Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DUNKIRK

I went into DUNKIRK with high expectations, not always the best way to see a flick. I knew it would be visually engaging, even if I didn't see it on an iMax screen. According to some things I've read Christopher Nolan who wrote, directed, and was one of the producers on the film, shot it in 70mm, a rare treat these recent decades (you gotta go back to movies like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in its original form). But whatever format you see it in, and the bigger the screen the better, Nolan puts you in the middle of the action.

So it's grand to see and experience visually and sonically (the usual theater sound systems turned up high make you feel even more in the middle of the action) and there's a great cast. But, sometimes Nolan can be too clever for my taste, and at times in DUNKIRK his plot with three different time signatures (to use a musical term) and character development challenges (too many with too little development in some cases) felt almost like he was testing the audience to see if we were paying the right amount of attention.

I was hoping to see more of Mark Rylance, one of my favorite actors and never disappointing, as well as other old faves, but it was mostly the lesser known (to me) younger actors who carried the weight of the film and did it perfectly most of the time. I'd just love to have seen more historical context and political perspective, as well as less clever plotting and less focus on so many characters and more on a few with more depth (though Rylance's character's son was brilliantly nuanced by the actor playing him).

As the friend I saw it with said, when I pointed out that Nolan had written, directed, and produced DUNKIRK: "He should have gotten some help." Worth seeing, with a grain of salt.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

ANOTHER FAVORITE QUOTE FROM THE MASTER


From my late great friend and spiritual advisor, Hubert "Cubby" Selby Jr., said to me in conversation sometime in the 1980s:

"Happiness is our natural state, so if we stop doing what makes us unhappy—we're happy."

[PS: Today's his birthday.]

Saturday, July 22, 2017

AUSTIN STRAUS R.I.P.

This is a photo (I'm sorry I don't know who took it, or the one below) of Austin Straus around the time I first met him. A Brooklyn-born L. A. poet and artist, he was a mighty presence in person and in the L.A. poetry and activist scene and beyond. I was sorry to learn today that he died.

I'm away in the countryside of Western Mass with no phone service and no access to my personal library thus can't reprint a poem of his here, so I'll just say he was always honest and unpretentious and kind to me. He and his amazing late wife—and mighty presence in those same worlds as well—Wanda Coleman were good friends to me in my years in L. A. and I miss them both.

Condolences to their son and the rest of Austin's family and friends and fans.

[Here's a shot of Wanda & Austin in later years]

Thursday, July 20, 2017

MORE DUOS (THIS TIME NYC IN THE 1970S)

Aileen (my Irish born late friend) & me (in a shirt I bought in the late 1950s!)
me & JP Donlevy during my less-than-two-years at the only 9-5 office job I ever had (for The Franklin Library) a surprisingly unpleasant and humorless man
Robert Penn Warren & me, same job as above, a delightfully congenial man
me & the mirror me in the bathroom of the loft my composer mate Rain & I rented and lived in with my son Miles on Church Street when it was still only artists and hadn't yet become part of the future Tribeca
Rain & me before we decided to try and become actors in movies
Rain & me after we decided to try and get jobs acting in movies (photo by the great Bobby Miller)
me & the late, great poet, dance critic & friend Edwin Denby at an event (I think a reading of mine) at the legendary Books & Company
me & co-star ("Patricia Lee Hammond") in my first leading man role in a movie, originally called LAST RITES but later changed to DRACULA'S LAST RITES
me & John Carradine in my second leading man role in THE NESTING (my first SAG role, so had to add my middle name David because there was already another Michael Lally in SAG)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

HEY

Check out (and throw some support to) my friend poet Rachel E. Diken's new web site here, and her upcoming speaking engagement at Interesting People, Interesting Times: Future Nostalgia. Produced by Tom Goodwin it's on July 28th in Brooklyn (see below) and looks like a really promising event. You can get tickets here:


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ME IN WHITE FANG

I played Sykes, the pit bull owner, my choice to make him kind of a vain dandy...it was fascinating to watch the dogs work, following their trainers' orders, fake fighting etc....though when they brought them into the arena, we all had to stand completely still and silent...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE BIG SICK

THE BIG SICK is the story of comedian and comic actor Kumail Nanjani and his wife Emily V. Gordon before they were married and wrote this film together—how they met and the rest of it—the plot points of which are probably familiar to everybody by now since the story has been exposed throughout social and cultural media for weeks if not months.

Pakistani-American boy falls for "white" "American" girl (with seemingly no heritage other than "white"—somehow all the "white" ethnicities I grew up dealing with the realities of, including my own Irish-American one, have become blended into the simple category "white" these days) and the clash of cultures and backgrounds creates the story.

It's a good movie, an often pleasantly funny and moving romantic comedy that makes some good points about love crossing boundaries that in the end are always, or almost always, arbitrary anyway, no matter the traumas of history. Nanjani is a modest star who plays himself unselfconsciously, and Zoe Kazan plays Emily with zest and charm, winning our hearts the way she does Nanjani's.

All the actors are good, with lots of real comics doing stand up and off stage jokes that had me laughing pretty hard at times, and the actors playing each of the lead character's parents did as well. It's worth seeing.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MAUDIE

Sally Hawkins is one of the best film actors ever, for my taste, so MAUDIE was a must see for me, and I wasn't disappointed. She gives her greatest screen performance yet. And Ethan Hawke (who I met on location for WHITE FANG when he was still a very young actor, and he was as nice and as smart as you would expect) has always been a good actor but has only gotten better as he's aged, and his performance in MAUDIE may well be his best yet.

The story is based on the real life relationship between the Canadian "folk artist" Maude Lewis and her mate Everett. It's a compellingly intimate, and challenging, story, and director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White shape it so cleanly and crisply that not a move or a frame or a word is wasted. A no frills take on a woman's spirit overcoming obstacles most of us would be defeated by, but not Maudie.

Seeing MAUDIE on the big screen helped convey the soul and artistry and power of what would normally be called a "small film"—especially the contrasting of vast Canadian vistas with a cramped domestic set up that emphasizes the subtleties of the differences rather than the obvious. At least it did for me.

This is an amazingly tough and forceful film, despite the tender precision of the details and nuances of a difficult relationship, and personalities, that creates scenes of such poignancy I actually held my breath a few times out of sheer awe at the actors' artistry.

So, obviously, I highly recommend seeing it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

R.I.P. LIU XIAOBO

Known as "the Mandela of China" by some, Liu Xiaobo is the first Nobel Laureate to die in government custody since the days of Nazi Germany. Poetry is still powerful enough to frighten totalitarian power structures into jailing the more rebellious ones.

(It's true he was arrested for advocating for human rights, but among all those arrested with him, it was he alone who was sentenced to a decade in prison, and there is no doubt it was because they feared his stature as a poet.)

Long live Liu Xiabo's spirit, poetry, and purpose!

PS: I'm not crazy about the English translations of his poetry so far but here's a pretty good excerpt from his poem "Experiencing Death":

Even if I know
death's a mysterious unknown
being alive, there's no way to experience death
and once dead
cannot experience death again
yet I'm still
hovering within death
a hovering in drowning
Countless nights behind iron-barred windows
and the graves beneath starlight
have exposed my nightmares

Besides a lie
I own nothing


(And PPS: here's the Times obit)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

R.I.P.

I come from a big family and a bigger, obviously, clan. So I was around death from my earliest days. I had a brother, John, who died as an infant not long before I was born, and my mother would talk to me about him when I was little. I went to wakes and funerals for some of my father's brothers when I was a boy. And was in my Irish immigrant grandfather's bedroom when he exhaled his last breath, which did indeed rattle.

I was in the hospital room with my mother when she passed. I had friends die and enemies, all three of my brothers who made it to adulthood are long gone and one of my two sisters, my father for many years too. But the hardest thing is when a friend loses a child, as happened recently to one of the most caring, funny, decent guys I know, and his loving and kind wife.

I've known lots of people who lost infants. I remember when my nephew Tommy died as an infant when I was still young, and now, at seventy-five, I can still picture him sitting in his high chair. I can think of other children of friends and of my larger non-blood family who have lost children still in their earliest years, or preadolescence, or teens, or young adulthood.

There is no more devastating feeling, I've experienced, then hearing the news of the death of someone's child. Even the children of strangers. And because we're so wired into the rest of the world, it's hard to get through a day without hearing of the death of someone's child.

But going today to see this friend, whose eleven-year-old son has left the physical plane, and being in the presence of the aftermath of such a tragedy, and seeing the impact it is having on him and his wife, is enough to make one, or at least me, not just cry and shout why but to long to understand how a parent survives such a blow.

The miracle is that they do, sometimes broken, still hurting, but going on, caring for other children, and other parents who have had these heartbreaking experiences, and in some ways all of us, who think: If they can go on, so can I with my much less tragic challenges. And always remembering "Love never dies."

Monday, July 10, 2017

ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

"Infancy is what is eternal, and the rest, all the rest, is brevity, extreme brevity."  —Antonio Porchia (from VOICES, translated by W. S. Merwin)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

ONE NIGHT ONLY/ALEC BALDWIN

Great tribute to an old friend tonight on Spike TV. A roast of Alec but really a recognition of the many sides of the man and the artist. We lived together in the 1980s in Santa Monica (he was kind enough to use his per diem from a movie job to help me pay the rent while he stayed in my daughter's room who was away at college) and he was and is one of the funniest persons I ever hung out with. He was and is a master impressionist and an obviously amazing actor, and he was and is a loyal friend. They could have done a couple of shows with even more accolades to his talent and revelations of unknown-to-most-folks civic and charitable contributions. But this was a good start.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MISTER B

Billy Eckstine was part of the soundtrack of my boyhood. From his earliest records with his own band, the first big band of what was still The Swing Era to play the most progressive music of that time, bebop, to the lush studio orchestras that backed him in his solo career, every time he opened his mouth to sing radio audiences swooned.

Frank Sinatra, Jersey homeboy and incredible musical artist, was always my favorite along with Nat King Cole, but "Mister B" as he was known to many of his fans, was right up there with them. The only one to give Sinatra compeition with "the bobbysocksers" as the teenage girl fans were known, was Eckstine, and this at a time when most of the USA was still living in either legal racial segregation or de facto. Just look at the photo above and imagine what that was doing to racists as the time.

The best musician in our family, my second oldest brother "Buddy" (born James and we sometimes called him Jimmy too) used to do a spot on imitation of Mister B. And I attempted it too as best I could with my little boy's soprano and then tenor voice, as opposed to Eckstine's bass sound. It always intrigues me as a devout student of cultural history when someone so prominent in his day can be so forgotten. But I'll never forget.

Here's an example of one of his radio hits that made the charts when I was a nine-year-old:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

JUST THE TWO OF US

me & my oldest brother Tommy, after he became Father Campion c. 1952
me & my friend Murph in San Antonio while in Basic Training March 1962
Jimmy Dunaway, my friend and drummer in my trio and fellow serviceman, & me in Spokane in 1964
me & my first wife, Lee, after I got out of the military in 1966
Poet Ken McCullough & me in DC in 1972
poet Ed Cox & me in DC in 1972
poet Robert Slater & me in DC in 1972
my then mate Ana & me in Florence in 1974
me & my son Miles in NYC in 1975
my oldest child, Caitlin, & me in DC in 1976

[to be continued]

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

JACK COLLOM R.I.P.

I didn't know poet Jack Collom well. I met him a few times and I think was on the same bill with him at a poetry reading years ago. But everyone I knew who knew him better than me had nothing but good things to say about him. And I knew his poetry, which I like. If you don't know his work, the book to get is his big one: RED CAR GOES BY: Selected Poems 1955-2000. Rest In Poetry, Jack.

(PS: I wanted to quote from one of the poems in it, but I can't find my copy. It sat on a shelf on one of the three giant seven-foot-high, seven-shelf bookcases I have in my bedroom (with my tiny one drawer desk and twin bed in my monk's lifestyle), but I started rearranging my books a while ago and got stuck halfway through, and now books are all over the apartment in unfamiliar ways on various other bookcases and RED CAR GOES BY just isn't jumping out for me.

But here's another poem of Jack Collom's I found online (and here's a good obit on him):

Ecology

Surrounded by bone, surrounded by cells,
by rings, by rings of hell, by hair, surrounded by
air-is-a-thing, surrounded by silhouette, by honey-wet bees, yet
by skeletons of trees, surrounded by actual, yes, for practical
purposes, people, surrounded by surreal
popcorn, surrounded by the reborn: Surrender in the center
to surroundings. O surrender forever, never
end her, let her blend around, surrender to the surroundings that
surround the tender endo-surrender, that
tumble through the tumbling to that blue that
curls around the crumbling, to that, the blue that
rumbles under the sun bounding the pearl that
we walk on, talk on; we can chalk that
up to experience, sensing the brown here that’s
blue now, a drop of water surrounding a cow that’s
black & white, the warbling Blackburnian twitter that’s
machining midnight orange in the light that’s
glittering in the light green visible wind. That’s
the ticket to the tunnel through the thicket that’s
a cricket’s funnel of music to correct & pick it out
from under the wing that whirls up over & out.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

BABY DRIVER

Once I got over the fact that this movie didn't have anything to do with Jan Kerouac's book, BABY DRIVER, and went to check it out on its own terms, my first reaction to the opening was, nicely done, and then, who is this kid in the title role and is he up to the challenge and whoa, he sure as feck is.

Ansel Elgort seemed too soft and child/teen-actorish in appearance, at first, to convince me he could pull off the lead in the stellar cast, but he ends up giving one of the best performances of the year, I'd say, along with everyone else in the flick. Just one of the reasons to praise director/writer Edgar Wright.

An unlikely candidate to direct a more-or-less classic Hollywood heist flick, Wright proves the eye and ear for fast-paced writing, directing and editing that made him successful in his most famous gigs until this one—SHAUN OF THE DEAD, et. al.—have been honed to perfection and surpassed my expectations very satisfactorily.

John Hamm lives up to his name and still makes it work, Kevin Spacey actually surprised me, Jamie Foxx is great as always, but it's the kid, Elgort, and the always effervescent Lily James, along with lesser knowns (at least to me) Eiza Gonzales and CJ Jones (I thank the director for actually casting a deaf actor rather than a hearing one playing deaf), and a cameo by Flea as a thug with a fake nose, to name a few, that makes everything click into place perfectly.

BABY DRIVER is a great ride, with enough clever (in the best sense of that word, not the "kill your darlings" sense) details (for those who care, there are several famous folks in small roles, for instance) and unexpected twists to overcompensate for whatever might be predictably contrived about a Hollywood heist flick. Perfect movie escape on a hot summer day or night.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

CANADA DAY

There's a lot more than this, but though not hilarious it does make a few good points at the top: