Thursday, March 31, 2016


My daughter Caitlin and son Miles and me in an airport on our way to Ireland around 1995
(PS: I've been the same weight (skinny) since I was fifteen, so I think my seemingly hefty midsection is an illusion from the way I'm sitting and the way my shirt(s) are situated but I like the way it makes me seem substantial....)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


The most delightful thing about this movie is watching older actresses work out on screen, even if the storyline is a bit contrived and not all that weighty. The enormously talented Sally Field, who always brings her A game no matter what she's asked to do, was worth the price of admission for me. And then to have scenes with her and Tyne Daly, who, like Fields, isn't to everyone's taste but nonetheless, like Fields, is a great actress, and in a much smaller role the under appreciated Caroline Aaron...

...well, for my taste I was just happy to see these three getting movie work, let alone working out their acting chops. Don't expect fireworks or anything too deep, even when the script reaches for that (I thought there were several problems with the writing: interesting avenues of action that could have been explored but were abandoned, set ups that were too pat and didn't add anything to the dramatic or comedic aspects of the story, etc.)...

But just to see a film starring a female actor over fifty (in fact over sixty) who doesn't look like she's been frozen in her thirties, and actually at times parts of her look her age, let alone carrying some scenes that were totally entertaining, was sweetly satisfying.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
—William Butler Yeats

Thursday, March 24, 2016


One of my favorite old photographs: me standing in front of my three oldest brothers, Robert (born William Robert), Campion (born Thomas) and Buddy (born James), all gone now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I'm giving a talk (and reading poems) on how "poetry saved my life" (and creativity in general can save lives) at the Ethical Culture Society, 516 Prospect Street, Maplewood NJ, 11 AM, next Sunday, Easter, March 27th, 2016.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


RACE is unambiguously a message movie. About the great Olympic runner Jesse Owens (played by Stephen James), the movie concentrates on how Owens got to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and what happened when he got there.

As the title hints, it's not only about the actual Olympics race, but also about the question of "race"— which was on everybody's mind at the time, since Hitler had made such a big deal about the "Aryan race" being superior.

When I was a boy in post-WWII "America," Jesse Owens was still much heralded. And this was before there were many, if any, African-Americans—or what then were called "colored"—athletes in the news, other than Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, "The Brown Bomber" who, like Owens, had to bear the burden of not only representing all people of color, but all who opposed Hitler and his regime (which, a la Charles Lindbergh, was far from all Americans).

Having been born just after the USA's entry into WWII, with my two oldest brothers serving in the military at the end of it, I remember the styles and ways of speaking and general cultural signifiers pretty well, and as is too often the case with movies set in earlier times, RACE gets many things wrong.

And, as is too often the case in biopics whose main characters aren't "white," there has to be one, or more, white characters who get equal if not more screen time (the thinking being "white" audiences won't be able to identify otherwise). In the case of RACE, that's Owen's coach, played by Jason Sideikis, better known for his comic roles, but he gives a good, if anachronistic, performance.

In fact the movie is full of good actors, including the ever intense Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage and the ever laconic William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney. But the best performances are by much lesser known actors, like David Cross as the Nazi track star Carl "Lux" Long, Barnaby Metschurat as Goebbels, and Carice von Houten as Leni Refienstahl.

In most of these cases, the actors get some of the historic accuracy wrong (for which I hold the director (Stephen Hopkins) and writers (Joe Sharpnel, Anna Waterhouse) responsible. But there is one small but powerful performance that for me not only felt historically perfect, but worth the price of the movie: Andrew Moodie's, as Jesse's father.

I recommend RACE as a tribute to a great and heroic champion and as a faulty but necessary history lesson for those who don't remember or never knew this story, as well as for those of us long familiar with it and grateful to see it revived.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


It might be boring to others, but having been a compulsive list-maker all my life and then, in an instant, waking up after my brain operation with the compulsion totally gone, unable to put more than two things together for any kind of list, without help from Google and much determination and much prodding of myself to do it, the other night while falling asleep I actually started making a list of books that had impacted (and in some instances influenced) me (sometimes changing my life) when I was coming up, in my teens and early twenties, so here it is:

Saint Augustine's CONFESSIONS
Lady Murasaki's TALE OF GENJI
Saint John of the Cross's DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
Sherwood Anderson's WINESBURG, OHIO
Ezra Pound's CANTOS
William Carlos Williams SELECTED POEMS and PATERSON
e. e. cummings's six non-lectures
Jean Toomer's CANE
Ernest Hemingway's IN OUR TIME
F. Scott Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT
Muriel Rukeyser's SELECTED POEMS (the first New Directions one)
Gary Snyder's RIP RAP
Frank O'Hara's LUNCH POEMS
LeRoi Jones's TALES (later reissued under his new name, Amiri Baraka)
Brendan Behan's BORSTAL BOY
Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT (didn't see it performed, just read it) and HOW IT IS

Saturday, March 19, 2016


I missed this film when it first came out ten years ago, so I thought I'd catch up with it tonight when I saw it was playing on one of my cable channels. What a mistake.

Directed by Brian DiPalma, who is considered a great movie maker (full disclosure, I and some friends once spent an evening at a party with him in Hollywood, and then even three or four of us joined him at the house he was renting in the Hollywood hills afterward to stay up until dawn talking, though he didn't contribute much to the conversation), totally strikes out with this flick.

Despite some great actors (but also some terrible ones, or at least terribly miscast). There seemed to be way too much attention paid to production values (sets, costumes, etc.) than to a coherent script, or any useful directing of the actors. If you haven't seen it, don't.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


A cousin posted this video of The Dubliners performing what is basically our clan's theme song: "The Fields of Athenry." Athenry (pronounced "Athen" "rye") is the town in County Galway closest to the crossroads where the thatched roof dirt floor peasant "cottage" my Irish grandfather—my father's father and the progenitor of our branch of the clan in the USA—grew up in.

His and my name, Michael, is mentioned at the start of the song ("by a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling, 'Michael they have taken you away, for you stole Trevalyn's corn so the young might see the morn, now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay'"). And the fields were the same fields he grew up around, and I have been to many times, and many among my siblings and cousins and nephews and nieces, as well as my own three children, have been to and have images of forever in our minds.

By the way, Trevalyn was the man the English government put in charge of the so-called "famine"—it wasn't a "famine" because the English and the Irish Protestants didn't starve, they had plenty of food to eat, it was the Irish Catholic peasants who starved, when deprived of their basic staple, the potato, and were kicked off the land they lived on with no other means of paying for food.

There was a great outpouring from around the world, including from freed slave societies in the USA and native Americans, as well as governments. Shiploads of food were sent to Ireland for the starving, but Trevalyn, under the auspices of the English political establishment of the time, believed in "laissez faire" capitalism so concluded to distribute the corn to the starving would be interfering with the "free market" (sound familiar?) and thus a third of the population starved to death, while another third emigrated, which is why it was "so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry" (though in the song's specific sense, the woman is lonely because her husband and the father of her children is on a prison ship heading for "Botany Bay" in Australia).

There's many versions of the song, including a more "punk" one by The Dropkick Murphys, but this live version touches me because what was for decades a little known song dear to my heart has become almost a theme song of the Irish, as you can hear in the reaction to the first beats of the song from the live audience. The sing-a-long is corny for sure, but also to me very moving.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016



My guess is that Tina Fey wrote or improvised some of her scenes in WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, but she isn't one of the writers credited. Which makes this a movie she stars in that yes has a lot of comic bits but is actually about a serious subject: war reporters vying for the most sensational story to get their corporate bosses to keep paying for them to stay in the game.

And yes they do treat it like a game despite or because of the danger involved. Fey does a great job, as does everyone in the cast. But I couldn't help fantasizing about other actors making this more of a George Clooney style dip into serious subjects with a touch of humor. He seems to get the serious stuff a little better for my taste. But it is great to see what is basically a war movie, or at least a movie that takes place in a war zone, with a female star.

You go Tina.

[PS: And it does have some seriously funny scenes.]

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Went to see Terrence Malick's latest with a friend who'd never seen one of Malick's movies before. It was at a theater that has a big bulletin board and pens and note size paper for customers to grade and comment on flicks. KNIGHT OF CUPS was the first ever I'd seen to get all F's! But my friend gave it an A+ and called it a "transcendental movie experience"...

For those who know Malick's work, as always it's better to experience it in a movie theater where it is framed and enlarged in the way the director made it. The images, as always in his movies, are works of art in themselves. And more and more, as in TREE OF LIFE, Malick tells whatever story he ekes out of his jump cuts and lingering landscape shots etc. mostly in images, with a dash of interior monologues for his characters that occasionally overlap into actually spoken dialogue.

Christian Bale plays a Hollywood screenwriter, but one who seems to be able to garner big paydays, unlike myself and others I knew during the years I was doing that. But we don't see him writing, just ruminating on the meaning of life, his life in particular. With flashbacks and possibly imaginary conversations with his father (played by an aging Brian Dennehy but with his usual power and authenticity) and his boyhood, as well as contemporary scenes with one of his brothers and an ex-wife and several lovers, the meaning is slow to take shape, some would say "if ever"...

But the camera angles and framing and images are worth the price of admission, as are the shots of Bale and the beautiful women in his character's life, played by Kate Blanchett, Freida Pinto (would have loved to seen both their roles much bigger), Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, and the one casting misstep for my taste: Natalie Portman.  She does well with her few crying scenes, but her attempts at being romantically passionate or romantically lighthearted or even just someone in love fall way short for me.

Overall, if you can slow your mind down enough to dig all that KNIGHT OF CUPS has to offer (including a cameo of Peter Mattheissen talking about monks living in caves etc. and cameo voiceovers from long gone Charles Laughton and still here Ben Kingsley) and accept Malick's preciousness as, well, something precious, you might just feel the way my friend did.

Friday, March 11, 2016


"Perhaps the Chicago uproar is a turning point. Not that Trump would not get the nomination - surely, the StormTrumpers will be even more enraged. But there will be a broader recognition that the US is facing a fascistic strongman mentality embodied in a grotesque cartoon of a candidate. Trump knows what he's doing. He scheduled the rally in a place that was meant to provoke people (the very diverse campus of U of Illinois Chicago); he knew there would be some kind of outburst, talk of protests was in the air for days. He also knew that Kasich was holding a town hall covered by CNN at the same time - and nothing preempts a staid town hall like a near-riot, so that coverage of a competitor kaput. I'm only half joking about StormTrumpers, but now his assault on the country has reached a new stage. The one good thing is that CNN, MSNBC and other network commentators are actually pointing out that what he is doing is calculated provocations; more are talking of his strongman machinations, and all the rest. I can only pray that the people of the US beat back this schmuck and elect the Democratic candidate, no matter who it is, for the sake of the country and the entire world."  —Hilton Obenziger

Thursday, March 10, 2016


My then partner Ana and me in Florence, Italy, October 1974...instead of taking touristy photographs on my first visit to Europe, I decided we should just find a photo booth in each city we visited and take Photo Booth shots of ourselves...

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


"The performance of the press has been abysmal. Watching CNN and MSNBC last night was painful, as was reading the Washington Post or the New York Times this morning. The TV coverage was of a piece with all other 2016 election coverage. Last night FOX, CNN and MSNBC kept cameras glued on Trump for 40 minutes as he delivered a bizarre, rambling rant in which he talked about himself, his opponents and some steaks he was either selling or giving away.
As Bernie made history, CNN kept sending poor John King to its political trivia JumboTron to relate what various Michigan counties did in primaries or caucuses eight or 20 years ago. An MSNBC panel consisting of Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd dove right into a discussion of who Hillary might choose as her running mate; an actual progressive perhaps, given Bernie’s little showing in Michigan. They agreed it would probably be Elizabeth Warren, who sat this one out; or Sherrod Brown, the Ohio populist whose wife they all knew and liked. Really. The segment closed with everyone sharing a laugh about how mad Brown’s wife would be to hear them flatter her. The hour ended with Maddow summarizing the state of play this way: “The frontrunners had a good night.” This morning the Times led the story this way: “Senator Bernie Sanders’s defeat of Hillary Clinton prolongs a race she seemed to have locked up, although she won Mississippi handily.” He sure did."  —Bill Curry (in Salon)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


[I was looking for a photo that the mother of my older children was in, the late Lee Lally, but can't find it, though I know she was at this march and I knew some of the women in this photo, c.1971?]

Monday, March 7, 2016


Pretty much every time I see a new Michael Moore documentary I think: Everyone needs to see this. WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is no exception. Though it's an unfortunate title, based on an unfortunate sight gag Moore uses to connect segments that would be better served by the title MAKE THE USA GREAT AGAIN. But most people probably would no more get the irony in that title than in WHERE TO INVADE NEXT.

The film is actually a look at all the great innovations various countries are using to make the lives of their citizens better, and that would work great here if we adopted them, even if, as it turns out, they got most if not all of these great innovative ideas from the USA where they were originally conceived, and even in some cases practiced, before corporate rightwing force brought their influence to bear.

It really is eye opening, even for those of us who already knew the facts. Just to have them all in one mostly entertaining film is rewarding. But for those who don't know, this film is a must see. If only Trump's followers could be made to sit through it, they'd come out not only better informed but better prepared to demand that we actually do "make America great again" by reintroducing policies that were discarded but have gone on to improve other countries, like make Finland the best educated populace in the world etc.

Friday, March 4, 2016


Saw this a week ago and was pleasantly surprised, mostly by Katie Holmes' performance as a sufferer of a serious bi-polar disorder, both on and off her meds. I know Holmes mostly for her bravery in saving her daughter and herself from Tom Cruise and his Scientology overlords, and roles in a few minor movies that didn't impress me with anything more than her charm and professionalism.

But in TOUCHED WITH FIRE, she and her partner in the battle to deal with their bi-polar challenges, played well by Luke Kirby (though for my taste he seemed a little miscast as her romantic interest), run the gamut of emotions in a story that the friend I saw it with, who has some experience in these things, said captured the main characters' struggles with the condition perfectly.

The rest of the cast does a good job too, and the story maintains your interest (or mine at least). But the real revelation for me, besides the insights into what people with this condition face, was Katie Holmes' performance, which led me to feel she should have been nominated for a best actress award for 2015.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


My darling daughter turned forty-eight this past Sunday. Here she is receiving her high school diploma back in the day. The smile remains the same. [Don't remember who took the photo.]