CRITICS

CRITICIZE | THE DAILY POST


Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

I almost never read the “professional” critics these days.  By professional critics, I mean those men and women who are paid to review entertainment: television, movies, and books. Reviews by “the pros” never seem to have anything to do with me. I don’t know from what planet these folks are coming, but it isn’t my part of the galaxy.

Do they see the same movies? Read the same books? Watch the same TV shows? Almost all my favorite moves were panned by critics, though many have since achieved “classic” status. Many favorite books were ignored by critics but have ultimately done pretty well, if they had a publisher who believed in them.

Got mediocre or bad reviews -- we loved it

Got mediocre or lousy reviews — we loved it

It’s easy to slam something for its imperfections. It’s harder to find the good and put the less good into perspective. I have wondered why critics are so negative so much of the time. Is is laziness? Are they are just taking the cheap and fast way out? Are they jaded? Do they get paid more for bashing than praising? Are they completely out of touch with the idea that entertainment should be “fun” — and that entertaining fun is a legitimate “good thing” — not to mention that it’s the stuff most of us want from TV, books, and movies?

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

So here’s how it works. I read the review. If the critic totally hates it, I might love it or at least, enjoy it. If they love it, I might enjoy it, but probably won’t. If the words “poignant,” “sensitive,” “heart-rending,” or “artistic” appear up in the review, I’ll probably run screaming from the room.

And then, there are the movies and TV shows about which I have to ask: “Did they actually see this show/read this book — or did they write the review based on a summary provided by the publisher/producer/publicist?” I can’t help but wonder.

IMAGINE – REEL AND REAL – by GARRY ARMSTRONG

IMAGINE is a mind game for people of all ages. You let your mind run free on all things, great and small. It’s fantasy. Stuff you find in day and night dreams. It used to be fodder for columnists on brain freeze days.

For years, I dreamed of being a movie star. I sat in junior and senior high school classes, oblivious to teachers and writing imaginary movie casts that had me top-billed opposite everyone from Clark Gable to John Wayne to Sidney Poitier. My love interests ranged from Greta Garbo to Jean Harlow to Myrna Loy to Lena Horne to Dorothy Dandridge.

My filmography began with “Introducing Garry Armstrong as ____” to my biggest box office film with the marquee showing GARRY ARMSTRONG in “AMERICA’S ICON,” A Garry Armstrong Production.

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Then there was my All-Star baseball career. In those same high school notebooks, I wrote lineups that had me batting between Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. I was the full-time left fielder the Dodgers never could find. Little Sandy Amoros filled in for me during the ’55 World Series to make that amazing catch against Yogi Berra. Dick Young of The New York Daily News wrote a column calling me a credit to my race and a likely successor to Jackie Robinson.

I played “fungo” and shagged flies in the outfield with a young “bonus baby” pitcher named Sandy Koufax. Sandy was very wild but it was obvious he had talent.

Fast forward to the 1970’s. In the real world, I was a young TV news reporter in Boston and becoming something of a local celebrity. It’s easy when you appear on television several times a day. People greet you, shake your hand, and ask for autographs. It wasn’t enough. I still needed my IMAGINE mind game. I used to check myself in the mirror, fully dressed for work. I’d talk to the mirror, chatting with an imaginary TV audience.

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“It’s good to be here”, I told the audience, “Johnny’s not feeling well and the NBC folks asked me to fill in. Anything for my friend, Johnny”. Yes, I was sub-hosting “The Tonight Show.” I absorbed the applause as I headed out the door for the real world TV news room.

These imagined “Tonight” show appearances occurred before Robert DeNiro’s “King of New York” movie. DeNiro’s imagined and delusional TV celebrity was a little too close to home for me. I never watched it again.

Remember I dreamed of becoming a movie star? Delusional, right? My niche as a TV news reporter was rising. I was interviewing and socializing with legendary movie stars like Katherine Hepburn, James Cagney, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, and Gregory Peck among others. This was real life. It still wasn’t enough.

Robert Redford and an all-star cast were filming “The Great Gatsby” in Newport, Rhode Island. I was assigned to cover the film shoot.

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I was a familiar face in Rhode Island. So people approached me for autographs as I sought interviews with Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and other Hollywood stars. It was truly bizarre! Someone dropped my named with an assistant producer and I wound up as a bit player. At nights, after filing my live shots and taped reports, I would imagine myself being promoted from bit player to major star in the movie. After a few drinks, I could swear I had an early call to work with “Bob and Mia”.

I DID have an early call … to do my TV shots on the film production. My imagined self conflicted with my real self as I did the TV live shots.

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It got more confusing when Redford and some of the other movie stars watched as we were doing our TV live shots. I recall “Bob” smiling and giving me a thumbs up after I finished one live shot. A few more drinks sandwiched between the movie and TV work and my days were spinning a bit off kilter. The filming wrapped. The stars went home to Hollywood. My bit part ended up on the cutting room floor, although I think I may have made it in a crowd scene.

Back in Boston, I received lots of attention from friends because of my hobnobbing with the movie people. I think teasing would be closer to the truth. It was business as usual. Murders, fires, politics and perverts to cover for the newscasts.

I had trouble re-kindling my IMAGINE game. There was too much drama going on in the real world.

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Fast forward again into my retirement years. I tried my hand at “background acting” in some major films being shot locally. It was just “extra” work, but some hopefuls like the “background acting” term. Sounds fancier. I briefly imagined myself being discovered as a “mature” movie star. I even mingled with some of the stars in the movies I worked. Once again, all of my scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

Garry's acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Garry’s acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Finally, the hours and days reminded me too much of my years as a TV news reporter. Too long. I hated getting up early.

I bid adieu to my dreams of movie stardom. I don’t need the IMAGINE game anymore.

PRINCESS LEIA AND THE WOMEN’S MARCH: A FITTING TRIBUTE TO CARRIE FISHER

A fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher.

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A little less than a month ago, on December 27, 2016, actress Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack on a plane. Her death was followed the next day by that of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. The world, especially that part of it which (like me) was brought up on Star Wars as a staple of our pop culture, deeply mourned the loss of the classy lady who not only played Princess Leia in the movies but epitomized her. This article is not an obituary for Carrie Fisher. If you want one of those, I highly recommend the touching piece by the Burning Blogger of Bedlam giving tribute to “the people’s princess.” I loved Princess Leia. You loved Princess Leia. We all admired her courage, determination and grit. Carrie Fisher, who went through a lot of hard knocks in her life, will be greatly missed.

Yesterday (January 21, 2017), the day after the inauguration as President of the United States of a fascistic know-nothing who detests women and just about everybody else, millions of people in the United States and around the world–including even Antarctica!–took to the streets to support women’s rights, feminism, empowerment, diversity and to express in no uncertain terms their opposition to the viewpoints of President Trump. I took part in one of these marches, in Eugene, Oregon. Like everywhere else, the crowds that turned out vastly exceeded what authorities expected. There were (reportedly) 750,000 in Los Angeles and over 1 million in Washington, D.C., dwarfing the tepid and pathetic “crowd” that turned out for Trump’s lackluster inauguration. In Eugene I’m told police expected 1,000 marchers. The number who showed up? Over 10,000.

I was struck, during yesterday’s march, by one recurrent image: the face of Princess Leia as an icon of resistance.

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Carrie Fisher, as she appeared in 2015. Her outspoken views are part of the reason why Princess Leia resonates as a symbol.

I saw Carrie Fisher’s face in a lot of places. Many people, men as well as women, were carrying signs with her picture (one of them is shown at the top of this article). I saw a woman with the symbol of the Rebellion from Star Wars tattooed on her arm, and I saw a man with a patch of the same symbol on the back of his denim jacket. In one of the most touching tweets I saw about the march, Fisher’s Star Wars co-star and friend Mark Hamill referenced Leia as a symbol of women’s empowerment, linking it to Fisher’s own strongly-professed beliefs during her lifetime. His tweet included an image of a woman, evidently from the Los Angeles march, dressed as Princess Leia.

When women’s rights are under attack in real-life America, can a science fiction princess help us defend them?


Complete original post at: Princess Leia and the Women’s March: a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher.

SOMEDAY, MY …. WILL COME

SOMEDAY | THE DAILY POST


You know the Disney song, right?

“Someday my prince will come” — Snow White sings it to the seven dwarfs in the Disney animated classic from 1937. It was the beginning of serious animation. Who could forget?

When I was learning photography, back in the early 1970s from a friend with a good education in photography and an odd sense of humor, I learned a different set of lyrics. But first … the back story.

For black and white film (it was all film at that point … digital photography was decades in the future) … we did our own developing and printing. The university I had attended — and for that matter, that my friend had also attended — had a dark room which he ran. Whatever photographic work the school needed, he did it. But it left a lot of time for personal projects and having a spacious, well-equipped dark room and laboratory was a dream come true. All I had to supply was paper and chemicals. I learned a huge amount in those few years during which I had access to the facilities.

Color was different. For color work, we were dependent on a (very) few custom photography labs. You could cheap out and drop your film off at the drug store — if you didn’t mind negatives covered with scratches and bad prints on the cheapest paper. If, however you wanted some quality proofs and prints made by hand from negatives properly developed, you needed a trustworthy (expensive) lab. The equipment to develop and print color was too big and too costly for an individual. Oh how times have changed!

Custom labs took a long time. They called themselves “custom” and they really were. They hand developed the negatives and prints, though proofs were generally done by machine unless you specified otherwise. Usually, we order proof sheets and from these, selected the frames we thought were worth blowing up.

Today, you can get amazing, high quality work from laboratories that will take your files over the Internet and mail you prints on paper, wood, canvas, aluminum, or whatever. They will do it quickly and usually at competitive prices. In the old days, custom work was the province of professional photographers. This meant weddings, babies, other events big and small. Also, material for magazines and advertising agencies. Most of the pros used large format cameras which were (still are) so expensive they may cause fainting on the spot.  Like, for example, a Hasselblad, the preferred camera of NASA where the camera body alone costs more than my house …  and don’t even ask about lenses.

Being an amateur, my print orders were never at the head of the queue. So, I’d wait. Sometimes weeks just to get proofs … which would be the first time I even knew if the pictures were good. It was a time of great anxiety.

While we waited, we sang:

“SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME … Some DAY, my PRINTS will come …”

Eventually, they did.


I love digital cameras.

RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY!

It was the cry of Monty Python’s Knights of the Round Table in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” . They didn’t have horses, but they had coconut shells they could use to make clopping hoof-like sounds.

“Run away, run away!” Ah, how many times has a strategic retreat saved my butt? These days, most of life seems to be in some level of retreat. It’s an admission that mind over matter only takes one so far. At a certain point, matter matters. And it matters more with each passing day.

I leave you with this:

May all your retreats be successful!

RETREAT | THE DAILY PROMPT

THE ANNUAL GEORGE R. STEWART-JIMMY STEWART CHRISTMAST POST

Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post


If It’s a Wonderful Life can be a tradition at Christmas, why not this post from a year ago about the connections between that great film and George R. Stewart?  So here it is, with only minor editing to bring it up to date.

But it has a bonus at the end – a radio interview with one of the stars, who was – of course – doing charitable work in the Central Coast area when Tom Wilmer of local PBS station KCBX found him:

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here in Arroyo Grande, the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, but usually alone, and always less intently – a kind of digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a fine traditional twentieth century American Christmas experience.

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Please follow the rest of the story at: The Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

FILM REVIEW: LA CARA OCULTA (2011) – THE HIDDEN FACE

hidden-face-posterThe Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta) is a supremely dark movie, literally and figuratively. The subject is dark and most of the movie takes place in dim light or actual darkness.

At first glance, I thought it was going to be a whodunnit and I was good with that. But early on, the plot became obvious, so what remained was a race against time. The overall story is standard thriller cum police drama “missing person” stuff.  As the movie opens, we watch a “dear john” video from a young woman leaving her boyfriend with minimal explanation (but a lot of subtext). Her boyfriend (who we will soon learn is a renowned orchestral conductor) watches the video. Apparently baffled, miserable, in despair. It’s a flashback, because the film immediately moves forward to “now” as he meets someone new and begins a relationship. The story flashes back again. Despite how it sounds, the flashing back and forth is not confusing,  just tricky to write about.

Into precisely what genre The Hidden Face fits is murky.

It’s creepy, but not a horror movie. It’s a mystery, but so briefly no detective work is required. I was surprised at how soon in the film lays the whole story out. It eliminated any element of surprise or mystery, leaving creepiness without suspense. Does that make it sort-of horror? A ghost story without a ghost? Secrets don’t stay secrets long. The film put everything out there, up front.

The film would benefit from a tighter edit. Too many beauty shots  of the stars walking on the beach, ambling along by the river, looking sad, staring into mirrors (many mirrors, lots of staring), suffering, pondering, despairing. You could trim a lot of it without compromising the story. Fewer shots of Fab walking, thinking, pondering, Adri conducting, flirting, suffering, yada yada. That much B-roll is directorial self-indulgence and it gets old quickly.

After the who-done-what is revealed, the movie becomes a race against the clock. The only remaining question is who will win the race. That’s when I started to lose interest. The situation was indeed creepy, even horrible. But very little was happening and although nothing much is happening, it takes a rather long time to not happen. Back to the editing room!

Have I seen anything like this before? Yes.

Even before they show you everything, there are plenty of tells for anyone familiar with mystery or horror stories. Moreover, the plot is classic and everyone will recognize it. Think fairy tale crossed with Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the movie’s writers assume the situation, the premise itself, will generate sufficient tension without action. No need for story. It doesn’t work for me.  I need a story. So this movie wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m a coffee drinker. If you like tea, you might love it.

hidden-face-stillThe cinematography is moody and broody. I appreciate the artistry. The “sexy scenes” were just that. Nothing pornographic about them. Had the overall tone of the film not been so edgy, it might have been romantic, even titillating. The sense of “something wrong” overshadows all else and the foreboding short-circuits potential erotica.

My aging eyes I would have preferred more light (as in wattage). The poor quality print may have contributed to the problem because it was difficult to focus on the picture, but most of the film takes place at night or in shadow so it wasn’t brightly lit to start with. After repeated copying of the original print, there was considerable squinting involved for me. Not a movie for the weak of vision.

Did I enjoy it? I liked the beginning a lot. I like the middle, mostly. By the end, I was eager for it to be over. Would I recommend it? It depends on who’s asking. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get into it or wrap my head around it. If the tale had unfolded in a normal timeline rather than flashing back and forth, that might have helped. Maybe. I wish they had saved some surprises for the second half.

The situation was eerie, but for a movie to work for me, I need more. I need a story. Characters to whom I can in some way relate. Interesting dialogue. In this case any dialogue would have helped. Maybe I’m just not artistic enough to appreciate the nuances, but from where I sit, the problem was not too much nuance. It was too little.