The Genius of Jon Bois

February 14th, 2020

Labeling anyone a “genius” would mean that the person doing the labeling views themselves as a subject matter expert in some field or avenue and that’s something that I don’t feel terribly comfortable with or take lightly.

With that acknowledged, Jon Bois is a damned genius. This man uses history, sports, data, new media, and so much more to create compelling stories told in an inventive way.

To speak to his narrative talents, Bois created a two-part, 93-minute long video about how the hypocorism (diminutive form of a name) “Bob” is disappearing in professional sports. In these 93 captivating minutes, Bois tells us stories about athletic greats sharing the name “Bob” such as Feller, Cousy, Gibson, as well as lesser-known Bobs and weaves them all together in a video that feels as conversational and educational as a Ken Burns project yet we absorb these stories in a very original and new format.

Bois is certainly resourceful. His video about Georgia Tech’s football team pummeling Cumberland College’s pieced-together football team 222-0 is a hilarious retelling in part due to how he uses stop-motion animation, figurines, and an almond to recreate moments from the game.
Even though he’s equipped with a signature style and tried-and-true methods, what I truly admire is the way he blends old forms of journalism with new media and evolved methods of storytelling.
His work never relies on large production budgets or a team of artists working around the clock to render his vision – he simply finds an interesting story and figures out how to DIY the presentation.

With the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal a frequent topic, I was recently in a conversation that recalled the last few prominent MLB scandals- PED use in the late 90s through early 00s as well as the rampant cocaine abuse in the 80s. Anytime cocaine use within the MLB is brought up, I have to reference this video about Lonnie Smith. At just under 24 minutes, it’s a very entertaining and easily consumable story. This was one of the earlier videos that sold me entirely on Bois’s work.

Though he does often work on his projects alone, he also teams up with Alex Rubenstein for Dorktown which is an online zine of sorts that features blog posts that blend narratives with statistics, posts that utilize comic-book style storytelling, as well as their signature videos.
I’ve obviously seen them all. They’re all great, but I particularly liked their video on Rickey Henderson and the 2010 San Diego Chargers.

Dorktown is definitely a remarkable project, however, Bois’s strongest and most moving collaboration has been with Felix Biederman. Together, they created a five-part documentary series entitled Fighting in the Age of Loneliness.
Chuck Klosterman’s IV (2006) features the essay “Bonds vs. America” where he states that historians “will search for events within popular culture that embodied the zeitgeist of this particular time. Some people will use sports, not unlike the way contemporary historians might use Seabiscuit as an allegory for the 1930s or Muhammad Ali as a means to define the 1960s. And when future historians try to explain what was wrong with the world early in the twenty-first century, I suspect they will use Barry Bonds.”

I’m a sucker for writers who, as Klosterman writes early in the aforementioned essay, “consider sports to be a significant and meaningful prism for understanding life and culture.”
This is exactly what draws me to Bois and Biederman’s Fighting in the Age of Loneliness.

As someone who has truly never cared about Mixed Martial Arts, this five-part documentary series pulled me in because of the continual parallels that the two men draw between the emergence, then eventual widespread acceptance of MMA and our society at large.
The series is strong and so well-crafted. It is a poignant, profound look at the culture I have spent my adulthood in.

If you are ever faced with the ridiculous dilemma I believe so many of us face all too often, “Which episode of whatever series should I re-watch for the umpteenth time?” I suggest you kick that silly internal predicament aside and spend some time with the work of Jon Bois instead.

Film Log #4 – 1.2020

January 9th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

Let’s take a moment to talk about Film Noir.
One of my earliest introductions to this movement or genre (there’s an academic debate whether or not FN constitutes its own genre or just a movement that has come and gone with the exception of the occasional spoof or neo-noir) was through Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Tracer Bullet, my favorite of Calvin’s alter-egos, is a hard-boiled detective and spoof of what we usually find in FN.

I enjoyed the imagining of this kid governed by so many arbiters of personal behavior as something he so totally isn’t: a Man who plays by his own rules.

The tough talk and dark visuals certainly appealed to me. I, much like Calvin it seems, thought that’s what was waiting for me in adulthood- a life where people lived with much on the line. Where decisions are crucial and consequences weigh heavy.

Onto actual Film Noir. The characters are usually people who live outside of the accepted norms. Sometimes those characters placed or threw themselves into the margins of society, and other times, society pushed them there: career criminals, hoods, street toughs, private investigators, crooked cops, desperate men who had lived on the “straight and narrow” until tragic circumstances placed them ethically between a rock and a hard place.
For the most part, these films live within the gray areas of life.
And it makes perfect sense that the art of this era had no choice but to accept tough realities. Technological advancements came at a much faster pace than societal advancements. The Second Industrial Revolution gave way to a depression sandwiched between two world wars. Much like how the printing press opened a new era in discourse and sharing of ideas, advancements in radio, television, and other forms of broadcasting ideas began to shrink the globe and provide people with new perspectives.

Through a variety of factors including war-time efforts and contributions, women and persons of color had made meaningful steps towards equal rights, yet there were obviously many more battles ahead that continue today in regards to equity and opportunities.
The main point is that the world was moving fast and what many folks used to believe was the correct and virtuous way to live one’s life was morphing. Values were changing.
WWII had ended. Europe was in physical and economic repair. The Allies won, but what the war had shown to many people is that not only is war ugly, but humanity is plain ugly.

Enter the filmmakers of this era. They wanted to depict lives caught in double-crosses, ironclad loves whose fate was to eventually break, and dirty business dealings concluding violently. It’s an era of outstanding photography, characters, subject matter, and intrigue.

I’ve always made an effort to live in a city that provides opportunities for cinephiles. Austin, Texas certainly isn’t an exception. Austin Film Society, as well as the Paramount Summer Film Series, and of course the many Alamo Drafthouses provide many opportunities to experience cinema that I’m very thankful for.

Austin Film Society screened The Asphalt Jungle a handful of times in December. Directed by the much heralded John Huston, it stars Sterling Hayden (who I had only previously seen as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove and as Captain McCluskey in The Godfather) as Dix Handley, a strong arm for hire. He’s crewed up with a driver, a safecracker, and an older man who has masterminded a jewel heist.
The only problem comes in the financing and fencing of the stolen goods. Enter Marilyn Monroe, in one of her earliest performances, as Angela Phinlay – the financier’s gal on the side.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen too many of Monroe’s pictures. After seeing The Asphalt Jungle though, I’m going to have to correct that. You’ve heard it all before, the magnetism, the effortlessness (or perceived effortlessness) and it’s totally true. She makes everyone involved in the scene melt and, in the audience, we do the same.

James Whitmore, who worked like crazy from 1949-2007, is easily identified as Brooks Hatlen (the librarian who ended up becoming “institutionalized” as Red phrased it) in The Shawshank Redemption, plays a getaway driver who also runs a diner and seems to be the best adviser that Dix has.

The film world builds perfectly, introduces the characters and explains their motivations, then sets the stage in such fluid and easy to consume manner. During the heist, a hard-to-believe and fluke occurrence transpires. My ability to sacrifice realism in order to allow myself to enjoy the film took a slight hit. Dix punches a nightwatchmen, knocks him out cold with one punch causing the security guard’s pistol to fall in such a way that induces the firearm to discharge and of course the bullet catches a member of Dix’s crew.

Now, this event essentially closes the second act of the film and it’s the very first time where the film has asked me to give it some leeway in its storytelling. My film companion had noted that when watching many other films, particularly contemporary films, they ask you to accept all of these impossible attributes, otherworldly circumstances, supernatural occurrences, and then also accept some ridiculously fortuitous events in order to propel the story.
I find it more comforting to having only been asked one slight oversight as opposed to what Martin Scorsese recently referred to as “theme park” cinema.

The Asphalt Jungle is worthwhile; would definitely recommend.
I will see it again soon enough.

Not one for getting overly hyped about Christmas, I told myself that I should at least try to see one holiday picture. I remember Scrooged being broadcast on Comedy Central in the late 90s. I caught portions of the airings back then and figured this would be 2019’s holiday film for me.

What a mistake. It’s simply a terrible film. Even with me trying as hard as I could to be in some kind of holiday spirit and enjoy whatever BS that was going to be screened, it was still a very dumb and poorly executed film. While experiencing how bad it was, I googled what Bill Murray had to say about it and it’s clear that there were many arguments during the production of this film.

As I have spoken about Anti-Heroes in the past, what makes them interesting are the complexities and contrasting motivations. Bill Murray’s character is about as flat and unfunny as any character I can imagine. The film attempts to save this unredeemable leading man with a half-cocked cry for help in the last five minutes of the film.

It’s cheap. It’s a waste of time. I don’t see how even the most crazed Bill Murray fans could enjoy it.

Public Speaking is film by Martin Scorsese about noted writer/critic Fran Lebowitz. It was released in 2010 and I remember Fran Lebowitz describing the “suburbanization of New York” around that time. I obviously was interested in hearing more.

However, even as HBO GO became more prevalent and have allowed the majority of HBO’s content to be streamed, this has not been available for streaming (to my knowledge) and I had to rent it from my favorite video store, Vulcan Video.

The film plays out like most biological docs. Scorsese uses an excellent amount of clips showcasing writers/critics like James Baldwin and William F. Buckley and so on while Lebowitz shares quips and insights about contemporary society and so on.

Her points are interesting, some possibly controversial, but they’re certainly not boring or dumb. And after having watched Scrooged, I was happy to not see anything dumb.

I might watch it again. Which is saying something because I generally don’t revisit docs all that often (American Movie probably being the only exception).

Terrance Malick certainly has his strengths. I’d say photography, the use of natural light, and making a committed effort to showcasing earthly truths are his principle strengths.
Storytelling may not be. Whether it’s true or not, it seems like his scenes play out nearly scriptless. That’s fine. Many landmark moments in cinema have been unscripted, but hell, Malick seems to think that every actor is just as good at improvising as they are at acting.

If you’re not familiar with the story, August Diehl (who was outstanding as Major Hellstrom – the guy who calls out Fassbender for how he uses the wrong hand signal for the #3 in the tavern in Inglourious Basterds) stars as an Austrian farmer who is liked in his community, devout in his Catholic faith, and a very loving husband and father.
That all changes as Hitler assumes power. Diehl’s character, real-life Franz Jagerstatter, can’t swear an oath to Hitler and that’s the crux of the film. The film breaks down in so many ways (and so many times!) the excruciating decision Jagerstatter had to make.

I heard a podcaster’s take on The Irishman as, paraphrasing here, “We didn’t need six scenes of Pesci pulling De Niro aside and advising him to go calm down Hoffa (Pacino). Two or three would’ve done the job, but they just kept going back and forth with it and it was unnecessary.”
Similarly, this film repeatedly presented the same dilemma over and over again and consequently, the film ran to upwards of three hours… for a single conflict.

As always, Malick’s visuals are beautiful and there’s plenty of positives to take away from the film, but it can understandably leave one thinking, “why did we have to see the same damn scene over and over again?”

I’ll probably not see again though I did enjoy the film.

I was caught in a strange circumstance where a friend invited me to an afternoon screening of A Hidden Life followed by another asking me to go to a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey later that evening. I happily obliged both invitations.

One of my good friends and college roommate loved 2001 and his DVD copy stayed in my room for a good month or so and though I put it on a dozen times, I’m guilty of having never completed it in one viewing. In recent years, with all the opportunities this town screens 2001 on the big screen, I was committed to finally taking it down.

I was not disappointed. Plenty of people smarter than I have had a ton to say about this film. I’ll simply offer that seeing it on the big screen is obviously a worthwhile experience and Kubrick is basically too good to pass up.

I left the theater knowing that there was certainly going to be a ton of material available to answer the few questions I had.
This New Yorker article helped sort out some questions such as “How many Monoliths were there?” (three), as well as simply needing some clarification on the ending.

Anyhow, it was a spectacle and I’ll probably be seeing it again in the theater in a couple of years.

Film Log #3 – 12.2019

December 13th, 2019

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

Denis Villeneuve was a successful French Canadian filmmaker in his own right before he made his first Hollywood feature, Prisoners (2013). Since then, he’s gone on to direct Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049.
Villeneuve, along with brilliant DoP Roger Deakins (check out his impeccable filmography), uses every opportunity to showcase his command for creating a shot, a moment, a scene. Due to the aesthetics, score, and overall production- it’s very easy to feel his films. This is by design of course, but it’s worth noting just how good he is. Villeneuve simply seems better than most at utilizing all aspects of the medium to ensnare his audience.

With Prisoners, we find two families within a middle-class community struggling to keep it together after the recent disappearance of their daughters. This film could have spun its wheels down the same cliche highway as the many other hostage, family, crime dramas- but Prisoners is different.
Prisoners barely touches on the abductor’s story, instead opting to focus on the psyche of the terrorized loved ones of the abducted (as well as the cop trying to get to the bottom of the case).

This was a great film that was perfectly executed in the performances and production. The film was an exceptional ride, albeit a little on the dark side, and the only criticism I have is about the ending. It left me wanting more. I wanted an extended denouement that wrapped up what I felt was being teed up since the very beginning.

Anyhow, it was still very much a worthwhile experience.
I recommend.
I will gladly watch it again.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I was very motivated to see Jonathan Glazer’s films. Sexy Beast was a captivating film that illustrated a gripping story circling very strong characters.
Glazer’s next two films, Birth and Under the Skin, screen more like film exercises or extended shorts than they do full-length features with a fully-formed narrative.

Where Birth seemed like an opportunity for Glazer to coax a tremendous performance out of Nicole Kidman, Under the Skin feels like an excuse for Glazer to showcase hyper-cool visuals akin to the work he’s done on music videos.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien being of sorts that more or less lures men into a weird building where they are somehow consumed. It’s a strange picture. I wouldn’t say that I was at the edge of my chair, but neither was I totally disinterested. The film basically moved along like a 6-2 baseball game in the 7th. You’ve seen some cool stuff, perhaps you’ve enjoyed it overall, but there’s still a part of you that’s simply counting the outs until it’s over.

I’d recommend if you want to watch Scarlett Johansson lure men on screen for 2 hours.
I most likely won’t revisit this movie.

I’m not going to say anything unexpected here. This film was fine. Some people are upset about the length or the uneasy special effects and some folks are losing their minds saying that this film is the pinnacle of cinematic achievement. I can handle the length and wonky visuals of these elderly actors performing awkward violent acrobatics, but my final opinion is that, though this film is fine in its own right, its real value lies when it’s shouldered beside its brothers: Casino and Goodfellas.
So much previously-learned information is distributed in a new way that we, the viewing public who has been raised on mobster movies, are given the sweet gift of having another layer of the Cinematic Mafia Onion peeled back (or added depending on how you look at it).
Experiencing these old stories rehashed with different or new or now considerably older faces was what brought me the most enjoyment.

To that point, it’s easy to wish that The Irishman were made in the mid 90s, but the book wasn’t published until the early aughts, and what good is it to wish a silly wish?

While watching The Irishman, I felt very similarly to how I felt while watching The Old Man & the Gun. I was watching actors perform at an age where they had nothing to prove and were clearly enjoying themselves as they went through makeup and wardrobe and positioned themselves in front of a camera and a crew on their final rides into the sunset.
That’s about all I have to say on this film.

If you’re wanting to see a great Scorsese film, he’s got better films.
Same can be said for the actors.
If you want to see a great mafia film, there are certainly better mafia films.
If you already like all of these things and already have an appreciation for most of the films from this auteur and these actors, well, this film was made specifically for you (and you’ve probably already seen it and I bet you loved it).

I’d recommend this film only if you’ve already seen the mafia film canon.
Otherwise, go see one of the many classic mafia films.

The Inventor is a stranger-than-fiction account of how a young, ambitious Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford in order to fake it until she sort of made it.
The story is bizarre. Other than a brief employment with uShip, I don’t have much experience with tech people or the ass backwards “culture” that industry manufactures, but from what I’ve gathered, rich folks with even the faintest connections in the the tech industry seem to randomly throw millions of dollars around hoping that one of these million dollar ideas will be the next trillion dollar idea and this lady, Elizabeth Holmes, somehow convinced many, many investors that she was just the person to lead these investors to that trillion dollar Promise Land.

Not one to usually complain about length, but this film could’ve been edited down significantly.
I’m not going to see it again.

Like many docs, if you’re going to spend time on a film, there are so many other films to watch before this one. But if you’re looking for a “true” story about how one young woman pulled the wool over on some corporations and tech investors while exhibiting some Zuckerberg-ish behavior – then I’d say that you’ve found the right film.

Film Log #2 – 11.2019

November 28th, 2019

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

Robert Altman (1925-2006) directed over 30 full length films and more than fifty television programs. Having only seen a handful of his pictures, I recently decided I was way past due to watch one of his most acclaimed films- Nashville (1975).

The film walks the audience through five days in an inherently American city that is gearing up for a political rally for a third-party candidate that seems to have been created in direct response to all the ways that many Americans felt (perhaps still feel) our political system was falling terribly short.
There is no on-screen action or discussion about Nixon, but the production was created and shot immediately following his resignation. I mention Nixon not because this is a particularly political film and though most of the characters are musicians, the film also isn’t specifically about country western music- hell, the film isn’t even about its namesake of Nashville- this film is an effort to illustrate what the country’s collective conscious felt like at a very particular time.
The narrative is gently pushed along by country music and political distrust and a collective sense of failure does meander in and out of the film, but the film isn’t about these particular topics. Every generation deals with benchmarks that shape the collective attitude and this film’s aim was to serve as a mirror so that we could take a good, long look at one another.

Though I wasn’t alive in 1975, the film feels like a tremendous success. It’s easy to imagine these characters maneuvering through their lives just as depicted in the film as well as many Americans carrying on and sharing the same attitudes that permeate throughout the film.

The few Altman films I had seen prior all provided a clue as to what Nashville had in store, but none more than Short Cuts (1993). In SC, Altman weaves about a dozen Raymond Carver short stories together using an extraordinary cast and setting them all in LA. SC definitely primed me for being guided through an extensive character landscape and jumping from one intimate conversation to another; each revealing something true about people. In a very positive way, Nashville brought Short Cuts to recall and I can’t wait to visit it again.

Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies offered that:
“In Nashville and his back-to-back triumphs The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993), he [Robert Altman] pointed the way for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999). The buried message may be that life doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion to the neat ending of a story. It’s messy and we bump up against others, and we’re all in this together. That’s the message I get at the end of Nashville, and it has never failed to move me.”
Too many times we are forced to watch films with tidy conclusions where the story is wrapped up and packaged in such a way that makes me believe the narrative has to be hollow or overly simplistic in order to end so neatly. If it could reasonably be concluded in such a way that makes the audience say, “what a great story – let’s eat dinner” or it provides an obvious cliff-hangar that pre-milks you for a second (or third or fourth or fifth or sixth) installment of what you have just seen.
I prefer films that leave you with a head full of ideas and leave you wanting whiskey, conversation, and rumination about what you have just seen. Nashville certainly delivers in this regard.

I would definitely recommend.
I will definitely revisit this film in the next couple of years.

I’ve been trying to work through Robert Mitchum’s filmography and I came across the above film poster online and decided that was all I needed to give it a go.
Knowing that, I wasn’t knocked off my seat like I was hoping I’d be. Even though it was fun spending time with Mitchum on screen, I wasn’t prepared for this to be a departure from his signature style of a hyper-perceptive, quick-witted and often tender tough guy (and sometimes ruthless bad guy) who was nine times out of ten, two steps ahead of his opposition.

In The Friends of Eddie Coyle however, Mitchum plays a down-on-his-luck criminal/truck driver who can’t seem to catch a break and is waffling about whether or not he should trade information to authorities to keep his away from a jail cell.
That’s all well and good, I had simply never seen him portray a sad sack of a man. Of course he did an outstanding job, but the film still fell short for me.

One of the many reasons the film fell short was because it simply moved towards the same conclusion you’d expect it to and it took its sweet time doing it. Regardless of pace, I was only intrigued with how Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) was going to play his predicament and whether or not he’d be successful. The film does include some robberies, but as far as robbery scenes go, they’re not in the Pantheon of Top Robbery Scenes (the masks the robbers wear are a cool visual though).

Anyhow, I’m glad I got this Mitchum film under my belt, but I wouldn’t recommend it to you unless you’re also looking to scratch Mitchum pictures off your list.
I most likely won’t see it again.

Robert Redford is a treasure who always plays a measured man that seems to always know what’s at stake. The only difference in The Old Man & The Gun is that this will most likely be the absolute last time we’ll ever be able to see Redford throw his charisma around on the big screen.
I watched The Irishman last night (will write about it later), but similar thoughts circled through my head while watching both The Old Man & The Gun and The Irishman – these are good films and I’m having a good time watching these titans ride into the sunset, but to use a sports metaphor, this feels an awful lot like watching Michael Jordan on the Wizards, or Hakeem on the Raptors, or Willie Mays on the Mets, or insert whatever analogy of a way past their prime athlete performing in their final season.

So here we are, an American public that has watched the dapper Robert Redford rob banks and romance women for over 59 years and what do we think about TOM&tG? Other than the fact that Tom Waits is in it (that was a welcome surprise) and that it showcases elderly folks living life in a non-elderly manner, I didn’t come away from the film believing it was a signature moment for any of the people involved. Casey Affleck was fine, Danny Glover was Danny Glover, I always like seeing Sissy Spacek, and I just about beamed anytime Tom Waits was doing his Tom Waits stuff on screen, but this film basically felt like a quality way to pass the time and not a momentous occasion or high-praised cinematic achievement.

I would recommend if you love any of the cast members.
I probably won’t see it again.

Contemporary westerns are few and far between. That’s too bad. Westerns provide the setting of men and women living by a personal code (and not by any governmental law), of having participated in a tragic war and wanting to run West as a way of escaping from the complications that remained in the war-torn eastern part of the country, or simply desiring land and true freedom even if it meant they’d have to stake it and defend it, and on and on.
These timeless ideals are beyond generational (or should be) and I welcome authors and filmmakers to continue growing this genre. With this entire globe having been meticulously mapped and adventure seeming expensive or unattainable, I certainly do enjoy watching two brothers setting out on horseback on an adventure that, if they are successful, will pay handsomely.

The Sisters Brothers is expertly cast. They’re all more sensitive than your stereotypical westerns of decades past, but that’s the point. Joaquin Phoenix is temperamental, John C. Reilly is capable and paternal, and Jake Gyllenhaal showcases a very real connection and brotherhood with the man the principle conflict is centered around.

The cast naturally waltzed through the story and the finished product provides just enough intrigue and more than enough enjoyment.

I definitely recommend this film.
I will probably circle back to it in a few years.

I was hoping for something cerebral and expansive like Interstellar or something along those lines and what we got in return was… something wonky as all hell. There were carnivorous baboons, space pirates that patrol the moon’s surface, and other head scratching moments.
My favorite part was when Pitt was embarking on a long quest through space and for about ten minutes of screen time, his character asks himself self-reflexive questions that people should ask themselves every so often:
Am I happy with where I am and how I got here?
What were the mistakes I made and have I grown from them?
Have I been terribly selfish?
Other than this particular scene, I could pass on the entire film.

I do not recommend this film.
I won’t be revisiting it.

I revisited GoodFellas simply to gear up for The Irishman. If you haven’t seen it, do the damn thing already. This is a film worthy of being regarded as a cultural landmark.
If you care about cinema, culture, music, etc- sit back and enjoy walking through the Copacabana and taking a trip through the cultural history of the mob.

Last time I posted, I raved about Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2002) and Birth was his follow up to that. Birth was a hard turn from his first film. Where SB was hyper-stylized and centered around the decision to participate or not participate in an inventive heist, this film is a dark and brooding drama that attempts to put you inside a family dealing with a random child claiming to be the reincarnation of the family’s deceased husband.
Fairly wild.

Even though Nicole Kidman gives an excellent performance and Lauren Bacall (LAUREN BACALL!) provides a perfect supporting role, the film doesn’t hook me like I believe it’s supposed to. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the intended audience because I certainly couldn’t become invested in the central conflict, but I will say that the execution on the part of the actors and director was very good.

To reiterate, this was the best Kidman performance I’ve ever seen, it just happened to be in a film where I couldn’t really become gripped with the dilemma.

Recommendation? I wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away nor would I highly recommend it.
I probably won’t see it again.

Film Log – 11.2019

November 12th, 2019

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick-hit rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

As an undergrad, I loved the Directors Label series. This series was released when I was a 20-year-old who had the highest regard for hyper stylized art. It was from this series that I was first introduced to Jonathan Glazer. His music videos were engaging and they, at minimum, did the music they were accompanying justice. In many cases, his visual product proved to be the stronger and more expertly executed half of the project.

Anyhow, I somehow stupidly lost track of Mr. Glazer and have only now decided to watch his filmography. It won’t take long, he’s only made three full-length features, Sexy Beast being the first and followed by Birth (2004) and Under the Skin (2013).

SB was outstanding. Glazer’s direction sets the tone with an opening that could double as a music video for the excellent song “Peaches” by The Stranglers. The lead is terrifically played by Ray Winstone; an actor I only recognized off hand from his portrayal of Mr. French in The Departed but has a long performance history. Winstone’s performance as Gal, however impressive it was, was certainly surpassed by Ben Kingsley. This isn’t just because Kingsley plays an intense maniac who sucks all of the air out of every scene, but I was reminded of the many quotes from respected theater professionals claiming that Morgan Freeman was the most terrifying performer they’d ever seen on stage.

As Don Logan, Kingsley uses every look, breath, movement, and mind game to maximize his intimidating nature. It’s important to note that he doesn’t implement calculated intimidation tactics, this man is simply intimidation incarnate. He’s a man who will not be said “no” to. The film succeeds in generating a very sincere and captivating fear in a scene featuring five people sitting around a living room and essentially making dinner plans.

Centered around a negotiation between Gal and Don (and the negotiation’s aftermath), the film is exceptional. It’s cool. It’s tense. It’s a cinematic rush. And I’m very much looking forward to catching up on Glazer’s other two films as soon as possible.

I would definitely recommend.
I will definitely revisit this film in the next couple of years.

I usually avoid biopics. They usually rely too much on blowing a single event of the main character’s life out of proportion and usually feel narratively wonky when trying to boil thirty or so years down to ninety minutes. That said, I’m a pretty big fan of both Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle so I had to give this a go.

While watching this film though, my fandom faded ever so slightly as I was happy to be watching the film, but not particularly pulled into the narrative/performances/production/etc. My favorite part was easily the petty rivalry between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I haven’t done research to confirm whether or not there was actually a substantial feud between the two NASA icons, and maybe my immaturity and taste for conflict and competition is showing here, but that’s the kind of film that I imagine would be captivating. Hollywood being Hollywood however would probably turn an eloquent, thoughtful, and dramatic screenplay about true-life discord amongst two titans of American space exploration and turn it into a Will Ferrell buddy comedy.

Anyhow, Chazelle still showcases moments of exceptional direction and Gosling still turns in a great performance (as does the entire cast), but the film simply falls flat for me. One interesting point is that at age 34, Chazelle provides one of the first instances that I can remember a considerably young artist making a reverential film about a landmark moment and pursuit by the Greatest and Silent Generations. I’m curious as to whether or not we’re going to see other films made in the same vein.

It’s a complicated recommendation:
I’m happy I saw it.
I don’t believe I’m going to go out of my way to see it again.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that you should avoid seeing it, but I wouldn’t encourage you to move this film to the top of your list.

Ever since 2011, Matthew McConaughey made the decision to pursue darker and more honest projects that many would believe would be tougher for large audiences to swallow than fluff pieces like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Those decisions have swapped out his stack of PG-13 rom-coms from the aughts and traded them for a collection of gritty, critically acclaimed films (Killer Joe, Mud, True Detective (Season 1), Dallas Buyers Club, Gold). Most of which have been good-to-great-to-exceptional, and that’s why I was excited about White Boy Rick.

I try to go through the thought process of what makes any actor, let alone an A-Lister who can have nearly any project they like, decide to pass or agree to get involved in any given production; especially if it’s a donkey of a film.

This is a donkey. The idea seems pretty good. Take a look at the film’s tagline on the above poster, “In 1980s Detroit, Rick Wershe Jr. was a street hustler, drug kingpin, and FBI informant all before he turned 16.”
That sounds pretty interesting; it also sounds too good to be true.

I’m guessing that McConaughey was lured into the film because of the above idea, but the script simply isn’t any good. It’s a drug film that falls in line with so many drug film tropes and cliches but only with a slightly different perspective. This movie found a way to turn guns, drugs, and 80s hip-hop into a blasé experience.

Though the soundtrack is cool, the on-screen conflict is lacking, and the actors try their best to prop up a non-cohesive screenplay that seems to throw the audience into weird, manufactured heartfelt situations crammed between the inevitable drama that on-screen criminals and cops always find themselves entangled in.

Last important note, Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie are sort of in the film, but could have been replaced by any actors over 70 and it wouldn’t have mattered. Why include them if they’re simply not going to get any screen time? Oh well.

Wish I would’ve passed on it.
I don’t recommend it.
I do not expect to see it again.

This is regarded as one of the first (perhaps the first) important documentaries about insider politics and campaigns. Perhaps I’ve been desensitized to insider politics due to so much media (both fiction and non-fiction) about Washington-types doing everything they can to make sure that their ideas or mouthpiece gathers as many votes as they can encourage Americans to gift them, but I don’t see any particular type of exceptionalism or genius on screen that I was hoping to see.

It is easy to see how this documentary was groundbreaking for its time, but watching it today does nothing for me other than serve as a reminder as to how out of touch political types are.

I certainly watched it in hopes of gaining a perspective on a foundational political documentary as well as simply mixing up my film list, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you had a massive appetite for political documentaries. If that’s the case, check out The Party’s Over if only for Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

There were many reasons I chose to watch this film: I actively root for Jon Hamm to find his way onto the Big Screen and create a role or acting identity outside of Don Draper, it’s supposed to be a stylized/hip/cool Thinking Man’s type of action film (just watch the trailer), and of course, Jeff Bridges.

Though during my first viewing, I felt like I had already seen the film and had already experienced the same exact “okay, here are all the introductions, and then there’s going to be a big showdown and yada, yada, yada” and I had. This movie felt very much like watching 2018’s version of Smoking Aces.

And you know what? That’s fine. There needs to be X amount of dialogue heavy, psuedo-suspenseful “Talk it Up and Shoot’em Up” type of films per year. I guess I was looking (or hoping) for something a little more substantive and not so excessively stylized.

The film showcases the ability to annoy its audience with scenarios such as why an accomplished man in the world of federal law enforcement would all-of-a-sudden behave so incompetently and why a panicky character would spend three-quarters of the film portraying a man who lacks any type of fortitude instantly transform into some kind of Rambo-esque superhero and there’d be no way to forget the over the top odd-ball Charles Manson-type cult figure played by Chris Hemsworth. I’m not the type to actually roll my eyes, but I’m pretty sure I did a few times.

Here’s my not-so ringing endorsement– as far as “smart-guy action flicks” go, sure, I guess it’s okay – but I’m not gonna see it again.

Yeah, alright, I went and saw the film that everyone had to see.
Depending on your definition of what a “spoiler” is, there might be one below.

Due to the many oft-repeated and much heralded reviews Joaquin Phoenix received for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, I gladly revisited Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master to remind myself what I really, really liked about a strong Phoenix performance. There are certainly great solo performances out there (Nicholson’s many portraits come to mind), but it is truly something different when two formidable masters of craft are both sharing and building something so grand and layered as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix did in The Master.

This particular picture doesn’t resonate at all like that. Todd Phillips’s Joker is getting many comparisons to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, but this film felt more like Micheal Douglas’s Falling Down to me (that’s not a compliment). A down-on-his-luck (and down-on-his meds) chum who is continually getting kicked and beaten down by The System, or society, or his possible billionaire father, or possibly mentally-ill mother, or his own mind/psychosis can’t seem to catch a break and eventually violently spirals into madness.
I won’t go too deep into DC lore, but one thing I’ll note is how helpless and hapless Arthur Fleck is for 80% of the film. In the last act of the film he somewhat takes control (or in his deranged perspective he believes he’s taking control), but I’ll always know DC’s The Joker as a mastermind who can battle wits with Batman. At no point, would I imagine The Joker to previously be some guy who became The Joker because of a lack of societal compassion and our nation’s backwards health care system.
That’s a weird origin story– if only people were nicer and pharmaceuticals were more readily available, Gotham City wouldn’t have to worry about The Joker?

To continue with the political and societal takeaways, the film paints Bruce Wayne’s father as a Donald Trump-type figure and Fleck loses the only pseudo-supportive person in his life (other than his mother, who happens to experience a very odd conclusion) due to a lack of government funding. These forced scenes and manufactured layers to a hollow onion don’t come across as profound, groundbreaking, or meaningful. Instead of being invested in the evolution of Fleck, I was watching a film without a single endearing, worthwhile character. Save your Age of the Anti-Hero counterpoint because most of the so-called Anti-Heroes are multi-dimensional and generally aren’t unreliable narrators that require a Fight Club-esque flashback.

The film uses two Sinatra tunes to push along the narrative, “That’s Life” and “Send in the Clowns”, which is a bummer for me, because it’s going to be awhile before I hear either of those songs I truly enjoy without recalling the corresponding scenes.
The thought I had going into the film was, “The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.”
While watching the film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.
I don’t want to get into “moral responsibility” or any of that, but this film showcased a person unable to connect with society en masse and how he responds to that disconnection is the defining characteristic of the film. I happen to believe that there are a great many people who don’t feel at ease in society and some of our best artists have a way of capturing that feeling of disconnect and turning that feeling into something relatable and worthwhile.

Anyhow, once the movie concluded, I made a beeline straight to the men’s room. Playing softly from the speakers overhead was Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and the music lifted a cumbersome weight off me. For me to experience something from artists that are able to eloquently illustrate their deep frustrations with humanity and the disconnection they have with society en masse without going bonkers was a welcome departure from what I had just spent the previous two hours doing.

You’ve probably already seen it.
I wasn’t a fan.
I don’t believe that I’ll go out of my way to give it another screening.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

June 17th, 2019

June 16, 2019

Prior to the lights dimming and the previews rolling, the Alamo Drafthouse ingeniously fills the early moments of a showtime by running clips that are generally on theme with the picture that is about to begin. Prior to the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse’s screening of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” we were able to experience James Baldwin discussing urban renewal among other similar clips.

With little insight into the film (other than the obvious title, beautiful trailer, and the previously-mentioned Baldwin clips), I hoped for a film that wouldn’t excessively focus on the homogeneous byproducts of gentrification. I was not disappointed.

Though the film is about a man’s quest to reclaim what once belonged to his family, the film doesn’t linger too long or incessantly draw from the well of “gentrification as the villain.” Sure, the film includes roles that are very much in line with illustrating just how shitty gentrification is, most obviously a very easy-to-dislike realtor as well as some malcontent techies, but TLBMiSF does an exceptional job of balancing gentrification themes with the challenges Jimmie and Monty, the two main characters, face within their own community.

This culminates in the third act when Jimmie declares that “people aren’t ONE thing” which leads to Monty protesting moments later that [very loose paraphrasing here] “people are born into systems and walls. That these walls are what hold people back and that we all need to break through and break free from all the shit and uselessness we’re all born into.”

People are not one thing.
Regardless of circumstances, people should not blindly and willfully perpetuate exactly what they were born into.

After watching an exceptional and well-balanced film that touches on many themes including identity, friendship, family, death, and gentrification, I walked out of the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar- an area of town I’ve been familiar with for fifteen years and have seen undergo drastic changes (from humble and beat-down strip mall featuring a Short Stop hamburger hut to gaudy, real-life SoDoSoPa)- and observed conspicuously comfortable folks capping off an Austin Sports & Social Club event at a spiffy new seafood patio bar and… the irony was not lost on me.

I wondered how many other theaters that screen arthouse pictures share similar surroundings?
Who is this film’s intended audience?
What are we to learn?
What (if anything) are we to change?

My first inclination is to reflect on my personal experiences and answer those questions publicly. But I will abstain and simply recommend that you enjoy the film and consider the above.

Election Season is Over

November 6th, 2012


And on the day before the election, Jon Stewart delivered the thought that appropriately closed 2012’s Election Season:

It seems that political organizations and political parties have become whiny bastions of faux-persecuted-victimized individuals that feel like anyone who doesn’t agree with their worldview is persecuting them… do you want to punch them?

—- Jon Stewart to Martha Raddatz on 11/05/2012

It would not be correct to leave out the “punch” part of the bit, but yes, it was in jest- and it was meant to all of those who feel like whoever disagrees with them is, in some way, out to get them.

The meat of that quote- using “faux-persecuted-victimized individuals” to describe partisan folks is too good to ignore.



Election Season is Almost Over – Part II

October 23rd, 2012

My brother posted the best argument about this election (and our government) that I’ve heard so far this season:

Both candidates are guaranteed to expand the powers of the executive branch, as most presidents have done since Washington. With every power grab, they decrease the power of the house and senate, and consequently reduce your voice in how you are governed.

So now we are forced to choose between the candidate that has a track record for sprinting toward expanding executive power (Obama), and the one that ham-handedly compromises his way there (Romney). I’m not saying that the USA will be a dictatorship in the next five, ten, or twenty years, but you can rest assured that both of these candidates and their successors will work to decrease your political, social, or economic freedoms in some way or another. They will do this in the name of “protecting and serving” you, the underprivileged, the elderly, the children, small business, big business, the economy, etc. Throughout history, all forms of government eventually break down into some form of tyranny, using every crisis as an excuse to increase the number of their citizens’ rights they can breach with impunity.

The best analogy I can come up with is that we (the citizens of the USA) are married to an addict (our power-craving, two-party system). It should be stupid for us to react with any amount of shock or disbelief when our government wants to limit our freedoms, take more of our money, or force us to act against our own best interests. Like an addict, they will promise us change, but continue on their own course, until that course ultimately destroys them and everyone tied to them.

I’ll probably chicken out and vote for Romney, hoping against hope that the USA won’t arrive at its inevitable destination of overwhelmingly oppressive executive powers in my lifetime. But the disciplined, courageous, and moral choice given our current political situation seems to be to vote for Obama and other politicians like him and give in to all their wishes, giving the addict what he craves most so that he is forced to destroy himself under the weight of his own addiction so that this evil can be dealt with sooner in my lifetime rather than later in my children’s.

Though it reads like the words of an alarmist, it’s far better than any of the other junk that has been, and will be, plastered all over our social media and news sites for the next two weeks.

My thoughts aren’t congruent with those above, but it is refreshing to hear a voice that sounds human, concerned, and without any blatant disdain or snarky insults hurled towards one side or the other. Even more refreshing, is that without any cute photoshopped memes packed with the stomach-turning snark and vision-narrowing disdain, I’m compelled to think and thoughtfully weigh these ideas instead of irritatingly dismiss them.

Thanks Jon.


Also, earlier today I stumbled onto the P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble and haven’t stopped listening to them. My initial thoughts were how the rhythm section sounds much more like rock than jazz.


A strong review found here, had this to say:

The overall effect — helped along by buoyant, dreamy vocals from soprano Sonia Valldeparas and alto Nina Scheller, in addition to drummer Rick Hearns’s energetic, sometimes rock-like propulsion — feels like the flowering of a new style of cosmic/ ethno/ jazz /pop, one not heard before or since.

 All in all, new tunes, a worthwhile thought about politics, and an evening without having to watch the Cardinals lose to the Giants.

Election Season is Almost Over

October 19th, 2012

I felt free and chained at the same time- like one feels just before election, when all the crooks have been nominated and you are beseeched to vote for the right man. I felt like a hired man, like a jack-of-all-trades, like a hunter, like a rover, like a galley slave, like a pedagogue, like a worm and a louse. I was free, but my limbs were shackled. A democratic soul with a free meal ticket, but no power of locomotion, no voice.

—Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer – 1934


Ciudad Acuna

September 17th, 2012

 The latest from Jonny Wyall –

            Marisol moved out to her father’s avocado orchard the summer of her eighteenth year. She told her mother that it was a matter of establishing Californian residency so that she might be able to afford the likes of a prestigious state institution when in fact she had no mind to enroll anywhere at all. She only wanted to be with her beloved Umberto Colerto who was working full time on the same orchard.

            Now Umberto Colerto was three years Marisol’s senior, a fine avocado picker, a better wheel-man and, above all the sun-ripened fruit of a generation’s labor. He was a pocho, California via Texas via Coahuila. His parents were Mexicans and had been in and out of deportation bureaus – a humiliation Umberto would never have to know.

            “You’re an American, mijo.” Señora Colerto told her baby boy. “Someday that’ll be worth something.”

            And, of course Señora Colerto was right. Upon turning seventeen Umberto promptly dropped out of high school and picked up a job with Coca-Cola. By eighteen, he was promoted to delivery driver. He loved being on the road and the work paid well. His feet knew the gears of his transmission like his tongue knew the taste of the tamarind fruit. He was even friendly with the clerks he delivered to, clerks like Señor Longoria at the Diamond Shamrock.

            “Que onda, Umberto?”

            “Hey Mr. Longoria. Got some Cokes for you sir.”

            “Not for this diabetic.”

            “You have to get off the cookies, sir. Nothing better than a Coke, a little ice, maybe a lime.”

            “Sure, and you gotta get out of that uniform and chase some women, Umberto.”

            Umberto had stocked that Diamond Shamrock a hundred times before but surprises always seem to hide deep in the ledgers of repetition. He was on his way past the register with his second dolly-full of Cokes when he noticed that something pretty had been flushed out of the urban undergrowth and chose to alight by the fridges.

            Longoria had seen it too. “Suerte, compa,” he winked.

            Umberto approached with caution just as the thing reached for a Coke off the front row. He had to say something.

            “Excuse me, mam.”

            It pulled back immediately. Flight was imminent.

             “You don’t want one of those up front. Here, let me get you–”


            “Well, those are a little warm. I’ve got some cold–”

            “Doesn’t it make sense to assume the best in the strangers you meet?”

            “I was just assuming that you wouldn’t want a warm Coke, that’s all.”

            “Well… I don’t.”

           “Good, because you know mam, a warm Coke goes flatter quicker, the bubbles burn the tongue, it’s not nice.”

            “I’m a Ms, Ok?”

            “Looks like I’m amiss,” said Umberto. “But I can’t let you take a warm Coke. Here–”

          He reached to the back of the fridge then stopped. “You know what? I’ve got something better out in the truck.”

          Umberto motioned and the girl followed him out to the last chamber of the Coke truck. He lifted the door, and took out an old, worn bottle.

            “It’s a Mexican Coke. Some stuff’s better from Mexico.



            “Well sir–”

            “It’s Umberto. Umberto Colerto.”

            “Well Umberto, I’m out of gas.”

            “It was either that or you’ve got a sniffin’ problem.” He certainly rounded off his b’s like a pocho.

            “So… I–”

            “So go get your the little can filled up and I’ll give you a ride to your car.”

            “You don’t even know my name,” she said.

            “We’ll get there.”

            And get there they did. It started with 12 ounces of Mexican Coke and grew into a 12 month courtship. They danced the old dance – they drove around all weekend together with nowhere to go, then Monday night Umberto called and they talked about nothing and eventually all of the nothingness added up to a knotted pile of somethingness poised to clarify itself on the eve Marisol’s graduation.

            Marisol still hadn’t committed to a school. Anywhere she went would take her away from Umberto. Anywhere she didn’t go would become a door locked forever. She cried in Umberto’s arms.

            “I don’t know what to do.”

            Umberto cradled her like a baby. He needed a woman. Why: he couldn’t be sure. He felt close to his ancestors when he played the comforter. He closed his eyes and rocked his woman the same way his aunt had rocked him when his father had abandoned him in Texas.

            “I know it hurts baby,” she said. “Seven’s much too tender.”

            He thought about the trip to Lake Amistad. Tio Colerto drove just the two of them down to Del Rio. They had lunch at a cafeteria – ate chicken, drank ice tea – and when they finished Tio Colerto brought over a piece of cheese cake with two candles stuck in it.

            “Eleven’s a good age for a boy,” he said. “Still has heart.”

            They never made it up to Lake Amistad. Instead, after the meal, they crossed the border to Acuña. Umberto remembered how bad his mother’s house looked, one wall completely collapsed, rebar hanging out of the second story floor. A litter of street pups nursing in the corner, the after birth still wet on their tiny coats. The chicken in Umberto’s belly turned over.

              Señora Colerto and her whole flock of friends were all there cooing over how big the baby boy had gotten. They were fat women with stringy hair, mostly barefoot. They stunk of sweat and dog. Umberto’s mother cried – some for the years she’d missed, some for the whore she turned into.

          Umberto’s dad and uncle embraced later at the cafe. They spoke in hushed, colloquial Spanish about the details of the boy’s future. The waiter brought three Corona’s and a Coke; a special occasion indeed.

            The streets were dirt and full of trash. The people were often kind and happy but seeing those smiles amidst the squalor was unsettling and Umberto didn’t like the position it put him in.

“Acuña’s a shambles,” Umberto thought.

          The only chance anyone had was to leave; no one knew this better than Señor Colerto, twelve years banished. To return brought grief and regret. Grief over the good lives rotting away there. Regret for one’s own impotency in reformation. Señor Colerto worked for eight dollars a day in the maquiadoras, the American assembly factories set up around Acuña. They paid only six for those in need of factory housing.

            All of this Umberto kept from Marisol that he might console her. His past reminded him to distinguish true tribulation from an untimely hiccup in the twisting bowels of the first world. Marisol had never known national displacement nor did Umberto ever intend on showing her, at least not at first. But the moonlight began to have its way with his good sense and when Marisol was done crying they came together on the blue couch at her place.

            The next morning they walked down to the community pool: Umberto Marisol and her little brother Pudonte. Umberto paid everyone’s two dollars and they were in. Marisol swam off leaving Pudonte and Umberto alone on the pool chairs. Pudonte was a puny boy, the product of a working mother and an absentee-avocado-farming father. If greatness breeds greatness, one can only assume the reproductive tendencies of mediocrity.

            “See that kid over there,” Pudonte said.

            Umberto peered out from under the towel covering his face.

            “That kid, Daniel Rosenbaum. See him?”

            “What about him?”

            “That kid’s got it coming. Last week he squealed on our hook up.”

            Umberto sat up. “You’re pushing product already?”

          “Cherry magazines,” Pudonte clarified. “Epiphanio was selling them out of his locker. His dad’s got so many. Epi swipes ’em all the time.”

            The kid was splashing around and shrieking like an idiot.

            “But Rosenbaum got caught, see. He led the principal right back to Epi. They got some kind of school warrant, popped his locker open and found the whole stash.”

            “You gotta keep your friends close, P.” Umberto put the towel back on his face. “And the Rosenbaums of this world closer.”

            Umberto remembered why he dropped out of high school. He did feel a sort of fraternal allegiance to Pudonte even if he couldn’t show it. The times were good; the sun was shining, his girl was happy – but even through the towel Umberto could smell the faintest of scents, the turning of summer’s sweet freedoms into the urgencies of fall.

            If he wanted to foster this good thing he had out of its infancy he’d need his best wit. Now that there were more people on board the boat needed steering. No one had told him to savor his time wayfaring and in the wake of its passing he held tight to what he could remember of it. After all, those memories are the opiates that ease one into celibacy.

            Marisol swam up to the ledge of the pool. “Come on boys, let’s get wet,” She said.

            Pudonte jumped in with all his clothes on.

          The next day Umberto was out delivering to some of the peripheral convenience stores. It had been a fine day; of no particular note other than it would be Umberto’s last.  He turned off into a neighborhood and down shifted to a third gear idle. Coke had been good to him.

            There was a cross breeze blowing through his open windows. The mailboxes ticked past. Painted wood posts, beveled stone, brick – they were all miniatures of their corresponding estates, all meticulously modeled in the lot’s theme.  He slowed in approach to the white stone of #204. The Rosenbaums.

           A man pranced through the yard wearing flowing sleeves and a dumpy sun hat- Rosenbaum senior. He bent over and snipped a shoot off his pomegranates. Umberto headed for the cul-de-sac and turned his truck around squaring up to the house. “It’s a good way to go out,” he thought.

            Rosenbaum snipped off another shoot from his pomegranates and looked up just in time to see a Coke truck coming right at him. The engine backfired, Rosenbaum dove into the bushes, the Coke truck jumped the curb and razed the Rosenbaum’s mailbox. The crowd cheered. They come to the corrida to be entertained. Rosenbaum peeked over the bushes, his his face bleeding where he’d caught a shard, the Coke truck idled atop the razed edifice. Rosenbaum scrambled to get the tags. The crowd booed. They believed the truck showed great heart and should be spared.

          This was the Rosenbaum’s residence, but after the mailbox incident it was clear whose house this was. Umberto lowered his hat. The truck lurched into gear, rolled over the rubble and out into the free world.

            Of course Rosenbaum reported the incident. Umberto offered Coke no explanation and was fired. But the smugly satisfied look on Umberto’s face, the half-cocked smile through his chewing of a peanut butter cracker during the reprimand spoke to the liberation of his termination.

            Marisol was scared, what would come of this? Maybe she could work, put off college for awhile and move in to Umberto’s place with him…

            “No,” Umberto told her. “We’re not getting stuck here.”

            “But it’s nice–”

            “They don’t need us here, baby.”

            And with that Umberto packed up his truck – a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a cooler from which he procured an avocado. He tossed the avocado between his hands as if acquainting himself with it.

            “It’s what my dad used to pick,” Umberto said. “That’s how we made it for a while.” He put the avocado back in the cooler. “And that’s how you and I will make it too.”

            “Goodbye Umberto,” said Pudonte. They slapped hands then hugged.

          “Be a good boy, P.” Umberto told him. “Oh, hey, wait.” Umberto opened the door reached behind the seat and pulled out a fresh Cherry magazine. “This ought to get you guys back up and running.”

            “And for you,” Umberto turned to Marisol with an envelope that had her name on it. “I’ll see you in 3 months.”

           Marisol took the envelope and hugged Umberto. “That’s a long time” she said. “What if something changes?”

            “Somethings take a long time,” he said.

            “I could just come with you now,” she said.

            “I’m gonna have to get the work on my own terms.”

            “But what if my dad doesn’t hire you?”

            “Well then he’s gonna wish he did when I’m picking twice as fast as his guys but for somebody else.”

            Umberto started his truck and drove off.

           That night Marisol sat down at her desk and opened the envelope. Along with plane tickets to San Diego, there was a letter.

            “Dearest Marisol, there are some things you have to know about where we are going before you decide to leave where you are. Ciudad Acuña is at once the foulest, desperate places I know, yet it beckons.

            “There was love, I’ve been told, and even a little money on occasion but the times were mostly hard. My dad labored in the U.S. when he could get in. He’d be gone sometimes six months when the work was good. He was a picker, gentle with the fruit, efficient, strong-willed. My mother would wait months for him to come home. Then one day there’d be two tiny trucks on the horizon, one towing the other. I wasn’t even born yet but my cousin Rojillio would run out to the street yelling, “Tio, Tio!” hoping that hidden somewhere in those trucks was a new soccer ball. My dad would look up from tickling him and my mom would be standing there, nearly in tears. They would embrace and for a moment the family would be happy.

            “But the money never lasted long and the times would get hard again. There would be fighting, my dad would drink harder and harder until there was nothing left and he would have to leave again. Most of the men in Acuña operated like this.

            “There were a few restaurants, a small flea-market selling chucheria to the border traffic, a lavanderia, and even a club. These places could hardly provide a living wage to the few workers they did employ, most of whom were children. That’s all Acuña ever was – women and children. The women would chatter like little birds washing clothes, providing support for each other when a husband had been gone too long or when a boy had become old enough to leave for work in the U.S. There were many tears to be cried over such occasions.

            “My mom always kept a steady hustle, though. She collected Coke bottles, mended dresses and, though she’d never meant to, she even took some night calls when she had to. Together with my aunt they made it work for a while.

          “Then one day my dad came home with very little money. He’d overstayed his green card and it’d cost him everything he’d earned in deportation expenses. He was banished to his own country. He took to drink and became even more demanding of my Mom. He’d yell when she’d leave to work at night and by the time she’d get back he’d have passed out somewhere in the dark house. She’d step lightly, sometimes to discover a puddle of vomit here or a pool of urine there. My parents didn’t have a shower to wash themselves, no running water to clean the messes, no railings by which they could pull themselves out of the filth.

           “It wasn’t long after Dad got home for the last time that I was conceived. Biologically, it didn’t matter from whom I came; I was called Colerto.

            “I gave my Mom hope. She loved daydreaming of the places she’d take me, the things she’d teach me, (I could only be a boy, she was sure). But as my due date approached my Mom realized what a Mexican birth would mean for my future. Dad had been a good man and look what Acuña did to him. So Mom cried one lonely tear for her mate, a tear that rolled down her nose and dropped into her Topo Chico, then she got to work.

            “She decided to hire a coyote to take her across the border up to San Antonio. Everyone knew someone who knew a guy in Acuña and it wasn’t long until she’d talked her way into the acquaintance of a coyote called Beto, whom she agreed to pay $300 for the trip.

            “Beto had had some success with a few families in Acuña but perhaps it had been a thing of luck. He was reckless and forgetful. He twice missed the rendezvous while this Señora Colerto, whom he hardly knew and cared even less for, shivered on the banks of the Rio Bravo. She’d wait a few hours then slip back into the water and over to the Anglo side again.

            “I was kicking then, ready to pop out and get to it. Mom hushed me with a rub of her hand while the other combed out her smooth black hair. She set off for the river one last time.

            “It was a three mile walk south to the spot where the fence was snipped. She pulled back the rusted chain link, ducked through and then repositioned it so that it would stay unnoticed in case her sister ever needed the route. She waddled down to the banks, took off her sandals and tucked those into the trash bag she’d brought along for her dry things – her serape and some white pieces of sheet – just in case I came early. She tied off the bag, smeared mud on her face and arms, and waded across the Bravo.

            “It was 1:15 when Beto’s truck finally showed up. ‘Buenos noches, Señora.’ He said. He lifted his night-vision and produced a red pocket light with which he lit the way. ‘Vamos.’

             “He loaded us into a fake tool box buried in blankets and covered with a camper shell. He kept the truck blacked out, using his night-vision to navigate a system of ranch roads, stopping often to open and close galvanized gates.

            “Each time they stopped my mom would fear the worst. Then she’d hear a gate creak open, the cattle guard buzz under their tires and they’d be back on their way. Though she needed it, there was no sleep to be had in that box. She felt contractions coming on. I was ready.

            “She kicked open the little door she was hidden behind, did her best to spread a blanket. Green and red lights flashed on behind them. Beto sped up. My mom screamed. The contractions got stronger, longer. Beto lost control, spun off the road and slammed into a ditch. He took off. The back doors flung open and there stood two U.S. Agents, official witnesses to my American birth.”

            Marisol realized her place in the entitled generation. Even if she did get pregnant it would be nothing like what she’d just read. Things were easy for her and thusly she felt yoked with a weighty debt; how much and to whom was unclear. She read on.

           “My mom was arrested and we were deported as soon as my umbilical cord had been cut. My dad met us at the border. He stayed awake for a very long time after that. I was dealt an ace.

            “I spent the next seven years in Acuña. My dad was working again, this time for the hotels down in Playa del Carmen. The money wasn’t as good as it had been picking, but at least it was steady. My mom still washed clothes and worked around the city to make ends meet. When I asked her about those days she told me I had a cat that I loved very much and there’s even a picture of me holding it but I don’t remember loving any cat.

            “One day my dad told me to pack a bag. ‘We’re going to see your Tio in Tejas,’ he said.

            “My uncle’s place wasn’t much to look at but there was a lot of land to play on and there would be American schools and American standards. We stayed in Texas for a week until all the arrangements had been made between the men. Dad bent down and hugged me. ‘I’m going to rent us a few movies,’ He told me. Then he kissed me and drove off.

            “I cried a mighty cry when I found out he wasn’t coming back. But the tears dried on their own. ‘Crying won’t get it done,’ my uncle told me.

            “Ever since I moved to Texas I dreamed of going back to Acuña, raising my family, starting a business, hiring on a few hands. Everyone says America is the land of opportunity and, true enough, it still fosters the opportunistic, but sloth reigns. Those guys down there in Acuña need what we’ve got more than anyone here does.

            “Come to California with me, Marisol. From there we’ll set it all in motion.  Love, Umberto.” Marisol cherished the letter.


            It was the last day of picking for the week, and soon enough, the season. Eugene made his rounds through his orchard like he did every day. He started with the machine shed, checked the truck’s tires, made sure his guys swept the place out the night before. Everything was well arranged so he moved on to where the pickers were picking.

          The avocado crop was average that season, but the trees were still young and there was plenty of improvement Eugene could prune into those trees in the coming winter months. Young trees can’t be expected to bear with such austere solidarity with the single-minded dedication to production of older stock. There was still time.

           Most of Eugene’s pickers were of that older stock. They’d been around long enough to know what Eugene expected of them including, with reasonable allowance, the expectation that all pickers respond to English. The result was a lean business: five pickers, two barns, one truck. There was housing for the pickers and everyone ate breakfast and lunch together in the big house. In the end, Eugene was able to coax enough fruit out of his trees to keep bacon on the table.

           Umberto was the newest picker but, like the rest of the Colertos, he worked with passion. He learned the Californian clipping process fast, filled his fruit bags with fervor and struggled only when it came time to finish the tops of his trees with a picking pole. He took delicate pride in handling the avocados and even the other pickers noticed the sentiment. There was no greater variety than the Haas they harvested, nor a greater region in which to grow it.

           “Umberto come down here, I’ve got to talk to you.” It was Eugene. He’d nearly finished his rounds and come upon Umberto still working in his tree.

            “Yes sir, boss,” Umberto said. He swung down and followed Eugene to the truck. “Nice day, huh boss?”

             “Sit down, Umberto.” Eugene said.

             “Yes sir.” Umberto took a seat on the lowered tailgate.

             “Umberto I like you, you do good work around here.”  He spoke with unease.

             “Thanks boss.”

             “What I mean to say is, I don’t want to lose you to the off-season. I know how you guys are – you work, you move on. I understand that. These guys just load their entire lives into these tiny shit Nissan trucks, hook ’em together and I never see ’em again.”

              “Well it saves on gas that way, boss.”

            “I know it does,” Eugene said, almost sentimentally. “But you don’t have one of those little trucks, Umberto.”

             “No sir, I’ve got a full-size.”

             “Look, I know it’s only been a few months, but I can tell by the cut of your jib that you’re not like those other guys.”

            Umberto now knew where this was going and he took a deep breath, wished the clouds would open up and start raining, spare him from doing what diligence demanded.

             “I want you back next season, Umberto. That’s why I’m going to double your price. You’ll be picking twice your weight by then anyway and I think you’ve got a good way with the other guys.” Eugene was proud of himself, like he’d been rehearsing. “Well, how does that sound?”

             Umberto looked pale.

             “Well come on then, it’s twice what you could make at any other farm.” He reached into the sack he’d been carrying, procured two Diet Cokes, still cold, and handed one to Umberto.

             “Thanks boss,” Umberto said. “Listen, there’s something I gotta tell you.”

             “If it’s about that magazine that disappeared off the john–”

           “You know, somebody got your daughter pregnant.” He paused. “And what I’m trying to say here is I got your daughter pregnant.” Umberto was hit with a flood of emotion. All the passion he shared with Marisol suddenly stood trial. “We’ve been together for a year, since Texas boss, I swear. It just happened, you know.”

             “What happened?”

             “Well, we just got back from Sonic, you were out… so we took your bed–”

             “What I mean is… why couldn’t you guys tell me?”

             The two sat in silence a moment, both holding their Diet Cokes.

             “I came out here because of her, boss. To ask you for her hand. It’s what we both want.”

      “I’m gonna be a grandfather.”

          “That’s right.” Umberto smiled. The labor had disposed him to enjoying simpler things. “But I can’t come back next season, boss.” I’ve got to go back to Acuña. I have to take your daughter there and raise my family. I can’t come back next season… I’m sorry boss.”

             Eugene looked over his orchard. It was what he knew, it was his work. How could one man deny another his work? He twisted off the cap to his Diet Coke, raised it in a cheers and said, “To Acuña.”

              Umberto laughed. “To Ciudad Acuña, boss.”

            They both had a long drink and even though the picker would have never picked Diet, it still tasted good.