Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Staycation movie reviews

Things have been mighty quiet here at the Sound and Fury office ever since the boss undertook to write a story. But if we don't turn on the heat the pipes are like to freeze, as the saying goes. So in the interlude between episodes of River, we offer up these abbreviated reviews of staycation movies.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Chalk up another for Joel and Ethan Coen. Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautifully-crafted flick with all we've come to expect from the brothers. Set in 1961 on the Greenwich Village folk music scene, the story is rich in symbolism, eccentric characters, and subtle humor. Llewyn is a young man struggling to make a career in music. He's hindered by his own personal short-comings and by a recent tragedy involving his music partner. Oscar Isaac was convincing in the title role and John Goodman delighted with his cameo as an enigmatic jazz performer. The flick is a gentle admonishment to the idealists among us: in case you're wondering, the world just doesn't give a good god-damn.

American Hustle

David O. Russell is now on my list of great directors. Just as with two of his earlier works, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, American Hustle engrosses with its gritty portrayal of Americana. The flick examines the ambiguous nature of truth through the eyes of Irving Rosenthal (masterfully played by Christian Bale), a con man in New Jersey in the late '70s and early '80s. The entire cast delivers top-knotch performances, which is a tribute to Russell's skill as a director. Add in a lively script, loaded with unexpected twists and turns and you've got a great flick. American Hustle is probably the best film I've seen this year.


Another perplexing film by Alexander Payne. (See my review of The Descendants.) Quirky, dry, and vaguely morose, Nebraska is the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an age-enfeebled auto mechanic who is determined to make his way to Nebraska to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. His long-suffering family at first attempts to dissuade him from his quixotic endeavor, but eventually his younger son, David (Will Forte), agrees to drive Woody the 850 miles to Lincoln. Their journey conveys them across both years and miles and together they confront the fading memories, good and bad, of a man near the end of his life. Despite all the critical acclaim, I didn't find this film to be exceptional. The performances worked, but didn't stand out. It's done in black-and-white which suits the landscapes it depicts, with lots of pleasingly aesthetic views of vast grain-fields and grazing cattle. But I found the story itself lacking. Not a bad flick. But not a great one, either.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese does it again. The Wolf of Wall Street is a high-intensity romp through the very worst excesses of Wall Street in the '90s. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a stock-broker who gathers a collection of fast-talking buddies to create Stratton Oakmont, a fraudulent brokerage that peddles penny stocks to gullible investors. The lucrative scheme takes Belfort to the pinnacle of financial success, but also attracts the attention of the SEC and the FBI. Belfort's personal failings compound his problems, and the whole thing unwinds as yet another demonstration of the tragic Greek hero. DiCaprio's performance is sterling, as were those of the entire cast. Jonah Hill nearly stole the show with his brilliant interpretation of Donnie Azov, Belfort's right-hand man. This flick recalled an earlier Scorsese flick, Good Fellas, in its frantic, out-of-control pace which is relentless throughout its 180 minute run-time.

Happy New Year

Well, friends, that will wrap it up for 2013. My story, River, will continue into next year, but I hope to continue with other posts as well. I'm happiest when I'm creating. Thanks for reading and my very best wishes for a fulfilling year to come.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Solstice approaching

A diffuse light spreads across the sky to the west. The sun is a flat, colorless disc.

The recently-dissipated arctic front that visited itself upon all the land leaves in its aftermath a city that is seedy and snarly and stripped of all humor.

To longingly recall those cold, austere days, sharp and bright though they were, seems foolish. There is no sense in wishing to forestall what must come. Zeus's nod is irrevocable and he nodded long ago.

People hurry from place to place with nary a smile to spare. Even the panhandlers and the clipboard-toting fundraisers are surly. I'm worried and restless.

I had grave news recently from a friend, a former lover. I mull on this as I walk in the cold. On this and on all the people who've passed. Father, family, friends. And on all the disasters narrowly avoided.

We are at the mercy of gargantuan, indifferent entities we cannot possibly understand. I grimace to remember.

Gray dusk settles onto the streets. The sun sets to the south of Council Crest. Two days off the solstice, the darkness descends.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Liberty and justice for all?

Ethan Couch: According to the State of Texas, he's the real victim.

That was the trumped up condition that Ethan Couch's high-priced lawyer coaxed out of an expert witness, psychologist Gary Miller, to explain why Couch was not responsible for his actions when he drove drunk and killed four people. In his testimony, Miller claimed that Couch suffered from "affluenza," a condition suffered by very wealthy individuals. Quoth Miller: "[Couch] never learned that sometimes you don't get your way."  (Read about it here.)

That testimony apparently satisfied Texas District Judge Jean Boyd who sentenced Couch to 10 years probation and mandatory enrollment in a California inpatient rehabilitation center. No jail time.

Apparently Couch is a victim of being too rich to know that other people matter.

Trayvon Martin: Forced George Zimmerman to shoot him to death
Unless they're black.

Not even a year ago, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black kid was walking home from the store in Sanford, Florida, when George Zimmerman, a "concerned citizen," espied and began following him. Zimmerman pursued the teen against the instructions of a 911 operator, going so far as to leave the safety of his vehicle to pursue Martin on foot. A confrontation ensued and ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin dead. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty of 2nd degree murder, determining somehow, that he had acted in self-defense.

This is our glorious justice system.

For the ultra-rich, anything goes. For the poor and racial minorities, you'd better keep your nose clean, 'cause if anybody has it in for you, all bets are off.

In America, you're presumed guilty until proven rich.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Writer's plaint

Poorly clad, I made my exercise today. The ominously-forecast Arctic front's arrived. Unseasonable, sharp, and bright.  I kept a good pace by necessity, sticking as much as possible to the sunny parts of the street.

Hustling down the south side of Hawthorne Boulevard, heading west, I met a fellow heading east. His jacket flapped in the breeze and he ambled along easily, seemingly unaware of the bitter cold. His black curls, loose and long, started high back on his forehead. His mustachioed and bearded face held a mild expression. He reminded me of someone.

Much of my walk, I ruminated on my inability, of late, to write. To write anything.

River has grown --expanded, twisted, spread out --so that I no longer feel in control of it. In its current form, what exists of the story is rough. Too rough. Its deficiencies are so offensive to my writer's aspirations that I must daily resist the urge to go back and rewrite what is already there.

The rewrite will come, but for now it is more important to complete the story arc.

It's difficult. Although I have a fairly firm idea about where the story is going, my faith in it --and in my own abilities --is failing.

The unfinished story is the monkey on my back, the glaring light that I cannot extinguish. Failure, with all its sordid affirmations, looms.

Such were my thoughts as I walked. I was nearly home when I remembered who the fellow with the open jacket brought to mind: Dave Kocka.

The way Dave died, the way he went out --God forgive me --I resent him for it. It was such a half-assed way to go.

Dave never tried. He saw himself sinking and he didn't care. His friends cared more than he did and he knew it. He just didn't care. Or, worse, he destroyed himself purposely because he fed on our worry. Maybe he thought it validated him.

Well, there are failures and there are failures.

But I'm not giving up on River.

I can't.