Posts Tagged ‘films’

Notes From The Sofa

May 5, 2015


When you’re laid up with a broken ankle, you spend a lot of time on the couch reading.

Recently, I spent real quality time in horizontal mode reading the memoir H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, a sharply observed and deeply affecting book. Her writing is elegant and her honesty unflinching. Her gift for metaphor is astonishing.


MacDonald, a falconer and naturalist,  shape-shifts into the soul of the goshawk, the wild bird of prey she has set out to train, as an attempt to assuage her deep sadness over the sudden death of her father.

The book is structured so that the story alternates, chapter by chapter, between MacDonald’s own memoir and that of author T.H. White. White’s emotionally complex memoir, The Goshawk (published in 1951), with its tragic undertone, acts as a dubbing rod for MacDonald’s maneuvering through her labyrinth of grief.

It’s not often I am lucky enough to read two books back to back that I cannot put down.


I have just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Beautiful prose and structured in alternating chapters similar to MacDonald’s book, it’s a style I’ve come to appreciate because I do most of my reading on the iPhone. I’d rather not put lay down a book until I’ve reached a good stopping point.

Doerr’s novel was riveting. He too is a gifted, elegant writer and, in my opinion, deserving of the Pulitzer Prize bestowed upon him in 2015. Set prior to and during WWII, the plotting is as intricate, colorful and dense as a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The story of a blind French girl is paralleled with that of an orphaned German boy who was drafted (unwillingly) into the army of the Third Reich as a radio engineer. Doerr has done his research and weaves detailed information  into the novel seamlessly.  The reader comes to care deeply about the characters and their respective fates.

There is one thing I want to mention. Something I have encountered in other novels (most recently, in We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas).

Doerr’s novel has an “epilogue” — in the  guise of a “final chapter.” After sailing through the novel, this last chapter left me disappointed.

Epilogues work well in non-fiction and are often necessary (for example, to provide relevant information that comes to light after publication). In a novel, though, an epilogue does not work for me. In fact, I hate epilogues! An epilogue merely jumps ahead in time that yo me reads like a cop out.

I think it is better to end the book. There’s nothing wrong with an “open-ended” conclusion to a novel. It can set the reader’s imagination on fire.

When you read Doerr’s novel (and I hope you do, because it is excellent), my suggestion is to stop reading after you finish penultimate Chapter 177, dated 1974, titled “Frederick.” I believe this iwouldchave been the perfect place to end this novel.

Try not to read: “Part Thirteen,” “Chapter 178,” which wraps up Doerr’s novel (the title is: “2014”). Permit yourself to bask for a while in the satisfied, wistful feeling bestowed on you by “Chapter 177.”

Epilogues are favorited by Hollywood filmmakers (rewatch Robert Altman’s brilliant satire on Hollywood, a film titled The Player, which drives this point home perfectly by making fun of Hollywood endings, specifically, the scene in the gas chamber with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts).


As Billy Holiday famously sang, “Don’t explain.”

Music, Films, Books – Recommendations

July 31, 2011


My absolute favorite band of late. Their music, lyrics and utter creativity makes my hear soar.


Praise be to our Roku box, oh magnificent streamer of Netflix instant video directly to our TV, through which we recently viewed this immensely satisfying documentary: Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who, featuring this undeniably brilliant, still relevant, thrilling band. Maybe the best rock band ever.


I’m a fan of Wolitzer’s witty, literary novels. I’ve read The Wife twice and recently finished The Ten Year Nap. I breezed through this latest book because I didn’t want to put it down. The novel centers around a local high school’s teaching staff and the changes wrought by the new drama teacher when she decides to shake things up by staging Aristophanes’ drama, Lysistrata, as the school play (in the Greek comedy, women of Athens decide to deny the sexual privileges of their husbands and lovers in an effort to put a stop to an ongoing war). It’s a clever, fun, heartfelt and poignantly relevant reading experience.

Midway through, I wanted to cheer, when one of the students stages a bed-in reminiscent of John and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace:

If only this sort of thing would happen more often.


I love the low-budget grittiness of this decade of film. Here’s a few that I’ve recently streamed through the Roku box:

A WEDDING – vintage 1970s Robert Altman, meandering, kooky, punctuated with improvisation and parody, filled with name actors.

DILLINGER – (1973) starring Warren Oates as Dillinger, Richard Dreyfuss (!) as a very good Baby Face Nelson, Steve Kanaly as Pretty Boy Floyd (these three criminals were actually in the same bank-robbing gang, at one point), Michelle Phillips (from The Mamas and the Papas) as Billie, Dillinger’s girlfriend, Ben Johnson as the Special Agent tracking him down, and notable extras, such as the never-disappointing Harry Dean Stanton. A great film!

THE ONION FIELD – (1979) Unforgettable film about two decent cops and a traffic stop that goes terribly wrong. Tremendous performances by  John Savage (The Deer Hunter) and Ted Danson (Cheers) as the cops, a magnificent James Woods as the psychopathic killer.

SUPER FLY – (1972) Starring Ron O’Neal as Priest, dope dealer and reluctant pimp, and cameos by Curtis Mayfield and The Curtis Mayfield Experience providing the excellent soundtrack. Notable for its unflinching footage of down and dirty NYC ghetto life. And a much better film than I remembered it to be.


THE RED BALLOON  – Utterly magical, uplifting jewel from France.

MOONSTRUCK – An all-time favorite. Masterful, funny script by John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote “Doubt”).

MANHATTAN – A Woody Allen masterpiece. A perfect film.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE  – Never, ever fails to make me laugh.

STARTING OVER  – One of my favorite romantic comedies. Great work by Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh.


SUNSHINE CLEANING  – Don’t let the subject matter of the film (crime scene clean-up), which, admittedly, kept me away initially, deter you. With stars like Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin, you can’t go wrong. You won’t be disappointed.

COLLISION – Enthralling 5-episode drama from British T.V. about a six-car crash and the ensuing investigation that unearths lots of dark secrets as well as a murder. An obsessive viewing experience. Highly recommended.

VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR – Fascinating entry into the over-the-top world of designer Valentino and his long-time companion. A sumptuous visual experience.

BORN RICH – Illuminating documentary on the trials and tribulations of a group of financially privileged young adults.

NO IMPACT MAN– Maybe you’ve heard of him, a documentary about the guy who gave up toilet paper, etc. to live simply with his wife and child…? Much better than I thought it would be. Worth catching.

THE ECLIPSE – Atmospheric, supernatural thriller from an Irish playwright (i.e., well-written) centering around a strange presence inhabiting the house of a recent widower. Really good film.

ISLANDER – Drama about a lobster fisherman imprisoned after a tragic accident on his boat and his attempt to rebuild his life and win back the love of his wife and daughter and the esteem of the town that has shunned him.

As you can see, a lot of film viewing with the benefit of air-conditioning in this hideous hot weather!