Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where are the New York bars of yesteryear?

Where are the New York bars of yesteryear?
   The Bottom Line. The Lakeside Lounge. Sin-é.
No one today can sit and drink a beer
   At Rawhide or the San Remo Café,
Dan Lynch’s, Mars Bar, Kenny’s Castaways,
   The Jukebox, Banjo Jim’s, Siberia,
Around The Clock,  The Lone Star, Jimmy Ray’s,
   The Cedar Tavern, Danceteria,
P&G, CBGB’s, Maxwell’s Plum,
   The Lion’s Head, Milady’s, Shandon Star,
The Gold Rail, Ye Olde Tripple Inn, Drake’s Drum,
   Rose’s Turn, Motor City, Buddha Bar.
      Honor their names.  Remember them with toasts.
      We all have favorite haunts that now are ghosts.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Thursday, January 16, 2014

You And Me

You are my sea—I cannot swim in you
   And not feel humbled by the deep below me.
You are my horse—there’s nothing I can do
    But say a prayer and ride you till you throw me.
You are my sun—my heart could feel your heat
   If you were 90 million miles away.
You are my moon—and every night we meet,
   You show a different face from yesterday.
You are my planet, I your satellite—
   And when I orbit you, that’s my caress.
You are my stars—in the cold dead of night,
   You tell me there is life in emptiness.
      You are my universe—and all I see
      Is love in you—love to infinity.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Monday, January 13, 2014

The Big Bad Wolf

1.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a three-hour-long master class on how portraying is not dramatizing. 

2.  It is a window into every kind of excess imaginable.  Unfortunately, building a window is carpentry, not storytelling.  And one of the excesses on display is directorial, like Scorsese made it while he was on drugs you and I can't even afford.   

3.  Too bloated to be dramatic, too unfocused to be satire, the movie totally succeeds as a dumb, amoral supposedly-unbiased unreliable-narrator success story in which the main character is adored because he knows how to game the system.

4.  Scorsese’s made this kind of “The main character is a bad guy” film before.  But he’s never done it without a counterweight.  It’s like he said to himself, “I’m going to do Wall Street right—I’m going to portray Gordon Gekko entirely from his point of view, without any of those boring, forgettable subplots about morality and ethics.” Which is like saying “I’m going to do Othello right—I’m going to portray Iago without any of that boring Othello stuff.”

5.  The only counterweight, the only voice against rampant plutocratic excess?  He gets a final scene which serves as an echo to an earlier remark, and you’d expect that it would carry some kind of thematic weight: is it a defeat or a triumph? Watching this moment made me think, “Of course; this has to be here. But what is it saying?  Because it feels like a defeat.  Which means that the world view of the main character that there is no nobility in poverty is justified.  Which is pissing me off right now.”  So if that’s what Scorsese was going for, he succeeded.

6.  Remember the moment when The Departed went off the rails—when the character that Jack Nicholson was playing suddenly became JACK NICHOLSON ON DRUGS AND BOOZE?  This whole movie is kind of like that.
7.   This is the most Jack Nicholson performance DiCaprio has ever given.  That is not necessarily a compliment.

8.  This movie takes place in a world where a man can proclaim to a room with women in it that the supreme image of success—driving a high-priced car with a beautiful woman by your side—is totally male, and not one of those women will object to the image.

9.  Sadly, that pretty much sums up Corporate America in a single sentence.

10.  So does the fact that (yes, it's true) every male in Corporate America has been to at least one conference room meeting during which the entire table has chanted the words: "We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble!"

We've all been there.

11.  If it's the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom, Scorsese  makes it a point to park his limo in every rest stop along that road, and linger over the same fast food meal without ever once glancing into the kitchen to see how it’s prepared, before his driver honks the horn and he says "Oh right—I'm on the way to wisdom!" and then gets into the car and cries: "Step on it!  But slow down when we get to the next rest stop!" 

12.  This movie is nothing but selfies.  It’s a three-hour Facebook post with all-caps oversharing.  And just like a Facebook post, it’s designed to make you think you’re missing out on something by not being this cool, this happening, this elite.

13.  This film is to Scorsese what 1941 is to Spielberg.

14.  You will miss out on something very special by not seeing this movie.   That is not necessarily a recommendation. 
I prefer this kind of bad wolf.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jottings from the notebook


Broadway: an institution which brings great writers to the attention of the world by never producing any of their plays.
Life is a divorce that masquerades as a wedding.

For my whole life, sex was the axe behind the sign IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS.
                -- Mandi Seaton
What do you call six redheads on a skewer?
A shiksa-bab.

Reality: an illusion caused by mescaline deficiency.
                -- NF Simpson

To the caterpillar, it’s death; to the butterfly, it’s birth.

You’re always the villain in your ex-lover’s story.

“The love of form is a love of endings.”
                -- Louise Glück

Life is the gift God loans you until He figures out how He’s going to take it away.

When it comes to love, version always trumps vision.

To live is to crochet according to a pattern we were given. 
                -- Fernando Pessoa

Time is the pond; life is the stone; we are the ripples.

“I never hate in the plural.”
                -- Stewart Granger, Bhowani Junction

Death is the recluse in the neighborhood,
The old coot with the nasty disposition
Who calls the cops every time we make noise.
We never talk of him because we know
That if we do, he’ll come knock on our door.

Sanity: an illusion caused by alcohol deficiency.
                -- NF Simpson

Life is a barracks where everyone trains to be one of the fallen.

“ . . . My own lowest and most indefensible judgments of myself, which are the only judgments anyone ever trusts.”
                -- Paul Rudnick, Gorgeous

It’s the machine that’s old; the driver’s still young.

Relationships are like wars—you’re always fighting the last one.

Whenever I see a dead body . . . the corpse looks to me like a suit that was left behind.  Someone went away and didn’t need to take the one and only outfit he’d worn.
                -- Fernando Pessoa

INTERVIEWER:  So what’s your secret to attracting men?
MANDI SEATON:  Simple.  All you have to do is act like an exquisitely blasé slut.
Never ask: “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?”
Always ask: “What are you fighting for?”

Love is the name we give to the fever we deliberately catch once we’ve infected someone else with our desire.

“I thought you were mysterious, and then I realized mysterious meant depressed.”
              -- Christian Bale to Jennifer Lawrence, American

In politics, you only check the eggs after the omelet comes out bad.

The lonely will always tell you where they were before they tell you what happened.

NICO:  First you’re on top of the world, and then the world is on top of you.
MANDI SEATON:  The world can get on top of me all it wants as long as it pays for dinner.

Love: an illusion caused by self-esteem deficiency.
                -- Teo Pozzi

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Women In Black

Sometimes, in a long-running play, the actors have been doing it so often that they know exactly what will get a gasp from the audience, and that’s what they go for—which is never the same thing as knowing exactly what the play needs, and going for that, gasps or not.  For example: I saw Bernadette Peters early on in her run of Little Night Music, when she was serving the play’s needs over her own, and I also saw her towards the end of her run, when she was mugging so shamelessly at the top of Act Two, blustering and simpering and looking flustered, that she made the lyrics “If she’d only looked flustered or admitted the worst/If she only had blustered or simpered or cursed” completely meaningless.  It was fun to watch, but it wasn’t the play.
And that’s what a lot of August: Osage County is: it's fun to watch, but it's not the play; it's a decent filmed version of parts of the play where a bunch of actors go for the audience reaction over character interaction.  It also feels like an ensemble piece where the leads are being played by a new set of actors.  The minor characters can hold their own with each other, because they’ve been around since the beginning of the run, but the new ones in the lead parts are not acting in the same universe, they’re either not up to speed yet or speeding so fast somebody has to slow them down.  In this film, that would be Julia Roberts, pretty much all the men except Sam Shepard and Chris Cooper, and, alas, Meryl Streep.
You can make a case that it’s all the wig’s fault, I guess, because when Streep isn't wearing it, she hits all the notes between touching and vulnerable and lost and self-reflective.  But the moment she puts it on, she goes straight to ten and never wavers—she transforms into a  monster who is (yes, the subtext is that obvious) the living embodiment of mouth cancer.  It’s the kind of performance that makes me want to bet you a thousand bucks that her wig was made from strands of Mommie Dearest hair, because Streep with the wig on is as mesmerizing, in exactly the same bad way, as Dunaway was. 

You can also make a case that it’s Tracy Letts’ fault, or director John Wells’ fault, or a combination of both.   Cutting an hour out of the original play doesn’t do the remainder any favors—it’s like watching an opera with nothing but arias.  And the way the play is opened up cripples the tension between the characters.  This is a piece that needs a sense of claustrophobia, not weepy violin music underneath the emotional high points so we’ll know that we’re supposed to be feeling an emotion.   But given the people behind this movie, that kind of music is not surprising.  To paraphrase Henry Higgins, the Weinsteins don’t care what they produce actually, as long as it pronounces the words “Oscar bait” properly.

As for the other actors, Juliette Lewis phones in the Juliette Lewis part,  Dermot Mulroney (Julia Roberts’ love interest from My Best Friend’s Wedding) is an obvious sleaze,  and Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch don’t have a clue what the stakes are.  If you want to hire a Brit to play Roberts’ husband, then go with Jonny Lee Miller—the prickliness he brings to Sherlock is perfect for this part.  And why Paul Dano isn’t playing Little Charles is beyond me.  As for Sam Shepard, who’s penned one or two family eviscerations himself, he totally gets it.  He sets the perfect opening tone; but then he’s gone, and only Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson remain in tune.  But they’re like the lute in PDQ Bach’s Sinfonia Concertante—you can’t hear them, you can only think about them while you’re listening to Streep and Roberts play the bagpipes.

And Roberts?  Well, she glares, and glares, and then she looks off somewhere and clenches her teeth before she turns back and glares some more, with this obvious rage that doesn’t appear to be coming from anywhere except a stage direction.  Streep’s speech about her mother is there to tell us that bad behavior gets passed down from generation to generation, but there’s no weight to this burden among the women in this family.  It’s picked up and displayed and then it’s dropped, when it should be carried, when the weight of carrying it should be evident in every move you make, when the need to get out from under it should be behind every silence, every glare, every clenched jaw.
So yes, you can watch this movie and gasp and laugh in all the right places, like the audience did when I saw it.  And like I did too.  Because the delivery system still works; it's just all icing and no cake.

Or you can ask yourself questions like “This won the Pulitzer Prize?  Really?” and “Why is Meryl fucking Streep running through a field of hay bales?” and “Whoa, wait a minute—if it’s 108 degrees out, then why is Julia fucking Roberts sleeping in sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, and why in the name of heat prostration is she throwing on a sweater when she wakes up?”
Or, if you really want to watch a wrenching movie about mothers and daughters, you can rent Autumn Sonata.


Words and phrases that are only found in poetry collections

From Forrest Gander’s foreword to An Ethic, by Christina Davis:

A mere parenthesis of our shared condition
A form of discretion
A code of relation

From Song & Error by Averill Curdy:


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Report Card


Movies in Theatres      75
Movies on DVD      104
Plays      42
Operas      1
Dance Performances      5
Readings      6
Music Performances      16
Museum Visits      5
Literary Magazines     34
Shakespeare Related Books      15
Plays and Screenplays      55
Poetry Collections      30
Short Story Collections      2
Fiction      21
Non-Fiction      18
Mystery      12
Science Fiction      9
Fantasy      6
Horror      4
Graphic Novels      45
Comic Books       256

CDs      21
MP3 Albums      54
MP3 Albums (Xmas)       27


Staged Readings     1
Produced Plays      0
Poetry Readings      2
Stories      1
Ten-Minute One-Acts      2
One-Acts      1
Full-Length Plays      2
Rewrites      0
Novels In Progress      1
Poetry Collections in Progress      1
Humor Book In Progress      1
Cedar Tavern Fictional Memoir In Progress      1
Poems      48
Blog Posts        53
New Ideas        13
Song Lyrics      1

Submissions:  26
Acceptance Letters:  0
Rejection Letters:  11 from 2012, 6 from 2013
Number Of Clueless People Who Have Read My Submissions: 17
Awaiting Reply:  20


Abita Amber          2
Anchor Steam          6
Blue Moon   12
Bronx Pale Ale    1
Brooklyn Lager          5
Corona          25
Empire Ale          1
Guinness          82
Hoppy Poppy IPA          1
Lion Stout    1
Magic Hat    4
McSorley's          12
Negra Modelo          3
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout          1
Rogue Dead Guy Ale    12
Running Dog In Heat Wheat          2
Sam Adams          7
Sam Adams Alpine Spring          2
Sam Adams Summer Ale    6
Sam Adams Winter Ale          5
Sapporo          4
Speckled Hen   2
Steinhof          3

Bloody Mary 2
Jameson shots            6
Malbec (bottles)   3
Malbec (glasses)   10
Margaritas          10
Martinis     16
Petron shots          14
Pinot Noir          25
Powers shots          5
Sake (bottles)          15
Sangria     4
Talisker (bottles)          2
Writer's Tears Irish Whiskey (bottles)    1

Day Jobs Quit: 1

Weeks Spent In Los Angeles: 1
Weeks Spent On The Beach In Massachusetts: 3

Weeks Spent Recuperating From Day Job:  12

Eulogies: 1

Bowling: 2

All-Nighters: 1

Working Days Of Drinking (8 hours or longer): 2

Nights On The Town With A Fetish Model: 4

Nights On The Town With An Australian: 8, I think, though a couple might have fallen through the cracks.

Friends Helped Out Of A Jam: 1

Books That Annoyed The Living Crap Out Of Me: 2
(The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt; Why Does The World Exist, Jim Holt)

Movies That Annoyed The Living Crap Out Of Me:  3
(Lone Ranger; Man Of Steel; Oz: The Great And Powerful)

Movies I Liked That Nobody Else Did: 1
(The Counselor)

Resolutions made on 1/1/13: 5
Resolutions kept as of 12/31/13: 3

Authors who died while I was reading one of their books: 1
(Author: Colin Wilson – Book: Afterlife)
(I know, right?)


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On New Year's Day


On New Year’s Day, Times Square looks like it’s bored
   The way a hangman’s bored by executions.
Blue horses used to coop up last night’s horde?
   Discarded now, like last year’s resolutions.
Horns and hats from midnight’s immortal bash
   Lie all abandoned in this morning’s gutter
Till the streets can be trimmed, like a moustache,
   Of sad stray scraps of wilted, cheerful clutter.
On New Year’s Day, it’s like we all just popped
   Champagne atop Mt Everest, and then
Woke up at base camp when the party stopped,
   Condemned to start the long slow climb again.
      Our hist'ry lies in an untidy heap:
      Times good enough to have, but not to keep.

On New Year’s Day, even the sun’s hung over.
   It squints and says, “Could you please keep it down?”
‘Cause it can hear the cells divide in clover
   Just like the rest of us in this cold town.
The city’s steely voice has lost its bite
   Like someone who went to a football game
And, rooting, screamed himself so hoarse last night
   That he can barely whisper his own name.
On New Year’s Day, we all move very slowly,
   Explorers in that strange, exotic land:
The future--pregnant, virginal and holy--
   A cake of clay under our shaping hand
      From which we swear we’ll make an unsurpassed year
      Just like we swore the same thing same day last year.

On New Year’s Day, like all of humankind,
   We say it counts when year gives way to year,
And face the future, hopeful that we’ll find
   A lasting gift, not just a souvenir.
We watch the clock convinced that next year must
   Fulfill in us the promise of the new,
As if success, or love, or fame is just
   Something that happens—not something we do.
All eyes look for a sign to glorify;
   All hearts yearn for a life that’s rearranged
While a young sun shines down from a new sky
   On just how little everything has changed.
      Millennium or century or year
      Should mean much more than just “We’re all still here.”

On New Year’s Day, my inner ingénue
   Enters the year expecting true romance
And thinks the only thing she has to do
   Is stand there, till Love’s Prince asks her to dance.
And stand she will, until next New Year’s Eve
   Because Time loves to play the waiting game—
You have to grab Life tightly by the sleeve
   And make Time dance to your tune till it’s lame.
So if I don’t impress my will upon
   My days, I’m guilty of Life’s greatest crime:
Wasting my brief hour here until it’s gone—
   Until the time which should have been my time
      No longer Has the power to begin
      Or end or even pass, but only spin.

And I’ll be ruled by what should be my slave,
   And find my joy in petty satisfactions,
And go down to my one and only grave
   Having lived not a life, but Life’s distractions.
So let me promise that for once, this day,
   This New Year’s Day, will be a horse I ride
To get somewhere, and not a getaway—
   To find the time that Time will try to hide
And make from Life what only my two hands
   Can make, and always finish what I start,
And see the challenge in Life’s reprimands,
   And greet the world with an unguarded heart
      And let my gifts be greater than my sins
      And all my days be more than might-have-beens.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells