Book Review: A Time To Remember by Stanley Shapiro

My aunt has always been a prodigious reader and, when I was growing up, I always enjoyed looking through the stacks of books that she had sitting in the closets of her room. A few years ago, for medical reasons, my aunt had to move out of her house. Because she wouldn’t have room for all of her books in her new place, she gave the majority of them to me. So far, I’ve only read a few but, over the course of this year, I plan to read all of them and review the ones that I like or, at the very least, find interesting. That was one of the resolutions that I made on January 1st and I have to admit that I haven’t really been doing a great job keeping up with it.  Hopefully, I’ll do better during the second half of the year.

This week, from my aunt’s book collection, I read Stanley Shapiro’s A Time To Remember.

A Time To Remember was originally published in 1986 and it tells a story that might sound a little bit familiar.  David Russell is a school teacher in Dallas.  He is haunted by the death of his brother, who was killed in Vietnam.  David has convinced himself that, if John F. Kennedy had lived, America would have withdrawn from Vietnam and his brother would still be alive.  In fact, as far as David is concerned, America itself would be a better place if Kennedy had lived.  Not only would the Vietnam War have been prevented but the Watergate break-in would never have occurred.  Nixon would never have been president.  Martin Luther King would never have been assassinated.  Robert F. Kennedy would still be alive.  Americans would never have become disillusioned with their country or their government.  America would have kept its innocence.

Too bad that David can’t do anything to change history.

Or can he?  It turns out that David’s girlfriend is a reporter and she knows a scientist named Dr. Hendrik Koopman.  Koopman has created a time machine!  David uses the machine to go to the past, intent on preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating Kennedy.  (Sorry, conspiracy folks.  Like me, A Time To Remember is firmly in the Oswald Acted Alone camp.)  Unfortunately, David doesn’t succeed and he ends up getting arrested in Oswald’s place!  Now, David has to not only escape but he also still has to find a way to save Kennedy!

Obviously, the plot is a bit similar to Stephen King’s 11/23/63.  That’s not to say that King deliberately plagiarized or even knew of the existence of Shaprio’s earlier novel.  Not only do the two books take vastly different approaches to the material but the idea of saving America by saving JFK has long been a popular one amongst the boomers.  That said, it’s interesting that it was King, who plays the epitome of a committed 60s liberal on Twitter, who wrote the book that was more skeptical about whether or not saving Kennedy would truly save the world.  Shapiro takes a much simpler approach to the material, one that’s almost charmingly naïve.  I’m fairly agnostic on whether or not JFK would have been a transformative or even a well-remembered President if he had lived but one doesn’t necessarily have to buy into the mythology that’s sprung up around JFK to appreciate the sincerity of Shapiro’s idealization of the man and the era that he represented.  Just as 11/23/63 was redeemed by King’s cynicism, A Time To Remember is redeemed by Shapiro’s nostalgia.

Shapiro, it should be noted, also tells his story far more quickly and far more economically than King did.  11/23/63 runs for close to 900 pages.  A Time To Remember doesn’t even make it to 200.  It’s a book that you can read in one sitting and Shapiro keeps the story moving at a quick pace.  Though the characters aren’t particularly deep and one can certainly debate the book’s conclusion, Shapiro tells the story well.  Those who like to play “What If?” with history will appreciate the book.

Film Review: The Lost City (dir by Adam and Aaron Nee)

Last month, when I finally watched The Lost City, I had two thoughts.

First off, I thought it was a perfectly charming little movie, a well-made and unpretentious film that went out of its way to entertain its audience and which, for the most part succeeded.  The film, which features Sandra Bullock as Loretta Sage, a reluctant writer of sex-filled romance/adventure novels, and Channing Tatum as Alan Caprison, an earnest but not terrible bright cover model, strikes just the right balance of adventure and comedy.  Bullock and Tatum are charming together.  Brad Pitt has a fun cameo as an ultra-macho wilderness guide who is hired to help track down Bullock after she’s kidnapped by a wealthy businessman who wants her to help him track down the fabled crown of fire.  Daniel Radcliffe gives a nicely eccentric performance as the villain and, for once in his post-Potter career, actually seems to be having fun with a role.  The jungle scenery is lovely to look at.  Bullock’s purple sequin jumpsuit is to die for.  Tatum shows off his physique.  The jokes come fast, the action is exciting, and we get to watch two people fall in love.  What more could one ask for?

My other thought is that The Lost City is a film that Sandra Bullock could have made at any point of her  career.  There’s never been a time when Bullock wouldn’t have been convincing in the role of Loretta Sage.  It’s easy to imagine The Lost City coming out in the aughts, starring Sandra Bullock as Loretta and Brendan Fraser as Alan.  Or perhaps even in the 90s, with Bullock and Matthew McConaughey as Alan.  Much as Top Gun: Maverick does for Tom Cruise, The Lost City serves to remind us that Sandra Bullock is one of the last true film stars, someone who can effortlessly move from genre to genre without losing any of their onscreen charisma in the process.  For audiences who have just spent the last two years being told that the world was collapsing and that nothing would ever be the same again, there is something undoubtedly comforting about films like Top Gun: Maverick and The Lost City.  They are a reminder that yes, it is permissible, possible, and even necessary to just have a good time.

And have no doubt about it, The Lost City is definitely a good time.  From the opening scene (which literally takes us into one of Loretta’s novels) to Loretta’s disastrous book tour to the eventual journey through the jungle, The Lost City is an entertaining film.  It’s not a film that asks for much from the audience.  There’s no complicated backstory.  It’s not necessary to have seen 10 earlier movies and a miniseries to understand everyone’s motivations.  There’s no bad CGI to challenge the audience’s willingness to buy into the story.  The film gets the job done in a relatively brisk 112 minutes and, at a time when even comedies are regularly running over two hours, it’s hard not to appreciate the efficiency with which The Lost City tells its story.  There is a mid-credits scene but it’s actually kind of funny.  For once, the promise of a sequel feels likes something for which to look forward.

If you missed The Lost City in theaters, it can currently be viewed on Paramount Plus.

Class Warfare (2001, directed by Richard Shepard)

Kristen Marshall (Lindsey McKeon) is a rich high school girl with a problem.  She’s not rich anymore!  Her parents have lost all of their money due to a shady business deal and now, Kristen might not even be able to afford to go to Harvard!  Even the fact that she’s the senior class president and drives an expensive car might not be enough to convince those Boston brahmins to give her a scholarship.  Looking to get away from all of her problems, Kristen and her boyfriend, Jason (Wade Carpenter), decide to spend the weekend at their friend Graham’s (Dave McGowan) lakehouse.  Kristen, however, is upset to discover that Graham has also invited Richard Ashbury (Robin Dunne).

Richard is a high school activist, a self-professed Socialist who spends his time putting up flyers for a food and clothing drive.  Kristen first met Richard when she accidentally hits him with her car.  (Kristen was in a hurry and she didn’t notice Richard riding by on his bicycle.)  Though Richard was uninjured, Kristen’s car was slightly dented and Richard told her that he was sure that her family would be able to pay for it.  Now, Kristen is stuck spending the weekend with him and, to make things even worse, Richard looks at a newspaper and discovers that he has got a winning lottery ticket.  As soon as the weekend ends, he’ll turn in the ticket and get $25 million dollars!  Meanwhile, Kristen is having nightmares about her guidance counselor denying her application for a college loan while Richard lights a cigar with a hundred dollar bill!

Eager to that get that ticket for herself, Kristen first tries to seduce Richard.  When that doesn’t work, Kristen orders Jason to kill him.

Class Warfare definitely has a made-for-TV look about it but, when taken on its own terms, it’s not bad.  Lindsey McKeon is an effective villain and the other actors are all credible in their roles, even if it’s obvious that most of them haven’t been in high school for a good couple of years.  The movie’s class warfare theme was sometimes simplistic but the film still did a good job of ratcheting up the stakes as one mistake led to another.  Nowadays, people take the lottery for granted but Class Warfare does capture that moment when people really did feel like their lives could be changed in an instant.

Class Warfare was produced by the USA Network and originally aired on December 24th, 2001.  I guess that was USA’s way of saying, “Merry Christmas!”

Scenes I Love: James Caan in The Godfather

James Caan has passed away, at the age of 82.  There are a lot of great James Caan performances to choose from and to highlight.  For me, though, he’ll always be Sonny Corleone, the temperamental son of the Don who remains oddly likable, even as he cheats on his wife and threatens to kill every other gangster in New York.  Sonny is a force of chaos, which ultimately leads to his untimely death.  But, at the same time, it also makes him someone who you definitely fighting for you instead of against you.

The scene below is mostly cited for Al Pacino’s quiet intensity as he reveals that he’s truly become a member of the family.  While Pacino’s great, Caan’s reaction is just as important.

In the scene below, Sonny discovers that Carol has been beating up Connie so Sonny beats up Carlo.  Carlo really deserved it.  Now this scene is often cited for featuring one shot where it’s clear that Caan didn’t actually hit Gianni Russo.  That’s fair.  But still, Caan actually did make contact enough times that Russo ended up with a broken rib.  Look past that one shot and you’ll see that, in this scene, Caan clearly shows why Sonny was such a feared figure.  Even more importantly, this scene shows how important his family was to Sonny.  Who doesn’t want someone who would beat someone up for them?

And finally, in this scene, Sonny tells off the FBI.  How can’t you love that?  Apparently, the smashing of the camera was something that Caan improvised on the spot.

That said, there was a lot more to Caan’s career than just The Godfather.  Watch all of his films.  He was one of the greats and perhaps the only celebrity who was actually worth following on twitter. RIP.