Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Even if I didn't want to see this new HBO show, I couldn't miss it. Last night when I turned on the TV and surfed the movie channels, which include ten (eleven if you count the Spanish dubbed one) HBO channels usually with a different program on each, eight out of the ten were showing LUCK!

It's a David Milch creation (full disclosure, Milch and I have known each other since the late 1960s and were good friends for several decades in there though I haven't been in touch with him in years) with Michael Mann as his partner and directing the first episode which debuted Sunday.At his best, Milch creates some of the greatest TV of our era. NYPD BLUE and DEADWOOD being his most successful, both critically, audience response wise, and for my own personal taste (and again, full disclosure, I acted on both NYPD BLUE and DEADWOOD).

I don't know Michael Mann but love his work (though friends don't like it, his version of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS with Daniel Day-Lewis is one of my favorite movies, despite the revised history, that's one of its charms as it's almost like an old Hollywood version of history, beautiful stars and settings, though Lewis and Madeline Stowe are also terrific actors).

Together they've created in LUCK, as others have already pointed out, a kind of reflection of the times. Focused so far mostly on the limited terrain of Santa Anita racetrack, and the world of race horses and betting and the usual macho (it's Michael Mann and David Milch after all) bump bump competition of male dominated settings.

Lots of good actors starting with Dustin Hoffman as a kind of mob elder who just did three years and looks like he wants some kind of pay back. I wasn't entirely crazy about his character and what he (or Mann and Milch) is doing with him yet (felt even more that way about Nick Nolte's crusty old horse trainer character), but nonetheless he was pretty interesting to watch as always (I preferred the character he played and should have been nominated for in BARNEY'S VERSION).

Richard Farina plays Hoffman's character's driver and muscle, and does his always competent job. But it's the actors I don't know that impressed me most. And despite the fact that I actually find the track and betting on horses boring at best and aggravating at worst (my father made some book and I used to take bets over the phone and playing the ponies was the major sport I grew up around, but my father ruined any interest I had in it as a kid by rubbing my nose in some of the real consequences of getting too attached to the track and the betting), I still have to admit I found the first episode sucking me in and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Monday, January 30, 2012


This was the first year I didn't watch the Screen Actors Awards. I just forgot it was on. I always enjoy the awards shows because I see old friends from my Hollywood days, or people I worked with, or even old lovers now and then, But in the end, I just like live awards shows because people say things and behave in ways that are often unexpected and revealing and often very funny or very moving.

But I have been thinking about movie acting ever since the other night when I was channel surfing and caught a piece of TAXI DRIVER. It was a scene in the restaurant, or diner, where Travis comes in and other cabbies are sitting there and there's a couple of pimp looking dudes at other tables. It's a classic Scorcese scene in many ways.

The thing is, to me a classic is a work of art I can experience over and over again and it still works and even gets better in some ways as I discover even more to appreciate. TAXI DRIVER doesn't do that for me. I don't like watching a lot of it and catching this one scene made me realize why. DiNiro has a reputation for being a great movie actor who transformed himself into his characters etc.

But for my taste, after the revelation of his first few roles where he did seem amazing, in MEAN STREETS and THE GODFATHER, it pretty soon became apparent, to me at least, that he was doing pretty much the same thing over and over again. TAXI DRIVER was just a variation on that and I find it almost painful to watch. And interestingly, just catching that scene, everyone in it seemed to be overacting for my taste, or at least "acting" as in none of them seemed like a real person really in that time and place and circumstance.

Part of it was the writing, which was pretty lame, to me, at least watching this one scene. But giving the lie to any excuse of poorly written or being a different time and style etc. was the performance of my friend the poet and movie actor Harry E. Northup. Harry isn't a big star like DiNiro, and he is a very humble and grateful actor for the career he has had as just a working movie actor. But in fact Harry's character in TAXI DRIVER was unlike any other character he has played in films, and every other character was unlike the rest of them.

Harry's the great actor. His character was so amazingly present and real in the moment of the TAXI DRIVER scene I watched as he smiled and laughed and probed Travis Bickle or whatever DiNiro's character was called about his working way uptown or whatever, that you wouldn't recognize him as the soldier in MEAN STREETS or the lawyer in TOM HORN or too many other movies to name but most directed by Scorcese or Demme or Eastwood, etc.

Having starred in a few movies myself, no matter how low budget or straight to video or never even released they may have been, and been a character actor with much smaller roles in many more films, I know how hard it can be. It's like someone presenting you with a DeKooning one day and a Picasso the next with a couple of little blank parts and asking you to fill them in. You have to fit your creative impulses into someone else's vision, someone else's perspective etc.

And then tonight I was channel surfing again (I do this during commercials when I'm watching the news shows I like to check out) and happened on MOONSTRUCK and was laughing within a minute and stuck around to see it to the end and not only laughed again and again but was delighted with the writing and the acting as stylized as both were because everyone was consistent, in the same story and movie, as opposed to TAXI DRIVER, and yes it had an ending that was tied up like a bow and it was sentimental and romantic and clever and obvious and whatever words critics might throw at it because it doesn't satisfy their cynicism but instead satisfies our need for some pleasure and recognition of the lighter side of what it means to be human and suffer and fear and even despair and then find a way to transcend all that and find some joy and laughter and even love now and then.

So I was happy when I learned that Viola Davis won best actress for her performance in THE HELP, even though that movie was a bit cliched and unrealistic in many ways about the racist realities of that time and place and once again was from the white perspective of the white star (in this case Emma Stone's character) but it was a moving performance and maybe she won because Meryl Streep, the expected winner for THE IRON LADY and Glen Close who obviously made the bigger bid for an award winning performance by playing a man (or rather a woman passing for a man) in ALBERT NOBBS split the vote. But I was happy that someone else, also a terrific actress who happens to be African-American won.

And then to have best supporting actress go to Octavia Spencer, another black woman, for the same flick, beating out the most competitive category for my taste (Berenice Bejo for THE ARTIST, Jessica Chastain for THE HELP, Melissa McCarthy for BRIDESMAIDS, and the best of them in many ways, Janet McTeer for ALBERT NOBBS) also had a sweetness to the victory.

The big fake out in the male categories was not Christopher Plummer for BEGINNERS, he totally deserved it, but George Clooney's performance in DESCENDANTS losing to Jean Dujardin for THE ARTIST. Sort of the revenge of the French after the beating they've been taking as the right's favorite European scapegoat.

The ensemble award went to THE HELP which may have been going too far. But all in all not a bad evening for well deserved winners.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have friends who weren't as crazy about this film as some critics and audiences are, and obviously the Oscar voters too, since it's nominated for best picture. Even French friends (one of the silent movie era aspects of the making of THE ARTIST is that it stars a French movie star, Jean Dujardinm unknown here, and is made by the French filmmaker, Michel Hazanavicius, who wrote and directed it, but it transcends the limitations of foreign films because it's silent, reflecting the universality of all films in the silent era).

I chose to see it with friends in a movie theater even though I received a disc for awards consideration. It seemed that to give it a fair shot it needed to be seen in a setting similar to the only way a movie could be seen back in the day when the movie is set, the end of the 1920s and early 1930s when the transition from silent movies to sound ones occurred.

Some critics have noted that there's a lot of nostalgia in several of the nominees this year, ala Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (my favorite movie so far I think), especially nostalgia for the old days of movie making, ala THE ARTIST and HUGO.

But it isn't just nostalgia. Not to my mind anyway. Sure, during troubled times, a lot of us look back to a perhaps idealized vision of the past for consolation, I certainly do. That's one of the reasons I watch TCM, Turner Classic Movies, so much. But there are plenty of other reasons as well, like the artistry of black and white filmmaking back when, as well as different styles of acting and behaving and costuming and speaking and much more.

THE ARTIST pays homage to all of that in ways I found actually equally original and contemporary as nostalgic and classic. There are references to many genres of film from the past and from iconic films themselves, such as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, A STAR IS BORN, CITIZEN CANE, LOST WEEKEND, and tons more. In fact, I found almost every scene had a reference oblique or direct to a great and sometimes not great film from the past.

But there are also elements of filmmaking and film acting and film editing and directing that seemed original and/or reflective of more contemporary techniques and styles, including the use of sound in a dream sequence and the emotional veracity and non-exploitative aspects of some of the love scenes.

At any rate, I left the theater as elated and delighted and satisfied by the movie experience as I've been by  any film this year, including MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, though I left that film in love with love and THE ARTIST in love with Berenice Bejo, the female star and main revelation of this film, along with her leading man and the one who carries the film and makes its conceit succeed, Jean Dujardin.

There are better known American movie actors in smaller parts who shine as well—John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell—but the movie depends on the two stars' performances working as both an homage to old style silent film acting as well as to contemporary taste in film acting and they pull it off perfectly for my taste.

But I recommend seeing it in a theater while that's still possible to get the full impact of THE ARTIST's artistry.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


My friend the writer/musician and Huffington Post blogger R. J. Eskow does what I haven't the energy to lately, nails the last Republican debate candidates to their own petards (whatever that means, I never knew, but I knew what it was meant to mean and so do you, I would guess). And does it with humor, clarity, reason, logic and actual facts (and links to sources). Totally worth reading and using in your arguments with any Republicans you still argue with.


Friday, January 27, 2012


Among the books I'm reading, I just finished poet and friend Burt Kimmelamn's latest, THE WAY WE LIVE. [full and obvious disclosure: Burt did the interview with me that was recently published in Jacket and you can click on to the right] He's a scholar and professor and a close observer of the details of life as he experiences it.

THE WAY WE LIVE is a small collection of poems that capture those details in quietly lyric ways as seemingly ephemeral as the moments they record. But they're deceptively so. In fact, the poet, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Jersey, has a lifetime of experiences that belie the quietude of his poetry. It's like how really tough guys don't have to act tough, or really smart ones don't have to always be showing off their brains, etc.

Here's two examples of the restrained artistry of the poetry in THE WAY WE LIVE:


Cutting board, knife, bread
crumbs in dawn light—she
stood and ate beside
the kitchen sink, then
got back into bed.

Alhambra Steps

Leaving the palace
we descend the steep
stone stairs arm in arm—
you pulling me down,
me holding you up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I figured everybody had seen this by now. but in case you haven't:

[PS: I love that little humble tilt of the head at the end, it articulates a lot people miss about this guy as a person, not politician.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Okay, so I really need a break from all the politics I've been obsessed with on here lately even though in my real life I always find room for poetry (read some every night) and all the books stacked next to my bed, and music and always movies.

I haven't been posting about some great old movies I've been watching on the usual cable channels, TCM and Retroplex (or whatever it's called) etc. But I also have to catch up on all the discs I've been sent for the movie awards season that I haven't really been that into this year. Maybe it's the films, maybe it's me, but it seems like there just wasn't a lot to get crazy excited about.

But I haven't seen some of the ones getting a lot of attention so I started tonight by watching MONEYBALL, the baseball flick that's really not a baseball flick but a statistics and emerging male midlife crisis over missed or blown or confused or misled or...opportunities...flick.

Brad Pitt is getting most of the attention, as well as the movie itself, as important and award worthy. Pitt's always fun to watch, for me, both as a fan of real movie stars and of great movie acting and the combination of the two, which is perhaps rarer than you'd, or I'd, expect.

Pitt often takes chances (one of my favorite risk-taking performances was his secondary role—to Bruce Willis's—in TWELVE MONKEYS, one of my favorite sci fi flicks, a genre I don't have that many favorites in). But this is one of his less risk taking performances. He may be a little too cute, and incredibly well-preserved, for the role in some ways, that can be distracting, as in what's this guy got to complain about etc. But he goes for it, as he always does, and has moments where he nails a guy who can't get over some wrong choices or failures or missed opportunities or blown opportunities, depending on your perspective and the moment.

But the direction and writing don't support the obvious depth of his character's interior struggle, so all Pitt gets to do is throw things and look like he's trying to control himself when he isn't. But he also looks a lot like he doesn't care which doesn't work and isn't probably what he's going for.

The film has moments that got me feeling that great elation inspiring movies about underdogs winning, or going for it, do, but it also had a lot of flat moments where you wanted something, anything, to happen to fill in the lag. In the end, for me, it didn't live up to its potential. Pitt was like the character he played, Billy Beane, who almost did what he intended and wanted to do but just missed. 

Jonah Hill has a role almost as big as Pitt's so it seems like it should be almost equally as important. But except for his usual I'm just a self-conscious guy who didn't mean to say/do/etc. that kind of mannerism and line reading, and a few moments that were beautifully realized, his character is basically boring.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is completely wasted as the coach. He has about two or three scenes with a few lines and the rest no lines, and there's no writing or acting to explain what he's doing in the film to move it along. It seems like there's going to be some sort of dramatic conflict with Pitt's character but...it's more of a whimper than a bang.

And Robin Wright has one scene with a couple of lines. One of our greatest film actresses and that's what she gets to do? The girl who plays her character's and Pitt's twelve-year-old daughter, Kerris Dorsey, is terrific, though she isn't really given a lot to work with, and the young actor who plays a catcher turned into a first baseman, Chris Pratt, was a revelation and deserves more recognition.

Another older actor, Vyto Ruginis, was really compelling and so in the moment, any scene he was in came alive in a way the rest of the movie never did. So in the end, it's not a great flick, doesn't deserve any awards unless for the three actors who aren't stars I mention above and even they don't deserve awards but maybe nominations.

But the film, no, shouldn't be nominated for anything in my opinion, nor Pitt's performance, as much as I like watching him. An E for effort for him, but no award or even nomination. there's too many other unrecognized performers who deserve it more this time.

My humble opinion.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Another great speech that challenged the Republicans' lies about our president, but it could have been even tougher and more specific about the accomplishments of this administration and about the lies the right propagates.

He did score a lot of points, though most people weren't watching, and it doesn't matter to the right. Republican leaders sat still while others rose to their feet and cheered about common goals that anybody of any party should share, but they begrudge Obama any bit of respect or credit for all he's done.

Unfortunately so do too many Democrats and independents who have justified criticisms of Obama and/or Dems in Congress, though often a lack of understanding of the obstacles he and they face with the Republican intransigence and intention from Inauguration Day to do everything to discredit Obama and make him fail or appear to be failing.

But as he pointed out, there have been more jobs created in the past two years under Obama than in all the Bush/Cheney years, and our dependence on foreign oil is the lowest it's been in over a decade and has gone down from the highest it's ever been, which was under Bush/Cheney (hmmm...any connection to that fact and their connections to Saudi Arabia et. al.).

Not to mention GM now being the top car company in the world again (beating out Toyota) and Chrysler growing faster the last year than ever and Ford doing great and hundreds of thousands of jobs created as a result and all this from an industry the Republicans were willing to let die and even suggesting it'd be a good thing!

Here's a link to a few other facts that show some of Obama's accomplishments and some of the challenges he still faces.

Monday, January 23, 2012


And yay Jersey Jynts.

I finally agree with the governor of my state about something, when he pointed out that the so-called New York Giants practice in New Jersey, play in New Jersey and most of the team lives in New Jersey. As he put it, the only thing New York about the team is the NY on their helmets.

As I've said before, I don't follow sports, but I do live in Jersey so basically can't avoid this one.

As for other Chinese New Year's news, did anyone see where Santorum was asked by a woman at a rally a question in which she referred to our president as a "confirmed Muslim" and he didn't correct her? McCain has proven himself to be a hypocrite and worse, but at least he had the sense and courage to tell a woman at one of his rallies when he was running for president that Obama wasn't a Muslim when she made the same charge.

This incessant rightwing propaganda that relies on either outright lying, misinformation, misdirection, or the sin of omission as the priests used to call it, is, to use a Gingrich word, despicable.

Though he used it against the press, but could just as well have used it to describe a lot if not most of his own behavior over the course of his being in the public eye.

Hope the belief that a dragon year is lucky turns out to be true for all of us.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


So now we've got Santorum and Romney and Gingrich all winners in the first three Republican primary battles. The famous tradition of the rank and file Republicans falling in line behind the next designated candidate who usually is the one who came in second in the last presidential election primaries has fallen prey to the same dissatisfaction with the status quo that fuels the Occupy movement on the left and the Tea Party on the right.

The problem is the right still mainly frames the public discourse, mostly because they're better at the propaganda game than the left but also because they intimidate the media with phony outrage and self-righteousness ala Gingrich's response to the legitimate question about his having put himself up in public as a spokesman for family values, and headed the movement to impeach Clinton for having an affair with an intern when Newt was doing the same. And the media gets all flustered and self-defensive and forgets to nail him on his hypocrisy!

But it's good news in many ways for Obama. Let the Republican candidates raise questions and doubts and critical perspectives on each other. Obama could just run the ads they created to attack each other. But the president and the Democratic party have got to get better at making the case, based on the facts which are all on their side, that almost everything has improved since Bush/Cheney's last years in office.

But I don't even hear them talking about, let alone crowing about, the fact that GM is once again the number one car company in the world. Something that would not have happened had the government let GM die from the Bush/Cheney Great Recession like the Republican leaders and media mouths wanted to do. You would think with all their chants of USA and "We're number one" in all kinds of areas where we're not anymore thanks to Republican policies, you'd think they'd be happy that we're finally back on top in something. But not if Obama and the democrats had anything to do with it.

And the media plays along and the Dems let them. We need someone who can play hardball with the right like Bill Clinton could.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I'm sure you've already heard of her passing. Watching the various network and cable news reports with different recordings of hers in the background brought unexpected tears to my eyes, as I emailed an old friend. Though I always dug her, with her passing I realized I didn't understand before how much her voice meant to me and my life.

I never met her or saw her perform in person that I remember (there are periods of my life and various nights that are lost to me so I can never be certain), but her voice is in my heart, and I suspect yours too, forever, or I guess I mean as long as my heart lasts.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Another lie continually propagated by the right including the deleted one exposed here.


The applause lines in the Republican debate tonight were a disgrace. From all four candidates left.Ron Paul is the least offensive in terms of attacks on Obama, his attacks are spread around somewhat. But the other three, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum are a total disgrace to our country and everything it stands for when they attack Obama as someone who actually is out to put more people on welfare and actually prevent people from working. Bad enough the accuse him of wanting to turn the country into something "they"—the implication being white rightwing Republicans—don't recognize, but blaming the economic crisis and unemployment on the president and never mentioned Bush/Cheney and their rightwing Republican forebears!

This month's number for those applying for unemployment is the lowest it's been since BEFORE BUSH/CHENEY'S last year in office! In almost every statistic that counts things are better than they were when Obama took office. But these fear mongering traitorous miscreants can't talk straight about any of it.
Just blame Obama and make promises they won't keep like no Republican president has since Nixon (he was going to end the Vietnam War in 1968, six years later it ended when we lost, Reagan was going to make the government smaller as were Bush/Cheney but they grew the federal government more than any recent presidencies, while Clinton actually cut the size of the federal government and Obama has on a smaller level and has announce policies to cut more.

Et-endlessly-cetera. I know, I shouldn't have watched it. My blood pressure and all.

[PS: I corrected typos last night but obviously was tired and upset to have left in so many other mistakes, including spacing etc. But I'll leave as is, since it represents a true mini-if-late-night-rant.]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Also from that TIME article on Warren Buffet. This time from William Jennings Bryan [and making the perfect argument against "trickle down" economics which hasn't worked]:

"If you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Forgot to add that when Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said if Buffet wanted to give more money to the government he could write a check and send it in, Buffett challenged back by offering to match all Republican Congressional contributions to the government and to match McConnell's three to one!

He says he's not worrying about having to write any checks in this challenge. So far, of course, he's quite right. And here's another great quote from Buffet:

"I find the argument that we need lower taxes to create more jobs mystifying, because we've had the lowest taxes in this decade and about the worst job creation ever."

Monday, January 16, 2012


If you haven't seen it, the article on Warren Buffet in the latest TIME (Jan.23rd issue) makes me want him to run for president. From the little I knew about him, and certainly from his support for raising taxes on the wealthiest because he realized he was paying less in taxes percentage wise than people who worked for him including his secretary, I liked what he seemed to stand for.

But I like him even more now. The way he handles his private life, the way he handles his wealth, and the way he sees the problems in our country and the solutions. There's a short list in a sidebar of some of the things he advocates that the magazine titles "What Would Warren Do?" (in this post's title I added his last name initial too):

Don't lower corporate taxes (he says "The idea that American business is at a disadvantage against the rest of the world because of high corporate taxes is baloney.")

Levy higher taxes on the rich (he says he'd like to see folks who earn their money through investing pay more than those who earn it through their labor, couldn't agree more even though I have some close friends who earn their ducats through investing)

No foreign-profit repatriation (totally)

Curb speculative gains (he calls the idea that you can hold a stock for 10 seconds and have 60% of your gains taxed as "long term" "nuts")

Get tough on directors (forfeit five years' pay if their firms have to be bailed out etc.)

Get rid of private schools (they say he's not totally serious about this idea but feels if rich people had to send their kids to public schools they'd invest in them)

Reform healthcare (he calls the healthcare situation in the U.S. "a tapeworm" that hurts competitiveness much more than taxes)

He's an interesting man with interesting ideas and the article is well worth reading (you have to be a subscriber to read it on line).

Sunday, January 15, 2012


"It may be true that the law can't change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless."  —Martin Luther King Jr.


My fourteen-year-old had some friends over tonight. We have limited space in our apartment and the writing I was doing was not going so well with the racket of their talking and joking and watching YouTube videos they found hysterical.

So I went and turned the TV on and ended up switching channels between the Broncos/Patriots game, the Miss America contest and ADAM'S RIB. I don't watch sports much anymore, hardly at all. But when a post season game offers up the kind of drama that matches the Patriots' star quarterback who throws perfectly against the Broncos quarterback who throws poorly but has managed to make it this far with last minute "miracles" as many of his fans see it that help his team with unexpected come from behind wins in the last quarter or in overtime. Well, seemed like it might be an interesting thing to witness.

I don't watch beauty pageants anymore either, but there it was trying to present itself as all contemporary and  almost post-feminist, while still being the same old campy throwdown of lockjawed smiles and tearful finale. Well, it seemed worth a look.

And Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in ADAM'S RIB, well, I can always watch them.

And in the end, it was ADAM'S RIB that seemed more relevant to these times and its challenges, as well as more watchable and more satisfying. The game was a a fiasco. Tom Brady threw mostly straight and true and broke a record for most touchdown passes thrown in the first half of a post season game, or something like that, as the announcers tried to make football fans statistic freaks like their baseball counterparts. It was actually embarrassing. The Broncos seemed to fall apart almost immediately, and Tebow's miraculous last minute save was nowhere in sight. So for all his fundamentalist Christian followers does this mean God wanted the Patriots to humiliate the Broncos and Tebow, who flaunts his religion in ways that the Gospels he touts actually discourage?

As for Miss America, I could think of many women of all ages, in fact a lot of them women I know well, who are more lovely to look at, more naturally beautiful and poised and intelligent and accomplished. And I bet any of us could find a young woman in our own communities more beautiful more accomplished more etc. Though it wasn't their faults. Some of them were obviously working very hard to try and achieve this goal presented as somehow a giant accomplishment though in the end it seemed totally arbitrary and totally canned.

The little of it I watched was embarrassing too. The answers to the judges questions, the few I caught, were better than the old days, thank God, and the questions more relevant and challenging, but the "swimsuit" display, which the announcer tried to foist off as a competition for health or something, made me feel so bad for these women traipsing across a stage in bikinis, that for the most part weren't very flattering, I went back to ADAM'S RIB and watched some real women—Hepburn and Judy Holiday, as well as many of the minor characters—represent something much more worthy of crowning with accolades.

Weird night. But at least we won't have to read and hear about Tebow until next Fall.

Friday, January 13, 2012


"Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough."   —William Saroyan (preface to THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE)

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Did you notice that Haley Barbour the Mississippi governor getting flack for pardoning murderers and rapists and worse en masse was immediately hired to earn millions as a lobbyist for corporations to get government help to them make their gazillions etc. The old revolving door. For more on that door see Matt Taibbi's latest in Rolling Stone here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I've been seeing a lot of movies on cable recently, like in the last year, that I never heard of and star people I don't really know but have lots of great actors I do know in smaller roles and look as cheaply shot and with pretty flimsy plots as a slightly more expensive porn movie, only the porn is usually overly graphic violence.

I've written about a few and there's many I don't think I have, like BOONDOCK SAINTS and its sequel that is almost a parody of what it might mean to be Irish and Catholic and be hit men. But tonight to take a break from the political news and the writing project I'm working on, I turned on the tube and the only movie just starting (yeah I'm so last decade not streaming over the net but enjoying the randomness of just watching what's on one of the zillion channels now available) was called LIES & ALIBIS (yeah the titles aren't very original either) starring Steve Coogan and Rebecca Romijn who really did seem like actors in a soft porn flick (not that I'd know but I did have friends in L.A. who worked on them or in them) but there was John Leguizamo and Debi Mazar and Sam Elliot and Henry Rollins and James Brolin and Sharon Lawrence all of whose work I admire, and a lot of actors like I used to be where you think you've seen that face before but don't know where.

And I ended up getting into it and watching it to a pretty satisfying end, because it was better written (by Noah Hawley) than most of these B movies or straight-to-video movies or whatever they're called these days. The plot actually kept me guessing a little and interested to see how it worked out and Coogan, who I definitely recognized but didn't remember from where, had a kind of underplayed charm that read as almost comic charisma like a cross between the young Dudley Moore and a B movie Cary Grant but not as handsome.

Well, that's the way I'm feeling after just watching it anyway. The good news is the violence was minimally graphic as it was more about the plot twists of a big con than the usual revenge stuff these films thrive on.

Of course the plot was completely contrived and over the top, nonetheless it was fun and easy to watch with a late night tired brain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


So Romney "made history" by being the first non-incumbent Republican running for president to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Looks like the nomination is his.

His victory speech tonight was actually pretty well written and delivered. If he can keep that up he'll be a more formidable challenger to Obama than maybe some pundits on the the Democratic side might have thought.

But it's so dismaying to hear the horrible rhetoric, even if it's a smart strategy for beating the president. Because it's based on the same old rightwing Republican lies and misinformation and misdirection.

Did anyone notice the news that the American automobile industry had a terrific year? The best since the before Bush/Cheney Great Recession began. And the rightwing Republicans were against bailing out the car companies. They would have let all those jobs disappear into some other country!

Obama's made mistakes, and continues to, but he's also done things no Republican would ever do these days, like at least put some limits on insurance companies and help out at least some working people (not to mention getting Osama Bin Laden and keeping a few other promises Bush/Cheney had eight years to fulfill but failed to).

It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I watched this film with some friends in the movie business a while ago and was afraid while I was watching it that they would see it as too talky, and the performances as too much, especially Keira Knightley's. I was uneasy because while a part of my brain initially feared I might feel the same way, my heart was touched and my brain soon followed.

In the end I thought it was one of the best movies I've seen in a while and so did my friends, with outstanding performances from everyone. Knightley plays an historically important patient of Carl Jung in the early stages of his development as one of the key figures in the transformation of psychology, the other being Freud of course. It's a tour de force performance, extremely brave and original.

I've been reading and hearing about Michael Fassbender, who grew up in Ireland the son of a German immigrant father and Irish mother. Mostly it's been about his looks as well as his acting. But I've only seen him as Bobby Sands in HUNGER, the unique study of the Irish hero who took his opposition of the English control of Northern Ireland to the extreme of fasting to his death in protest for not being treated as a political prisoner. That was almost a silent movie, as my friend Terence pointed out. At any rate in that film it wasn't about his looks.

Neither is it in DANGEROUS METHOD, though his eyes do mesmerize and are stunningly intense. But he plays the younger Jung as a tightly contained if brilliant intellectual mostly, and it worked for me completely.

Then there's Viggo Mortensen, another actor often noted for his hunkiness as well as his acting. He so loses himself in the role of Freud that it took me a moment of seeing him on screen before I remembered it was him. His performance, as Fassbender's, is mostly understated, though I could see some critics resisting and seeing it as too much of a caricature. Not me.

The secondary players were all terrific too. Vincant Cassel as a famous early influence on Jung and the lovely Sarah Gadon as Jung's wife. Hers is a literally beautifully controlled performance I thought.

Adapted into a play from a book by John Kerr, then turned into a screenplay by Christopher Hampton, it takes a lot of liberties with private moments between these characters we can't know that explicitly, even with contemporary notes and case studies and letters etc.

But it does it in ways I found intellectually and even morally challenging and I suspect much as it must have been at the time, and some of us have experienced in our own transformative times like the 1960s. Mostly it's just a compelling story of intensely smart and original people trying to work through their own issues while creating a whole new way to view some very important human challenges.

I highly recommend it.

Oh, and one of the most surprising things about this movie is it was directed by David Cronenberg, the last director I would have thought of if I hadn't seen the credits before I watched it. It is, after all, a gorgeously shot costume drama, a period piece that has elements of melodrama but is based on real people and history. Amazing.


...but I'm finding it hard to keep up with all the stuff coming at me. Some of it of my own making.

I know there's a calendar on my computer that I could write things in instead of using The New Yorker desk calendars I've been using for years. And maybe if I did keep a calendar of impending deadlines and meetings and events etc. I'd feel less harried.

But I have the sense it was easier in the old days when I just stuck a flyer or postcard announcement on the refrigerator and threw them away (or saved them for the overflowing archive I've yet to try selling though I've had offers from university libraries to take it for free).

Sometimes I feel like just emailing everyone in my email address book that I'm sorry if I didn't respond to a request or invitation or just keep up the e mail correspondence because, whether it's age or the brain surgery or the times, I just got overwhelmed by too many things to deal with that way.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, just explaining. I'm grateful that people want me to write recommendations or blurbs for their books or read their books or listen to their CDs and respond to email updates and exchanges of personal news or edit their manuscript or etc.

But I just forget. The way the emails disappear from the screen once the next several hours worth appears makes it difficult to go back and find some of them (I know I can do it by approximate date if i can remember when I received it, or by name if I remember who's name the e mail was under).

And now I've added another impediment. I've been posting daily on this blog, sometimes more than once, since I started it, except for when I was in the hospital for the brain surgery. But even after I got out, when typing just a few sentences took hours, I still made an effort to post every day because it made me feel better, gave me a purpose and gave a purpose to my thoughts and opinions and taste and discoveries etc.

But recently I figured out a formula that is helping me focus and organize thousands of pages I've written over the last several years of a seemingly endless memoir about the people I've know in my various "careers" and locations etc. It's an obvious solution that it's taken me decades to discover or rediscover. And it's got me so energized and excited I stay up half the night writing and rewriting in my mind (and as we all know, or at least I do, the writing I do in my mind in bed at night is always much better than anything I come up with at the computer the next day, including this post—I woke up at 4AM and turned the light on a few times to jot notes but basically wrote in my head until the alarm went off to get my fourteen-year-old up for school three hours later).

I don't want to underestimate the real problems people have with real obsessive/compulsive disorder or graphomania, but I do tend to spend a lot of time and energy obsessing over and compulsively writing as I have all my life (twenty-seven published books and tens of thousands of unpublished pages of prose and poetry and more) because it seems to keep the fear and doubt at bay, and usually makes me very happy.

But it has caused trouble over the years, like lack of sleep, or mates not being happy with what they thought of as wasted time of mine when it seemed like I was just sitting around reading or doing nothing but I was actually writing and rewriting in my head, or people, including my kids, who took the look on my face for anger when it was really just me working over a sentence or line in my mind and the concentration (some would say distraction) made me furrow my brows and look all upset with something.

I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's though, nor my obsession with writing, mine or others (I've been known to be such a print junkie I've read about everywhere possible including years ago I'm sorry to say while driving!). I felt at 5:15AM like writing something like this after my son left for school so I did.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I know, I'm a glutton for punishment. I did have to turn to another channel now and then when the blowhard jive became too unbearable.

But now and then one of them would actually say something true to score on another and if you were listening carefully and had the capacity to actually hear without the echo chamber of rightwing propaganda and media incompetence, they sometimes ended up defending Obama's policies and presidency, without intending to of course.

Like the drumbeat that Obama's new proposal for a leaner more efficient military in which costs were commensurate with national needs, Ron Paul pointed out it was actually just a call to stop defense department  increases. And when Rick Perry suggested sending our troops back to Iraq (!) because Iran was taking over Gingrich pointed out that the smarter thing would be to change the leadership in Iran and then went on to say that if you wanted to stop Wahabanism and not have to cow tow to Saudi Arabia anymore we needed to be free of the burden of depending on them for their oil.

And there was more. But the disheartening thing about the debate as always, was the way the moderators, in this case Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopolous, and a third guy whose name I forgot, allowed the candidates to say one untrue thing after another about Obama or themselves or our government, without challenging their facts or calling them on their lies. They seemed more interested in getting them to admit they'd said the nasty things they'd said about their opponents, which for the most part, of course, the avoided admitting.

All in all I wished I'd watched a movie instead. But what can I say, election year debates are to me like what sporting events are to most men, compelling drama in which I feel I have a personal stake.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Time to for a poetry break. Nothing makes me feel more optimistic and grateful and even joyful than a unique work of art, or as unique as anything created by humans can get. I receive all kinds of books in the mail these days, and have on and off for decades. And I'm always delighted to be surprised by something unexpected.

That's Guy Bennet's SELF-EVIDENT POEMS. A Christmas gift from the great poet and writer and songwriter and Irish musician Terence Winch, I read it in only a few sittings. But even before I opened it I dug it. It's from Otis Books/Seismicity Editions and has the plain design their known for, but this one is especially appealing from the cover and text paper to the typeface.

It immediately became a book I wanted to keep around for a long time just to be able to pick it up and look at it let alone read it. But then there are the poems themselves, all conceived from the same inspiration. Poems that are self evident.

You'd think it would become a gag and grow weary but it doesn't. In fact I anticipated with glee every new poem I read just to see how Bennett was going to ring a new nuance or entirely different perspective out of basically the same device and I was never disappointed. Not easy to say about any collection of anything.

I'm sure it's not for everyone's taste, but it sure is for mine. I'll leave you with a few examples, but don't let them deceive you, the variations Bennett manages to create will surprise you:

Preliminary Poem

This poem is self-contained
and self-sufficient.
It does not require critical commentary
or explanations of any kind
to convey its meaning,
which is self-evident.

It does not exceed a single page,
and is thus appropriate
for publication in magazines
and anthologies.

It can be read in a single sitting,
and will not unduly tax the reader or listener
as it neither necessitates nor benefits from
excessive post-reading reflexion.

Short Poem

This poem
is particularly concise.

Unfinished Poem


Thursday, January 5, 2012


As evidenced in this headline: "Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe."

We already know our health is worse despite our spending twice as much on supposed healthcare (more like health insurance and medical corporations' profits) and our educational system worse (not because of teachers unions but because in those other advanced democracies teaching is a profession on a level with other professions like doctors and lawyers and paid and respected as such) and so much more, but especially that our economic inequality—the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us—is greater, actually more in line with the worst undeveloped countries (many of the developing ones are now doing better than us in this area as well).

This can all be traced back to the Reagan years and his administration's policies and the rise of the right in the Republican Party.

If only the Democrats would use these facts in a simple and coherent and unified way to gain control of Congress so they can finally reverse these trends.

(And yes, the Dems are partly to blame as well for caving in and going along when the rightwing Republicans gain power and if I had my way Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would be president and have their own party and candidates for Congress, but peace of mind and heart in my experience comes from accepting reality as it is in the moment even when working to change it, as I hope I always am.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Watched a lot of the fallout and analyses from the Iowa caucuses today and this evening and happy Bachmann won't be part of the main story now. But I have to admit, despite the outsized influence money has always had on our elections, maybe never more so than now since the Supreme Court decided corporations are people and money is speech, but nonetheless, I love watching our democracy work during election years even despite the distortions and lying and gaming and framing and overwhelming power of big bucks and their corporate resources etc.

I mean how much fun is it to see Gingrich complain because Romney has used the rightwing dominated Supreme Court decision that allows the wealthy to create commercials supporting their candidate and/or attacking other candidates without disclosing who put the money up. Can you imagine Gingrich complaining about someone else's lies and attacks?! The big self-centered baby is back.

And Santorum posing as an everyman when he supports banning all forms of contraception and outlawing "sodomy" and thus returning to the good old days when you could be imprisoned for having any kind of sex Santorum and his ilk don't sanction! Good lord, what a show this is and will continue to be until November.


I ran for office in Iowa in 1968 when I was a graduate student in the Writers Workshop at the university there. It was on The Peace and Freedom ticket and the office was sheriff. I came in second. Not bad in a county that was considered Wallace country (George Wallace that is).

So in presidential election years, as silly as it is that such a small state, in terms of population, should be the first to winnow out some winners and losers in a presidential primary, I still get totally fascinated with the results there. Which at ten after midnight are still unclear in terms of first and second place as Santorum and Romney remain neck and neck.

But what was and is most distasteful in this particular race is the way these Republican candidates talk about our president and about "taking our country back from Obama." They just don't seem to understand our Constitution and democratic system at all.

This country elected Obama to be our president for four years. That's the way our democracy works. And this country is all of ours, not just white Midwesterners. No one took our country away from Republicans and rightwingers, because our country never belonged to them exclusively anyway. It's all of ours, and that includes liberals and socialists and anarchists and fundamentalist Christians and atheists and people who support a woman's right to have an abortion and those who only support it when necessary and early in the pregnancy and those who, like most of the candidates in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, believe abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape and incest.

I am so unbelievably sick of hearing their smug assertions that they are the "real Americans" and it's their country and somehow Obama stole it from them and they have to get it back and all that crap as if we lived in a country where a tiny minority of rightwingers (they've always been a tiny minority and win by dividing their opposition or disheartening them about the process so they don't take part) are the boss of the rest of us.

Well, they can say anything they want, it's a free country still in that arena, but it doesn't make it true. "This land belongs to me and you."

Monday, January 2, 2012


Thanks to the Gunslinger site for this link to Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions (not clear what exact year but obviously during WWII).

Sunday, January 1, 2012


May it be creative and healthy and as happy as possible at whatever stage of life you're at.

I'm looking forward to it. As a political junkie, a presidential election year offers a lot of opportunities for analyses and interpretations. I just hope Obama and the Democrats get a little better at pointing out all the good things they've accomplished and other good things they could have accomplished if they weren't blocked almost every step of the way by rightwing Republicans.

It looks like the race for the Republican presidential nomination might be over relatively early in the year the way the primaries are set up now. But given the volatility of that contest so far, it might drag on which could be fun to watch despite the distressing pile of lies and distortions that have already been promulgated in it so far.

But the good news will always be in the discoveries of new people and the work they're doing that adds something positive to my life and the world.

Like a new friend met recently at the end of 2011 who has written a book, as yet only in e-book form, about her experiences and advice and the experience and advice of other parents involved in either the Occupy Wall Street movement or any kind of political action.

Her name is Kirby Desmarais and her work both as an activist and a writer is inspiring. Check out her book here and if you're a parent it really offers great insights into how to bring your politics into the role of parent and vice versa.