Tag Archives: Hollywood

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

Trying to Hold on to Old Hollywood

There’s a wonderful interview by Dick Cavett with Orson Welles in which Cavett asks Welles to reveal his secrets to filmmaking. Welles delivers an answer spiked with mystery and simple honesty. Welles claimed that everything you need to know about filmmaking can be learned in about an hour. In other words, the basics are accessible. It’s a question of what you do after that! With Welles, you had a masterful storyteller and an artist of great vision. Filmmaking becomes just a means to an end. And so it has for Quentin Tarantino many times over. He’s had a bumpy ride with accusations of lifting from other movies including lifting the entire story for Reservoir Dogs from a Hong Kong action movie from the ’80s. In his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seems safe to say that Tarantino displays the strengths of a seasoned director.

Pitt and DiCaprio out to defend what matters.

Tarantino the king of retro, has been around long enough to see his own career turn retro. A lot of Millennials were either too young or not even born when Pulp Fiction first came out in 1994, chock full of vintage pop culture references. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino can bring to bear his retro obsession with mature grace. Tarantino is now, like Welles, a director with well-honed themes and obsessions, everything fitting him like a perfectly well-worn leather jacket. And that’s a huge part of what is going on in this movie: a love letter to a bygone era. Just consider the first scene set in Hollywood’s legendary Musso & Frank Grill. If there is one place that represents Old Hollywood, when actors could still be glamorous stars, that is the place. But change is in the air. It is 1969 and a number of factors have cleared the landscape, including television. The fatal break with the glorious past would arrive on the night of August 8, 1969 with the mass murders by the Manson Family. It is that turning point to which all concerned are converging upon. The two main innocent bystanders are a couple of Hollywood fixtures: aging leading man Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman/handyman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The obsession with retro is fully satisfied here.

Margaret Qualley and her bare feet.

Another hallmark of any Tarantino movie is his love for a salty, dark and raw sensuality. It is in every one of his films. In Tarantino’s case, he seems to best evoke that vibe whenever he manages to share with the viewer his fascination with feet. He is not the first director to make that relatively offbeat choice. You can go back to such film legends as Luis Bunuel for that. To his credit, Tarantino is simply being true to his own quirky passion as well as mining for something original and provocative. It’s all interconnected: his foot fancy and his love for B-movies and throwaway culture. He seems to be challenging the viewer to find art in unexpected places. And, with age one hopes comes some wisdom. Compared to his overindulgent examination of Uma Thurman’s feet in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Tarantino appears to have restrained himself enough to use his obsession like a painter to a canvas. A scene that manages to display the soles of Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) feet while she’s in a movie theater must have been challenging and seems perhaps only a bit contrived. Another scene that has one of the Manson Family members (Margaret Qualley) with her bare feet resting on the dashboard and firmly pressed on the windshield comes across as more natural and provides that spot on Tarantino touch. The unique appeal of feet and B-movies may not seem to add up to much and yet perhaps a mystery remains, a nearly indescribable appeal. That’s the stuff that dreams, and movies, are made of.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

And no Tarantino movie would be complete without his ultimate obsession: righteous fury! Remember, this is a love letter to everything that Tarantino holds dear to a once wondrous Tinseltown. If there is a dark force that needs to be dealt with in order for truth and beauty to survive, then you know Tarantino is going to unleash the remedy. In this case, the hippie culture with all its navel-gazing sense of entitlement and self-righteous angst is anathema to a more refined and disciplined era. To see a new generation that is not only not up to the old standards but doesn’t care is pretty heartbreaking for Tarantino. But for that movement to be weaponized is the last straw and that brings us to the fight that Tarantino is more than willing to engage in.

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Story: Dale Carnegie Lives! Chapter 1

Welcome to my novella, “Dale Carnegie Lives!” We will be reading this together each week! This is the first installment and a new chapter will be rolled out each week all the way to the very end. I hope you enjoy the offbeat humor. I hope you get a kick out of this misadventure. If you would like a handy dandy complete version that you can read anywhere, then you can find the whole book at Amazon right here.

Set in the summer of 2017, this is the story of a Cuban illegal alien who slips across the United States border. Can you say, “Donald Trump” and “Build The Wall” three times fast? There is that aspect to this tale. But there’s much more.

This is the story of a man who stumbles upon his purpose in life, later in life, after most people would have called it quits. This is the story of a man, completely out of his element, who confronts numerous clues to discover his true destiny. Fernando is a man unjustly imprisoned for forty years who, in a great leap of faith, escapes Cuba in a hot air balloon.

Fernando believes in the promise and hope embodied in what is best in the United States of America. He is not fully aware of the Donald Trump phenomena but it doesn’t really matter. Fernando believes in something transcendent: the power of the individual to have the courage to chase after any dream.

Empowered with a belief in his own abilities and guided by a supernatural connection to legendary motivational speaker Dale Carnegie, Fernando has the power to move mountains and there is no wall that can hold him back!

CHAPTER 1

We all, deep down inside, desire to improve ourselves. There’s that feeling to do better, be better. We all get that feeling, right? Some of us choose to act on it– but we often fall short. Sometimes we fall flat on our face. You get the picture. This is a story of a very unlikely hero who has always been determined to improve himself. Fernando Rivera knows a lot about falling down. He is a little man with little hands and little feet but with a way big heart. He has a very unusual tale to tell that should entertain and probably inspire. We shall see.

Over time, our optimistic little hero’s ideals had been crushed to near extinction. He had turned into a shell of his former self. He had regressed back, back, back, to something primal, a simple animal. This is the sad and sordid tale of such a pathetic beast who never stopped believing. He never stopped dreaming, despite all the nightmares.

Despite himself, buried under resentment, fear, and confusion, Fernando had a good side. For everyone is capable of redemption—or at least a cup of coffee and a good honest slap on the back (or face) for good luck. Fernando knew he deserved more, much more. Fernando, even after all those years of torment, had a purpose to fulfill. It seemed unlikely, so unlikely. But he had dreams to realize, dreams he hadn’t even dreamt of yet.

It is the story of Fernando’s entry into the world–so dramatic, unusual, and perhaps supernatural– that holds the key to his destiny. The chain of events goes back to New York City, Halloween night, 1955. It was on this very night in an alley overlooking a stage door exit, filled with expectant onlookers, that a mysterious-looking man in a fedora waited. Along with the masses, he waited for a glimpse at one of the most celebrated figures of the era, the world-famous motivational speaker, Dale Carnegie. But he hoped for more than just a mere glimpse. He aimed to talk to Mr. Carnegie. In fact, he was compelled to connect with Mr. Carnegie. Too much was at stake.

The man in the fedora was Manuel Rivera, a talented singer and musician. Back home in Cuba, he was a rising star. But on the streets of this massive metropolis, he barely registered any recognition. In the span of a few months, Manuel had tried to make his mark but, aside from a few club dates, he was as far away from fame and fortune as a lotto ticket is from winning. It was Dale Carnegie’s book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” that had helped him out so much during this struggle. He remained uncertain about his own future but he felt ever more confident that he and Paloma would soon have a family of their own back in Cuba. Perhaps a son. Instinct told him that it was essential that he try to make his mark that night with Dale Carnegie as his prized audience. There would only be a few minutes available to him. He would be on a plane back to Cuba that very same night.

Call it a leap of faith, a crazy fever dream, or simply following gut instinct. Manuel had to be exactly where he was, doing exactly what he was doing. Beads of sweat pored down his scrawny face as he grew anxious. He was over-thinking again. When Dale Carnegie emerged, he had to lunge forward and act. It was all in the timing. To any passersby, it would look perfectly natural, this highly unnatural act of forcing one’s self onto another: in those few innocent seconds, it would be him, his miserable sweaty and improvised little life, connecting with what seemed like this ray of pure beaming light.

Carnegie had chosen a little theater in Spanish Harlem to lead a workshop on self-improvement. Everyone in attendance had suffered some setback. Many had trouble finding work because of the color of their skin or their accent. They were vulnerable to blaming themselves but strong enough to know otherwise. There were whole families in attendance and, as it was that time of year, kids were dressed up in costumes celebrating both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Carnegie could see many little figures dressed as goblins, witches, and skeletons, each of them looking up and waving or dancing. When it was over, Carnegie bowed to great applause and made his way out the exit.

And then, it happened: there was Dale Carnegie at the stage door! He seemed uneasy as he surveyed the crowd outside but he offered up a smile and a warm wave of his hand. That was Manuel’s cue. He lunged forward for the sake of his own destiny and something more that pounded in his heart. If only Mr. Carnegie could understand how important all of this was.

He sang a few notes. He actually began with a song. It was so crazy—but it instantly set Manuel apart from all the others. That’s all it took. He sang a few bars from one of his own original compositions. “I was lost and desolate, and it made me cry. But then I discovered Dale Carnegie, and my heart flies so high!” In that moment, Manuel had Dale Carnegie’s full and undivided attention. “What a lovely song—or is it a poem? I appreciate the sentiment, sir!”

“And I appreciate you, Mr. Carnegie!” yelled out Manuel.

“Who are you?”

“I am Manuel Rivera. And it is my destiny to meet you!”

“Well, sir! I am very flattered. I understand too. You seek guidance, meaning, and purpose. You have it all within yourself.”

“Of that I am sure, Mr. Carnegie! What I am speaking about is a legacy. Not just mine—but yours too! With me, you can count on your legacy. I will do everything in my power to have your name, and your good works, live on!”

“I see,” Carnegie looked up and beyond the spectacle of well-wishers. “I am tired and tiring out, I must say.” Carnegie could not help but linger and studied Manuel’s face intently before giving out a sigh. “Sir, I may very well take you up on your offer!”

“You will?”

Carnegie seemed to nod to Manuel. And then the connection was abruptly broken. Carnegie proceeded down the steps, into the throng of people, and was temporarily swallowed up by the chaotic mass of excitement, followed by a quick escort into a waiting car that promptly sped away.

As if he’d been riding a magic carpet, Manuel Rivera had found his way home. It was almost as if he’d never left, back in the arms of Paloma. He had barely unpacked before he was more than just in his wife’s arms. It was all a matter of timing. They rolled around in bed, lost in each other, and he could feel it happening. He had mounted her. He was inside her, both their bodies throbbing. Suddenly, he felt an overwhelming release, sweat dripping down his back, and he shuddered. He knew this was the right time for great things.

Later that bright new day, one foot out of bed, he casually turned on the radio. They had been asleep for hours. He craved some music but the news on the radio jolted him back to life. Dale Carnegie had died. He could instantly sense what was going on. There was no other possibility. He knew that Paloma was pregnant! And that, he gulped just at that mere thought: Dale Carnegie knew he would be safe to reincarnate with the Riveras! It had begun: the reincarnation of Dale Carnegie!

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Movie Review: THE CONDO (2015)

THE CONDO (2015)

Sometimes you just need a good hook to get you around to seeing a movie. Take 2015’s “The Condo,” a light comedy from Gravitas Ventures that is now available on Video on Demand. There is a lot of good energy here and it begins with leading actor Baron Jay. In fact, check out the interview link below where Jay provides some insights on making it in the industry. This is our gateway. There is something about Jay, his spirit, his humanity–that makes you want to stay with him and see his work.

And right below this is THE CONDO movie trailer:

The premise: Four married guys find themselves with a condo that they turn into a bachelor pad. This may remind some of you of the Billy Wilder classic, “The Apartment.” Well, that was on the mind of Baron Jay and inspired him to commission Bill Marroni to write the script, who directed Jay’s first feature film, “Safe House.” What this movie does best is to showcase a lot of solid emerging talent. It’s a vehicle that serves well everyone involved: Produced by Baron Jay and Michael Joseph for Baron Jay Film Group; directed by horror genre veteran James Cullen Bressack (Bethany); and written by Bill Marroni and Bill Dumas.

Baron Jay and Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

Something like this, if done right, makes the most of the opportunity to experiment. There are some recurring themes that get a chance to be developed. The cast is led by Trae Ireland (#FromJennifer), Jackie Moore (Pernicious), Baron Jay (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), Michael Joseph (Restoration), Tracy “Stresh” Mcnulty (Emma’s Chance), Chris Sapone, Aria London, and Johanna Rae (Psychos). Baron Jay commands the screen as a hapless realtor and lover. Trae Ireland is a cocky stand-up comedian with dwindling reasons to laugh. And Jackie Moore is a surprise hit as a sexy man-eater suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

So, while rough around the edges, “The Condo” is a fun view. If you are a fan of improv comedy, that’s a helpful way of looking at this: lots of talent trying out different things. Overall, I come back to Baron Jay, the ringmaster for this project. As he advises aspiring actors and filmmakers: if you’re tired of knocking on doors, then create something of your own. For those of you out there with those sort of dreams, this is especially of interest. That said, there is an effortless, even masterful, quality from the lead actors. I look forward to seeing where everyone goes with their movie careers.

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Filed under Comedy, Movie Reviews, movies

24-Hour Comics: SO IT GOES (#2 of 3)

Here is the second part to my recent 24-hour comics marathon at Palladian, a Kimpton hotel. The work neatly fell into three sections. In this part, we shift focus a bit to talking about myth byway of Hollywood.

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Review: WEED MAGIC

WEED MAGIC, published by Bliss on Tap Publishing

Cannabis humor is tricky. The subject comes with its own unique background that easily attracts goofy humor. It can also definitely have redeeming quality. I’m talking about overall quality and craft. In movies, think: Cheech & Chong. Seth Rogen and James Franco. In comics, think: Robert Crumb. Simon Hanselmann. If you are really cool and smart about it, you can succeed with goofy jokes about pot. WEED MAGIC, published by Bliss on Tap Publishing, is a new comic book series that gives it a try. Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s the deal: you are already preaching to the choir when you create a cannabis comic so you really don’t need to overstate your case. That is a big challenge to contend with. And, to be fair, you are also dealing with a variety of opinions and tastes. Some people think Kevin Smith is spot on with his cannabis humor and some think not so much. It does seem that people can get way too caught up in proving that they have cannabis cred and that they’re up for the most wildest of misadventures. In general, less is more. Some people think more is not enough. At first, I was leaning towards this being a problem for this comic. Attempts at going full-on Mary Jane can fall short and feel too generic and calculated. But, after careful consideration, I say this comic grows on me.

Two friends just getting by…

The narrative steadily takes form and the reader can expect to roll with the offbeat humor. This is light entertainment done right. This is written by Brian Phillipson and Jordan Lichtman with art by Alex Cormack. Brian Phillipson is the president and co-founder of Bliss on Tap Publishing. It is easy for readers to take for granted the hard work involved in creating something that falls in the light humor category. But this is a sharp and well-executed smooth read. The dynamic use of color by Cormack is in step with the pace and humor. We’re in good hands down to spot on lettering by Alex Murillo.

…then, one day, they stumble upon a big bag of magic weed.

The story does a good job of playing off the typical superhero origin story. Set in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, we follow two friends as they discover their true destiny. Bunny Cortez dreams of making it big as a filmmaker. Moe Green is more down to earth as a law clerk on a fast track to becoming an attorney. But both of these guys are not happy, at least not as happy as they’d like to be. Until, one day, they stumble upon a big bag of magic weed. Hey, I could see this attracting the attention of Seth Rogen and James Franco or the next wave of talent that aspire to be Rogen and Franco. It could happen. Lastly, we’re just discussing the first issue here. From what I see, I am intrigued and look forward to the collected trade. All in all, a strong first issue. Seek this out.

Rating: 10/10

WEED MAGIC is available as of October 4: digitally on all major distribution platforms, including Amazon, Apple iTunes, Hoopla, Comixology, Google, Scribd, Nook, and Drivethrucomics. And for fans attending New York Comic Con (October 5-8), Bliss on Tap will be featuring WEED MAGIC at booth 945 along with a special collectible.

Visit Bliss on Tap right here.

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Filed under Bliss on Tap Publishing, Cannabis, Comics, Hollywood, Humor, Marijuana, New York Comic Con

Review: ‘My Favorite Thing Is Monsters’ Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” Vol 1 (of 2) by Emil Ferris

If you have not heard of this book yet, then let me introduce you to one of the new landmarks in graphic novels, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe, like me, you weren’t sure what to make of it at first. Certainly, one quick look through its pages, and you can tell this is something weird and wonderful. And, at 386 pages, this ain’t a book you’re gonna miss sitting there on the shelf.

An enigma begging for resolution.

As a cartoonist myself, the book is also a bit intimidating. All this awesome stuff to process–that I didn’t write and draw! As a reviewer, this is the sort of book that everyone comes out of the woodwork to review. People who never read graphic novels now suddenly have an opinion to express on the next big thing. But, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see a book like this gain the spotlight. That said, a number of things make this book significant and worthy of a long life after the current buzz.

A bigger look: two-page spread.

The best way to enjoy this book is to find a cozy seat and explore the pages for a while. Then just settle into it. Ferris has an uncanny sense for narrative flow. In a comic that she did about promoting the book, she included an observation by comics legend Art Spiegelman. He declared that Ferris had tapped into a new rhythm for comics. To be sure, Ferris has a distinctive approach. She beautifully alternates among various possibilities: from full page drawings to panel sequences; from just a hint of color to full color; from lots of text to minimal text. This exquisite contrast propels the reader into worlds unknown.

Deeze, the bad boy older brother.

Our story begins in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1968. There’s been a murder, or maybe a suicide, or God only knows what. Something happened upstairs. 10-year-old Karen Reyes has lost her dear friend, her upstairs neighbor in the apartment right above her: the elegant and enigmatic Anka Silverberg. She was shot in the heart. But her apartment door was bolted shut from the inside. So, yes, it was a suicide, right? Well, that’s what the police say. But Karen senses that just can’t be right. And so begins Karen’s investigation. Karen, the little girl who thinks she’s a monster. Yes, she really believes she’s some werewolf girl. And the only thing more scary than that is the M.O.B., that’s short for people who are Mean, Ordinary, and Boring.

Having to answer to mama.

Ferris fuels her work of magical realism with magical kid logic. Karen’s quest to get to the bottom of the death of Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, becomes a multi-layered journey. Narrated by Karen, the reader becomes privy to a child’s inner world in a similar fashion to Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated novel, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” 10-year-old Karen ponders over the validity of monsters and concludes that they have as much right to exist as other unseen marvels like germs and electricity. Karen’s fanciful innocence clashes with harsh reality. Her older brother, Deeze is engrossed in various sexual conquests with little to no discretion as to whether Karen is around to hear it or see it. As a way to protect herself, Karen can always revert back to her own whimsical concerns, like whether or not tulips get homesick for Holland.

One of the many pulp magazine tributes.

This is a genuine must-read resonating with aficionados and the general public alike. Many of the pages in the book have become iconic, particularly the monster magazine portraits. This is a tale that intertwines the tumult of the 1930s and 1960s and ends up casting a mirror to our own very troubled era. The alternating formats that Ferris uses are the hallmark to this most innovative work. Ferris steadily modulates the narrative having the reader swim to the deep end and read passages suitable for a prose novel all the way to deceptively simple comic strip sequences. All the while, everything is held together cohesively with the consistent use of ball point pen rendered art on a background of notebook paper–that and one of the most compelling voices to grace the page.

As I say, in my video review, it is a hard thing to do in a graphic novel where a cartoonist creates something truly fresh that has the reader seeing things in a whole new way:

This is one of those rare books that can safely be called an instant classic. It is a long work in comics that truly makes good use of a high page count. In fact, a second volume is due out as early as Valentine’s Day of 2018. For more details, visit Emil Ferris right here. And visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

SIFF Review: ‘The Fabulous Allan Carr’

“The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

Warren Beatty announcing the wrong winner at this year’s Oscars was a disaster but the all-time biggest disaster is so bad that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rather not discuss it and there is nothing on Youtube to document it, except for a verbal description by comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. The story is about how legendary Hollywood producer Allan Carr ended up creating the strangest opening number ever for the Oscars. That infamous moment, truly mind-bending surreal camp, is the linchpin to a new documentary on a fascinating life and career, “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz.

If you were a kid growing up in the ’70s, as one snarky person interviewed in the doc says, there were two big movie events: for straights it was “Star Wars” and, for gays, it was “Grease.” Be that as it may, “Grease,” back in 1978, was a very big deal at my high school, whatever your sexual orientation. I was in the marching band and, as a last-minute prank, many of the boys decided to drop their pants and moon the crowds in the stadium. This was directly inspired by “Grease,” which was as far away from an Oscar opening number flop as you could get. “Grease” was a bonafide hit and it put the movie’s producer, Allan Carr, on the map.

Steve Rubell losing patience escorting Olivia Newton-John and Producer Alan Carr into the “Grease” Party at Studio 54.

How Allan Carr gained the confidence and sense of purpose to become a Hollywood legend is thoroughly explored here. We follow Carr from insecure boy to insecure man, finally losing his virginity in his 30s. Where he was on firm ground was his steadfast desire to put on a show. If you loved “La La Land,” you will relate to Carr’s great love for the grandeur of Old Hollywood, particularly the heyday of movie musicals. After Carr’s success with “Grease,” there would be various ups and downs. One undisputed high point was his producing the Oscar-winning “The Deer Hunter.” And Carr reached his greatest heights producing “La Cage aux Folles” on Broadway.

And then came that incredibly over-the-top opener for the 1989 Oscars. The clip below is not from the documentary but gives you an understanding of what all the fuss was about. This is Bruce Vilanch who, by the way, does provide some wonderful segments exclusively made for the documentary:

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Okay, it turns out that the “infamous” 1989 Oscars opening segment is currently available on YouTube. And, like many a legend, there is more to this story. Basically, it helps to view the above segment with Bruce Vilanch along with seeing the actual footage. Vilanch makes a big mistake by adding to the legend with his hyperbolic description of the show. Despite that, he provides the necessary context. Most importantly, Vilanch explains that this was a case of “manufactured outrage” by Disney president Frank Wells, who lodged a complaint against the Academy even though Snow White is in the public domain. The truth is, Disney was hypersensitive about advertising concerns. Here is the clip. You will likely find this to be charming, entertaining, and heartfelt:

After “Grease” would come Carr’s first big misstep: 1980’s “Can’t Stop the Music,” the musical showcasing The Village People. Carr had hoped to bring abroad Olivia Newton-John for a lead role but, after reading the script, she rejected it. So did Cher and Raquel Welch. However, Carr was able to secure Valerie Perrine. Carr also enlisted a rising star, Steve Guttenberg. The whole affair was directed by veteran funny lady Nancy Walker who was not much of a director. In the end, this was a classic Carr flop: over-sexed camp too far out on a limb. And so he moved on to the next project, and the next.

In time, Carr would find himself. One key personal moment was when he discovered caftans. The spacious velvety robe allowed Carr’s undisciplined body to run free. With a caftan, he could relax and be more open about himself and his sexuality. The ups and downs of his projects would settle into perspective. There would be the undisputed triumphs. And, in the end, he could say he lived his life to the fullest.

The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, was a standout at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary is based upon the book, “Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr” by Robert Hofler. As the story about a gay chubby insecure boy who grows up to live out his wildest dreams, it provides another compelling view of the hopes and dreams of La La Land.

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Filed under Gay, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF

Book Review: ‘Day for Night’ by Stacey E. Bryan

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Damien Hirst, the bad boy of art famous for displaying sharks in art galleries, once asked his 6-year-old son which he would prefer in his bed, a girl or a zombie. The boy instantly replied, “Zombie!” That is a crude and random example, I know. But perhaps it makes a bigger point about our collective fascination with the macabre, the unknown…and sometimes that is made most clear from a child’s point of view. That brings me to “Day For Night,” a new novel by Stacey E. Bryan. It has zombies of a sort. And it even has a shark! Like my example, there’s a fine-tuned crude and random vibe to this book.

This is very much a Los Angeles tale. Bryan indicates any pause as a “beat,” reminding us we’re in Tinseltown, full of daily theatrics and scripts coming out of everyone’s ears. We also get a lot of local flavor with characters living out in Brentwood, Culver City, and Marina Del Rey. There’s much talk about the well-hidden Toluca Lake. Everything seems to converge for a time at Sepulveda Boulevard. Plus numerous movie references not the least of which is Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night.” An old tattered poster for the film decorates the apartment laundry room our main character, Rae, finds herself in at the start of the book.

At first, we don’t know if Rae is caught in the throes of an anxiety attack but she readily declares she is experiencing the end of the world. Is she perhaps an aspiring actress? Yes, she is. But what she describes next leaves much room for further speculation. Rae witnesses her neighbor Annie levitate up above the tile floor. Annie blacks out just as Rae throws her yellow bra at the glowing force surrounding her friend. By the time that Annie wakes up, it’s too late to rationally explain to her that something most supernatural (thwarted alien abduction?) has just occurred. Annie completely missed it. Rae experienced the whole thing!

And so our story unfolds alternating between typical Angeleno angst and unexplained phenomena. It’s a wonderful balancing act that Bryan maintains. Basically, half the novel favors events more grounded in reality and then, as the weird stuff pushes its way to the foreground, you get a more mature version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rae is in her thirties and, like her counterparts has had time to become more hardened and jaded than Buffy. Rae is a tough cookie recovering from quite a lot of rough scrapes, especially the day a tiger shark got too close and chomped off some of Rae’s fingers.

Bryan is totally in command of her story and has fun teasing out moments for her main character, Rae. Funny internal monologues give way to sudden outbursts followed by the latest development in Rae’s bumpy journey. Along the way, she encounters romance ranging from comical to intense. Throughout, Rae discovers a tapestry of connections that sustain her and help her grow ranging from the mundane to the sublime.

“Day for Night,” a novel by Stacey E. Bryan

Bryan has mastered that same melding of the everyday with the supernatural that has appealed to legions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. The pithy exchanges between Bryan’s characters crackle with hard-won insight. It is insight mixed with harsh reality…and the movies. This is L.A., after all. It’s a mix of gumption that just might be enough to take on vampires and space aliens.

“Day for Night” is published by Vagabondage Press. You can find it on Amazon right here. And you can find Stacey at her website right here.

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Filed under Aliens, Book Reviews, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Horror, Los Angeles, Satire, Supernatural, Vampires

Book Review: ‘Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936’ by Edward Sorel

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

If you are a fan of glamorous old Hollywood, then I have a book for you. It is a racy and juicy tale told by a masterful storyteller. I’ve always admired Edward Sorel‘s artwork with its caricatures that seem to pierce into his subject’s soul. Edward Sorel has written, and illustrated, a fresh look at Hollywood legend Mary Astor and interlaced her story with his own in “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W.W. Norton & Company. This is mainly a prose book but it is generously filled with Sorel’s illustrations, over sixty original paintings. The prose is as elegant, urbane, and idiosyncratic as his art.

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930's "Ladies Love Brutes."

Mary faints during her first talking picture, 1930’s “Ladies Love Brutes.”

As a writer and cartoonist, I am here to tell you that it is the idiosyncratic person who gets a project like this about the elusive Mary Astor off the ground. That is what sets Edward Sorel apart and makes his work so distinctive. Sorel confides in the reader every step of the way. It was 1965 that Sorel first embarked upon his quest. It all began with lifting old rotting kitchen linoleum from his railroad apartment. Buried at the bottom were newspapers from 1936. The big story was the custody trial of Hollywood star Mary Astor, which included her infamous “purple diary.”

Edward meets Mary!

Edward meets Mary!

Sorel runs out of old newspapers before he can find out the end of the story. But he’s hooked. He vows to investigate further. The end result is this book, which moves at a steady clip as it transports us from Mary’s humble origins on the outskirts of Quincy, Illinois, raised by domineering parents, to Hollywood in the 1920s, Mary a rising child star, still saddled with domineering parents. Poor Mary never seems to figure out how to stand up for herself when it comes to finding a mate either. At one point, Mary turns down a contract with RKO strictly for starring roles. Then she follows that up with a hasty marriage. Sorel shakes his head and raises his fists on the page and the reader can’t help but do the same. Mary’s choices will continue to be bad before they get better. Mary’s ultimate bad choice will entangle none other than the most celebrated man on Broadway, George S. Kaufman.

Edward finds Nancy!

Edward finds Nancy!

Life, in all its glorious absurdity and majesty, is on parade in Sorel’s book. With a combination of the whimsical and the world-weary, Sorel weaves a tale that includes a supernatural meeting between Sorel and Mary from beyond the grave. And, the high point for me, Sorel shares with us how he met Nancy, the love of his life. Throughout, what emerges is the story of the artist’s struggle, both of Edward Sorel and Mary Astor. Both could have used another pat on the back and moral support. Both certainly earned it.

While Mary Astor would be the last to claim to be anyone’s role model, she proved to be more than capable to rise to the occasion. That is clear to see for all time in her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Sorel’s book provides his unique and quirky take on Astor’s life and helps us to better appreciate how she blossomed at pivotal times in her life. If you are looking for a definitive tell-all, this is not that kind of book. This is more of an expanded essay, an intelligent conversation. You can be new to the facts discussed or you can be quite familiar with them already. I dare say, it is just the sort of book, with its dry wit and cosmopolitan flavor, that Mary Astor would approve of.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Biography, Book Reviews, Books, Edward Sorel, Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, Illustration, Mary Astor, Noir, Old Hollywood, Silent Movies, W. W. Norton & Company

Webcomic Review: ‘The Führer And The Tramp’

"The Fuhrer and the Tramp"

“The Führer And The Tramp”

The figure of Charlie Chaplin looms large all these many years and rightly so. If Chaplin had only taken his career as far as his Tramp character, he would richly deserve all the accolades in the world. Unlike other silent screen giants, it was after dominating the box office in what he was known for, that he pushed himself to his greatest creative heights crossing over into the sweeping changes of a new generation. Chaplin’s achievement is so singular and unique that it simply has no equal. It is all on full display with his film, 1940’s “The Great Dictator.” In honor of such talent and vision, a webcomic and graphic-novel-in-progress plays off all the dynamics involved between Chaplin’s answer to Hitler. This is a bold and whimsical fictionalization entitled, “The Führer And The Tramp,” written by Sean Luke McCard, Jon Judy and illustrated by Dexter Wee.

The Tramp on the run from the Nazis!

The Tramp on the run from the Nazis!

To see Charlie Chaplin, in full costume as the Tramp, stumbling into a Berlin movie theater and ending up sharing popcorn with Adolf Hitler is pretty wild–and a fun start to this graphic novel. This is just a taste of things to come. It’s 1938 and Chaplin just happens to be in Berlin and one thing leads to another. Once safely back in Hollywood, it seems that all can go back to normal–but not if undercover agent Hedy Lamar, and her handler Errol Flynn, have anything to do with it! If you’re a fan of alt-history, a little zany spy hijinks, mixed in with some thoughtful observations on real history, then this is something you will want to seek out.

Happier times at the Cocoanut Grove.

Happier times at the Cocoanut Grove.

The idea here is to cast a fresh light on history as well as just have some fun. The webcomic continues to upload new material so it will be interesting to see how things develop. I think the script has an overall nice handle on the humor running throughout. Given that this is fiction, the story is free to take a number of twists and turns. It’s a tricky balancing act since, in large part, this fictional Chaplin has been robbed of his self-determination. Here you have others goading and pushing him along to move beyond what he knows and create a work of art with real political power. The real Charles Chaplin did not need to be pushed into creating “The Great Dictator.” Anyway, just wanted to clear that up. That said, this is a delightful webcomic. The artwork by Dexter Wee is spot on capturing something of the pathos and integrity of Chaplin. So, Chaplin is not treated all that bad here after all.

Keep up with “The Führer And The Tramp” webcomic right here.

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Filed under Charlie Chaplin, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Webcomics