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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Celebrating the Written Word

October 16, 2017 — This Friday is The National Day on Writing and that’s cause for celebration.

Selecting a day to honor the written word began as a project by the National Council of English Teachers to encourage people to share why they write. If you visit their website you can view video clips of several popular writers commenting on this topic.

The site also asked writers to tweet why they write. Here are a few responses that caught my eye:

1. “It’s cheaper than a shrink.”
2. “I can’t always say what I want to be heard.”
3. “To retain sanity.”
4. “To become a better person.”
5. “It’s the first thing I was good at.”
6. “There are restless characters clamoring to get out.”
7. “Because I can lie things into existence.”
8. “It comes out a heck of a lot better than when I speak.”
9. “It’s the least destructive addiction I could find.”
10. “Who says I have a choice?”

While I can relate to most many of these responses, especially #8, my answer is a little more simplistic. I write because it makes me happy.

It’s that time of year, Charlie Brown!

October 9, 2017 – Walking through the mall this weekend, I noticed that the friendly newsstand outside of Macy’s is stocked up and ready to sell 2018 calendars. Front and center was the Peanuts Wall Calendar, which I buy my son each Christmas. I also pick one up for my cubicle at work. It’s tradition.

It is too early to pick them just yet, but it got me thinking that Charlie Brown season here once again. Soon we’ll see promos for television specials like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and yes, even “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Good grief! It’s the best three months of the year.

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.