Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Robert Ellis: Vincent Gardenia & MOONSTRUCK

Robert Ellis

Last week a friend posted a tribute to the memory of Jackie Gleason. Gleason, of course, was an entertainment powerhouse who also played Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners and Minnesota Fats in The Hustler. His obvious range as an actor and a comedian, his grace and talent, was so vast it defied measurement.

Jackie Gleason in The Hustler
I'd like to throw another name into the ring. A character actor I fell for the moment I first saw him on the screen. Vincent Gardenia. The two men had completely different careers and I would never compare them except to say that like Gleason, Gardenia could play anyone from any walk of life, and do it in a unique and memorable way.

Vincent Gardenia in Moonstruck

A few nights ago I saw the movie Moonstruck for the first time in a long time. I may deal in detective stories and thrillers, but I love New York romantic comedies -- the sophistication, the intelligence, the laughs that the writers, directors, and actors work for instead of taking the easy way out. I worry that with the dumbing down of the population, the trend toward cheap, cornball humor -- the kind you see every night on American network TV in prime time and weekend late night -- will sweep everything of quality away. That the New York romantic comedy will end because no one will know how to make them anymore.

Director Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally
A tradition that seemed to begin with Billy Wilder and films like The Apartment, continued with Woody Allen in Play It Again Sam and Annie Hall, went radioactive with Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally, and Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle, and then Norman Jewison's gem of a movie in Moonstruck. Imagine this cast ... Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, John Mahoney, and Danny Aiello all hitting a high note at the same time and in the same film. That's Moonstruck. I'm really glad I watched it, and I can't wait to see it again.

Sleep loose,


Monday, April 13, 2015

Robert Ellis: Buchan & Hitchcock Revisited

Robert Ellis

The innocent man ... my compassion for characters on the run and falsely accused of unspeakable crimes ... my distrust for all those in authority ... the fear of being chased and grabbed from behind ... the terror in trying to outrun the monster that's gaining ground right behind me ... that moment in a bad dream that has gone so overwhelmingly bad I wake up with my heart pounding ... I check the time and realize that even though it's only 3:00 a.m., I'm not going to get back to sleep tonight!

John Buchan, a.k.a Lord Tweedsmuir

I love it! It's time to read John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps again, or maybe even The Powerhouse, a stand-alone he wrote that I must have read more than fifteen times. When I'm meeting with a book club and mention my reading habits, everyone usually laughs. I have this thing about reading my top ten list every year. I read them over and over again, and love every minute of it. The practice started in college. I had a special place on my bookshelf dedicated to my ten favorite books. The titles changed over time, but not by much. They are part of who I am now. Several titles from the original list remain on my special shelf to this day!

Hitchcock's Masterpiece from Buchan's Thriller

As I think it over right now, the idea of revisiting a book once a year may have come from my film studies. It's more than common for film students to watch a movie many, many times in order to understand how the screenwriter and director put the story together. I can remember being so fascinated with the films of Bernardo Bertolucci and Akira Kurosawa. I finally stopped watching Last Tango in Paris after I walked out of a midnight show and realized that this was the twenty-first time I'd seen the film. With Kurosawa's Rashomon I stopped counting after fifteen screenings, but would go again in heartbeat.
That's just how I like it! And so now it's time to read John Buchan again ...

Sleep loose,

Friday, April 10, 2015

Down for the Count

Robert Ellis

I wasn't feeling too hot this week so I started digging around the medicine cabinet. That trusted bottle of 666 Cold Preparation looked a tad old, but I didn't really feel like getting in the car. It took about five minutes to dust off the bottle and free the cap. Then I closed my eyes and took a swig!

My oh my -- they used stronger ingredients back then!

666 Cold Preparation
When my mind cleared (ever so slightly!), I decided to take the afternoon off and stumbled over to my audiobook collection. Lawrence Block jumped out at me. The Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Today I picked THE BURGLAR WHO THOUGHT HE WAS BOGART, but the truth is, I could have picked any book from this series and enjoyed the afternoon. If you haven't read a book from the Rhodenbarr series, the basics are this. Bernie runs a bookstore, but he's also a master thief. The novels are light and full of laughs. But even more, one of the best things about listening to his work on audio is the fact that Block reads some of his novels, and some special editions of these novels, himself. When Block's doing the reading, he brings his vivacious personality to the sound booth and just lets it all out. Discovering each novel feels like coming upon a new gem.

If I was in the business of reviewing audiobooks, which I'm not, I'd still call the Bernie Rhodenbarr series read by Lawrence Block a 5 Star experience. It made my afternoon. Either the novel did, or the ride I took on that old bottle of 666 Cold Preparation!

Sleep loose,