Wednesday, November 6, 2019

JoJo Rabbit - Film Review

“JoJo Rabbit”
A wonderfully inventive film. It made me think about the choices that young children make every day in their natural search for morality- and how that search becomes bewilderingly difficult in a time of war.  

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon- Book Review

“The Wonder Boys” by Michael Chabon
This is a wild ride of a story about what ambition looks like in the bloom of youth and at the opening of old age. Set in academia, where promise shines and dulls with the advent of star students and waning of star professors, it tells a story as old as time. It’s a story about the abuse of time itself. While this shares a subgenre with “Goodbye, Mr Chips” and “The Paper Chase” it is about so much more than  an old teacher and his unruly modern students. Chabon reaches well past the classroom to tell this story, fitting in 3/4 of a dead snake, Marilyn Monroe’s  wedding jacket and old jazz clubs in Pittsburgh. And then there is the writing.  In a very good novel you are lucky to get five fabulous sentences that motor the plot forward with lyricism and are invisibly dipped in meaning. Here the mic is dropped on about every third page. To wit, “...he likes to caution and amuse his young companions with case histories of the incurable disease that leads all good writers to suffer, inevitably, the quintessential fate of their characters.”
People say I am a harsh critic on literature. But that is only to remind everyone what stellar looks like.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

“Parasite” Review

“Parasite” is a wonderful Russian doll of a film. Its message is precisely, yet differently carved, everywhere you look. Even the house tells the story. It’s a magnificent house that’s not just behind gates, but behind a faceless, tall, stone wall - a wall that gives nothing to the community but protectively wraps a lush private park and spacious, high end, indulgent living quarters. Outside, a grey unscalable mountain/ inside, “what wall”? And within that house is another that tells the story again. The existence within is  both serene and grim. Calm and agitated. Opulent and threadbare. Compliant and rebellious. A modern re- telling of the best of times/  worst of times. I could write a similar paragraph about the weather, the clothes, the twist, the climactic scene, the spousal relationships. Tremendous performances all around with a script that is tightly sewn together with the tiniest of necessary scenes that make the story sail. This is a film that uses all the paints in the box to set the picture. Highly recommended and a good kick off to Oscar season.

Friday, July 26, 2019

)sub) Audible


I hear that the era of dog whistle politics is over
Now everyone can hear the ear splitting quiet I hear everyday
The refusal to say thank you 
Or good morning
The near silent command to step aside 
As pets walk by and the screaming crush of grass under my shoe 
The silken sound of help being slid into a pocket out of reach
The gentle lap of the waves of resentment 
(that also tickle my toes while I reach high)
That yet rises above the thunderous uplift of the sky
The cold slapping sound of forgotten invitations
The distant babbling brook of the public, yet private, prattle of peers
The humming of doubt
The surprising whoosh of waiting
That low and slow thudding backbeat

Of uncertain hearts

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Sound of Murder: a Night Out at a Vintage, Broadway Failure

I discovered Theatre40 yesterday, tucked inside Beverly Hills High School.  The play was The Sound of Murder. It played Broadway in 1959. It was not a hit. That is why I went to see it.

I wanted to learn what was thought to be Broadway worthy  60 years ago. What themes resonated with an audience that had yet to see a hippie, the march on Washington, the moonshot or The Brady Brunch? What the heck were people thinking about in the year before I was born?

The play is a whodunnit- a tasty bit of cat and mouse between a wife who wants to leave a marriage and a boorish, author husband who knows she is having an affair but refuses to grant a divorce. He also refuses to have children. The lovers’ plan to kill the husband is overheard by his devoted secretary. Trouble ensues.

In the theatre dark, I tried my best to be a 1959  version of myself. I appreciated the long skirts, tiny watches, and a two story home with a single first floor phone. The murder planning is accidentally recorded on a reel to reel tape machine that the man uses to dictate his novels. On the day when we learned that Amazon’s Alexis is listening in on  homes this was my first link back to 1959: the unintended consequences of convenient tech. On a cultural level, it was easy to recognize the trope and trials of the unmarried,  professional woman so typically illustrated as an unattractive secretary. But it was much harder to determine the impact of these things: the affair, the husband’s  hatred of children, the need for your spouse to grant you a divorce,  domestic abuse, limited opportunities for women, and the heartbreaking schism between commerciality and artistry. (The husband writes children’s books but cheerfully despises children.)

Eventually, the lovers have to make a second, more determined and angry attempt to kill the husband. In the last scene we see them on the way to do the deed, climbing the stairs, hand in hand, with heroic purpose and lighting.

So what to conclude? By 1959, Tennessee Williams had written Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Ibsen had written A Doll’s House and Tolstoy had written Anna Karenina. We can add Tess Derby and Emma Bovary to a long parade of desperate wives and near- wives. It seems that in 1959 society was still wrestling with the known problems resulting from the repressed lives of women.

This play champions the concept that modern people should take the situation in their own hands, to do a wrong to make a right. In that way it whispered the decade to come, where civil, and if necessary, not so civil, disobedience was righteousness.

I’ve always sensed 1960, my birth year, was an incendiary crux in time, where what came before was entirely different than what came after. The Sound of Murder was not a popular play. But to be popular you have to be not only accepted but broadly understood. My 1959 self probably would not have seen what was coming. But now I think I know what I may have been thinking about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review - The Folded Clock

Some books are like pillows. You can not get a sense of their shape and substance no matter how hard  you grip them. Yet they comfort.  Books like these are usually very good books    Such is The Folded Clock, a diary of two years in the life of author Heidi Julavits. (Ignore the reviews: this is not the diary of a sick woman.)

From this book I learned  about the Wansee / final solution conference and New England heritage families and Edith Wharton’s husband and possibly poisonous  apricot kernels and giornate and the trap door in the road way of the Brooklyn Bridge. (This Heidi has had a great life so far!)

The diary is mostly chronological and shows the musings of a writer’s mind as she travels through her days. She examines our shared secret thoughts: the real cracks that exist between between even the closest of friends; imaginings of the worst case scenarios for our kids’ lives; and the guilt of keeping a gift you bought for someone else. She boldly lays out uncomfortable truths  - that women praise the beauty of unattractive women; that they date men to try on new worlds and identities; that they lose their filters as they age in order to be seen.
I highly recommend this book that appears  to have no reason to be. But is, in the most glorious of ways.
Book 2

Monday, January 21, 2019


One  - one - copy of a remarkable document survived the Holocaust: the minutes of the Wannsee Conference at which the Final Solution was delineated and pledged to. I became aware of this reading The Folded Clock - an unusual diary/memoir by the author Heidi Julavits. 

The document outlines in great detail - like board game rules  -  who will be allowed to live and die; how they will be moved; who will kill them; where they will be killed. (Like Thomas Jefferson before them, every effort is made to have their ultimate evil deeds done at their direction, but outside of their view.)  Some "mixed-bloods" can be saved by their attachment to a "German". However, even they will be killed if they look like a Jew or act like one.

It got me thinking about this mash-up of nationality with genetics and religion. In Nazi Germany, a Jew could not also be a German.  How is this? Is this what explains the blindness to Colin Kaepernick's patriotism? Or the refusal to acknowledge Dreamers as Americans in every way except on paper? 

Current events have prompted many to ask what an American looks like. But in this we have a question that has no answer because being an American is a state of mind. My being an American is not tied to the texture of my hair or my spiritual beliefs. Nor is it contained by the boundary of 50 states. Wherever I go, I will be one. Wherever I came from, I am one. Which must mean that anyone can become one - wherever they came from, whatever they look like. It simply must. 

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JoJo Rabbit - Film Review