Monday, August 31, 2015


Luc Besson's LUCY (he wrote and directed it) is a film essay disguised as a sci-fi flick (often the case with that genre) about the capacity of the human brain. The story is almost perfunctory, though at times profound (at other times simplistic, or even sophomoric). But what makes me glad I saw it is Scarlett Johansonn, whose performance in it is a master class in film acting, covering the entire spectrum of human emotion (and lack of any).

Along with co-star Morgan Freeman, Johansson is so good, together they turn lead into gold every time. There are scenes in this film that are definitely over-the-top in terms of their premise and even technical execution, but the performances of the two stars saves them, grounds them in a reality that is undeniable.

And even when the story goes to ridiculously implausible lengths to make its point, the editing, camera work and special effects (the latter sometimes reminded me of the things my brain was seeing and contemplating after it was operated on) also make LUCY very watchable. If you haven't already seen it, you might want to.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


If you can watch this to the end without grinning (in appreciation and satisfaction), well...

Friday, August 28, 2015


Two evenings ago some friends of my youngest were skateboarding from uptown to downtown in Manhattan. All minors under eighteen, one was a short female from near where we live in Jersey who I've known since she was a kid, another a boy from the Bronx I've known for several years, and the third another boy, this one also fro Jersey but Bayonne, closer to New York than us.

As they skated near Columbus Circle the girl heard a policeman tell her to get off her board, she says she said something back like "We're just skating downtown" and the cop rushed her. Not much more than five feet tall, if that, she panicked when she saw this big cop running at her so she backed off to try and get away from him. He tackled her and as he squeezed her neck and roughed her up the boy from the Bronx came up and said "Why are you doin' that, she didn't do anything" and suddenly there were three more cops throwing him against the concrete and cuffing both of them.

I know this girl very well. The biggest show of any kind of negative behavior I've ever seen from her in all the years she's been hanging around my apartment or I've taken her and my son and their friends to skateparks in New York and New Jersey (and even Pennsylvania) is moodiness. She has never displayed toward me, nor toward anyone, adult or kid, any misbehavior.

But the cops took these two kids (not noticing the third one, who grabbed the girl's backpack which held her prize possession, the camera she has been using to film her friends skateboarding in the process of making a documentary about it) to jail, confiscating their cell phones and skateboards. They took mug shots of them and finger printed them and booked them not for skateboarding in an area where I guess there are signs saying it's not allowed, but for "resisting arrest."

She told me they allowed her one call but like most of us who use smart phones she doesn't have people's numbers memorized except for my son's who she's known since they were children. So she called him, but he didn't pick up and that was the only call they would allow. They threw her in a cell and kept her there overnight with a puking heroin addict going cold turkey and other young females who had stolen loose cigarettes or make up.

Youg females still considered "children" by law, locked up for petty crimes and kept in dirty jail cells while their parents worried something worse had happened when they didn't come home. The next day they were assigned public defenders and arraigned in court. I asked her if the lawyer had tried to get the charges dismissed by pointing out they were just skateboarding on streets and sidewalks where at any moment a white hipster is also skating on his or her way somewhere in the city. She said the lawyer didn't say anything to her or the judge.

She ended up having to pay a fine she has two months to cover and let go, but they refused to return her phone or skateboard saying she had to show i.d. to get them back and since her i.d. was with the third kid who was back in New Jersey and several towns away from ours she had to leave without any way to call anyone, even to let her father know where she was. Luckily she had enough cash to catch a train back to Jersey.

Did I mention these are all kids who are sometimes called "brown" or "black"...? Not that this behavior from the police is limited to non-"white" people, I've had friends who are white adults of some prominence who have argued with cops about parking tickets and such and ended up cuffed and in a jail cell. The difference is they called someone who got them out immediately and they weren't charged with "resisting arrest" but if they were would have had it dismissed by any lawyer of any competence.

Most of us realize there's a terrible disparity between how different classes and different skin shades are treated by the authorities in our society, troubles that have always been with us but were on the mend half a century ago until Reagan and the rightwing Republicans who came after him found more and more ways to reward the rich and powerful and punish the rest of us. These kids were victims of that mentality. Make Manhattan more accommodating to the rich and powerful and keep the rest of us in line by any means necessary.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


So I was at Whole Foods today, doing my usual every-few-days shopping and I made sure to pick the last check out line closest to the door where no one was waiting and I could feel unrushed as I like to bag my own groceries in my own bags I bring from home. (Yeah I know, I'm a liberal cliche, including driving a Prius, though a beat up one so old it's almost one of the first.)

The lady checking the food I placed on the conveyor was doing it so rapidly I couldn't keep up so that everything was basically waiting to be bagged by the time I put the last item on the conveyor belt or whatever we call that moving surface in check out lines.

When I finally got the bags to stand up straight so I could start packing them there was no one behind me. Usually if there are people in line behind me I make a joke about being an old man or having had a brain operation or whatever to let them know I often share whatever impatience they might be feeling toward me taking a little extra time when I encounter folks in front of me in check out lines taking what I consider too long to bag their groceries and pay and get out of the way.

But as I was busy packing the bags I didn't realize there were people behind me waiting until I turned around to slide my credit card through whatever we call the thing you slide your credit car through to pay. Directly behind me was a young redheaded woman we usually call "white" and behind her a couple of tall teenage boys and a man I assumed was their father who was at least several decades younger than me and had at least fifty pounds on me or more and a few inches. All of these males what we usually call "black."

The man instantly started loudly berating me for not having paid before I packed my groceries like there was some law or rule or standard stating the order in which we are supposed to do whatever we have to do in a check out line. I noticed he only had a few items in his hand so I pointed out that there were other lines open and a whole section devoted to express lanes for people with less than ten items. But that only seemed to make him angrier.

A young "black" male manager I recognized thought quickly and opened the register next to the line I was in and motioned for the man to go there to have his items rung up and bagged. The man moved over there as I finished paying and started to leave but he couldn't stop berating me so I said something about how I hoped when he became an old man he was treated with more patience, but he jut kept ranting at me.

I could see in his face that it was obviously much more than me and the few extra seconds I added to his wait in line that was angering him. But I was too busy feeling disappointed that no one came to my defense including the several workers in that area, and the cashier. All of them were what we usually call "black" and all were looking away from the man and me as though nothing was happening.

As I pushed my cart toward the exit I grabbed my two full bags and left the cart, thinking I could drop them fast if I had to and not be stuck behind a cart if the guy came after me in the parking lot. I calmed myself down and slowed myself down deciding that whatever would be would be and there was no need for me to turn back to see if he was coming after me or to speed my pace to my car. In fact I walked more slowly than I normally would to make it clear to whoever might be behind me that I wasn't rushing or running away from the scene but was leisurely strolling toward my vehicle.

After I put my grocery bags into my car I finally turned around and saw the man walking parallel to the lane I was in and not looking my way at all. I got in my car and went home feeling pretty unruffled thankfully.

But when I got home and saw the news about the TV news anchor and her cameraman being shot and killed by an enraged ex-coworker who had a grievance against them and the station they worked at in Virginia because he had been fired and believed it was racially motivated, him being what we usually call "black" and them being what we usually call "white" (both of which terms are preposterous if they're meant to describe skin color as very few people's skin is either "white" or "black") I wondered if I had been a seventy-three-year-old black woman, or black man, or even white woman, if the angry man would have been as angry or have voiced it as ragefully as he did.

I know the killer in Virginia had obvious mental problems, and the man in Whole Foods was probably having a bad day brought on by stuff I had nothing to do with, but I also suspect this old "white" man represented something to the man in Whole Foods that I might have also represented had I been around that killer in Virginia. It isn't the first incident provoked by my being an old white man, the first one happened at a poetry panel in L.A. on which I was the only older (in my 50s at the time) "white" man and found myself being attacked as a representative of everything I fought against for most of my life just because I was being judged by the color of my skin, my age and my gender not my actions or my history.

I've spent a good deal of my adult life fighting against racism and sexism and homophobia, but I don't wear that on my skin (except in a tattoo that is so symbolically subtle at this stage of history that no one would get it anyway), so there's no way for others to know. I know that doesn't exempt me from continuing to work to change the racist legacy inherent in our history and current systemic and individual discrimination against those usually referred to as "black" (as well as "brown" and what used to be called "yellow" and "red"), but it does give me insight into what motivates some of the racial animosity Trump is playing so well to in his "white" supporters (including white supremacist organizations that have endorsed him).

In a way I'm glad that at the moment the two leading contenders for president from the right and from the left are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—two "old white men"—so that that generalization can be seen for what it is, mostly useless (and of course I know Bernie is Jewish and so by some of the strange racial categorization that goes on in our society that makes him not exactly an old "white" man but still...)...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Full disclosure, Blaine is a long time L.A. friend, but even if he wasn't I'd recommend BORN ON THE BAYOU as a well written memoir with a lot of wisdom and insight as Lourd explores the relationship between a Southern Louisiana boy and his father as the boy grows up to become a man.

What I like most about it are the details, the naming of brands and objects and rituals in a culture Blaine and his family and friends call "coonass." Blaine and his father hunt and fish and drink and even step over some lines, including the border with Mexico, things I never did with my father and no one else I know did with theirs, and yet the resonance of longing and sadness and emulation and disappointment that are the threads running through this book ring true and even familiar.

I love to hear and read almost anyone's story, if they are honest and get specific about what makes everyone's stories unique. BORN ON THE BAYOU does all that and more.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Seeing that documentary about Brando the other day made me wish I could have been a consultant on it. My own take on him is that he revolutionized movie acting with a trilogy of flicks that changed what it meant to be "real" in a film forever:


Then the Hollywood machine, the bosses, the money men, the scared slaves to the system decided that since Brando was being called the greatest actor ever and had become the most inspiring and original movie actor ever they should dredge up the oldest most tired movie star leading man roles and force Brando to fit his unique take on contemporary characters—an outlaw biker, a New Orleans WWII vet working man, an ex-boxer mob enforcer—into the roles of Napolean, Mark Antony, and an upper-class British officer from the a famous mutiny over a century before...

His attempts were noble efforts but misplaced, and by the end of the 1960s he was thought of as a has been, a once was, a shoulda been...and then they made him take a screen test to play a 20th century character, a Mafia don decades older than Brando was at the time and he shoved some cotton or Kleenex into his mouth to make himself jowly and created a way of speaking that a man who'd been punched in the throat might sound like and began another trilogy that proved he was the greatest screen actor once again:


The latter was Brando's favorite and is definitely one of mine, another historical role but this time to serve a higher purpose in what to my mind is the best fictional take on colonialism in any movie ever...if you want to know why the great actors of Brando's lifetime from James Dean to Al Pacino considered Brando the best ever, watch those six movies...

(For four more movies—where Brando proves his skill—to round out the list to ten I'd add:


Saturday, August 22, 2015


LISTEN TO ME MARLON is another documentary based (mostly) on historic footage and audio tape, a la the recent masterpiece on Amy Winehouse, AMY. There are a few moments in MARLON depicting Brando's boyhood where there seems to be recreated scenes, but otherwise the film relies on historic news and movie footage to supplement audio recordings Brando made later in life either looking back on his career or his boyhood, or talking to himself (thus the "Listen to me Marlon"—i.e. his addressing himself) in what he seems to have labeled "SELF HYPNOSIS" tapes.

The discovery that Brando had taped himself (along with having a hologram made of his head speaking, including reciting lines from Shakespeare plays) is what generated this film. Brando intentionally recorded himself correcting the record of his life from his perspective and it is as revelatory as everything else this iconic figure did in his life.

If you were influenced by Brando's movie roles when they first appeared, as I was, or saw them later and felt their impact, or are one of the many actors or viewers who consider him to be the greatest movie actor of his time, or any time, you'll dig this film. But even if you don't agree with those who see Brando as a towering historic cultural figure, this movie might still be for you, because it tells a unique though classic tragic tale of personal triumph and personal failure. Brando's story could almost be another Greek myth about hubris and its tragic results.

I would have made a few other selections in the movie scenes that director Stevan Riley chose to illustrate various points in Brando's life and career, and his impact on movie acting, and would have loved to have seen and heard more from his family and intimate friends, in fact I wish I could have heard more of the tapes and could easily have sat through two films culled from his archives. But for most viewers I'm sure this film will satisfy any curiosity they might have about the man who changed the art of film acting as well as impacted the culture of the 1950s and '60s and beyond.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015


The little guy is me, to my left my sister Irene and to my right my late sister Joan, behind us is Robert (note the probably woolen bathing suit) the youngest of my three older living brothers at the time (the other two would have been off in the military for WWII), all gone now including him, in Belmar NJ c. 1945

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Someone hipped me to a Facebook post asking who the female poets were whose work had an impact on your life, even changed it. Something like that. The first thing that struck me was how many of the poets people mentioned I had known or still do.

Even though I still have trouble with lists and have to use Google and other Internet sources to do them since the brain op, I laid in bed last night thinking about it and actually came up with the three poets that did have an impact on my life as well as influencing my poetry, or at least the way I thought about it. Here they are.

Emily Dickinson, all her poetry since I first encountered it as a boy

Muriel Rukeyser, the New Directions paperback version of her 1951 Selected Poems that I discovered as a young man

Diane Di Prima, the first book of hers I read, when it came out from Corinth in 1961: Dinners and Nightmares...I got fired from my job as a disc jockey when I was nineteen for reading one of her "Nightmares" over the air: "Nightmare 6  Get you cut throat off my knife"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A friend talked me into going to see a few poets read in Bryant Park tonight. The first poet up was someone whose work I didn't know, Celeste Gainey. Her story interested me: she had always been into light and its effects and was lucky to find work as one of the few female gaffers in movies back in the 1970s (like DOG DAY AFTERNOON and TAXI DRIVER) and then went on to become an architectural lighting artist (mostly for well known New York restaurants).

Now in middle age she has published her first book of poems, THE GAFFER, which comes out of her life and perspective. I like it. And I liked hearing her read. Here's one of the poems from the book she read:

The Early Days of Polyester

You don't know yet you are flammable;
jars of Miracle Whip, tubs of Polly-O in the fridge.
Your morel imperative on ice, the vertical blinds rattling shut,
sleek sofa of solid kerosene resisting your body's impression.
You keep saying, Cotton, cotton, the touch, the feel of cotton,
but you are drawn to the slinky boy shirt with the Kandinsky-like
print, fancy your stubbled sideburns whispering
the top of its Byronesque collar—long pants gesturing toward
no-tits torso, slim hips, bell-bottomed legs, Frye boots.
It feels like Velveeta against your skin, something you might
scrape off with the blade of your Swiss Army knife.
It seems to reject you. Still, you can't stop
parading your shirt through Washington Square Park
in the hot afternoon sun—looking for combustion.

Monday, August 17, 2015


The first graffiti I remember seeing in Manhattan when I started hanging in The Village as a young teenager were the words "Bird Lives" scrawled across sidewalks, "Bird" meaning the great Charlie Parker, called by his record label back then the inventor of modern jazz.

It being the anniversary of Elvis's passing, or thereabouts, I thought I'd post a tune from one of his earliest live shows back around the same time I discovered "Bird Lives" on the sidewalks of New York, where if if I were tonight I think I'd write "Elvis Lives"...because he does in the music he left behind, like Bird and so many others who made their mark on our culture...

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Me in the make up trailer after getting my false mustache and dirtied-up face for the role of Captain Bubb on Deadwood these many years ago...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


All about movies here lately, but been seeing a lot including this recent arrival. I knew Ian McKellan for a while in the early 1980s, and he was as engaging and witty and fun to be around as you can imagine. I loved his work then and I love his work now and went to see MR. HOLMES because I'd heard it was a great performance, and it was.

The story isn't the greatest Sherlock Holmes mystery ever, if anything it seems overly contrived at times, but McKellan's acting, along with Laura Linney's and Milo Parker (brilliant young actor), and the beautiful cinematography make it well worth seeing.

The story is a bit of what they used to call post-modern fiction, even meta fiction, with many of the favorite devices born of that trend, including this film being based on a novel written long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the character Sherlock Holmes was alive, with the conceit that Holmes was a real person, and detective, and the stories about him were written by his friend Doctor Watson, who embellished or polished the real Holmes's image.

So it's a story about the later life of a fictional character portrayed as real but notorious from his fictional best friend's fiction about real cases, that of course were created originally by another writer entirely etc. Endlessly unreliable narrator, as they used to say, or something like it. But the story is simple enough and the settings obvious enough to convey the general idea about aging and loss and regret and redemption to make the film work when enacted by such brilliant performers.

And I'm a sucker for redemptive stories. As another detective story writer, Raymond Chandler, once said "in everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption."

Monday, August 10, 2015


Speaking of women writing their own romantic comedies to star in (see my last post, on TRAINWRECK), this 2001 movie touched on some of the same challenges for single creative women but from a different perspective, not as raunchy and more thoughtful, or maybe I mean more over thoughtful, a la Woody Allen's usual neurotic leading roles.

The star and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt, with her co-star and co-writer Heather Juergensen, have written a role for Westfeldt as the Woody Allen style nerdy neurotic but from a female perspective, making it a very funny and intellectually satisfying experience. Because it came out the year I was going through cancer and its removal, it was among the many movies I missed seeing.

I'm happy to have caught up with it and only sorry that Westfeldt and Juergensen didn't go on to make more movies, because KISSING JESSICA STEIN is a total triumph of film making, for my taste. I initially watched it because an old friend, Scott Cohen, has one of the lead male roles and pulls it off nicely, but in the end it was the two female leads that were the revelation.

Brilliantly written, directed (by Charles Horman-Wurmfeld) and shot, if you haven't caught up to this one, I highly recommend you do.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Amy Schumer has been getting a lot of attention lately, and her movie TRAINWRECK even more, some of it because that was what was showing in the most recent deadly movie theater attack, but also because her humor is being touted as outrageous in a new way.

Not so, from my perspective, but nonetheless, this movie, which she wrote and stars in, is full of laughs. Some of the jokes are the kind of frat boy bodily-parts-and-functions humor that the director Judd Apatow has made so popular in his films and since BRIDESMAIDS women have been allowed to do too, occasionally.

But even though some of the jokes made me cringe, others had me doubled over and in tears. Schumer pulls off this feat in a more or less one woman show with not just obvious sex and bathroom humor, but with more subtle scenes that involve a poignantly insightful sense of redemption. And who doesn't like a redemption story with crude humor?

I would have thought the answer would have been me, but turns out I enjoyed this film very much, including the performances by her co-stars Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn and LeBron James. Let me know what you think.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Fox is definitely better at doing news-as-entertainment, which obviously never lets facts get in the way of audience arousal...but for those who saw the questions as pretty hard hitting and "going after the candidates" I would suggest that the questions were mostly hard hitting when it came to any variation from the rightwing wing of the party...there were few if any hard-hitting questions about the lies each candidate was telling on stage in real time and none about their campaign's finances or criminal activities (e.g. Rand Paul's recently indicted campaign managers etc.)...unfortunately the Democratic debates are moderated as if they were a top university's debate forum where logic and reason and factual information are prized whereas last night's Fox "debate" was moderated as if it were a Super Bowl with a halftime show, i.e. disappointingly lopsided with glitches...

Thursday, August 6, 2015


my first wife and the mother of my older children, Caitlin and Miles, the late poet Lee Lally in the house we rented on Emory Place in the "Friendship Heights" section of Washington DC c. 1972
 (photo by John Gossage)

Monday, August 3, 2015


I just got word that Lynn Manning passed. I don't see it yet on the web but our mutual close friend, Eve Brandstein, texted me a little while ago and my heart sunk. I loved Lynn. That's a photo of him and me in L.A. in the 1980s. I met him through Rutger Hauer who was preparing for a movie role where he had to be a blind martial arts warrior and Lynn was teaching him moves.

Rutger told me Lynn was a poet and we should know each other so he introduced us and we became immediate friends after telling each other our stories. Lynn had grown up in a rough neighborhood in L.A. (if I remember correctly his mother shot the man she was living with there in later years) and standing at a bar one day when he was a young man the guy next to him said something Lynn didn't appreciate so Lynn, at least the way I remember him telling me, said something dismissive back and then as he reached for his drink saw out of the corner of his eye the guy pull out a gun and aim it at Lynn's head.

Lynn only had time to move his head back far enough that the bullet missed his brain but ended up stopping right behind his nose, between his eyes, where it stayed for the rest of his life and left him blind. At first, as he shared with me, he felt sorry for himself and sat around and got fat and depressed. But eventually he realized there was no going back and feeling sorry for himself wasn't getting him anywhere but drunk.

So he got in shape and into judo and within a short time became the blind heavyweight judo champion of the world! That's how Rutger heard of him and got him hired for the movie and then introduced him to me. I loved Lynn's poetry, which in those days he would "write" by dictating lines into a little tape recorder and then at readings would get up to the mic with the reorder plugged into one ear and recite his poems from the tape. Later he learned to recite them from memory. (Eventually he wrote a play about his life that brought him acclaim as well.)

We read often because I cofounded and co-ran a weekly poetry reading in L.A. called POETRY IN MOTION with Eve, and Lynn became a regular, as well as at other events I hosted on my own. I loved hanging out with him, and after I moved to Jersey in '99 stayed in touch through phone calls. Though when I learned of his passing tonight I realized I hadn't spoken with him in a few years and felt bad that I hadn't called. But he may have been unavailable as I learned he'd been suffering from the cancer that ended his life. Rest In Poetry my friend.

Here's a clip from of Lynn reading his masterpiece about his mother shooting her partner (you gotta get past my being in the shot to help with the mic and then his first short goof, but once he starts into the long poem stay with it for a unique ride with a unique man):

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Just a Saturday overnight trip to The Berkshires, but I got to see FRANKIE AND JOHNNY AT THE CLAIR DE LUNE at The Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, under the direction of Karen Allen, another stage triumph as a director for my old friend.

And I got to see old friends I hadn't seen in a while and catch up on their lives and those of their loved ones, and see my Godson who lives up there and has made a life for himself, and I got to make some new friends and do my best to be present for all of it.

And I got to see my oldest son Miles play bass with Jordan Weller and The Feathers at The Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington for one of the tightest and most driving sets ever, making the joint explode with dancing and cheering and just move-to-the-music energy, including mine.

And I got to see my grandson, whose badly broken arm from a skateboarding accident needed surgery earlier in the week to fix with a plate and screws, already healing and taking it all with his usual humor and aplomb just days before his seventeenth birthday.

Life has its challenges and set backs, and definitely its disappointments but it also has it triumphs and blessings and grace, for which I am eternally grateful, even in the times when I'm not, because I know the power of gratitude-no-matter-what.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


I know there's a lot of reasons a lot of people have for not liking Woody Allen, but as I've probably said on this blog before, I've never seen a movie of his I didn't get something out of, and sometimes I got a lot.  His latest, IRRATIONAL MAN, isn't his best by far, but it still was a satisfying movie experience for me.

Set on a college campus it deals with a lot of the stock characters movies in that setting usually present, but as always, Allen has his own take that makes the setting seem newly analyzed through both the humorous and the tragic scenes.

The acting, as always in any Allen film, is a treat to watch, with Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and the always uniquely compelling Parker Posey leading the way. If you hate Woody skip it, but if you appreciate his mastery with set ups and writing and casting, you might find it a worthwhile diversion. I did.