Monday, February 27, 2012


An old-fashioned straight-ahead genre picture about two brothers each competing for a big prize in a mixed-martial arts competition. There's nothing fancy here but it's about character and adversity and the fight scenes are both brutal and entertaining and the acting is excellent. There are some hokey moments but I think the movie earns them.

Side note: This film did not do well at the box office but in about six months it's going to start making the rounds on some network like TNT or USA and it's going to get more and more popular. Trust me on this. It's exciting to watch but it's also timely: one brother is suffering PTSD from the Iraq war and the other is struggling to keep the bank from foreclosing on his house. This is a genuine film about up-to-date issues.

Nick Nolte was good as the alcoholic father but if I had to pick my favorite performances I'd pick Joel Edgerton as the family-man brother and Frank Grillo as his unorthodox coach.

Poetry Monday

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specifically want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They  never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Remarkable Intruder

I've always been a fan of the novella, especially in genre fiction, where the suspense and/or conceit can start running thin after about two hundred pages. The problem with the novella is in publishing one. They are too short to be novels and generally too long to sell as short-stories to magazines. As for the web, most venues have incredibly short word-counts for stories, some sites requesting that stories be in the 1000 - 2000 word length.

Not so at Mysterical-E, an excellent (I'm biased) e-zine that regularly publishes long stories, novel excerpts, and novellas. Their new issue is out and my novella, The Remarkable Intruder, is in it. I wrote this a couple of years ago: it's a comic-mystery with a modern day Holmes and Watson named Tommy and Miles, two friends from college. Miles is the stay-at-home genius and Tommy is the girl-crazy gadabout that tells the tales. I was going for a tone that was half Arthur Conan Doyle and part P. G. Wodehouse, and wound up, of course, with all Swanson, massively inferior.

Anyway, the excellent folks at Mysterical-E were kind enough to publish it, along with having published my only other stab at the Novella, The Girl With the Clock For a Heart.

So click on over and read the story if you have time and/or the inclination. Thanks.

Film Frames Friday

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Woman in Black

This could have been a much better movie simply with a different edit. The production design is excellent, the performances are all good, and this is a genuinely decent haunted house story. What kills this film is the sheer exhausting number of fake shocks, all scored with screeching violins. I also think that the ghostly presence is revealed way too soon. Why do modern films seem so petrified of boring their audiences? If they had had just a little more patience in this film then some of the big scares would have been so much scarier. As it was, an enjoyable Victorian ghost story.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Even if you are not familiar with cinematographer Jack Cardiff's incredible technicolor work, this is an excellent documentary. It treats him as an artist, someone who mastered a new medium by applying the aesthetics of paint. He's a remarkable man, who spent about eighty years in the film business. I am particularly in love with the work he did with Powell and Pressburger. Black Narcisuss is a moving painting, a masterpiece. Some shots below.

Poetry Monday


by Richard Aldington

The chimneys, rank on rank,
Cut the clear sky;
The moon,
With a rag of gauze about her loins
Poses among them, an awkward Venus –

And here am I looking wantonly at her
Over the kitchen sink.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Last Holiday (1950)

Alec Guinness plays George Bird, a mild-mannered agricultural equipment salesman who is diagnosed with the incurable Lampington's Disease, and given just weeks to live. He takes his savings out and books himself in at posh seaside resort. The rest is a combination of gentle comedy and some not so gentle observation. Guinness is perfect, and the movie is nearly perfect as well, filled with fine little performances from the likes of Wilfrid Hyde-White and Bernard Lee.

This was remade a few years ago with Queen Latifah. I haven't seen it but from what I hear it's not worth the effort. Besides, and this is a little spoiler-ish, there are some major differences involving the endings of the films, one of them being on the darker side and one of them being on the lighter side. See if you can figure out which one is which.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Moving Toyshop (1946)

This one's been on my radar for a while. It makes many a best mysteries of all time list and is a particular favorite of P. D. James. It also happens to be dedicated to Philip Larkin, which puts it in excellent company with Lucky Jim, the only other book I know dedicated to my favorite poet.

Edmund Crispin is the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, an Oxford friend of Larkin's. The book is very much a comedy mystery in which a pre-war poet and professor uncover a just barely-believable crime. It's very dry, and a little too ridiculous for my tastes but I enjoyed it, especially some of the literary banter.

Interesting note: the penultimate chapter involves a chase in which the murderer is cornered on an out-of-control Merry Go Round. Hitchcock clearly ripped this off for his ending of Strangers on a Train, even the part with the conductor sliding underneath to get to the shut-off mechanism. Did Crispin get any credit for this, I wonder.

Film Frames Friday

Hint: Not just the master but also the master of the establishing shot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Grey

Less about survival and more about death. Specifically, the different ways in which the handful of survivors from an oil company plane wreck deal with that particular subject after crashing into an arctic wasteland that also happens to be territory protected by wolves. Liam Neeson is excellent as the toughest and the most knowledgeable of the group. That doesn't mean he doesn't take a beating. It's grim, and works a little too hard at being existential, but I thought it was riveting. My bones stayed cold for a while after I saw it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Ten Favorite Romantic Films

For Valentine's Day, natch. Picking romantic films is kind of like talking about what makes you laugh--you can't really argue it. You just either feel it or you don't.

And just to clarify, these films contain my favorite romances, and are not necessarily my favorite romantic films. There's a slight difference. For example, I love Four Weddings and a Funeral, and it's a romantic comedy, but I don't really love the romance in it.

10. Casablanca
The true romance in this one is between Bogart and Claude Raines but the Ingrid Bergman sub-plot is none too shabby.

9. Witness
There need to be more sexy Amish films, I think.

8. Brief Encounter
The greatest kitchen-sink romance, and a truly sad film.

7. The Awful Truth
My vote for greatest re-marriage comedy from the golden age. Perfect chemistry between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.

6. The Wings of the Dove
A doomed romance, and one of the bleakest sex scenes put on film. The anti-romance romance, and one of Helena Bonham Carter's great performances.

5. I Know Where I'm Going!
As much about falling in love with a place as a person.

4. The Sure Thing
Essentially a remake of number two on this list. My favorite Cusack romance. Yes, I know you prefer Say Anything.

3. Persuason
My favorite Austen, and my favorite Austen adaptation. Contains one of the great romantic moments, the letter slid across the table.

2. It Happened One Night
My favorite romantic comedy of all time. Colbert and Gable have unrivaled comedic and romantic chemistry.

1. Notorious
This flawless movie contains a fairly perverse romantic relationship. Cary Grant, unable to confess his love for Ingrid Bergman, sends her to seduce and marry a Nazi (the sympathetic Claude Rains). The kiss outside of the wine cellar is, to me, the pinnacle of screen romance.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Kim Novak

Poetry Monday

Another Valentine

by Wendy Cope

Today we are obliged to be romantic
And think of yet another valentine.
We know the rules and we are both pedantic:
Today’s the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Decoy Bride

Drawn by an irrational attraction to romantic comedies set on the Western coast of Scotland I watched this On Demand last night. It stars the lovely Kelly MacDonald as the youngest inhabitant of the island of Hegg, which is suddenly inundated due to a celebrity wedding. MacDonald is picked to be the titular decoy bride, meets David Tennant, and, yeah, you know what happens.

There's a scene in this film when Tennant, a novelist marrying the world biggest movie star (English Alice Eve playing an American in an English film), stumbles into the cottage of an elderly deaf couple. They mistake him for a famous bagpiper (something to do with what he's wearing) and he fakes that he's playing their bagpipe while they dance together. This would undoubtedly be the worst scene in many a film. It was the best scene in this one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Last Night at the Lobster

A novella, really, packaged as a book. I don't really know why I read this but it caught my eye at the library. I don't have a lot of interest in contemporary realist fiction but I did like the idea that this book chronicled the final business day of a Red Lobster in Connecticut. And it was an okay book. Faint praise, I know, but that's all I can give this one. It got its details right (i.e. the author seemed to know what it's like to run a chain restaurant) but that was about it.

Film Frames Friday