Summer Reads

The best Summer read for me so far is . I also read it in the perfect setting in Hatteras NC. I had just been finishing up Islands in the Stream and this informative book about Hemingway’s time in Bimini and sport fishing was the perfect compliment to that. The author, Ashley Oliphant, expertly weaves stories of Hemingway’s time in Bimini with the history of sport fishing as well as some interesting background on her study of Hemingway’s work. After reading about her lecture regarding To Have and Have Not, I definitely plan to give that another read. Her writing style was informative and very engaging. Reading the book made me want to plan a visit to Bimini and renew my interest in fishing.

That Time I Wrote to Tom Shales

This event had its origins back when I was a kid that had just finished getting braces. The orthodontist told my parents that I would be in some pain for the first night and may have trouble sleeping. The end result was that I could stay up and watch our TV all night, which then consisted of four channels and only old movies were what I could find. By chance it was a marathon of Frank Capra films. Now I had no idea of who he was at the time, but I loved all the movies, and the movies made me forget about the pain I was experiencing with my teeth. I started talking about the movies I had watched to one of my older brothers and he told me “oh, those are all directed by Frank Capra.” Two things struck me, which were that the director is the creative force of a film, and that I loved Frank Capra movies.

As I got older, reading about, and studying films and film-making became a serious hobby for me. My favorite all time movie became It’s A Wonderful Life (Black & White Version). I saw in it, more than just the happy Christmas movie a new audience had made it. In 1986, I read that a book was published, The It’s a Wonderful Life Book written by Jeanine Basinger. It was a nice companion book for the movie and I enjoyed reading it and adding it to my growing collection of film books. I also noticed that Tom Shales had a review for the book in the Washington Post which I was interested to read. Mr. Shales didn’t seem to like the book very much, knocking it for not being critical enough of the movie as I recall. I was incredulous, thinking, does he not understand that the book was meant as a companion book, not a serious critique?  In my opinion at that time and still today, I feel that a critic should judge the product (book, film etc.) on the merits of what it was trying to accomplish, not what the critic thought it should be trying to accomplish. It would be like giving a bad review to Blazing Saddles because it wasn’t dramatic enough.

So, it was at this time that I decided to write to Mr. Shales telling him what I thought of the book review and how I thought he should be writing reviews. I also did some research and found an address where I could send a copy of the letter with my own note praising the book to Jeanine Basinger.

I never did hear back from Mr. Shales but I did receive a very nice letter back from Jeanine Basinger thanking me for the kind words and the defense of the book.

The story, like a Frank Capra film, had a great ending. I corresponded several times more with Jeanine Basinger learning much about film, the Frank Capra Archives and she relayed a letter that I wrote to Frank Capra to him for me. I received word back that he was touched by my words and thanked me for being a fan.

I would highly recommend her book as well as her other books on film including A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 and I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies. For a couple of serious essays on It’s A Wonderful Life, I would recommend A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema 1930-1980 and American Vision, The Films of Frank Capra.

It’s all about the story, and its ok to end it

There are many great shows being produced now and others that people love, I believe more because they begin well enough and then become one of those shows you must love to be cool. A case in point for me is Orange is the New Black. The first season developed fantastic nuanced multi dimension characters and placed them in a cohesive interesting set of storylines. Then came the second season when the show meandered and characters were dumbed down to one dimension. But the cat was already out of the bag so to speak. It was already one of the shows you “had to love”. Someone on the radio mentioned once that many original ideas or stories are written for a specific timeframe and then when they become a thing, the scramble is on to keep it going. As hard as it is sometimes, I would like a show to say what it needs to and then bow out.

Another example is Stranger Things, fantastic “first” season. Well-drawn out characters, well portrayed, and a fun throw-back storyline that is familiar but so well done it doesn’t matter. That is the key, a story, simply told well. To me, the season told what it needed to and there is nothing more to say. I will tune in to the second season initially to see where it goes, but other than the one scene where Will goes Alien on us, the story has been told. The End.

Some shows have all the “elements”, but without a compelling and structured story, what is the point? I was so excited for Vinyl. What could go wrong? Great cast, interesting period in music and Scorsese! Well, lack of a compelling story was my issue with this show. Sure, it has the text book Scorsese items, but those only work when integrated into a something that draws you in. Vinyl was more about “hey look at all this inside music stuff we can pack in.” Even with that, it would have been ok if the story was there.

One of the best recent examples of a simple story told well is Rectify, no frills, no mega-stars, no familiar soundtrack songs, no flashy camera gimmicks, no gratuitous violence needed (what draws many to Game of Thrones, but that’s for another post), just a simple story that completely draws you in, with complex multidimensional characters throughout. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it as the perfect example of a good story told well.

Hemingway and Gellhorn: a film hard to sit through

After having read the fantastic book Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill, which gave a nuanced and deep portrait of both Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn during the Spanish Civil War, I was interested to watch the film Hemingway and Gellhorn with Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. Please, please do not waste your time if you are interested in anything but a buffoonish, one dimensional, at times laughable film. I loved the subject matter and was excited to see it, so came in to it with a positive outlook wanting to like the film. What was delivered however, was a barely watchable thing, with Clive Owen seemingly playing Groucho Marx doing an over the top impersonation of Hemingway. All of the other characters were just as one dimensional with the exception of Kidman as Gellhorn and maybe that was the plan: to make her character shine. The big problem with this is that when you make all other characters so cartoonishly bad, you cannot help but greatly diminish the stature of the character you are trying to play up. So, if you are interested in the subject matter not played as bad slapstick, then I would recommend reading the book mentioned in the opening sentence.

Claws (TV Show) Quick Take

From the first episode, I really wanted to like this show. It has many style elements that are popular, from a “southernish” “swampish” True Blood vibe kind of thing. The story is there, a group of women trying to get out from under, collectively and individually, from their problems and rise to a better existence. Their characters are written and played with more dimension than the card board cutout male characters in the show. At times, it is hard to know whether or not this is a dramedy or a SNL spoof, and Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris) is cringe worthy over the top bad, which could be ok, if there was any dimension to his character. In each episode the creators seem to be asking themselves what would Scorsese do? Yes! Let’s have up-beat music to a violent scene etc. Very derivative. The key will be whether or not the show can find its way to more depth in it’s characters and its own vibe. For now, there is enough potential to give it more time.

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