Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Before Sunrise (1995)

I have some history with this film.  When I first saw it when it came out in 1995, I was in college at the University of Delaware, and I was at a prime age to relate to everything the characters are saying and doing.  As time has gone on, my understanding of what is actually happening in the film has deepened, but my appreciation of it has remained strong.

Before Sunrise stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine, two college-aged vacationers.  They meet on a train traveling through Europe and strike up a conversation.  When the train stops in Vienna, they decide to continue the conversation rather than part ways.  They then begin a trek around the city, sharing experiences, learning about each other, and slowly falling in love.  At sunrise, the two part ways (hence the title) to go back to their respective lives - hers in France, his in America.

What I love about this film and what makes it such a gem is that the story is focused solely on who these two people are and the connection they form with each other.  The plot, such as it is, unravels slowly and naturally as the two characters walk around Vienna, stopping here and there as the fancy strikes them.

The naturalness of their time together as well as the conversations the two have stem from the film being shot on location in Vienna and largely improvised over the course of shooting.  One of Richard Linklater's first films, Before Sunrise has shades of his masterwork, Boyhood, in how it tries to give an unadorned depiction of real life as it happens.

As for Jesse and Celine, they are flawed, likable characters, displaying all the fear, excitement, and arrogance that are part of being twenty-something.  They like each other but are unsure of what it is they are experiencing and struggle between being pragmatic about their situation and their own romantic leanings.  The real beauty of the film comes in the small moments where they reveal their feelings for each other with a stolen glance or shift in body language.  Case in point: watch for the scene in a record store.  It is a brilliant example of subtlety in acting and direction.

Linklater made two sequels with Hawke and Delpy that follow the same premise but pick up with the characters at different stages of their lives.  They are exceptional films as well, but Before Sunrise is the heart of the series.  And, while I appreciate the story Linklater tells with these characters over the course of the three films, I am partial to the ambiguous ending of Before Sunrise and the discussion of possibilities (and probabilities) it inspires.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Untitled

Very much a work in progress. I know what I want to express, but I'm having trouble keeping it from becoming trite and banal. Probably putting it out there and getting away from it for a while will prove to be helpful. We'll see.

What is life
But the wind through the tree of our bodies
Rustling and shaking our limbs
Out of isolated immobility to brief and vibrant
Animation
Feeling tall in the summer sky
What is life
But a transport for our withering leaves and seeded fruit
In a twirl of fear and happiness and excitement
To other locations
Coming to rest - Finality - and finding a root to begin again
And so Life, emotion in motion, begets more Life

Here and Now

I find the present when near you
The past curls up and wrinkles like tissue paper
The future whispers away into a meaningless mist of ideas, unformed and unimagined
And I exist in the here and now
Savoring some morsel
Delighting in some spectacle
Found in the simple act of watching you cross a room

There is a touch of gold, a glowing haze
That heightens the moment
Bringing into relief true relief
The calm of assurance
The freedom of a worriless here and a fearless now

Do I give you this?
Do you look at me and find something reassuring and real?
See in me that which makes you shimmer to life
And I will feel like I’ve been worthwhile

A Car Without an Engine

This is a poem that metaphorically explains why I left the Seaford School District.

A Car Without an Engine

You're trying to drive a car without an engine
And now you've let the wheels fall off.
The body looks good, all shininess and gleam,

Your friends like it, they flatter you and tell you how good it looks,
You even marvel at your reflection on the hood.
But other cars are whizzing by,
And you are falling far behind.

Get someone with some know-how,
A skillful team to get you running.
No? You'd rather sit there, trying to look good,
Like a child on a Big Wheel,
Pretending to go somewhere?

Cars run on combustion and gas,
On skilled maintenance and care.
What makes you think pettiness and sycophantic need
Will move so much metal, plastic, and rubber?

Fine.

Close your eyes and cling to the facade of movement.
But, just so you know
That wind rushing through your hair,
That roar of motion and speed,
Comes from all the cars racing by,
Leaving you behind.

Love Poems

Love Poems
These are poems I wrote trying to capture the torrent of emotions a man feels when he falls in love with that first truly special woman.

*****
For E

A Dessert Delight

Delicious curves, twisting and winding
Over a landscape of cloth-covered flesh
Lines like frosting spread thinly, evenly
Through multi layers and down imperceptible depths

The mouth waters
The tongue touches the lips
A hunger grows for the womanly fullness
Of you

And that popcorn laughter
Going off suddenly, delightfully
Each sound colored by the faintest hint of caramel

And accompanied by a smile
The first cut section of a succulent cake
An invitation to have another piece

---

Second Date Thoughts

Five hours to go
Quick, quick!
Licketysplit
The place needs to be presentable
Running Rushing
Second date
Dinner here
Eat what?
Something simple, something good

Don’t stress
When you’re a man, you have some latitude
You get points for cooking

But not for a messy apartment

A flurry of dust and dirt and towels
Vacuum whirls and growls
Cat freaks out, runs away
Heh!
Living room almost done
Check the cushions
Move the papers
Fluff the pillows
Cat hair everywhere
Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!

Is there any porn sitting out?
Find it, get it, stash it away

Living room is done.

Four hours to go
Kitchen next
Bing Bang Bong
Pots shoved onto the drying wrack
Squish Squack Squash
Mop glides over linoleum
Damned stain won’t budge
Whatever
Leave it

And so it goes
Room to room
Corner to corner
Five four three two hours left
And the place
This place
is clean…
Too clean…
So clean it looks like…

the     lair     of     a     serial     killer
oragayman

damn

She’s gonna think you’re either Dexter (at worst)
or Will (at best)
And she is not Rita and definitely not Grace
So, put back some dirt - mess up the place
But, not too much
She’ll be afraid to sit down
Just lived-in dirty
Lived-in relaxed
Lay the papers back out
Unfluff the pillows
Roll the cat on the carpet

What about a pair of shoes by the door?
Nah.

Look like you made an effort
But not too much of one
Be cool
Be cool

Phew! Place is done
Better now

Onto dinner…

---

Your Strength

I know when your strength appears
The voice deepens
The eyes flame green
And your spirit becomes a river whose current rushes with finished tears

Your strength is born from past weakness
And it remains steady
Like falling snow endless and deep
Covering all around it evenly and equally in forthright kindness

You show me your strength and my own heart expands
It lifts me
It carries me away
It leaves me wrapped in your warmth, your smile, and your hands

Your strength is a happily discovered treasure
For those yet to know you
For those yet to benefit
It makes the journey towards you an immeasurable, indescribable pleasure

The Quiet Train

I was inspired to write this as I traveled by train quite a bit during November 2009: back and forth from Wilmington to NYC, the subway system in NYC, and back and forth from my friends' house in Newtown, PA into Philly. Specifically, the idea popped into my head when my friend, Leon, and I accidentally sat in the quiet car on our way into NYC. Hope you enjoy!

The Quiet Train

I sit on the quiet train and learn
The value of silence
It creeps up on me, unsettles me

At first

I feel I must say something
To the friend seated next to me
Like stirring the air with my soundwaves,
My noise, will support and sustain

My connection
To him, to the cute girl I see reading a paperback, to the old man snoozing in the seat behind me

But, the quiet train has its rules
And, I don’t want to be “that guy”
So, wordlessly, I sit

Then, slowly, surely
I realize there is something in the silence
Something that beckons…reawakens
A thought, a feeling

A realization

Like passengers on the Quiet Train
We are all one in our silent agreement
We are connected by our willingness
Good or bad

Cycle On Crying

Parents gush stupidly
Over that first word
And, it only a random selection
Born from the unformed mind
Trying to figure out some weird mechanism
By trial and error
With no instructions

More joyous and more important though is that First Sound
From out of the darkness, blinded by new, ferocious light
Nose and throat sucked and cleaned
That intake of cold, burning air
Unused lungs working by instinct

And, then it happens
A primal scream if ever there was one
Saying I’m hungry, I’m scared, I’m angry, I’m cold
I’m alive


***
Cry and boyfriends will say, “Aw, baby, I’m sorry”
Cry and fathers will say, “Here you go, sweetheart”
Cry and you will be free from that ticket, that reprimand, that bad grade
Cry and someone else will do the heavy life lifting

Tears, better than any shield
They keep away
Hurt and pain
Criticism and judgment
Responsibility and independence

Cry and you won’t need a voice
Cry and determination will be a moot point
Cry and you can maim an enemy, destroy a life, get your way.

Who needs sugar and spice?


***
They whisper
Take mom home, she doesn’t need to see this
They coax
Do you want some lunch, we’re going down there anyway?

She says
Here is where I am
She gives no response to the offer of lunch

They ask
Who’s gonna stay with mom, she’s never been alone
They worry
What will happen to mom when dad finally –

She thinks
I will move on like I always have
Like I did through one child’s incarceration
Another’s infidelities
The drunkenness of my youngest
The insecurities of my oldest
The false piety of my fourth
This is one more thing
It’s not easy, but it’s here

They notice
The one lone tear moving strongly, smoothly down her cheek
They say
Mom, take this tissue, you’re crying

She says
Thank you and holds the tissue in her hand
She thinks
He would want to wear his gray flannel suit

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Your Mother Is a Vase (Poem)

Your mother is a vase
Apparently
So you yell and scream when you see it in pieces on the floor
And you go through the mourning motions
Histrionics and drama you didn’t feel at the funeral

As you pick up the pieces of your mother,
“Clumsy” and “Stupid” and “How could you” spit off your tongue
Chipping pieces off the daughter in front of you
The way your mother broke pieces off you
Over a dish that was her mother

What item will you be
To this chipped daughter?
And will it be big enough to both
Patch the hole you’re leaving
And also withstand a future clumsy-stupid-how could you touch?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What You Are Really Saying When You Say, "All Lives Matter"

According to the Huffington Post in an article dated today (Thursday, July 7, 2016), there have been 136 reported deaths of African Americans at the hands of police so far this year.  Of those deaths, several have made headlines for the alleged needless use of excessive and lethal force by the officers involved in the incidents.  Yes, I know it can't be reasonably argued that these cops should be considered representative of all law enforcement individuals.  And, yes, I know this topic has become a hot button issue so the media is perhaps focused on these stories more than it has been in the past.

But, here's the thing: These incidents perpetuate the air of mistrust of cops in general because, frankly, they should.  And, the media should be finding and covering these stories because otherwise there is little to no chance of anything getting done about them.

Without going too far away from the main point I wish to make here, I want to say that I respect the job that law enforcement is expected to do.  It is hard, often thankless, and sometimes dangerous.  Those who do it and do it well have my utmost respect.  But, law enforcement, like any institution, will have those who mishandle and abuse the power and authority given to them.  The problem is that often this abuse means lives are seriously affected and sometimes lost as a result.

Not to be corny, but you need to look no further than a Spider-man comic to know what the problem is here.  Spidey's credo is "With great power comes great responsibility."  Law enforcement agencies quite literally have the legal authority to use force to control and contain those breaking the law or endangering others.  That is an awful lot of power for one institution to have, and it means that there has to be an equal amount of responsibility taken in how that power is used, ranging from hiring and training procedures to consequences for abuses.  And, unfortunately, history doesn't paint a favorable picture of law enforcement on these fronts.

However, I fear I stray too far away from what I want to say here.  I don't want to make an argument on the problems endemic in many law enforcement institutions.  That's a topic far too big to get into in a simple blog.  Instead, I want to focus on the tagline: "All Lives Matter" and what it really means when people use it in response to "Black Lives Matter."

To put it simply, it is passive aggressive racism.  It allows individuals to imply a racist intent without using blatantly racist language by attempting to devalue and undermine the meaning of "Black Lives Matter."  It is retaliatory cross-burning through semantic word play.  Those who pass along the motto need to seriously reflect on their own motivations for doing so because those motivations are undoubtedly rooted in racial prejudices.

And, here's the thing about racism that so many people don't get: you can totally have racist feelings and motivations and not realize you have them.  That's the insidiousness of institutionalized racism.  Does it mean you're evil to the core and offer nothing of value in life?  Not at all.  But, white people in the United States have an obligation to do some extensive self-reflection on the institutionalization of racism and the role we need to play in ending it.  And, part of that role is acknowledging when racial abuses are happening and not undercutting efforts to address those abuses with accusations of "reverse racism" (which, by the way, doesn't exist) or by attempts to circumvent the message with one that inappropriately blankets all as being affected by the problem in the same way.

Even if you believe, as I do, that the vast majority of cops working today are good, decent people trying to do a hard job to the best of their ability, you have to understand that a retaliatory slogan like that stops dialogue at a time when dialogue is sorely needed.  If you are going to the discussion table already making it clear that you don't value what the other side has to say then there is no way trust can be formed and certainly no way for clear-headed thinking to prevail.

Yes, all lives matter.  I believe that with all my being as so many do.  But, our belief in that means we need to honestly and clearly acknowledge when certain lives aren't mattering the way they should.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Spotlight (2015)

With Spotlight, I have once again chosen a film that is hardly obscure as it was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2015.  However, I felt compelled to focus on it here in my blog because it is a film that pays tribute to two things that are near and dear to my heart: critical thinking and the written word.

Spotlight is about the eponymous team of investigative reporters for The Boston Globe who crack open the widespread and systemic cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic church.  Turned onto the case by a new editor they are all wary of, the team begins a systematic and comprehensive investigation into how and why accusations of child abuse by Catholic priests never seem to go very far in the criminal system.

What the team finds is a multi-layered and byzantine effort to silence and cover-up any public acknowledgment of wrongdoing.  Their efforts toward getting at the truth are met with silence, rebukes, and thinly veiled threats.  But, eventually, through their dogged pursuit of the truth and evidence to support it, the Spotlight team is able to uncover the lies and deceit to figure out who knew about the abuse and what was done to keep it all quiet.

And, when they decide to print the truth they have unearthed, it changes things.  Victims get some vindication, the Catholic church is shaken to its very core, and the power of words, when communicating truth backed by critical thinking, are shown to inspire people to act.  I don't know how accurate the movie portrays the sequence of events of the investigation, but I remember when the story broke.  And, I remember it being the first time allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church were presented as undeniable fact and not just the punchline of some joke.  Spotlight shows how all that could have come about.

This is an ensemble film cast with incredibly good actors all led by Michael Keaton, who seems to have a new head-of-steam on his career and is better than he has ever been.  The other actors create believable, quirky characters who are good at what they do and easily create the at-ease feeling of office co-workers.  These characters, based on the real journalists who worked the story, are each able to contribute pieces to the puzzle and, in so doing, break open one of the biggest news stories so far this century.


The Unending Joke - Examining the Over-Extended Significance of a Good Comic Book Story

It needs to be said right off the bat (no pun intended) that Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke is a work of superb craft...