5 Kickass Kung Fu Flicks from the 1970s

5 Kickass Kung Fu Flicks from the 1970s

The '70s gave us horrible fashion and some horrible music and weird films. I grew up in the '70s and when you're in the middle of it, especially as a kid, you can't really understand how weird a decade it was. But I think the '70s produced the coolest martial arts films--especially the Shaw Brothers films.

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Frank Sinatra - Five of My Favorites

Frank Sinatra - Five of My Favorites

It's difficult to pick only five since Frank is one of my all-time favorites. These albums were meant to be listened to side one and side two and in order (I know, heresy in this age of digital music and the option to buy single tracks--oh, by the way, we had that too when I was a kid--they were called 45s. Moving on...

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Where To Start: Entertaining Guests Part I

I tried posting this last week, and somehow it didn't work out and got lost. *shrug*

This series of post is for those of you who'd love to entertain, but don't know where to begin. Do you ever watch classic films and simply love the way they have their place setup and how they always have the proper libations at hand?

This post's focus will be setting up and stocking a home bar. A small aside--when I was a kid, I'd go to some people's homes and all they had was water and milk. Come to think of it, even as an adult I've been faced with that exact choice.

First rule of having guests--you must have an assortment of things to drink.

But how do you go about setting up a home bar?

Bar tools:  cocktail shaker (just go with an all metal type if you're uncomfortable with the Boston shaker --glass and metal), jigger, bar spoon, strainer, and maybe a muddler. These are the basics. You don't have to be fancy here and you could make do with some kitchen items you already have, but you can get these things in a kit from places like Williams Sonoma or World Market.


Where To Start: Hitchcock Films

I've been a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan since I was a teenager. I collected Hitchcock movies on VHS back in the 80s and still have a few on LaserDisc.  I'm a sucker for upgrading certain films when they become available on a higher resolution format.

You may scoff at collecting old movies on Blu-Ray, an important thing to remember (and I'm getting off track a little here, but it's worth mentioning) that just because a movie is old doesn't mean that in the theaters it wasn't high resolution. The limiting factor for home viewing has always been the old CRT televisions and the means of playing the old movies.  I'm sorry, but watching Casablanca on Blu-Ray is worth it!  One thing to watch for though when buying Blu-Rays is to be sure they aren't simply taken from DVD copies and upconverted. Anyway--major digression--

Hitchcockian Elements:  There are a few types of Hitchcock films out there:

  • Wrong man/mistaken identity
  • Psychological
  • Suspense
  • Horror
  • Confined spaces/limited sets
  • Artsy
  • Plain old drama

I typically think of them in this way, oh, and by the way, he often combines all the elements. Even in his more "pure" dramas there is suspense or some psychological aspect. There are way more elements than these he tends to toss into his films, but the list above shows the basics.

Here I'm going to tell you where I'd start if I was approaching Hitchcock for the first time knowing now what I didn't back in the 1980s:

You could begin with #1 or #2 here, or if you like some of the actors and actresses I list, go ahead and start with their film(s).  Hitchcock used the same actors and actresses quite a bit.

  1. Psycho: This may be obvious, but for mass appeal, I'd start with Pyscho--released in 1960, this is late-period Hitchcock, but so wonderful. Spooky and tense. I'd say it holds up pretty well. A motel out in the desert with a creepy old victorian house overlooking it?  psychological, suspense, horror, and some artsy moments--usually with clever shots
  2. Rear Window:  Any film with Grace Kelly and James Stewart is a winner, I shouldn't even have to write anything else about it.  Stewart plays a photographer trapped in his NYC apartment because he broke his leg. He stares into the courtyard day and night and gets to know all the details about his neighbors--oh, and he believes there has been a murder. See this one. In fact, you could start here if you like.  confined space, suspense, drama
  3. Notorious:  Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Again, should be enough. Grant plays a government agent attempting to ferret out Nazis in South America while Bergman goes undercover to find out what the Nazis are up to. This is a great spy movie packed with suspense and a love story. Claude Rains is wonderful in his role, and you almost feel sorry for him.  suspense, drama
  4. North By Northwest:  Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau. Great cast. This film may be the broadest in scope of all the Hitchcock films. This is a mistaken identity film filled with intrigue which takes Grant across the country in order to prove his innocence. This film has it all: wrong man, suspense, drama, love story, and plenty of artsy techniques.
  5. Rope:  I really like the films Hitchcock did where the space is limited (see Rear Window above and not mentioned here--Lifeboat).  Rope is a story about not getting away with the perfect murder, but if some people have a right to murder people they feel are inferior to them intellectually.  This one was done as to appear as one seamless take with no cuts. It's an interesting film to watch for the premise alone.  confined space, suspense, horror, psychological
  6. The 39 Steps:  This is a wrong man film. Again, on the run after he is mistaken for a murderer. A lot of fun and this one is considered Hitchcock's commercial breakthrough.  I believe this is the first of his many "wrong man" films. This one, too, has spies and a broader scope--not quite like North By Northwest, but this was made in 1935!
  7. The Lady Vanishes: takes place mainly on a train and is a wonderful mystery. This one is like a comic thriller in a lot of ways. Witty.  A young woman meets an older woman who seems to disappear into thin air. The young woman gets drawn into a complex mystery.
  8. Strangers On A Train:  based off the Patricia Highsmith novel, and the inspiration for another of my favorites--Throw Momma From The Train. 

'm stopping with these seven. There are quite a few I've left off the list that I adore. Spellbound, Vertigo, The Birds, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, The Man Who Knew Too Much (the earlier one with Peter Lorre rather than the James Stewart/Doris Day version), To Catch A Thief, and Rebecca. There are more though, many, many more to find and enjoy.

Rebecca is a great movie (and won an Academy Award)--winning against another Hitchcock film from the same year--Foreign Correspondent! I wouldn't recommend starting with it since it isn't the typical Hitchcock film.

Bottom line: if you enjoy suspense-filled films with the best actors and actresses of their generation, check out Hitchcock. If you want to own the films, find the Criterion versions (many of them are being re-released on Blu-Ray).  The transfers are wonderful, and they usually clean up the sound a bit--but while the picture may be wonderful, many times the sound quality is what lags.

Do you have a favorite Hitchcock film?  Maybe a modern day film or director equivalent?

Where To Start: Mysteries

I've decided to start a series of posts about where to start. This could be where to start almost anything--books, movies, collecting, clothing, style, food, etc.

I'm starting with a literary genre today:  Mystery

A few years back I took a short story workshop, and then last year took a mystery workshop taught by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (if you want to kickstart your writing, or want to be tossed into the deep end with writing, I highly recommend traveling to the Oregon coast and take one of Kris's, or her husband Dean Wesley Smith's writing workshops).

Why do I bring up the workshop? Well, apparently I had some notion that most mysteries were simply Agatha Christie cozies and hadn't given much thought to sub-genres.  There are many, many sub-genres.

So back to where to start: This is a broad overview of mysteries and ultimately, you're going to have to sample the sub-genres to determine what works for you as a reader. I loved cozies growing up, but now I enjoy hardboiled, noir, detective, and police procedurals more.

Cozy:  Cozy mysteries are usually not bloody or graphic and typically take place in more confined settings. They typically have an amateur detective working toward solving the crime with the occasional cameo by some sort of law enforcement - often they're of the bumbling or not-quite-with-it variety.

Cozies are a pretty popular sub-genre right now and they have a definite look to them on the shelf. Bright colors, titles that are puns, sometimes cats on the cover as well. Also, cozies are the shortest of the genres, so they're a quick and fun read.

But where should you start?  Go ahead and start with a Christie--any old Miss Marple will do, though on television and movies I'm partial to Hercule Poirot.  Try A Murder Is Announced:  A bunch of people are summoned to a house and someone is murdered right under everyone's noses.

Detective:   Detective stories can be private detectives/investigators or law enforcement detectives.  These range from light, near cozy style to dark mystery, noir and beyond--pretty much a catch-all category. These are not police procedurals --that is a separate sub-genre. These stories focus on the detective.  Honestly, even cozies fit into this category since many of them are using amateur detectives. TV version of the standard detective story would be: Magnum P.I. for example.

But where to start?  I'd say go for Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series, beginning with The Black Echo.  I'd characterize the series as a standard detective series that is squarely in the middle of the light to dark spectrum (cozy being light, noir being dark).

Police Procedural:  The main character works for the police, or is an attorney, or is a federal law enforcement officer, etc.  These stories focus on the procedures in solving a crime.

Hill Street Blues is a great TV example of the procedural--in fact, the series was based off Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels which I'm going to recommend here. There were also plenty of TV movies based on these novels. But if you enjoy seeing how the justice system works or how police go about solving crimes, then procedurals are for you.

Where to start?  Ed McBain--he wrote a ton of books based around the fictional 87th Precinct. They are great reads and pretty fast.  You can start almost anywhere with them despite them having recurring characters. McBain wrote these from the mid 1950's all the way until around 2005--so, there's quite a bit of material there.

Hardboiled:  I think these are my favorites. Character driven and a lot of attitude. You feel the world, see everything from the character's point of view. The main character is cynical, but has a moral code.  The world the character inhabits is visceral, gritty, and typically urban.

There are modern examples of hardboiled, but I love the classics:  Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane. If you enjoy tough, gritty guys slapping people around, but have a need to make things right, this is the genre for you.

Where to start? Here you could go with The Big SleepThe Maltese Falcon, or I, The Jury.  The movie versions of Sleep and Falcon are great since you get to watch Humphrey Bogart. For the Mickey Spillane I recommend Kiss Me Deadly. I wrote about the film here.

Noir:  I hadn't read too much noir before taking the Mystery Workshop. For the class we read The Ghosts Of Belfast by Stuart Neville. We were also assigned Fatherland by Robert Harris which I had read before. Fatherland  can also double as a detective genre as well as alternate history. Ghosts is straight noir. If you enjoy dark, hopeless stories and people who are really screwed up, and everything sucks, well--maybe you should seek counseling.  These aren't light books, or light reading: be prepared for an ending that isn't likely to be pretty.

Where to start?  For really dark, try The Ghosts of Belfast. If you prefer a little detective and alternate history involving Nazis then try Fatherland.  Batman can be noir by the way and science fiction has quite a bit of noir.

There is another type of crime novel--which is really what the mystery genre should be called by the way.  Thriller.  I'm not going to get into this sub-genre since it's really the least pure of the crime novels.  Though, I do enjoy a good heist movie or novel--but heists aren't always Thrillers since they can be paced slower and thrillers are definitely quickly paced with hardly a rest.

Hopefully this was a decent primer on reading the various genres of mystery--many thanks to Kris Rusch for teaching me what is required to be able to write in the sub-genres.