Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

Some Godfather Therapy

This has been quite a year for so many folks, and the therapy business is, no doubt, booming.

Folks know I’m a big-time fan of “The Godfather Epic“… so, if Don Vito Corleone could use a little group therapy now and then, it must be a good idea …

John Belushi as Don Vito Corleone (Vintage Saturday Night Live clip)

SNL Halloween (… a little late, but still laughing…)

I know it’s long past Halloween, even if there’s still lots of scary stuff around. But this SNL skit had me in … stitches! LOL

(Reminds me of that classic George Carlin line: “If I could reach, I’d never leave the house!” LOL)

Nucky Thompson is Still Right …

Back in March 2016, in a blog post, “Nucky Thompson Was Right“, I wrote:

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson—racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger—lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to ‘the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.’


This nightmarish ‘noble experiment‘ lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR’s initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:


“Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of ‘black-market violence’ and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement’s hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: ‘The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol… [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.'”

In that post, I discussed how the “War on Drugs” was one of those vestiges of the Nixon administration, a policy that Nixon’s chief domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman admitted was a blatant strategy “to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’.” He went on to say: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law—the majority of whom were African-American.

I reiterated in that 2016 post: “For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a ‘War on Drugs,’ 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed—drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets—but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia. It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those ‘beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.”

Well. Something extraordinary happened on Election Day 2020. It was noted by both Jonah Engel Bromwich in his essay, “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic,” and Nicholas Kristof, who writes in his New York Times November 8, 2020 column, “Republicans and Democrats Agree: End the War On Drugs“:

One of America’s greatest mistakes over the last century was the war on drugs, so it’s thrilling to see voters in red and blue states alike moving to unwind it. The most important step is coming in Oregon, where voters easily passed a referendum that will decriminalize possession of even hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, while helping users get treatment for addiction. The idea is to address drug use as a public health crisis more than as a criminal justice issue. In Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, voters decisively passed measures liberalizing marijuana laws. Marijuana will now be legal for medical use in about 35 states and for recreational use in 15 states. …


One result of the war on drugs is that today there are as many Americans with arrest records as with college degrees. Yet we still lost the war. Addiction has soared in the United States, and more Americans die from overdoses each year than died in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. A baby is born dependent on drugs every 15 minutes. … Left and right both recognize the need for new thinking on the topic …


The new Oregon law is modeled after one in Portugal, which pioneered decriminalization and has emphasized treatment of those with addictions. 

The movement from prohibition to treatment will have a decisive impact on the prison population in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Let’s hope that this area of social policy will continue to find friends, both blue and red. Indeed, the time is now.

Postscript (16 November 2020): Check out “Who Will Follow Oregon’s Lead On Drugs” by Dr. Mary Bassett.

Alex Trebek, RIP

Alex Trebek, celebrated host of my favorite game show, “Jeopardy!“, has died at the age of 80 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

What can I say? I know people die all the time. Such is the cycle of life. But damn, this has been a helluva year. I’m going to miss him very much.

Alex Trebek, RIP

Sean Connery, RIP

My all-time favorite 007, Sean Connery, has died, at the age of 90. From the moment I heard him say, “Bond, James Bond” [YouTube link] in “Dr. No” through his Oscar-winning turn as Jimmy Malone in the 1987 film version of “The Untouchables,” he provided us with some of the most entertaining moments in modern cinema.

In addition to that Oscar, Connery was the winner of two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes (including the Cecil B. DeMille Award) and a Kennedy Center Honor.

RIP, Sean.

Song of the Day #1816

Song of the Day: The End of the World, music by Arthur Kent, lyrics by Sylvia Dee, was a crossover Skeeter Davis hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (#2), Hot Country Singles (#2), Hot R&B Singles (#4), and Easy Listening (#1) charts. Over the next seven days, I will be featuring compositions that include the phrase “end of the world” in their song titles. There have been more than two dozen songs recorded with that phrase in the title and countless others devoted to apocalyptic visions of things to come. But I’ve decided to pick just seven songs, touching on themes both personal and political. Folks have wondered why have I not talked much about the upcoming election. Why have I not made any predictions or endorsements? Does it matter? Given how entrenched everybody’s opinions are with regard to the godawful selections before us—and I acknowledge only that some selections are more godawful than others—I know that nothing I say will change anybody’s mind. After a sustained period of pandemics, lockdowns, racial, civil, and political upheaval, protests and riots, hurricanes, massive fires, and flooding—and the year ain’t over folks—I have decided to embrace gallows humor as a coping device! Hellish projections are coming from all sides of the political spectrum as we march toward the upcoming U.S. Presidential election on November 3rd. I dedicate the next week to songs about the “end of the world.” Don’t resist it! Revel in nihilism just a bit—and let’s sing our way into the apocalypse! Here is the first song—and one of the best—to ever use the Phrase of the Moment in its title: the classic original 1962 recording by Skeeter Davis [YouTube link]. Check out other renditions by Brenda Lee, the Carpenters, Sonia, Pat Carroll, Mike Wallace & the Caretakers, Patti Page, Allison Paige, Susan Boyle, Herman’s Hermits, Vonda Shepard, and two “terror-tinged” takes from Anika and, from the psychological horror film, “mother!“, Patti Smith [YouTube links].

Eddie Van Halen, RIP

There are so many articles and posts that have been written in memory of the legendary rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who died yesterday at the age of 65. I couldn’t begin to do justice to the legacy he left behind as one of the most influential rock guitarists of his generation.

But one story did give me a chuckle—as well as insights into Van Halen’s creative contributions, even to other artist’s work. Several writers, including Denise Quan, Damian Jones, and Hillel Italie, recount the story of how the great Quincy Jones contacted the guitarist to provide what would become a sizzling, memorable star-turn solo for Michael Jackson‘s groundbreaking “Beat It” from his 1982 album, “Thriller“—transforming that song into a bona fide Grammy-winning Record of the Year. As Italie writes:

Before Eddie Van Halen agreed to add a guitar break to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of the most famous cameos in rock history, he had to be sure the phone call from producer Quincy Jones wasn’t a practical joke.

“I went off on him. I went, ‘What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!,’ ” Van Halen told CNN in 2012, 30 years after he worked on the song. “And he goes, ‘Is this Eddie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘This is Quincy.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He goes, ‘Quincy Jones, man.’ I went, ‘Ohhh, sorry!’ ”

Van Halen, who died Tuesday at age 65, needed less than an hour in the studio and 20 scorching seconds on record to join white heavy metal to Black pop at a time when they seemed in entirely different worlds, when the young MTV channel rarely aired videos by Black artists. “Beat It” became one of the signature tracks on Jackson’s mega-selling “Thriller” album, won Grammys in 1984 for record of the year and male rock vocal performance and helped open up MTV’s programming.

When Van Halen arrived at the studio in Los Angeles, Jones told him he could improvise. Van Halen listened to “Beat It,” asked if he could rearrange the song and added a pair of solos during which, engineers would long swear, a speaker caught on fire.

As he was finishing, Jackson walked in. “I didn’t know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song,’ ” Van Halen told CNN. “Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.’ ” …

After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

Another amazingly talented musician has left us. And for those who forgot how good he sounded on “Beat It”—check out the Bob Girardi-directed video again:

RIP, Eddie.

Postscript (8 October 2020): Courtesy of my cousin Michael Turzilli, I learned that there was footage from the Victory Tour—the only time Eddie Van Halen appeared on-stage with Michael Jackson (and the Jacksons) to perform “Beat It” live in concert in Texas. Apparently, once word got out that Eddie had done this, his record label pretty much said: “There will be no more of that.” Check it out below!

Advertisers Keeping Us Laughing …

2020 has been some year, but at least advertisers haven’t lost their sense of humor … whether it’s that “Aunt Infestation” Geiko commercial or the Coors beer commercial reminding us of our Zoom-iverse … I can’t help but chuckle. 🙂

Looking at Cleveland Tonight!

Tonight, it starts! In Cleveland!

Does a die-hard Yankee fan watch the Yankees-Indians first postseason game in this off-the-wall 2020 baseball year?

Or do I switch the channel and watch that other sporting event taking place in Cleveland: The First Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden?

I mean, I’m so passionate about both baseball and politics. I can switch between one and the other, I guess. Still, I’d rather watch a baseball game live. If I absolutely must watch that other match, out of civic duty or a streak of masochism, I can always take a look at it on DVR after the game.

What a dilemma! 🙂

Postscript (30 September 2020): On the Facebook thread, one of my pals stated “Support the Mets – then you will never face this kind of dilemma,” and I admitted, that “in truth, as horrible as this might sound to my fellow Yankee fanatics, if the Mets get into the postseason, I root, root, root for the home team. Unless they’re up against the Yanks in a ‘subway series’ (as in 2000).” But this morning I made this observation:

“What a mess in Cleveland last night, eh? Yeah, those Indians lost 12-3 to the Yankees. Now y’all know why I thought it better to watch the game, given that OTHER mess on the stage at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in the same city. SMH”

I do have to say here on this blog that what I watched last night in that first presidential debate was one of the biggest shit-shows I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching political debates. The cringe-worthy moments were coming from both sides of the stage. But I have to admit that this one from The Don probably took the cake:

Asked by Wallace and Biden to condemn white supremacy, Trump said “Sure” but then declined to do so. Biden named the Proud Boys, a far-right group, and Trump replied: “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by … Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem!” The group celebrated his response online and began using the phrase, “Stand back and stand by.”

As a friend of mine said: “If that doesn’t unsettle you, I don’t know what will.”

Song of the Day #1813

Song of the Day: Super Chicken, words and music by Michael Renzi and Luis Santeiro, was the theme song to this cartoon, which was a segment of “George of the Jungle.” Check out the original theme and yet another jazz rendition [YouTube links] from pianist Randy Waldman, featuring clarinetist Eddie Daniels, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and trombonist Bob McChesney. And check out the Emmy Awards tonight!