Thursday, January 29, 2015

Manhattan Lament


I really love New York, but—I don’t know—
When subways are shut down because of snow,
I have to ask: what’s happened to this city?
When did New York become a scared old biddy? 

We used to cope—now all we do is panic.
We see a small leak and it’s the Titanic.
It doesn’t matter if we have great plumbing—
The moment that we see that iceberg coming

We man the lifeboats and abandon ship
Because we see disaster in a drip.
And God—don’t get me started on TV
And how reporters lo-o-o-o-ove calamity. 

The media can’t see a drop of rain
Without going full-on batshit insane
About potential flooding worse than Noah
Or storm surges like tidal waves in Goa. 

They feed us all with civilized hysteria
Like each snowflake’s a terrorist from Syria—
And help to make, with tones grave and sincere,
An echo chamber telling us to fear 

Where voices calm, amused and never manic
Will soothe our terror while promoting panic.
The way they talk about the world makes it so
Crazy, no wonder everybody’s schizo. 

When January blizzards are a crisis
That’s greater than a terror strike by ISIS
And panic is all part of public service,
The breakdown ain’t just social, folks—it’s nervous. 

New York’s become your frightened spinster aunt—
The one who’s scared of shadows, and will rant
For days about how unsafe life’s become—
Who’s terrified each time she sees a bum 

Because he wants to take her maidenhood—
Who tells you what to do for your own good.
“For your own good.”  The four deadliest words
Spoken by anyone, from Popes to Kurds— 

And also by the safety-minded crew—
In all of our (of course) best interests—who
Shut down the very subway that the Great
New York Blizzard of 1888 

Created to keep people safe and warm
So they could get around in any storm.
Not any more—the precedent’s been set.
Trains will shut down whenever rails get wet. 

The thing we built to keep the city going
(No matter how incredibly it’s snowing)
From uptown woods to Brooklyn neighborhood
Will now always shut down—for our own good. 

It ought to stick in everybody’s craw.
It’s Mary Poppins mixed with martial law.
What’s next?  Forced blindfolds during an eclipse?
House arrest when there’s ice, so no one slips? 

If this happened in Moscow, we’d cry: “See?
Even for Russia, that’s stupidity!”
But because it’s America, we’re free
To be told what we can’t do equally. 

And what makes this hilarious to me?
It all went down with perfect irony:
This great gigantic storm from which we hid
Did not cripple New York—the Guv’nor did. 

Oh, politicians!  Weak from end to end—
Scared to take chances, scared that you’ll offend—
Supporting firewood when it gets cold
Is your idea of being brave and bold. 

You want to shut down trains in an eruption?
Talk to me after you’ve shut down corruption.
Try taking stands without taking a poll.
You want to keep us safe?  Pass gun control. 

And if you love this city, for God’s sake
Leave it alone—because each time you take
What makes it special and you shut it down,
New York, New York, is just another town 

That thinks it’s cool but closes after dark
And frowns at fun and pleasure like a narc
And fears we’re all potential malefactors
And treats us all like Hitchcock treated actors. 

So if you want a town that thinks it’s smart
But acts real dumb—is Puritan at heart,
And never quite has its head screwed on straight—
That always talks of how it once was great 

And was a city with which to be reckoned
(But never finishes better than second)—
And just has self-importance to get lost in?
You might as well rename this place New Boston.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Your eyes

There’s nothing sweeter than the thought of your
   Looking at me with those unshallow eyes,
And knowing that they’ll always see the true,
   Forgiving all the smooth self-serving lies
I tell myself, and all the faults behind them.
   I wish I had your charity.  I tend
To feel regret and blame, and then rewind them
   Into a loop of shame without an end.
But your forgiveness gives me pride—it tells
   Me that I have a worth I cannot see,
And makes a heaven out of what is hell’s
   Claim on my soul: that I deserve to be
      Unloved, unmourned—a soul who never dreamed
      Or hoped—till in your eyes I was redeemed.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Monday, January 26, 2015

Let There Be Nothing Done In Darkness

Let there be nothing done in darkness that’s
   Not done for love, but let us be entwined
Around each other like two sleepy cats—
   Purr harmonized with purr, mind matched to mind.
And when we hold our breath to reach the peak
   Of Love’s Mount Everest, let the kiss we share
Be strong enough to make our terror weak
   And soft enough to land us safely where
We can begin the climb again, and dive
   Into each other till we’re out of breath,
And feed on all our dreams to stay alive
   While all the nightmares in us die the death—
      Then drink so deeply of each other’s heart
      That we’ll be one even when we’re apart.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

doyt doyt

I dreamed last night that I was young and dancing
   Back in the days when dancing was our drug.
We’d start the night off gorgeous and entrancing
   And wind up wasted, passed out on the rug,
With kitchen towels for blankets, or out cold
   Outside under a beat-up Chevrolet
(True story)—with no thought of being old
   Enough to watch kids dance when our songs play.
In that loud living room of long ago,
   I'm still there singing to Rickie Lee Jones—
And if Life's like a body, then I know
   That all those midnight moments are my bones:
      No matter how I go, or where I lie,
      Those nights will be the last of me to die.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Monday, January 19, 2015

Doper Noir

How to describe this movie?   

It is the perfect filmic equivalent of a marijuana high, where (1) everything is connected but nothing makes any sense; (2) you can see it all so clearly, but when you look at it, it hurts your head; and (3)—it all adds up as long as you don’t try to total the numbers. 

It’s a showcase for Joaquin Phoenix, so if you don’t like him, you’re going to be pissed, because he’s in every scene. 

It’s a cross between The Big Lebowski (the movie that makes you wish somebody had cast Jeff Bridges as Neal Cassady) and The Long Goodbye (the movie that makes you wish somebody had cast Sterling Hayden as Ernest Hemingway).   

It’s a stoner version of Chinatown, where all the women look alike and have the exact same tan.

It’s a movie whose plot has nothing but loose ends that are tied up with even looser knots—a plot that involves adultery, real estate developments, drug smuggling, the FBI, people who vanish, people who reappear, people who are supposed to be dead, mysterious foreign gangs, a narrator who may or may not be real, and one angry-ass cop who is like the hate-fuck child of Jack Webb’s Joe Friday and John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak. 

To paraphrase Freewheelin' Franklin, it's an object lesson on how characters will get you through films with no plot better than plot will get you through films with no characters.

It’s like being at a party where the moment you recognize people, they disappear. Look—there’s Jefferson Mays!  (Aw—you blinked.)  Look—that’s Maya Rudolph!  When is she going to get to do something?  Never?  Crap.  Is that Reese Witherspoon?  And wasn’t that guy in The Wire?  And wait—it’s that guy!—Eric, Eric Something—uhp, he’s gone now. 

It's a roller coaster ride where, at every slow turn, Josh Brolin will break down your fucking door and charge you with resisting arrest.

And as you might expect, it’s a movie that demands to be watched while eating Double Stuff Oreos.




Sunday, January 18, 2015

"The art of losing isn't hard to master . . ."

When Alec Baldwin toasts his wife Julianne Moore with the words “To the most intelligent woman I’ve ever known,” you pretty much know what the Z to this sentence’s A is going to be, and the only question you might have is how many letters the film is going to hit on the way down.  The answer is, not as many as it could have, but the descent is precipitous, because down is where this film goes, in a schematic way that is both embodied in and concealed by Julianne Moore’s performance, a step-by-step descent into a lifeless face with alternately wary and uncomprehending eyes. 

In a season of movies where actors have to both portray and fight the onslaught of physical decay, Moore’s face is the go-to shot of this film, which charts her character’s losing battle against early-onset Alzheimer’s.  But if you’re looking for the kindly glow of Eddie Redmayne’s twisted smile or the fierce vulnerability of the mask that Felicity Jones wears in Theory of Everything, then you’re in the wrong theatre.  This story is quite deliberately about loss of intelligence and awareness in a hyper-intelligent and aware person, and it is all there in Moore’s face and eyes, which is why you will find yourself reading volumes into every one of her close-ups, to see not only where she is but where “she” is. 

That loss of identity is the film’s primary concern, and everything else is subordinate to it, including pretty much every other actor on the screen.  On this film’s list of priorities, Alice takes first place through fifth, and everybody else is sixth at most.  Which is why I can’t tell if Alec Baldwin is a loving husband or an asshole, or whether Kate Bosworth is a cold unfeeling bitch or the unlucky inheritor of her mother’s control-freak muscle.  This is especially frustrating because there is a very emotionally-charged subplot about attempted pregnancy and inherited propensities, and because we only see the climax of this subplot as one side of a phone conversation, it feels totally meaningless.   Which the film reiterates by completely forgetting about it thereafter.  And yes, this is a story about forgetting everything, even your own personality, but still. 

The only character who’s anything more than a series of reaction shots is Alice’s daughter Lydia, played by Kristen Stewart.  Which casting may be enough to put some people off the film entirely, but I have no problem with her, and since in this part she is supposed to be an aspiring actress who may or may not have talent, Stewart is playing into her perceived weaknesses, which to me is a smart move.  She doesn’t have to be any better than her reputation in order to get audience members to think, “Well, she’s just playing herself, which is what she always does.”  Except that she is also playing the character which the story requires, and she does it very well.  She’s the only one who asks Alice what it’s like to have this disease, and since in Alice’s life, A is for Analysis, it’s a bonding moment between them.  She is obviously the answer to the question of caretaking the moment she first appears, because her character begins the film as far from caring as you can get (more schematics).  And she delivers the final gut punch of the film, which replaces an unmentioned monologue in the novel with a very specific speech that brilliantly doubles down on the moment by picking something that both echoes and transfigures everything we’ve just watched—a speech that serves as a wide shot to all the movie’s close-ups and makes the film’s title both defiant and deeply ironic. 

But in the end, it’s Moore’s movie.  She’s in every scene.  She is the sun around which everyone revolves, and the meticulous way in which she fades and contracts and withdraws into herself like a black hole is terrifying and fearless.  She totally deserves every award in the world can throw at her.  And frankly, if this movie was filmed out of sequence, then she deserves two Oscars.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Game Of Cards

The game’s been going on since I was born;
   I still recall when it was new and strange.
The chips are ancient now; my chair is worn.
   Each hand is different but the stakes don’t change.
Sometimes I get ahead; sometimes behind.
   Sometimes I get so lucky, it’s unreal.
And when my hand sucks, I try not to mind.
   I raise, I call; I win, I lose; I deal.
To think I’ll beat the house is lunacy.
   I know deep down: this ain’t a game you win.
And so I play to lose with dignity
   And wait for a good hand to go all in
      And discard all but what I need to hold
      And play the cards I’m dealt until I fold. 

Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Rainy Day In January


Head down, umbrella up, boots on my feet,
   I walk between puddles as deep as seas
And weave like speeding taxis in the street
   Past the pale carcasses of Christmas trees.
If they could speak, then I would hear them beg
   For tinsel, like the homeless beg for change—
Their naked branches tugging at my leg,
   Your leg—anyone who’s within their range.
Like soldiers who fought in a war we lost,
   They are what no one now wants to remember—
The hope, the disappointment, the high cost—
   For January must forget December
      And walk head down into an unknown year
      That always turns its back on Christmas cheer.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter And The Grave

What is it about winter and the grave?
   Is it the cold that makes me think of death?
It brings a shiver even to the brave.
   I know I’m mortal when I see my breath.
On winter nights, even the clouds will die
   And fall to city streets as powdered snow.
Rivers become their bones and petrify.
   Slipping and falling are the status quo.
Yet, when my heart is shriveled like a crone
   And fills up with the chill of emptiness,
It comes alive when I am not alone—
   When I meet winter’s “No” with Love’s warm “Yes”—
      And in your arms my lonely soul I’ll save
      And live to see great winter in its grave.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Scientists Whose Names Are Gerunds


There are several ways to tell the story of Alan Turing.  There’s the fighter-on-a-different-front version, where it’s a race against time to find a way to stop the unstoppable Nazi war machine.  There’s the lone genius version, where a man looks at a world full of machines with a single use or application and asks himself “How can I make a machine that can be adaptable enough to do more than one thing?”  There’s the philosopher version, where the question is “What makes a human being—intelligence or empathy?”  There’s the outsider-in-more-ways-than-one version, where a man is separated from his fellows not just because of his extraordinary intellect but because he is a closeted homosexual in a society where such behavior is met with nothing less than draconian punishment.  There’s the romance-of-the-mind version, where a closeted homosexual and a hyper-brilliant woman woo each other intellectually rather than physically.  And there’s the loner-who-needs-to-learn-camaraderie version, where a man with a condescending intellect learns to appreciate the value of friendship and wins the grudging respect of the group he leads. 

A film that tries to hit all these themes should be an ungodly mess, but The Imitation Game makes it work because every separate country on its story map is unified by a central theme (repeated three times in the course of the film) and a central acting performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, who starts off the film as a cross between Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and Derek Jacobi’s Clau-Clau-Claudius, passes through the imperiousness of his own Sherlock, and ends where Julianne Moore ends in Still Alice, though for completely different reasons.
It’s also the best thing Keira Knightley has done in a while, because she’s not playing the romantic lead—she’s playing the female intellectual equal, which liberates her from trying to live up to her looks and lets her more than live up to her brains.  Her subplot could have easily become this film's version of A Beautiful Mind, and to its credit, it doesn't.  It made me want to see a separate movie about Knightley's character (and if she seems familiar, it's because Kate Winslet played a watered-down version of the same historical figure in the much-less-historical Enigma).

Speaking of wanting to see separate movies:  there is one story in this film which I think has the most dramatic plot of all, and we only get to see the introduction of it, not the fulfillment.  That’s the story of how these people had to play God with the information they had.  They did the impossible and then they literally had to perform triage with this knowledge.  How many people can we save without letting the Germans know we’ve broken their code?  How do we make that decision?  How personal does it become?  What kind of empathy is required, if any?  Doesn’t that mean people have to become machines, and start calculating odds on human life?  Which is a whole separate movie of its own (or a play, says the muse on my right shoulder; hint hint).  But it’s one I’d gladly pay to see.

The Theory Of Everything follows A Beautiful Mind by telling the story of a marriage where a youthful scientific discovery is both incidental to an ongoing relationship, and comments on that relationship—a comment which is made explicit in the last 90 seconds of this film, in which a previously-asked question about the universe gets answered in the universe of this relationship.  It’s also very much one of those “This is the story of someone who” bio-pics (this is the story of someone who invented the computer, this is the story of someone who got the Nobel Prize for physics), as well as being the cosmology version of The First Wives’ Club. 

It is also the sweetest movie about Lou Gehrig’s disease since (by golly) Pride Of The Yankees.  “I don’t know how Jane does it,” says one character, referring to Hawking’s wife, as he carries Hawking up a flight of steps.  The problem is we don’t either, because we never see Jane doing anything ugly or demeaning.  Even the sole bathroom scene is between two men, not man and wife.  There are interpersonal difficulties, but on balance everything is so wonderfully clean and magical in this film.  State of the art wheelchairs and computerized devices appear out of nowhere; a two-year-tops life expectancy is thwarted by what appears to be sheer will power, and that deadline is never once mentioned after it’s come and gone.  This film could be a Lifetime movie, except that there’s actual physics in it.  And two fabulous performances, which lift this movie up into something very special. 

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, as Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane, don’t really start to come into their own until Hawking’s body betrays him.  At which point, Redmayne becomes nothing less than an exceptional silent movie actor, expressing himself through what few facial tics his character’s disease has not immobilized.  He’s a man who is constantly trying to break free of the frozen mask of his disease, and every one of his close-ups is a feast of non-verbal communication.   

And he is more than matched in this by Felicity Jones, who has the most expressive inexpressive face in film right now.  She has this brilliant ability to turn her face into an expressionless mask and still show you what that mask is hiding, a feat she performed as Dickens’ mistress in The Invisible Woman last year (highly recommended; though since I saw it in January, I think of it as a 2014 movie).  She does the same thing in this film—when you see her face in close-up, it’s always saying two things at once: “I have nothing to hide,” and “This is what I’m hiding.” 

And that’s what makes this film a joy to watch: two actors who cannot express anything except through their facial features, one of them trying like hell to communicate and the other trying like hell to silence her inner voices.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 Report Card



Movies           86
Theatre          59.5
Plays Walked Out On During Intermission       1
Readings (attended)           14
Readings (performed in)          4
Music          33
Dance           6
Opera           1
Operetta      1
Art/Gallery/Museums          12
Book Launches (strangers)          3
Book Launches (friends)          1
War Correspondent Conversations       3


Poetry           14
Non-fiction           9
Fiction           16
Plays           45
Screenplays          4
Theatre-Related          7
Film-related           2
Fantasy/Sci Fi     12
Noir/Thriller          6
Horror          3
Mystery           8
Books About New York  6
Western           3
Shakespeare-Related         10
Young Adult         2

Favorite Reads 
     1927, Bill Bryson
     Department of Speculation, Jenny Offill
     The Art Of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli
     Memory Card Full, Liz Weber
     The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker 

DVD’s Watched  61 

CDs       9
MP3 Albums (non-Techno)      19
MP3 Albums (Techno)   59 
MP3 Albums (Xmas)      13

          Music          5
          Film           14
          Poetry        7
          Theatre      5
          Literary    14


Poetry Readings Given (headliner)                1
Poetry Readings Given (open mike)               6 

Plays I Wrote That Got Performed             1
Plays I Wrote That Got A Reading              1 

Books Published           1 

Plays written: full-length          2
Plays written: 10 Minute           3
Plays written: one-act               1
Stories written:         1

Poems Written: Sonnets    196
Poems Written: Other          10
Reconstructions Of Lost Poems By Christopher Marlowe          1 

Submissions          25
Acceptances            0
Rejections: received from 2013 Submissions          20
Rejections: received from 2014 Submissions          15
Responses Pending          10 


Guinness          119
Brooklyn Lager          19
Sam Adams Winter Ale          18
Sam Adams Summer Ale          15
Tecate          15
Corona          13
Lion Stout          12
West End Brews          10
Blue Moon      9
Amstel          8
Smithwick       8
Sam Adams Draft           7
Budweiser   7
Mayflower IPA          7
Leffe           7
Sierra Nevada          6
Pacifico          6
Brooklyn Brewery Ales          6
6 Point Royal          6
Brooklyn Lager          5
Harpoon Irish Stout          5
6 Point Bengal          5
Left Hand Milk Stout          4
Magic Hat     4
Innis & Gunn          4
Negro Modelo          4
Sapporo          4
Nut Brown Ale          3
Heineken          3
Tsing Tao     3
Old Speckled Hen      2
Fosters          2
Asahi          2
Harpoon Stout          2
Blood Over The Kings IPA     1
Nitro Oatmeal Stout              1
Evil Twin Lowlife Pilsner          1
Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout          1
Green Port Harbor Black Dock Porter          1


Cabernet Sauvignon: glasses         3
Captain and Coke           2
Champagne: glasses      8
Chardonnay: glasses     3
Fireball Whiskey: bottles      3/4 (in one sitting)
Jameson's     11
Malbec: bottles         3
Malbec: glasses         8
Merlot: bottles         3
Merlot: glasses         4
Oban: bottles         1
Oban: glasses         6
Petron shots             4
Pinot Grigio: glasses         3
Pinot Noir: bottles          1
Pinot Noir: glasses          7
Riesling: glasses           3
Rolls Royce         3
Sake: bottles          13
Strawberry Margarita          6
Talisker: bottles        1
Talisker: glasses      10
Yellow Tail Shiraz: bottles         1 


Cannabis Sativa:   6


Bowling          3 

Resolutions Made:     5
Resolutions Kept:      2 

All-nighters              1
Nights I Ended Up Sleeping On Somebody Else's Floor          2
Nights I Ended Up Sleeping On Somebody Else's Floor With The Same Person Next To Me          2
Nights Passed Out On A Friend's Couch          1

Working Days of Drinking (8 hours plus)           3 

Number Of Times An Actor Broke Character To Thank Me For Laughing During His Play     2         

Funerals          1
Deaths Witnessed          1         

Nights On The Town With A Fetish Model          1
Dinners With Women I Went To First Grade With      1

The one moment from all the movies I've seen this year that still haunts me:

Thanks, Under The Skin