Sunday, January 31, 2010


In 2009 I managed to do something I don’t think I ever did before: I completed a New Year’s Resolution. It wasn’t to lose weight or save lots of money or be more organized—I’m not such an optimist—& setting the bar low is probably why I succeeded.

No, I resolved last January to finally do all the Bronte sisters. That is to say, I resolved to read all their major works— Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall & Agnes Grey, & Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. How, I wondered, having gotten through high school, college & a couple of decades thereafter without reading any of these, could I consider myself a true bookworm?

Again, I made it easy on myself: Charlotte wrote a couple of other novels, like Shirley & the posthumously-published The Professor & all three wrote some poetry, but I decided that this stuff didn’t fall into the category of “major works” & stuck with their Top 40 hits. Because I didn’t resolve not to procrastinate, it ended up a race against time, but early in the afternoon of December 31 I polished off the last page of Jane Eyre, & took a psychic victory lap.

My conclusion? Them gals could write.

Those of you who read these books back when you were supposed to must excuse my belated gush, but what an astounding experience it was to take them in one big year-long gulp. All three authors were geniuses, so unmistakably related in their voices, & yet so different and idiosyncratic, each with her own stylistic strengths (& weaknesses).

This made it impossible for me to pick a favorite. My favorite was whichever one I was reading at the time. Wuthering Heights amazed & humbled me. There were passages of the prose of such grandeur & flowing beauty that they made me feel foolish for ever having tried to write anything—like the only dignified thing to do would be to just simply give up.

But...I couldn't help it, I also found it funny. Not from ineptitude, far from it; the book's a great work of authentic art, & I'm sure it shows bad character on my part, but the characters are all so relentless in their ferocious spite that it kept cracking me up. And then, when Heathcliff's weakling son Linton showed up, I lost it completely—I kept hearing all of his dialogue in the voice of Prince Herbert from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Heights did contain my single favorite sentence from any of the books, however: Nelly Dean describes the religious-fanatic servant Joseph thusly: “He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbors.

Jane Eyre was probably the most accessible & exciting of the Bronte tales, with its tough, smart, observant, likable heroine & the eccentric object of her unsimpering adoration, Rochester, & with its wild gothic backstory, so expertly revealed. But masterly as her more famous sisters unquestionably were, I’d like to put in a good word for Anne.

I gather that she’s long been regarded as sort of the Stephen Baldwin of the Bronte clan, but I found Anne’s two books—especially Wildfell Hall, her yarn of a serious-minded young woman’s ill-advised marriage to a handsome, selfish debauchee—convincing & gripping, with a psychological acuity worthy, almost, of George Eliot. Though her style is more low-key, Anne seems to me to have had chops every bit as strong as her sisters.

Friday, January 29, 2010


RIP to J.D. Salinger; here is Stephen King's sensible comment on him. Here, better yet, is The Onion's take. Norman Mailer quipped that "Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school." Various sarcastic replies would be possible given the speaker, of course, but that doesn't alter the essential accuracy of the remark.

(RIP also Howard Zinn, on whom I can't otherwise comment, as I've never read him.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


RIPs to...

Diminutive actress Zelda Rubinstein, the creepiest (& most charming) presence in Poltergeist...

...and also to the ever-virile Pernell Roberts, best known as Adam Cartwright on Bonanza, a role he disdained: He once modestly & graciously compared his presence in the cast to "Isaac Stern sitting in with Lawrence Welk."

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Last Thursday The Wife & I celebrated our 18th anniversary by driving to Palm Springs, along with Lily...

Little did we know, when we booked our room, that we’d be driving through some of the more intense desert rainstorms to have hit southern California & Arizona in quite awhile. Stretches of the drive along I-10 were a bit hairy, & the roads in Palm Springs were flooded like canals.

We had a blast, though—the rain gave us an excuse to stay in the room & eat carry-out, though we did venture out to Sherman’s Deli (twice!) & Matchbox Pizza. We also timed our visit to the Hyatt’s grand-re-opening after a snazzy remodel, so as guests we were invited to the party Friday evening, where I feasted on raw oysters, sushi, shrimp cocktail, cheese & bread & an array of desserts, including really delectable green-tea panna cotta, which The Wife said was “what I’d imagine a golf course tastes like.”

Friday night we also watched the last Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. In addition to a superb performance of “Long May You Run” by Neil Young, it included the spectacle of a giant sloth skeleton spraying beluga caviar out of a hose onto a Picasso. Something tells me not to expect anything that extravagantly weird from Leno’s show.

We also watched the movie An Education...

It stars Carey Mulligan as a gifted suburban-London schoolgirl who, in 1962, becomes involved with an older man, a skeevy dodgy petty art thief & blockbusting real-estate agent played the ever-annoying Peter Sarsgaard, never better employed. Scripted by Nick Hornby, it’s a watchable little coming-of-age picture with fine period detail & funny performances by Alfred Molina & Cara Seymour as Mulligan’s parents.

The Wife also got this pic from our balcony, of snow on the mountaintops like powdered sugar on a bundt cake:

My pal Mark sent me the link to this ten-part (!) video review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s by some guy from Milwaukee named Mike Stoklasa, & despite some gratuitous sick n’ twisted humor, it’s a masterpiece of incisive, common-sense criticism—it should be taught in film schools.

WGN America has been showing episodes of Barney Miller Sunday evenings. What a freakin’ awesome, original, beautifully-acted, ahead-of-its-time show.

I read recently that Dennis Farina, who was a cop in Chicago before he became an actor, said that in his opinion Barney Miller was the most realistic cop show ever on TV. I’d love to think that this was true—that real-life cops are these reflective, soft-spoken, tirelessly courteous, open-minded, generous-hearted people. I hope they’ve been role models to some real cops.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Recently I was sent a picture from an evening I remember very vividly in 1986...

It's from the last night of the existence of the radio station WSEG-FM, where I worked graveyard at the time, & the frequency for which had been awarded to a competitor, WJET, who would be taking it over at midnight. In the forground, wearing the hat, is station owner Ron Seggi, now a Florida-based fixture in syndicated radio. Many good pals are in the crowd, including one of my closest & most oft-referred-to cronies, Stan, who's skulking at the very rear of the pack.

I'm at the far left in the Hawaiian shirt. Don't I look like I should be some shaky low-rent coke dealer who gives information to Philip Michael Thomas on Miami Vice?

My most vivid memory of that evening is all of us gathered in the studio as midnight approached, playing whatever we felt like, singing along to "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Amazing to think that was two & a half decades ago. The song still holds true.

Monday, January 18, 2010


RIP to Donald Goerke, the inventor of SpaghettiOs, who has passed on at 83...

This weekend The Wife & I caught up with a movie I missed during award season: A Single Man.

Fashion designer Tom Ford made his directorial debut with this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel about an expat British professor teaching in L.A. in 1962, walking wounded after the death of his longtime partner months earlier in a car crash. The pace drags at times, but, as might be expected, Ford's eye is impeccable, both for composition & for period detail.

Above all, the film hosts a classic performance by Colin Firth in the title role. The flashback scene in which he learns of his lover's accident is a one-take stunner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010


The heroine of The Lovely Bones, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), narrates the story of her own murder from the Great Beyond. She’s in a sort of transitional part of the Afterlife, unable to let go of her suburban eastern-Pennsylvania world. She’s still connected to & able to observe her bereaved family & others in her life, including her murderer (Stanley Tucci), a serial child-killer.

Alice Sebold’s 2002 best-seller seemed like natural source material for director Peter Jackson—his early masterpiece Heavenly Creatures offered a similar mix of tragic horror with exalted otherworldly visions. But The Lovely Bones, though not without memorable aspects, is on the whole a ponderous misfire.

On the memorable side: Ronan is a beautiful child whose face can register wonder without insipidity, & whose captivatingly cadenced voice carries us along & doesn’t grow wearisome, even though there’s too much narration. She’s outstanding. As Susie’s father, Mark Wahlberg, with the simplicity & emotional immediacy of his style, continues to impress as an actor, & Tucci is potent as the darting-eyed, milquetoast creep. But most of the actors, among them Rachel Weisz as Susie’s mother, Susan Sarandon as the wacky grandmother & Michael Imperioli as a police detective, don’t come across very strongly.

It’s not their fault, though. Jackson’s approach to the story seems largely to be the illustration of Susie’s voice-overs. Only when he steps away from this does the movie come to life—the scene leading up the murder is genuinely grueling, & a later sequence in which Susie’s sister (Rose McIver) breaks into the killer’s house in search of evidence is a fine set-piece exercise in Hitchcock-style suspense.

As for Jackson’s take on the Next World, there’s one epic & magnificently surreal image: A series of huge ships-in-bottles running aground & shattering on a rocky beach. It’s a poignant symbol of the father’s grief. The rest of the Afterlife landscapes are surprisingly banal New-Agey poster art.

By the way, the “lovely bones” of the title, Susie explains, are supposed to be the relationships that have grown up between the survivors because of the tragedy. But this is precisely what the movie doesn’t give us—we feel no special sense of engagement or ensemble riffing between these actors. Dem bones ain’t connected to each other.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Did you hear? The earthquake in Haiti is the result of God still being pissed because the Haitians' ancestors, slaves of the French, made a pact with The Devil to get out of bondage. Thus sprach Pat Robertson.

RIP to Art Clokey, Jr., creator of Gumby & of Davey and Goliath, who’s passed on at 88. Check out his 1953 short Gumbasia, which showcased the technique by which Gumby & pals came to life.

Check out this montage of 2009 movies; at 7 minutes, it’s probably the best & certainly the most economical way to experience the year in film.

Also, check out this cool time-lapse video from Niagara Falls.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This weekend Barry & I went to Daybreakers

The shtick here is that most of the people in the world have turned into vampires, & society is now set up to accommodate them—a nocturnal schedule, of course, & underground sidewalks & cars with windows that tint black for daytime driving (bold product-placement choice Chrysler!). Humans are now factory-farmed, Matrix-style, for blood, by a corporation led by the satanic Sam Neill. But there’s still not enough of the red stuff to go around, & blood-starved vamps are mutating into grotesque bat-monsters. So vamp-hematologist hero Ethan Hawke is searching for a blood replacement. He falls in with fugitive humans, Willem Dafoe among them, who have discovered a cure for vampirism.

It’s a clever premise, there are a few OK action scenes, & a macabre scene in which one of the bat-freaks invades Hawke’s house. But the movie is paced like plasma in January, & the dialogue is wooden, as is much of the acting. This concept had some juicy possibilities, most of them squandered.

By the way, what is it about becoming a vampire that improves your fashion sense so much? Especially since you can’t see yourself in a mirror…

Also this weekend, The Wife & I went to Cupcakes in Scottsdale, where we had these seriously extravagant cupcakes…

(photo credit: The Wife)

Finally, channel-surfing this weekend, I came across a truly admirable porn title: The Devil Wears Nada.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Welcome to Less Hat, Moorhead on Blogspot. Before launching into 2010 in earnest, let’s wrap up a bit of 2009 business: Here’s my '09 Top Ten list:

Inglourious Basterds
The Road
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Crazy Heart
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
A Serious Man

Here are quick takes on a few more stragglers from the ‘09 season:

The Young Victoria: Emily Blunt, with her splendid dour glower, seems like a pretty good choice to play the young version of history’s most famously Not-Amused woman. She’s pleasing in the role, Rupert Friend is adequate as her Prince Albert, & there are a few choice turns among the supporting cast. But the story of her ascension to the throne & her unexpected discovery that she actually liked the guy she got tossed together with simply isn’t dramatic enough (at least as dramatized here) to persuade us that it’s worth our time. There’s nothing really wrong with the movie, there’s just nothing very compelling about it.

The Hurt Locker: A friend of mine has often complained about action movies which depict heroes “blown to safety by the force of huge explosions.” This story of a bomb-disposal unit in 2004 Baghdad stands in reproach to that childish style—it dissects what the concussions of road side bombs do to objects & people. The movie, about a young Sergeant (the excellent Jeremy Renner) & his addiction to the risks of his job, effectively depicts some of the grim psychological maiming that U.S. combatants are said to be suffering in our current wars, & these spiritual ravages are dazzlingly externalized by the physical punch of the bombs. The director, the talented but never before so disciplined Kathryn Bigelow, seems to be explaining to us what bombs do to human bodies as if we were children, like George Clooney does with bullets in Three Kings. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

It’s Complicated: Meryl Streep is a Santa Barbara baker, affluent & long-divorced, who impulsively starts fooling around with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) behind the back of the young wife (Lake Bell) for whom he left her. Baldwin, alive with reckless mischief, is at his leering best here—the sheer, obvious pleasure that he takes in working opposite Streep is hilarious. It’s also understandable—impressive as Streep’s early work was, it’s taken turning into an old lady for her to truly find her sexiness. Steve Martin is also around, as a sweet, wounded-by-divorce architect who likes Streep, but he’s a bit recessive here; he doesn’t even try to compete with Baldwin. The script, by director Nancy Meyers, meanders a bit, & is rather dismissive about the morality of the affair, but her dialogue is often smart, & these charming actors are able to convince us that it’s all just good lewd middle-aged fun.