Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Dreams

Photo: Freud's Vienna office, from

Despite being woken up more than six times by my car's alarm that inexplicably went off three times, and by my dog, who whined constantly through the night, I somehow managed to sleep deeply enough to have two very strange dreams.

Dream #1

I'm rooming with another guy, who seemed likeable and reasonable enough, but in the dream I become more and more concerned that he is not a good guy at all.  I ask questions and he doesn't answer them.  He gets that lean and hungry look, as Shakespeare's Caesar called it.  Somehow it becomes clear that he's a murderer, and I come upon a giant folder of files and documents, one of which seems to prove the issue when I pick it up and read it.  When I lower it from my eyes, there he is, looking dangerous, obviously about to do something nasty.  But before I have the chance to do something about it, either my car alarm goes off in the garage, or my dog whines and wakes me up.

The most surprising thing at all: the dream makes it very clear who this person is: It's Red Sox back-up thirdbaseman Will Middlebrooks.  Who, despite striking out way too often, I'm sure is a nice enough guy in real life.  That was just weird, man.

Dream #2

It's in the future, not too distant.  I work under a bridge that crosses a wide, beautiful river.  Things are so bleak in this existence that countless people jump off of this bridge in an attempt to kill themselves.  My job is to rescue them from the river, and resuscitate them.  I get a bird's-eye view of this bridge (of which I did remember the name, but some time in the last fifteen minutes, I've forgotten it; I hope to remember it by the time I finish typing this, and I can tell you it's a simple name, like the Point Bridge, or something.  It's not something famous, like the Golden Gate Bridge, or even something real).  It's a long suspension bridge; it's fall, because the leaves are turning color.  The river water is very smooth and clear.  There are no boats. Everything's serene and peaceful and beautiful.

Except it's not, because people are jumping.  I save quite a few people over a short period of time on this day.  Maybe a dozen, or more.  I don't have a boat to get them.  (Maybe there's a gasoline or engine shortage in this future.)  But the last person to jump, a tall, full brunette, is different.  I can't find her in the water at all.  This has never happened before.  Never has someone gotten away, or died.  But just when I'm about to give up, I see her, and soon she's on the riverbank and I'm trying to force the water out of her lungs.  This happens for a very long time, much longer than is useful.

I look at her.  I don't know her.  She's got a solid enough neck, a pretty face, and soaking wet black hair that trails on the damp ground.  Her eyes remain closed (though I know in real life, a dead person's eyes stay open) and, when I stop blowing in her mouth, trying to revive her, that, too, closes.

She's completely still.  She's dead.  I've lost her.  For the first time, I've lost one.

And then the dog's whine wakes me up.

And that's it.  Two strange dreams.  I never did remember the name of the bridge, but I'll go with the Point Bridge for now, until I remember.

Freudian analysis, anyone?

P.S.--A very hearty thank ye to Ashley Cosgrove, who was kind enough to put a link to a recent Shakespeare entry (the one about how he did not play a part in the 1608-9 publication of his sonnets) on her Facebook page--and without me asking (or even being aware of it, at first); and to Gibson DelGuidice, who was nice enough to recently say very complimentary things about my blog (and to place a link to it) on his blog.  And I didn't even know about it, either, until recently.  You guys rule.   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review: Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate

Photo: Book's cover (and the Chiandros portrait) from

Mostly-fascinating collection of essays, thoughts, theories and placing-you-there Elizabethan history that attempts to understand nothing less than the very mind of Shakespeare, as a man of his time, and--as Ben Jonson famously wrote--as a man "not of an age, but for all time."  Besides a couple of chapters about the politics and religion of his time that I found a bit too dry, the book succeeds at doing so.  It is at its best when it sticks to the literary and theatrical stuff: his plays, his theatres and the people he knew.  If anyone doubts the existence of a non-university man who got a woman eight years his elder pregnant, married her, and left them behind to find his glory and future in the theatres of London, England, let them read this, and they will doubt no more.

This book brings Shakespeare to life like few things I have read.  Michael Wood's book and a couple of others are just as good, in different ways.  And they all delve into the man and his time using their own conceits.  The conceit of this one is to break the book down into sections that correspond to Shakespeare's famous "Seven Stages of Man" speech from As You Like It.  (This is the one that begins with the even-more-famous line, "All the world's a stage.")  And so Bate chronicles the life of and mind of Shakespeare by breaking his life up into the seven parts that we all supposedly share.  I got the feeling that Bate had much of the book written already, via separate speeches and chapters, and tied them all together with the conceit of the seven stages, but whatever.  It doesn't matter, because it works.

The narrative is at its best when it brings us pell-mell into Elizabethan England.  We see it as Shakespeare may have, and we witness things, and become aware of city-wide and nation-wide news that he would have been aware of.  We meet the Burbages, and Heminges, and Condell, and the theatre and publishing climates of the time.  We see him as one of the many in these realms, and as one in the businesses he was in.  He is placed firmly in his time, and yet the book works well also when it shows him to be a chronicler of his time.  Shakespeare is renowned as being perhaps not just the best writer of our times, but also as the best mirror to his own time, without blocking the visage with his own image.  He is within his world, and yet surprisingly intellectually and philosophically detached from it, so he can show it to us, and paint a picture of our human nature, and yet not include his own views and preferences in it--all at the same time.

In short, we know what Hamlet thinks--but we never know what Shakespeare thinks.  Of course, no writer is his character, and no character is its author.  We know all of one, and very little about the internalization of the other.

But Bate's book gets us closer to it than perhaps anything I've read before.  The best compliment I'd give to this book is that it shows you something different about Shakespeare and his England, even if you thought you'd read it all before, like I have.  If you enjoy that kind of literary history, and a biography of him (a little) and of his time, and of his place in his time (a lot of that), then you'll enjoy this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Captain Phillips--Movie Review

 Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page.

This is a very well-acted and -directed film that maintains its tension even though you know how it's going to end.  (It's based on the main character's book, after all.)

Paul Greengrass, director of United 93, a couple of Bourne movies, and other good films, uses his favorite shots--grainy, documentary-like, hand-held, and jittery--and scenes of routine and family to good effect.  He does not direct to excess, as many good, flashy directors often do, nor does he waste any shots or use rapid-fire direction that overwhelms.  Spotless directing here from one of the best directors nobody knows.

Tom Hanks gives another outstanding performance--again, especially considering that we know how it's all going to end.  He's great as the family man who's also the absolute professional.  When thrown into tense and violent situations, he doesn't allow his acting to get hysterical or cliche.  It's a very authentic performance.

The actors who play the Somali pirates are also very, very good, especially the leader of the group, who comes across as desperate, yet professional and often intelligent and wise.  He's needy enough to follow through despite obviously tremendous odds against him, yet he's not self-reflective enough to wonder why his last haul--which netted millions--still did not change his destitute, starving life.  He says he's a fisherman, and that the U.S. has depleted the fish supply in the ocean waters near his home, but the viewer knows there's more to it than that--and we know that he knows it, too.  But his character refuses to mentally go there, anyway.

Though at least 95% of the film takes place aboard a ship and a tiny escape vessel, the action still has grandeur and scope--not to mention vast oceans, attack helicopters and destroyers--but the movie never loses its intense focus.

It's gripping and tense, well-acted and well-directed, and a movie worth paying for and watching.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Casablanca, Hamlet and AHS: Coven, Episode 2

Photo: Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange, at  Go to this link to read the interesting interview with Ryan Murphy, referenced below.

What follows is an example of what you can find on my new blog about American Horror Story: Coven.

A little late with this entry.  Not good for a blog about a tv show.  Who wouldn't want to read about a show two days after it aired?  Finally had time to see the DVRed show.  Had to watch the Sox in the ALCS, of course, on Wednesday.  Horrible game, too.  Oh, well.  Had I world enough, and time. 

Here are some quick thoughts about this episode:

--It begins with Lily Rabe's character Misty Day (great character name, BTW) killing two gator poachers.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Very realistic-looking second alligator pulling the guy into the water.  I'm guessing a radio-controlled gator, or thing in a real gator's mouth.  I'll have to wait for the DVD, I guess.

--Almost the entire episode was shot with ocean wave-like camera movements.  Distracting, after awhile.  This has always been a very director-focused show, and there's always been that attention to directorial style, but this one almost made me seasick.  Well, that's an exaggeration, but it was bothersome enough for me to comment on.

--Anyone catch the commercials for Stephen King's Dr. Sleep, followed by the third movie version of his Carrie?  I guess he knows which show his fans are watching--besides the terrible Under the Dome, that is.

--I hope I look as good at her age as Jessica Lange does now.

--Ditto for Angela Bassett.

--Emma Roberts is arguably prettier at her age than her famous aunt, Julia Roberts, was--but here's to hoping that she turns out more like her aunt than she does her addict father, Eric Roberts.  Time will tell.

--This episode was titled "Boy Parts," but it could've been called "Franken-boyfriend."

--Part of the spell, towards the end, to reanimate Kyle had the phrase "this mortal coil."  Which came first in this show's universe: That spell, or Shakespeare's Hamlet, where that phrase originated?  Well, I can tell you that Hamlet first said his famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy in 1600-1601, if that means anything.

--I enjoy seeing the many homages in this show's history to other famous movies and shows of the same genre.  But I have newfound respect for it if it's going to pay homage Hamlet, as well.  Unless it sees Hamlet as another example of its genre, which Shakespeare's play may very well be.  Ghosts, incest, brother murdering brother, insinuated incest between mother and son, insanity, spying and intrigue, a possible devil in disguise (notice the devil's appearance yet again in this series, during this episode), and four murders / deaths in about thirty seconds at the end?  Yup--Hamlet sounds quite a bit like American Horror Story to me.

--Listening to the dialogue between Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett in the hair salon was a little disconcerting.  I wonder what the actresses thought about having to say all that hocus-pocus stuff.

--Then again, Jessica Lange has said worse dialogue in a movie.  I'm very vividly remembering her pounding on King Kong's fist in 1976 and, after calling him a "male chauvinist ape," screaming two words that didn't sound at all like the movie-makers were intending.  See it here on YouTube.

--If you saw the clip, you'd have to agree--Now that's some bad dialogue.

--Rabe's Misty Day character is amusing.  Not only does she look great for someone burned at the stake, but she thinks Stevie Nicks is a prophet.

--I wonder how much, if anything, Stevie Nicks got paid for allowing them to use her name like that.  And the music, too.

--Whoa, just found out the answers at, here.  Interesting interview with the series co-creator, Ryan Murphy.

--I have to listen to the lyrics to that song now, just to know what the hell Misty Day was talking about.

--Lots of witches doing unwise things, all of which violated Frankenstein's Law: Don't play God.

--Overall, a very entertaining episode, especially Lange's character acclimating Kathy Bates's character about cellphones, and the danger of crossing the street without first looking for cars.  They walked down the center of the street like Bogie and Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca.  Except I don't think it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship for the ladies.  If you don't know the reference--and shame on you if you don't--you can watch the famous clip here.  (And notice the "usual suspects" line, as well.)

See you next week.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My New Walking Dead

Photo: To make it bigger, click on this great shot of Daryl and Michone, from 

My new blog about Season Four of The Walking Dead is up.  Please go to this link and read it up. 

For future reference, the site is  Thanks!

New Blog, American Horror Story: Coven, Is Up

Photo: This season's main advertising poster, from AHS: Coven's Wikipedia page.

Please go to my new blog,, to read about this season's American Horror Story: Coven, episode by episode.  Thanks.

Blog News

Dear Readers,

In the next few days, I will try a massive (in terms of time, anyway) undertaking: two new blogs, maybe three.  So in addition to this site and my sports blog (where I babble mostly about baseball, baseball cards, and the sports world at large), please look at my American Horror Story: Coven blog, and my Walking Dead 4 blog, both via Blogger.  If they're not up when you check, please come back.  I'll put up the American Horror Story: Coven blog first, since the season's first episode has already aired.  Walking Dead 4's blog will go up tonight, or tomorrow--most likely tomorrow.

I may also start a blog, tentatively titled Steve's Sales, that will contain photos, descriptions and prices of things I want to sell.  This would be via Blogger as well.  So take a peek at that, when it's up, and let me know what strikes your fancy.  Just send me an email at the address on the top of any of my blogs, and I'll get back to you ASAP. 

As always, thanks for taking the time to peruse my meager scribblings.  I hope my readers, friends and followers like what is to come.


Steven E. Belanger

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

Photo: The movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page.  Read that, too.  Interesting stuff.

Other than the incredibly obnoxious idiots talking and exclaiming behind me all through the movie, I have nothing but superlatives to say about the movie Gravity.  (Admittedly, the chatty a--holes behind me were not the fault of the movie.)  It is a very short masterpiece, a (mostly) one-woman show, a visual monologue.  Think a much-shorter, female version of Castaway, except in space, and you've got it.  Gravity, in fact, is a much better movie than Castaway--especially since they both shoot for the same themes: lust for life; appreciation; survival.

This review has to be much shorter than my usual, because to write too much about the movie will give too much away.  The special effects are great, as they must be since over 99% of the movie is in space.  The direction is super, as Cuaron seemlessly goes from a third-person POV, to a first person limited POV, to a POV from inside one of their space helmets, get the idea.  This is something agents and editors tell writers not to do, and it's pretty jarring usually when a director does it as well.  Here it isn't.  The timing is just right.

You'll be impressed by Sandra Bullock's performance here, too.  In a way, it's an uber-spunky version of Speed, but without the excessive cuteness she had at that age.  That's gone, but what's left over is a movie-appropriate, gritty self-determinism that I was surprised she could pull off.  If an older woman, now in her 40s, can be said to be spunky and cute, Bullock is that here.  But self-determined is probably a better term: in fact, through much of the movie, that's occasionally lacking, until she permanently acquires it (in a scene that shouldn't surprise you, though it apparently stupefied the idiots behind me) and uses it in a very MacGyver-but-in-space kind of way.  She doesn't have lots of socks and bandages on her, but she makes do, initially with the help of George Clooney, who was made for his role.

The self-determinism she holds on to is grabbed by this movie and used to transcend her own individual experience.  Ultimately, the movie tries to say that life is beautiful, though fragile, and that we can overcome almost impossible situations to survive.  It's a very cheerleading kind of movie, but only at the end, so don't be put off by any other reviewer who may say the movie does too much of that.  This movie is gripping and awe-inspiring throughout its entire app. one and a half hour run, which is a good thing, because I would have had to shout obscenities at the jackasses behind me otherwise.  But I didn't want to interrupt myself watching the movie, and you won't, either.

As another (paid and professional) reviewer put it, stop reading the reviews now and go see it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Photo: The book's cover, from


That's really all I was going to write.  After months of anticipation, after all that time reading its 528 pages (well, okay, that took me just a few days), even after being the tome that drove me to the bookstore to write the most recent blog entry--yeah, "eh" was all I was going to write.

But then I got disappointed.  Really, really disappointed.  I mean, this is how Danny Torrance ended up?  Not bad,  That's it?  After everything he went through in The Shining, this is the denouement of his life?  (Or, probably, the Act IV before the Act V resolution.)

Okay.  Speaking of The Shining, this book is obviously its sequel, and the comparisons, while impossible not to make, are unfair.  As King himself wrote in his afterword, "...people change.  The man who wrote Doctor Sleep is very different from the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining..."  True enough.  And on the same page, he makes the point that the first real scare will always be the best (He compared Hitchcock's Psycho to Mick Garris's good, but not as good, Psycho IV).  This is also true enough.

But the disconcerting thing is that I wasn't expecting the genius of The Shining.  I believe, as King said above, that that man is gone, never to return.  I don't expect the genius, the scariness, of The Shining, of IT, of a few others, ever again.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The creepiness and the wistful and sad nostalgia of the last third of Insomnia (which I thought was a different kind of greatness) could not have been written by Shining's King, for example.  Other good parts of other better books could not have been written by 70s King, including Bag of Bones (which is very underrated) and any of the four novellas of Different Seasons.  So different and new is not always bad.

What is bad here is that this book does not scare.  At all.  In fact, only three small sections were even creepy--and I'm not sure if it's because of how he wrote them, or because of the imagination I brought to them, of how I interpreted them and imagined them.  I'm pretty sure that the images I gave myself after I read those three small parts creeped me out more than the parts themselves did.  So the book does not scare at all.  It only barely creeps you out.  And it's got a little of that sad nostalgic thing he's been doing for a long time now, but even that was miniscule.

Unfortunately, what it does do is judge.  There's a lot of author intrusion there, mostly upon the RV People.  (What else is there to call them?)  They're called lots of bad names, and often not just by the characters.  King often seems to jump in the fray and cuss at them, too.  Of course, they're killers (and, most notably, child killers), so you don't feel bad for them, per se.  But the way he draws them, what else could they be?  They're not really people, but they once were, perhaps, and there's the rub, maybe.  But maybe not.  Essentially, they were all once victims of somebody else, like a vampire who kills by sucking blood exactly, and only, because they were victims of a vampire themselves.  At that point, they're no longer fully responsible for what they have to do to survive.  Maybe such creatures kill themselves in Anne Rice's world (or in Stephanie Meyers' world), but that's not "realistic."  Something needs to be done about them, of course, but with such anger and hatred?  Very unlike King.  It's very distasteful.  Especially when you consider that King portrays them all as so human otherwise.  Some RVers are funny; some are smart.  Some are annoying.  A few are physical goddesses.  There's an old man who smells, and a computer geek who loves the newest technology, and a numbers guy who you'd love to be your own accountant.

And there's Andi, the victim that the book practically starts off with.  She's been raped and molested by her father for years, and then she finally kills him, and to survive, she steals money by (sort of) seducing men--who we're blatantly told she doesn't like--and while she doesn't kill them, she leaves a visible calling card on their faces that they won't soon (if ever) forget.  The problem here is that the reader sort of likes that about her, and when she becomes a victim of the RVers, we don't like it, and we wish better for her.  And then the book virtually ignores her as it focuses on the sex goddess in charge (see the cover), and we don't see Andi again until about 80% to 85% of the way through the book.  When we do, it's all over so fast that we wonder why we got to know her to begin with.  And if you're like me, you won't like how that happens, either, or the meanness behind it.

The three creepy scenes, for me, happened in the first quarter or so of the book, and the rest is just...this happens, and then this happens, and then this, and then...without fanfare, creepiness, chills or thrills.  Really, after the scene with the woman and her child after the first 25%, it's all plot, little character (except for the RVers, which is part of the book's problem right there), and---eh.  I hate to say it, but if you were to put the book down halfway through, you really wouldn't miss much.  Seriously.  Send me an email and ask me how it ends, if you'd like, but, I'm tellin' ya...

--A little aside: Maybe I can start a part-time business like that.  I read the books, and if people don't want to finish them, they email me for how it ends, because you always want to know that, right?  For this I charge a minimal fee.  You get your ending, I get my money, and I feel that I haven't totally wasted my time reading the book, since I'm also making money from it.  Maybe I could do that for movies, too.--

Anyway, I digress.  I just didn't like it.  I hate to say it like that, but there it is.  There are maybe three or four very good scenes--and, again, I don't know if that's more reader imagination than author's writing--and all the rest is just eh.  Not bad, exactly, but not really good, either.  Sort of like the difference between an A student, who tries very hard, and a C-, D student who wants to pass, but doesn't really give a damn.  The kinds who pass, but who don't learn anything.  The ones who sit there all day long, emanating eh.

You'll see Dick Halloran, and Wendy and Jack Torrance (the last at the very end, and huh?), but you'll see them for such a short time, and with such varying degrees of solidity that you wonder why they're there at all.

And here's where I have an answer I don't like.  I think King wrote this for three reasons--and in hopefully this order:

1.  He was actually seriously wondering what Danny Torrance was doing these days.  (Who hasn't been after they read The Shining?)

2.  He wanted to write about his alcohol and drug recovery.  (AA stuff takes up a vast majority of stuff space in the book.)

3.  He wanted to distance his characters from the Stanley Kubrick movie of the same name.

The first reason is solid.  The second reason is okay, too, but maybe not for the boy from The Shining.  Yes, his father was an alcoholic, and we learn that his grandparents, etc. were, too (though only the men, apparently).  But his mother wasn't, and neither was anyone on her side of the family.  And that story was more Jack Torrance's than his son's, anyway.  But if I'm Stephen King, and I'm curious about what Danny was doing, and I wanted to write about my own addiction and recovery, and that life, then why not put them together?  I didn't like the result, but maybe it was doable.  Okay.

But the last reason is maybe not as okay.  King notoriously dislikes Kubrick's movie, and I don't blame him.  I like the movie, but I don't love it.  I read the book first, and it's so unlike the book that I can only like the movie if I completely forget about the book.  Sometimes I can do that; others, I can't.  In short, the reason King and I both dislike the movie is that King's book is about a good, but very flawed, man, who has his weaknesses used against him by the evils of the Overlook Hotel, but who redeems himself by sacrificing himself at the end to save his son.  The movie is about an A-hole who becomes more and more of an insane A-hole before the movie ends.  Add into that the fact that Wendy Torrance in the book is a very blonde, beautiful, tough chick, and that Shelley Duvall in the movie was a sniveling whiner (and viewers need to give her a break, as that characterization was all Kubrick's, and he was literally driving her crazy) who nobody could stand (and the same might be said of the movie Danny as well), and there you have it.  King and I agree that the movie was visually stunning (as every Kubrick movie is), and perhaps worth seeing for that reason alone, but it's not the book, and the very spirit of the book is lost with it.  The book was a five-act Shakespearean tragedy (King himself describes it that way) and the film is a stunning movie with characters who didn't at all come from the book, which changes the texture of the whole thing.  And, considering all this, it must have been especially annoying for King when you realize that a great percentage of the movie's dialogue comes directly from the book.  I'm talkin' verbatim.

Having said all that (and sorry if I insinuated above that King and I have actually had conversations about this), Doctor Sleep ultimately fails because it also lacks consistent characterization.  Dan Torrance does not develop after about a third of the way through.  Once he settles in NH, it's all happenstance.  The characters who actually take over the character arc are the RVers, and this is yet another example lately (Under the Dome was the most recent, and don't even get me started on the bad book and the even worse tv show) of Stephen King focusing more on his antagonists than on his protagonists, as if even he is bored with what his main characters have become.  Notice that through the whole second half, the RVers are the only characters who change.

And are they really solid antagonists?  You'll have to be the judge, but I vote Nay.  They went not with a bang, but with a whimper.  And with relative ease.

So...that's it.

Huge disappointment.