2019 MOVIES IN REVIEW – Marilyn Armstrong

We’ve been catching up with the movies we never got to see in 2019. Many — maybe most — of them have been available on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime for a while, but we never got around to viewing them. A few more we got as gifts. So this is what we’ve seen of this year’s movies.

The first movie we watched was “Little Women.” I’ve read the book who knows how many times and visited Orchard House many times. I’ve also seen all the productions of the movie, my favorite being the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo March. It’s still my favorite version. This one was weirdly disjointed.

I understand what the director was trying to do, but I didn’t think it worked. If I hadn’t read the book many times and seen all the other versions of it, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was going on. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exceptional in any way. With a cast of such great stars, it should have been better. A lot better.

Our next movie was “Harriet,” the story of Harriet Tubman. Garry has an issue watching movies about slavery in the same way I have an issue watching stuff about the Holocaust. We were both over-exposed to our collective history in early childhood.

I pointed out that “Harriet” actually had — as much as any movie of its kind can have — a “happy” ending. She was a historical figure, so we knew how it worked out. It wasn’t just all your ancestors lining up naked to be gassed en masse. He agreed to watch it. I don’t carry the weight of slavery as my personal history, but it turns out you don’t have to be Black to hate slavery and slave owners on southern plantations.

By the end of the movie, when Harriet rides off with a rifle on a white horse, I was cheering. Garry thought it might make a good television series. Harriet could rescue slaves every week and maybe blow away a slave owner or two.

We were so encouraged that the next movie we watched — or tried to watch — was “A Marriage Story.” I don’t care how many Oscars it won. By about an hour into it, neither one of us could watch any more of it. It’s available on Netflix, by the way, so if you are in the mood to watch a couple tearing each other to pieces while getting a divorce, feel free to watch it. How interesting that this movie won Oscars, but “Harriet” didn’t. Make of this what you like, but Harriet was by far the better movie with better action and acting top to bottom.

Even after turning it off, “Marriage Story” left a bad taste in our mouths. Garry suggested “The Two Popes,” a movie I had marked for viewing a few weeks ago. We hadn’t gotten to it.

It was about the papacy of Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the 2013 election of Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Two great actors dominating the movie and I thought it was excellent. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it was gripping and often quite funny. It’s also playing on Netflix, so if you can, it is definitely worth seeing.

We took a pass on “The Irishman,” also on Netflix.

We also saw “1917.” Garry liked it more than I did. The pointlessness (futility?) of war and all that. I thought it was a good movie but not a great one. Garry may differ on this one.


And this is as far as we’ve gotten with last year’s movies. I’m not sure there are any more in which we are interested.

And having run out of new movies, we settled happily last night into a rerun of “The Mask of Zorro.” Give me a handsome dude in a mask, riding a glorious horse and I’m a happy camper.

TALKING ABOUT TV – CONVERSANT ARE WE

CONVERSANT ABOUT TELEVISION?


We are not too sophisticated to watch TV. Despite Karl Marx who said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” somehow this got translated into “Television is the opiate of the masses.”

Personally, I think that would be cell phones. Heavily opiated.

We watch television. Sometimes, we watch a lot of television, depending on what’s on to view. Right now, we’re watching a movie. It’s “The Candidate,” one of the better, sharper, more intelligent political movies.

Made in 1972 starring Robert Redford, it’s an education about how getting elected has a price tag, even if you aren’t a pawn of the NRA or the Koch brothers. Despite the years, it is still surprisingly relevant.

Last night, speaking of relevant, we watched “7 Days in May.” Kirk Douglas. Burt Lancaster. About how the U.S. government stood in imminent danger of being taken over by a military junta — run by Burt. Brilliantly scripted by Rod Serling.

If you haven’t seen it, do. Not the recent new version of it which wasn’t half as good. See the 1964 original. The Serling script is so on target. This movie used to give me chills. Now, it makes my stomach knot with fear. When we were young, we were afraid military guys would try taking over the government.

Who imagined — even in our wildest dreams — we’d be living in 2018 with a traitorous president and an administration where the only sane people in government are the military!

Of the unlikely things we might be expected to watch, the unlikeliest was “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” which is on Netflix. I had heard reviews of it from a variety of unexpected sources all of whom said something along the lines of “I didn’t think I would like this, but actually, it’s pretty good.” But no one told me what it was they liked so when we finally turned it on, we watched the first show and looked at each other.

“Well,” I said, “That was different.”

“Not bad,” Garry contributed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it on television.”

We thought about that for a while and neither of us could remember any television show remotely like it. It is a rather weird combination of sitcom crossed with an MGM musical. Dancing. Singing — and some pretty good music. Everyone in the cast has real voice. But. The story is terribly 2018 and sometimes, the Valley Girl accents get on our nerves. Also, she really is a crazy ex-girlfriend. Accent on the “crazy” and less on the “girlfriend.”

If you are looking for something absolutely nothing like anything else, try this one. You may hate it, but it IS a musical. The amount of production for each show is huge. These must be expensive shows to produce. Some of the music is remarkable, though the words are bizarre.

Otherwise, we are watching late night comedy and occasionally, when we  think we are strong enough to handle it, we watch the news. On a good day, we may get through 15 minutes. As long as they aren’t doing interviews with whatsherface Huckabee or you-know-who da-prez. Then I feel I need an immediate shower to wash off the sleaze.

SOMEONE SAYS SOMETHING WONDERFUL AND THE WORLD GETS BETTER

FROM GRETCHEN ARCHER TO ME ON FACEBOOK


We all complain about Facebook, don’t we? And then, one day, someone says something so incredibly wonderful I feel like hugging it (hard to hug social media, but I can try) and definitely Gretchen. I review her books … but she reviewed me. Literally, bringing tears to my eyes.

From the day I read her first book (Double Whammy), I knew Gretchen Archer had “it,” that ineffable “something” that makes a writer an author. Her first book wasn’t perfect, but it had the heart of the winner and the soul of the future. She created characters that have grown and changed and become increasingly real. There are very few authors who get characters well enough to allow them to change in a normal way, with flaws and all and moreover, to put them through all those experiences that make us human. Her characters are never repetitive, never dull. They aren’t always doing the same thing, book after book.

What a pleasure to follow an author and watch her mature. I love you too, Gretchen!

Double Dog Dare will be available on March 20, 2018! 


Good morning, Players!

Gretchen Archer

If you have a minute, please read the review of Double Dog Dare Marilyn Armstrong posted here (look down) yesterday.

I *met* Marilyn and her husband Garry after Double Whammy released. Literary reviews (reviews written by people in the industry who know what they’re talking about) of your first book are terrifying/exhilarating/soul-crushing, and for me, in the mix of reviews, one stood out–Marilyn’s. They tell us, they warn us, they mean business: don’t contact reviewers. I did. Just the one. I had to. I had to thank her, because of all the reviews, Marilyn got me.

It’s not that she gave Whammy five fat stars and loved it to the point of me printing and framing the review, it was that she liked it (which, with Book One, is quite enough), allowing me a big sigh of relief. But more than liked it, Marilyn saw its possibilities–my potential. She was the one savvy reviewer who picked out the elements of Whammy that gave it the promise to go on and be a successful series. She was the one reviewer who took the time to (inadvertently, sneakily and stealthily, within the review) give me advice. Very good advice.

Marilyn Armstrong reads between the lines.

She gave me the courage to keep writing. Her honest review was perfectly in line with how I truly felt about my own book.

I’ve loved her every minute since.

Thank you so much, Marilyn. For your deep understanding of publishing, characters, plot, prose, and me. xo

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LASER PRINTERS – GUEST POST BY LAUREN RIEBS

From Lauren Riebs of lauren.riebs@reviews.com comes this excellent review of laser printers. I have always wanted a laser printer. Compared to inkjet, they produce far cleaner text and a single cartridge lasts a very long time. But, laser cartridges are more expensive to buy in the first place, so you need to have sufficient printing to make the purchase worthwhile.

If you are working on a book and printing out many manuscripts, a laser printer might be exactly what you need, assuming you don’t also need a flatbed scanner and fax machine too. On the other hand, it might be worth buying a laser printer and a separate flat-bed scanner since they no longer cost as much as they did. 

You will find much more information and details on the author’s home site.


Finding the Best Laser Printer for Your Needs

Every small business or home office needs the right tools to succeed, but we’re not all tech experts. If you’re in the market for some new tech tools for your work, Reviews.com puts together extensive, comprehensive guides to all the products you’ll need. The following is their research to find the best laser printers available – and their four top picks.

(Following research originally featured on Reviews.com https://www.reviews.com/laser-printer/)

Research

A laser printer is ideal for a home office or small business looking to print up to a few hundred pages a day. People with only occasional printing needs, like movie tickets or their annual 1040, are better off with an inkjet as they probably won’t see the high use cost benefits of a laser printer. Laser printers are designed to print long documents much faster than their more common inkjet counterparts. For example, a laser printer can print on average 25 pages per minute compared to the average inkjet printer’s 15 pages. Even better, laser printers use toner. Although toner has a higher initial cost than printer ink, it’s cost effective in the long run because the cartridges last a lot longer — on average they’ll print 2,500 pages vs. an ink cartridge’s 200 pages.

Canon Color image CLASS LBP612Cdw

All-in-one printers aren’t really worth it. Multi-functional laser printers, or all-in-ones, include functions like faxing, scanning, and copying, but our experts advised we should steer clear. If one feature breaks down, that could leave you unable to print while waiting for repairs. Harmon says if you need a laser printer for personal work or a small business, “Don’t get an all-in-one printer. Buy a printer that does its job.”

We knew we wanted to provide both a black and white and a color option to meet varying business needs. Color laser printers are more expensive and you’ll also need to buy color toner which will add to maintenance costs. But even starting models have high output and let you add color to simple graphics like a graph or chart. If you simply don’t need color, save yourself some money and go for a black and white. So what’s the best laser printer? The answer comes down to a few key criteria. First, it should be able to produce high-quality documents with precise text and clear graphics. It should also be cost efficient, and setup and maintenance, such as replacing toner and paper, should be quick and painless.

The industry is largely dominated by five big brands: Brother, Canon, Dell, HP, and Samsung. Since specs aren’t always comparable between brands, during our reasearch we compared printers within each brand to find the best quality and price options for a home office or small business. We pored over consumer reviews from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Office Depot, and considered recommendations from sites like CNET and Consumer Reports, to identify printers highly regarded for being reliable and easy to use, and which ones we really ought to miss.

Top Picks

The HP LaserJet Pro M203dw Printer is our pick for the best black and white laser printer because it excels at printing crisp text and sharp lines for graphs and charts. Pretty simple. Outside of wireless connectivity, the printer doesn’t offer any features, but we don’t mind, because using the printer and replacing toner or paper is painless. It’s more expensive than others on the market, coming in at $200, but If you want to quickly print documents with consistent high quality, the HP M203dw is a solid bet.Our pick for best color laser printer is the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw. This printer surprised us with its ability to produce vibrant colors, and even high-resolution images, accurately. The color is a bit dark, but with sharp text and clean lines the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw outperformed all the other color printers we tested. At $300, it’s not cheap, and it will require additional color toner cartridges. But its crisp results and features like an intuitive touch screen for checking toner levels or calibrating the printer make the HP M252dw a great pick for daily printing needs.

Dell E310dw Multifunction Printer

The Dell E310dw is great for those who want a cheap printer and don’t require perfect prints. At just $80, the Dell E310dw is the cheapest out of all the printers we tested and still prints crisp text without any problems. But, for those who need straight lines for their graphs or charts, the Dell might not be the best choice. It also has a small (32 MB) memory, which means documents of more than 30 pages may need to be printed in two sessions. Even so, it’s a great budget printer for text-based documents.

HP M252dw

 For those who prioritize precise colors above all else, the Canon Color imageCLASS LBP612Cdw produced the most accurate color tones. However, in terms of text and lines the printer was outclassed by the HP M252dw. Curved lines with the Canon were jagged and text wasn’t as detailed. In addition, navigating the Canon’s menu is a bit more difficult because the menu screen is smaller.

If you print a lot of colored graphics, the $250 Canon LBP612CDW is definitely worth a look.

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.

A HARD AND ROCKY ROAD: WHY AUTHORING DOESN’T PAY

I probably will never need to buy another book. I’m a popular reviewer. When I worked at Doubleday, I was extremely popular there, too. Probably because I read the books. So many reviewers don’t read the books they review. You can tell when you read their reviews that all they did was skim the first couple of pages and work from the publisher’s summaries. TV critics seem to be doing the same thing these days. Sometimes movie reviewers, too. It’s why we read a book or see a movie, then check reviews and wonder if it’s the same book or movie.

english-writersI remember at Doubleday I would discover that the publisher’s summary was factually wrong. Wrong names for major characters. Wrong relationships between characters. Incorrect plot description. It was clear whoever wrote the summary had not read the book.

So … who did read the book? Did anyone read it? That was in the mid 1970s, when most people did read, at least sometimes. Now? Does anyone read books before they are published, and have reviewers read the books they are praising or panning?

Until this year, I was a judge for a major book award. I did it for more than a decade. It started out as fun. You’d get a bunch of books, read, review, and rate them, picking a few to move on to the finals. A few years ago, they started sending me more books … so many I could not possibly read even half of them in the allotted time. Last year, I think I had almost 100 books to judge with an average of more than 300 pages per book. And just five weeks to read them all.

It was hopeless. A couple of books were more than 500  pages. These were books that needed considerable stage-setting before the story began. Depending on genre, authors may devote a couple of hundred pages to explaining how their world works. If there’s magic. Rules of the physical world. Some geography. Who and what gods are extant — or were. What languages are spoken. A bit of history, so characters don’t walk onto an empty stage.

Tolkien was a genius at world-building, which is why he remains the gold standard for the fantasy genre.

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If you only have an hour to give each book you’re judging, how can you, in good faith, even get a sense of what the book is about, much less if it’s good? Were you to put J.R.R. Tolkien to this test, you’d never get out of Hobbiton. More than 300 pages of Lord of the Rings is geography, language, history, and demographics.

All history books require substantial background, as do historical novels and time-travel books that are historical novels in science fiction garb. A lot of writers use “the wormhole in time” to get readers to be “in the time” rather than looking back at it. It’s been a popular ploy for generations.

quill penSo this year, I said no to judging. It wasn’t fair to the authors to judge them without giving them a proper reading. I have to wonder how many other “awards” are done this way, with over-burdened judges who have too many books or whatever to review without adequate time in which to do it. I’m sure I was not the only one who got down to the wire and was unable to even skim several books before “judging them.” I wouldn’t do it again.

For all of these reasons, I’m diligent about reviewing books — or anything else. I’m not getting paid and reviews won’t make me famous or rich. They won’t even buy me a quick meal at Mickey D’s. But it is a big deal to authors. Reviews make or break books, even for established authors.

I suspect all authors are perpetually being judged. Reviewed. Each book is a trial by fire. A book doesn’t sell and suddenly, your publisher forgets your name. The industry wants nothing to do with a failing author. Even if you have written a string of major best-sellers, you are only as good as the sales figures of your most recently published volume.

I doubt any of the great authors of the past would thrive under these conditions. Can you imagine Hemingway doing his own PR? Or Capone? Can you imagine Shakespeare dealing with focus groups and fighting for his contract to be renewed?

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So I do my bit. Not for money or glory, or even for the authors, who I love. I do it because if no one cares about the quality of books being published, eventually it will all be pulp and garbage. There will be classics from days of yore and nothing new worth reading.

I have had people tell me I’m stupid for doing so much work for free, but authors don’t have money — and publishers won’t pay. Even successful authors — unless Hollywood has bought their books — aren’t financially secure. Maybe Stephen King and Michael Crichton don’t have to worry about where the next check will come from, but every other author I know — and at this point, I know more than a few — are scraping by. Many still keep their day jobs because there are mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

You have to love writing for its own sake. As a profession, authoring is a hard and rocky road. Glory and riches come to few.  Maybe publishers get rich. I hope someone is making money, because as far as I can tell, most authors don’t.

AUTHOR’S PICK: MY FAVORITE POSTS OF 2015 *

(*) At least those I can remember!

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. I’ve been looking through the stats on my various posts to see what they tell me about the “best” posts of 2015. Statistics reveal which posts got the most hits … but that’s all. It doesn’t take into account how the author felt about it.

Because I publish about 1000 posts per blogging year — including re-blogs, photographs, and four authors — it is difficult to remember what I posted this year. I have to rely on statistics to give me a list of the popular posts for 2015. I’m leaving out any post I already mentioned in the “all time top ten.”

These are my favorites of those that made the top hundred most popular — using views as the sorting tool … and then my opinion as the final criteria. Click on a title to open the original post.

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WHAT EMPOWERS YOU? From July 2014, this post apparently resonated with a lot of people and is still accumulating hits. It’s one of those posts that fell out of my fingers into the keyboard. On rereading it, it’s not bad. Perhaps I haven’t given it its due.

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MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969 Originally published in September 2014, it is still getting hits. Some posts apparently are “evergreen.” Not popular when first published, but has gathered momentum during the weeks and months that have followed. I’m glad, because it is one of my personal favorites.

NormanRockwell Little Rock

NON-WHITE AMERICA IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S PAINTINGS – HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT,  JANE ALLEN PETRICK – This is a review of a lovely book that got almost no attention the first two times I published it. Yet this third time, it garnered hundred of views and several reblogs. I hope it convinced a few people to buy the book.

I’m not shy about republishing pieces that I feel were overlooked or under-appreciated.

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HE SAID YES was published in January 2015. It’s a piece of the very long story of Garry and my courtship. Edited for a G-rated audience and to keep the main characters out of jail. The truer story is longer … a book, not a post. Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll think about it. I’m not sure just how much personal information I’m feeling public about.

Brown-recluse-coin

BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS DON’T LIVE HERE! So after Garry got bitten by one or two brown recluse spiders — who don’t live here even though everyone except the experts agree that they most certainly do live here — this is a piece of the story of the great spider bite debacle of 2015.

1988

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! – GARRY ARMSTRONG Garry’s affectionate memories of his mom, on her birthday this past July, 2015.

aluminum-foil-hat_directions

PASS THE ALUMINUM FOIL (DIRECTIONS INCLUDED) A humorous anecdote of one of the more amusing wackos I’ve met over the years. A little astrology and directions to make your very own aluminum foil hat.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG Just what it sounds like. In Memorium for a baseball great.

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS I couldn’t remember the ten commandments. Doesn’t everyone know them? But Garry couldn’t remember them either, though we more or less pieced them together — two minds being slightly better than one. But then, what was the correct order? I’m still not sure.

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GENERATION GAP – GROWING UP BOOMER Communication between generations. Maybe not the impossible dream? Is there hope?

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES* – 2014 UPDATE

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Hollywood Legends Poster

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies.

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Photo by Bette Stevens

That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow.

And now … the movies.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960. If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. The stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake…” is my email signature.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character. The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theater in Manhattan where Caron’s Lilli had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. The scene of “Reb’s” funeral is classic – cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers, and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943. Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.

Ask me to name my ten favorites next month, you’ll get different answers (with a few carry-overs)! Hooray for Hollywood!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER — SCRIPT? CHARACTERS? PLOT?

Matters of Taste – When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?


Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

You mean … other people don’t make their own decision about how they feel after reading a book, seeing a movie or watching a television show?

Because I thought that was what we were supposed to do. You know. Think for ourselves. If not, what’s that big grey lump in the middle of our skull good for anyhow?

A high percentage of current pop culture movies and television annoy or bore us. The last one to leave us saying “Huh?” Was Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It began with an explosion. It barely paused at any point during the next 136 minutes for dialog, character development, plot, or anything else. It ended with a really big explosion. At one point in the viewing, Garry left. He came back 20 minutes later. He said later he didn’t feel he’d missed anything. He didn’t because nothing had happened except a few more things blew up.

It got great reviews.

We are fans of the franchise. With the exception of Thor, which I thought was too dumb and poorly acted even for a late night stupid fix, I’ve enjoyed watching the superheroes of my childhood come to life and save the world. I don’t expect great art, just a modestly coherent story, handsome guys and beautiful women in spandex, and special effects.

However, I anticipate a plot. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but nothing is too little. I require dialog. In short, a script.

Explosions are not enough to carry a movie for more than two hours. If the production company is going to shell out all that money for big name stars, not to mention special effects, how about throwing a few bucks at a scriptwriter? Writers work cheap. Give it a shot, Hollywood.

I don’t care what any reviewer says. I never did. Or for that matter, what friends and family say. If they feel spending a lot of money to watch things blow up is a worthwhile trade, okay with me. In this household, I expect more. Require more.

I should add you’d never get away with that in a book. A book with no story? No character development?  Even if the plot and characters are lame, they nonetheless need to be there. Without them, it isn’t a book and won’t make the big time. Not yet, anyway. And aren’t we glad for that, at least!

DESERT ISLAND CLASSICS – Marilyn and Garry Armstrong

An oldie, but a goodie. Garry wrote it, Head In A Vice published and republished it — and now, I’m reblogging it. What goes around comes around, and around.

Head In A Vice

Desert-Island-Classics

Whilst I eagerly await your blogathon entries (7 DAYS LEFT PEOPLE!!) (please feel free to join in, click HERE for details), I wanted to shine some light on my long running Desert Island Films series, and more importantly the people who joined in and made it so much fun to do. I am therefore randomly visiting the archives and re-posting a few of the lists with some added kind words. I present to you; Desert Island Classics…… You may have read all of the lists so far, but I hope you won’t mind seeing a few of them again, and who knows, you may even find some new blogs to read.

Two people that have no interest in horror yet somehow found my blog are Marilyn & Garry Armstrong. It makes me so happy to see them both still visiting my blog and so today I want…

View original post 1,961 more words

ANOTHER ONE JUST LIKE THE OTHER ONE: PANASONIC LUMIX DMC ZS-25

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS -25

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS -25

I had no intention of buying a camera. I wasn’t looking for myself. Someone else was looking for a camera and I was just doing a little research.When Adorama popped up with a refurbished Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS-25 16.1 MP for under $100, I said “wow.” (There were only two at that price and both have been sold.)

Lazy daisy

Lazy daisy

It came with a Sony 16GB SDHC card and a cute little case (original from Panasonic). It is not new, though it certainly looks and feels new. It’s refurbished by Panasonic and comes with a new camera warranty. Resistance was futile.

I have a legitimate excuse. No jury would convict me.

Day lily, back lit

Day lily, back-lit

My “go everywhere” camera has been the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS-19 and the ZS-25 is essentially the same camera, with a higher resolution. My old camera has a nasty dent on the lens where I gave it a whack about a month ago. So far, it has been okay, but hitting a lens hard enough to dent its case has inevitable repercussions. It doesn’t owe me anything.

The ZS-25 uses the batteries and charger I already own. It’s the same size as its predecessor. So, of course I bought it. Then I had to do a little test drive.

Japanese maple and sunlight

Japanese maple and sunlight

Although the specs make it seem they are the same camera, they are not.

The Leica lens has the same zoom (20X). Both old and new lens are F3.3-F6.4. But the depth of field is different. It’s noticeably shallower working close on the ZS-25 and it has a more attractive bokeh. The color is true — less green, more neutral. It focuses faster and recycles much faster. All useful improvements.

The menus have been simplified and it is noticeably easier to find the functions I use. I like the streamlined controls, too, though I miss the on/off switch. It’s now a button, like every other camera. The view screen has the same specs, but because you can adjust it for varying light conditions, it seems brighter and sharper.

My last red lily

My last red lily

The little ZS-19 has performed yeoman’s service for me. I’ve carried it with me everywhere for two years. It has shot more frames than the rest of my cameras combined.

I am pleased to be able to continue using essentially the same piece of equipment. It suits me well. Compact and light, good lens. Not the longest super-zoom available, but long enough — and wide enough — for most purposes.

My ZS-19 has been a very satisfactory camera and its granddaughter, the ZS-25, seems likely to be equally satisfying. I’m more than pleased.

Camera Effective Pixels 16.1 Megapixels
Sensor Size / Total Pixels / Filter 1/2.33-inch High Sensitivity MOS Sensor / 17.5 Total Megapixels / Primary Color Filter
Lens LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR / 12 elements in 10 groups / (3 Aspherical Lenses / 6 Aspherical surfaces / 2 ED Lens)
Aperture F3.3 – 6.4 / Multistage Iris Diaphragm (F3.3 – 8.0(W), F6.4 – 8.0(T))
Optical Zoom 20x
Focal Length f=4.3 – 86.0mm (24 – 480mm in 35mm equiv.) / (28-560mm in 35mm equiv. in video recording)
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ) 25.3x (4:3 / 10M), 30.0x (4:3 / 7M), 36.0x (4:3 / 5M), 45.0x (under 3M)
Intelligent Zoom 40x

SUMMER MOVIES, SUMMER NOT – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I just read an article about this year’s summer movies. Apparently, box office watchers don’t believe we’ll have any block busters. No matter because we don’t go to the movies very often these days. Chalk it up to boredom with product, exorbitant prices, and sheer laziness. But it got me to thinking about summers past.

This is nostalgia, the summer-themed films I remember seeing at the theaters during those lazy, hazy halcyon days. Some of them were fine movies, acclaimed cinema. Many were not. But it doesn’t matter because these are movies I fondly remember enjoying during the long, hot summers of youth.

JAWS

I covered the location filming on Martha’s Vineyard and did some of the “Great White” scare stories when the movie came out. I absolutely loved seeing the film — especially knowing the back stories. It still works for me!

Jaws-movie-poster

AMERICAN GRAFFITI

Saw it at a drive-in in 1973. The 50s — 60s nostalgia and music were terrific. I was driving my first convertible, a flame orange 1969 Dodge Challenger, fully loaded. You know what I was thinking

SUMMER OF ’42

I’m a sucker for summer romance stories. The ’42 setting (the year I made my début) made it extra special as did the gorgeous Jennifer O’Neill. Saw the film with friends from the small Connecticut TV station I worked at before coming to Boston. A special summer night

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Saw this one summer of ’65 at the Syosset Theater on Long Island. My companion was the sweetheart of our college radio station. We sang the songs all the way home.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

It was the summer of ’63. I lost count of how many times I saw this in first run. I tried to emulate Steve McQueen by wearing the cutoff sweat shirt. Matter of fact, I had that sweat shirt for almost 40 years. Just ask Marilyn. And, no, I never tried to mimic Steve on a bike. Never that crazy!

great-escape-poster

SUSAN SLADE

Summer of ’62. I had a BIG crush on Connie Stevens! I still do. In my mind, that wasn’t Troy Donahue romancing Connie on-screen. Of course, Troy is long gone, but hey, Connie, I’m still here.

A LOSS OF INNOCENCE

It was also called “The Greengage Summer.” I saw it at the Hempstead Theater, Hempstead, Long Island. Summer of 1961 and the beginning of my crush on Susannah York.

A SUMMER PLACE

One of the first films I saw at a drive-in. 1959 on Long Island. Saw it with my best buddy and a gorgeous redhead. Another special summer night. Marilyn and I saw this again the other night at home. It wasn’t quite the same.

HOUSEBOAT

Summer of ’58. I was madly in love with Sophia Loren. I didn’t think Cary Grant was good enough for her. Years later, I met Sophia and told her the story. She laughed and gave me a kiss.

PEYTON PLACE

Summer of ’57. I was a sophomore in high school and quietly, desperately in love. The object of my unrequited affection was a dead ringer for Diane Varsi who played Allison in the movie. I’d read the Grace Metalious novel, including “those” parts several times. It’s still a guilty pleasure.

PICNIC

Summer of ’56. My baby brother, Anton, was just a few months old. I was his primary baby-sitter. “Picnic” was my first movie night out that summer. William Holden was my favorite actor. His “Moonglow Theme From Picnic” slow dance with the lovely Kim Novak did something to my precious bodily fluids. Years later, I met Holden and he laughed at my recollection of the movie. He said dancing with Novak did something to his precious bodily fluids too.

picnic-55-holden-novak-poster-1-f15

 

THE ROAD TO DENVER

A “B” western with John Payne. One of a bunch of westerns I saw during the summers 1950 through 1954 at a local movie theater where tickets were 11 cents for kids. I saw all the Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Roy Rogers, etc. westerns. The Universal and Republic oaters were my favorites because the good guys had nice outfits and handsome horses. The coming attractions were exciting. I couldn’t wait to see the next film. The women? Forget ’em.

SHANE

A memorable summer night in 1953. First encounter with one of my favorite westerns. Saw it with Mom at the Loews Valencia in Jamaica, New York. The Valencia was one of those old fashion palatial movie venues. You sat under the stars while watching the stars on the big screen.

shane poster-2

HOUSE OF WAX

Summer of ’53. Saw this with my Mom at the RKO Alden in Jamaica, Queens. The original 3-D version with Vinnie Price. One of the few films to scare the bejesus out of me. We walked home. A long walk. Mom held my hand. Don’t tell anyone. Years later, I told Vinnie Price this story. He laughed at me too.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Saw this with Mom during the summer of 1952. We sang the music walking home on a perfect summer night with the fire flies providing the chorus.

THE THING

Summer of ’51. Mom and me again. Scary, scary movie. Saw this at our neighborhood movie theater, The Carlton, in Jamaica, Queens. The short walk home seemed a little longer. I kept looking over my shoulder for things that go bump in the night.


Lots of diverse, fond memories probably enhance my recollection of these movies seen over the summers of more than half a century. I treasure the memories and the movies.

AWAKENINGS: THE LOST SPIRITS – SHARLA SHULTS

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

Today is a quiet day…a co-o-o-old day so definitely a day to stay inside simply enjoying the warmth of hearth and home. Just finished reading The 12-ft Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong (featured below) and thought I would take some time to visit blogs I am following. How surprised I was upon coming across The Lost Spirits @A Misbehaved Woman.

What better topic to revisit than that of the American Indians?

Disturbing, however, is the fact this story is not totally past history…it is tied to history, yes, but it is also right here, right now, in America, in New York City.

Read the rest of the story on Awakenings!

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

So much good stuff to read in this post … including (blush) the best review I’ve ever gotten of my little book.

See on awakenings2012.blogspot.com

A CURIOUS ACCOUNT OF NATIVE PEOPLES IN NORTH AMERICA

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

85,000. What it means. What it doesn’t.

To put this into perspective, my “about” page and five top posts account for around 35,000 hits. “The Me Page” alone has gotten more than 12,000 hits.

75-85000-NK

Still, the cumulative effect is that a lot of people have visited this little blog of mine, for whatever reason and it’s a bit humbling to realize that’s the number of people in a pretty big town, more than a packed crowd in Yankee Stadium. I know there are people out there whose statistics put them into the hundreds of thousands. What’s weird is I see if I don’t quit, I’ll get there too. Not tomorrow, unless something I write goes viral (unlikely) … but I’ll get there. Because every day, I get around 200 hits, unless the première show for the 2012-2013 season of Criminal Minds is playing — in which case I get closer to 1000 hits (that’s how I know the show is airing).

I am writing this before I quite hit the 85,000 mark. At this moment in time, I’m at 84,958, so I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it ought to be more than 85,000. I’m probably jinxing myself.

Number of posts? Closer to 1500, but I deleted several hundred and I’ll probably have to do it again to keep the website from collapsing under the weight of too many posts. I’ve been a busy writer. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to rerun posts because — hey — I think they’re pretty good and worth running again.

The ups and down of statistics can produce a lot of anxiety, so … you gotta have faith. I don’t just look at raw numbers because they are only a part of the puzzle. I don’t have more visitors or even as many as I did — the total number of visitors is down considerably from the peak last fall. It was the election and the Internet was a wild and crazy place. Yet the overall hit count has remained reasonably steady because guests spend more time on my site, read more posts, look at more pictures. The average number of posts hit per visit is greater than 2, sometimes a lot more. That tells me I’m doing something right.

It tells me I’m writing more interesting stories, posting better pictures. This matters to me far more than raw numbers. To know you come and stick around, enjoy my work enough to read more than a one post makes me feel pretty good.

The numbers of followers I’ve got has topped 400 from WordPress. I’ve got a bunch more from Twitter and Tumblr, maybe a couple of dozen from Facebook (not quite as many as WordPress counts them). A year ago I couldn’t even imagine so many followers.

Followers get  emails. Many people read posts in email and don’t bother to visit the website. It’s a peril of email notification. If you can read it in email, there’s no incentive to go to the main site since the emails contains 90% (or more) of the post. It’s a trade-off. Followers are good to have, even if they only read the email. Honestly, I don’t care if they read my posts on a telephone pole. Where isn’t important.

Sudden drops in hits are alarming and baffling, especially when numbers pop back up the next day. What was that all about? You will never know. One of the great mysteries of blogging. Numbers by themselves don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing, either. A lot of hits indicates interest at the very least. Hit counts on individual posts tell me a lot too.

There are two kinds of posts in the blogging world. There are posts that are highly topical and burn really hot for a short time. Most of these involve breaking stories, current events, scandals, stuff like that. And there are slow burners. Timeless material, fiction, reviews.

Reviews can have a very long shelf life. People keep coming to read them over and over. Many of these are informational in nature, reviews of technology, books, movies. Oddly, reviews of extremely obscure movies do quite well, maybe because it’s difficult to find reviews of them anywhere. Camera reviews seem to have an eternal life. Book reviews of popular authors continue to be accessed months after original publication.

The posts with a long shelf lives gather a lot of hits over the months. One of my top three posts has more than 5000 hits, but it took more than 9 months. As long as the material remains relevant, people will find it. Good placement on Google helps too, but over all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the longevity of reviews in general, technology in particular.

So for all that WordPress doesn’t think much of my work, a lot of other people apparently feel otherwise and in the end, that matters. It matters a lot. My followers, my readers have become a kind of family. We share each others’ lives, pains, joys. We celebrate and mourn together. We’ve never met, but we aren’t strangers.

I still save every “like” and every notification of a new follower. I would follow all my followers, but I’m out of time. I can’t keep up with that many blogs. I can barely keep up with the books I’m supposed to be reading and reviewing.

I can’t imagine how people do this when they have full-time jobs and young children. I’ve never been more impressed than I am with homemakers and career men and women who manage to handle their family obligations, jobs and blogs. All honor to you. You are the real rock stars.

Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr — Review by Garry Armstrong

It’s been more than a week since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.