White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

I Know Places

This has really been a most unsettling year.

Remember as 2019 was coming to a close and we were all looking forward to that hellish year ending and a brand new start in 2020? Yeah, that’s why I am pointedly not looking forward to this year ending and a different year beginning for 2021. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

And at least in 2019 we had the greatest LSU football season of all time to enjoy from September through January. (And yes, I still go back sometimes, when I am feeling down, blue, or depressed, and rewatch games from that wonderful season. And I won’t feel bad about it, no matter how much you try to shame me, primarily because I’m not ashamed of it.)

Today is a strange day, in which I am either working at home or taking a personal day of some sort; I haven’t really yet decided what I am actually going to do today; I have condom packing supplies and as long as I have Internet access I can do work-related things. I wasn’t quite sure what precisely I was going to wake up to this morning; the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty kept shifting gradually more and more to the east as yesterday progressed, until when I checked before going to bed New Orleans, and in fact all of southeastern Louisiana, was no longer in that dread Cone anymore. That bullseye was squarely on the panhandles of Mississippi and Alabama, and the storm had also slowed; landfall moved from the wee hours of tonight/tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening, possibly Wednesday morning. My heart breaks for that stretch of the Gulf Coast, and my friends in harm’s way–and of course, we still don’t know what to expect here. Ah, the lovely, unbearably bearable stress and suspense of hurricane season–and there’re even more systems out there in the Atlantic basin.

Hurray!

But now that I’ve checked, I see that we are going to be missed; it continues to creep forward with now landfall projected to be sometime tomorrow night, and we’re back down to merely a tropical storm warning. It’s a relief, of course, but horrible for where it’s coming ashore, as I mentioned earlier. The weather here is weird and hazy, yet still sunny; the sun is behind some haze, making it seem grayish-yellow outside my windows this morning, but there you have it.

We started watching a most delightful Mexican dramedy last night on Netflix: The House of Flowers, or La Casa de las Flores, and it is absolutely wonderful. We probably would have stayed up all night watching; fortunately, Paul had the strength and fortitude to stop the binge in its tracks.

As I was making condom packs yesterday afternoon, I continued with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, watching American Graffiti and Marathon Man. That might seem like an odd pairing, and one might not think American Graffiti actually fits into the Festival, but I remembered the one time I saw the film, decades ago, and remembered it being rather a dark film. It’s debut brought on a wave of nostalgia for the 1950’s in the 1970’s–the music, the clothes, the things the teens did in the movie–but the movie was actually set in 1962, not the 1950’s, but most of the music was from the 1950’s. American Graffiti‘s success led to another revival, for example, of the Beach Boys; eventually led to the series Happy Days (which also starred Ron Howard–although in the movie he was billed as Ronnie Howard, a holdover from The Andy Griffith Show); and sparked that 50’s nostalgia trend I mentioned earlier. The movie really doesn’t have much of a plot, other than it’s the last night in town for Steve and Curt, who are leaving the next morning for college in the east somewhere. Steve is dating Curt’s sister Laurie, who is head cheerleader and will be a senior when school starts, Curt is having second thoughts about leaving for college; Steve cannot wait to get away from the unnamed town, which was director/writer George Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. These three are played by Thomas, a very young Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams. Basically, the movie follows them and a few of their friends throughout this last night, as Steve and Curt decide about their futures. It’s really about growing up and making decisions about who you are and what your life is going to be, and while rather light-hearted in tone for the most part, there are dark elements to the movie as well–and the end, with Curt flying east, and as the plane is silhouetted against the clouds, a scroll lets us know what happens to the four male characters: Steve is an insurance salesman, Curt is a writer living in Canada, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, and John was killed by a drunk driver. There’s a definitely 50’s feel to the movie, even though it’s set in 1962–some say the 50’s didn’t really end until the JFK assassination–but it’s not as “feel-good” as one might think. There’s sadness and poignancy in the movie, as well. And of course, it’s the film that launched numerous careers, including Lucas’; the afore-mentioned stars, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others. It wasn’t as heavy drama as The Last Picture Show, which was another dark film about teenagers in the 1950’s, but it’s still darker than most people think of it.

Marathon Man definitely belongs in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. William Goldman adapted his novel for the screen–I read the book, never saw the movie (although the sadistic dentist scene is legendary; it was much worse in the book)–and now that I’ve seen the film, there’s no question about it. The film opens with an old man going to a ban and checking his safe deposit box; his car stalls, which starts a road rage incident with another old man, with the two men swearing at each other in German and the second man realizing the first man is anti-Semitic, if not an actual Nazi, and so begins a car duel between the two that ends with both of them crashing into a fuel truck and being killed. The film then cuts to Dustin Hoffman, who is training to run a marathon. He is also working on his PhD in history, trying to clear his father’s name–his father was smeared during McCarthyism in the 1950’s and ruined, finally killing himself. Because his brother, played by Roy Scheider, works for a mysterious secret agency for the government (doing the things in that gray area between the FBI and CIA), is somehow involved with actual Nazis who escaped from Germany at the end of the war (we never really learn why our government helped those Nazis escape–although that’s actually true; in most cases it was scientists we set to work on the space program), Hoffman actually becomes involved peripherally with this case through no fault of his own, and people are now trying to not only kill him but torture him as well, trying to find out “if it’s safe”, and he has no idea what they are talking about. This is the ultimate paranoia/conspiracy movie: an innocent person being stalked and his life threatened and he has no idea why, and all he can do is try to stay alive and figure it all out (this is also the underlying story of some of Hitchcock’s best films, and many Robert Ludlum novels), and there is quite literally no one he can trust: not the woman he is seeing, not his brother’s fellow agent, and certainly not any of the Nazi henchmen. It’s a good thriller, but I don’t think it would make it today because of the pacing and the slow developing plot, but once it starts rolling it really goes quickly.

It also reminded me that another element of the 1970’s was actual Nazis; Israelis were still hunting down and exterminating war criminals, and the war and the Holocaust were still in recent enough memory that it was still very much in the public consciousness. War novels still proliferated (this was the decade Herman Wouk published both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance), it also brought forth William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Ira Levin’s brilliant The Boys from Brazil. Ludlum’s career also got rolling in the 1970’s, and one of his first novels dealt with Nazis–as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as villains, with the Vatican a close second; one of my favorite Ludlums, The Gemini Contenders, used both.

And now back to the spice mines.