cards. It makes more sense.

To paraphrase a quote from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest, our current reality is a poorly written episode. And it’s not over, not nearly.

MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even proceeded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. They remain the network flagship stations and of course, New York’s network affiliates.

Also playing was channel 5 (Dumont) which showed lots of old movies and channel 13. Today, 13 is PBS, but then, it was stuff so bad no one else would run it. Johnny Mack Brown westerns. Movies John Wayne wished he could forget having made.

Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO-General). It was the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). But channel 9 won my heart because it had Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies are actually in color. Who knew?

My mother did not allow my brother and I to watch television on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom … and out of my mother’s hair.

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That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I saw Gone With the Wind, I practically leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme.”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity and it came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. After all these years, I can still sing along with every song, know every dance move, and each piece of dialogue. Remarkably, unlike so many other movies, it has remained black and white.

Does anyone know why the movie is in black and white? It screams for color. Just saying.

GERIATRIC COMEDY BY ELLIN CURLEY

My new favorite show to binge watch these days is “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. The cast is amazing – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston in the leads. The supporting cast, particularly the four adult children, are also pitch perfect. The characters are fully and thoughtfully developed, the writing is brilliant and the humor springs naturally from the characters and situations.

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The show begins when two 70-year-old men tell their wives that they are both gay, have been having a twenty year affair and are asking for divorces so they can marry each other. The Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Sam Waterston couple are Jewish, hippy, touchy feely, chanting, pot smoking flower children. The Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen couple are status seeking, uptight Wasps and Grace was a super corporate, super successful career woman. Now, the two wives, who are not fond of each other, for obvious reasons, have to move in together when the men take over one of the family homes.

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The issues are dealt with honestly and on a personal, emotional level. There is no hint of ideology or agenda (except for acceptance of gay marriage). You laugh at the straights as much as the gays, the hippies as much as the wasps, the older generation as much as the younger one. The relationships with the adult children are fully realized and quite varied so the humor always rings true there as well.

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The center of the show is the evolution of the friendship between the two women. It is beautiful and edifying to watch as they struggle to focus on their common ground and accommodate their glaring differences. It is a wonderful affirmation that people who are so different can bridge the gaps between them and forge a strong bond.I see parts of myself in both women so I’m laughing at myself a lot. At times I want to BE them and have a female friend who can share and support and help me cope and grow at the same time. At other times I just enjoy watching them deal with the major twists in the lives from the comfort of my thankfully “boring” life.

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Another reason I love watching this show is that it deals sensitively but bluntly with elder issues that are not often discussed. The retired women have to come to terms with their feelings of uselessness and invisibility. They have to find day-to-day meaning in a life without the structure of a full-time job or of a family to take care of 24/7. They talk about memory loss, arthritis and other indignities of an older body. There is also a lot of talk about vaginas and sex in your 70’s. Vaginal dryness has a whole plot line built around it!

Baby Boomers are becoming Seniors at warp speed. So there is now a big demographic of elders to sell products to and pitch movies and TV shows to. So expect to see more sagging bodies and forgetful minds on all forms of media. The Geriatric Baby Boomers are taking over so move over and remind me why I decided to write this blog.