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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.

Wednesday, December 31

New Year's Eve 2014

The last day of 2014, and it’s cold and rainy, which seems to be an appropriate way to end this strange year. We’ve had more cold and rainy news stories this year than bright and sunny ones. Passenger jets going down in the ocean, drought continuing its hold on California and the south central states, too many shooting deaths on both sides of the law, an Ebola epidemic, domestic violence, too many terrorist threats here and seemingly everywhere, too many wars still being fought in the Middle East, too much Taliban, too much Isis. It seems that most of the news we see in the newspapers and on television is negative—death and destruction, mayhem and cruelty to humans and animals. We assume goodness and kindness in the world, and sometimes the media tells us about such acts. Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News always concludes with a sunshiny story that makes us feel good. And if we search diligently in the newspapers, we can find snippets of happy tales—the boy who donates all his Christmas money to a homeless shelter, the man who risks his life to save a drowning dog, the smiles of joy on the faces of recipients in the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Still lots of examples of good in the world, just not as newsworthy as the bad in the world.
According to a recent AP poll, more than half of those polled believe that 2015 will be a better year than 2014. Good. That’s a start. I hope that those who may be reading this will feel the same. In any case, let’s all promise to do many acts of kindness in the coming year, even if we have to go out and find someone to be kind to. Let’s start a club called “Do a Friend a Favor—Pass It On.” For every favor we do for someone, hand that person a card that obligates them to do the same and then to pass the card on to the next person. Lord knows, we can stand to have a lot more unrewarded favors done for us as well as by us.

Last night we had the pleasure of watching the Kennedy Center Honors special, with honorees Al Green, Patricia McBride, Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, and Sting. What a classy show. If you somehow missed it, maybe your dvr automatically saved it. If so, be sure to watch it. You’ll be as moved as my wife and I were. It began with a bunch of R&B musicians reprising the best-known of Al Green’s soulful songs. We even got a brief replay of our president when he did a two-bar bit from “Let’s Stay Together” at a New York fundraiser. And did it very well, I might add. The music was great, especially that of Jennifer Hudson beautifully singing “Simply Beautiful.” Then Usher did his impression of Al Green when he sang “Let’s Stay Together.” The two-hour show was filled with gorgeous people from all the arts, paying tribute to the honorees: Stephen Colbert as mc, Lady Gaga with silver glitter all over the place doing a most impressive version of Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” Bruce Springsteen doing “I Hung My Head,” our nation’s best dancers paying tribute to Patricia McBride, a filmography of Hanks’ many movies and roles (how easily we forget just how many films he’s been in), a filmed sketch of the many faces and voices of Lily Tomlin. There’s been some talk that the Kennedy Honors show will be canceled after its long-time creator and producer of the show, George Stevens, leaves. Nah, ain’t gonna happen. There are still too many people out there who will scream to get it back.

Tuesday, December 30

Birthdays & Frost Delays

In the Arizona Republic, I always check the prominent birthdays each day, and yesterday there were three I recognized—Mary Tyler Moore, 78; Jon Voight 76; and Ted Danson, 67. I keep seeing them all as much younger than that—Mary tossing her hat in the air, Jon as the reluctant Midnight Cowboy, and Ted behind the bar at Cheers driving Diane crazy. And what really bugs me? I’m older than all of them.

Today here in the Valley of the Sun, all the golf courses in our retirement community had a two hour frost delay. That’s most unusual. But we’re having overnight lows near or below freezing and any traffic on frosty fairways and greens leaves blackened grass. I know I’m not eliciting any sympathy from folks up north. “Poor babies,” they sarcastically cluck, “couldn’t play for two whole hours. And here we are ass-deep in snow with shovels in hand instead of golf clubs.” Well, all you Northernites, it could be worse. You could be neck-deep in snow, or you could be having overnight lows of minus twenty or thirty. Here’s a story from my first years of teaching in South Dakota. My wife and I were living in a mobile home. The forecast was for a low of minus thirty-five. We knew our waterline would freeze so I filled the bathtub with water for our use in the next few days. Naturally, I didn’t get the plug in the tub drain seated quite right, so water leaked out all night long, slowly, slowly freezing our sewer line. No water in, no water in the tub, and a frozen sewer line. And it was too cold for our car to start, so for three days we had to make a frigid jog to the school (about as mile) for shaves and face splashes and potty needs. That’s one of the reasons we retired to Arizona. Another reason is the twenty-five years we lived in Upstate New York, sixty miles south of Buffalo.
We learned all about lake-effect snow. Lake-effect snow: Whenever Lake Erie wasn’t yet frozen over (and most winters it never froze over), any old low front that moved in from the west would suck up Lake Erie moisture and then dump it as soon as it hit land—big, heavy, wet snow that would fall and fall and fall. And I would shovel and shovel and shovel. Oh yeah, that was another reason we retired to Arizona. “Why not Florida?” you ask. Let’s see: bugs, humidity, hurricanes, giant sink holes, and occasional tornadoes. That’s why. Besides, my wife said she was going to Arizona and I could come along . . . or not. That pretty much sealed the deal.

Sunday, December 28

Unbroken

“Heavy-handed” might be the best way to describe Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s take on Louis Zamperini’s story about his ordeals during WWII. Granted, his story deserves to be told in film as well as print. But I came away from seeing this movie with a bad taste in my mouth. Too much about it was heavy-handed, sort of forcing his pain during his stay in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp down our throats, thus the bad taste in my mouth. Some of what was inflicted on Zamperini seemed to be too much, just not plausibly possible. When his Japanese tormenter, “The Bird,” forced every prisoner to stand in line and then strike Zamperini in the face—what looked like at least a hundred men, in the face, at least a hundred times. And at the end of the striking, Zamperini had only a few facial cuts and a black eye. Nah! Just not plausible. Near the end of the war (and the end of the movie), “The Bird” forced Zamperini to pick up what looked like a 4 x 8 x 8-foot plank (probably weighing fifty or sixty pounds) and hold it, telling the guards to shoot him if he dropped it. And after hours and hours of holding the plank across his shoulders, in final defiance, he hoists it above his head and holds it and holds it. Nah! Maybe really dramatic, but just not plausibly possible. All the prisoners were on a starvation diet, yet after two years of imprisonment, they didn’t look all that emaciated. And nowhere does it suggest that they had regular haircuts and regular shaves, yet their hair was cut throughout and no one had beards.
The same can be said about their 47-day stay on the tiny lifeboat, no long hair, no beards, no apparent loss of weight. And granted, these prisoners and others like them were required to work shoveling and carting coal for shipping, something that was against the provisions of the Geneva Convention. But did they all have to look like they’d been dumping coal dust over their heads? Like I said, too heavy-handed, Ms. Jolie. I admire Louis Zamperini’s bravery and his stamina against all odds, I admire his story, but I don’t admire what you did with it.

Wednesday, December 24

Wild & Reese Witherspoon

Wild, the movie, is a wild trek along with Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), wild as in the wilderness through which she hiked along the thousand-plus miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, wild as in Strayed’s reckless behavior before she takes that redemptive journey. This was nearly a one-woman show, with all of the plot movement beginning with her hike from the southern California border to the end of her journey just short of Canada. Director Jean-Marc Vallee chose to tell the backstory in short, staccato flashbacks as Cheryl thinks about her past and past mistakes. It’s a stream-of-consciousness parade of thoughts as she plods along, averaging about fifteen miles a day. She lost her marriage to Paul because she “fooled around on him . . . a lot,” as she confessed to one of the men she picked up in a bar. She was briefly in therapy but walked out on that when the therapist reminded her of her heroin addiction and promiscuity. Most of the flashbacks involved her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and the relationship with Cheryl and her younger brother, of their having to rush away from an abusive husband/father and of her dying of cancer at forty-five. We watch Cheryl as she prepares for the hike, loading her backpack with everything but the kitchen sink (and she may have even taken that if she’d found a mini-sink). The audience laughs quietly as we see her struggle to get to her feet with what looked like about eighty pounds on her back. Some of her fellow hikers laughingly called her backpack “Monster” when she approached them from the trail. About three weeks into the journey, one of the men helping out at a PCT way-station advised her to get rid of many items that she wasn’t using. Lighten your load, he says. Thoreau might have said to her, “Simplify, simplify,” advice we might all take to heart without having to walk a thousand miles. Along the way she meets many people willing to help her: a man plowing a field takes her home for a hot meal and a shower; a young boy sings “Red River Valley” for her; her fellow hikers offer her advice and comradeship when they meet at various way-stations. Two hunters that she encounters seem at first to be threatening to her, a lone woman out on the trail, but they go on their way. The movie is all about a woman’s attempt to find herself, even if it takes a thousand mile hike through desert and mountains and snow and rain, even though most of that journey would be back-breaking and agonizingly lonely, even though it was a journey through beautiful terrain. Cheryl Strayed apparently found herself, and Reese Witherspoon may have found another Oscar nomination for best female actor.

Sunday, December 21

Cat Jokes

Wow! I have almost nothing to say today. You see, I'm watching Sunday NFL football, sort of with one eye only since I'm not really interested in any of the games being televised. I'm really waiting for the Sunday night game, the Cardinals versus the Seahawks. While searching through some of my numerous files on jokes, I found this one from nearly a decade ago and thought it was funny enough to include here, especially since we have three really smart cats.
THE FOUR CATS

Four men were bragging about how smart their cats are. The first man was an Engineer, the second was an Accountant, the third was a Chemist, the fourth was a Government Employee. To show off, the Engineer called to his cat, "Tsquare, do your stuff." Tsquare pranced over to a desk, took out some paper and a pen and promptly drew a circle, a square, and a triangle. Everyone agreed that was pretty smart. But the Accountant said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Spreadsheet, do your stuff." Spreadsheet went out into the kitchen and returned with a dozen cookies. He divided them into 4 equal piles of 3 cookies each. Everyone agreed that was good. But the Chemist said his cat could do better. He called his cat and said, "Measure, do your stuff." Measure got up, walked over to the fridge, took out a quart of milk, got a glass from the cupboard and poured exactly 8 ounces without spilling a drop. Everyone agreed that was good. Then the three men turned to the Government Employee and said, "What can your cat do?" .The Government Employee called to his cat and said, "Coffeebreak, do your stuff." Coffeebreak jumped to his feet, ate the cookies, drank the milk, crapped on the paper, screwed the other three cats, claimed he injured his back while doing so, filed a grievance report for unsafe working conditions, put in for Workers Compensation and went home for the rest of the day on sick leave.

Thursday, December 18

The Homesman

A long time ago, just after I’d started teaching, I read Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. I read it mainly because it was set in the eastern portion of my home state of South Dakota and because it was about that period in our history when settlers from Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Germany emigrated to the New World to claim homestead land. It’s the story of the harsh reality of life for those settlers, in this case, a family from Norway, Per Hansa and his wife. The opening describes a covered wagon moving slowly through a hip-deep sea of prairie grass, barren, treeless prairie, toward a future of living in a sod house with dirt floor and neighbors more than three miles away. It would prove to be so lonely for Per’s wife that she goes mad.

And now I’ve seen The Homesman, which also shows the harshness of life for settlers in the Nebraska Territory in 1855. Mary Bee Cudder (Hillary Swank), because none of the men in the settlement want the task, agrees to transport three women who have all gone crazy back to Iowa where they can find care and possible treatment. The women have gone mad from the territory’s harshness, from the loss of children, from the insensitivity of husbands. She’s given a specially built wagon for the trip, an enclosed box with barred windows and an entrance that can be bolted from the outside, more like a prison-transport than a wagon. The women will be tied to ring bolts inside the wagon, to prevent them from escaping or injuring each other. Before she picks up any of the women, she finds George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), a claim jumper who is sitting on his horse with hands tied behind him, a noose around his neck. He sees her and begs her to cut him down before the horse decides to walk away and leave him hanging. Before she cuts the rope, she makes him promise to help her take the women back. Thus begins their journey—through barren, treeless countryside, through wintry skies and frozen ground, past a party of Pawnee Indians who may or may not kill them for their horses and mules, past an Indian burial site where Briggs takes from one of the bodies a buffalo hide for warmth at night, past an open grave where a young girl has been buried, a grave that Mary Bee feels obligated to fix for the sake of the girl. Briggs goes on ahead with the wagon and the women, leaving Mary Bee with a horse for her to catch up with them. But she gets lost in the night and can’t find them, nearly starving or freezing to death before she stumbles onto their campfire. The story continues, with the audience left to wonder if the reprobate Briggs will change his spots and become a better person through his connection with Mary Bee Cudder. The first ninety minutes is as good as or even better than any Western I’ve ever seen, right up there with Lonesome Dove and The Unforgiven. The last thirty minutes are strangely anti-climactic and slightly silly, almost as though Tommy Lee Jones, the director, didn’t know when to quit while he was ahead. The first ninety minutes has great camera shots and amazing attention to details about frontier life a century and a half ago. The last thirty minutes shows us a romanticized village on the eastern side of the Missouri River, everything much too pretty to be real. Two things about this movie that will stay with me for a long time: Hillary Swank as the steel-strong woman she portrays, and Tommy Lee Jones’ craggy, weather-beaten face, with bags beneath his eyes as big as gunny sacks.

Monday, December 15

Birdman

I went to Birdman to see if all the Oscar buzz about Michael Keaton’s performance was as valid as all the critics were saying. It was, I think. You’ll notice how I’m hedging my bet with the qualifying “I think.” It was such an odd show, sprinkling bits of unreality in with reality. But even the reality was odd. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is the aging and fading star of a series of movies about the comic superhero called Birdman. He’s attempting to resurrect his career by producing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play called “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” The viewer can’t really tell what’s real and what’s Riggan’s imagined reality. We hear the voice of his alter ego, Birdman, speaking to him, warning him that his theatrical ambitions are folly. We see Riggan telekinetically moving things around, smashing items in his dressing room like a crazed poltergeist. We leap with him from the theatre roof and fly up and down and around surrounding skyscrapers. We hear classical music as background to his trips through the warren of halls and stairways and backstage areas of the theatre. Some scenes included drum riffs and a drummer in places he shouldn’t or wouldn’t be. One scene is backed by a shouted rendering of Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” soliloquy, by a crazy street person who asks Riggan if he’d overdone it.
We see the Keaton face wrinkled as we’ve never before seen it, with that Keaton smile that comes with thrust chin and down-turned lips.
Then there’s his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who looked like Tolkein’s golem with scrawny arms and impossibly bulbous eyes, making her look like one of the painted children in the upcoming Big Eyes movie. When the other male lead is strangely struck in the head by a falling stage light (Was it accidental or one of Riggan’s telekinetic tricks to get rid of a bad actor?), Mike Shine (Edward Norton) is persuaded to take his place. The three preview rehearsals don’t go well, with the preview audience actually booing when Shine, half-drunk from slugging gin in a kitchen scene, leaps from a motel bed in which he tried to seduce the female lead (not a play seduction, an actual seduction), sporting an oh so apparent woodie in his tidy whities. But the show must go on, despite New York’s leading theatre critic threatening to write a review that would kill the show in its infancy. Two setpieces stand out, a lengthy tirade by Sam telling her father what she thinks of him, and Riggan’s rant at the critic as she sips a martini in a nearby bar. Both are laced with current spice, lots of F-bombs and M-F-bombs. I’m from an ancient era when such words were never used, never even thought. See, I can’t even say them now and instead have to call them F- and M-F-bombs. My ears these last three decades have grown accustomed to the blue language of today’s R-rated movies, but some part of me still cringes when I hear it used by boys and girls in everyday conversation. Let me illustrate my prudishly Victorian youth. I was raised in a most conservative upper mid-western state, South Dakota. I remember a time when grocery stores and drug stores wrapped Kotex boxes in brown paper and kept them below the counter to be handed out surreptitiously to ladies in need of such verboten items. I remember a time when I gave my older sister the finger and she slapped me silly. I knew it was a signal for something bad, but I had no idea what that raised middle finger really meant. I remember when I and other young boys would leaf through National Geographic magazines to feverishly ogle bare-breasted females from other countries. I remember when my mother secretly stole my Goya’s Naked Maja stamp from my stamp collection for fear such images would spoil her sweet boy’s innocence. I remember carrying a condom (what we called back then a “rubber”) in my billfold, not one I would ever use, but as a badge of honor in the fraternity of pubescent boys wishfully thinking. I remember right after I joined the army hearing for the first time the M-F-bomb, thinking how awful that image was, a son having intercourse with his mother. What I don’t remember is ever having that father/son discussion about sex. We learned by osmosis, petting and panting but never penetrating. And language back then still retained the power of surprise, the thrust engendered by the Anglo-Saxon four-letter arsenal. Soon after I started teaching English, I learned that one of the most moral depictions of modern youth, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, was forbidden in classrooms because of that one F-bomb that Holden tried to erase from a graffitied museum entry wall. He was trying to protect his sister Phoebe from seeing this linguistic evil, trying to catch her before she fell over a cliff at the edge of a field of rye. I found that Twain’s Huck Finn was considered offensive because of his depiction of Jim as “Nigger Jim,” the novel one of the earliest indictments of the evils of slavery and racial bigotry. And it was on the censored list. What the fuck is that? There I got that out of my system and I feel a lot better. I think (I think?) Birdman was one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and Michael Keaton will win the award for best actor.

Sunday, December 14

Sunday Musings

Another Sunday, but this day I won’t have any Cardinals football to agonize over. They played last Thursday and won in a defensive slugfest with the St. Louis Rams. So today I’ll just wander around in a few subjects I’ve been saving.

Like Brian Crane's always funny Pickles with some wisdom about women and cats, in this case, old forgetful women and cats who live for mischief.
Last week we went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre for a Christmas treat, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and were we ever treated. When we first signed up for this show, I thought it would be just a Christmas filler in their Season 10 lineup. It was so much more than a filler. The sets again were extravagantly complex for such a tiny theatre; the costuming continues to confound me with the number of costumes and props that have to be created for each show; the singing was very good, especially that of the two leads, Nathan Brian and Julia Mosby; the choreography was very good, especially in the extended tap number with the ensemble. I still can’t understand how a relatively small theatre group can find so many tappers that can do more than fake it; I thought tap was a dance that was outdated, not so, as the fifteen in the ensemble demonstrated. The story was a bit corny, but then, what can one expect of a plot that was first seen in the Crosby film sixty years ago. The one weak voice in the cast was that of Patrick Graver, whose singing was slightly sharp on almost every note. The show merits five stars from me and almost all of the audiences of the mainly full-houses for the show’s run.
We finally got to see the final episode of Gracepoint. Thank god. Neither of us could stand the show, but we just had to watch all ten episodes, gritting and grinding our teeth as we watched it. Just like a bad novel you’re halfway through but you’re too stubborn to do anything but finish it. Anna Gunn, the softly sexy lady from Breaking Bad, deserved better than to be in this mish-mash thriller about a dead boy. There were too many red herrings involved (but they should really be called “red sardines” for their tiny lack of necessity). And David Tennant, who plays the detective called in to Gracepoint to lead the investigation, was possibly the most irritating character ever on tv. He played the same character in the British series called Broadchurch, and I’m so glad I never got around to seeing that one if he was as irritating in that as in this American version. The only thing that would be worse than these ten episodes would be if they decided to do another ten episodes.
A word or two about our skies yesterday. We got up to heavy fog, something we couldn’t remember ever having seen before. And later, these hairy, scary skies. We’ve lived in the Valley of the Sun for just over twenty years now and neither of us has ever seen skies that looked as threatening as these. We were getting the tail end of the Pineapple Express that hit California so calamitously a few days ago—towering black and dark and gray thunderheads all around the Valley, with curtains of rain coming down almost everywhere one looked on the horizon. If I had to imagine what the day would look like on the morn of the Apocalypse, this would be it. The only things missing were the four horsemen, but I kept expecting to see them riding up and over the White Tank Mountains. I’m sure the folks in California also expected to see them as the mud and rocks came pouring down from the hillsides above their homes.

Monday, December 8

Jackie Brown

One of my favorite authors is Elmore “Dutch” Leonard. His stories are intricate and well-plotted, his characters are vivid, alive, and usually funny. The humor is often black, but still very funny. Thanks to Netflix we watched the 1997 Jackie Brown, adapted from Leonard’s Rum Punch. This was Quentin Tarantino at his usual iconoclastic best, maybe not up to his very best, but close. The story is simple: Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a down and out airline stewardess working for a down and out airline with flights to Mexico, making a few bucks by helping Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggle cash out of Mexico, money he’s made by selling illegal arms to a Mexican cartel. She’s arrested as she deplanes, DEA agents finding a small amount of heroin in her luggage, and is coerced into helping them get the goods on Robbie. Robbie arranges her bail with Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a bail bondsman. Jackie then, enlisting the help of Max Cherry, plans an intricate plot not only to get out of the charges but also to steal Robbie’s half million, the money he’s hoping will help him get out of the business and set him- up for a life of retirement. The language is deep blue, especially with all the m-f bombs from Robbie, but one gets numb to that after the two and a half hours of film run-time. Robert DeNiro plays Louis Gara, sidekick of Robbie’s. Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is Robbie’s young, blond stonehead who is an unwitting part of the plot, but DeNiro shoots her because she just wouldn’t shut up when they’re leaving the mall with what they think is the half million. Confusing, right? It all works out that Jackie’s scam is successful, with her leaving for Spain with the cash, asking Max if he wouldn’t like to join her. He declines, but takes his 10% of the money as his usual fee. Good movie version of Rum Punch, maybe longer than it needed to be, maybe with language that didn’t need to be quite that blue. Probably four stars out of five.

Saturday, December 6

Tiger Woods & Arizona Cardinals

All you Tiger haters out there must be in seventh heaven seeing him chunk chip after chip in the Hero World Challenge this weekend. How in the world, we all ask, can Tiger, a master of hand-eye coordination, look so very pedestrian? Here’s a man who gave us that commercial in which he bounces a ball off an iron face, around behind him and through his legs, then hits the ball mid-air after the final bounce. And here he is, not once, but five times chunking a pitch and having the ball roll back to his feet. And the true Tiger haters even called in after his last failed pitch, the one where he slams the club backward into the ground after the pitch. They thought he should be penalized for improving his lie, you know, with the angry back swing, with the ball possibly coming to rest in his divot from the previous shot. Let he who has never swung a club in anger after a bad shot cast the first stone. Let all you armchair referees out there, peering anxiously into your tv sets to find some kind of golf infraction to hang on Tiger, just give it a rest. Both the lovers and the haters are still wondering if Tiger will ever get back to his game, the one with which he hit all kinds of magical shots for all kinds of magical victories. The haters say no. The lovers say they hope so. Golf is better viewing when he’s in the hunt.

This is another football weekend. Lots of important college games to decide who gets in the final four and who gets the bowl invitations. On Friday night, the Arizona Wildcats got their asses handed to them by the Oregon Ducks, 51 to 13. Whew! The Wildcats were more like Tamepussies, an embarrassing loss on national tv. But that means Oregon will be one of the final four, along probably with Alabama, Florida State, and the fourth from these whose game today will tell the story: Ohio State, TCU, or Baylor.
And tomorrow, the Arizona Cardinals will try to stop the bleeding when they face the Kansas City Chiefs. Those who consider the glass to be half empty fear that our Cardinals will lose all four of their final games to drop out of the playoffs. Those with half-full glasses are hoping they can win two of their final four. I’m in that category.

Friday, December 5

The Theory of Everything

Each year, I always like to keep track of movie roles and who may be nominated for Oscars. And now I have one in Eddie Redmayne for his depiction of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. It was an oddly moving story about a man whom we all have seen often enough on television to know what he looks like, and we know how he sounds by The Big Bang Theory’s occasionally innocent mocking of the man. So, when Redmayne shows us the contorted man in the wheelchair, head awkwardly to the side, eyes peering up through unruly hair, mouth giving us that ironic smile, he becomes Stephen Hawking. What a remarkable depiction of a remarkable man. I referred to it as oddly moving, odd because it was almost too close to simple tear-jerking, a little too storybookish to seem real. The story of Hawking’s romance and marriage to Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) is standard fare. We see her strength in loving him enough to take care of him through really trying times, bearing three children by him; we see her finally running out of patience with him, with the inevitable yet understandable divorce as Hawking is accompanied to America by his caregiver Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). The scientific mumbojumbo involved with Hawking was downplayed, probably for the best since most of us wouldn’t understand a whit of his theories of time and black holes. Great acting, good movie, standard story.

Wednesday, December 3

Mockingjay & All Is Lost

What to say about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I? Well the title’s too long, for one thing. What else? It shamelessly ends on a really big cliffhanger, forcing its fans to sit anxiously waiting for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II (also too long a title). I say “shamelessly” because of the obvious attempt to milk this franchise for every dollar possible. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this one as I was with the first two in the series. Jennifer Lawrence is still the heart and soul of the series, but most of the others may as well have stayed home, offering next to nothing to the plot. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as Effie could have just called it in, as neither character had much to do this time. Plot? Not much. Katniss wakens in the depths of District 13’s underground hideaway, with President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her deputy Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) trying to convince Katniss to be the figurehead in the districts’ war against the Capitol and the nefarious President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Sutherland can smile in a way that makes the viewer want to just slap him upside his head. They want to use Katniss in a series of propaganda films to enlist the aid of the other districts in their battle against Snow and his totalitarianism. She agrees and finds herself in opposition to her beloved Peeta, who has been brainwashed by Snow into making televised pleas to get Katniss to stop her campaign. And there you have it—the plotless plot. What should have been one movie, with an actual conclusion, is split into two, with a highly dysfunctional Part I.

Netflix gave us a chance to see a film that came and went from our theatres in a blur, Robert Redford’s one-man show aboard a floundering schooner in the vast Pacific, All Is Lost. I was reminded once again that of all the places I’d rather not be, first on that list is alone on an ocean on a sinking boat. Almost no dialogue, since he’s alone with no one with whom to converse, lots of sky and lots of water. His sailing ship has encountered the corner of a shipping container that is mysteriously afloat in the Pacific. He awakens to find seawater pouring into the cabin. He manages to disconnect his boat from the container and patch the hole, but not very securely. And he now finds himself without electricity and radio connection. And yes, sure enough, a storm happens and the sea once more comes pouring into the cabin. He transfers food and water to a blowup lifeboat along with a sextant and maps. And then watches as his ship bids farewell and sinks. Okay, he can navigate with the sextant and aims for the transportation corridor from Orient to the U. S. Surely a ship will spot him and pick him up. Naah. Who, on a boring voyage from China to the U. S. is looking for a tiny lifeboat? No one. Well, you get the drift. I was also reminded of a movie from way back in my memory (1944) called The Lifeboat, in which five men and three women are on a lifeboat after a German submarine has torpedoed their ship. Lots of anguish among the eight of them as they try to survive this ordeal on the Atlantic. Yupp, and that one too told me I never wanted to be aboard a tiny boat in the middle of an ocean.

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