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Jeff's Watchlist Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Watchlist: The Wrong Man (1956)

The Wrong Man is a 1956 film by Alfred Hitchcock. It is the only time that Hitchcock spoke in any of his films. 

From the opening credits, we learn that a real Detective and District Attorney consulted on this film, and that it was based on a true story. So when the events unfold, you are drawn in because this must be what actually happened. And this must be what it’s like to be put up by the police. 

This retro Warner Bros. Logo in front of a party still looks awesome today.

The cinematography completely carries this film coupled with the insanely well executed editing. I think this is why I have the patience to sit down and watch a 64 year old movie, because the viewer’s eyes are treated with respect. 

Here is a fantastic article from the legendary Guy Hamilton: “Film directors must be gentle to the viewer’s eye”

The camera eases us gently into the story and is not jarring. Then- when you are finally comfortable- the editing creates the intensity and suspense! The fast cutting in the jail cell when our main character Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is finally booked, it’s just terrifying. 

The eyelines, the double takes, the first person views, all incredible use of the camera.

Vera Miles as Rose knocks it out of the park with her acting. Miles and Fonda’s scenes feel totally real, this is a black and white film on the edge of the explosion of filmmaking that was the 60’s, I would say this is really incredible acting. 

Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle) as the defense attorney was great, the whole cast including the ladies at the insurance company played great.

According to IMDb this is the only time Fonda and Hitchcock collaborated, and they really did incredible work making these characters. Only for one moment- when he says his age is 38- did I feel it was a bit unreal. The choke-hold at the end was a bit tame in the action department, but overall I’m watching a movie of its time. Its a movie of its time but that doesn’t hold it back at all! It makes it more authentic. 

There are many universal truths in this film, no one wants to be wrongly accused. I can’t imagine how horrifying it must have been to watch this film when it was just released!

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How To

Fixing An Old MacBook Pro & How To Install A SSD

I have revived my old MacBook Pro from the grave! After doing some housecleaning I decided to try upgrading the internal hard drive to a Solid State Drive. Here is the video:

 

I first got this computer in 2010 from going to university at Full Sail University. It was over $2K for this computer and software. Three years later I would upgrade to a retina macbook which I still use today, so it is true some MacBooks are better than others.

 

I edited this entire video on my laptop with premiere pro except for the graph motion graphic that I decided to make in Cinema 4D on my PC. There is no way this Mac would have handled it. Here is the graph: 

The one thing about editing the video on the mac was, it took a lot longer than on a faster computer, and the color of the overhead shots are not my favorite. It was harder to gauge the color correction on the older screen. I seriously contemplated taking down the video and re-doing the color correction, but I just had to call it finished, it had taken overnight maybe 8 hours to render!

All in all, it was a fun project and It’s a good computer to take on trips where it might get damaged or stolen. 

Unfortunately for new Macs, it seems like its worth waiting till they make significant improvements with the new silicone and power, otherwise I may be building another PC. The price of a new Mac is $2000-8000 for a strong machine, but for $1500 I can build a really great PC. We shall see what Mac comes out with next year.

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Music Reviews

Steely Dan Top 10 Songs Of All Time

      Steely Dan is one of my favorite bands, it wasn’t always like that. As a teenager I despised when my Mom’s iPod played “My Old School” I though it was dated, contrived, yawn inducing.

Jumping ten years into the future 2014, I am living in Los Angeles, which has become the capital of music, and I meet a lot of music people. 

One person I met who was older had an infinity for Steely Dan. Supposedly, he knew at least one of the members personally. Well having a distaste for Steely Dan, all I could think was, how could this guy enjoy this band so much!?

 

I loved hearing his life story, and it made me want to open my horizons to this band. I went on my music streaming service and listened to most of the songs over months. I believe I was using amazon music at the time (Side note- amazon music was trash in 2014. The songs would have skipping playback errors! And it would delete my playlists!)  

I have never wrote a ranking list like this before, and thought it would be fun to do it for a band that I have listened to so many of their songs that may not be as noticed. This is a top 10 list I have written after listening to every Steely Dan Song in June/July 2020. Here we go:

 

Steely Dan Top Ten Songs:

  1.  Kid Charlemagne  – this is my favorite song period. it tells a story and its nonstop catchy awesomeness.
  2. Reelin’ In The YearsNothing to say but epic.
  3. Do it AgainClassic instantly recognizable hit.
  4. Deacon Blues -Its so good.
  5. Peg -Another hit.
  6. The Caves Of Altamira – The more I listen the better it gets.
  7. Midnite CruiserIts a really dope song but the lyrics are fine. at the time it must have been huge.
  8. Bad SneakersThis is a true Steely Dan original hit.
  9. Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)Solid. Slower song that fits perfectly in the album.
  10. Kings – Its a fine song however at first I feel the melody isn’t enjoyable enough, the theme and lyrics didn’t interest me. After more listens I enjoy the melody’s sharp hits. The guitar solo goes crazy, it gets better and better after repeated listening.

 

You may be asking, why isn’t x in your top 10, its a Steely Dan hit!. Well I left a couple of their top songs out of the running, such as Dirty Work. Well the reason is this list is my top ten, right now in 2020. I have listened to these songs so many times they have lost their luster me and that is a factor in my decision making. I have listened to Kid Charlemagne about 500 times and it just never gets old to me!

 

As I am writing this, Kid Charlemagne is my favorite song of all time. It hasn’t always been my favorite song, but after my studies it became my favorite. The guitar solo is my favorite. I don’t know why its my favorite sometimes but I can listen to it over and over again, ask my wife how much I annoy her by listening to the same songs on repeat! I think it’s a beautiful thing in the world of music that, somehow I still want to keep listening to this music like its comforting to my brain to go over the same song neural pathways.

I am at awe that on Spotify Kid Charlemagne is not in the top played! How is this possible? Also, how many people around the world have physical copies of Steely Dan music and love that album? It must be a huge number.

 

I’ve grown up listening to the music of my parents. The 60’s to the 80’s. James Taylor, Carol King, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Chapin, these musicians shaped my musical world and is what I love to listen to today. Spotify says my favorite genre is actually “retro pop”. Which means I like modern day bands that make new music that sounds like the past, or is it something new and revised?

 

And why am I writing this now? why because I have the time to listen to all of this music. I have listened to a lot of music while working from home. If I am doing almost anything work or art or games or activities I want to have music on in the background.

 

Looking at how many of my top songs are from their first album, its interesting to see how they developed their signature sound and style from the beginning, its truly impressive, some musical acts take a moment before they find their groove where Steely Dan started with a BANG! They have stayed true to their form and deserve their spot as one of the greatest bands of all time, at least in my view! Thanks for reading!

 

 

*Disclaimer. All of my writing is for fun, as a hobby. I am not a music critic.

**Disclaimer 2. This is my Point Of View. I have generational bias because I am a Millennial, right? I am writing this at 28 years old. Steely Dan has a profound effect on music culture, so their sounds have been copied and contrived by many other acts and I have to remember that they were some of the first musical acts to innovate in rock and blues.

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Jeff's Watchlist Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Watchlist: The Irishman from the Theater Perspective

The Irishman will be available on Netflix in one week on the 27th, and then you will be able to watch this 3.5 hour long movie right on your phone. This is my perspective of seeing it in a Theater. I was fortunate enough to see it in the two greatest cinemas in all of the United States: The American Cinematheque Egyptian Theater, and the TCL Chinese Theater, both in the heart of Hollywood Los Angeles. 

At the second one, I had the pleasure of filming Martin Scorsese having a conversation about his career and latest film. During the talk he mentioned how great it is to see in a theater.

If you are going to watch the film when it comes out on netflix, and you don’t have a decent home theatre setup where you can crank the sound- I fear it’s just not going to be the same. There are social qualities that are missing when you watch at home. You are going to use your phone or laptop, and you will pause it and get up to use the bathroom or cook. The movie has such a unique pacing that it’s taking away from what you see. After hour two, being with these characters for so long, you get comfortable unlike other films. There are so many small interesting scenes packed into the picture that you might not get it if you are scrolling on Instagram, and the pacing of the film is extremely deliberate even though its 3.5 hours. You don’t want to pause because it’s not the way the movie was edited. No Intermission.

This is my opinion just from the film narrative perspective. I did not read the Book before watching and my friend said the book has a lot of info that matters for the film, I wish I had read it before watching however that ship has sailed. So I am only going off the Film story. I only knew who Jimmy Hoffa was from my dad’s jokes when it would be on the news- who is going to dig up Shea stadium this year. I am at the tail end of the “Millennial generation, so give me a break. So what I’m saying is this film was an education.

I wish there were more scenes of the Irishman in Italy during the war. If it was such a huge part of this guys life, why was there not a bit more attention taken there, I mean we really didn’t need all of the scenes in hour 2 of the 3.5 hour long movie.

I am really thankful I didn’t have to get up and use the restroom during each viewing, that would have been unfortunate.

The Visual effects are spectacular. I never once was taken out of the story because of the digital makeup, and I did notice a few shots where it looked weird- but totally from a whole thing was almost flawless. This is a clear evolution and stepping stone in the world of VFX. This trend starting with Benjamin Button, this is huge, now many actors are going to digitally de-age themselves.

On the second viewing, I could tell that during the beginning when our boy frank goes and curb-stomps the Grocery managers hand, it is my theory that’s a De Niro stunt double- and his whole head was digitally replaced. And that jacket with a high collar was no accident- that was to hide as much of the neck as possible- which is extremely hard to pull off flawless CGI. On my first viewing, I could tell in one or two scenes that the neck of De Niro would look a little weird and glossy. Overall, if you watched this film not knowing about the CGI, you can most certainly be mystified by the power of cinema.

At the end of the film it turns to reflection and closure. It is really sorrow at the pinnacle, however I also get this feeling in the back of my head, why would I sympathies for such a ruthless hitman? He is one of the best hit-men in any movie because he never gets attacked himself and never has to use anything but a quick gun. Barely one physical fight in the whole film.

I am not going to say much about the acting in this film- there isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said- its impeccable. This movie has fantastic side characters Action Bronson and Ray Romano. Scorsese loves to have a big band in his film with a wild lead singer, and Silvio Dante does not disappoint! I loved to see him in the film after watching The Sopranos. 

And look at the character of Pesci- he lived a whole life and anyone who crossed him got theirs cut short. For sure it seems that he won- he was a super well respected mob boss for decades and decades, that’s impressive. 

The best part of the film has to be the courtroom scene- “You charge a guy with a gun, if he has a knife- you run.”

The film has so much humor, and appropriately the humor cuts off before the ending and tone becomes wholly satisfying.

I have a theory that the film may have originally been thought of as a series, for its slow pace can match a series and that its shot in 16/9 aspect ratio.

The cinematography was great, however I don’t think it was as exceptional as the other parts of the film- makeup, costume, story, VFX. I am thinking they couldn’t move the camera much because it would make the VFX look not believable. Only during courtroom scenes does the camera move- EXCEPT! There is one moment towards the end when the camera makes the same move as in a courtroom- a jib down and pan, its a pinnacle moment and this subtle subconscious technique to match the emphasis with the courtroom is why Scorsese is the best.

To prove to you the ridiculous and hilarious swag from Netflix I present you a great quoted napkin from the Premiere of the film, the poster set with behind the scenes snapshots from the Cinemateque premiere, and here is the awesome popcorn bag from the AFI Fest Gala presentation of the film with a talk from Martin Scorsese.

The whole cast and Scorsese’s directing is incredible, this one more incredible film that is up there with all of the other incredible films he has made. Upon my second viewing I found the greatest morsel of dramatic irony in the film is Frank placing a handgun down next to his bed constantly when on protection with Jimmy, well not once does he have to use it, and in the end Frank is the man to do Jimmy in, he was in the same room the whole time.

The one flaw in the 3.5 hour long movie is, who was frank really? So much of the film centers around the organization and who everyone is- literally we know everyone and how they die. But who was frank on the inside? I would have liked to see more explanation of his motivation to be apart of something, to go from being the outsider Irishman to one of the gang.

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Book Reviews

Reading “Where The Red Fern Grows” As A 27 Year Old Living In Los Angeles

I knew the name from the movie adaptations, so it peaked my interested when I picked up the book at the USC book fair in 2018. It cost me a whole dollar to purchase- complete with wafty scents of an old book on every page.

My copy of "Where The Red Fern Grows"

I thought, why not- the title Where The Red Fern Grows is such a good title I am going to read it. The cover art is also great and mysterious.

The perspective of a boy in the rural Ozark mountains is beautiful escapism. The descriptions of the country and the boys dogs caught my full attention. This is a story with descriptions only found from someone who’s been and raised there. As an adult living in Los Angeles this was a great education on dog hunting. I did not know this was a children’s book upon reading, and frankly didn’t cross my mind because I fully enjoyed the pace of the story and how everything unfolds smoothly.

How normal does this book make hunting? It seems that everyone is good at it and knows how to skin an animal. I am aware of where my food comes from yes, however this is a boy who just skins these animals in just a single sentence. It’s definitely a different time 100 years ago in the Ozarks than it is today. 

The back of the book has a short summary that starts with- I kid you not “A loving threesome” well that etymology did not age well at all. A much different meaning than it did in 1961 or whenever this version was published. Another piece of the book that has not aged well is the word coons. I didn’t fully understand what it meant as I don’t recall one time the full spelling of racoons. Now I am aware of the derogatory term and the animal term, but I wanted to google it to be sure and when you google image search you get lots of fluffy cats. 

The sappiness is what catches you off guard.The story is really melancholy and pretty sappy, the boy is crying at anything! He’s sad he cries, he’s happy he cries, it’s a lot of crying all around. I was expecting far more conflict throughout the story, which made me think of the TV shows and movies of the last 20 years, it feels like we have been in a time of negativity, every conflict, every misunderstanding, every dilemma is met with a hard lesson. In this book it was a nice break from the negativity of our time. What caught me off guard is when Billy has the accident with the pritchard boys, to me it seemed like it would become a massive problem, the family would want vengeance or have a whole different version of the story, well five pages later we don’t hear about it anymore! Just like that a death is brushed under the rug. Well that was unexpected because a story today would take it much more serious. 

To be honest, the lack of conflict was one of the reasons why I breezed through the book and enjoyed the story so much, to have the kid win and enjoy life with his pups and be happy, its a break from the norm of today. Today it seems like so much writing and foreshadowing is focused on misery. A dystopian re-telling. A dark reboot. It’s so ingrained in film and TV today that we take it as granted, well personally it’s getting pretty tiresome. This is why it was hard to continue watching six feet under because it was so dark and depressing. Dark and sad stories are great and cathartic however there are just far too many of them today and to break from the normal and read this book was a good welcome change.

Do I recommend this book: Yes!

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Jeff's Watchlist Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Watchlist: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Just watched Shadow of a Doubt after watching this interview with Hitchcock on the Dick Cavett Show. Shadow of a doubt is a fantastic movie. Spoilers from beyond here, the movie is 76 years old, okay. The ending is exiting, and exhilarating to this day.

47 years ago was this interview. 6/8/1972. This interview is fantastic, and I immediately wanted to take a look at this movie. I watched it on YouTube, really great quality.

The cinematography of the movie really blew me away, I thought the contrast and choice of slow setups was fantastic. I feel that when you follow characters like that and the camera doesn’t deviate from showing the body of the actors like a stage play, it gives the viewer an omniscient view of the movie, we know what’s up, not like slight of hand cinematography where an object is obscured behind another object, or off screen, for dramatic effect.

I loved the ending, and the lead up to the ending, so basically the whole move. Disclaimer: I did end up watching this movie in two parts, feel no repercussions on that, a lot of course is from another time. On the other hand the slow burn and the classic Americana was so great. When we see uncle charlie’s madness at the dinner table talking about how useless these old ladies are to him- I was thinking, no one is going to call him out on that? The last moments with the fight on the train is exhilarating for such a aged film, really, in 2019 I was rooting for Charlie to take out Uncle Charlie so hard. Why are there names so similar?

I loved the scenes of crossing the road in the 40’s. My favorite scene was the bank scene, making papa a fool in front of his coworkers, but as far as we know Uncle Charlie is a total bad-ass who puts people in their place and has stacks of cash to back up his IDGAF attitude. Each family member is so great in the story, for now I rate this movie 8/10.