The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — October 2009


The evening light
That desaturates the world
To dark silhouettes.

October 29, 2009   Comments Off on 228

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

Friday Night Lights, the series so good it wouldn’t die, is back on television for its fourth season. If you don’t already know, it’s about a small city in Texas where football rules. If this seems like a strange proposition, you don’t know Texas, which is the most football-mad place on earth. Luckily, the series really isn’t about Texas or football, as much as it is an examination of the myths that cause Americans to think and act the way we do. For example, most of us have a deep-seated sense of justice (despite the craziness of American politics), a belief in raising oneself by one’s bootstraps, a respect for religion, and a belief that love and brotherhood are more important than money. I know this doesn’t always jive with the way we act, especially internationally, but we really do believe these things. Thus, Dillon, Texas is a microcosm of America and, as such, a reflection of who we are—hardworking, ambitious, often poor, racially mixed, living alone or with broken relationships, but, nevertheless, idealistic, often principled, and with good hearts.

FridayHaving played high school football myself, I can relate to the love, loyalty, and special feelings engendered by playing on Friday nights under the lights in a small city stadium where everybody knows you. If you make a tackle, you get mentioned by name on the radio, and if you have a particularly good game, you may find a small blurb about yourself in the Saturday paper. There is nothing better than beating your hated rival, and nothing worse than losing to them.

Of course, most of this is gone from American life. Dillon, Texas is a place that no longer exists except in memory. Urbanization and the mass media have removed almost all traces of what made small town life so vital in America. Now, too often, religious bigotry and social conservatism are the defacto standard for everyone. But it was not always so. Friday Night Lights is a reminder that we really cared about one another once and that our hometowns were complete worlds, sufficient unto themselves.

October 29, 2009   Comments Off on Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

Independence and Ingenuity

I do love shops that are independent, locally owned, and not associated with regional or national chains. You get to know the owners and can have a relationship that extends beyond the cash register. Two such shops, located side by side in St. Anthony village in St. Paul, are The Little Wine Shoppe and Micawber’s Books.

Since Jeff was a bit late opening the wine shop, I bought a book at Micawber’s and had a chance to chat with an interesting woman about two children’s books she had written and published. She showed me the second one, which was richly illustrated by a Parisian artist and published by a prominent international firm. Her success was serendipitous. She applied for a McKnight through The Loft (a local writers’ collective), and although she didn’t get the McKnight, one of the judges liked her work and remembered her.

Jeff was in a good mood and sold me a case of Two Hearted Ale, a hoppy, IPA-like ale brewed in Kalamazoo. It’s floral, citrusy, and a hundred times better than anything you can get in Europe (excluding Belgium, of course, which has the best ales in the world). God bless American independence and ingenuity. I’m talking about the real thing here. Not the manufactured version advertised by major corporations or our government to sell their products or the latest war. I mean real people willing to risk everything for a dream.

October 29, 2009   Comments Off on Independence and Ingenuity


Like two swans mated for life
Swimming side by side.

October 28, 2009   Comments Off on 227

Michael Owen


If Wayne Rooney had Michael Owen’s football brain, he would score 40 goals a year. Owen always puts himself into positions to receive simple balls that put him one-on-one with the keeper. He does it on every possession, tirelessly, over and over again. When he does manage to get in, he passes to the back of the net, or tries to. Owen makes it look so easy. He’s not trying to be Ronaldo; he’s not trying to do it all himself; he’s not picking a fight with every defender who chops him. He knows exactly who he is–a striker, pure and simple, in the Gerd Müller mold. Hopefully, some day soon, he will return to his best form and prove that it was a mistake to write him off.

October 28, 2009   1 Comment



The BBC’s latest production of Emma is first rate, mostly because Romola Garai’s version of the witty, haplessly naive, and endlessly inventive Emma is so fabulously believable. Her every expression brings Jane Austen’s character fully to the screen. Of course, it is the classic story of the matchmaker who discovers love herself only when she becomes jealous of her friend for whom she had arranged a series of fruitless matches. It’s all very charming, though it casts a bright light on both the fickleness and ardor of a young woman’s heart.

To really appreciate the village and environs of Chilham, Kent, where the television serial was filmed, watch it in high definition if you can. This four-part BBC series is a must see.

October 28, 2009   Comments Off on Emma

In the Freud Archives

This wonderful little book by Janet Malcolm chronicles the public breakup of two scholars over control of the Freud Archives. I had no idea how nasty scholars could be toward one another (yes, I’m naive), nor how ready they are to sue when things don’t go their way until I read this book. Even the author herself was sued by one of the principles over what he said were false quotes. It took her ten years to have the suit dismissed. Luckily, she had the tapes and the transcriptions of her interviews.

Of course, we all want attention, but when you have an ego of titanic proportions and the brains to float any weird theory that pops into your head, the quest for recognition can get totally nutso. Luckily, Malcolm describes it all with such élan and freshness that we savor every moment. Not to be missed.

October 27, 2009   Comments Off on In the Freud Archives

Through the Looking Glass

I stopped at a suburban burger restaurant last night for a beer, perhaps out of nostalgia for the last time I had come twenty years before with my son. At that time, we had had a difficult conversation. He was angry and I didn’t know why.

I noticed little had changed inside—it was the same hamburger beer joint catering to families—except now a bank of electronic games filled one corner of the space. It was very noisy because of the first-person shooter games, the Star Wars console, and two games that simulated taking a sled through an arctic wasteland. Three wide-screen television sets blared NFL football games. The manager called out orders on the tinny PA system. A youth football team were there with their parents, celebrating a successful season, and some of the kids milled around in their jerseys and played the games, but never getting past the first rounds. The fathers were overweight and so were some of the boys. The machines kept asking for money. It was all very American.

I suddenly thought of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and how easy it would be for these kids to commit the kinds of acts that happened in those places. Ironically, the torture was done with loud music, degrading sexual practices, and a kind of religious fanaticism about the superiority of our culture, something these kids are exposed to on a regular basis. We live in a culture that glorifies militarism and violence. It was not a big step for the interrogators to implement the practices developed in SARS. It was as American as having a burger, watching football, and blasting aliens in a game console in a suburban restaurant.

October 26, 2009   Comments Off on Through the Looking Glass

Master and Commander


When I first came to England from the Continent as a young man and found my way to Cambridge, the woman who owned the house where I was to have my bed-sitter opened the door and exclaimed that I had just returned from the sea, that I was a man of adventure and romance, a man of mystery. It was unsettling because she had never set eyes on me before. I decided she was nuts. I hated the sea. Luckily, the hovercraft I took from Ostend to Dover ignored the waves entirely and contented itself with floating above them.

Despite this, my favorite Russell Crowe film is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a brilliant retelling of three of Patrick O’Brian’s historical novels about the sea. Crowe makes a wonderfully believable hero, and his Captain Aubrey of the British man-of-war HMS Surprise survives two vicious attacks and ultimately defeats the French vessel Acheron because of his heroism and cunning. The film is like Das Boot in a wooden man-of-war rather than in the belly of a U-boat. But it is just as dangerous and intriguing. As captivating and exciting. The producers lavished $150 million on the production, the ship is totally real, the supporting cast is excellent, and, as a result, the viewer truly feels part of the experience of being on a British ship defending the empire against Napoleon.

If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the DVD. One warning, though: there’s nary a woman in sight. The only romance here is love of the sea. But on the plus side there are extensive shots of the Galápagos Islands.

October 23, 2009   Comments Off on Master and Commander


The New York Times has an amusing article in its online edition today entitled “The Cell Refuseniks” about Americans (now only 15% of us) who resist having cell phones in our lives. The article states that…“Those who still do not have them, according to Pew, tend to be older or less educated Americans or those unable to afford phones. ‘These are people who have a bunch of other struggles in their lives and the expense of maintaining technology and mastering it is also pretty significant for them,’ said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project.”

Not sure I fit into that category, but maybe I do.

Then the article goes on to say…“But there is also a smaller subset of adults who resist cellphones simply because they do not want them. They resent the way that ring tones, tiny keyboards and screens disrupt face-to-face conversation. They savor their moments alone and prize the fact that no one knows how to reach them.” The consumer research director of the National Broadband Task Force is quoted as saying, “These cellphone ‘refuseniks’ probably account for less than 5 percent of those who do not have cellphones.”

The article made me smile. These are my sentiments exactly. I’ve never minded being in the minority, even a minority of one. How very sweet it is to be uninterruptable.

October 23, 2009   Comments Off on Uninterruptable