The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — December 2008

The Wrestler

Everything you’ve heard about The Wrestler is true. It’s a slice of Americana, Rocky Redux for the new millennium, a brilliant performance by an actor (Mickey Rourke) who’s rediscovered his groove, two hours of gore, humiliation, and redemption, the classical Hollywood tale of a man who triumphs over impossible circumstances, a love story, the myth of the birth of the hero, a man who discovers his true self through love, everything you want from a movie and more. It even has the perfect ending, though we’ve long suspected what it will be. The problem is that by the end we no longer care. I wonder. Perhaps these time-honored themes no longer have the power to move us as they once did.

December 29, 2008   Comments Off on The Wrestler


Over the white lake
Air alive with snow crystals
Like a thousand suns.

December 29, 2008   Comments Off on 146

Ray Johnson

During the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about Ray Johnson, who was immortalized in the documentary How to Draw a Bunny. Ray not only blurred the lines between art and life, he obliterated them in a very cool, understated way. Once he made the decision to make his life a work of art, he never got out of character, not once. Everything he did was artifice. Even his death was staged, but he told no one. Johnson left so many beautiful things behind and acted in such strange (almost prescient) ways, that those who knew him were forever altered.

December 27, 2008   Comments Off on Ray Johnson

Vicky Christina Barcelona

A typical Woody Allen film, where the characters become fragments of director’s alter ego and say the lines as if he were literally speaking through them. Nothing new here. You don’t believe the characters, you know they are made up, and yet you’re still interested in a pedestrian sort of way. Even a ménage à trois and an insanely jealous Spanish wife (played by Penélope Cruz) barely liven the proceedings. In this film Woody looks back on marriage, love, and the sexual escapades of youth, and finds it all rather droll. I would guess that only dyed-in-the-wool Woody Allen fans will love this one. Nice shots of Barcelona (and Oviedo), though.

December 27, 2008   Comments Off on Vicky Christina Barcelona

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is a jolting, fascinating, barbaric, funny, sometimes revolting roller coaster ride through modern Indian culture. Did I like it? I’m not sure. Is it worth seeing? Ask me in a couple of weeks. What I can say is that it has amazing photography, great editing, and uses a series of flashbacks that actually works.

December 25, 2008   Comments Off on Slumdog Millionaire

Dear Paul

You have done well with your life. You found the niche you sought, which seemed like a wild dream when you were young and even more strung out than me. I even tried to write a story about you, but after rewriting it several times, I finally gave up. It was impossible to capture the real you. No one would believe it.

Remember that place you had near Dinkytown, the trip we took together to Annandale, how we stopped by your dad’s house, or that time you challenged me to a race around the lake?

I’ve never forgotten that it was you who gave me your copy of Meetings with Remarkable Men when we were orderlies together, or that it was you who looked at me in amazement when I dressed down doctors (who had no idea what was happening to them) just for the hell of it. You were crazy then, and I have no doubt you’re crazy now. But does it matter? You found your niche. You’re a mensch like the rest of us.

It was never going to be easy, Paul. Did you expect that just because you are on the threshold of old age that things would change?

December 23, 2008   Comments Off on Dear Paul



This is an image from the film Twilight, which has been all over the Web.

I find it almost iconic (as I’m sure do many others) because of the expression on this young woman’s face. She’s obviously in love. She’s fascinated with this boy and willing to do anything with him. It’s what most men seek—this look of eager fascination—and what many women seek, as well—to totally adore someone. Romantic love like this only happens in youth, I think, and then slowly fades. Life intervenes—as it surely must—creating frustration and disappointment, and the look of love soon morphs into one of indifference.

I personally think that how we handle this change in our lives is what gives us value as humans. Too often, men demand what was once offered freely, and women barter their graces like so many pieces of silver.

Because they now have choices they never had before, women don’t need men for security. This is a terrifying fact for men, who are by nature more insecure. The reason is obvious. Men instinctively understand that they cannot compete with women on equal terms. Women are naturally more capable and intelligent. They’re more resourceful and better at getting their ways. This fact explains so much about modern life: the resurgence of fundamentalist religions, the attitudes of the neocons, abortion as a political issue, the bitter hatred Hillary Clinton inspires, and right wing politics in general. Birth control let the genie out of the bottle and men are desperate to put it back inside again.

Being male myself, I have strong empathy for other men. I hate what’s happened to us. I see so many dysfunctional men who have lost their identities—or are terrified of losing them—and have no clue what comes next, except utter defeat. I want to tell men who try to control their wives and girlfriends with some combination of violence and coercion how utterly insane it is to be this weak and insecure. Do you really need it so badly that you’re willing to force it on someone? It’s not worth it, man.

December 23, 2008   Comments Off on Twilight

Glenn Greenwald

No one is more incisive in his analysis of political life in the United States (not Naomi Klein, Markos, Amy Goodman, Digby, or the venerable Noam Chomsky) than Glenn Greenwald, the author and lawyer who writes a column for Salon ( practically everyday. He really gets to the nub of things. For example, today he reiterated what we’ve known for some time (which the unrepentant Cheney came right out and said the other day)—that the Democratic leaders knew and approved of warrantless wiretapping (and torture, one assumes) and insisted on complete privacy. They said, okay fine, do it, but don’t tell us about it. Of course, this is one of the reasons the telecoms were given immunity from prosecution and, undoubtedly, one of the reasons George Bush was not impeached. The Democrats were complicit in his actions.

One of Chomsky’s constant themes is that we’ve come a long way since the 60’s. It would have been unthinkable then for someone like Greenwald to have a national stage. The decades of coverup are slowly being exposed (though only with great resistance), and we’re closer now to having the real facts on any issue (like Iraq or global warming) than at any time since the end of World War II. The myths and lies are slowly being eroded. But this doesn’t mean the culture wars and the struggle for democracy will end anytime soon. There is no way of truly winning against an oligarchy which controls (mostly through financial means) almost every aspect of national life. Keeping people dumb is a necessary part of the strategy and the powers-that-be have been very successful at it so far.

December 22, 2008   Comments Off on Glenn Greenwald

Ricardo Bloch and Chestnut Pastries

If you’re interested in seeing a new image of Paris each day, check out Ricardo Bloch’s website ( He lives with his wife and daughter in one of those rambling old Paris apartments and has made a vow to put up a new photo every day, rain or shine, in sickness or in health, until death do us part. When we visited him, he served us these delicious French chestnut-shaped pastries.

(Photograph © Rebecca Alm, distributed via Creative Commons)

December 22, 2008   Comments Off on Ricardo Bloch and Chestnut Pastries

Paper Boy

For a couple of years I was the paper boy of my small southern Minnesota town. It was a job I coveted because I knew the older boys who had carried Minneapolis Star and the Sunday Tribune before me. It was an honor to do it. Money was a secondary issue. I wasn’t a bad paper boy, though I could sometimes be unreliable, as when I waited to deliver the afternoon paper until I finished our communal football or baseball game, or on Sundays, when I sometimes slept in. When the phone rang, I’d wake up with a start and rush to deliver the papers on my bicycle with its large specially designed rack in front. I hated the daily routine of having a fixed obligation, but, because I had to find new customers and collect from the ones I already had, I got a chance to see how people were living and learned firsthand how hard it is to get money out of certain individuals, who, regardless of how wealthy, insist on being several weeks in arrears.

Because of my early association with the Star and Tribune, it’s difficult watching what has happened to the paper now, when the current owners seem to be sacrificing journalism for readership. Some articles are so poorly written they’re almost impossible to decipher, and, of course, the paper has now begun catering to the right wing. A case in point. Before the last election, a temporary St. Olaf College prof proclaimed in his blog that he had stolen Republican yard signs. Discovering this, the Strib wrote an article about this misguided soul and left it in a prominent place in its online edition for days. When he resigned from the college (because of the “outrage” the Strib’s article created), the paper wrote another piece about this, as well, which stayed on their website for almost as long. Of course, this is hardly news and is exactly the kind of vindictive thing that wingnuts do.

This is not to say that the Strib has not done fine pieces on such topics as the famous bridge collapse or the largess of Coleman’s friends. But the journalistic core of the paper is gone and it’s sad because the results are there for all to see.

December 22, 2008   Comments Off on Paper Boy