Sunday, August 28, 2016
Ann Beattie explores lifestyles of the young, urban, and sexually active in this chilly story of the summertime of life. They are all in their late 20s or 30s. The fact that it's a little dated helps to blunt the assault, but not by much. It's appalling the way these friends treat each other. That's the point, of course, and it works. It's strong medicine, in fact. Nick is in love with Karen, who is a few years older, with whom he's had a poorly defined sexual relationship for seven years. "Open" seems to cover it, but nothing so blatant is ever discussed. Now she mostly sees older men and does a bit of treasure hunting. Nick is seeing a woman named Petra but they don't appear to like one another. But Petra gets mad, understandably, when Karen lures Nick away from one of their dates. A married couple, Sammy and Stephanie, have relocated to Virginia, but their disagreements about having a child moved with them. Suddenly Stephanie is pregnant, an accident. She's going to keep the child. Then she isn't. She needs to come up to New York to see Nick. It's a sad parade. These people can't sustain long-term friendships, and they tend to want instead to sexualize them. What they don't have is what they must have. What they do have is devalued by their having it. Everything is always a mess in their lives, though they are privileged enough that necessities of survival rarely impinge on their fugue states. They can throw fits of pique and disappear to the Bahamas for a week or two. At one point Nick tells Karen she is his oldest friend, which shocks her because they've only known each other seven years. So it goes. Even with total inabilities to make commitments, the people in this story are continually making commitments, usually to others they don't know well. They fail. They fail again. They keep trying because it's easier than trying to understand their own self-sabotage. They are not friends to one another so much as witnesses, who wish very much that they didn't have to look. It's dated, but as I say that's also a mercy.
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Friday, August 26, 2016
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan
Photography: Christos Voudouris
Music: Graham Reynolds
Editor: Sandra Adair
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
The third installment of the Before series, which has increasingly become a collaboration by director and cowriter Richard Linklater and its two stars, Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine, is probably the weakest. Thirds in sequels usually do poorly as movies, but that's not exactly the problem, partly because this is not a typical series. Before Midnight certainly has some of the strongest scenes of any of them. But the ending is hard to believe, flipping an unlikely switch out of the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? territory it has wandered at deepest levels and into sparkly upbeat, in order, one suspects, to help guarantee another installment (providing everyone makes it another nine years). It's a bit of a fairy tale, in other words, and not in a good way or one that really works with the title. Jesse and Celine are more like pumpkins until midnight, at which point they become a prince and a beautiful love relationship with glass slipper, etc. Maybe—it's also ambiguous, as all the endings are.
I should say I've never liked Before Sunrise that much, which possibly leaves me with just the second, Before Sunset. I had to check it out again this week just to be sure it's as good as I remember. It is. The strength of the later movies is that they look like real relationships. Before Sunset has a good deal of hope and an ingenious way to make it believable, with a relationship renewed before our eyes. In Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are married, with twin girls, and settled after nine years into a comfortable life—conventional bohemian bourgeois, more or less, on vacation in the summer in Greece. Dig the scenery.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Sunday, August 21, 2016
In case it's not at the library.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: John Steinbeck, Paul Osborn
Photography: Ted D. McCord
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Editor: Owen Marks
Cast: James Dean, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Julie Harris, Dick Davalos, Burl Ives, Albert Dekker, Barbara Baxley, Harold Gordon
It's probably not possible to overstate the self-importance of East of Eden. It's less than two hours, with no intermission, but somehow merits an overture, pounding away on Leonard Rosenman's swelling theme, which appears throughout the picture, including characters randomly humming it. The story makes heavy-handed and obvious references to the Bible, Freud, and Marx, occasionally juggling all three at once like a circus clown. And the humor is sparing, if it's there at all. It's also the debut of James Dean, pushing method acting front and center in this hothouse Oedipal tale of fraught family relations.
Yet it works—another masterpiece by director Elia Kazan and one of the most powerful movies made about all the very many issues it wants to get to, clutching at them furiously like some beast in a bathrobe bursting into Walmart at 5 a.m. for the sale: sin, redemption, father love, mother love, brother love, capital, labor relations, war and profiteering, immigration tension (against German-Americans, as this is set in World War I times), greed, honor, lust, and other mortal sins, plus the wages of corrosive bitterness. The real miracle is that it does work.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
"interlocutor" count = 0 / 17 pages
In case it's not at the library. (Library of America)
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Friday, August 12, 2016
Director/writer: Ingmar Bergman
Photography: Gunnar Fischer
Music: Erik Nordgren
Editor: Lennart Wallen
Cast: Max von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom
In spite of The Seventh Seal being so ripe for parody—and only more so as the years pass—I have never tired of sitting down for another look at it. From the powerful opening sound and images to the final resolution, director and writer Ingmar Bergman's robust and portentous contemplation of death is actually much more lively, varied, and interesting than the heavy-handed metaphors for which it is famous, e.g., especially, the game of chess between a knight returned to Sweden from Crusades-related activity versus Death personified, a kind of Uncle Fester figure in pasty make-up and form-concealing black drapery. Even the game of chess itself is more interesting than you would expect.
But the only notes I made when I looked at it again recently are as follows: "Fear of death." An old friend of mine died last month. Not anyone so close now, but a good friend in the past. More recently he and I seemed part of a broader phenomenon of reconnections made via social media. Many describe a similar arc. Several years ago, after tracing the webs of mutual friends and friending (that exciting gerund) this new way on Facebook, we had a few conversations on the phone and felt good about being in touch again. Not long after that, we started getting on one another's nerves again. So it goes. We weren't on the best terms when word got to me that he was gone.
Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Reviewed by Andrew Hamlin in City Living Seattle
Featured at Balloon Juice
Interview with Scott Woods at and you can dance to it
Reviewed by Phil Dellio
Reviewed in Steven Rubio's Online Life
As mentioned earlier this year, I've published a book, which can now be purchased on Amazon. It's available as a trade paperback or in a kindle edition. You should also be able to order the paperback through your local bookstore. The book is a collection of pieces—about three-quarters appeared originally on this blog and the rest are older ones I've written since 1996. Get your copy today and tell everybody you know all about it. While you're at it get a copy of my first book too. Thanks to all of you for reading this blog.
Monday, August 08, 2016
Sunday, August 07, 2016
Half Magic. The magic in Eager's books is always a little tricky. Barnaby, the oldest boy and leader of the gang, outlines his theory of the practical applications: "learn its rules and tame it and make the most of it." At 8, I was envious of kids like this in books like this and went out riding my bike around but never found any mysteries or magic the way Nancy Drew or these kids do. As a grown-up, I can better appreciate what a careful and precise writer Eager is, which helps ground all the weird stuff. But it's pretty good weird stuff—almost meta, you might say. Or recycling, if you were in a less charitable mood. On one of their adventures, for example, they encounter the girl who finds the coin at the end of Half Magic, and we get a revisit with that difficult magic, in which you only get half of what you wish for, so you have to think carefully about what to multiply by two. The girl is minding her baby brother and wanted to go into future times and meet children there, but she forgot to include her brother in the wish. When she tries to correct the mistake, what appears is a full-grown man of 37 who is dressed and can speak. And this is what he says: "I know you now. You're that big one that keeps picking me up and carrying me away just when it's getting interesting and putting me to bed. But never again any more of that from now on!" So, yes, apparently some kind of hideous man / baby hybrid that dresses and talks like a man but behaves like a selfish baby. Insert endless obvious jokes here. Eager reminds me a little of Philip K. Dick, and even more of Fredric Brown, with characters and settings and events that occupy their own universe, ahead of us a step and a half and throwing back bewildering developments to distract, or for some reason. Except Eager intended his work strictly for kids, and made a point, as here, of calling out the writers he considered better than himself, such as his beloved E. Nesbit. The result is actually very charming.
In case it's not at the library.
In case it's not at the library.