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Monday, October 31, 2022

A Skin Crawling Treasure

Two factors made October an unusual month for your favorite blogger/movie geek. First, I was away for a few weeks and second, I've been busy focusing on a few long-postponed goals. Each of those things contributed to the whole month going by without me seeing a single film. Until Saturday night.

How I wish every break from my movie jones could end with seeing a film as well written, acted, and directed as The Good Nurse. I had no prior knowledge of this Netflix powerhouse - my time away and focus on those goals also pushed aside my normal habit of reading about upcoming new releases - so I came upon it as a tabula rosa, which amplified my pleasure. I'd discovered a hidden treasure.

Though the subject matter of The Good Nurse is deeply disturbing, the skilled direction by Tobias Lindholm - a new name for me but one I'll pay attention to in the future - never loses its way. The tension Lindholm builds throughout is intense but never manipulative. The script by Charles Graeber and Krysty Wilson-Cairns - two more names unknown to me until thirty-six hours ago - never loses its way. I wouldn't be surprised to see this director/writing team working together in the future. Actually, I'm looking forward to it. 

Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne are both predictably excellent in the main roles and there is not one weak link in the supporting cast. As it ended, my only reservation about the film was a wondering about how true-to-life the script was, given the film was based on actual incidents. But when my wife and I watched an old 60 Minutes segment yesterday (reported by Charles Kroft) - one that included interviews with the actual people who were portrayed in the film - that reservation completely dissipated. Do yourself a favor after you watch The Good Nurse - cue up that 60 Minutes piece. And then wait to see how long it is before your skin begins to crawl. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Normal People

The plot of Normal People is totally linear, the setting is unexceptional, and the cast of characters is small. But the life force in Sally Rooney's 2018 bestseller hit me so hard that several months later I'm still in its grip. It's been a while since a novel so straightforward has lingered with me like this one.

Connell & Marianne are classmates with home lives that have little in common. Each struggles - as most adolescents do - with fitting in. They are both unsure how to navigate their growing fondness for one another. Complications ensue. It's a timeless story oft told, made fresh in Rooney's capable hands.   

"For a few seconds they just stood there in stillness, his arms around her, his breath on her ear. Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling that close to anyone."

From the outset of my blog, I decided to keep posts terse. That decision has forced me to tame the hyperbole that could have otherwise overtaken me when recommending a book as rich as Normal People. If you've already read it, I hope you'll share your opinion of it with me here. If you haven't read it, I hope you do.    

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Getting Out the Good Word

I've always been disinclined to express any of my political views via a bumper sticker out of concern that a malcontent with a differing view might be tempted to key my car. Worse - especially given the over-heated nature of today's political climate - it's not hard to imagine some lunatic directing their road rage at me because of a bumper sticker that challenges their worldview or offends them. 

For a similar reason, I've also avoided politically oriented lawn signs that an easily inflamed cretin might use as an excuse to deface or damage my home. Am I being mildly paranoid? Perhaps, but why take a chance that anyone I live with might be approached or menaced by a fanatic? Not worth it, no matter how aligned I am with the message.

Recently I've settled on a new strategy for being more public about my views = clothing. I know there are similar risks, i.e., there is nothing to prevent some neanderthal from confronting me or worst case, being hateful or verbally assaultive about something I'm wearing. But I've decided to take my chances and purchase a T-shirt I first saw months ago that proudly proclaims: Equal rights for all does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie. And I'm now on the lookout for additional attire (jackets, hats, sweatshirts, etc.) that could assist me in getting out the word. It's also possible that wearing stuff like this might lead me to connect with like-minded souls. Thinking of that possibility vs. focusing on any naysayers I could encounter is a more positive use of my mental energy. 

In the meanwhile, I'll leave it to others to continue using bumper stickers and lawn signs to get out the good word.    

Saturday, October 22, 2022

#66: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Inspired by my stay at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, this latest iteration in my longest-running series memorializes four brilliant casting choices for supporting roles in movie comedies. Think of four instances when you've said to yourself and others - "No one else could have possibly played that role." My Mt. Rushmore is listed alphabetically by actor. Order yours however you wish.

1.) Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit: Although this Burt Reynolds vehicle is no more than popcorn fare, Gleason is a perfect foil. Who else could have played this role and made you laugh as hard despite Burt's too-frequent winking at the camera?   

2.) Fred Gwynne as Judge Haller in My Cousin Vinny: I submit no film actor in history could have pulled off this performance as well as Fred Gwynne. His best line comes when Joe Pesci identifies Marisa Tomei as his fiancĂ© and Gwynne deadpans - "Well that would explain the hostility."

3.) Catherine O'Hara as Lydia in Beetlejuice: O'Hara is a gifted comic actor and invaluable member of Christopher Guest's repertory company. But her portrayal in this Tim Burton film stands as one of those times when it's near impossible to see another actor portraying the delusional Lydia.      

4.) Jack Palance as Curly in City Slickers: When I learned on my first day at Ghost Ranch that this Billy Crystal feature was filmed here, I tried to picture someone else playing Curly's role. No luck, although Clint Eastwood today might be able to match the gravitas Palance had back in 1991. 

Your turn to direct others to some classic comic performances that could not have been played by anyone other than the actor who did so.        

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

25 Miles To Go


It's late, I'm not sure how long this signal will last, and the description and images on the website above are an adequate way to begin conveying a little bit of what I experienced today.

I'll add only this: I am grateful to have the means to have an experience like this and enjoy it with people I love. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Feeling Safe

"There is no desire deeper than the desire of being revealed." - Kahil Gibran

Each time my wife and I re-unite with these fourteen people we first met in Alaska in 2015, my gratitude for these late-in-life soulmates deepens. I reveal myself more to each of them and they do the same with me, reinforcing the wisdom of Kahil Gibran's words.   

Those revealing interactions often flow from enriching conversations about books, current events, and art that seem to occur anytime two or more of us are in close proximity. On a hike or in a vehicle, whenever we break bread together, or while just hanging out, our conversations are effortless and stimulating. And because the work backgrounds represented by the group vary from education to the law to psychiatry and beyond, the direction any conversation can take is thrillingly unpredictable. It's hard to over-state how energized I feel around these folks.   

When that energy surged early today, I reflected on its source. It could have been my recollection of an instance when someone in the group revealed themselves to me. Or it might have sprung from recalling how safe I felt revealing myself to a few of them at the same time in one of those far-ranging conversations. In either instance, the vulnerability on regular display with these people is a gift I do not take for granted. Aside from a life partner, to whom are you inclined to reveal yourself? How do you respond when others reveal themselves to you?    

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Rogue Scholars

As is the case often when away from home, any reflections from the bell curve between tomorrow and October 25 will depend on WIFI service. Because even when fingers and brain are ready, in order to entertain you with pithy observations, annoy you with cranky rants, or otherwise enthrall you, a signal is required. 

The last time we re-united with the late-in-life soulmates we first connected with in Alaska in 2015 was in Acadia National Park around this time last year. This time the sixteen of us are meeting at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, a magical location noted for being the site of many of the landscape paintings featured in Georgia O'Keefe's work. 

This reunion - #6 for our newly dubbed group, the Rogue Scholars - promises to be as varied and stimulating as all our previous outings. In addition to the hikes, presentations, and fellowship, I'm excited about moderating a book discussion on Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) for a group as smart as this one. And if a guitar ends up finding its way to Ghost Ranch - as one of my new friends has said it might - I'll be leading a singalong to the melody of Moon River using the lyrics below. 

Rogue Scholars - older than the dirt, with joints that often hurt at night.

We share stories; we laugh with such ease. 

Wherever we end up, it always feels right.

Some birders - some who like to cook; much older than we look, (we dream!)

We're building this bond: something real, strong as any steel, each one of us can feel -

Rogue Scholars, our team. 

Hope to be reflecting while on the road but if not, I'll see you later in October. Do you miss me yet? 

Monday, October 10, 2022

That Sweet Spot

Which kind of novel is more likely to linger with you - one that takes residence in your heart or one that provokes or even unsettles your mind? In your view, which author has ever found the sweet spot in the middle of that continuum with a novel that engaged your heart while also challenging your head? 

Before finishing Young Mungo (2022), I knew Douglas Stuart's heartfelt novel was going to stay with me for a long time. Stuart creates rich and believable characters, uses a straightforward chronology delivered in an inventive fashion, and drops glimmers of hope into his frequently bleak story set in gritty Glasgow. 

When the stunning surprise on the penultimate page of Young Mungo knocked the wind out of me, I was instantly reminded of the first time I finished The Sense of an Ending (2011) by Julian Barnes. Aside from the shocking but wholly plausible endings in both books, they share little else. And yet Barnes's book has now haunted me for over eleven years, as I'm sure will be the case with Young Mungo. 

The Sense of an Ending is a remorseful meditation on the arrogance of youth and a melancholy treatise on the faultiness of memory. Welcoming Tony Webster, the first-person narrator of Barnes's novel, into your heart is thankless work. But Tony - and the novel, which I've now read three times - will simply not leave me alone. Both have lingered in my mind longer than any fictional character or novel I've encountered in over a decade. I suspect the eponymous Young Mungo - and the novelmay end up taking residence in my heart for nearly as long. Check in with me in 2032. In the meanwhile, I'm on the lookout for an author who has found the sweet spot on that continuum. If you've located one, please share the name of that author and his/her novel with me and others.    

Friday, October 7, 2022

Musical One-Night Stands

Reflections From The Bell Curve: #59: The Mt. Rushmore Series

OK music lovers, time to assist your favorite blogger. My newest course - Musical One-Night Stands - will soon take its maiden voyage. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to supply me with the songs you would expect to hear in a course like this. The post above from August 2020 can get you started since the four performances therein - my Mt. Rushmore #59 - exemplify the caliber of material I'm looking for in this new class. Read the post, look at the one excellent comment, and then give this your best shot. You are NOT limited to four suggestions a la Mt. Rushmore. Two other considerations before you get started.

* Unlike the Mt. Rushmore post, your musical collaborations need NOT be just vocal duets. For example, two one-offs that will definitely be included in this course are the Bill Withers/Grover Washington Jr. collaboration (vocal/saxophone) on Just the Two of Us and the one-off singing quartet of George Benson, Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, and Bobby McFerrin on Freddie Freeloader. 

* And, as the second example above shows, this course will include one-off collaborations by jazz artists and/or artists from any genre, provided the one-off performance meets the standard. 

Although I haven't asked for much input from readers when developing past music courses, I decided this time to do so for primarily one reason. My music-obsessed brother has lost sleep on the occasions when I've asked for his suggestions. Figured it was time to give the poor guy a break.

Please note: If any song you suggest ends up making the final cut of this course, consider yourself a bell curve consultant. We'll negotiate your compensation at a mutually convenient time. Now get to work.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Recently my wife ran into a man she'd met several times. In a conversation soon after, she berated herself because his name escaped her. Instead of his real name - Peter - she found Joseph was lodged in her head. Sound familiar? Many people lament their inability to recall names and conflating one common name for another seems pretty widespread to me. Following some reflecting, I have a theory on this conflating thing.   

Caveat first: My theory is not aimed at giving any reader an excuse for making a sincere effort to recall names. But while trying to re-assure my wife about her Peter vs. Joseph dilemma, offering first the old standby that perhaps this Peter looked like a Joseph she once knew, followed quickly by the logical but boring explanation that both are classic men's names from the Bible, I realized neither of those could reasonably explain my own trifecta of perpetually conflated women's names: Janet vs. Karen, Kathy vs. Nancy, Laura vs. Sarah. 

If any reader shares my pain, i.e., has already mistaken a Janet for a Karen, or a Kathy for a Nancy, or a Laura for a Sarah - as I have many times - my apologies for re-hashing your past embarrassment. But please note: Each name in these devilish pairs has five letters, two syllables, and at least two shared letters. Come on, you have to admit there is ample room for confusion. OK sweetheart - scrutinize Peter vs. Joseph one last time. Two out of three ain't bad.  

The next time any of you conflate, take note of what your two names share and report back to me. Unless what you note does not support my theory. In that case, keep it to yourself and develop your own theory.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

One Hundred Years

"One hundred years from now - all new people."

A trusted friend claims author Annie Dillard is the source of the observation above. Though I've been unable to verify that claim, ever since the words were unleashed on me, they have lingered. What was the last instance you recall when something so self-evident landed as hard with you as those words have with me? 

Although I've resisted ever actually tallying how many books that I've read were published during my lifetime, I'm also reasonably sure any guesstimate I make wouldn't be real far off. How about you? Are you more inclined - as I clearly am - to read mostly contemporary literature, or at minimum, mostly books that have been published during your lifetime? If you consider reading a passion - as I do - and yet you read mostly contemporary literature - as I do - what is your educated guess about people who read fewer books than us? Isn't it highly probable those folks also favor contemporary literature vs. the "classics"? I suspect it is.

Which brings me back to a likely reason why Dillard's words have lingered. It's no accident that the word temporary makes up 80% of the word contemporary, a percentage that closely mirrors my now-vs.-then diet in books, tally or not. And one hundred years from now - all new people. This sobering reflection on how ephemeral popular literature can be is likely not consoling news for contemporary authors with an eye on posterity. Apologies, folks. But before licking your wounds, try walking in this unknown blogger's moccasins for just a minute. Ouch.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Exactly When Does a Classic Enter the Canon?