Saturday, October 31, 2015


Went into this flick with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised to come out of it with great respect for the filmmaker, Michael Almereyda, who both wrote and directed this story of Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist (or psychiatrist?) who did an experiment in the early 1960s that became famous because it demonstrated that if led to believe some authority requested it, a majority of ordinary citizens would flip a switch to give an electric shock to an unseen stranger crying out for the shocks to stop.

The movie is a work of art, for my taste, innovative and eclectic in its techniques (just the way half the shots are framed is either an homage to the movies of the period or a parody of them) and originally directed by Almereyda and incredibly acted by all, but in particular Winona Ryder. I didn't recognize her in her introductory scene and hadn't read the poster or reviews so didn't know she was in this and all I kept thinking is who is this actress who seems so unlike the usual "Hollywood" female lead characters. It took me till the next scene to recognize her.

Her performance is supportive to Peter Sarsgaard's as Milgram, who carries the movie and is in pretty much every scene as well as narrating the story through the breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a lot of the director/writer's techniques are reminiscent of the breakthroughs in films in the 1960s), but Ryder is who ultimately makes the movie work. A beautifully understated and nuanced and most of all realistic portrayal.

I'd catch this flick if you get the chance, even if just to get another and more comprehensive take on Milgram's famous experiment and its impact on, well, the world, even to this day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


I wrote about the experience a friend of my teenage son had when she skateboarded through Columbus Circle with a friend and a NYC cop tackled her and threw her to the ground because she was intimidated when he ran at her and tried to protect herself by moving away. Here's the link to that post.

Her and her friend were kept in a Manhattan jail all night and arraigned in the morning for resisting arrest (no charges for whatever she was supposedly being arrested for, which was skateboarding in Columbus Circle, even though she was just passing through on her way downtown). Her public defender didn't say one word through the proceeding, so she pleaded guilty to get out of jail and back home to Jersey.

The boy in this video was also arrested for resisting arrest but no charges for whatever law he was supposedly being arrested for breaking. Fortunately someone captured it on their phone. It's the same exact cop who tackled my son's friend, a tiny female who instinctively held on to her board (imagine if it were an adult heading for work with their computer and a cop rushed at them to grab the computer and take it away, the instinct would be to hold on to it etc.) as this boy did.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


STEVE JOBS the film is almost completely contrived, with the majority of scenes a product mostly of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's imagination. But they are based on real characters and real events and because Danny Boyle's directing is mostly terrific, and most of the cast is superb, and Sorkin knows how to write dialogue and pacing for scripts, the movie works as engaging and satisfying drama.

Michael Fassbender totally holds your attention (or at least did mine) as a believable version of Steve Jobs, and Kate Winslet as his marketing exec does the same, though her supposed Polish accent slips and slides. Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jobs's original partner, who was the technical genius of the duo, serves Sorkin's plot points well, though in scenes that mostly never happened, but he misses the childlike sweetness and almost naiveté of Woxniak as he comes across in TV appearances.

The real surprises for me, acting-wise, were two veterans of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, Katherine Waterston as the mother of Job's daughter Lisa, and Michael Stuhlberg (who I sometimes confuse with Joaquin Pheonix) as one of Jobs's main techie subordinates. If you want the real story, there are documentaries and biographies and various sources on the Internet, but if you want a really good movie and don't mind being manipulated by the talents of Sorkin and Boyle, STEVE JOBS was well worth watching.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


One of my all-time favorite movie stars, she lived a long, full, productive life that she often made clear she was grateful for, and made it to 95. The gif above is from THE QUIET MAN, which, despite it's outdated mores (pretty sexist, even if it's intended to be comic, and even though she didn't mind and claimed to enjoy the humor of it and held her own against John Wayne's title character) still works.

And the reason it works is not just the chemistry between her and Wayne (that also worked in several other movies they made together) but because she was such an amazingly strong yet gorgeous movie actor and screen presence (her star charisma jumped out from the screen in one of her earliest triumphs, playing the gypsy girl to Charles Laughton's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME).

She was everything she appeared to be, glamorous yet down-to-earth, strong and independent (she made the tabloids back in the 1950s for being caught getting too intimate in the back of a movie theater with her date) yet capable of great sweetness and vulnerability, not just in her roles but in life, a great artist and yet humble in the sense of not denying her star stature but not denying her good fortune and common humanity either.

One of the people I'd most like to have met in my Hollywood years, but unfortunately never did. Yet like many of us I feel like I've always known her and always will.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


[at his and Christopher Isherwood's home in Santa Monica canyon c.1982 (the glum look is just from holding that pose for hours)]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


If I don't write every day, I feel like a piece of my life is missing. It was the same for playing piano for most of my life. If I'm not making music or poetry, or some kind of writing or art, then the next best thing, and sometimes even the better thing, is to be digging the artistry of others.

Like a couple of nights ago I went to hear some music in the Jersey town where I grew up. It was in a brand new building with condos upstairs and a bakery/soup and sandwich place on the ground floor, where I had seen on the Internet Malcolm Marsden—a friend of two cousins of mine—was playing music. These cousins (the sons of two first cousins I grew up with who are now gone) play music around Jersey and in Manhattan pretty regularly, but those gigs are usually too difficult for me to make. So since this gig was nearby and easy for my post-op brain to get to without too much anxiety (a condition of the post-op state these days) I figured I'd go support Malcolm and in that way be supporting my cousins network of fellow musicians.

It was a brightly lit noisy place (coffee machines, ice machines, customers, etc.) but he brought amps and mics and the sound was perfect. Me and my friend Rachel sat at the table nearest the mics and I was delighted when he started with what he said was a warmup song but he killed his version of "Lucky Old Sun" (afterward pointing out he got it from what he declared the best version, Jerry lee Lewis's, which I'd never heard, remembering only the Frankie Lane one, which is another thing I dig, being turned on to stuff I was unaware of that turns out to be new sources of nourishment for my soul).

He played several more tunes, some his own, some covers, from country to rockabilly (a great take on Elvis's "Return to Sender") to rock'n'roll, then called up another singer/songwriter, Carrie Cantor and they kept the songs coming, solos and duos, with Cantor doing her own songs and covers of Joni Mitchell and others. Highlights for me were their duo version of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" and their closing song, a duo version of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence."

It was a local gig with a tip box but no less entertaining and fulfilling for me than any other time I've sat through a set by a committed artist doing their thing.

And then tonight I got to check out the new location of the old Saint Mark's bookshop—that I remember from the 1960s on St. Mark's Place and then for the last many years around the corner on Third Avenue but now has relocated (feckin' landlords) to a small space on East 3rd Street near Avenue A—when I went to hear poets and old friends (both of mine and each other) Elaine Equi and Vincent Katz read from their new books: SENTENCES AND RAIN and SWIMMING HOME.

And once again I had the privilege of being in the presence of committed artists doing their thing and sharing it. Elaine opening with a series of unlikely poems that mostly come at you unexpectedly, surprising you with deeper resonances to what initially seem created with a very light touch. Her artistry reminds me of the kind of light touch Bill Evans had, as though he was hardly hitting the keys on a piano, and yet the notes lingered in deeply fulfilling ways.

Vincent's work, to continue with the jazz references, is more like Albert Ayler's approach to mixing the obvious with the abstract in ways that transported me to city street scenes from my younger days in mid-20th-century Manhattan then back to some futuristic wordplay from our technological present...or something like that. It's late and I'm tired from the evening in the city so this is the extent of my late night possibility for clarity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I was talking to a friend yesterday who had spent two years at a cool college and then had to leave. She was explaining how she just now, almost a decade after that, has payed off the entire amount those two years cost. But because she didn't qualify for a government student loan and had to take out a private loan, she now has to pay the interest that accumulated over that almost decade and that amount equals the original cost of the two years of college so will take another almost decade.

I've been hearing, and using, the word "overwhelmed" a lot lately, and a lot of that comes from this ridiculous "American corporate vicious capitalism" we have to deal with that makes us the only advanced country on earth that doesn't have universal health care, free college educations, paid family leave etc. while being distracted by the bread and circuses of social media and their hypnotic devices used to make us feel the pressure of "keeping in touch" and "keeping up."

"American capitalism" right now has evolved into a rapacious exploiter and abuser of all of us. And like some of my Irish relatives and friends would say: feck that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015



Spielberg and Hanks, two Hollywood pros who know how to get, and hold, an audience's attention and allegiance, over and over again. BRIDGE OF SPIES is no exception. Based on true events around the Gary Powers spy plane incident at the height of The Cold War, Spielberg manages to use all the tricks of pacing and editing and close ups and low angles etc. to create tension and suspense where there really shouldn't be any since the outcome would be predictable even if we didn't know it from history. And yet, it works, and works well.

And Hanks is masterful with moments so purely perfect you almost want to stand up and cheer the actor for his timing and precision. He's like an old pro ballplayer or musician or artist who gets the same effect with (seemingly) a lot less effort. Some of the dialogue is so distilled it's like a Beckett or Pinter play (the Coen brothers are credited with helping write the screenplay). [PS: And Mark Rylance does even more with less than Hanks and deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.]

If you want an old fashioned Hollywood movie experience, don't miss BRIDGE OF SPIES.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015


The cast of Lanford Wilson's "Balm in Gilead" in its premiere run in Los Angeles in 1983, many of whom are still good friends, but I'm posting it in remembrance of the late Jesse Aragon (who is basically in the middle of the photo, with Ty Jones making the horn symbol behind Jesse's head) who left us too soon, (five years after this shot was taken)

[PS: that's me in the white shirt and apron and still dark hair crouching down in the bottom right corner of the photo]

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Hilary held her own and managed to do it while mostly smiling (except when attacking Republicans so I assume those are the shots Faux News will be showing). She came across (at least to me) as competent, smart, able to give as well as she got, and in general like a pro, though I disagree with some of her positions.

Bernie was Bernie, which meant sometimes he said stuff no one else dares or cares to, and sometimes he just repeated himself or seemed a little tired, which is completely understandable and didn't hurt (at least in my opinion) his "image" since his "image" is of an old guy who actually does speak truth to power and isn't trying to project any "image" other than his ideas and beliefs.

O'Malley seemed like he was at a different event for the first half, at least, of the debate (or as the friend I watched it with said, he seemed almost "robotic"). Someone must have advised him to seem serious and show gravitas, a mistake (at least as far as I'm concerned) since I have friends who are friends with him and they say he's a really down-to-earth fun, smart and compassionate guy, which didn't really come across as most of his remarks, again especially during the first half of the debate, were stated as if he were reading a script for a robotic answering machine.

Webb, who I used to find pretty fascinatingly unique in politics, came across (to me) as self-serious, stiff, and talking to himself or insiders instead of the average voter, who ever she may be.

Chaffee actually was disarmingly sweet and human, though he looked on the TV like a cartoon character, maybe a duck or chicken, and despite some great things he had to say and positions he took, was hard (for me) to take seriously as a contender.

Cooper wasn't bad as a moderator, a tough job, but wasn't the best either. But the call-in Facebook aspect of the debate was so incidental they might as well not have done it, and it could have been much more a part of the whole event and more spontaneous, that would have been (for my taste) made it a much more dynamic "show."

Monday, October 12, 2015


Here's why the :"C" word should not be used anymore for this holiday, if you didn't already know, and for full effect watch to the end...

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Unfortunately bad movie title for a fortunately great film. FREEHELD is not only beautifully acted, which indicates great directing by Peter Sollett, but well paced and structured, which is not easy to do in a movie based on real people and events which many moviegoers will already be aware of when they sit down to watch this.

If you like "feel good" flicks, and/or kleenex grabbing "tear jerkers" then FREEHELD is for you. But even if you don't dig those kinds of movies, there's enough poignancy and realism in this film's mixture to offset the few scenes that seem pre-cooked or stagey. And though Julianne Moore gives her usual Meryl Streepy movie legend performance that could easily get an Oscar nomination, and the always intense Michael Shannon also gives an award winning performance, the real thrill for me was watching Ellen Page.

Page's performance is so full of subtle brilliance it's almost as if she built the character by erasure like some artists and writers do their master work. And almost every scene Page is in is elevated by her understated but always realistically believable offering. She is definitely one of my new movie acting icons, and this flick, though based on a struggle that has since been won, is a history lesson we all need to see.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


I've had this cover hanging on the walls of every home I've had since the day the magazine came out in 1964, and still do. The Einstein of jazz, the Mohammed Ali of jazz, the Walt Whitman of jazz...his likeness should be on folding money, or hanging in art museums...his birthday should be a holiday...

Yeah, Monk is at the top of any list I would make of most innovative creators or most original human being...and obviously, definitely, tops my list of favorite piano players and composers...Happy B'day Monk, only wish you were still here...

Friday, October 9, 2015


I met Gail Zappa at a few Hollywood parties and events during the years I was there ('82 to '99) and she was always funny, no-bullshit honest, engaging and curious. I never saw her do that thing too many people in Hollywood and elsewhere do at events and parties, i.e. look over your shoulder to see if anyone more "important" is around.

In fact I first met her at one of the most star-studded Hollywood parties I ever attended and instead of scanning the room and dividing people by "success" or style or anything else she just started asking me questions about myself and we had an extended conversation about our kids (she introduced me to Moon Unit, Dweezil and Ahmet, all of whom were like their mother, friendly and funny and great human beings in my limited experience of them over the years)...

I offer my condolences to all Gail's family and friends (and fans, of which I am one).

Here's a fair obit.