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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Sunday, September 28

Bad Sports Weekend

A bad sports weekend for me. On Thursday I watched the ASU Sun Devils against the UCLA Bruins. The Sun Devils playing at home, in front of a full house of 70,000 supporters, in front of a national audience to show that they really deserved their 15th national ranking. The Sun Devils looked more like Moon Imps. The 11th ranked Bruins brought about three gallons of shellac to the game and gave the Imps a rub-a-dub-drubbing 62-27. So ASU will plummet in the rankings and UCLA will soar.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are, thankfully, going to end the season with the worst record in all of major league baseball. So, they decided to clean house by firing general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson. “Just Wait’ll next year,” as all losers invariably whine.

And then there was the painful whipping the Europeans put on the Americans in the 40th Ryder Cup in Scotland. It was 16½ to 11½ at the end of the day on Sunday. But after Saturday’s 10-6 lead going into the singles matches, the outcome was never in doubt. Rory McElroy looked like the best player in the world by annihilating Ricky Foster. The biggest disappointment of these games was Bubba Watson, who never showed us the dominant player he’s supposed to be. The two bright spots for the Americans were the youngsters Jordan Speith and Patrick Reed. The Ryder Cup pressure must be enormous. It’s all about who can make the pressure putts, and the Europeans did that better than the Americans. When the collar gets really tight, a player will leave putts short or will open the blade and shove putts to the right. Pressure. These guys play all year long as individuals with only themselves to blame if they lose, all year long for money and majors, and then along comes the Ryder Cup and suddenly they’re playing for national pride while hoping not to disappoint their teammates. Pressure. Especially if they’ve been losing on a regular basis—losing nine of the last eleven Ryder Cup matches. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

My only good sports news for the weekend is that the Arizona Cardinals had a bye week. So they may not have won, but they didn’t lose either.

Thursday, September 25

Quiet Day

A quiet day with little on the horizon. I’m sick and tired of looking through the papers to find something interesting to comment on. So much of what’s there doesn’t deserve comment; so much of what’s there is so awful my stomach rebels at even thinking about it, let alone commenting on it.

So, a quiet day here in the Valley of the Sun. This morning we watched two coyotes stroll through our backyard, both looking huge and healthy, probably from having feasted on grand and great grandchildren whom tippling grand and great grandparents had inadvertently left alone to play out in the backyard. At least, that’s the theory of some rather stupid old people who live here in Sun City West. One letter to the editor moaned over the loss of her little dog, a tiny Chihuahua, I believe. She feared that the nasty coyotes who roam our city would not only chomp down tiny dogs and cats, but also unattended children, maybe even strolling adults. She thought that all coyotes should be rounded up and killed, or euthanized, as she might have preferred. Our local coyotes have a plentiful supply of food and don’t need to prey on tiny children or infirm old people. They really don’t care to be around us humans, adult or child or infirm old people. That says a lot for their intelligence. There are a good many adults and children I’d rather not be around, although I might consider putting them out as bait for any passing wildlife. Oh, now I sound too much like a cantankerous curmudgeon. I’m certainly not cantankerous nor a curmudgeon. Old, yes, but not those other things.

The day is still, no movement in our arbor vitae, only an occasional butterfly flitting in and out, one tiny white one, and one our large, yellow pseudo-monarch. The clouds are gathering in the north and east, huge mounds of whipped cream on the horizon. Our cats are all sleeping, gathering strength to test our patience when they awaken. My wife and I are busy cocktailing to gather strength for the nightly news and the too many shows we feel obligated to watch. And then the cats will awaken and begin to distribute the many cat toys around the house for us to step on in the dark.

Life goes on in Sun City West. Better that it go on than the alternative. I hope you have as nice a day.

Wednesday, September 24

Belinda Baur

I'm just finishing the third in Belinda Baur’s Shipcott trilogy, Finders Keepers. There are very few books about which I can say that I really can’t wait to finish but I also don't want to finish. I feel that way about Finders Keepers and the two previous books in this series. I don’t want to lose the characters she’s created. They’ve become old friends and I don’t want to say goodbye to them: the incredibly complex Jonas Holly; the brave Steven Lamb who somehow manages to escape two threats to his life and finds the love of his life, Emily Carver; Detective Inspector Reynolds, he of the hair plugs and insecurities; Detective Sergeant Elizabeth Rice, who hates to have to bow down to her boss DI Reynolds; Lettie Lamb and her mother and even the obnoxious little Davey, Steven’s younger brother; even Lewis, Steven’s self-centered friend. Then there’s the rich undercurrent of humor and the seemingly effortless style. Three examples:

Some of the humor: On the day the new girl, Emily Carver, first attends school, the boys are all agog at her beauty, especially Lewis. Lalo Bryant says, “She’s hot.” ¶ “I’d give her one, agreed Lewis. ¶ There was barely a woman alive that Lewis wouldn’t give one to; for a seventeen-year-old with flaming acne, he had remarkable reserves of self-worth. Even so, Steven felt a prick of anger and a defensive surge towards the brown hair and the green velvet ribbon. ¶ “Yeah, but would I give you one?” ¶ They turned to see Emily Carver a few paces behind them. ¶ Steven blushed all the way down to his toes and the others shuffled and looked away. ¶ Always the rubber ball, Lewis bounced back sufficiently to bluster lamely, “Yeah, I bet you would.” ¶ Emily Carver stopped, looked him slowly up and down with a curious expression on her face, and then burst out laughing. ¶ It was devastating. Nothing she could ever have said could have destroyed Lewis more completely, and his acne positively glowed.

Some of the style: After Steven Lamb is taken by the kidnapper, his mother Lettie, in deep despair, is taking a bath. “Lettie’s mouth distorted with sudden emotion and she squeezed her eyes shut to stop herself crying. Crying helped nobody. She’d learned that a long, long time ago. ¶ She waited until her breathing was normal again, concentrating on her breasts, which sat like little islands on the water—the warm meniscus of the tide rising and falling on the beaches of pale skin, where faint blue rivers ran from the puckered peaks.”

And one for both humor and style: Because they knew Shipcott better than anywhere else on the moor, Rice had booked them rooms at the Red Lion. ¶ It was a mistake on every level. ¶ Cheap but noisy, and with mattresses that had been almost folded in half by years of heavy sleepers, and then turned upside down in a misguided attempt to redress the balance; It was like sleeping on the peak of a Toblerone. On the first morning, Reynolds rolled over, lost his grip--and slid down the west face to wakefulness.

I’m a frequent re-reader of books that impress me, and I’m certain that I’ll re-read these three in the Shipcott trilogy. It will be nice to revisit old friends.

Tuesday, September 23

Wacky News

Such strange news stories. In Florida, a man was sentenced to five years in prison for sexual misconduct with his pit-bull pup. What!? And Starbucks is thinking of putting out a beer-flavored coffee. What!!? Residents in Sun City West just finished putting two 18,000-piece jigsaw puzzles together and are now working on one with 33,500 pieces. What!!!? A Florida woman paid $20,000 to get a third breast because she wanted to be less attractive to men. What!!!!? A Malaysian man had ten steel balls implanted in his penis to increase his sexual abilities, but then had to have them removed when they began to rust. What, What, What!!!!!? And here’s one, not a news story but one that simply blows my mind. I went on Google Earth to have a look at our old house in Lakewood, NY. Then I did an on-street view that showed me the front of our next-door neighbor’s house, and there in the side yard I caught sight of my old neighbor Beanie. I realize how far technology has taken us in the last decade, but to be able to drive visually down any street in the country and see clear shots of places and people just amazes me. Especially when I see someone I know. This last merits another “What!!!!!!?”

In a time when we have too many wars and conflicts in which we can’t even determine who the combatants are or why they’re fighting in the first place, when a man can still vault over the fence in front of the White House and make it to an unlocked front door with the intention of doing bodily harm to the president or members of his family, when it seems like the entire state of California will be destroyed by wildfires, when the weather all around the world seems to be chaotically out of whack, when we now have teachers carrying guns into their classrooms—we need a bit of humor to help us face all the craziness. So, here’s one a friend of mine sent me. Its title is “Longevity.” A 104-year-old woman, when asked about how she managed to live so long, responded: "For better digestion, I drink beer. In the case of appetite loss, I drink white wine. In the case of low blood pressure, I drink red wine. In the case of high blood pressure, I drink scotch. And when I have a cold, I drink schnapps.”

“When do you drink water?” her interviewer asked.

“I’ve never been that sick,” the old woman responded.

My advice to my readers: don’t watch any local, national, or world news; don’t drink any water; and go to Google Earth to find old friends.

Friday, September 19

This Is Where I Leave You

Despite the lukewarm reviews it got, we decided to see This Is Where I Leave You, and we’re very glad we did. I mean, it’s got Tina Fey and Jason Bateman in it, right? I’d go see Tina Fey doing 120 minutes of commercials. And then there’s Jason Bateman. I’ve decided, fickle cuss that I am, that I love Jason Bateman. He seems like such a nice guy, and so very quietly funny. In fact, this whole movie was so very quietly funny. Even the running boob joke when we see Jane Fonda with her gigundous new hooters.
It didn’t deserve “lukewarm.” Maybe not boiling hot, but quite a bit more than luke. Every reviewer seemed to think that this was way too much just a formulaic comedy misusing a wonderful cast, a dysfunctional family who come together in their New England hometown to sit shiva for their recently dead father. Well, we don’t need Osage County every time we see a film, and this dysfunctional family beat the hell out of the one in Osage. If you want a nice two-hour visit with these very nice, very funny people, go see This Is Where I leave You. You won’t be disappointed.

Belinda Baur & ES3

Now it’s time to talk about Belinda Baur and her oh so well-crafted tales set in the little English village of Shipcott. Shipcott may be tiny but any number of horrific murders take place there, beginning in the first novel, Blacklands, in which a young boy tries to find the buried body of his Uncle Billy, who was killed along with six other children and buried somewhere in the moors around that part of England. Steven Lamb makes it his mission to find Uncle Billy so that his grandma can find peace. He spends several years digging haphazardly in the hills of Exmoor, hoping to unearth the body. Arnold Avery, the man who killed Billy and the other children, is in prison but refuses to reveal where he has buried the bodies of the slain children. Steven then engages in a letter campaign to Avery to get him to tell him where Billy’s body is located. And a game of cat and mouse between them begins. The tension builds, somewhat relieved by an undercurrent of humor that seems typical of her writing.

Darkside, the second in the Shipcott saga, introduces us to Jonas Holly and his ill wife Lucy. Jonas is the local policeman in Shipcott, and when someone smothers an old woman, Detective Chief Inspector Marvel and his crew are called in from Taunton to take over the investigation. Jonas feels that he should be included but Marvel, an abrasive, insensitive man, dismisses him and makes him feel foolish. Then six others are killed, two seriously ill women living at home and four others in the Sunset Lodge Retirement Home. The hunt for the killer goes on. So many killing in one little village.

In the third part of the Shipcott trilogy, Finders Keepers, children are disappearing from the village, and two of the characters from the other novels are back, Steven Lamb, the boy in Blacklands, and Jonas Holly, the local policeman in Darkside. From the number of violent crimes committed here, I think I’d simply move away. So long, Shipcott, I’d say. Even more than the plot suspense, though, is the writing style. Let me show you several examples.

“The first flakes wandered down from the black velvet sky like little stars that had lost their way, and within minutes the galaxies themselves were raining down on Exmoor. Without a breath of breeze to divert or delay them, a million billion points of fractured light poured from the heavens, to be finally reunited under the moon in a brilliant carpet of silent white.”

“The heat of embarrassment was leaving Jonas and being replaced by a cool and distant anger, which he found easy to hide but which he knew he would nurture forever in that very small and stony corner where he kept all that was not kind, responsible, and selfless in his heart.”

I’ll use this last quotation to once again show off my system for examining sentence structure, not that this sentence is structurally unusual, just that I want to make a case for it to any would-be or current teachers of English. I don’t want this system to die along with me. It’s too valuable a tool for that to happen. My book, ES³, is available at lulu.com as an e-book, with a price around $3.00, a bargain for something as useful as this.
For any who think this is just a fancy way of diagramming sentences, I say, okay, try to diagram the sentence above and you wouldn’t have enough room on a 100-foot-square blackboard. This system simply eliminates all the old pedagogical grammatical terms, the stuff that always got in the way of understanding for the students who were trying to make sense of it. It uses s, v, and o for the obvious elements, and numbers for the not-so obvious. If I were to describe the sentence above in traditional terms, we have the subject “heat” followed by a prepositional phrase that describes that heat, then the verb phrase “was leaving” and the noun object of the verb, “Jonas.” Then another verb phrase “being replaced” followed by an adverbial prepositional phrase explaining how it was replaced. Then two adjective clauses describing “anger.” In the first, the relative pronoun “which” is pointing to “anger.” The adjective “easy” is a predicate adjective working with the understood infinitive ‘to be” and the infinitive “to hide” is an adverb describing “easy.” See how easy this is to describe in traditional terms? Hah! My students would be staring glassy-eyed out the window by this time. Some of you may also have that glassy look by now. But to continue, the second adjective clause “which he knew” has the noun clause “he would nurture forever” working as the object of “knew” and the prepositional phrase “in that very small and stony corner” working as an adverb telling where he would nurture that anger. Finally, the word “corner” is followed by an adjective clause introduced unusually by the subordinating conjunction “where” instead of the usual relative pronoun “that” or “which.” Are you still with me? And last, the word “all” is described by an adjective clause with the linking verb “was” followed by a series of three predicate adjectives “kind,” “responsible,” and “selfless” with a concluding adverb prepositional phrase telling where he kept the “all.” And here’s what it would look like without the words:
The pattern shows how we often (maybe too often) begin a sentence with a simple main thought and then tail off with subordinate ideas in a variety of structures. ES³ has the advantage of showing students how various word groups can be used in different places for variety and an avoidance of ambiguity. Please, any English teachers out there who might be reading this, consider going to lulu.com to buy ES³. Also, please find Belinda Baur and read her. You won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 17

Forrest Gump & Stupid Me

We’re still waiting for some of our regular tv programs to renew themselves and so many of the ones other people are now watching are either on one of the premium channels like HBO or are shows that for one reason or another don’t appeal to us. We quit watching Bates Motel because it got too stupid, and Legends seemed more complicated than we wanted to unravel, and too many of the well-reviewed shows feel obligated to have their characters sort of mumble their lines. This last complaint explains why we like shows that give us uncomplicated plots, likeable characters, and dialogue that doesn’t sound like hissing snakes: Blue Bloods, Rizzoli and Isles, CSI Las Vegas, Major Crimes, The Mentalist, and Perception. You’ll notice the lack of comedies on that list, despite the fact that there are quite a few critically acclaimed shows like Modern Family and New Girl. Other than The Big Bang Theory, which we watch faithfully, even in countless reruns, we never got started with any others and are too lazy to jump into them in mid-stream. Just nothing on last night, so we watched a NetFlix oldie, Tom Hanks doing his thing in Forrest Gump.
We’d seen it when it first came out in 1994 but had forgotten most of what we’d seen way back then. At our age, twenty years can blank out most of what we remember in life as well as in movies. It was an enjoyable way to spend two and a half hours. We could see why it won best picture of that year and why Hanks won best actor. I was going to say all the usual platitudes about this film, but then I went on line to find what others may have said, and I found an outrageous, hilarious, insightful review that made me feel like a simplistic bumpkin. For nearly five years I’ve felt like I was writing a clever, useful blog with movie and book reviews, personal observations, comments on local, national, or world affairs. But now Lindy West has put me in my proper place, right alongside Forrest sitting on that bench waiting for a bus to take him back to his one love, Jenny.
I’m not “izackly stoopid,” but after reading what Lindy West said, that’s how I feel. If you’d like to read her review, click on this link: "Run, Forrest, Run!"

Tuesday, September 16

Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint

I’m now reading two English writers, both women, both excellent, both specializing in thrillers. I found the first, S. J. Bolton, by way of Entertainment Weekly, which gave her last book, A Dark and Twisted Tide, an "A" rating. That’s all I need, an "A" rating of a new thriller. So I did what I always do, found all the books she’d written, seven in all, and ordered them through Amazon and then read them first to last. I guess, as I might have expected, the writing, impressively good even in the first, improved in each one. The first three were stand-alone novels, quite bloody, quite frightening, quite complicated. And she somehow managed at each chapter ending, even the temporal breaks within chapters, to leave us with a tiny cliff-hanger. You know, the old, “Oh, no! Don’t open that door!” bit so typical of horror movies. It nearly exhausted me by the time I finished each one. With the fourth, Now You See Me, she introduced me to a character she’d continue to use in the rest of the books, one of the strangest yet most admirable women in fiction. Lacey Flint works with the London police and has layer after layer of secrets from her past, layers that unfold as we see her in the four works in which she’s the main character. In Now You See Me, she’s confronted with a copycat killer, duplicating the Jack the Ripper victims. Many twists and turns that peel away one of the secrets from her past. In the second Lacey Flint, Dead Scared, she goes undercover as a student at Cambridge, where a series of suicides seem to indicate that someone is leading these young students into killing themselves. In the third, Lost, we’re first acquainted with the bloody, muddy Thames that plays such a role in this and the last installment. Barney is a young boy who lives next to Lacey, and when young boys are being kidnapped and then killed along the river, he tries to solve the mystery. And Lacey tries to solve it, along with protecting young Barney. All through her novels, she uses the hidden recesses in cathedrals and mansions and old buildings along the river, all spooky places so English in a way not available to American writers. The Thames is the main setting of A Dark and Twisted Tide, with Lacey now assigned to the marine police that patrols the river, and against the advice, even commands, against swimming in the Thames, she tests herself against the river more often than anyone knows about. And here we find all the hidden nooks and crannies along the shore, secret inlets leading into sewer ways and old abandoned buildings. And I’ve now caught up with another author, waiting for her to write another and another. But, thankfully, in reading through her bio, I learned that she was a friend of the other thriller writer, Belinda Baur, so naturally I went to Amazon and ordered all the books by Ms Baur, about whom and her books I’ll reserve for another post in a few days. But before I leave you, how about just a taste of Sharon Bolton’s writing style: “The river scared Nadia. Even here, high above the city, it unnerved her. The rivers she’d known before hadn’t been like this one. In the countryside she’d left behind, rivers were fast and shallow, clear as glass and cold as night. They bounced over rocks and hurried through reeds, splashed and sparkled in the sun, gleaming like star-shine in the darkness. This river was massive, brown as old blood and unthinkably deep.” Isn’t that nice?

Friday, September 12

Once

A week ago I wrote about falling in love with Keira Knightly, the young lady in Begin Again.
Quite a few of the reviews of that movie compared it to a film made in 2006, one also featuring a young man and woman who make beautiful music together. So I requested it through Netflix just to see if what they were all saying was true. Yup, it’s true. Once is a better movie than Begin Again. And, fickle fellow that I am, I threw Keira under the bus and pledged my love to the young lady in Once. In his review, Roger Ebert says this of the Girl: “She has the kind of smile that makes a man want to be a better person, so he can deserve being smiled at.” Her name is Marketa Irglova, only seventeen when this was made, and cute as a button (although I’m not sure I ever saw a cute button). She plays the Girl (no name used), having come to Ireland from the Czech Republic with her mother and young daughter. The Guy (no name used) works for his father repairing vacuum cleaners during the day and plays guitar and sings on the street weekends and evenings. The Guy (Glen Hansard) is a scruffy mid-thirties fellow who loves his music and loves to sing his songs, playing an acoustic guitar that’s every bit as scruffy as he is. The plot is simple. Girl sees him playing on the street, tells him she thinks he’s really good. They stroll, telling each other of their mutual attraction to music, both writing and performing, he on guitar, she on piano. She helps him actually get around to making a demo disc of his songs. The attraction between them keeps growing but is never realized. Her husband shows up and moves in with her; he leaves for London where he’ll peddle his demo disc and reunite with the girl who had betrayed him. No “they rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after” ending here, just a poignant feeling that they will always stay connected through their music. I guess my living out here in the West has kept me from staying in touch with Broadway musicals, because Once in 2011 was turned into a highly successful musical, first off-Broadway and then on Broadway, winning the Tony for best musical of 2012. And I’m a faithful viewer of the Tony Awards and I didn’t remember this show’s winning. And in 2007 the centerpiece song from the movie, “Falling Slowly,” won the Oscar for best original song. So I’ve finally caught up with myself. If you’re as ignorant of this film/Broadway musical as I was, go to Netflix and get Once. You may, as I do, want to see it more than once.

Tuesday, September 9

Emoticons & The American People

I seem to be blog-weary. Nothing beckons me to write about it. Not that there aren’t still any number of things to write about. I’m just weary of most of it. What more could I say about the Middle-East mess? What new insights into the immigration crisis? Weather? It’s a weird conglomeration of craziness. Technological advances? It’s all happening so fast my head spins, and when a head as old as mine spins, there’s disaster dead ahead. I just discovered an on-screen keyboard on my new computer that has a wild variety of emoticons. Now, why would I or anyone else need a bunch of emoticons at his fingertips? Has our texting shorthand led us to a place where no one has to actually say what he thinks or feels?
There, I feel devilish and angry and I think I’ll have
a dirty martini before dinner, a dinner of chicken, maybe. See, my head is spinning dangerously fast.

All right, I still have books to talk about. Last week I pulled out an old faded. green-covered book that a fellow teacher back in New York gave me a long time ago. He said it would help me better understand our country and the people that make it what it is, help me better understand our history, help me gain insight into the American lit I was teaching. Did I ever read it? No, I stuck it in my library where it remained hidden for the nearly thirty years since he gave it to me. Now I wish I’d read it when I was teaching. The American People by Henry Bamford Parkes, written in 1949. Parkes is an Englishman who felt he had a better perspective from across the Atlantic to evaluate the American people. It’s an admiring examination. In his introduction, he says, “What does it mean to be an American? What are the special characteristics of American civilization, and in what ways does it differ from the civilization of other nations? In order to answer these questions it is necessary to turn to American history. For the character of a nation, like that of an individual, is the product of its past experience and is revealed best in its actions. In this book I have attempted to explain the historical forces that molded the American character and to show how that character has been exhibited at different periods both in thought and behavior.” He sees us as a unique race of people, formed from immigrants from all races, mostly from poor or middle-class people who came here mainly from Europe, but other diverse parts of the world either willingly or unwillingly in the case of the Blacks from Africa who were brought here into slavery and the Chinese workers imported into near-slavery to help build a cross-continental railway system. We were shaped into a people with eternal optimism about the future and an ingenuity born of the need to conquer a continental wilderness. In other words, the Ugly American wasn’t just a product of the 20th century. We were boastfully ugly way back in the 18th century. The experiment in Democracy was refined here and today is a model for freedom and the good life, despite the ugliness of nearly three hundred years of slavery, continued racial bigotry, the near tragic split between North and South in the Civil War. I’m glad I finally read this book. I regret not having read it way back when it would have helped make me a better teacher. Just one of my many regrets.

There, now I’m not so weary. See, that’s me smiling in my emoticon way.

Wednesday, September 3

Begin Again

I’m a fickle lover of film and the ladies who inhabit the film world. As I’ve said fairly often in this blog, I fall in and out of love with actresses over and over, going all the way back to Liz Taylor when she and I were young and the world loomed ahead of us, and Gene Tierney in Laura, and on to Julia Roberts and Scarlett Johannson. Odd that I never fell in love with Debbie Reynolds, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, or Shirley MacLaine. Debbie was just too feistily energetic for me; Marilyn was lovely enough for me to have a copy of that famous nude picture when I was in Korea but not enough to win my heart; Judy portrayed my early fictional love, Dorothy in the Oz series, but she just wasn’t my type; and Shirley had too many freckles. See how fickle I am? We went to see Begin Again, and again I fell in love, this time with Keira Knightly. I first saw her in Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and tipped seriously to the left. Her beauty is so unique, with that uniquely funny little smile and crinkly nose. And I was smitten. But then I didn’t see her in any of her films for almost a decade, and my initial attraction vanished. Until Begin Again. Seriously smitten this time. Gretta (Keira) and her lover/boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) have just returned to New York after Kohl has won international fame for his singing and songs (most of which were written by Gretta). He’s there to promote a new album, and she’s just along for the ride, a ride which gets seriously bumped when she finds out he’s now in love with an assistant at the record company. She plans to return to England as soon as possible, but runs into an old buddy from back home who lets her stay with him until she leaves. And then she runs into Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a down-on-his-luck musical agent/promoter who’s just lost his job, drinks like a fish, is pretty much broke, drives a Porsche that had seen better days, has an ex-wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter Violet (Hailey Steinfeld) who don’t much care for him.
In a sleazy performance bar, he hears Gretta reluctantly singing one of her songs at the insistence of her English buddy. The bar crowd ignores her, but Dan is enraptured, hearing in her performance the new voice/song writer he needs to carry him back to the top (or at least up a step or two) of the music business. And there you have it. A fairly predictable plot, but a really great way to spend an afternoon listening to songs, the lyrics of which actually make sense set to lovely music instead of repetitive howling or rapping. Mark Ruffalo is excellent as the rough-on-the-edges promoter, a role he seems to excel at. Keira Knightly, thank heavens, decided (or maybe the director decided for her) not to lip-synch to someone else’s vocals, instead doing a very serviceable Norah Jonesish job on three or four songs. Adam Levine, in his first film role, surprised me with his voice. I knew him only from the few times we watched him as judge on The Voice. His version of “Lost Stars” at the end of the movie renewed my faith in modern music and modern singers. Then there’s my love for Keira.
In Pride and Prejudice, she was as beautiful as makeup artists can create beauty, and in Begin Again, she was just plain Keira, warts and all (a nod to Oliver Cromwell), and I and a bunch of other male viewers fell in love with the interior Keira and not just the exterior Keira. Go see this movie, and in a time when there isn’t all that much to feel good about, you’ll feel good for a long time. And you might even fall in love with her just as I did.

Tuesday, September 2

Bad Shots and Stupid People

I watched with interest the Deutsche Bank playoff tourney over the weekend, and saw Billy Horschel hit a shot on the 18th that will haunt him for the rest of his career, a really fat iron from 212 yards that came up at least fifty yards short of the green and into the front hazard. All he had to do was hit it on the green, two-putt, and go into a playoff with the eventual winner Chris Kirk. The only other truly ugly shot I can think of is that wedge that Fred Couples hit on the 18th in a Ryder Cup match at the Belfry in 1989. He and Christy O’Connor Jr. were tied going to this last hole and smooth Freddie hit it forty yards right of the green to lose to O’Connor one-up. That’s what pressure can do to a golfer, and Freddie showed it in 1989 and Horschel showed it on Labor Day 2014. Oh, yes, and lest I forget, there was that double-hit pitch shot by T. M. Chen in the 1985 PGA, in which poor Mr. Chen lost to Hubert Green by three strokes. Oh, my, was that an ugly shot. The other thing I noticed in this week’s Fed Ex tournament: the truly stupid things one or two spectators would scream out whenever a golfer hit a shot—“Bobalooie!” “Mashed potatoes!” “In the hole!” “Bombs away!” “Yabbadabbado!” “Barracuda!” and my favorite in light of the winner Chris Kirk, “Captain Kirk!” It seems that these truly stupid people are taping the tv coverage, and to make sure they win their five or six seconds of fame, they scream out these nonsensical phrases so that they can later point themselves out to friends and relatives. “Yeah, hey, that’s me you’re hearin’!” Golf security should escort these stupid ones to the gate and send them on their way. They fall into the stupid category along with the guy who ate thirty worms, thirty cockroaches, and a hundred millipedes,
the guys and gals who thumb their noses at world hunger by shoving down a hundred or so hot dogs in a gluttony contest, the young woman on welfare who thinks it’s just wonderful to produce twelve or thirteen children by a wide variety of fathers, the young man who just has to play video games with his car, zipping back and forth from lane to lane and then screaming through a red light, just to gain ten or twenty seconds on the field,the parents who give an Uzi to a nine-year-old for her to play with at the gun range. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch who could go on this list, but you get the idea. I wish there were some hex we could put on them to have male genitals wither away and drop off or have female genitals mysteriously sewn shut. I’d even scream “Yabbadabbado!” when that happened.

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