Novel Review: Oath of Office by Steven J. Kirsch

Last week, I returned to exploring my aunt’s old collection of paperback books and I read Oath of Office, a political thriller that was originally published way back in 1988.

U.S. Sen. Jonathan Starr has just been elected to the presidency of the United States of America.  As the first Jewish person to win the presidency, Starr is set to make history as soon as he’s sworn in.  However, there’s a problem.  Starr’s been kidnapped!  The morning after his upset victory, Starr finds himself in the trunk of a car and later confined to a cell.  With no knowledge of who has kidnapped him or what his ultimate fate is going to be, Starr can only wait and have numerous flashbacks to the events that led to him winning the presidency.

Meanwhile, the man that Starr defeated, President Sutherland, is trying to figure out who is behind the kidnapping.  Was Starr abducted by the Russians?  Or perhaps the kidnapping is the work of one of the Middle Eastern terrorist groups who is trying to thwart Sutherland’s efforts to bring peace to region?  Maybe it’s the senator from Texas whose dialogue consists of stuff like, “Ah’ve been workin’ on this deal …. we’ll git it through befo’ the election.”  (That’s an actual quote from the book, by the way.  It seems like it would have been simpler just to say that the man had an accent but some writers just have to be cute about things.)  There’s a lot of possibilities but we know that Starr’s kidnapping was masterminded by an imprisoned mobster, largely because the book tells us early on.  I personally would have dragged out the suspense but no matter!

While secret service agent Andy Reynolds is trying to track Starr down, the Speaker of the House is plotting to take power for himself.  He and his people have come across what they believe to be a loophole in the Constitution, which will keep the electoral college from being able to vote for either Starr or his running mate.  In which case, the Speaker will automatically become president as soon as the incumbent’s term expires.  So, yes, this is another political thriller where the plot largely hinges on a reading of the Constitution that any halfway experienced attorney would easily be able to shoot down.

As you can probably guess, this book has its flaws.  According to the blurb on the back, this was the author’s first novel and I have no idea if he ever wrote a second one.  There are a lot of points in the story that don’t ring true, especially in the flashbacks to Starr’s early political career and the author has a bad habit of telling us things as opposed to showing them.  And, of course, there’s that terrible attempt to capture the Texas accent.  Don’t even get me started on that. 

That said, the idea behind the book is an interesting one.  Only two people of Jewish descent have ever been nominated by a major political party.  Barry Goldwater was an Episcopalian while Joseph Liebermann found himself being opposed by the anti-Semites in his own party.  Of course, neither one of those men made it to the White House.  Oath of Office does make an attempt to seriously consider the challenges that would face the first Jewish president and it’s also honest about how anti-Semitism is a prejudice that is often overlooked by even those who brag about their progressive credentials.  As I said, the book has an interesting idea but the plot just keeps getting in the way.

Film Review: Lucy and Desi (dir by Amy Poehler)

If you were as disappointed with Being the Ricardos as I was but you still want to learn something about the lives and the marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, might I suggest checking out Lucy and Desi?

Directed by Amy Poehler, Lucy and Desi covers much of the same material as Being the Ricardos but it does so in a far more authentic way.  This is because Lucy and Desi is a documentary, one featuring actual interviews and recordings from Lucy, Desi, and the people who worked with them through the years.  As a result, we get to hear the story in their own words as opposed to Aaron Sorkin’s words.  I’m hardly the first person to point out that Aaron Sorkin is incapable of writing dialogue that doesn’t sound like something that Aaron Sorkin himself would say.  In Being the Ricardos, Lucy and her writers all spoke in Sorkinese and it all felt rather false.  Watching Lucy and Desi, you quickly realize that both Lucy and Desi were intelligent and articulate people.  Their own words are strong enough, without needing a polish from a screenwriter who, by his own admission, never found I Love Lucy to be all that funny.

Lucy and Desi covers the early lives of both Lucy and Desi as well as detailing how they first met, how they married, and how they went on to revolutionize television with I Love Lucy.  More than just being portrayed as being a talented but somewhat volatile couple, both Lucy and Desi emerges as fascinating individuals in their own right.  Both of them survived childhood difficulties, both of them remade themselves in Hollywood, and, most importantly, both of them had an instinctive understanding of what audiences wanted to see.

They were also very much in love, even after their divorce.  That love was missing from Being the Ricardos but it’s very much present in Lucy and Desi.  It was that love that led to the marriage that led to the partnership that made them a success but it was that same success that eventually led to the end of their marriage.  And yet, even after divorcing, Lucy and Desi remained close.  Their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, talks about the last few times that Lucy saw Desi before Desi’s succumbed to lung cancer.  They watched old episodes of I Love Lucy and they laughed together.  It’s an incredibly touching moment.

And if sentimentality isn’t your thing, Lucy and Desi also explores just how important their partnership was to the development of modern television.  I Love Lucy was the first “modern” sitcom but their company, Desilu Productions, had a hand in producing several other classic shows as well.  Star Trek was a Desilu production.  So were Mission Impossible and The Untouchables.  So much of what we take for granted about pop culture started with Lucy and Desi.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation in the Lucy and Desi documentary is that the J. Edgar Hoover story was true!  You may remember that, when I reviewed Being the Ricardos, I scoffed at the scene where Hoover called the studio and personally cleared Lucy of being a communist.  But apparently, this actually did happen!  I’m as stunned as anyone.

Lucy and Desi is a good and heartfelt tribute to Lucy and Desi, their talent and their love and their lasting influence.  It can be viewed on Prime.

Sliver (1993, directed by Phillip Noyce)

Who here remembers Sliver?

It may be hard to believe it but Sliver was a big deal back in the day.  It was one of Robert Evans’s first producing gigs after getting out of rehab.  It was Sharon Stone’s first film after Basic Instinct.  The script was written by Basic Instinct‘s Joe Eszterhas, back when that was still something that people bragged about.  It featured Tom Berenger, back before he found himself relegated to character roles, and William Baldwin.  Remember William Baldwin?  He was Alec Baldwin’s younger brother.  He looked just like Alec but he never managed to project much of a personality whenever he was onscreen.  Even Stephen Baldwin was a more interesting actor than William.  Still, back in the day, William Baldwin was close to being a star.

William Baldwin’s lack of personality actually works for the role he plays in Sliver.  He’s Zeke, who owns an exclusive high-rise apartment building.  Zeke makes his money designing video games and he’s filled the building with secret video cameras so he can spend all day sitting in front of a wall of monitors and watching his tenants and experiencing their lives without having to get close to them.  Zeke’s a voyeur.  Back in the 90s, the surveillance thing was a big twist.  Today, we take it for granted.  We even applauded Batman for doing the same thing to all of the citizens of Gotham.

Sharon Stone plays Carly, the newest resident of the Sliver.  Carly is a recently divorced book editor snd is lonely and repressed despite being played by Sharon Stone.  She draws the attention of both Zeke and her neighbor, Jack (Tom Berenger).  Both are interested when they discover that Carly has a telescope on her balcony.  “She’s a voyeur!” Jack says.  When Carly gets involved with Zeke, Jack is obsessively jealous.  He insinuates that Zeke had something to do with the death of the previous tenant of Carly’s apartment.

After Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone made a series of films that were designed to show that she actually could act by casting her as characters who were meant to be sexually repressed.  The films never seemed to work because, at the height of Sharon Stone’s 90s stardom, there was nothing about her that suggested that she was repressed in any way.  What made her a star in the first place was that she was so uninhibited and not afraid to be as blunt about sex as any of her male co-stars.  In Sliver, she gives a performance that is somewhere between her vampish work in Basic Instinct and her terrible ice queen performance in Intersection.  At the start of the film, she feels miscast as a straight-laced book editor but her performance gets better once she starts hooking up with Zeke.  Sharon Stone tries, even if she doesn’t succeed.  That’s more than can be said for most of her co-stars.

“Get a life,” Sharon Stone says at the end of the movie and, as far as final lines go, it’s a bad one because it comes out of nowhere and her actions in the final scene don’t fit in with anything that she’s previously said or done in the film.  That’s because the ending was hastily reshot after test audiences disliked the original ending.  Test audiences often have the worst instincts.

Like many things, Sliver was big in the 90s but forgotten today.  It was a popular Blockbuster rental for a while.  VCRs were set for whenever it appeared on Cinemax.  When it first came out, it was all about Sharon Stone.  Today, it’s all about nostalgia.

A Gary Oldman Scene That I Love: The Hotel Scene From The Firm

The Firm (1989, directed by Alan Clarke)

Since today is Gary Oldman’s birthday, I decided to share a scene that I love from The Firm.

Directed by Alan Clarke, this 1989 film was originally made for the BBC and it stars Oldman as Bex Bissell.  During the week, Bex sells real estate.  During the weekend, he’s a football hooligan and the leader of his own firm.  Though The Firm is not as well-known in the States as some of his other films, I think that Gary Oldman’s performance here might very well be the best of his career.

In this scene, Bex and his firm meet with two other firms in a London hotel.  They’re arguing about who is going to be the “top boy” during the upcoming international football tournament in Holland.  Mostly, they’re just trying to out-intimidate and one-up each other.  Oldman controls the scene through pure attitude.

We leave you with the ICC motto — “we come in peace, we leave you in pieces.”

TV Review: The Walking Dead 11.13 “Warlords” (dir by Loren Yaconelli)

This week, The Walking Dead introduced yet another community and also show us the darker side of the way that the Commonwealth does things.

Aaron and, for some reason, Father Gabriel were recruited to accompany the Commonwealth’s Toby Carlson (played by Jason Butler Harner) to a community that was based in an old apartment complex.  Toby told Aaron and Gabriel that their mission was one of recruitment.  They wanted to check out the Apartment People, learn about their customs and way of doing things, and then bring them into the Commonwealth.  Of course, it actually turned out that Toby just wanted to kill everyone in the apartment building because Lance Hornsby believed that the Apartment People were responsible for attacking a Commonwealth caravan.

Normally, I would be opposed to such wanton death and destruction but, in all honesty, the Apartment People were really annoying.  They were so annoying that I’m not even bothering to refer to them by the name of their community.  Oceanside deserves a name.  Hilltop deserves a name.  Alexandria and the Commonwealth deserve a name.  There’s been a lot of different groups that have wandered through The Walking Dead and they all earned the right to be known by the name that they selected for their community.  But the Apartment People were just jerks and, as such, I don’t care what they call their big, ugly home.  To me, they’re just the Apartment People.  From the minute that Aaron and Carlson showed up, the Apartment People were acting like jerks.  Are there any communities in the world of The Walking Dead that aren’t run by some overly loquacious Negan wannabe?

In this case, the Apartment People were ruled by Ian, the Warlord.  The Warlord was played by Michael Biehn, so at least he had that going for him.  The Warlord had a nice, dark office and a cool display case of skulls.  He claimed that all of the skulls came from the enemies of the Apartment People.  I’m not sure if I believed him but I guess it’s always good to have a display of some sort.  A good leader always used their decorating skills to make their office their own.  (Seriously, that’s on page 19 of Somehow I Manage by Michael Scott.)

I appreciated the fact that The Warlord was immediately suspicious of Father Gabriel because I’ve never really felt that Gabriel adds much to the show.  Gabriel started out this season as a newly confirmed atheist but now, suddenly, he’s back to being a fire-and-brimstone holy warrior.  Pick a persona and stick with it, Gabriel!  And, seriously — if you survived the zombie apocalypse, would you really feel like spending all of your Sundays sitting in church?  The fact that Gabriel even has a congregation is just weird to me.

As for the Apartment People, it turned out that Negan is living with them!  That’s probably good news for the Apartment People because the Warlord was dead by the end of the episode and someone is going to have to step in and be the new guy who gives long monologues while standing in front of a display case of skulls.

The episode ended with Maggie and her crew showing up, set to do battle with the Commonwealth.  I guess this is how the war gets started, over a shabby apartment complex that’s populated by some of the most unlikable people to ever appear on the show.  If Negan does’t want to take the Warlord’s place, I guess Maggie can take over the Apartment People and make them as miserable as she’s made everyone at Hilltop.

Anyway, this episode probably would have had more impact if we didn’t already know about the darkness at the heart of the Commonwealth.  Still, Michael Biehn was an effective Warlord and Jason Butler Harner was effectively fanatical as Toby Carlson.  At least now, we know just why exactly Hilltop and the Commonwealth are going to go to war.

Next week is the mid-season finale!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Russ Meyer Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

100 years ago, on the very day, Russ Meyer was born in San Leandro, California.  Meyer would get his start filming newsreels during World War II (many of his newsreel footage were used in the 1970 Oscar winner, Patton).  When he returned to the United States, he continued to make films.  Meyer was one of the pioneers of the adult film industry, though his films seem rather quaint and innocent when compared to the industry’s later films.  Meyer’s strong visual sense and his intentionally over-the-top plots made him a favorite amongst underground critics.  In the 70s, he was briefly embraced by mainstream Hollywood but, unhappy with having to deal with studio bosses, Meyer returned to making the type of independent, grindhouse films that made him famous.

Russ Meyer was 82 years old when he died in 2004.  He was acclaimed as one of America’s first and greatest independent filmmakers.

Here are 4 Safe-For-Work Shots From 4 Russ Meyer Films.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Walter Schenk)

Motorpsycho (1965, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Russ Meyer)

Cherry, Harry, & Raquel! (1970, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Russ Meyer)

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Fred J. Koenekamp)

Music Video of the Day: It Gets Dark by Sigrid (2022, dir by ????)


high, there’s a reason for my high, there’s a whole world outside
I saw it last night
yeah they’re saying I’m insane, ‘cause I wanna go to space
and leave it all behind
and leave it all behind
I’m leaving

I, I’ve never ever been this far away from home
and all alone
it gets dark, yeah it gets dark
and I, I’m moving at the speed of light, I had to go, but now I know
it gets dark so I can see the stars

yeah my feet came off the ground, gravity won’t hold me down
no, not this time
I’m not who I used to be
‘cus I came out here to see, the universe inside

I’m leaving them behind
I’m leaving them

I, I’ve never ever been this far away from home
and all alone
it gets dark, yeah it gets dark
and I, I’m moving at the speed of light, I had to go, but now I know
it gets dark so I can see the stars