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



Though it stars Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, and Powers Booth, all very good actors, the movie Frailty is overly long and didactic. It’s message is too obvious, almost in your face. It’s about a Texas father with two young sons who receives a vision from an angel telling him to destroy demons. With the aid of his sons, one of whom resists, he captures and kills whomever the angel puts on his list. In other words, he becomes a serial killer. Despite its shortcomings, however, the film contains an important parable.

Once the father dies, the two sons continue his mission. They are, of course, hysterical paranoids of the religious variety. A type of person who is now rather too common in the world—someone who trusts faith over reason, who believes he speaks with (and for) God, and who is willing to kill in the name of his faith.

While watching the film, I was reminded of a new slogan that has begun appearing on bumper stickers in this country: “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8.” When you open the Bible, you find that this particular verse reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” Of course, the message is not hard to decipher. It is an advertisement for killers.

November 19, 2009   Comments Off on Frailty

Mary Hamilton


I woke up hearing Joan Baez sing “Mary Hamilton” this morning. Not on the radio or on cd, but in my head. It was a song from one of her first albums, when her voice and temperament were so pure. Neither before nor since has a female artist sang an English ballad with such perfection, except, perhaps, Sandy Denny.

Last night there were four marys
Tonight there’ll be but three
It was Mary Beaton and Mary Seton
And Mary Carmichael and me.

When I first started listening to Joan Baez, I didn’t know that so much emotion could be packed into a ballad. These ballads are the last of the English oral tradition. I soon learned that they were made like water shaping stone, through thousands of repetitions that create ellipsis and understatement that are more moving than openly expressed grief. It is Mary Hamilton’s restraint and dignity we admire. Of course, no one understands pain the way a woman does. It is part of her life, and she accepts it in a manner that no man can.

I’d play you the song, but it’s not worth the risk. One never knows when the rabid wolves of the music industry will strike. Still, it’s a simple download from Amazon or iTunes and well worth the price.

November 18, 2009   Comments Off on Mary Hamilton

Morning Image


This morning, for some reason, I had the impulse to capture this image, though the result isn’t quite what I wanted. It’s a blurred flower in a shot glass facing the morning. It’s how I felt when I got up. Too much sleep perhaps.

November 17, 2009   Comments Off on Morning Image

No vale nada

The entry entitled “Ghost Dog” below may seem like a poem, but it’s actually a review of Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, The Limits of Control, another in a series of beautiful, empty pieces by the auteur signifying nothing. Of course, that is the whole point. The message isn’t conveyed by the film, it is embedded in it. Luckily, Jarmusch has a cult following (I number myself among them), otherwise, he would have to fall back on his music. So, it only seemed natural to write my review of his elliptic, repetitive film as a garbled poem.

November 16, 2009   Comments Off on No vale nada

Cindy Lauper and Windows 7

I feel like Cindy Lauper. Grey is my new black. After only a few days, I managed to corrupt my copy of Windows 7. Hey, it’s a talent, not a shortcoming. I tend to do everything wrong the first time. Windows got to the point where it wouldn’t even recognize its own Windows Live programs. So, of course, I had no choice but to rebuilt the system from scratch.

I enlisted the aid of Dell, though it wasn’t hard. You simply bring up your machine in safe mood and nuke it. It was the weekend, so the support guy was probably from the Philippines. He was very polite and smart. Interestingly, he used my moment of vulnerability to try and sell me extended software support. “I’ll talk to my manager and get you a better price,” he said, while I started laughing in the background. There are no depths to which some companies will not go to sell you stuff. I declined. When I inquired about Rapidboost, a facility for supposedly speeding up disk access, he tried to sell me a new card reader for various kinds of media. “Hey,” I asked, “what about the four card reader slots on the front of the computer? Or using USB?” He had no answer for this, but I didn’t blame him. He probably gets a commission on everything he sells.

Of course, the real fun began when I reinstalled my programs and customized Firefox. You never realize how much shit you have on your computer until you rebuilt it. It took hours. Probably not unlike the routine Cindy goes through with her makeup.

November 16, 2009   Comments Off on Cindy Lauper and Windows 7

Ghost Dog

Definitely an acquired taste,
Drinking two identical cups of espresso
Unable to speak the language
Totally alone
Practicing tai chi chuan
Imagining he’s a samurai
At the limits of control,
Strange constipation in which
He almost passes out two or three times,
Though once it starts
It can never be stopped,
Modern life
With its symbols that mean nothing
Its exquisite cinematography,
Its repetitive dialogue trivializing what was once profound,
Characters with whom we have no real connection
A helicopter clattering overhead
Stopping traffic so He can pass by—
And though it never happens in the same way,
And it doesn’t matter how I frame it,
La vida no vale nada.

November 15, 2009   Comments Off on Ghost Dog


Ball of cockleburs
Rolling across the cold ground
Like a tumbleweed.

November 15, 2009   Comments Off on 233


The funniest and, therefore, the best werewolf film ever made was directed by Mike Nichols in 1994 and aptly named Wolf. It was all done tongue-in-cheek and starred Jack Nicholson before he grew too fat and old to be a convincing werewolf. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, and Christopher Plummer in the supporting roles. I love this picture of Nicholson below. With those eyes he makes the perfect werewolf.


November 15, 2009   Comments Off on Wolf

Football Rankings (Un-FIFA-Style)

Nate Silver, the statistics guru of baseball,, and political polling fame (he nailed the last presidential election) has worked with SI to redefine world football rankings. He calls his scheme the Soccer Power Index (SPI). His results are here.

Intuitively, they seems much more accurate than FIFA’s. Naturally, Brasil and Spain are rated first and second, England is rated third, and the United States fourteenth. Nate says the SPI is designed to be predictive. Of course, anything can happen on a football pitch, but it will be interesting to see how well it predicts the winner of next summer’s World Cup, or, for that matter, next Wednesday’s match between the U.S. and Denmark, which is listed in twenty-first place in the SPI. Go Nate!

November 12, 2009   Comments Off on Football Rankings (Un-FIFA-Style)

Jon Champion

Jon Champion does the play-by-play commentary on ESPN for their allotment of English football matches. I must admit I often enjoy listening to him more than watching the matches. His sharp Shakespearean wit often leaves me amused or laughing in amazement. For example, David N’Gog’s first goal against Birmingham City came after a furious goal mouth attack that ended with N’Gog’s “coruscating” volley. I’m going, “What the hell?” and then, “What does coruscating mean?” Of course, after looking it up, I found that it signifies “brilliant in technique or style.” Which was exactly what N’Gog’s volley was—coruscating. It crashed into the underside of the net before anyone, except N’Gog, knew what had happened.

Of course, there are better, most amusing examples of Champion’s wit. From the same game, he comments, “Spectators rise from their seats at the Kop end. The last bastion of Liverpool faith.” Of course, this is a satirical comment on Liverpool’s season. The Reds have five losses in the league so far and lie seventh in the table—hardly where the fans and the pundits expected them to be. The implication is that only the most die-hard of fans would continue to support Rafa. Then there is this comment: “Birmingham come here hoping to prey on frail bodies and frayed nerves.” This is amusing because Liverpool’s two major players are injured. Then, while talking about Birmingham’s season before last (when they went down), he comments, “One of the reasons Birmingham were banished below stairs for a season.” The expression “banished below stairs” is very amusing in this context. It implies servants sent to their space in the lower part of the house. Never would you hear this kind of talk from a commentator of American football or baseball, where the announcers are always macho and totally serious. When Agger and Škrtel come into the box on a free kick, he says, “Here come the heavy mod.” It’s all so funny.

I wonder what an American audience makes of the very English Jon Champion.

November 11, 2009   Comments Off on Jon Champion