Moonlighting

A Book to Warm Your Toes on a Cold Winter’s Night

Laurence Housman, an Englishman who lived from 1865-1959, was mostly known as a playwright, often with a somewhat scandalous bent. He also wrote a delightful collection of original fairy tales titled Moonlight & Fairyland. Along with the stories are 16 fabulous full-color illustrations by Pauline Martin, inset on glossy paper (see snaps below).

Housman has a nice feel for the fairy tale form. The stories are sweet, sad, creepy, violent, scary, funny, and entertaining. He understands that fairy tales are guilty pleasures, like candies, that should be gobbled up and enjoyed. As some of you know, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with folk and fairy tales over the past few years, having written many of my own. I’m happy to add Housman’s wonderfully produced volume to my bookshelf. This was a gift from a friend. Publication date 1978.

(Rating: Fairy Tales Are Like a Box of Chocolates!)

Brain Benders

I’m once again moonlighting as a film reviewer. Both of the following are free on Amazon Prime and two of my favorites that I watched in January. If you’re up for a bipolar evening of movies, watch them back-to-back.

housegames-1House of Games is an interesting little grifter film from 1987, written and directed by David Mamet, about a gang of small-time con men just trying to make a living. You can see the wheels of Mamet’s duplicitous mind in motion as the story builds, and the do-gooder psychiatrist played by Lindsay Crouse becomes the mark. It’s fairly early work for Mamet. He had only a few screenplays under his belt before it, but this is his directorial debut. The acting is surprisingly awful, so bad that it actually added to my enjoyment of the movie. I’m guessing some of this was intentional as Mamet wanted to give the film the feel of early noir. But wow! Crouse is a nightmare in this movie. Drop it on your watch list just for fun.

(Rating: Don’t Burn the Popcorn!)

steeltoes-1On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Steel Toes. This film, released in 2007, set in Montreal, is about a skinhead who brutally murders an immigrant and must own up to his crime. If you can stomach the violent opening scene, you’re in for a fascinating debate between the angry skinhead full of rage and hate, and the compassionate Jewish lawyer who chooses to defend him in court. David Gow wrote the screenplay and the original stage play upon which it was based. The performances are riveting, with both leads showing incredible range. A very relevant movie in our current social climate, well worth watching, contemplating, and discussing.

(Rating: Emotional Roller Coaster!)

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Winter Wonders and Spiritual Blunders

Discover (or Rediscover) the Joy of Wonder

This month, I invite you to celebrate your sense of wonder with one of the best books I’ve read all year, Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. In fact, it took me all year to read it. Not because it wasn’t wonderful. It was! But rather, it’s one of those books that taps so deeply into the creative process you’ll want to read it slowly, in bits and pieces, and not necessarily in chapter order. This book is far more than an instructional manual for writers. Its highly visual presentation celebrates the writer’s wandering and wild mind and our need, as imaginative thinkers, to be both artistically free and disciplined. In keeping with the holiday season, I’ll call it a nutcracker for the analytical brain. A great Christmas gift for yourself or the creative writer in your family. Or me, for that matter, since I borrowed it from a friend, and now I have to return it. Interesting note: By the time I finally finished reading the book, the publisher released a revised and expanded edition

(Rating: Delightfully Mind-Blowing!)

Upstate NY is a Great Place for Stark Landscapes and Bleak Stories

I oughta know. I grew up there. And Christmas is a fine time of year to perseverate over God, religion, faith, what we believe in, and why we believe it. So, in the spirit of self-examination, I’m recommending a super depressing little indie drama called First Reformed, released earlier this year, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried. I loved the way the movie began as one thing, stumbled into something weirdly awkward, and then rolled headlong into the entirely unexpected. Hawke plays the reverend Ernst Toller, a deeply troubled man, running away from his tortured past, only to discover that his past and God are both conspiring to destroy him. It takes a perfect storm of inner and outer conflict, and a fair bit of coincidence, to trip this guy’s wire, but it’s a helluva trip. This is not a holiday movie by any means, but I invite you to take a step back from the consumerism of the season and watch this film. Think about where you fall on the spectrum of hope and despair, which I think is what this movie is really all about. You can view it for free on Amazon Prime. Interesting note: Don’t be too disappointed that Hawke’s stylish movie-poster goatee does not appear in the film. 

(Rating: Break Out the Jim Beam!)