Saturday, September 18, 2010

15 Movies That Stuck With You

From a shared note on my Facebook page, this is my top 15:

1) To Have and Have Not: Lauren Bacall's first film role and the chemistry between her and Bogie is palpable. I think it's their best movie together. Also interesting that the credited screenwriter is William Faulkner.

2) Groundhog Day: The premise is completely relatable, the screenplay is tight and the acting - in particular, Bill Murray's - was spot on. One of those movies I can watch again and again (which is quite ironic, I guess).

3) Lost in Translation: A completely different Bill Murray vehicle, I was totally hooked from the very beginning and really got absorbed by the storyline. Both Murray and Scarlett Johansson light up the screen and Sofia Coppola's direction is superb.

4) Star Wars: I'm referring to the entire series here, not just the original offering. Classic themes abound in this (loss and redemption, unrequited love) and classic heroes and villains. To me, Darth Vader is the best bad guy ever, at least in sci fi flicks.

5) Adam's Rib: Another of my favorite movie couples, Tracy & Hepburn, in a movie that broke a lot of ground on the screen - two professionals who are at odds philosophically and literally. Both entertaining and thought-provoking, this movie shed light on women's rights more than any other of that era.

6) The Shawshank Redemption: Probably one of the best movies I've ever seen only ONCE. Some of the finest acting ever on the big screen (though I only watched it on video), I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to see the "good guys" win in the end.

7) The Godfather: I've only first seen this movie (and the ones that followed) in the last ten years and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. OUTSTANDING acting, great characters, superb directing and a storyline that's a total win for me. Oh, and the violence (despite what some say, not gratuitous in the least).

8) Pulp Fiction: One of the most imaginative films I've ever seen, there isn't one part of this multi-part movie that isn't a winner - and the weaving is truly movie magic. Tarantino really shows his brilliance here and it was good to see John Travolta in such a great role.

9) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Loved the book, loved the film even more. I think Nicholson really shows why he's a master of his craft in this role. This peek inside a mental institution is frighteningly real.

10) As Good As It Gets: What characters! The acting is incredible in this unlikely plot, but it does showcase Nicholson's ability to play a great antihero. This is the movie I wish I wrote!

11) Casablanca: Okay, I'm a fanboy of Bogart, that's no lie. This pick may be a bit cliché, but it's a classic film for any screenwriter (or actor or director, I imagine) to deconstruct and learn from. Besides Bogart masterfully masking his seething jealousy and regret beneath a mask of cool indifference, the tragic sadness of Ingrid Bergman really leaves its mark.

12) Psycho (the original): I think this is Hitchcock's masterpiece and Anthony Perkins sells it as a deeply disturbed young man. Probably one of the first movies that kept me up at night with nightmares.

13) The Shining: Back in the day, I was a huge Stephen King fan, so with some trepidation I went to see this at the theater and man, I was NOT disappointed AT ALL. Again, Nicholson plays the insane person with such force and realism, you are left wondering if he really isn't a bit "off" in real life.

14) To Kill a Mockingbird: Such a great dramatic production, this was Gregory Peck's finest showing on the big screen and one of those movies that still resonates today. When I read the book, Harper Lee's only novel, I was amazed how well it translated to film.

15) Amadeus: This one is probably the least likely for this list, but for a number of reasons - the acting, Mozart's music, the period costumes & set design and the storyline itself - convinces me it should be in the top 15. This movie shows that Mozart would've been Mick Jagger - or Iggy Pop - if he lived in the 20th century.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gennaro's Son

"Father Espirito, it’s time."

The old priest nodded and sat up straight in his high-backed chair as he waited to be lifted by his four attendants. He stared ahead at the statue being raised ahead of him. At his signal, the doors of the Most Precious Blood Holy Church swung open. The procession began.

The clock hanging from the ancient oak tree struck two o'clock and the noise from well-wishers who packed the surrounding sidewalks several layers deep began to rumble with anticipation. The din grew to a frenzy as the lead altar boys stepped onto Mulberry Street, then crescendoed to a deafening roar when the blessed statue came into view.

Father Espirito’s pallet left the church last and he waved to the cheering crowd as the procession continued. Turning left, then right, he extended his blessing onto the faithful. The most pious of the observers, old women in black dresses with silk veils to match, crossed themselves and bowed in respect as their priest brought God’s beneficence upon them.

The market umbrellas of the food vendors dotted Little Italy’s streets in a pointillist's palette of red, green and white. Moments later, the aroma of frying sausage and onions almost overwhelmed the old priest, for the memories of his mother's kitchen seemed more vivid now than any other time in his life.

"Father, we love you!" cried one girl, no more than twelve years old. He smiled benignly and waved to the familiar-lookinf child, one of many young people who passed through the doors of his house of God every Sunday. How he loved the innocent and unabashed exuberance of these children!

As the procession passed Grand Street, Father Espirito spotted the Original Tony's pizza cart parked at its traditional location on the northwest corner.

"Hey, Father, how about a slice?" called out the boy that worked the cart this year, waving a large piece of pizza in the priest’s direction.

The priest shook his head and turned away. Watching the young man, he felt he was looking at an image of himself sixty years before. He was so strong and handsome then, he thought, his lower lip trembling.

By now, the crowd at Canal Street had followed the procession as it headed north. Father Espirito could sense the impatience of the human wave pushing them forward to Houston Street, past the cannoli vendors, the pasta sellers and the dozens of other purveyors of traditional Italian cuisine. If Heaven exists, its streets will be lined just like this, the priest mused.

"Are you having a good time, Father?" Sister Angelina asked him, seeing his faint smile.

"Oh yes, Sister, I am. The festival is good for the body and soul, isn't it?"

The nun laughed and nodded, then added, "I'm having so much fun, I already can't wait until next year."

The old priest nodded, but didn't reply. He sensed that this would be his last San Gennaro festival. The delicious aromas around him today were like those that visited his sleep most nights now. Soon, he would be home. He hoped his mother was ready for his return.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michael C. Cordell. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adventures in Writing-Land

It’s been quite a while since I updated this blog with what’s been going on vis-a-vis writing, so this is as much for readers as it is myself to put everything in perspective since January 1st.

I completed the first draft of a 14,000 word “longish” short called “Breathe,” a retrospective of a man in late middle age. Some life experiences never fade with age and the protagonist, Jon, shares the story of his early life as a champion swimmer and what event changed him forever. I expect to have this piece edited by March 31st and posted in this blog or on my website by mid-April.

I just finished an even longer “short” story that is tentatively entitled “A Grand Delusion” (originally a much shorter work called “An Interesting Exchange”). I wrote this story in response to a competition to have a piece featured in Sevastian Winters’ anthology called Bonfire Stories, which is scheduled to be released in e-book format on March 17th. The challenge: write a story with the following introductory sentence: “Jake Everson woke up one day in St. Bart's and picked up the newspaper to discover he'd died that morning in Spain.” As it turns out, he liked my entry along with two others, so we three finalists are waiting to find out which of our stories will be selected. While it would be nice to have a piece published in another anthology, I really just entered for the challenge - though, of course, I’m not going to decline should I win. More on this soon . . .

Another piece I just wrote and published to my website is called “The Packet,” a bit of historical fiction mixed in with a touch of conspiracy theory. I admit, the rumor that inspired the story is difficult for me to believe, but I put that aside to write this story, a tale set during the early 1900’s about man struggling to excise the sins of the past.

Besides these short stories, there are many other works-in progress, including several more short stories, my fourth spec feature-length screenplay and a novel. Thankfully, I’ve been on a creative juggernaut as of late; the down side of that, of course, is there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all. However, I’m not complaining!

May your Muse be kind,


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ode to a Recluse: Thoughts on Salinger

As many other readers (and writers) did this week, I mourned the death of Jerome David Salinger at 91 years old. On Twitter, I posted that he was one of my primary literary influences, but perhaps not for the reasons a writer growing up in the 60's and 70's would typically have. After a Saturday morning of reading the musings of others about Salinger in various blogs, I thought I'd throw my offering into the collection plate of public opinion on this subject.

I was never really moved by The Catcher in the Rye as so many of my contemporaries were. It was mandatory reading for me in high school honors English and I'm sure I thought I wrote a good book report, even though I didn't share Holden Caulfield's rebellious spirit or cynicism and couldn’t relate to him on any level. How could a Catholic school-educated, first-born son ever hope to rebel and not break the hearts of kith and kin? One may think by virtue of that one-line description alone, I would have plenty of reason to raise hell, run away, commit acts of unkindness or even hate the world. Nope; I was destined to be a good boy, leaving for later the "acting out" phase of my life.

When I got older and began to buy the classics for fun instead of obligation, I read some of Salinger's best short works and was finally seduced into believing the somewhat mythic hype about him that had grown during his self-imposed exile from the publishing world. I was convinced that Franny and Zooey was one of the best pieces of literature I ever read up to then (and still insist on that today). Because of Salinger’s new influence on me, I hungered for something that went beyond mere love of his prose: I wanted to be able to move people with words like his work did to me.

When I took those early tentative steps, first writing for myself and later for others, I would take note of the occasional news story that mentioned Salinger and his (even then) famous reclusiveness. The thought disturbed me at the time because while I was striving to find my literary voice, one that others would want to hear, there was Salinger, shunning the world, claiming to enjoy being out of the maelstrom, only writing for his enjoyment alone. How could anybody with such a gift do that? The idea that an artist would almost willfully mute himself, leaving his readers to wait and wonder, seemed almost cruel.

And yet, even in his reclusiveness, Salinger was a genius. Regardless of his reasons for becoming a hermit, his fans always remained hopeful that something new from his pen would someday hit the bookstores. Certain to be his final work, it would be the most magnum of all opuses, a swan song that couldn't be scripted any more dramatically. To my eternal sadness, though, every teasing suggestion that he would publish again was quickly snuffed out. Thus, for many, his reclusiveness became a bigger story than the art he produced. Not for me; in the end, the man became less important than the oeuvre he gave us.

The truth is this: while unlikely to happen in my lifetime, to be able to read a new work from one whose craft was honed over years of being out of the public spotlight would be like hearing a lost symphony by Mozart or viewing a never-seen Van Gogh masterpiece. I suspect Salinger would call that assertion hogwash (or worse), but I would hope he would still be pleased with the comparison.