The Bamboo

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The Bamboo planted

on the bank of the river

calms my restless soul.

 

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Inherent Vice

Movie Review

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The fault dear Brutus lies in our our selves, not in our stars.

The movie  Inherent Vice (2014) is based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon of the same name. Inherent vice is a maritime term used to describe cargo by insurance companies.  It is also sometimes applied to ships. There is a whole discussion around this term in the book which is also echoed in the movie:

“Isn’t that like original sin?” Doc wondered?

“It’s what you can’t avoid,” Sauncho said. “Stuff marine policies don’t like to cover. Usually applies to cargo – like eggs break – but sometimes it’s also the vessel carrying it. Like why bilges have to be pumped out?”

“Like the San Andreas Fault,” it occurred to Doc. “Rats living up in the Palm trees.”

“Well,” Sauncho blinked, “maybe if you wrote a marine policy on L. A., considering it, for some defined reason, to be a boat…”

“Hey, how about a ark? That’s a boat, right?”

“Ark insurance?”

“That big disaster Sortilege is always talking about, way back when Lemuria sank into the Pacific. Some of the people who escaped then are spoze to’ve fled here for safety. Which makes California like an ark.”

“Oh, nice refuge. Nice, stable, reliable, piece of real estate.”

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Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth

Director Paul Thomas Anderson gives us a faithful rendition of the book in his 2014 movie, with only a few scenes and locales dropped, which doesn’t seem to have hurt the movie to any appreciable extent. One change, which I thought was inspired, was to create a voice-over narrative by one of the minor but important characters from the book: Sortilege. This character seems to have a spiritual dimension and a clairvoyance which allows her a certain omniscience helping to fill in some of the gaps in the rather convoluted plot.

The story takes place in a seedy beachfront community in Southern California in 1970 right around the time of the Manson murders. It marks the end of the ’60’s which, as Hunter S. Thomson described in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was a time when the high wave of the culture had reached its high-water mark and rolled back into the desert.

Josh Brolin

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin

The movie is chocked full of interesting and weird characters,  some hippies and some straight. There is the expected clash between the the straight culture and the counter culture. The story, as I mentioned above, is quite convoluted but I will attempt to describe it here. It is the story of California, not about water rights, but  about real estate development. It ain’t Chinatown, Jake, it’s the Long Goodbye. Part Raymond Chandler and part Joan Didion, it is both a comedy crime caper and a film noir.

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Katherine Waterston and Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner private eye Doc Sportello. His nemesis is Lt. Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornson, played with devilish glee by Josh Brolin. Doc’s ex, Shashta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), brings him a case involving her new boy friend, the married real estate mogul, Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts). It seems that Mickey’s wife and her boyfriend are plotting to to kidnap the hapless developer and they want Shasta in on the caper which involves having Mickey committed to a loony bin. Shasta Fay is not sure how much loyalty she owes Mickey and that is why she shows up at Doc’s. Things get complicated from there and include a crime syndicate named The Golden Fang which is also the name of a mysterious yacht.

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There are many subplots, twists, and turns that are all somehow connected. There is another missing persons case involving Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) who turns up at the same loony bin as Mickey Wolfman. Doc is also involved with pretty assistant district attorney Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) who helps him out with some confidential files related to the case. Doc pays a visit to the headquarters of the Golden Fang where he encounters coked out dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short). Doc is aided in his endeavors by maritime lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro).

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Benicio del Toro and Joaquin Phoenix

I had to watch the movie twice and read the book before it made total sense to me. But it was worth the effort. I will tell you I loved this movie and consider it one of the best films to come out of 2014. It was underrated then, I thought, but since has gained popularity and is tending upwards.

I highly recommend this entertaining and thought provoking movie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Movies 2016

Here is my much awaited and long anticipated Top 10 list of the best movies of 2016. Along with my usual lamentation about having such a long dry spell between the beginning of the year and the end of the year. As a matter of fact most of the movies I saw and liked for 2016 I saw in January 2017. Having said that and be that as it may here is my list. I only listed films I watched. There may be other films I might have like better but I haven’t seen them yet.

1. La La Land

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Kid, they don’t call it the boulevard of broken dreams for nothing. A bit of a slow start and a few draggy places in the middle but a very strong finish. This movie really delivers the goods. It broke all records with seven Golden Globes Awards. Excellent performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Interesting byplay about Jazz which just happens to be my favorite musical genre. Spectacular dance scenes. One I particularly liked took place at a planetarium (Griffith Observatory) which was featured in the iconic film Rebel Without a Cause.  The stars go weightless and dance among the stars just to see what things are like on Jupiter or Mars. It was wonderful. Loved this film!

2. The Handmaiden

Korean film directed by Chon-wook Park

3. Hidden Figures

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Directed by Theodore Melfi. Starring Taraji P. Hensen, Octavia Spenser, Janelle Monae

4. Cafe Society

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Café Society, Woody Allen’s latest had me smiling all the way through. I thought the acting was very good. Even Steve Carell, who I never really cared for, is starting to grow on me a little bit. Kristen Stewart, who is everywhere, was believable as the love interest. Blake Lively was lively as Veronica, the other love interest. And Jessie Eisenberg sure plays a mean Woody Allen. But the real star of the show was the cinematography. And the cities. It was essentially a tale of two cities. Los Angeles and New York in the 1930’s. Guess who won? New York. Complete with that iconic shot of Manhattan from the Brooklyn side framed lovingly by the Brooklyn Bridge. Not since Manhattan have we been graced by such a beautiful image.

 

 

 

 

5. Fences

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Denzel knocks it out of the park directing and starring in this film version of August Wilson’s play. Viola Davis gives an Oscar worthy performance.

6. Moonlight

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Directed by Barry Jenkins. Starring Mahershala Ali, Sharif, and Duan Sanderson.

Moonlight is the story of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. Great story telling and understated and compelling performances by all three actors portraying  Chiron, the central character of the movie.

7. Manchester by the Sea

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I don’t usually like tear jerkers but this one is exceptional. Casey Affleck can really act. Who knew? Beautiful cinematography of the Massachusetts sea town, Manchester.

8. American Honey

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American Honey is a road trip movie about a teen aged girl from Muskogee who joins a magazine crew. Directed by  British filmmaker Andrea Arnold. Starring newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, Shia LaBeouf as top salesman Jake, and Riley Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter, as the hard as nails crew leader. Great slice of life film about millennials coming of age on the great American open highway.

9. Hell or High Water

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Directed by David Mackensie. Starring Ben Foster and Chris Pine as the bank robbers and Jeff Bridges as the Texas Ranger who goes after them. I liked this movie just because.

10. Indignation

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Directed by James Schamus based on the book by Philip Roth. I liked this movie because I like Philip Roth and I like movies based on novels. This gets included on my top 10 list because it is what I call a movie made for grown ups.

 

 

 

To My Russian Friends

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In Defense of Intelligence, based on the writings of Albert Camus

What always stands in the way of friendship is falsehood and hatred. We shall not accomplish anything for friendship if we cannot get rid of falsehood and hatred. For months now, we in America have been subjected to an unparalleled outbreak of hatred. Our poisoned hearts must be cured. The most difficult battle must be fought within ourselves. With exceptional effort we must transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice. Not giving in to hatred. Not making concessions to violence, not allowing our passions to become blind. There are things we can do for friendship and against Trump. It is essential that we never let criticism descend to insult. We must save intelligence. Years ago when the Nazis seized power in Germany, Goering declared, “When anyone talks to me of intelligence, I take out my revolver.” That philosophy was not limited to Nazi Germany. We see it on the rise today. Donald Trump, during his campaign, declared, “I like the uneducated.” He also said, “I could pull a gun out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and no one would care.”

The only way to defeat Donald Trump, and defeat him we must, is through intelligence. When intelligence is snuffed out, the dark night of dictatorship begins. Friendship is a knowledge acquired by free men. There is no freedom without intelligence or without mutual understanding. Resist the idea that intelligence is unwelcome or that it is permissible to lie to succeed. Do not give in to guile or violence or inertia. Then perhaps friendship may be possible.

La La Land

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Movie Review

Kid, they don’t call it the boulevard of broken dreams for nothing. A bit of a slow start and a few draggy places in the middle but a very strong finish. This movie really delivers the goods. Last night it broke all records with seven Golden Globes Awards. Excellent performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Interesting by-play about Jazz which just happens to be my favorite musical genre. Spectacular dance scenes. One I particularly liked took place at a planetarium (Griffith Obsevatory) which was featured in the iconic film Rebel Without a Cause.  The stars go weightless and dance among the stars just to see what things are like on Jupiter or Mars. It was wonderful.

Great escapist fantasy to enliven your spirits and waste a few hours during the winter doldrums. Two thumbs way up! I loved this movie but watch out it might just break your heart.

Haiku – Short Poems

Ghost Dog

11199282975_cce75b4723_oAccording to Jane Hirshfield, in the “Art of Haiku,” a Haiku is a poem composed of 17 syllables or sound bites containing vivid imagery. The traditional Haiku poem should evoke a particular season, although western Haiku writers don’t always follow this proscription.

The original meaning of the Japanese word Haiku, according to Hirshfield, is “Playful verse.” The celebrated Japanese poet, Basho, raised Haiku to new levels of significance by adding a spiritual and emotional dimension.

Basho wasn’t too strict about the form. He advised that you can have an extra syllable or two as long as the poem sounded right. If the sound was off, then a re-write was in order. He also said it was important to see the world with new eyes and to write down the present moment.

Three Haikus

Here are three Haikus that I wrote that I would like to share with you.

The monk…

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