A friend is a gift you give yourself

This is a quote from Lou Bloom, as a video journalist in the brand new film Nightcrawler. Directed and written by Dan Gilroy, this is the story of a man who would do anything, and I mean that literally, to get a story sold. Lou Bloom isn’t a writer. His stories are videos he’s shot and then sells to a TV station as breaking news. When we meet Lou, portrayed by a peculiarly charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s desperate for work. So much so, that he’d cut down and steal chain link fences to sell them as scrap metal. Only his scrap metal buyer says he won’t hire Lou because he has a strict policy – he doesn’t hire thieves.

So Lou is down on his luck. He also says, If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.

But even those with bad luck, sometimes catch a break. One night Lou is driving around and he happens upon a fresh auto accident. So fresh that the police are still struggling to get an injured driver out of a car. Instead of just rubbernecking as he rolls by, Lou stops, and as he gets out of his car, a couple of guys with cameras run past him. They are eager to shoot video of the wreck and the injured man. Afterward Lou hears them discussing the video and he asks one of them, what he’s going to do with the video.

Bill Paxton has the role and he tells Lou – I’m going to sell it to a TV News station for the morning news. If it bleeds, it leads…is how Paxton’s character colorfully describes his work. Lou is instantly intrigued and asks if they are hiring. They aren’t but Lou knows what’s he going to do next. Trade his next batch of stolen chain link fencing for a camcorder and a police scanner.

He also needs a guy to help him, the whole business is geared toward being first on the scene, shooting the video, and then getting it to a TV station before the next guy. Lou has a lot to learn, he calls himself a quick learner, and he is smart enough to know that he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – or in this case – drive, listen to the screeches on the police band, then navigate to the scene by himself. So he puts an ad in the paper looking for an assistant. or as Lou describes the job – a non-paying position as an intern. He finds another guy down on his luck.

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Wonder Women Circa 2014

Yesterday, as is my usual custom when I am driving somewhere, the FM radio dial was set at its usual point, at 89.7 which around these parts, Sarasota, FL, is the Public media station WUSF, I happened to tune in during the broadcast of the Fresh Air show on NPR when the host Terry Gross was interviewing Jill Lepore, a Harvard University professor and a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Jill is the author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

Now Wonder Woman, the heroine of the most popular, and most widely read comic featuring a woman was the creation of author William Moulton Marsden more than 70 tears ago. He wrote his first Wonder Woman in 1941. Marsden had quite a story himself.

Marsden had a wife, Sadie Holloway, and a mistress, Olive Byrne who was the niece of Margaret Sanger, who was famous in her own right as the founder of Planned Parenthood as well as a crusader for birth control. He, and the wife and the mistress all lived together discreetly, and Marsden fathered children with both of them. They lived in Rye, New York. The best part of this is that Marsden, who lived this life of lies and secrets, was also the creator of the lie detector.

Now this post is not going to be about Marsden, who had a strong interest in both Suffragists and super heroes, as well as pinups and centerfolds. Nor will it be about comic books, Wonder Woman, or anything directly related. But the radio show that I heard yesterday was actually the trigger to get me started on this post – which I had been circling around, and unable to find an entry point that I liked, for more than a few days.

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Transparent – New Series on Amazon

Oy veh!

Now that’s not an expression I use either regularly or even irregularly. But it was those two words that ended Season One of the surprise hit, the Amazon Instant/Prime Video Series called Transparent.

The transparent reference is about the fact that within most families, secrets are kept – meaning that transparent, in the sense of transparency, is not a word that rings true for most families, and specifically not this particular So-Cal family.

This is a family with issues – and that’s being kind. Issues that are life changing, and that’s just being honest. Intrigued yet?

Okay – maybe not yet, so let’s have a quick look at this family.

At the head of the family is Mort Pfefferman. Unless you know him well, for the moment we’ll describe him as a former college professor, former husband now divorced, and current father of three adult children. Mort is 70 and he’s harbored a secret for most of his adult life.

You see, Mort doesn’t want to be called Mort any longer. He’s decided to come out to both his family, and then publicly, under a new name which would be Maura Pfefferman. That’s right – Mort has been living as man, dressing as man, and for all intents and purpose was a man for these many years. But his reality is that he is a man who really wanted to be a woman. Mort/Maura is a transgender.

Jeffrey Tambor has the role. And when we meet him, we haven’t been made privy to his so far unstated new reality. He’s called his three adult children to his home with the intent of telling them his news.

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Peaky Blinders (New Series on Netflix)

Have you a fondness for period gangster films like me? It must be true that many people feel the same as I do. Certainly many of the best crime and gangster films are set up as period films. Amongst the greatest are The Godfather Parts I & II, Bonnie and Clyde, Millers Crossing, The Road to Perdition, Public Enemy, Lawless, The Gangs of New York, and Last Man Standing.

Produced by the BBC, The Weinstein Company has secured the US rights and have made the series available in the US via Netflix. The series came online on September 30th. Season One has six one hour episodes. Season Two will be rolled out on Netflix in November.

Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby, the middle son, of the Shelby family. The story begins in Birmingham in the UK, circa 1919. The Shelby’s run a street gang called the Peaky Blinders. It is a strange name, but once you realize that razor blades are sewn into their tweed newsboy hats, which were stylish for the period, the meaning becomes a lot clearer.

They hang out at the Garrison Pub at the far end of Garrison Lane. This is a street deep in the center of an industrial area. What with fires burning, and factories right there in the heart of the neighborhood; it seems a strange place to live. You could call it a mean street or you could call a vision of hell.

Aunt Polly: She ran the Shelby Operations while the men were off to Flanders Fields and WWI. She was in charge for five years. Helen McCrory has the role.

Aunt Polly: She ran the Shelby Operations while the men were off to Flanders Fields and WWI. She was in charge for five years. Helen McCrory has the role.

At this time (1919) those that hadn’t perished in WWI have returned home and for many life is a struggle. Tommy has nightmares of his war experiences, and has become addicted to smoking opium, Some have turned to communism because they feel that the government has not treated them well. Of course there were robber barons and captains of industry reaping grand rewards, but here in Garrison Lane, conditions were harsh – low wages, long hours, terrible working conditions, and a wage cut to boot. Indeed, these were hard times.

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The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January is another of Patricia Highsmith‘s novels to reach the screen. Following the footsteps of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and Strangers On a Train (1951) among a list of a more than a few, this one relates to TTMR in that we have a killing, and then, people on the run. The difference is that Viggo Mortensen‘s Chester MacFarland could almost be considered ‘normal’ for the first twenty minutes or so, when events change our perspective of him, whereas Matt Damon‘s Tom Ripley was clearly a sociopath.

Directed by Hossein Amini who also adapted the 1964 Highsmith novel of the same name, we begin at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Chester MacFarland and his Mrs Colette MacFarland, played by Kirsten Dunst, appear to be a pair well-heeled American tourists on holiday in Greece.


We’ll soon meet Oscar Isaac, playing an ex-pat tour guide called Rydal. Immediately we see that Rydal is not just a tour guide, he’s also a petty grifter, who is not above cheating a young woman with a student group in Athens on a currency exchange, as well as padding the price of a bracelet that Colette liked in a bazaar with the ready acceptance by the Greek merchant.

Soon there’s a foursome out for dinner, Rydal and the girl, and the MacFarlands. It’s a standard dinner, everyone feeling jovial, and if anything, Chester consumed a few too many ouzos, a popular Greek drink. Having one-too-many would become a repeated motif for Chester. They all shared a cab ride back to the MacFarland’s hotel where Rydal dropped the MacFarland’s off.

Upon discovering that Colette had apparently not noticed that the bracelet, purchased earlier, had slipped off her wrist in the cab, Rydal, finding it, quickly shed the girl, and headed back to the hotel.

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Kill the Messenger

Some stories are just too true to tell

I had a keen interest in seeing this film as I have a passion for conspiracy films. All The President’s Men, The Conversation, The Parallax View, even The Pelican Brief are films I’d watch again and again. The Green Zone was supposed to be another must-see conspiracy film, and I did see it. But it didn’t make the cut into the classic film category.

Unfortunately, Kill the Messenger, while well-intentioned, also fails to make that cut. Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb, and when we meet him, it is 1996, he’s an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. Webb gets a call from a woman who asks to meet him, promising him the story of his career.

She’s the sexy girl friend of a local drug baron, and testifying against him, is the informant Danilo Blandon. He’s played by Yul Vazquez. Once upon a time, in a Seinfeld episode, Vazquez stood on a street outside of Elaine Benes’ apartment and said to Kramer – We’re taking the armoire. Whether you like it or not. We’re taking it.

Anyway, this girl friend tells Webb, that Blandon has been making big money, huge money, importing drugs into the USA with the approval of the US Government. She also tells Webb, You thought you were getting a piece of the cheese. Instead, I’m giving you the whole mouse.This isn’t great writing, but you can easily label it colorful.

Well Webb is already an excellent investigative reporter and he’d already nabbed a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles he wrote about property seized by the DEA. So he followed his instincts and a trail of contacts until he got his arms around the story, which at the time was about 10 years old.

The CIA had been in bed with the drug cartels. In exchange for allowing the drugs in, and then earmarking them for urban centers like South Central LA and Harlem, The CIA would funnel cash and weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. It seems that the then US president, Ronald Reagan, could not get Congressional approval for support for the contras, so everything had to be done via back channels, and an unholy and unspoken of alliance.

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God’s greatest gifts to humans: Hope, Jokes, and Dogs –

When I want to go to the Outback, I hop into my car, drive for about 10 minutes, then get of my car and walk into the restaurant. Yes, it is the Outback, but it isn’t in Australia. This is Sarasota, FL.

In Tracks, film actress Mia Wasikowska, portrayed the Australian naturalist Robyn Davidson, who, in 1977, actually walked from Alice Springs, in Central Australia, in a westerly direction to reach the Indian Ocean.

The distance covered was nearly 1700 miles, and the walk took almost nine months. Robyn was accompanied by four camels and a faithful dog called Diggity. Occasionally, or more accurately, once in a very great while, she’d meet some local settlers, or some Aboriginal people, as well as Rick Smolan, who was sporadically photographing Robyn as the trek proceeded, for her sponsor, The National Geographic magazine.

Once the story got some traction – at one point Robyn found herself facing a few carloads of both national and international representatives of the press. Notice I didn’t say media. I said press and for a very good reason. In 1977, it was the newspapers that provided the where and the how for most of us, all over the world, to get our news.

For Robyn, this was a less than an ideal situation. A certified iconoclast as well as something of a loner, Robyn was on this trek because she wanted solitude, and she wanted to be off by herself. Though we are not given any lengthy explanations (Wasikowska as Robyn does an occasional voice over narrative), the flashback structure showed that she came from a problematic upbringing – an often absent father who was an explorer himself, and a desolate mother who would later hang herself.

Robyn herself, despite her relentless determination to finish what she had started, preferred the company of her dog rather than friends or relatives. Later in the picture, Robyn would tell Adam Driver, who played the photographer that she was troubled by the fact that often, she felt like she would like to tell ‘perfectly nice people to not only leave her alone, but to also go off and crawl into a hole and die’.

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My Last Day in California Covering the Mill Valley Film Festival – A Day Trip to Bodega Bay (The Birds)

My last day in California’s Marin County was eventful. The plan was to drive to Bodega Bay, the small coastal village where Alfred Hitchcock shot much of his classic 1963 film The Birds which starred Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedrin. I had to return to San Rafael for the 4:00 PM showing of The Imitation Game at the Mill Valley Film Festival. This would be my last day (the 6th of October). The festival would run, or go on without me – until the 12th.

Following the film, I’d return to the cottage in San Anselmo, relax for a while, then head back down US 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d navigate through San Francisco toward my ultimate driving destination – San Francisco Airport (SFO).

I was booked on the 12:15 AM flight out of SFO to Charlotte, NC and then on to Sarasota with US Air. This was the so-called red-eye. I’ve flown to Brazil, and Asia, even Europe on overnight flights, but this was my first time in flying a red-eye within the USA.

The run up from San Anselmo to Petaluma was a straight shot up US 101. Coming out of Petaluma, I’d be heading due west on Washington Avenue, which eventually changed names to become Valley Ford Road. It was a standard ride through California’s Sonoma County which meant plenty of hills and curves in the road.

As I approached Bodega Bay, I actually missed the turn, and the next thing I know, I was looking at the Pacific Ocean. I had turned off the road and the car sat in a small parking lot , which was really just an extended super sized road shoulder. There was no sign calling this a parking lot, but when you see cars parked and the ocean, it seemed like stopping and walking down to the beach was the right thing to do. This was actually called Salmon Creek North Beach, and it was just a few minutes from Bodega Bay.

A few sea gulls sat on a rock nearby. I’m sure they didn’t find a parking area all that intriguing except for the possibility of a food offering. Sorry guys, I’m not giving up my bottle of water, which was all I had brought with me. I couldn’t be sure but it looked like these birds were saying. No problem – but keep moving. This is our spot.

Now the beach, on this particular day, was more about the sounds of the surf, rather than the look of it.

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The Imitation Game – Day Five at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine…

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Benedict Cumberbatch‘s name included in the lists of Oscar finalists in the Male Lead Actor category. Yes, he’s that good as Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game which screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Monday afternoon. For the record, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, and Keira Knightley also turned in riveting performances that may garner Oscar’s attention as well.

The Imitation Games is the story of a scientific breakthrough that may have saved millions of lives, and per historians – shortened World War II by as many as two years. Turing can be called the grandfather of computers as it was his work, with a forerunner of the computer that broke the code of the German’s encryption machine known as Enigma. The British had been intercepting Germany’s coded messages soon after the war broke out but a simple translation from German into English was of no value.

The Enigma machine was reset every day – so any work by the folks attempting to break the code, on any particular day, had to be completely scrapped if the code had not been broken that same day. Calculations determined that the machine created  as many variables as the number 159 million, million, million which is actually the number 159 followed by 18 zeros. A needle in a hay stack was a walk in the park when compared to the task. of breaking the Enigma coding.

Turing was an odd fellow by any stretch of the imagination. He lacked social graces, and was extremely focused. He really didn’t know how to get on with people, and what’s more he didn’t even try. On his initial interview with a Royal Navy Flag Officer – one Commander Denniston, played marvelously by Charles Dance, who continued in the grand and so very British manner of his famous predecessors like Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, James Robertson Justice, and C. Aubrey Smith – Turing almost lost the job before he had it.

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