Celebrate Halloween with the Master of Suspense

October 23, 2017 – Halloween is perfect for an Alfred Hitchcock marathon. He may not be the classic horror film director, but he is the “Master of Suspense”.

Here’s a list of my top ten favorites. Considering the man directed 53 films from 1924 through 1975 – I haven’t seen them all, but I did see more than half – this was a bit more difficult than I expected.

10. Psycho – Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in a spine-tingling horror film that focuses on a young man tormented by his past and his mother. Aren’t we all? Not my favorite Hitchcock film by far, but arguably his most popular or at least his best known, so it earns a #10 spot on my list. That, and it’s still hard not to think about this movie, especially whenever I step into the shower while traveling.

9. The Birds – Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are headliners in this Hitchcock classic, but those nasty birds are the real stars. The plot has the feathered creatures mysteriously attacking anyone and anything in their way. This was the first Hitchcock movie I remember seeing as a child, and it had a huge impact on me. Just like the Night Galley earwig episode that had me sleeping with cotton in my ears, this movie made me wary of our feathered friends for a long time.

8. Rear Window – This film, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, takes spying on your neighbors – and who doesn’t enjoy that – to extremes. Long considered one of the Master’s finest, a photographer (Stewart) is laid up with a broken leg, which leaves him plenty of time to watch from his rear window, and allow himself to get caught up in the drama that his is neighbors’ lives. And what drama that becomes.

7. Vertigo – In this strange film, James Stewart, with Kim Novak this time, both find themselves caught in a never-ending spiral of deception and obsession. Stewart plays a private detective who must search for the truth behind the death of a woman he loved. One of the most interesting characteristics of this movie is the way Hitch filmed it in a dreamlike haze.

6. The Man Who Knew Too Much – It’s Doris Day’s turn to star with Jimmy Stewart in this Hitchcock thriller about an American family accidentally caught up in an assassination plot. This was a remake of Hitchcock’s early 1934 movie, which is interesting on its own. How many directors get to remake their own movies? It also introduced the world to the Doris Day classic hit, “Que Sera Sera”. No offense to Day, but check out Pink Martini’s version of “Que Sera Sera”.

5. Strangers on a Train – Hitchcock used a lot of trains and train references in his movies, whether actually filming on a train, or just used as a Freudian symbol, as in “North by Northwest”. “Strangers on a Train” starring Farley Granger and Ruth Roman in a must-see classic tells this tale of strangers who take on each other’s murders. It’s one of Hitch’s only movies to use all B list actors, but it’s still one of his most intriguing. It also inspired the Danny DeVito comedy, “Throw Momma from the Train”, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

4. Spellbound – Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman play the amnesic impersonating a famous psychologist and the doctor who wants to save him even if he is guilty of murder to perfection in this Hitchcock thriller. The fact that this is a black and white movie from the early 1940s, adds even more intrigue and suspense to the plot.

3. To Catch a Thief – When Hitch combines romance and intrigue with a seaside resort on the French Riviera, and stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, how could he go wrong? Grant plays a reformed jewel thief who is suspected of a rash of burglaries, and Kelly, the woman who is drawn to him, yet worried she’ll become his latest victim.

2. North by Northwest – Cary Grand and Eva Marie Saint star in a heart-stopping suspense tale with a little bit of everything mixed in. You’ve got your classic mistaken identity, a man who is falsely accused, a chance meeting on a train, and a beautiful blonde, a little voyeurism, and Hitchcock spins it all masterfully. Not to mention a nice trip across the U.S., from the streets of New York, to the cornfields of Illinois, and the majesty that is Mount Rushmore.

1. Notorious – Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a classic tale of love and betrayal. Grant plays a FBI agent who must send the woman he loves to seduce a Nazi conspirator. Like Casablanca, I can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it because it has everything from great acting to heart-wrenching romance, and plenty of suspense. Not only is it my favorite Hitchcock, but also it might be my favorite movie of all time.

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The Funniest Movies of All Time

October 2, 2017 – Nothing cures what ails you better than a hearty belly laugh.

This list of the 150 funniest movies of all time from Ranker.com inspired me to put together a list of my own. I’ll limit mine to 10.

10. Being There – My top ten reads like a slapstick movie fest, except for this little gem that entertains with its understated comedy. Peter Sellers may be best known for Pink Panther comedies, but his role in Being There outshines them all. Playing Chance, the gardener, whose simple expressions are mistaken for pure genius, earned Sellers an Oscar nomination.

9. O’ Brother Where Art Thou – From the many Coen Brothers movies out there, The Big Lebowski often gets the highest praise when it comes to comedy. It is one of their best, but nothing made me giggle more than the three ex cons in O’ Brother Where Art Thou. This tribute to Homer’s The Odyssey is a hoot and a half.

8. Stripes – Stripes plays out like one long funny Saturday Night Live sketch and marks the beginning of the movie relationship between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. Murray playing the role of a lovable loser who joins the army after his girlfriend dumps him worked perfectly. He made quite a name for himself in silly comedies before he became a fine and serious actor.

7. The Jerk – There aren’t too many funnier roles than Steve Martin’s in The Jerk. The imbecile who was raised by poor black family in the south, yet didn’t know he was adopted, is a role Martin was born to play, and it is him at his early finest before he took the path to more serious roles like Bill Murray. And the script, which Martin also wrote, has so many quotable lines that I still use today, such as “He doesn’t like these cans!”.

6. Groundhog Day – Even though the same day was played over and over in his deliciously funny film, it’s one of the only movies I can watch over and over again without getting tired of it. Another terrific Bill Murray vehicle.

5. His Girl Friday – How can I list my favorite movies of any genre without including a Cary Grant film in the mix? He may have been funnier in Arsenic and Old Lace, but the overall script was more hilarious in His Girl Friday, and when you add in a marvelously funny Rosalind Russell, it’s way over the top good.

4. Young Frankenstein – Mel Brooks’ hilarious script and casting of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Marty Feldman all blend together to make this movie a true comic classic. And let’s not forget Peter Boyle, who played the monster to perfection.

3. Fletch – Chevy Chase made some fine movies in the 70s before he suddenly wasn’t funny anymore. Fletch, the investigative reporter from Los Angeles was the funniest of all his movies by far. The characters he created while undercover were hilarious and the script, which was based on the series of novels by Gregory MacDonald was top-notch. Every time I think of Mr. Poon, I laugh out loud.

2. The Naked Gun – This Airplane motivated comedy was the first and funniest of all the Police Squad movies and even inspired a television series. Leslie Nelson, who apparently acted the same in his movies, delivers the role of Lt. Frank Drebin flawlessly. It was only in the 1980s that we found his performances funny.

1. Airplane! – This is the slapstick comedy that started it all. It was the parody of all parodies with the greatest one-liners of all time. And a deadpanned Leslie Nelson delivered most of them. Yes, I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

Ten Things Don’t Like…in No Particular Order!

August 7, 2017 — 1. Political campaigns. Once upon a time, I found politics interesting and almost enjoyable. But after the ugliness of this last presidential campaign and the horror that continues each, I am disgusted by most politicians and most of the media. I used to enjoy a good political debate now and then, but they even turn my stomach now. We’ve accepted negative campaigning as the norm these days, the constant bickering of both political parties, who have all of the power, making them something I don’t like at all.

2. Alarm clocks. How wonderful would it be if we all woke up naturally every morning, without the annoying sounds of an alarm to jump-start our day? After years of waking up for work, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off anyway, but the idea of alarm clocks still bother me.

3. Bad umpires. I’m talking about those nasty men at the major league level with enough ego and attitude to ruin a great ball game or even an entire season with a bad call. Those bad calls seem to come more frequently these days (does anyone know where the strike zone is anymore?) and yet they are never accountable for their botched calls. Note to all major league baseball umpires: People pay to see the players, not you. So, don’t try to steal the show with your crazy theatrics.

4. Bullying. My heart goes out to anyone who struggles with physical or mental abuse from the cowards who bully them. It’s nice to see bullying laws and policies changing for the better across the country, but it won’t be enough until we all wake up and realize we should support each other instead of knocking each other down.

5. Littering. Why would anyone think it is acceptable throw their trash out of a car window or anywhere outside? I realize we are a disposable society, and we have far too much trash, but the least we can do is get rid of it properly. Maybe TV executives should rerun those commercials from the 1970s that showed the Native American running through the woods with a tear rolling down his cheek when he comes across all of the trash on the ground. If that image isn’t enough to make you stop throwing your garbage in the great outdoors, you don’t have a soul.

6. Math. Math actually scares me more than annoys me, but I put it on this list because either way I look at it, I don’t like it. I’m not talking about basic math – I can add, subtract, multiply and divide with the best of them – but anything beyond that is not comprehensible to me. It’s difficult for me to believe that without math we wouldn’t have music…or art…or… I like to think of math as logical and music and the arts as creative, and in my world they remain opposites.

7. Arrogant people. I don’t want to spend time around people who are pretentious or overbearing, who show a complete disregard for others, or who have an exaggerated opinion of themselves. And there’s nothing else to say about the matter.

8. Heat waves. It’s been a long hot summer, and I’m ready for a change in temperature. I actually don’t care for the extremes of hot or cold, but I’d take the winter over the summer any day. Like politics, weather perfection is found in the middle. Give me spring and fall year round and I’m happy.

9. Waiting. We all know them. Those people who are never on time for anything; the type who show up at 10:30 when you were supposed to meet at 10 and think nothing of it. I’m a punctual person, and I believe it’s considerate of people’s time to show up when I say I will. Occasional trip ups are acceptable; we can’t control everything in life, such as traffic jams or anything else that can slow us down now and then. But the perpetually late people who keep me waiting is different. I may like or even love you, but I don’t like it when you keep me waiting.

10. The day after. I’ve never cared for the day after a big event, especially one that you’ve planned and looked forward to for a long time, such as a wedding, a reunion, Christmas, or any big social event. The day after is always a letdown, and often leaves you feeling blah, and like you don’t have anything else to look forward to. Fortunately, that feeling leaves as quickly as it arrives when life moves on and you have no choice but to go along with it.

10 Things I Love About Spring

April 17, 2017 – After a cruel winter, it is a pleasure to welcome spring. Here are 10 things I adore about the season:

10. Longer days – What a joy it is to drive home from work and still experience daylight.

9. Warmer temperatures – Spring is perfect “no utility” weather. There is no need for heat or air-conditioning.

8. Taking photos – Everywhere you go looks like a picture postcard. Fresh blooms are enough to make any amateur photographer look like a pro.

7. Birds singing – Even the sound of birds chirping in the morning is a true pleasure.

6. Dining alfresco – I love sitting at outdoor restaurants and cafes in the city on spring days. It is great for the soul and for people watching.

5. Spring cleaning – Is it crazy that I love to clean in the spring? It makes me feel lighter to get rid of stuff we do not use.

4. Shopping at the farmer’s market – We have our pick of plenty of options in southeastern Pennsylvania, which gives us access to the best fresh produce around.

3. Cherry blossoms and azaleas – I like flowers, but never have I gone completely bonkers over them. I do enjoy spring blooms like cherry blossoms and azaleas, though. They are short-lived and much appreciated.

2. Sandals and open toe shoes – To get my feet in shape for the sandal season, I used a Pure Pedi foot peel. I was skeptical, but it worked wonders. Like a snake, I shed a lot of skin on my feet (and that was a little gross). However, I love the baby soft skin underneath.

1. Open windows – Yes, open windows are my most favorite thing about the season. There is nothing better than letting the fresh air in and watching the curtains flutter in the breeze.

The 25 best sports movies of all time

041414-sportsmovies-fieldofdreamsstill-vnocropresize-940-529-medium-87September 23, 2016 – In honor of baseball’s upcoming playoffs (better luck next year Phillies) and the football excitement that has returned to Philadelphia and the Eagles, courtesy of Carson Wentz, here is Time Magazine’s all-time 25 best sports movies.

It’s nice to see four baseball movies made the list, namely Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, Field of Dreams, and Major League, but there should have been a few more. What about Pride of the Yankees or The Natural?

Just about every sport imaginable is represented, even the obscure ones like synchronized swimming. It is a little odd that the only football movie is The Freshman from 1925. I never saw it but I’ll go out on a limb and say they could have made a better choice.

Bad Cinema – 18 family pics for the worst movie ever

cinemashutterstock_129623003September 9, 2016 – A family gathering provided a perfect opportunity to ask everyone to name the worst movie they ever saw. Here is The McMaster’s List of Bad Cinema, better known as movies you want to avoid.

Night of the Living Dead. The cult classic from 1968, a small, independent horror film that cost only $114,000 to make, is my father’s selection. Since it’s gone on to make $18 million internationally, that original $114,000 seems like a rather good investment. Yet, the story is laughable; two teenagers drive to rural Pennsylvania to visit their father’s grave. They find something amiss at the cemetery; all of the corpses have come back to life with the sole purpose of killing every human in sight. I’m still puzzled by this, since the zombies move slower than a snails’ pace and any typical human could out run them with ease.

Love Me Tender. Elvis Presley starred in my mother’s pick for the worst movie she’s ever seen. It was his first movie role, which should explain volumes, and viewing it was a part of her first date with my father. The 1956 black and white movie cast Elvis as a Civil War soldier, and a corny one at that. Although I’ve never seen it, Mom says that the death scene, where Elvis succumbs to whatever kills him, is laughable. But Elvis went on to have a pretty lucrative movie career despite her poor review. My parents went on to have four children and nine grandchildren, so things worked out pretty well for them, too.

Hot Tub Time Machine. I’ve never heard of this movie from 2010, but it’s my sister, Linda’s pick for worst ever. Just by the title alone, it sounds awful. The premise may be creative: a malfunctioning hot tub (which also happens to be a time machine) at a ski resort takes a group of young men back to 1986 where they must relive a fateful night. The cast includes John Cusack (who signifies the 1980s on film). Alas, she tells me it is one “really immature piece of filmmaking.”

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I’m not too familiar with this film, selected by my brother-in-law, Roland, but at least I’ve heard of it. This British spy film from 1965 starred Richard Burton in the lead role and focused on espionage during the cold war. Although it did get some good reviews, it’s definitely not a movie that you should expect a child to love. Roland admits he was young when he saw it, and it obviously left a terrible impression. Perhaps another viewing as an adult is in order to form a true opinion, but Roland decided to stick to his guns on this one.

Water World. Another one that would make my all-time bad list is the selection of my brother-in-law, Rex. This bleak futuristic piece of garbage from 1995 has humans has surviving some kind of disaster (perhaps the polar caps melted) and searching for dry land. While some viewers thought it was the most underrated movie ever, I think Rex agrees with me that this feature deserved a Razzie, which it earned, instead of an Oscar, and is regarded as one of the biggest flops in the history of motion pictures.

The English Patient. Speaking of Oscars, my sister, Patti’s pick won a whopping nine of them, including Best Picture in 1997. However, I have to agree that it was pretty bad. Perhaps you could argue that the cinematography was great, but the story was too long and dreadfully boring. I didn’t hate it, but Patti did, and so did Elaine Benes, on Seinfeld who said the movie “stunk!”

Tree of Life. Despite its critical acclaim and award nominations, my brother David has named this movie the biggest piece of crap he’s ever seen in his life. While his opinion may seem harsh, I admit I didn’t like it either, mainly because I didn’t understand it. The film, nominated for the 2011 Best Picture, stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, so you’d think it would be a powerhouse. Instead, it turns into a collection of scenes that never fit together and were not entertaining in the least. For me, this is a huge wasted effort on the part of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and apparently for my brother, too.

Mom and Dad Save the World. My nephew, Rick’s pick as the worst movie he’s ever seen, is a stupid comedy from 1992 that defies all imaginable logic. I remember seeing this when it was out on video back in the day, and I agree with his assessment. It stars Jeffrey Jones, the man who played the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and who just happens to totally freak me out in every role he plays. He’s just one of those actors that gives me the creeps! There are so many brilliant comedies out there, so why anyone would want to waste their time on this one is beyond me, and apparently, Rick too.

Troll 2. My niece, Lauren’s pick is another one that I’ve missed (thankfully) but a little research tells me it showed up on a lot of best worst movie lists in 1990. There are no well-known stars in the horror movie comedy, but Rotten Tomatoes has this to say about it: “There are movies that are bad. Then there are movies that are so bad, they’re good.” Still, it only scores 6 percent on the Tomatometer, so it can’t be that bad good.

Titanic. Admittedly, my nephew Ryan isn’t a movie person. He considers watching one too much of an investment of his time because it’s two hours you’ll never get back, or in this case, the three hours plus it would take to see this 1997 James Cameron vehicle. Therefore, he considers “Titanic” the worst movie ever made, and while I wasn’t a huge fan, I think it had its good moments, but I know plenty of people who would give him a high-five for his brave choice.

Limitless. I never saw or heard of this thriller from 2011, but it’s my son, Charlie’s pick for worst movie. At the first read of the review, the plot seems a little intriguing. A writer, played by Bradley Cooper, who is suffering from writer’s block, decides he has nothing to lose and tries a new drug that allows him to tap into his full potential. But oh, those damn side effects. The movie also stars Robert DeNiro, who’s had his share of stinkers lately, and also appears in another movie further down on our family list.

Constantine. My niece Leigh’s selection for the movie she ‘s loathed the most is the 2005 fantasy thriller “Constantine”. The film deals with your basic nightmare, and stars Keanu Reeves (hmm … stars and Keanu Reeves … isn’t that an oxymoron) as the man who sees all and therefore must save the world from the evils of hell. I think Leigh and I both agree that the poor script and the casting is truly the devil’s work indeed.

Birdman. Apparently my family doesn’t care much for the Oscar winners. My nephew, Adam’s pick won Best Picture and Best Actor (Michael Keaton) in 2014. This is another I haven’t seen, and I’m not sure I want to add it to my list after Adam’s review. Honestly, I had no desire to see it before Adam’s review! I know a lot of people who loved it, but they are equaled by those like Adam, who hated every minute of it. Happy birthday, Adam!

The Green Lantern. Another recent film from 2011 that made our most despised list is this pick from my nephew, Macey. Strange, he’s the targeted age group for super hero movies, yet he says it was the stupidest movie ever. This is another movie I haven’t seen, but I’m not really into the super hero thing. I think I can live the rest of my life comfortably if I skip this one altogether, and I can safely assume that Macey doesn’t ever want to see it again, either.

The Intern. My niece, Carly’s pick, is the most recent release on the list. This 2015 Robert DeNiro, Anne Hathaway vehicle is probably fresh in everyone’s minds since it is running on cable TV right now, and I watched it about a month ago. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it as much as Carly did. I need to ask her if it’s an Anne Hathaway thing (since many people despise her) or it was the movie itself that was a turnoff. It made me a little uncomfortable to know that Hathaway’s character was DeNiro’s boss in the film, since he can run circles around her every which way, but I suppose that’s why they call it acting.

Avatar the Airbender. I never heard of my nephew, David’s pick, from 2010. I know the original Avatar, if they are at all related, but the name of this movie escapes me completely, so it took a bit of research to discover that it’s an action fantasy adventure written and directed by none other than M. Night Shyamalan. Reading the reviews, it seems like David is not alone in his assessment. Many people sat in the theater praying for this movie to end. Shyamalan defends his movie, though, and about a year ago, it was announced that he’s making a sequel. Yikes.

Jack and Jill. This Adam Sandler comedy, about a set of brother and sister twins, both played by Sandler, is my nephew, Jack’s selection. The movie was released in 2011, when Sandler was cranking out one bad comedy movie after another and likely making a fortune, but I have to agree with Jack, that this one is the worst of the bunch. It only scored 3 percent on the Tomatometer, the lowest I ever saw. I also couldn’t find one positive review from a critic, and I’m not sure that ever happened before.

Nothing But Trouble. This insane piece of celluloid is my pick for the Worst. Movie. Ever! You’d think a movie that starred Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy (all in their prime) and Demi Moore (fresh off her success in the mega hit “Ghost”) had a lot of potential. I certainly thought so when I went to see this so-called comedy in 1991. Turns out it was the scariest movie I ever saw and not because it was supposed to be. It tells the story of a four people who get arrested for speeding in route from New York City to Atlantic City. They become prisoners of the kooky bunch of nut jobs who live in the small, quaint New Jersey town. I feel awful that I forced my son to see this piece of monstrosity when he was a young, impressionable boy.

Now it’s your turn. I encourage you to add your selections to the comments below so we can save other readers wasting their time on bad cinema.

Ranking the Best

featherNovember 5, 2015 – Who are the best writers of all time?

According to those who rated them on Ranker.com, here is the incredibly long list.

It’s interesting how far you have to scroll down to find a female author, or someone who is alive. It’s even more interesting how much more scrolling is required before you find a mainstream author. There aren’t too many on the list.

Looks like I’m in the minority because I enjoy modern fiction more than the classics.