Monday, July 25, 2011

Poetry Monday (Shameless Plug Version)

Poetry Monday is all about me today. The Atlantic Summer Fiction Issue just came out and I have two poems in it, under the collective heading of Twin Bill. You can read them here. Or you can buy the very attractive paper version at a local newsstand.

The poems--"The Thirty-Nine Steps" and "The Birds"--are part of a series of 53 sonnets, one for each of Alfred Hitchcock's films. The collection is tentatively entitled Unsolved Pictures.

Here's one more for you:


The ghosts arrive each cocktail hour,
Drink gin as sheer as mist and stay past dawn.
Down seesaw streets they scatter
Just to burn away in California’s sun.

Some writer somewhere said the past
Is never dead. He was righter than the rain.
My mind is packed with uninvited guests.
The wind plays requiems for nuns.

But she will stay when all the rest have left,
When the whiskey’s gone, the windows shut
Against the morning air. She’ll be the last

To leave, in shadows of a sea-green dress.
She whispers when I sleep. Never dead,
Never dead. And never past, never past.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Damned (1952)

JDM's best-selling novel--it sold about two and half million copies, more than any single Travis McGee and more than Condominium, which was on the NYT best-seller list for six months. It's a portmanteau, profiling a number of different travelers all stuck in Mexico, awaiting a river ferry that has run aground. There are some interesting moments, mostly interior monologues that delve into the psychology of the varying stranded passengers. It's a seedy bunch in general: wanton woman and impulsive men. Despite its huge success I found this novel pretty disappointing. It was clearly an attempt at a critic-pleasing big-ideas book and it felt very over-written, contrived, and heavy-handed. I slogged through it, glad it was only 175 pages. It's shocking to me that this book was as big as it was but it's completely forgotten now. Maybe for the best. Can't win 'em all.

Friends With Benefits

It gets the important part right: the two leads, Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, have chemistry, comic timing, and, most importantly, distinctive personalities. They make sense together. That the film weighs far too heavily on romantic comedy cliches and is about as predictable as a slasher flick is a secondary problem but for me it was a problem. I think it could have been a better film with some minor tweaks, and the director Will Gluck tries too hard for a frenetic screwball-y feel, especially in the first twenty minutes, the weakest part of the film.

Charlene says: Funny and sexy and air-conditioning. What's not to like.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Despite box office reports to the contrary these films were not everyone's cup of tea. But even if you somehow don't love witches and wizards and wizarding schools there is absolutely no denying the accomplishment of this series of films. It's unprecedented: Eight films with the same cast and the same quality, telling one story, and the films get better as they go along. It will probably never happen again. Movie history.

Film Frames Friday

Hint: Location, location, location.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gavin and Stacey

This is my summer of Rob Brydon, I guess. I loved him in The Trip but that's nothing to how much I love him as Uncle Bryn in the excellent UK sitcom Gavin and Stacey. He's my favorite character in a cast of characters that are all pretty fantastic. I've only watched the first series: the first two episodes were good but the next four were brilliant. And like many British television series it tells a story with a beginning and an end.

The show (twenty episodes in all) was written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who play Smithy and Nessa, the two best friends of the title characters. It strikes that perfect middle-ground between kitchen sink realism and farce.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poetry Monday

Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows

by Sylvia Plath

There, spring lambs jam the sheepfold. In air
Stilled, silvered as water in a glass
Nothing is big or far.
The small shrew chitters from its wilderness
Of grassheads and is heard.
Each thumb-sized bird
Fits nimble-winged in thickets, and of good color.

Cloudrack and owl-hollowed willows slanting over
The bland Granta double their white and green
World under the sheer water
And ride that flux at anchor, upside down.
The punter sinks his pole.
In Byron's pool

Cattails part where the tame cygnets steer.

It is a country on a nursery plate.
Spotted cows revolve their jaws and crop
Red clover or gnaw beetroot
Bellied on a nimbus of sun-glazed buttercup.
Hedging meadows of benign
Arcadian green
The blood-berried hawthorn hides its spines with white.

Droll, vegetarian, the water rat
Saws down a reed and swims from his limber grove,
While the students stroll or sit,
Hands laced, in a moony indolence of love--
Black-gowned, but unaware
How in such mild air
The owl shall stoop from his turret, the rat cry out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Moneypenny ... Miss Moneypenny

The lovely Naomie Harris will be playing Miss Moneypenny in the next Bond flick, due in November of 2012. While I love the direction of the Daniel Craig Bond films (well, loved Casino Royale and only really liked Quantum of Solace) I would like to see the series become a little less angsty and more Bond-like. Bringing Moneypenny back is a good first step. Maybe throw in one quip? A ski chase? And how about Daniel Craig in a baby blue terrycloth romper a la Goldfinger? One can dream.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poetry Monday


by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen; this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Report

I'm behind on my book reviews but I have been doing some extremely enjoyable summer reading. Some of it has been done on a beach but, truth be told, most of it has been done with me cozied up to an air-conditioning unit.

One Across, Two Down (1971)
A lazy sad sack in suburban England plots to murder his mother-in-law. Very few of the characters are likable but Ruth Rendell is so masterful that this will-he-get-away-with-it is completely absorbing.

The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968)
An excellent McGee novel by John D. Great bad guy, good location, lots o' ladies. I'm sure I read this before when I was 14 but I was glad to read it again.

Nightmare in Pink (1964)
Pretty sure I've never read this McGee. I thought it was just okay but didn't know while I was reading it that it was the second novel. I changed my tune a little: the novel sets the tone for some of the tropes that John D. perfected later. Plus, the "shock corridor" third act twist in this book is both ludicrous and a lot of fun.

Loot (1999)
A very enjoyable art-heist thriller that takes place partly in Boston. It's one of those mysteries that manages to be a history lesson at the same, detailing the complicated process of returning looted art to their rightful owners after World War II.

The Last One Left (1967)
Slow-going at first this book escalates into one of MacDonald's best. It's full of multiple perspectives and time-jumps, and has one of MacDonald's nastiest villains ever: Chrissy Harkinson, an aging gold-digger going for one last big score.