Friday, April 25, 2008

Movies (April, 2008)

I saw approximately 150 movies in 2007, more than I've seen in any previous year and probably more than I'll see this year. Of the new releases, Jindabyne was the finest one I saw, challenged closely by The Lives of Others. This is the review of Jindabyne that I wrote for the June 20, 2007 issue of the Boise Weekly.

To Surface or Submerge

American writer Raymond Carver's short story So Much Water So Close to Home is the foundation for the Australian release, Jindabyne. It's the second time this particular story has been made into a film, having been one of several Carver stories dealt with more superfically in director Robert Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts. However in Jindabyne, director Ray Lawrence (Lantana) tackles the controversial Carver story and wisely chooses to enhance it and change the ending. The result is one of the most powerful and complex films of this or any year. Jindabyne has been nominated for over 20 Australian awards and international awards and should receive more award nominations here in the United States.

In Jindabyne, four men, Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Carl (John Howard), Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis), and Billy (Simon Stone) leave for a weekend of fishing. After a long drive and several hours of strenuous hiking, they arrive at a wilderness river and, in setting up camp, find the body of a young woman in the river near their campsite. It's too late in the evening to hike back to the car and they're out of cell phone range. So they spend the night and then, somewhat mysteriously, go fishing the next day as originally planned before returning on the third day to report the body. When they arrive home to the New South Wales town of Jindabyne, all hell breaks loose when the fishermen's friends and families find out what they've done. The newspapers scream that the men fished over the body of a dead woman and since the woman is Aborigine and the men are white, accusations of racism are raised. The resulting furor erupts into violence and threatens to destroy families and relationships. Verbal charges are exchanged, rocks are hurled, and fists strike out while the murderer goes about his business unperturbed and unimpeded.

The acting performances in Jindabyne are outstanding, led by Byrne and Laura Linney, who plays the part of Claire, Stewart's wife. The intense Linney, who has previously been nominated for two Academy Awards, may earn herself a third nomination here with precise timing in this flawless performance. "I want to know what happened out there," Claire insists repeatedly, while others tell here, "Let it rest," and "We must move on," They don't understand Claire's need to process the embarrassing and damaging events of the weekend and do not share her sense that some evil is taking over the town. Claire keeps trying to connect with people, including the dead woman's family, and knows that things have to be discussed and processed. They cannot be allowed to drift unaddressed into the past.

Stone is especially interesting in his first film role as Billy, the rookie on this annual fishing trip, and more interested in listening to his iPod, than to sounds of the wilderness. He's out of his comfort zone, but when it comes to making decisions, he surprises everyone by responding in the most appropriate and intelligent manner. Stone is a promising actor. Even the performances of two children, Eva Lazzaro as the troubled and ominous Caylin-Calandria, and 7-year-old Sean Rees-Wemyss as the timid, but inquisitive Tom, are impressive.

Perhaps the biggest star of Jindabyne is Beatrix Christian's script. The story is not told in a capsule dealing with only the events triggered by the fishing trip, but includes experiences that have happened to the people of Jindabyne and how those experiences influence their reactions and responses to their present circumstances. Much that occurs in Jindabyne is subdued and under the surface. We aren't given all the deatails. What happened to Caylin-Calandria's mother? Why did Claire leave her family after Tom was born? Even the town has a mysterious past, having been moved years before to make room for a man-made lake. Now people say they can sometimes hear the town bell ringing under the surface of the lake.

Women and men have traditinally reacted differently to Carver's story. Women are often appalled at the fishermen's behavior, and men are more likely to adopt a "so what" attitude, since the woman was already dead and nothing could be done for her. Jindabyne adds additional complexity to the story and will have both men and women rethinking and possibly revising their responses.

This outstanding film reminds us of the complex ways our lives are interconnected with the lives of others, even strangers. There is danger everywhere, and only by payng attention and caring about others can we deftly sidestep it when it comes for us. Jindabyne is a powerful example that great filmmaking, like great literature, is much more than just entertainment. It probes into the nature and spirit of humanity and raises difficult questions for people to ponder. What is our responsibility to others, even strangers? How much effort do we place in resisting evil and in trying to rescue failing relationships? To what extent should we act as our neighbor's keeper? If the purpose of great art is to challenge people to imagine and reflect on what it means to be human, than Jindabyne is ambitious filmmaking that succeeds spectacularly.

For more of my movie reviews check the Boise Weekly at

Thursday, April 24, 2008

One Hundred and One Things About (& by) Me (in no particular order)

1. i was born in '48. 2. i'm amazed and thankful that i've lived this long. 3. radio is much more interesting than tv, but not as interesting as it used to be. 4. i grew up in a home with no tv. 5. "imagination is more important than knowledge" (albert einstein). 6. i love books, birds, and basketball. 7. i'm not as good as i would like to be. 8. i don't like carrot cake or german chocolate cake. 9. i've been to every state except hawaii, mississippi, alabama, and louisiana. 10. "and now the fun begins " (epitaph for a tombstone). 11. i graduated from lancaster mennonite high school in 1966. 12. i would like to join an FOR (fellowship of reconciliation) delegation to iran. 13. i love movies. 14. i read a complete book every day for several years when i was much younger. 15. i especially like art that crosses artistic boundaries or uses two or more art forms, for example, prose poems, concrete or visual poetry, photos with words and/or language, films with poetry or still photos, poetic films, literature with art, poetry with photos, graffiti sculpture (or sculptured graffiti), architecture that is more than just a structure, ie santiago calatrava (, etc. 16. i want to visit iceland. 17. i occassionally record my dreams. 18. i am the father of 4 daughters. 19. karen is the mother of the same 4 daughters. 20. "hope is a thing with feathers" (emily dickinson). 21. i frequently check my e-mails. 22. i walked across el paso one day in the late sixties. 23. my mother's maidan name was hershey. 24. i didn't know i was going to live this long, but i took pretty good care of myself. 25. bookstores are my favorite shopping experience. 26. books keep following me home from bookstores. 27. i've donated a couple hundred books to a university library in virginia. 28. my childhood playground was a cemetary. 29. i don't like to use abbreviations. 30. in the past year my exercise program has changed from running and playing basketball to walking and working out at the gym. 31. bird songs and the wind sound better than anything on your ipod. 32. for 3 years i attended a one-room schoolhouse with 6 grades in the same room. 33. at my former employer, st. alphonsus regional medical center in boise, idaho, i had a lot of experience with work-related psychological abuse and the defective management that accompanies it. 34. i've been told that i'm much too trusting. 35. unions are a working person's best friend. 36. i love trains, tracks, and everything about railroads. 37. i'm a vegetarian, but i cheat occassionally. 38. i'm a mennonite, but i cheat occassionally. 39. i love to explore. 40. "the gospel without peace is as lifeless as an ocean without water" (ln). 41. i eat too much. 42. i need to lose about 20 pounds. 43. i was born in pennsylvania, lived in texas and idaho and have also "lived!!" in other places including new mexico, nevada, mexico, ireland, canada, oklahoma, oregon, kansas, colorado, arizona, ...., .... 44. i disliked junior high and high school, but i loved college. 45. i spent 13 years in college. 46. i wish i was older, a wish that, with a little blessing, comes true every minute. 47. i write movie reviews for the boise weekly ( 48. since i work nights, i have a good reason to take a nap anytime i want to. 49. i've worked the night shift full time for 32 years. 50. i rarely sleep well at nights. 51. karen is my best friend, plus much more. 52. sometimes i tell people that i'm older than i really am. 53. i'm not particularly fond of cats, dogs, horses, or other domesticated animals. 54. i have a well-developed sense of justice. 55. karen and i have been married for 35 years ! 56. "walking is the best way to see the world..., and your neighborhood" (ln) 57. breakfast is my favorite meal and pasta my favorite food; sometimes i mix the two. 58. "a photograph is a secret about a secret; the more it tells you, the less you know" (diane arbus). 59. i love blueberries. 60. children are endlessly entertaining. 61. "there is no way to peace; peace is the way" (a.j. muste). 62. i use my degree in photography and record as a published photographer and writer as an excuse to look at anything containing words or pictures, that i find interesting. 63. weapons, corporations, governments, and miltary organizations should be more strictly regulated and receive a lot less funding. 64. writers, poets, teachers, musicians, film makers, and other artists should be less strictly regulated and receive a lot more funding. 65. a hug from karen makes my day. 66. i have 3 sisters and 1 brother. 67. i love to run. 68. for local commuting i prefer the bus or walking to driving. 69. "there is no such thing as an infallible book written in a fallible language" (ln). 70. i'm old enough to know better. 71. if my hair grew back i wouldn't know what to do with it. 72. i'm an experienced procrastinator. 73. "service is the rent you pay God for the space you occupy on earth" (barbara swaby). 74. cormac mccarthy is currently the finest living fiction writer in the US. 75." most conservative policies have the same effect on people and the planet, that a speeding freight train has on a car parked on the tracks" (ln). 76. i have 2 grandchildren. 77. my favorite little guy is zach. 78. my favorite little gal is mckayla. 79. my favorite daughter is _________!!!! 80. most of the books i read are collections of poetry. 81. "poetry is to the heart as light to the eyes" (ln). 82. "people who drive the speed limit or faster have no reason to complain about high gas prices" (ln). 83. i love new mexico. 84. my favorite film directors are robert altman, michelangelo antonioni, suzanne bier, and errol morris. 85. "cities should be built on only one side of the street." 86. i almost never buy popcorn or anything to eat and drink at the movies. 87. i have several favorite movies, but if i had to pick only one it would probably be antonioni's "the passenger." 88. i create handmade cards using my own photos. 89. i was 24, almost 25 years old when karen, who was 21, and i got married one morning at sunrise on the campus of amarillo college, in amarillo, texas. 90. i have better things to do with my brain than push hair through the top of my head. 91. if you listen, i will tell you about my life, but i also want to hear about yours. 92. sometimes i walk the 5.5 miles to or from work. 93. "war is the sum of all evils, wrapped up in one" (ln). 94. music is too valuable to use as background noise. 95. i'm interested in anything about and by anabaptists. 96. i love the wind. 97. ronald reagan was the seed that sprouted george w. bush. 98. i like long time spans between flights. 99. the biggest threat to families in the world are military organizations, and the idea that inevitably accompanies them; that it's acceptable to kill unlimited numbers of family members if we don't like the government of the country in which they live. 100. it's sad how much the people wearing earphones are missing. 101. i like to receive hand-written personal letters by mail. 102. i've worked in restaurants, hospitals, cemetaries, churches, and farms; i've made travel trailers, foam cups, tv tubes, plastic bags, pipe fittings; i've picked fruit, potatoes, planted and harvested tobacco, written and published book and movie reviews, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. 102. the most euphoric experiences i've had were climbing mountains. 103. i'm not very good with numbers. 104. thank you, and now it's your turn.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Gravedigger

Ah, The Gravedigger!
Whose spade slices the soil and sends it sailing
into the groundbox.

Hurray for the Gravedigger!
Whose hunched back has hurled tons of dirt, heaving
it out of the earth and back again.

From the doctor who first delivers, to the Gravedigger
who deposits the final delivery, we send...
Three cheers for the Gravedigger!
Whose children play among the tombstones,
their cries echo under a canopy of blue skies
acrobats above 10,000 tightly closed eyes.

This pangyric ode I wrote in honor of my father who spent 40 plus
years working as a gravedigger, most of that time without the benefit
of a backhoe or other mechanized or motorized equipment, using primarily
a shovel, pick, and digging iron. I wrote it for Tom Trusky's
Advanced Poetry Writing class at Boise State University in April, 1993.
Trusky, one of my top two or three favorite instructors for all the 25 years
I spent in school (from first grade through college), was grading tough that day.
I only got a B for the poem. Sorry, Dad.


I know that darkness is a friend of mine
We've held each other's hand in times of stress.
She sees when I've dropped my fervent quest
For light, to pick it up at some future hour.
It's in her embrace I find that extra power.
Although this world may be a total mess,
The truth is everything will turn out fine.
Our relationship has stood the test of time.

We walk the streets together, hand in hand
And guide ourselves from night to night.
Her warm coat blocks the eyes of foes around.
I trust her to protect me from the evil town;
The dying world; I tell you, man to man,
Her darkness is the only path to light.

Inspired by Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night."
Thanks Bob!