Category: Books

“American Fiction” (2023) written & directed by Cord Jefferson, starring Jeffrey Wright / Z-View

American Fiction (2023) 

Director: Cord Jefferson

Screenplay: Cord Jefferson based on ERASURE by Percival Everett

Stars: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Sterling K. Brown, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Okieriete Onaodowan, Miriam Shor, J.C. MacKenzie and Keith David.

Tagline: None.

The Plot…

Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Wright) is a writer and college professor.  Monk has had a couple of books published.  Although the books were critically praised, they were far from best sellers.  Monk’s latest book was turned down with publishers saying it wasn’t “black enough”.

To compound things, Monk’s mom’s mental health is rapidly deteriorating.  It’s clear she’s going to need the support of her family.  Monk’s brother just went through a divorce.  He won’t be much help.  His sister is willing, but there are issues.  Monk is feeling the pressure of life bearing down.

Monk’s exasperation grows when the novel WE’S LIVES IN DA GHETTO makes the best seller list.  The novel panders to the lowest common denominator and features typical black stereotypes.  Out of frustration, Monk begins writing.  His story features everything one would expect in a blaxploitation story – drugs, gangs, a deadbeat dad and a son who couldn’t rise above his surroundings.  When Monk is finished he has a book length story.  As a joke he submits it under the name Stagg R. Leigh, an ex-con who is one the run from the cops.

When Monk gets several offers as high as $750,000, he realizes that nobody gets the joke.  He tells his editor to decline the deal, but his mother’s bills are adding up.  So…

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

American Fiction was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one…

  • nominee Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)Laura Karpman
  • nominee Best Motion Picture of the YearBen LeClair, Nikos Karamigios, Cord Jefferson, Jermaine Johnson
  • nominee Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleJeffrey Wright
  • nominee Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting RoleSterling K. Brown
  • winner Best Adapted ScreenplayCord Jefferson

I thought American Fiction would be funny.  It is.  I didn’t realize how much heart it would have.  American Fiction is one of the best movie surprises I’ve had in recent years.

American Fiction is Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut.

American Fiction (2023) rates 5 of 5 stars.

“Brian’s Song” (1971) starring James Caan & Billy Dee Williams / Z-View

Brian’s Song (1971) 

Director: Buzz Kulik

Screenplay: William Blinn, based on I AM THIRD by Gale Sayers, Al Silverman

Stars: James Caan, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Warden, Bernie Casey, Shelley Fabares, David Huddleston, Judy Pace, Harold ‘Happy’ Hairston, Stephen Coit, Stu Nahan, Dick Butkus and Doreen Lang

Tagline: An inspiring true story of friendship and courage.

The Plot…

Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers are rookie running backs drafted to the Chicago Bears. Piccolo is white, outgoing and a jokester while Sayers is black and shy.  Despite their differences and competing for the same position, they become friends. When both make the team they become the NFL’s  first interracial roommates and best friends.

Their friendship deepens when Piccolo assists Sayers through a long arduous knee rehabilitation. Later Piccolo becomes sick and Sayers is ready to return the favor.  That’s when they learn Piccolo has an aggressive terminal cancer.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Brian’s Song was nominated for eleven Primetime Emmy Awards and won five…

  • winner Outstanding Single Program – Drama or Comedy – Paul Junger Witt (producer)
  • nominee Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleJames Caan
  • nominee Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleBilly Dee Williams
  • winner Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Drama Jack Warden
  • nominee Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama – A Single ProgramBuzz Kulik
  • winner Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama – AdaptationWilliam Blinn
  • nominee Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition – For a Special ProgramMichel Legrand
  • winner Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming – For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for TelevisionJoseph F. Biroc (cinematographer)
  • nominee Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound EditingMarvin I. Kosberg (sound editor), Harold E. Wooley (sound editor), Wayne Fury (sound editor), Ralph Hickey (sound editor), Paul Laune (sound editor), George C. Emick (sound editor), Monty Pearce (sound editor)
  • nominee Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound MixingWilliam J. Montague (sound mixer), Alfred E. Overton (sound mixer)
  • winner Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Entertainment Programming – For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for TelevisionBud S. Isaacs (editor)

Louis Gossett Jr. was cast as Gayle Sayers.  Gossett tore his Achilles’ tendon before filming started and was replaced by Billy Dee Williams.

Brian’s Song was so popular in the US that it received a theatrical run in Europe.

Stu Nahan who plays a sportcaster in some of the Rocky movies plays a speaker at one of the awards ceremonies.

One of the best made-for-television movies ever.  It’s better than most feature films.

Brian’s Song (1971) rates 5 of 5 stars.

DOUBLE BARREL BLUFF by Lou Berney is Coming!

DOUBLE BARREL BLUFF by Lou Berney looks to be a winner…

Multi-award winning and USA Today bestselling crime writer Lou Berney returns to his critically acclaimed thriller series starring former mob wheelman Shake Bouchon, who finds himself dragged into a high-stakes hostage rescue, among the mighty temples and shadowy underground of Cambodia.

During his years as a wheelman for the Armenian mob in Los Angeles, Shake Bouchon didn’t think of himself as the settling-down type. But now he’s happily married to Gina, the love of his life—and former adversary—in Indiana, of all places.

The great thing about Bloomington, for two people with checkered pasts, is that everyone is nice and no one knows them. Until the day a brutal Armenian thug who has always hated Shake shows up in his backyard. He demands that Shake help him find his missing mob boss, the pakhan—the dangerous and beautiful Alexandra “Lexy” Ilandryan, who also happens to be Shake’s ex-girlfriend.

Shake’s got a lot of history with Lexy, so he reluctantly agrees to travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where she was last seen. Once there, he finds himself tangled in an underworld of Cambodian gangsters, mob politics, and opportunistic expats, where the stakes aren’t clear and everyone is looking to score. With only the help of a clairvoyant hippie and the Armenian thug, Shake becomes involved in a high-stakes negotiation for Lexy that might cost him his own life.

But perhaps most threatening of all is Gina’s wrath when she arrives in Cambodia intent on saving Shake from himself—and from all the people trying to kill him.

With Lou Berney’s trademark wit, flawless plotting, vibrant locale, and memorable characters, Double Barrel Bluff is another unputdownable, globe-trotting adventure.

Preorders now for a November 5, 2024 release.

FULL TILT by Jason Copland / Z-View

FULL TILT by Jason Copland (letters by Troy Peteri)

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Two hundred years in the future five crime families control New Manhattan.  With trouble in paradise a sitdown was arranged for the boss of each family and his/her adviser.  It did not end well.

An assassin appeared. It was a massacre. Massimo Miller, the consigliere of the Chessa family was the only survivor.  Massimo was wounded, but barely survived.  The cops and new crime bosses (even for the Chessa family) believe that Miller was the executioner.

Now badly inured and alone, Massimo has one thing on his mind: vengeance.  To get it, Massimo will have to travel across the city with the soldiers of the five families and cops on his trail.  How can one man, even one as formidable as Massimo have a chance?  There’s only one way… go full tilt.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Jason Copland’s FULL TILT is a masterpiece. The mobster storyline in a sci-fi setting is perfect for Copland’s world building. He’s developed interesting, original characters built using genre troupes. Copland’s story and art raise the bar.  I’m sad for the folks who missed out.

Rating:

Below are examples of unfinished/unlettered pages used to promote FULL TILT.

“Interview with the Vampire”: Season 2 (2024) starring Jacob Anderson, Sam Reid, Eric Bogosian, Delainey Hayles & Assad Zaman / Z-View

Interview with the Vampire: Season 2 (2024)

Directors:  Craig Zisk (eps. 1, 5); Levan Akin (eps. 2-4, 8); Emma Freeman (eps. 6-7)

Teleplay: Hannah Moscovitch (ep. 1); Jonathan Ceniceroz & Shane Munson (ep. 2); Heather Bellson (ep. 3); Coline Abert & A. Zell Williams (ep. 4); Jonathan Ceniceroz & Hannah Moscovitch (ep. 5); Hannah Moscovitch & Shane Munson (ep. 6); Kevin Hanna & Rolin Jones (ep. 7); Rolin Jones (ep. 8)

Stars: Jacob Anderson, Sam Reid, Eric Bogosian, Assad Zaman, Delainey Hayles, Ben Daniels, Esme Appleton, Christopher Geary, Khetphet Phagnasay, Andrew Van Wilpe, Jan Hofman, Ben Bradshaw, Roxane Duran, Luke Brandon Field, Elander Moore, Justin Kirk, Blake Ritson, Stanislav Callas, Ed Birch, Roxane Duran and Bally Gill

Tagline: None.

The Plot…

Interview with a Vampire is an adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel, Interview with a Vampire.

Through a series of interview flashbacks we learn that in World War II’s final years Louis (Anderson) and Claudia’s (Hayles) search for other vampires lead to Romania and Paris.  They are discovered by a vampire coven in Paris.  All is not what it seems.  Jealously, lies and betrayals abound.  Most will not survive.

Daniel Malloy (Bogosian) discovers government agents are aware of the vampires.  Malloy also determines that he’s not being told the truth throughout the interview.  Malloy realizes with increasing certainty that his life is in danger.

When the interview concludes lies will be uncovered, truths revealed.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Interview with the Vampire Season 1 was a tour de force.  Season 2 meets and exceeds the bar that it set.  The series continues to be well written with wonderful actors joined by top notch directors.

Delainey Hayles who replaced Bailey Bass as Claudia does an excellent job.

There are more twists and surprises in season two.

I love the idea of a coven of vampires hiding in plain sight.  The vampire pretend to be human actors playing vampires on stage nightly.  The audience has no idea that the victims killed on stage are not actors.

Ben Daniels as Santiago provides a riveting performance as Santiago.

I have no idea how season 3 can live up to, let alone surpass season 2… but I’ll be ready to find out.

Interview with the Vampire: Season 2 (2024) earns 5 of 5 stars.

“The Killing” (1956) directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Sterling Hayden / Z-View

The Killing (1956) 

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick; dialogue by Jim Thompson; based on CLEAN BREAK by Lionel White

Stars: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr., Joe Sawyer, James Edwards, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani, Dorothy Adams, James Griffith, Joe Turkel, William ‘Billy’ Benedict, Charles Cane, Robert B. Williams and Vince Edwards

Tagline: These 5 Men Had a $2,000,000 Secret Until One of them told this Woman!

The Plot…

Johnny Clay (Hayden) has been a crook his whole life.  Now he’s ready to settle down and marry Fay (Gray). Johnny has planned one last score.  It will be big.  Two million dollars big. He’s going to knock over a race track.

Johnny has put together his team: two race track workers in need of cash, a cop on the take, a sniper and a pro wrestler.  Johnny has planned for every contingency… except one.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Killing is arguably Stanley Kubrick’s best film.  Kirk Douglas loved it so much, he got Kubrick to direct Douglas’ next film, Paths of Glory.  Two years later, when Douglas fired Anthony Mann early in the filming of Spartacus, Douglas turned to Kubrick to finish the film.

The studio didn’t like the non-linear structure of The Killing.  Re-editing only made things more confusing. So it was released in the non-linear form Kubrick wanted.  Quentin Tarantino claims The Killing is a huge influence on the format of  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Kola Kwariani (the chess playing pro wrestler) and Stanley Kubrick would often play chess in a chess/checker lounge as shown in the film.

In a film full of memorable co-star performances, Timothy Carey stands out for his uniquely strange acting.

The Killing (1956)  rates 5 of 5 stars.

“Last Man Standing” (1996) written & directed by Walter Hill, starring Bruce Willis / Z-View

Last Man Standing (1996) 

Director: Walter Hill

Screenplay: Walter Hill based on Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa

Stars: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Ken Jenkins, Ted Markland, Leslie Mann, Patrick Kilpatrick, Luis Contreras, Raynor Scheine, Tiny Ron, John Paxton, Michael Cavalieri, Matt O’Toole and Michael Imperioli

Tagline: There are two sides to every war. And John Smith is on both of them.

The Plot…

John Smith (Willis), a prohibition gun thug, is on the lam.  Smith is headed for Mexico when he stops in a small nearly deserted border town.  Two rival gangs, one Italian, the other Irish, have run most of the townsfolk off.  The two crews have an uneasy truce.  But both gangs are looking for a way to wipe out the other.

John Smith sees easy money in his future.  It’s risky, but Smith plans to work both sides with neither realizing it.  The best laid plans…

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Last Man Standing, like A Fistful of Dollars, is based on the Japanese film Yojimbo directed and co-written by Akira Kurosawa.  Many think that Kurosawa based his story on Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST.  Kurosawa says that his film was actually based on Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY.

Last Man Standing has a John Woo feel to it.

Last Man Standing (1996)  rates 3 of 5 stars.

“Oppenheimer” (2023) written and directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Cilian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey, Jr. and Florence Pugh / Z-View

Oppenheimer (2023)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan based on AMERICAN PROMETHEUS by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherman

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke, Kurt Koehler, Tony Goldwyn, John Gowans, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Groener, Gregory Jbara, Ted King, Steven Houska, Matthew Modine, Casey Affleck, James Remar, Gary Oldman and Josh Hartnett

Tagline: The World Forever Changes

The Plot…

As World War II rages, the United States and Germany are racing to create an atomic bomb.  J. Robert Oppenheimer is recruited by the US army to co-ordinate scientists chosen for the project.  After Germany surrenders, Oppenheimer and others question the use of the bomb on Japan.  After the war, Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the US is questioned and his reputation put at risk.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Oppenheimer was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won seven…

  • nominee Best SoundWillie D. Burton, Richard King, Gary A. Rizzo, Kevin O’Connell
  • nominee Best Achievement in Makeup and HairstylingLuisa Abel
  • nominee Best Achievement in Production DesignRuth De Jong (production designer), Claire Kaufman (set decorator)
  • nominee Best Achievement in Costume DesignEllen Mirojnick
  • nominee Best Adapted ScreenplayChristopher Nolan
  • nominee Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting RoleEmily Blunt
  • winner Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)Ludwig Göransson
  • winner Best Achievement in Film Editing Jennifer Lame
  • winner Best Achievement in CinematographyHoyte Van Hoytema
  • winner Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting RoleRobert Downey Jr.
  • winner Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleCillian Murphy
  • winner Best Achievement in Directing Christopher Nolan
  • winner Best Motion Picture of the YearEmma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer is a dramatization of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life from 1926 to 1959.

Robert Downey, Jr. considers Oppenheimer to be his best film.

Many of the famous actors/actresses appearing in Oppenheimer took small roles and pay cuts to work with Sir Christopher Nolan.

Oppenheimer is an exceptional film from top to bottom.  The film and everyone who was nominated/won an award for it is deserving.  Because it’s not a movie that I will not often revisit, I’m giving it 4 of 5 stars.  Don’t let that fool you though, it is an excellent movie.

Oppenheimer (2023) rates 4 of 5 stars.

“Get Shorty” (1995) starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo & Danny DeVito / Z-View

Get Shorty (1995)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Screenplay: Scott Frank based on GET SHORTY by Elmore Leonard

Stars: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Jon Gries, Renee Props, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jacob Vargas, Linda Hart, Bobby Slayton, Ron Karabatsos, Barry Sonnenfeld, Bette Midler, Harvey Keitel, Penny Marshall and David Paymer.

Tagline: Drug smuggling. Racketeering. Loan sharking. Welcome to Hollywood!

The Plot…

Ernesto “Chili” Palmer (Travolta) is a Miami loan shark who loves movies.  When a collection sends Chili to L.A., Chili meets some low level folks in the film world.  Chili has an idea for a movie and decides to work his way up in the industry.

How hard could it be?

What Chili doesn’t know is that his Brooklyn boss has died.  Now Ray “Bones” Baroni (Farina) has the greenlight to kill Chili.  And Bones is headed for LA.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Although John Travolta is perfect as Chili Palmer (he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the role), he initially turned down the role.  Quentin Tarantino convinced him to take the part.

Bette Midler, Harvey Keitel and Penny Marshall have uncredited appearances.

James Gandolfini is four years away from starring in The Sopranos.  He’s younger, thinner and sports a full beard, but once you hear his voice, you know it’s him.

Get Shorty (1995) rates 4 of 5 stars.

THE BIG EMPTY: AN ELVIS COLE AND JOE PIKE NOVEL by Robert Crais is Coming!

Any new Robert Crais release is cause for celebration.  If the book is an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, then lock the doors, cause the party is going to be off the chain.  Get ready to bar the doors.

THE BIG EMPTY: AN ELVIS COLE AND JOE PIKE NOVEL drops on January 14, 2025.  Here’s the lowdown…

Private investigator Elvis Cole and his enigmatic partner, Joe Pike, face a cryptic case and a terrifying, unpredictable killer in this twisty, satisfying thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais.

Traci Beller was thirteen when her father disappeared in the sleepy town of Rancha, not far from Los Angeles. The evidence says Tommy Beller abandoned his family, but Traci never believed it. The police couldn’t find her dad and neither could the detectives her mother hired, but now, ten years later, Traci is a super-popular influencer with millions of followers and the money to hire a new detective: Elvis Cole.

Taking on a ten-years-cold missing person case is almost always a loser, but Elvis heads to Rancha where he learns an ex-con named Sadie Givens and her daughter, Anya, might have a line on the missing man. But when Elvis finds himself shadowed by a deadly gang of vicious criminals, the simple missing persons case becomes far more sinister and dangerous. Elvis calls in his ex-Marine friend, Joe Pike, to help, but even Pike might not be able to help.

As Elvis Cole and Joe Pike follow Tommy Beller’s trail into the twisted, nightmare depths of a monstrous evil, the case flips on its head. Victims become predators, predators become pray, and when everyone is a victim, can Elvis Cole save them all?

In a case that tests Elvis Cole’s loyalty to his clients and himself, the truth must come out no matter the cost. Elvis must face The Big Empty and see justice done.