Category Archives: Reviews

Roz Chast (and my “Humor” file)

Roz Chast is a writer/cartoonist. I first discovered her over 20 years ago. These were theĀ comics, “Bartlett’s Unfamiliar Quotations”, that I saw. I about lost it. Chast is a cartoonist for The New Yorker but I don’t read that publication; I think I saw these particular ones reprinted in a City paper. I clipped them out and still have the yellowing newspaper in my “Humor” file, a thick collection of various odds & ends I’ve found funny. It serves no purpose other than to amuse me. I don’t know if this is unusual but my humor has been fairly consistent; the things I found funny in decades past are still likely to make me laugh.

Roz Chast recently publishedĀ Going Into Town: A Love Letter To New York, described as a “graphic memoir.” As soon as I heard about it I reserved it at the library. It’s a great, quick-read book. I’ll grant you my reading material as of late hasn’t been all that funny but I laughed more resding this book than any I can recall in a long time.

I don’t think you’d need any particular familiarity with New York to enjoy this book. I spent a little time in New York long ago but that is the extent of my firsthand knowledge. To be honest, I never truly understood the layout of the burroughs exactly or Manhattan’s streets before seeing Chast’s illustratios. Her New York is quirky and fun – this isn’t a book about subway murders or gang violence. She’s a middle class – probably upper middle – white lady; she’s writing about what she knows, not Harlem. I think that I need to make that clear but for me it takes nothing from the book or its point.

After reading the book in one sitting (about an hour) I went looking in my Humor file for that old comic. I would have posted it here instead of just adding a link but I expect that would be a copyright violation. While looking through the file I found a “one panel” comic I drew. The weird thing is, that while I KNOW I drew this – and feel it wasn’t that terribly long ago – I don’t definitively know why I drew it. This isn’t like me; I can remember things I drew in grade school so this memory blank is odd. I can certainly imagine what I must have been thinking/feeling, that’s not too hard! It made me laugh now so I thought I’d share it with you.


Poe-tic Thoughts

I was already thinking about writing a post on an Edgar Allen Poe poem, when I saw on another blog that January 19 is Poe’s birthday.

If you were to ask me my favorite poem (not that you would), I’d probably say Annabel Lee. Wikipedia says the poem is Poe’s last complete one, published in 1849, not long after his death. I first heard it in childhood, and although I didn’t understand it till much later, I think there must have been something in the cadence which resonated with me from the first.

In 2011, the amazing, indefatigable Stevie Nicks – who turns 67 this year – set the poem to music. Initially, I was surprised by the fast, upbeat tone, but quickly loved the song and think it totally works. In my “research” for this post, I discovered that Joan Baez set Annabel Lee to music in 1967, but that version, which I’d never heard, lacks a hook and doesn’t have staying power. I also found that Alesana, a North Carolina band by way of Baltimore did a 2010 concept album, The Emptiness, based in part around Poe’s poem. Those are just a few of the works inspired by Annabel Lee.

Clearly, I have plenty of company in finding something hypnotic, beautiful, and lasting in Poe’s sad poetic tale.

“All is Lost”

This past summer I watched a DVD of the 2013 film, All Is Lost, featuring Robert Redford, conceived and directed by J. C. Chandor. With virtually no dialogue and only Redford onscreen for almost the entirety, the film captures one man’s determination to stay alive adrift at sea. It’s not an easy film to watch, but so well worth the effort.

There is a depth and a quality to Redford’s performance that is the result of years’ experience. When a performer reaches his level, all the self-conscious mannerisms, the posing and posturing, are gone, stripped down to raw character. It was a privilege to watch this man, this actor, at the pinnacle of his skills. Despite a little concern beforehand, I did not notice the absence of dialogue or other performers.

Redford is so good that you can sense there are people in his life “back home,” a reason to fight as hard as he does. I do not know who else could do this role. Eastwood maybe, although, with no one to play off of and/or fight against (key to his acting), he might not have the ability to go within himself – and stay there – as Redford does for the firm’s duration.

There’s one shot of Redford in particular that still haunts me – and the movie as a whole has stayed in my consciousness – where the blood visibly drains from his face. How, how, does someone do that?

In DVD extras, director Chandor said this part was for Redford. He admits to trepidation over directing the famed senior actor, not to mention subjecting him to the physical stresses of the job. The end result, though, proved both to the challenge.

I was surprised to see that Amazon reviewers, about 1800 people, gave the film a cumulative 3 out of 5 rating. This is one time I don’t want to read anyone else’s opinion or criticism, even after the fact. Professional critics scored it much higher. If I was going to guess, Amazon reviewers probably didn’t think enough “happened” action-wise, while movie critics lauded Redford’s performance.

As I said, the film isn’t easy fare, but with Redford spending so much time in recent years offscreen, I jumped at the chance to see him, especially in this genre. Moreover, I think I owe someone of his skill and talent, an actor, director and innovator I’ve appreciated for decades, to watch him do what he does best. Understated brilliance.