Archive | Blog RSS feed for this section

The Year Ahead

I’ve started 2018 recovering from influenza and, at least for now, still in contention for fiction writing competition and submission. I am writing new stories and will keep you posted.

More info on my social media course

Otherwise, I make notes and revisions and screenwrite for others. No two scripts are alike and the process is unique to the individual. I’m enjoying the challenge of hunting, harvesting and essentializing data for a short research and interview assignment on someone’s forthcoming book. I also write copy and articles for clients’ websites, publications and books. Small projects can yield surprising rewards. For instance, I recently helped a friend, a published author, get organized. I performed menial tasks, really, yet I gained valuable insight from observing his approach.

Another client asked me to coordinate a campaign and compose letters for an effort to persuade authorities to reconsider and re-open an investigation into a child welfare case. As I always do, I gathered facts, read relevant case files, conducted an independent review, asked questions and formulated my conclusions, drafting final documents accordingly. The project was an unusual assignment in some ways, if typical in other ways, and, while I am not always able to accept such writing assignments, I found the challenge invigorating. My customer was fully prepared and a pleasure to work with. This makes the initial outcome — the district attorney’s office contacted my client upon receipt of the documents, opening the prospect of further investigation — only more rewarding.

More info on my writing course

As this year begins, I’m looking forward to creating each new theme, campaign or story. Twenty eighteen marks ten years of blogging and I plan to keep at it for now, adding selected book, movie and TV reviews and cultural commentary with occasional updates and announcements. I also plan to return to teaching my media courses this spring, so please note that Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media are open for registration and will commence as 10-weeknight classes at the Henry Mingay campus of Burbank Adult School near Bob Hope Airport. Enroll in social media studies here and my writing course here.

Here we go into what I want to be a Happy New Year!

Year in Review: 2017

This year was mixed for me, though I’ve made progress. I know that I’m grateful for the best readers, clients and partners. Though this blog is an informal repository for my thoughts, I covered essential movies, ideas and cultural points this year and I managed to find, explore and examine the good, even the best. But 2017 was the year of the purge, as I argued here, when men of ability, skill and reason, such as studio executive Harvey Weinstein, broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Judge Alex Kozinski, were, whatever their alleged crimes and flaws, prejudged, smeared and maligned due to a surge of groupthink based on faith in egalitarianism. This year, it became harder to find the good.

The year began with the death of a talented actress who embodied goodness, tact and restraint, Mary Tyler Moore. MTM was the best. An effort to restore one of Richard Neutra’s most cherished buildings gained my attention for an article published on the Los Angeles Times site. I did an exclusive interview with the writer and director of last winter’s feel-good box office hit Hidden Figures and I previewed a literary study of famous authors’ words and writing patterns, all of which I wrote about here.

The Neutra article lead to an in-depth interview with the architect’s son on the eve of his 90th birthday. I posted about my time with Dion Neutra and other exclusive interviews (i.e., a new head of the Ayn Rand Institute and Lasse Hallstrom on his cinematic tribute to man’s best friend, A Dog’s Purpose) which I covered here. The interracial horror comedy, Get Out, merited a positive — not a rave — review. I reviewed the Oscars, probably for the last time.

Battlestar Galactica‘s original Captain Apollo, Richard Hatch, died this year. Hatch, whom I had met when I was a boy and, again, for an interview as an adult, was a passionate actor and a kind and decent man. Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran released new albums with melody and soul. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News over claims of sexual impropriety, major media news which started a disturbing trend. I had already warned against jumping to conclusions over claims spread fast and wide via social media when I wrote some time ago about NBC News penalizing anchorman Brian Williams. I returned to the topic again in 2017 to forewarn that mass hysteria over Harvey Weinstein could spread far and fast, too, and not for the good.

Sadly, this is exactly what happened. Prejudice, jumping to conclusions and injustice compounds.

This year, I posted detailed reviews here about the LA TimesFestival of Books and Turner Classic Movies’ Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which paid homage to TCM host Robert Osborne, who also died this year. I miss Robert O. every time I watch classic movies on TCM.

Unfortunately, cancer was caught again in Olivia Newton-John, who exudes strength, confidence and grace as she keeps recording, performing and healing. Anyone with cancer, or who loves one with this disease, should know about Olivia’s efforts, artistry and example. I wrote Southern California stories for the Los Angeles Times’ local editions on a new center for studying Los Angeles at Occidental College, a new leader in Ayn Rand’s philosophical movement and the shopping center targeted by the Hillside Stranglers, which I linked to and bundled here. I added a number of articles to my backlog, including three previously published articles on Walt Disney’s Bambi, taught my night classes on media and writing and a summer media series for seniors in the park, and posted a 30th anniversary review of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, a review of his classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and a 40th anniversary review of the filmmaker’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In politics and government, Republicans and the president failed to repeal ObamaCare, so I criticized so-called free market intellectuals for not stepping in to help. To back it up, I offered a detailed proposal in a piece published on Capitalism Magazine about forming a proper starting point in seven steps to exit this monstrous health care law (read it here).

Christopher Nolan’s war movie, Dunkirk, was the year’s first serious best movie contender. I was also impressed with books, new and out of print, which I reviewed in detail: Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty, The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, biographies of a Soviet spy for Josef Stalin and George W. Bush, Bush, and broadcast journalist Harry Reasoner’s memoirs, Before the Colors Fade.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of my favorite novel, Atlas Shrugged, so I posted my thoughts and a remembrance of my first reading here. I attended some events at an annual conference dedicated to studying and applying its author’s philosophy, the Objectivist Conference (OCON), where I found need for improvement and a reason to celebrate. I wrote about OCON here.

Pittsburgh is the setting for an extraordinary new television series, This Is Us, which I reviewed and recommend, especially for families and those with middle class values. More so for those dealing with cancer, bigotry and alcoholism. I also reviewed and appreciate Wonder Woman (the new Thor sequel, too) but the comics genre is fading. In the absence of great new romanticist works, I prefer the fresh and more subtle humor and thematically more realistic and uplifting stories in depictions such as This Is Us. Sundance TV’s gripping and intelligent microseries Cold Blooded aired this year, too, in what ought to become a new sub-genre of non-fictional true crime programming: a whole perspective which accounts for the lives of the victims.

This summer’s murder in Charlottesville, too, left widespread damage in its wake, and not just from the so-called alt-right or the so-called antifa movements on right and left. The Charlottesville protest was premeditated, coordinated, attacked and, in the aftermath of the president’s ignorant response and the often ignorant reaction to his response, silenced many reasonable Americans into not talking about politics, ideas or dissent about any serious topic. I think this self-imposed suppression of one’s thoughts, writings and speech is a grave mistake. What the West needs now is a more, not less, frequent and persistent exercise of speech.

On the blog, I posted several firsts in 2017. I decided to create a Christmas gift guide on the blog, which turns 10 years old next year. Read my first review of an Alfred Hitchcock movie here. Read my first reviews of Ernst Lubitsch films here and here. I took on the topic of technology’s aggregation — in news and in movie reviews — and I was the first to warn against a rising voice for theocracy, Roy Moore, and on the proper principle.

For the first time, I posted reviews of LA stage productions: The Rainmaker and Driving Miss Daisy. Both of these plays had long ago been adapted for the screen, the latter as Oscar’s Best Picture winner for 1989 (the subtly integrationist movie could never win in today’s lynch mob atmosphere). Other adaptations or revivals this year, besides Thor and Wonder Woman movies, include an entertaining screen version of Stephen King’s novel, It, which is the year’s most unanticipated box office success, Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour and the Dionysian Call Me By Your Name.

That last film, like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, does not depict a love story, contrary to its raving critics’ assertions. Like 2016’s Moonlight, which initiated this trend of overestimating moodily immersive movies of style more than substance, the visually striking or appealing movies lack depth and/or coherence. The same is true of another of 2017’s hit movies, Disney/Pixar’s animated Coco, and this year’s entry in the annual Star Wars debut, The Last Jedi.

Better, deeper movies this year focus on the individual of superior ability: the biting and judgmental (as against pre-judgmental), I, Tonya; the enjoyable Battle of the Sexes; the poignant Thank You for Your Service and the story of the young, principled lawyer who would become a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall. Note that each of these films essentially dramatizes known, fact-based events in reality, i.e., naturalism. The more the faith, feelings and fantasy-based movies advance in the culture, the more pressing the need for great works of romantic-realist fiction.

2017 closes with the demise of the American male, amid the deaths of rock’s Tom Petty and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, as a byproduct of clustered, disconnected accusations from an often nameless, faceless clan of claimants that break silence (and contracts) to come forth via publicity campaign, not in a judicial court assuring due process. The movement’s name is similarly flawed and amorphous: Me, Too.

For this year’s Me, Too-ing, few noticed that one of the year’s most popular cultural products, a mediocre Star Wars movie, is made possible by Hollywood’s most powerful woman, Kathleen Kennedy, who originated one of the year’s most ominous cultural acts. Kennedy, who runs Lucasfilm for Disney (currently subsuming Fox), called for creation of a new commission to establish work standards, on the condition that the standards be established by (her words, not mine) college professors, feminists and activists.

In fact, Hollywood’s powerful new women’s group, the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, is in formation. The commission has designated its leader — law professor Anita Hill, who long ago accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment, assertions which were never charged, litigated or substantiated — and the new order for anti-sexual, anti-male rules of engagement is currently underway. Pressure on government to enact rules against speech, conduct and sex in the workplace (and everywhere else) is likely to expand, not contract.

Meanwhile, in lieu of catastrophic threats from jihadist states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the proper role of government — defense, a judicial system, police — shrinks while the state’s improper role expands. For instance, the cost of government-controlled medicine, i.e., ObamaCare-compliant health plans, rises while access and quality of health care plummets. In the past 72 hours, government-controlled lights went out in America’s busiest airport and a government-run train derailed with deadly wreckage in the West. Soon, what you say and do at work could be regulated or influenced by a commission run by a law professor at Brandeis University — an institution which silenced an author who’s a feminist for speaking out against Islamic terrorism — or a government agency, crony or subsidiary.

So, those who think different and speak up face these and other obstacles in the year ahead, which means 2017 ends as a year in which disaster and darkness looms while silence spreads. More and faster than ever, as Ayn Rand forecast over 60 years ago, we are running out of time to save ourselves. This culture of fantasy and faith must be challenged, opposed and countered. This writer does everything I can do to offer tools, stories and fuel for the journey ahead.

 

What’s New

New to the archives are my 2006 interview with actor Sam Elliott (Grandma) about his role in a TV movie and other work (read the Sam Elliott interview here) and my 2011 interview with Robert Osborne about Liza Minnelli (New York, New York), who spoke about her movies and late parents, director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis) and Judy Garland (A Star is Born). Read the interview about Liza here.

Sympathy_vote_FINAL_1007I’ve added a 2013 newspaper article about an unsolved murder in Illinois that happened 49 years ago today. The 21-year-old victim was the twin daughter of a wealthy CEO running for the United States Senate and her name was Valerie Percy. She was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in her bedroom while the family, except her stepmother, who awakened during the crime and became an eyewitness, slept in their lakefront home. The homicide remains unsolved, though the author of a book (pictured) names a prime suspect. Read Murder in Kenilworth here.

I also want to add my interview with an author of a book about Iran’s 1979 attack on America because the Iran deal is unfortunately imminent. I’m enthusiastic about my recent interview with Bob Hope‘s biographer. Besides articles, speculative writing and work for others, plans are underway to make more interviews, including several unpublished transcripts, available.

In the meantime, this summer’s writing workshop at the local library was a success, so I’ve been asked to teach a class on blogging, which I plan to do later this year. I am making a new low-cost webinar series this fall for which I plan to include a media booklet to help entrepreneurs, businesses and artists create, relate and distribute what they make and do. It’s in progress, so please stand by, as I know some readers outside of LA have asked about attending classes online or via streaming. I hope to post more information soon.

Hurry to register for next week’s 10-week courses here in suburban Los Angeles: an all-new Writing Boot Camp (register here), which explores writing habits and methodology and includes a checklist. Writing Boot Camp is fun, lively and streamlined (click/touch here to register). Registration is also open for All About Social Media for maximizing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (register here). Contact me about private sessions.

Look for new book, product, home video and, of course, movie reviews. I have to admit that I am excited about the new season of Fox’s Empire (read my review of the first season here), which is purely an indulgence in escapism.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2015

tumblr_static_5dtiby7w824os4k0g0c0s0k4sTurner Classic Movies’ 6th annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California, sorely missed the impeccable brand’s knowledgeable and elegant host, Robert Osborne, and experienced growing pains judging by feedback from its guests. But it is a uniquely rewarding cinematic experience.

My own festival track record is extremely limited. When I covered movies on assignment, I avoided film festivals. I remain dubious of the premise of each festival. Many seem to exist to circumvent a creative and distributive process that ought to work well in the motion picture industry. Or they exist for self-aggrandizement or worse, such as meaningless awards based on anything but merit or segregation according to race, sex or sexual orientation, which I think is a rotten idea. I think film festivals are fine if they’re based on a legitimate idea, such as recognition of an artist, genre or theme, such as Buster Keaton, silent film or history depicted in comedy. This is why I accepted an invitation to host the centenary series of John Wayne movies during an Orange County, California, festival in 2007.

This is also why I decided to attend TCM’s festival this year. Classic movies are certainly a legitimate topic for study and celebration. I’m glad I attended and I plan to post more extensive coverage in the coming days, including new reviews of films coming up on TCM (‘Like’ my Facebook page for regularly posted mini-reviews of films on TCM’s lineup). Among the movies: Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott, Gunga Din (1939), Malcolm X (1992), Viva Zapata! (1952), So Dear to My Heart (1949) and The Sound of Music (1965). This last picture celebrates its 50th anniversary, which afforded the festival an opportunity to invite its surviving principals to a special showing at Grauman’s (now TCL) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where co-star Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Would Be King, Malcolm X) pressed his hands into the Chinese’s famous forecourt.

In fact, the 50th anniversary screening was presented as the festival’s opening night gala, though new media was not permitted to attend the screening or the gala and the film’s stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, were not available for interview. They were there, looking good and doing scads of snippets and shots for television, and they were joined by others in attendance, including TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Also attending were producer David Ladd (The Proud Rebel), 100-year-old Norman Lloyd (Limelight, Saboteur), who’s one sharp fellow, cast members from Grease, Robert Morse (The Loved One, TV’s Mad Men)Zach Galligan (Gremlins), who told me that he learned to focus from a master when he worked with Christopher Plummer, Diane Baker (The Diary of Anne Frank), editor Anne Coates (Lawrence of Arabia), director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy), sound effects editor Ben Burtt (Lincoln, Star Trek, Super 8), visual effects artist Craig Barron (Hugo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Captain America, Terminator: Salvation), Leonard Maltin and Anthony Quinn’s widow, Katherine, my favorite guest speaker for her sharp insights about the work of her late husband.

The festival’s theme was History According to Hollywood. From films about Mexican revolutionaries and Islamic radicals to the musical about a family fleeing the Nazis, the theme played well with TCM’s Mankiewicz, Leonard Maltin and others filling in for the ailing Robert Osborne throughout the festival. The site of the first Academy Awards® ceremony is the festival’s official hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and venues include Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and other Hollywood Boulevard and nearby picture houses.

21-year-old Turner Classic Movies (TCM)part of Turner Broadcasting System, a Time Warner company, presents great films uncut and commercial-free from one of the world’s largest film libraries. TCM features commentary and insights by Mankiewicz and Mr. Osborne, interviews, documentaries, series such as The Essentials, annual programming such as 31 Days of Oscar®, this annual festival and the TCM Classic Cruise, as well as the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City and Los Angeles (review of the LA tour to come). TCM also produces books and DVDs and a databsae at tcm.com and through the Watch TCM mobile app.

Festival logistics pose a challenge because there’s so much to do and it’s held in a congested area. Between government road closures, which are common and sudden and can add 30 minutes to a pedestrian transport, and criminals and religious fanatics (Korean women screaming ‘please don’t go to hell!’ in broken English are an especially warm welcome), guests may feel lucky to make it from the Roosevelt to the Egyptian without being run over or assaulted. The dodgy area is policed by police officers that hide in shadowy corners chatting and generally not actively, visibly policing and that’s when they’re on patrol. One guest Tweeted that Loews overbooked and gave away her room, which she said she’d reserved in December, and she had no place to stay. Other gripes include overcrowding, spiked prices (packages went up this year, topping at $1,800) and a general sense that the quality of programming and organizing is not as high. People were peeved that TCM didn’t announce that Robert Osborne, the fountainhead of TCM, would not be attending as advertised until days before the commencement. Among media, consensus is that the red carpet was a bust.

The movies and guests comprise the whole value of the experience. These and a waiter at the Roosevelt named Ted who in one evening of exceptional service at the makeshift Club TCM (where the Oscars were first held) exhibited better branding and relationship building skills than everyone else in the 4-day conference combined. Guest demographics, and TCM’s viewers are the most passionate, knowledgeable, informed and intelligent moviegoers on earth, are overwhelmingly older and white, though not entirely, with the American middle class and upper middle class well represented. I met married couples from Long Beach, Atlanta and New York City, bloggers from Scotland, filmmakers and movie geeks from Hollywood and Asia and bright executives from TCM, the studios and movie industry centers around the world. It’s an amazing, whip-smart group of people. For instance, I talked with three young men from New York at the closing party whose favorite film was Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) starring Buster Keaton, which was accompanied by a live orchestra. These guys knew everything about the movie and its cast, history and availability. In my experience, the guests are better informed and more knowledgeable about movies than those asking questions.

My favorite part of the festival is watching movies with politically incorrect audiences and then speaking freely about the films, ideas and themes afterwards. It is refreshing and recharging. Everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has favorites. Everyone has constructive criticism of the festival, the industry, Hollywood and its environs. In other words, they’re freethinkers driven by values and a sense that the best in life is achievable, realizable and worth fighting for—and that the ideal can and ought to be projected in movies, then thought, written and spoken about with seriousness of purpose.

This is the best aspect of TCM’s Classic Film Festival; that movies once made should be seen, uncut and considered, discussed and, in a certain sense, revered. Reverence for classic movies, in keeping with the channel’s and company’s founder Ted Turner’s original vision, is what Turner Classic Movies does best. It’s what drives the channel, its products, growth and progress and its host and audience. It’s what keeps me watching TCM and wanting to see and talk about movies with those who do, too. Let others say “it’s only a movie”. TCM’s Classic Film Festival is for those who know better.

Fall Tales

SheridanRoadPhilDonahueCoverSept2014Part of my exclusive interview with Phil Donahue is featured as this month’s cover story for a suburban Chicago magazine (pictured here). There’s much more to the story and I must say that the television industry legend is as thoughtful and passionate as ever about a wide range of topics. I plan to share more of the Donahue interview soon.

I am making other tales and happy at work this fall. Having finished Leonard Peikoff’s writing course, I am focusing on pitches and projects in a variety of genres. I’m also helping businesses, charities and celebrities tell stories. Next week’s writing workshop, in which I will share my thoughts and ideas on the writing process based on what I’ve learned after two decades of writing, is at maximum capacity. The sponsor, Mood Designer Fabrics, asked me to add another series this fall and winter.

goodworkhabitsAmong these 90-minute classes, presented in a weekly sequence with visual aids, are workshops in being productive (pictured), the writing process, branding, blogging, public relations, social media, sales and planning the perfect event, whether a book signing, conference or celebration, which I see as the potential proper starting and/or ending point and reward for good work and communication. Each workshop can be taken as a separate class or students can attend the entire 9-part series, beginning on October 23. Admission to classes, which are sponsored by Mood U School, is free. I’m also teaching a new course on social media.

Look for new posts about upcoming and recent movies, TV programs and books on Aristotle, Ayn Rand’s We the Living adapted by the author as a play and Norman Lear’s autobiography.