Three Reviews

I added three movie reviews to the archives this week. The first, my review of 2018’s Avengers film, is timed for next month’s heavily-hyped new Avengers movie. In this article, posted elsewhere last year, I question making mass death and nihilism entertaining or ‘fun’, which is the 2018 film’s essence. I point out that these comics movies depict the superhero’s superpower in widening disproportion to the individual’s vanishing power, due to government control, over his life. I think it’s an interesting contrast.

Is it possible these preposterous movies are popular for this reason? Read my review of Avengers: Infinity War here.

Two analyses of movies by screenwriter and director Robert Benton, whom I interviewed last spring in Hollywood, also appear on the site archives. The movies had been selected by Turner Classic Movies for presentation during last year’s classic movies festival where I interviewed Mr. Benton. We discussed both movies in great detail during the interview. It was a rare opportunity to delve into the motion picture arts with a marvelous storyteller (I plan to make the interview available to a wider audience).

I wanted to see the two pictures again before conducting the interview, which took place at the site of the first Academy Awards. Fittingly, both films won prestigious Oscars. This is not my primary concern, however, and I think the movies’ merits stand apart from Oscar recognition, awards which are rapidly becoming less meaningful. That said, I wanted to write an extensive review analyzing both films before the interview was conducted and published. I’ve made them available here for the first time.

The first article takes a serious look at Robert Benton’s adaptation of Avery Corman’s novel, Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). This is an outstanding motion picture and not just as a character study of the modern man. Incidentally, besides Robert Redford‘s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel of Chicago’s suburban North Shore, Ordinary People, it’s probably one of the last heroic movies to win Oscar’s Best Picture award to depict a wholly fictional story with style, depth and artistry.

Forty years after its release, Kramer Vs. Kramer remains relevant and compelling. I’m still thinking about the movie as I write this. I saw it as a boy in the movie theater upon its release and I was astonished. Today, Kramer Vs. Kramer exists as a testament that movies can be great, large and wonderful about heroic beings without being loud, brash and sniveling like today’s onslaught of Marvel or death premise pictures. I doubt whether Kramer Vs. Kramer would get a hearing amid today’s Me, Too orthodoxy. I think it would be deemed too pro-man, too white or too male or not abiding today’s collectivism. Read my breakdown of Kramer Vs. Kramer.

Benton made Places in the Heart five years later. It’s a bleaker film than Kramer, though in a way it is more challenging, epic and universal. Gone are the parks, brownstones and hurry of New York City’s Upper East Side in Kramer. Here, come the fields, rooms and quiet of faraway Texas. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the picture that won an Oscar for Sally Field shows real insight about a range of serious issues, including what it means to be marginalized or minimized by others, but especially what it means to make your own home, family and life without regard to blood, tribe and the irrational.

Robert Benton is religious. He comes from Texas. Places in the Heart reflects his faith and background, especially in its final frames. But it also depicts with serenity and clarity the hardship of being different in a world going bad and I think it offers a salve, a coolant and grace for forging one’s own way when nothing seems possible. I have seen and enjoyed most of Robert Benton’s movies, including those I’ve had the pleasure to interview him about, such as The Human Stain with its similar strains and Feast of Love with its blissful sense of life. Places in the Heart depicts that human strength begins with a commitment to care for yourself. This alone sets it far and above most movies now or upon its release. Read my review here.

Three New Exclusives

Comedienne Julia Sweeney’s back and I saw her new one-woman show, Older & Wider, last weekend in Westwood. I’ve always found her humor to be unique, relevant and compelling, so I was interested in seeing her return to show business after a break to be a wife and raise her daughter on Chicago’s suburban North Shore.

Happily, Older & Wider is topical, intelligent and hilarious. While I incessantly hear about “diversity and inclusion”, I rarely hear about demand for rare, intelligent artists of ability such as Julia Sweeney, who’s making the most of being an older woman in her new theatrical work. I am glad to know that she’s currently starring in a new show on Hulu. I’d love to see her get more work in Hollywood.

I’ve posted my review of Julia Sweeney: Older & Wider here.

Also, read my new interview with screenwriter and director Robert Benton here. We met during Turner Classic Movies’ 2018 Classic Film Festival at the site of the first Academy Awards, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on Hollywood Boulevard. I’ve met and interviewed Benton before and found him to be incredibly sharp, thoughtful and engaging.

This time was no exception. The subject was his Oscar-winning Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer, a groundbreaking movie about men, parenting and divorce which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. We discussed his original choice for the crucial supporting role of Joanna Kramer, which eventually went to Meryl Streep, propelling her career. But Benton, who’s talked with me about working with Nicole Kidman, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins, also went into detail about working with Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her performance in what’s probably his most personal film, Places in the Heart.

Robert Benton, whose Texas-based Places turns 35 years old this year, has created, written or directed some of the most iconic movies of the modern age, from Bonnie and Clyde to Superman (1978) to Kramer vs. Kramer. I consider it a privilege to interview this former journalist again in the heart of supposedly “inclusive” Hollywood where this masterful storyteller should be invited to create more movies.

My newest classic movie review honors the 70th anniversary of a film about great baseball legend; the story of Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, portrayed by James Stewart. Like Places in the Heart, the Academy Award-winning motion picture, The Stratton Story (directed by Sam Wood and released in the same year he was robbed and died) partly takes place in the Lone Star state and involves tragedy, overcoming adversity and a single act of gun violence.

The picture also stars Agnes Moorehead as Stratton’s tough-minded mother and June Allyson as his romantic partner. I don’t want to spoil the experience of the 1949 film about Monty Stratton, whom I’m afraid has sadly fallen into relative oblivion. But I found this movie about rising to one’s hardest challenges inspiring. It’s about baseball, of course. It’s also about what happens when the most hardworking type of person fails, falters or makes a potentially deadly mistake — and the character of one who chooses to recover — and the type of person who loves him.

But, like the best sports-themed movies, it’s also very much about living life; the daily hustle and grind of it in simple yet daunting steps. Read my review of The Stratton Story here.

New Year’s Preview

Twenty Nineteen topics I plan to write about on this blog include an app for the Church of Scientology, a newly revised book by Thomas Sowell and a song by Smashing Pumpkins. After 10 years of writing this informal forum for my thoughts on movies, culture and ideas, with today’s media market getting thinner and dimmer and more fragmented, it’s time to focus on other forms.

Proposals and copy for aviation and military defense technology as well as uncredited fiction and non-fiction for screen and publication are among assignments I wrote last year. I also develop projects for customers in construction, real estate, movies, journalism and literature.

I regard the blog as advertising. Readership has increased and I’ve kept it informal, but the blog takes effort to sustain. Accordingly, I started a PayPal donation campaign to support my writing, including this blog. Please consider making a donation.

Buy the Book

What’s to come includes new movie, television, book and stage reviews. I’m looking forward to attending local theater productions in Southern California. I look forward to seeing and writing about a new stage production starring Psych‘s Dule Hill as Nat “King” Cole. I plan to review a show at the Wallis Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills this month. Comedienne Julia Sweeney will be staging another one-woman show, which I’m excited to see. The same goes for a new production of a play by Sophocles which one of my mentors calls one of eight great plays.

I also aim to write about apps, TV shows and, of course, classic movies. I’ll be posting an exclusive interview soon with screenwriter and director Robert Benton, with whom I recently met for an interview again, this time in Hollywood, to honor the 40th anniversary of his underrated Oscar-winning Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer and the 35th anniversary of his seminal film Places in the Heart. I’ve received positive feedback to my classic movie writings. There are more analyses to come. I am exploring possibilities to publish books of my interviews, reviews and other writings.

A few of my short stories are in contest contention. I continue to teach media and writing to adults in Southern California. Last year, I hosted an alumni networking event in a small venue near Hollywood. Current and former students met, mixed and talked about first-look deals, options, events, readings and tips, resources and platforms. I announced a new partnership and had the privilege to encourage fellow writers and sole proprietors. I’ve added another mixer next month.

Buy the Book

Ventures and endeavors for new media, books, movies, TV series and stories (mine and work for others) are in the works. I’m often busiest during the summer, but I’d like to attend 2019’s OCON. This summer’s event celebrates 50 years of Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto in Cleveland, Ohio. So, I’m enthusiastic about prospects for the new year. Feel free to reach out, inquire and/or donate.

Happy reading in the meantime.

Annual Report: 2018

at GSX in Las Vegas, 2018

Twenty eighteen was productive. Newsletters, articles, business plans, website and marketing copy I wrote helped customers tell stories, persuade audiences and fund enterprises or sell services and goods.

This year, I contributed to or wrote screenplays and manuscripts, creating taglines, plots and themes for publication, architecture, technology, U.S. military defense, construction, movies and aviation. I had the privilege of researching, writing or editing screenplays, speeches and white papers.

Whether as a contractor creating a marketing strategy, script or bio or as a reporter writing an article for print or online editions of the Los Angeles Times, I have been a professional writer for over 25 years.

Most of mine are repeat customers. Companies, media, VIPs, entrepreneurs and intellectuals often hire me after reading this blog, which turned ten years old this year.

This year’s posts were among the first to warn against the Me, Too movement. I still write about selected movies, assessing Marvel’s blockbuster hit Black Panther as mediocre while forecasting the Disney film to win Oscar’s 2018 Best Picture. I named three better, more life-affirming movies as 2018’s top three best pictures: the best picture, Love, Simon, followed by Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Green Book.

I wrote in multiple genres, including sports, comedy, philosophy, drama and business. Blog readership and demand for services, which include coaching, consulting and social media management, increased.

In short, I expanded readership and output and I challenged the status quo. I achieved my goal to discover, examine and, to paraphrase the song, accentuate the positive. To this end, I posted about music conducted by Arturo Toscanini, an architectural exhibition at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino and visits to San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas (where I updated my profile picture, included here), downtown LA and OCON in Orange County. I recommended broadcasting, music and Apple’s AirPods.

After teaching media and writing to adults for five years, I hosted a mixer for former and current students. I am happy to work with an outstanding team. We’re already planning new reviews, products and ventures for 2019. 

Please consider supporting my writing. Rather than accept fees or subject the blog to the terms of a funding source, such as Patreon, I keep control of the blog and articles archives without advertising. I recently created a goal-driven PayPal campaign (learn more or contribute here).

The goal of my campaign, $10k, helps me pursue my media and writing projects. I pay for my own education, media ventures and creative works, such as my non-fiction and fiction, without institutional aid.

As an individual, I appreciate support. Each donation helps. I look forward to creating new partnerships, posts and projects next year and I think you might like what I have in mind. I have never been more enthused about the future.

Meanwhile, let us toast to good health, happiness … and the rise of the new intellectual.

My Blog Turns Ten

Ten years ago today, I introduced my blog as an informal forum for my thoughts on movies, culture and ideas. Then and now, this ‘web log’ primarily exists to advertise my writing. The blog serves my purpose.

By July 20, 2008, I knew that I wanted to acquire new knowledge, so I enrolled in extended writing and philosophy studies and, later, a course by my former boss, author, talk radio/podcast host and philosopher Leonard Peikoff. Having declined an offer to write and edit for a website owned by one of the world’s largest companies, I instead pursued my goal to write in a variety of genres and formats, from stage, science fiction and short stories to serious speeches, interviews and articles.

The blog, which I never named, became an outlet. Within weeks after my first post, the U.S. economy had taken a historic plunge and America was unceasingly attacked by Islamic terrorists. During this time, amid a surge of surveillance statism and new technology including mobile devices, the media rapidly downsized, sensationalized and splintered. America was in turmoil. My blog was less of a bugle in this sense than a refuge, chiefly for myself. The blog became a means of exercising free speech on issues which were being distorted, neglected or evaded and ignored in the press and among intellectuals. One of the posts I pursued was an interview, which was granted and turned out to be one of his last (and I think one of my best), with author, historian and scholar John David Lewis (read the worldwide exclusive here). One of the bits of wisdom the then-ailing Dr. Lewis (who was my friend, reader, teacher and patron) gave me was to write about matters of personal interest, if warranted in first person, which is frowned upon in academia.

Obviously, I took the advice. I wrote about losing a friend to suicide — another downward trend, which seems to be getting worse — following Obama’s re-election. I wrote about finding the good, whether posting the first review of Olivia Newton-John’s first headlining show in Las Vegas, the first OCONs in Pittsburgh and Chicago and new reviews of good and, in some cases, exemplary movies. I have since praised TV shows, apps, movies, products and books — even a kiss during a North American riot.

I was among the first writers to praise Edward Snowden as an American hero. I did so as a warning against American dictatorship. I was among the first writers to scrutinize and denounce George W. Bush (and his father), Barack Obama and Donald Trump (by the same standard and principle). When the worst single legislation in my lifetime threatened to destroy the health care industry and what was left of the medical profession, I wrote on the blog. While others were galvanizing around flawed premises, saying and doing nothing or campaigning for fracking, fuel and genetically modified organisms, arguably good causes if not as urgent as the looming danger of the Affordable Care Act, I defended individual rights in health care, denounced ObamaCare on the proper grounds and forecast its disastrous impact — in newspapers and online publications. But always here on the blog.

So, I’ve observed, named and examined the good and the light as well as the insidious and ominous darkness. I write here about the truth as I see it, which is all a decent reporter can do, especially in a perceptual media age. With a relatively small readership of influencers, I’ve been able to write about what I regard as the fundamental conflict of our time: the individual versus the state. I exalt the individual.

Ten years later, my posts or archived articles are cited, referenced or reprinted by Stevie Nicks, the Cato Institute, Mental Floss, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Salon, The Hollywood Reporter, Turner Classic Movies and the New York Times. I get feedback on the posts from entrepreneurs, students, activists, scholars, artists and readers across the world.

One university professor assigns my post on the Obama administration versus free speech every semester as required reading for students studying freedom of speech. I’m told that my post criticizing Starbucks with specific solutions, posted days before this year’s fiasco in Philadelphia, was distributed by company executives in the days that followed. Top artists, such as composer Alexandre Desplat, whom I’ve interviewed a few times, post links to our interviews on their sites. The blog attracts clients. One screenwriter read one of my posts and subsequently asked for help with his screenplay.

I’ve fulfilled my recent pledge to add previously published articles to the site’s archive. This way, readers can browse and discover other articles of interest. Posts may soon or eventually be removed and appear in another format, as I clear space for new posts and make site changes. Feel free to subscribe to my e-newsletter, which is currently on hiatus. The blog, as I’ve written, is mainly a means to help me develop, pitch and write in a variety of arts and communications, including screenplays, books, social media, marketing and branding, on assignment and as work for hire (read about my method). This is why I accept support, which sponsors my writing.

If you read and gain value from my blog, please let me know. I appreciate criticism and correction. Above all, tell me what you think. Contact me if you think that I’m qualified to add value to a project (if I agree that I am able to do so, I will). The Federal Trade Commission requires that I disclose that I receive unsolicited invitations, review copies and gifts, whether an iTunes gift card or a donation (which I do not expect). Like other commercial-free blogs and independent sources, I do accept and appreciate the support. I value your readership and I am grateful for your social posts, especially when rendered with a comment, so please like, share and link to my blog posts. Any of these actions matter and directly support this blog, this writer and this life, mine and yours. Happy 10th blog anniversary and happy reading to you.

The TCM Classic Film Festival Preview

Read my preview of this week’s festival of classic movies, the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, at The New Romanticist here. The theme of this year’s event is the movie with literary origins. Accordingly, and happily, Turner Classic Movies is honoring writer and director Robert Benton, screenwriter for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Superman (1978), with new interviews including Q&As surrounding his dramatic classics, Places in the Heart and Kramer vs. Kramer.

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ at 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

To honor the New York City screenwriter and director, whom I’ve previously urged TCM to invite as a guest to the festival, I’ve recently reviewed both of Benton’s featured movies. As an admirer of his films, which are often marked by shocking violence and humor yet always meant to be taken seriously, it’s been a pleasure to go back to these movies, especially his Oscar-winning Best Picture for 1979, which was that year’s top box office hit. I’ve interviewed Benton about his outstanding if lesser known pictures, such as The Human Stain and Feast of Love, read writings by John O’Hara upon his recommendation and received valuable feedback from him on my own fiction writing.

Read my new reviews of his motion pictures Places in the Heart (1984) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Also, this weekend is the final LA curtain call for playwright Neil Simon’s biting take on writing for television, which I previewed for the Los Angeles Times‘ local edition here. Look for new information, posts and updates about TCM’s event, classic movies and opportunities to enroll in my summer courses in the near future.