Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poem Published

Photo: A Florida Box Turtle, from the Wikipedia page for "turtle."  (You'll have to read below to get the connection between the title and the pic.)

Just a quick note:

My poem, "An Old Man," (which is not about an old man, per se; it's an extended metaphor, representative of all of us) has been accepted for publication by the good people at Lost Tower Publications, in the U.K.  It'll be in an anthology, Hope Springs A Turtle (Get it?  Instead of "Hope Springs Eternal?"), and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to Mind U.K., a mental health charity in the United Kingdom.  More details here

The anthology will be available in book form, and as an e-book.  I'll send another notice sometime later when the book and e-book are available.  It ain't Shakespeare, but at least now I can say I'm a published poet.  I've published a short story, a short nonfiction piece, and now a poem.  After he mentioned this about me, a friend of mine then said that I'm more versatile than the elastic of his underwear, at which point I murmured "Thanks" and walked away.  Ewwwwwwwwwww.......

The publication's website, linked in the last word of the first paragraph, said the poem needs "to invoke the spirit of hope."  For those of you who know me, and who are wondering how anyone can construe anything I write as an invocation of hope, I have to say that this one does.  I've thought of the poem as a combination of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," and an old man looking at his burial plot in a snow-covered, wind-swept  cemetery.  Although even the gravestones themselves are covered by a sheet of frozen, crusted snow, he will do his best to survive, anyway, even if he is cognizant of the fact that we'll all have our own resting place someday, and it'll be unknown to the world, and it won't even be visible to anyone during a snowy winter.

Yeah.  Cuz I'm like that.  It is hopeful, though, in its own way.  Trust me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Birthday, etc.

Photo: Brown University's University Building, built in 1770.  From Brown University's Wikipedia page.

A few quick things:

--It's my birthday, and I need some lovins.  Cuz I'm old.

--Having a writers group meeting at my house tomorrow between 5pm and whenever.  First sort of substantial entertaining at the new digs.  Yup.  Writers.  Cuz I'm cool like that.

--Speaking of such things, I bet one of the five group members twenty bucks that I'd have an agent before her.  We set a June deadline.  I'll take whatever motivation I can get.

--Working on two novels and a few short stories, all at the same time.  I can't seem to commit to any one of them for too long before working on something else.  Which is exactly the wrong thing to do, for all of you newbie writers out there.  I have to finish one of the novels before I can solicit agents.  And I need to have an agent by June.  No pressure...No pressure...

--A friend of mine said I couldn't commit to a bottle of any beverage, never mind a long, possibly year-long project.  Thanks.

--It's so cold over here that water froze on firemen as they were putting out a large local fire.  In my business, we call that irony.

--Thinking of maybe trying to get an MFA in Creative Writing at the state university, hoping that my many grad credits will transfer from an attempted English Masters that I only need a few classes to finish.  And I'm halfway done with the paper.  But if I wanted to get that English Masters, I would've finished it by now, right?  I mean, I got my Bachelors in English and Philosophy in 1994.

--Can't commit to a bottle of water, I know.

--Research into a world-reknowned local Ivy League college showed me that it would cost exactly $46,808 to get an MFA there.  Noooooooooooooooooooo problem...

--Bad economy?  What bad economy?

--$14,500 for an MFA at the state university, for those of you wondering.

--Would it be immoral to take most of the MFA classes at the state university, and then the last three or so at the Ivy League?  Probably they have safeguards against that sort of thing.  But it needs some looking-into, especially if I can get any of my many grad credits transferred.

--I'll accept any and all donations.  I take plastic.  No, I'm just kidding.  I think.

--Two classes a semester is considered full-time in the Ivy League Graduate Program.  Is it everywhere?  If you're working full-time plus, like most of us are, one class seems full-time to me.

--I can't get enough of the chimney/fireplace woodburning smell when it's cold around here.  Only good thing about temps in the single digits.  With wind chills far below zero.

--I'm still walking my dog in this, on our same route.  At night, too.  I deserve a dog-owner award for that.

--In an odd but appropriate measure, for the last two days, I've been listening to my YouTube Christmas playlist I wrote about before, here.  This is Christmas weather.

--Luckily, I live next to a relatively busy intersection.  Times are tough--don't judge.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Photo: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, from the film, and from the film's Wikipedia page.

I'd wanted to see this film for a long time, since before it came out, and I'm glad I did.  I'm not a huge Ben Affleck fan; I've long considered him to be the more pale of the Affleck / Damon team.  But he directs Argo even better than he acts in it, and he wisely keeps his acting subdued and minimal throughout.  (In fact, one wonders if that was all his real-life character said to the people he helped save.)

It's filmed in a purposely grainy 70s style, more old 70s film than documentary film, if you know what I mean.  The sets, style, props and costume are all pitch-perfect.  The film even opens as if it were a 70s Warner Bros. showing (which I'm just old enough to remember), a nice touch that I noticed right away.  Anyway, this film is all 70s, all the time, even superficially so--and this helped it a great deal.

The directing, pace and acting was so good that, although you know how it's going to turn out (everyone of that age knows that all the Iran hostages came out alive, right?), it's still full of tension anyway.  For this reason, the Academy's snub of Affleck as director is a little confusing, although the other directors also did great jobs, and their films were maybe a little harder to direct.  Maybe.  I don't have a beef with any of those nominations, but it would've been nice to have a sixth slot for Affleck.

In terms of the film being an actor's showcase (which it essentially is, just like Lincoln, which was a better film, and hence the snub, maybe), it's really Alan Arkin's film.  Arkin is all over the place recently, which is nice to see, as he's been a great, but sporadic, actor for a long time.  (One of his better recently was in the silly but very watchable Get Smart.)  He has all the good lines here, and he delivers them with clear amusement.  (This is very obvious when he delivers the movie's catch-phrase, which involves the movie title, and which he delivers with relish.)  He and John Goodman obviously had a good time filming this.  Though those two characters have limited roles, and though they're literally trapped in their office on-set (they have to be there when the phone rings), they manage to somehow carry the film from that side of the Pond.  In a small but clear way, this is a Hollywood film that pokes fun at itself.

At just two hours, it's also one of the shorter better films of the year.  It doesn't feel too short, and it definitely would've seemed too long had it been so.  The film doesn't have anything more to say but which it says.  Speaking of that, don't leave the theatre at the end of the film if you'd like to see photos of the real-life people juxtaposed with the actors who played them, as well as some historically-relevant shots of the real people with other important real people of the time.

I normally don't recommend spending $11.50 on a film that's just two hours long, that doesn't need to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate.  (I want to see so many films that I have to narrow it down.  Two of the ways I do this is to choose longer films--thereby getting more bang for the same eleven and a half bucks--and to choose films, usually action or sci-fi, that need to be seen on the big screen.  Prometheus was one of those.)  But I do recommend spending that money to see this short-ish film that doesn't need the big screen to fully appreciate.  Just see the longer ones that need the big screen first, as I did.   

Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Globes

Photo: The Golden Globe

A few quick things about the [see title]:

--Yes, I can be a big fan of football games and yet still watch the Golden Globes.  (In fact, I was told recently that I know the sport perhaps a little too well.)  One of my favorite high school memories is about when I tackled someone so hard and so immediately after the catch, that he literally said, "What hit me?"  And I actually replied, "I did."  Don't judge.

--Someone needs to make sure Mel Gibson didn't have a stroke at the Golden Globes.

--Maybe he was stunned at Jodie Foster's speech?  I mean, he knew they were always going to be just friends, right?

--Anne Hathaway's comments about Sally Field were tremendously classy.  Field wouldn't have had better things said about her if she'd actually won the award for her role in Lincoln.

--I want to look as good as Jodie Foster does when I'm fifty.  And I don't want to have to spend any money or to have any procedures to do it.  Hey, it can happen.

--Sofia Vergara's Diet Pepsi ad ran maybe 27,000 times during the broadcast.  Not that that's a bad thing.

--Michael J. Fox's kid looked like Michael J. Fox playing Marty McFly's kid in the second Back to the Future, if you follow me.  You know, when his coat's sleeves extended past his hands and his voice was so high and cracking that only dogs could hear it?

--Mel Gibson and Tommy Lee Jones had the most memorable faces of the night.  I'll bet Mel hasn't risen from the chair yet, or closed his mouth.  And I'll bet Jones still looks like he's just bitten somebody's face off.

--Jodie Foster managed to exude class even while she was babbling and verbally floundering about.  And her speech ended very, very well.  And I'm sorry to hear her mother has dementia.  Been there.  Not fun.

--The Globes' director very wisely put Selma Hayek on camera as often as possible.  She appeared almost as often as Sofia Vergara's commercial.  Incidentally, I love saying Sofia Vergara's name, though I'm sure I'm butchering it and my accent is way off.

--I don't care too much about who wins or loses at these things, though I still haven't gotten over Saving Private Ryan's Best Picture Oscar loss.

--I never heard of Jessica Chastain before Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (which Ebert said recently was the best picture of all time, from any country) a few years ago, and now she's in everything.  Loved her speech, too, when she said that she'd been an also-ran and behind the scenes for so long, she can't believe she's made it.  Gives ya hope, ya know?

--Though the comment about torture and being married to James Cameron was funny, I'm getting very tired of people saying whatever they want about whoever they want, especially when that person isn't there to respond.  Maybe Cameron is as much of a jerk as everyone says, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be called that on camera to literally billions of people throughout the world.  Just because you can, that doesn't mean you should.

--Bill Murray looked like he'd just stepped out of a Dickens novel.  Maybe he's shooting such a movie?

--The most courageous thing Jodie Foster said was how incredibly lonely she sometimes is.  (I mean, we all knew the other thing, right?)  Read a full transcript of her speech from here.

--Quentin Tarantino very suddenly got big.  (Read my review of Django Unchained here.)

--The Globes are always very amusing, but does absolutely everyone have to get plastered?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seward's Successful Defense of an Insane Black Man

Photo: William Seward, from his own Wikipedia page

After watching Spielberg's Lincoln, I bought the book much of the movie is based on, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Because I'm nerdy like that.  On page 85 is a true account of William Seward's defense of William Freeman, a former slave (last name ironically notwithstanding) who, after years of extreme mistreatment in jail, was released and almost immediately broke into the home of a rich white man--a friend of Seward's, in fact--and killed him, his pregnant wife, their little child, and his wife's mother.  This was undisputed during the whole trial.

The amazing thing about the trial is that, after Freeman was found guilty of the murders, Seward chose to defend him, for free, during the penalty phase.  Long a supporter of prison reform and reform for the mentally ill--and long an abolitionist--Seward realized that Freeman, who was deaf, dumb, and, according to Seward himself, an "imbecile" and a "maniac"--committed those crimes because of his maltreatment in jail for a crime that, it turned out, he never actually did to begin with.  (This case reminds me a bit of Murder in the First, an 80s movie with Christian Slater and Kevin Bacon, and Gary Oldman as a sadistic warden).

And so Seward, who had already served twice as Governor of New York, and who would soon run for president and lose the nomination to Lincoln (partly because of this case), defended him, this black man, who in March of 1846 wiped out a family of Seward's friends.  I found, free on Google Books, Seward's entire closing argument for the case--all thirty-one pages of it.  (!!!)  Full title: Argument of William H. Seward, in defense of William Freeman, on his trial.  In it is some fantastic stuff, including--

--Seward's insistence that Freeman belonged in an asylum, not "on the scaffold," because he was insane.  This was practically a brand new defense at the time.  In fact, though relatively new, Seward reminded the jury a few times to not consider the overuse of the insanity defense against his own insane client.

--A very strong argument against capital punishment itself.

--A very strong argument against the treatment of the insane.

--A rebuke about the bias accorded to the "negro" and to the insane.

--An impassioned stance against the slavery Freeman had lived under, and the mistreatment in jail he had incurred.

--A reminder that had Freeman been white, and the murdered family black, there would have been no trial.

--A warning to the jury to put aside their bias against "the negro" and "the infirm."

--A reminder that, although the murdered family's family and friends were all over the courtroom, the defendant's family was not, because they were slaves, and nobody could track them down.

--The oft-repeated quote: "The color of the prisoner’s skin, and the form of his features, are not impressed upon the spiritual immortal mind which works beneath. In spite of human pride, he is still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our Maker. Hold him then to be a Man."

And many more things.  And he won!  After a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (apparently the well-written argument given to the case's jury had no effect), he was spared from the scaffold and died of consumption in a cell somewhere.  An amazing thing, for one person to defend a person of a race oppressed by his own society, who killed a family of his friends.  Seward had everything politically to lose (and he feared for his safety and that of his family, too, from an enraged local populace during the lengthy trial), and he had the bias against the race and the insane to overcome.  All to save a man who never had the sense to know what was going on, to thank him or to pay him, who was never going to see the light of day, even if victorious.

I wonder if any politician today, with the public the ravenous and rabid dog that it is, would have the courage of his own beliefs to defend a man who had done this, who was as hated by his society as he was, who had killed a family of friends, solely because of Seward's beliefs against capital punishment, against slavery, and against bias against blacks and the insane.

I wonder if many of us would, even those of us outside the public eye.  Would many of us even take such a stance against someone at a social gathering?


Friday, January 4, 2013

Django Unchained

Photo: Movie poster from its Wikipedia page

Any Tarantino flick is worth seeing, and this one is no exception.  Though worth seeing, however, I can't say it was on par with his latest and greatest.  In fact, this one was the biggest disappointment for me since Jackie Brown.  Of course, a disappointing Tarantino film is still a good film, but Django could have been so much better.  One of the most glaring examples of this is that the dinner scene here tries to maintain the same unbearable tension as the basement bar scene in Inglorious Basterds, but it doesn't come close.  There is tension, of course, but not to the elevated levels of Basterds.

It went wrong when Waltz's character, King, shot DiCaprio's, which was naturally followed by King himself being obliterated.  And then all Hell broke loose.  This didn't work for me on many levels, not the least of which is that it simply isn't in King's character to do it.  He himself reminded Django what they were there for, to not lose sight of their goal--to free his wife.  They were clearly about to do this, even if it wasn't in the way that they intended.  And they were about to walk away with her; DiCaprio's character was too much of a Southern gentleman to shoot someone in the back after a business transaction.  And a handshake after a deal was, for God's sake, actually how transactions were socially, if not legally, finalized in the South back then.  Heck, even Mikey and Frankie of American Pickers do that today.  The contract is the legal law, but the handshake is the social law, and in that part of the country, they're equally important.  You can't do business with someone whose hand you can't shake.  It's a gentleman's agreement--even if, nastily enough, you're dealing in slaves.  (This was undoubtedly what led to King's repugnance about shaking his hand.)

This was followed by an even more unrealistic plot event: after shooting the iconic plantation owner--and about twenty of his men--Django gets sent to work at a mine for the rest of his days?  That's not the slavery south I've read about.  He'd have been whipped until dead, or hanged, or attacked by dogs, or even dragged to death by a horse or carriage.  Sent to work in a mine?  With three dumb hillbillies in charge of him?  Not bloody likely.

Of course it's all a cartoon.  Of course Tarantino wants to cinematically wipe out slavery in an orgy of firepower and fire, just as much as he wanted to wipe out Hitler and the Nazis with firepower and fire--and Inglorious Basterds was clearly not realistic or sensible, either.  So Django had to be able to get back to the plantation house to bring it all down.  I get that.

The difference, though, is that Inglorious Basterds' ending stayed true to its own twisted universe.  Everyone stayed true to their own twisted personas in that parallel universe of unreality.  Here, they don't.  King's character was all about logic and sensibility, and a heckuva scary guy, too, when he wanted to be.  And a fantastic, quick shot.  Would he stare at the wound he made in the white flower, or would he turn and fire upon someone he would know was going to immediately fire upon him?

Django is actually Samson unchained, of course, in this movie, so he has to be the one to knock the building of slavery down with everyone in it.  I get that.  He, and Tarantino, and perhaps even the audience is in need of that purge, just as we all were in need of purging Hitler and his crew at the end of Basterds.  Understandable.

But not like this.  How, then?  I don't know, but it's not my job to know.  That's Tarantino's job.

So go see it, because it's a Tarantino film, and it's memorable, and it's well-acted and well-directed and well-designed and well-choreographed and it's, well...well-done.  It's very well-done.  And so maybe I'm spoiled by Tarantino by now.  I want something more from him than just very well-done.   The first 80% rocks, and the last 20% is the purging, I guess, and it's very well-done--but it doesn't rock, and it doesn't jibe with the rest of the film.  It's almost two different films in that way, unevenly broken into an 80/20 split.

But you still have to go see it, of course.  So go do that.

P.S.--While standing in line to buy the tickets for this movie, a guy walked around saying that the 6:40 showing of the movie Lincoln was sold out.  I am thrilled to hear that an important and high-quality movie, with such a rare, slow pace, was still being seen by American moviegoers. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Photo: Sydney, Australia, celebrating New Year's Day in 2007, from "New Year's Day" page on Wikipedia.

Really simple blog entry this time: Happy New Year to all my readers, and to anyone who happens to stumble in.  Here's to better health, better happiness, better times.

And if you'd like to leave a wish for everyone, please do so below.  I'd be glad to hear from ya, as would everyone else who reads this.  Emails are cool, too.  Thanks again to all my readers and followers for sparing some time with me here.  As my time is very limited, I'm sure yours is, too.

2013's first real entry will be a review of Tarantino's Django Unchained, coming soon.  But until then, I thought I would start a comment thread, each comment but a few words long, of what we would like 2013 to bring to us.  After seeing mine, feel free to put your own.

And Happy New Year!!!