Top Ten Cuba

Cuba has been in the news these past few days following an announcement from the Trump White House that U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will be rolled back to pre-Obama levels.  This saddens me, although I should clarify that Cuba was never fully open to Americans, anyway.  For one thing, American credit and debit cards still do not work in Cuba.  For another thing, travel requires a reciprocal visa and is supposed to fall into one of 12 categories (click here for more information, and check back often, as policies are subject to change).

This is all too bad.  Cuba is not our enemy, and nor is its leader, Raúl Castro, who took over for his more notorious brother roughly ten years ago.  But Raúl has promised to step down in 2018, so who knows what the future brings?

I love Cuba, and it takes at least two hands to count off the number of things I like about the country.  Below, after much nostalgic deliberation, is my Cuba top ten:

Continue reading “Top Ten Cuba”

(Yet Another) Ten Good Stephen King Books (#31-40)

2017 is forecast to be a good year for Stephen King.  Last month saw the release of his latest Castle Rock novella, Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written by Cemetery Dance magazine editor Richard Chizmar.  The April posting of the latest It Part One theatrical trailer set an online record for the most views, and before the year is out the big screen will also see the release of the long-gestating Dark Tower movie.  The trailer for that also looks great, albeit very, very different from the 4,000-page anthology.  If that isn’t enough, later this year Spike TV will host a 10-episode mini-series remake of The Mist.  Here, too, is the trailer for that.  Enjoy!

As I sit here, about to read The Stand for the third time, I want to note that few authors merit a top ten list, let alone four top ten lists!  But then, few authors have the cumulative body of work that Mr. King has, with roughly 75 novels, collections, collaborations, screenplays, and non-fiction pieces.  There may be a few pieces of rotten meat in that literary smorgasbord, but the list you are about to read takes us to number 40 and the books on said list are still good, perhaps even great.

So with that, here are yet another ten good Stephen King books:

Continue reading “(Yet Another) Ten Good Stephen King Books (#31-40)”

Top Ten Films of 2016

Last year wasn’t a good year for movies.  It seemed that every other weekend saw the release of a second-rate animated film, or of yet another superhero sequel.  I still haven’t seen Moana (which, as it happens, garnered strong reviews) or X-Men: Apocalypse (which did not).

There were several bright spots, however.  Most of them came late in the year, and by the usual troupe of go-to writers, actors, and directors.  Robert Zemeckis teamed up with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard for Allied, a throwback to classics like Casablanca.  (If only it was shot in black-and-white.)  Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks worked together for the first time on Sully, one of the shorter – and better – movies of the year.  Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Amy Adams, Jeff Bridges, Emma Stone, and Michael Keaton all showed up…some of them (the five-times-nominated Ms. Adams, for one) more than once!

Two trends revealed themselves as the nominations were announced: films starring minorities, and films based on actual events.  Hidden Figures introduced us to the black women who worked, unheralded for many years, on NASA’s computing team, while Loving showed us what went down when a white man married to a black woman was told that he and his wife could not live in Virginia.  Both movies took place in the same state, and around the same decade, and the events depicted in them really happened.  Stylistically, however, they couldn’t be more different.

Hidden Figures and Loving each earned slots on my top ten list for the year.  They are joined by eight other worthy films…three of which, like the two mentioned above, are based on actual events!

GringoPotpourri’s Top Ten Films of 2016:

Continue reading “Top Ten Films of 2016”

Even More Great Holiday Songs (21-30)

12-31-2015

Winter came late to Tennessee this year.  Although it is December, there are still leaves on the trees in my front yard.  Two days of moderate rainfall hearkened the start of the cold season, and, wonder of wonders, aided in efforts to combat the nearby Gatlinburg fires.

But it has definitely turned cold.  And speaking of fires, I wish I had a fireplace of my own to curl up in front of, perhaps with a glass of red wine in one hand and the dog by my side while we listen to some of my favorite holiday carols.  And with that, I present, for the third year in a row, my ranking of ten (more) favorite Christmas songs.

Ten More Holiday Songs (with YouTube links):

Continue reading “Even More Great Holiday Songs (21-30)”

Even More Great Horror Movies (21-30)

it-poster

I love top ten lists!  I have, in fact, already published two top ten lists related to scary movies.  Psycho, Halloween, The Shining, Friday the 13th, and The Sixth Sense are just five of my favorites, and they each appeared somewhere in the (thus far) top 20.  My original lists are here and here.

It is a funny thing about horror movies, though.  They seem rife not just for sequels but for remakes.  Four of the five films mentioned above have been remade (with the original remaining superior in each instance).  As I continued the list for this Halloween season with ten more scary movies, I noticed that four of those films have also been, or are currently being, remade.  Additionally, one of them is the sequel to a film that was remade, while another one is a remake!

What else can be said, except to remark about the genre’s durability and profitability…and for me to share my list of ten more great scary movies:

Continue reading “Even More Great Horror Movies (21-30)”

Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)

DSC_0038

I recently watched an interesting pair of biopics that make for companion pieces of sorts.  The first, Unbroken, a 2014 WWII drama directed by Angelina Jolie and taken from the book by Lauren Hillenbrand, reintroduces the world to Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Torrance, CA-born long distance runner who made a splash at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 before joining the war effort, crashing into the Pacific, and spending two years in a Japanese POW camp.  The second film, 2016’s Race, details the struggles of Ohio State graduate and African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those same Berlin Olympics – a new world record that made one Adolf Hitler none too pleased.

The two films complement each other in several ways.  First, in Unbroken, we see a brief glance at the face of a black athlete in Berlin, and are supposed to assume that this is Owens.  Second, both films depict, in that timeless sports drama tradition, the triumph over adversity and the struggle against impossible odds.  Third – and a detriment to both films – they “whitewash” later aspects of their characters’ lives.  The takeaway from Hillenbrand’s book was that Zamperini dedicated his post-WWII life to God.  This fact earns barely a mention at the end of Jolie’s film.  As for Owens, he battled the IRS for much of his post-Olympics life, but that subplot didn’t make the final cut of Race.  If that small detail doesn’t make for the most exciting of dramas, it at least grounds the athlete in Everyman reality.  Zamperini and Owens were just people, same as the rest of us.

A good sports drama will show us what made its subject such a remarkable athlete.  A great sports drama will complement – or at least counter – the character’s physical accomplishments with humanizing (or, in the case of Raging Bull, the best sports biography, dehumanizing) subplots.  Only boxing films seem to get it right.

My work was cut out for me last month when I came up with a top ten list of biopics – movies about the lives of real people.  How do you depict a life on screen?  And who is to say what makes a life worthy of having a movie made about it?  Several of the films I came up were larger-than-life epics.  Adventure films like Lawrence of Arabia and Patton earned a few places on the list.  Others, like Frida and The Imitation Game, revolved around artists and inventors.  One, the aforementioned Raging Bull, focused on a truly gifted – but truly monstrous – human being.

But there are more than just ten good stories out there.  Here are ten more great screen biopics:

Continue reading “Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)”

Another Ten Great Stephen King Books (#21-30)

reading sk

The sheer number of page views for my Top Ten Stephen King Books and my Ten More Great Stephen King Books blog posts from January, 2015 and April, 2015, respectively, surely say more about my readership’s love for King’s writing than for my own.

I recently breezed through Mr. King’s most recent novel, Finders Keepers, as well as his latest short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  Good reads both.  I am currently reading, for the third time, King’s third novel, The Shining, and will likely follow that up with its stellar 2013 sequel, Doctor Sleep.  In other words: I simply can’t get enough of SK’s writing.

I thought I would continue my literary ranking of his body of work with the next ten best Stephen King books.  To whit:

Continue reading “Another Ten Great Stephen King Books (#21-30)”

Top Ten Sports Movies

raging bull

I believe that a man can be either a sports geek or a movie geek, but not both.  This sentiment is sort of like that deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, in which Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) interviews Vincent Vega (John Travolta) before their big date, and asks him if he is an Elvis fan or a Beatles fan.  “Elvis fans can love the Beatles, and Beatles fans can love Elvis, but no one loves them both equally,” she says.  I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment (and I’m a Beatles fan, for the record), and I believe that the sentiment applies to sports/movie geek-dom as well.

You can put me firmly in the latter category.  I like sports…but I love movies.  I don’t follow NFL football or NCAA basketball, but I’ll happily watch a movie on the subject.  I have never attended a boxing match, but I always enjoy a good mano-a-mano, big screen, pugilist drama.  It does seem to me that boxing and baseball movies strive for greater realism than other sports films, and you won’t be surprised to find three of each on the list below.

With the advance disclaimer that I have never seen The Bad News Bears (gasp!), I present my ranking of the top ten sports movies:

Continue reading “Top Ten Sports Movies”

Top Ten Screen Biopics

IMG_20151009_153114

I recently watched the film Mr. Turner, a biopic from director Mike Leigh about the last 25 years in the life of British seascape painter HMW Turner.   Although I love art, I must confess that I wasn’t too familiar with Turner’s work, as the majority of his collection is housed inside the Tate Britain, a museum that I have yet to visit.  The movie suggested that Mr. Turner (played by Timothy Spall) was always composing art in his mind, and that he failed at most other aspects of life, including relationships, until he finally settled down with a widowed innkeeper late in life.  The “script” for the film was conceived by Leigh yet was comprised largely of dialogue improvised by the cast during rehearsals prior to shooting.  The result is a long movie of vignettes, some of them funny, linked by some of the most painterly cinematography I’ve seen in a film in a long time.

Naturally, I started thinking.  What are the best screen biographies to come out of Hollywood, or out of cinema in general?  The aforementioned, at times aimless Mr. Turner wouldn’t quite make the cut, but the “artist” category no doubt produced at least one-half dozen contenders in a single sub-genre.  Ditto for the categories of actor/actress, singer/musician, athlete, politician/war hero, physically/mentally challenged, etc.

Continue reading “Top Ten Screen Biopics”

Top Ten Films of 2015

Although there are good movies every year, it seems that we have a banner year for cinema roughly once every two or three years.  2014 was one of those years, with Birdman, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Edge of Tomorrow, Whiplash, and The Imitation Game being just a few of the stellar releases.  2012 was another; Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Skyfall, Django Unchained, The Avengers, Wreck-It Ralph and one of my personal all-time favorites, Cloud Atlas, were among the year’s stellar releases.

2015 cinema, as a whole, wasn’t nearly as memorable.  We had another Bond movie, another Tarantino film, and the first true sequel to The Avengers…yet none of these films were quite on par with their predecessors.  Sure, a small film called Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens continues to slay box office records like Kylo Ren’s lightsaber as it plunges through _____’s stomach, but I wasn’t as taken by its unoriginal story as some fans were.

Still, I’ve been on a major movie-watching kick of late.  I have finally seen most of the 2015 releases that interest me, and I’m fairly certain that I’ve caught up on the majority of Oscar contenders.  (I will find out for certain once the nominees are announced next week.)  There certainly are enough good films to compile a top ten list, something I am wont to do.  Here goes…without spoilers!

GringoPotpourri’s Top Ten Films of 2015:

Continue reading “Top Ten Films of 2015”