Doodad Kind of Town

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)
January 28, 2010, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“You know what I’d like to be if I had my goddam choice?… You know that song ‘if a body catch a body coming through the rye;’? … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in a big field of rye and all. Thousands of kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye, and all.”

Like many, many other sensitive adolescents, before me and long afterwards, I was once passionately obsessed with the work of J. D. Salinger. And if that obsession now seems to me as quaint and distant as my days in the Girl Scouts, it is no less significant and no less an indication of how my tastes and interests were shaped by his creations.

I first read “Catcher in the Rye” as an eighth-grader; for many years afterwards (well into my college years) I made an annual ritual of re-reading it on New Year’s Day. Tonight, as I write this, my old $1.50 Bantam paperback edition is by my side. On page 172, next to one of Holden’s diatribes on the phoniness of lawyers, there is a note in my own teen-aged scrawl: “Amen! This is exactly why I’m never going to law school!” God, was I ever really that young and that callow?

In time, “Franny and Zooey” supplanted “Catcher” as my favorite Salinger work, and I found myself identifying even more strongly with the fragile Franny than I had with Holden Caulfield. Not for a minute did I believe Franny’s fainting spell was caused by pregnancy, as did her obtuse fiance, Lane. I recognized in her that same overwhelming soul-sickness that I, too, often (and too often, for that matter) succumbed to.

Only years later did I recognize the self-indulgent futility behind those moods, and by that time, the charms of Salinger’s prose had somewhat faded for me. My collection of paperback Salinger titles rarely come out of my bookcase now, their pages increasing yellowed as the years pass. But those four paperbacks, first purchased in 1975, have survived every move I’ve made and found a place on every bookshelf I’ve erected in my adult life. They represent for me an exciting and highly impressionable time in my life when a book could mean everything, and a fictional character could seem like a soulmate.

Revelations about Salinger in recent years have somewhat sullied his reputation. (Joyce Maynard’s memoir of her difficult relationship with Salinger – including unnecessary, TMI-level details of her physical inability to consummate the relationship – is one I wish I’d never read.) But J. D. Salinger – along with Holden Caulfield and the eccentric, preternaturally sensitive Glass siblings – will always occupy a fond space in my imagination and in my heart.

At Long Last – the 2009 Post!
January 16, 2010, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

To anyone still reading at this point…

2009 was not exactly a big year for this blog. I spent more time offline than on, due to well-documented struggles and stress, and spent the last few weeks watching oodles of movies without bothering to write about any of them.

So as we pass into the second half of January 2010, I can safely say I’ve seen as many 2009 releases as I’m going to see anytime soon. And – at last! – I’m ready to do a respectable ‘end of the year’ round-up.

Here goes nothing:

I enjoyed it more than I was supposed to, part 1:

It’s Complicated: To quote Slate’s Dana Stevens: “I reject the logic by which middle-aged female wish fulfillment at the movies deserves only our scorn while adolescent boy-wish fulfillment is worthy of adulation.” Amen, sister! This middle-aged female will freely admit that some of her fantasies involve Alec Baldwin, dream kitchens and firing up a fatty with a few friends for old times sake (although not necessarily all in the same fantasy). As such, I very much enjoyed living vicariously through Meryl Streep’s character for a couple of laugh-packed hours .

I enjoyed it more than I was supposed to, part 2:

2012. It’s not so much the end of the world as we know it as a throwback to the cheesy Irwin Allen produced, all-star-cast disaster epics of the 1970s (“The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake,” “The Towering Inferno’). The special effects are way cooler, but the dialogue is just as hokey. I laughed out loud more times during “2012” than I did in probably any comedy film released last year. If you approach it in the right frame of mind, it’s a rollicking good time at the movies.

Still Not Jumping on the Bandwagon. Sorry.

Inglourious Basterds. I know, I know, I KNOW… Just about everyone loves it. I meant to see it a second time, but have passed on numerous opportunities to do so and just trusted my initial, gut reaction. Tarantino made one hell of an entertaining movie, but his ‘new and improved’ version of World War II feels adolescent and irresponsible to me. (And please go right ahead and tell me I’ve got my head up my ass on this one, because plenty of anonymous commenters did.)

Prettiest Movie of the Year

Cheri Dramatically, Stephen Frears’ adaptation of the Collette novels was a bit weak. But visually, it was the most ravishing film of the year. I watched it a second time for no other reason than to drink in the luxurious details of the set dressing and savor the film’s astonishingly vibrant palette. And Michelle Pfeieffer’s costumes are absolutely to die for.

Three Men Who Disappointed Me:

1. Rob Marshall.
No, that’s not him in the picture, although that guy on the table is also a contributor to my crushing disappointment in Marshall’s “Nine.” My experience of the film was so painful that I could not bring myself to write a review. I’ve long been a fan of the stage musical “Nine,” and have pretty successfully compartmentalized that enthusiasm from my even greater love of its source material, Fellini’s masterpiece “8 1/2”. But Marshall didn’t adapt the stage musical; he remade “8 1/2″ – badly and with musical numbers thrown in occasionally for no apparent reason. (And allowed non-singers to desecrate them in some cases. Nicole Kidman, in particular, should be banished from musical films for eternity; her harsh, untrained mezzo – devoid of nuance and incapable of comfortably reaching high notes – sledgehammers all the beauty and delicacy out of the show’s loveliest number.)”Nine” looks like a wild party on its surface, but it’s glum and joyless, and Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido like a clinically depressed guy who’s wandered into a Vegas revue by mistake.

2. Richard Curtis. I’ve long championed his feel-good romantic comedies. But with “Pirate Radio”, Curtis faced – and failed to surpass – his limitations as a director. This tribute to the early days of pop-rock radio required a buoyant visual style to complement its soundtrack, and Curtis did not deliver. As a result, “Pirate Radio” was a well-meaning but garbled mess.

3. Larry David.
Repeat viewings of “Whatever Works” have forced me to admit that he really can’t act. There’s a great big hole in Woody Allen’s otherwise sprightly comedy where a larger-than-life personality needed to be. But as David showed once again, both here and in this year’s much-ballyhooed season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he is a man resolutely focused on the small stuff. And speaking of “Curb” -that “Seinfeld” reunion notwithstanding – it, too was a major disappointment. Painfully shrill (and way, WAY too heavy on the blow job jokes), this season demonstrated nothing so much as that Larry is pretty much unbearable without Cheryl around.

And Two Men Who Pleasantly Surprised Me:

Robin Williams and Bobcat Goldthwait: When I heard there was a film called “World’s Greatest Dad” starring Robin Williams, I frankly wanted to run screaming into the night. When I heard that it was a dark comedy written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, I was intrigued. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but – at least in its first half – it’s authentically sad and honest, and its features the best performance Williams has given in years, probably since the pre-“Patch Adams”era.


Antichrist. I’m still not quite sure what Lars Von Trier was up to here. A singular achievement, a genuine (and genuinely disturbing) work of art, and a film I’m pretty sure I never, ever want to see again.

The Honor Roll (it’s not a Ten Best list, because I didn’t see ten movies I wanted to honor):

Me and Orson Welles. Richard Linklater’s story of a high schooler who stumbles into a bit part in Orson Welles’ legendary, modern-dress staging of Julius Caesar gets it all absolutely right, from the 30s nostalgia to the anticipatory hopefulness of being young, idealistic and in love. Anyone who’s ever walked into a theatre and felt they’d found their home will identify with the Zac Efron character, and thrill to Linklater’s love letter to the frustration and exhilaration of bringing a play to life. Bonus goodie: Christian McKay’s portrayal of Welles is appropriately larger-than-life, but doesn’t overpower the other players He has all of the real man’s blustering ego and irascible charm and recreates the trademark, sonorous voice to perfection.

Bright Star. Jane Campion’s story of the romance between poet John Keats and his beloved Fanny Brawne was an atypically dry-eyed story of doomed young love. Where it succeeded, brilliantly, was in depicting the rhythms of a early 19th century life, one often consumed in waiting (for a lover to return, for the post to arrive) or in laborious creative effort (both writing poetry and sewing intricate lace collars are shown to be painstaking endeavors). No mean achievement for a period piece.

Tetro. Where, oh where, is the love for Francis Ford Coppola’s latest film? “Tetro” was uneven, sure, but it was more beautiful and daring than most of what passed for cinematic achievement this year. A drama of slowly unraveling family secrets, operatic in its scale, is wrapped within a glorious homage to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Hunger. Director Steve McQueen depicted the fatal hunger strike by IRA leader Bobby Sands – and the events leading up to it – using very little dialogue and very powerful visual imagery. Potentially politically charged subject matter is transmuted into clear-eyed but humanistic observation.

The Hurt Locker. I’m certainly no one to say whether a film about Iraq is authentic, but this one sure feels like reality Neither preachy nor conflated with its own serious self-importance, Kathryn Bigelow’s wartime drama is devastating in its exploration of the ways that “war is a drug.”

A Serious Man. Yep, here’s that same still again (this is the fourth time it’s appeared on this blog.) I love this movie unreservedly – it’s the best work the Coen’s have every done. And the fact that it hasn’t found a wider audience is puzzling to me.

Blind Spots

As of this writing, I have yet to see “Avatar,” “Up,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “A Single Man,” “Coco Avant Chanel,” “Public Enemies,” “Star Trek,” “Paranormal Activity” or “Drag Me to Hell” – to name but a few. So feel free to take all of the preceding with an enormous grain of salt.

Evidence of the Impending Apocalypse:

In 2010, John Cusack is starring in a movie called “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Here is the plot: after a night of drinking Red Bull and vodka, a group of guys travel back in time to 1986 via a “magic” hot tub and get a “do over” on their younger missteps. This sounds considerably dumber than anything Cusack was actually diong in 1986. (I mean, next to this, “One Crazy Summer” sounds like “Citizen Kane”!) How the mighty have fallen….