Poem: Contested Bloodbath

“Their skin is different and they’re coming!”

scream enflamed anuses, wearing masks and burning leaflets,

censored Wicker Man stuck in a Nicolas Cage,

“Rage is power” scream dire spokesmen, “Unleash and burn it all!”

stupid blades jag left and write, authoring wars of confused misdirection,

rope-a-dope movement, dump it in the fryer, sleep to the scream symphony,

“It’s my party and you’ll die if I want you to,”

delegates bound with twine, chewing cud and bullshit,

hanging from rafters and pissing on the electorate,

“”Plunge suffocation,” master says, “this man lost faith”

standing over onetime prophet, shoving his head in a bucket,

face force into sunlight, offstruck at the hinge,

“Not one of us will know rules but dangers are all around,”

read by the light of their glowing eyes, dream by the paranoid light,

the spies everywhere, false hearts in drunken frenzy,

“Look!” the hangman spouts, “to your left is a liar,”

bathe in kin blood, don’t look back, future reflective blindsight,

blodpile champion, leading down a darkened suicide,

“Hear the shouts and raise the blinds high, we finally come home,”

months after, the carnage was through,

the dead outnumber the living, and no one sings the old songs.

Poem: Contested Bloodbath

Poem: The Last Game

The host held the mic at its base, wielding it like poo on a stick and jabbing it at people,

“What’s the answer?”

words pointed sharp, loud and aggressive at first,

when young, sweat beaded, teeth whitened, a positivity tornado,

after three decades, he hates it all now,

everyone, braying bitch bastards, mistake machines and turbo divas,

making eyes at the camera, never for cue cards and kissy faces,

“God you are ass-ugly,  stupid,”

and they laughed, cheered and put him in magazines.

he stares straight forward, asking himself to monolog, but he forgot the words,

weeping on the white tile floor, landing a squish moist mat,

six bullets in the revolver, ready to bang a curtain call,

“Get this wrong and I die”

he threatens with barrel to temple, pressing and shaking,

“Honeydew,” she said, though the answer was cantaloupe,

two words, short and sweet to be his last,

“so close,”

bang said the gun, everyone screamed

retrospect hilarity, and they study it in school now, too,

he wanted to win oscars, now he’s a psychology thesis,

“Richard Preston, suicide champion, the dawning of a new performance art.”

Poem: The Last Game

Poem: Death Ceremony

The Prince is dead, anointed and mysterious,

poppy pills likely the blow, a set upon existence dealt,

for who he was all he knew was want, truckloads of never enough,

crouched in a foxhole, shrapnel cinders overhead,

loveliness and lovely loneliness, floating a gilded heart,

lip smack teeth taste, every eye all asparkle,

gaseous spite and ruthless desire, groundwater poison tattoo face,

too good to live, we didn’t deserve him.

Poem: Death Ceremony

A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Writer:Terrence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)

Stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill

As I left the theater having just seen The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorcese’s newest meditation on excess, I felt as if I was in a daze.  Was that really three hours?  The amount of drug abuse, nudity, and near-constant profanity in the film corresponded to make its lengthy run time seem to whip by.  In the story of Jordan Belfort, real life stockbroker, drug addict, convicted felon, and motivational speaker, Scorcese has found yet another historical example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between wealth and moral turpitude.  Like Goodfellas and Casino before it, Wolf shows the way that the quest for money can cloud your judgement, desensitize you to suffering (particularly your own), and possibly end in no great lesson.

I say possibly because whether or not Dicaprio’s Jordan Belfort truly learns anything in the film is a personal judgement that each viewer should reach on their own after they view it, which I would recommend.  I consider The Wolf of Wall Street to be Scorcese’s most enjoyable work since the first half of Gangs of New York.  During its first two hours, I had an ear-to-ear grin that did not leave my face.  The credit for this, beyond Scorcese’s as-ever obvious mastery of the form, goes to Dicaprio’s brash performance, which I consider the greatest of his career.

Personally I’ve never loved that Dicaprio has become Scorcese’s obvious muse.  Though I liked him in Shutter Island and The Aviator, I thought he was too soft for The Departed or the aforementioned Gangs.  Maybe it’s my own prejudice against his obvious beauty, but I’ve never bought him as the badass.  In The Wolf of Wall Street however, I finally see what Dicaprio really has above other actors, a twinkle in his eye.  Dicaprio, plays Belfort as a sort of drunken pixie; charmed, reckless and egotistical, he attracted and repelled me in the same time. Dicaprio’s Belfort, after a lunch with capitalist zen master Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, who steals the show in the film’s first half hour, never to be seen again), sets his sights on unfathomable riches, and will not be dissuaded.

Beyond McConaughey, of course, Dicaprio is flanked by outstanding supporting performances.  Jonah Hill affects a heavy northeastern accent (I couldn’t place it) and a disregard for decorum that rivals Dicaprio’s.  Rob Reiner is charismatic as Belfort’s anger-addicted father, and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) is a believable morally stalwart FBI agent.  But for me, the best supporting performance is Margot Robbie’s turn as the deceptively intelligent sexpot Naomi Lapaglia.  Like Lorraine Bracco’s Karen Hill in Goodfellas, she’s drawn into a morally and legally untenable situation by the charismatic male lead, but keeps her backbone and edge, making him pay (as best she can) for his mistakes.

The Wolf of Wall Street, while overstuffed and exhausting, such that it may leave an audience either gasping for air or looking for a pillow, is a fitting capper to Scorcese’s Triptych of decadence (Goodfellas and Casino were the first two).  Though I can’t speak to its specific message without giving away the film’s finale, I will say that I found the film sobering, and that Belfort did not win my favor.  After the first hour of the film, Belfort’s first wife is never seen or heard from again, and the two kids he claimed to have with her are never seen at all.  In the end, due to this and many other elements of the story, Scorcese has shown me that a lust for money and power can rob you of your reason, your freedom, and your soul.

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A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

4 songs

Elvis Costello: You Belong to Me (1978)

I love Elvis Costello, particularly for his 1978 album This Years Model, which I regard as nearly perfect.  My favorite song on the album, “You Belong to Me,” is one that I consider elemental, both in the energy of it and in its message.  The song opens with loose rhythmic plucking of a rockabilly steel guitar, a spirited energy that becomes manic when a rapid paced drum and tambourine hit underneath it.  Then the centerpiece of two loud, basic pipe organ chords rip through, and the song becomes truly addicting.  The lyrics start off with a wistful picture of misspent youth, even including a sly reference to teenage pregnancy (“She’s been to see the doctor so you hope that she recovers”), before rejoicing in the danger and freedom of youth.  And then, Elvis shifts into the expression of true rock rebellion, concluding that “No uniform’s gonna keep you warm.”  This song evokes a smart-ass teenage kid, refusing to join the army, and I can’t think of anything more rock and roll than that.

Vince Staples: Jump off the Roof (2015)

Vince Staples is an exemplary young California-based rapper, and in 2015 his album Summertime ’06 he displayed greatness, particularly with complex, emotional songs like “Jump off the Roof.”  The song begins with two choruses of tortured choirs singing high chords of lament, presumably to prepare the listener for the darkness of the song.  Despite a rapid drumming on what sounds like empty paint cans, a beat that seems like it would feel right at home in a latin-flavored party banger, Vince begins with the sentiment “What’s your addiction, baby?” which links nicely to verses concerning the implacability of drug addiction.  In line with the picture Staples paints of urban hopelessness, he finishes the song with a bitterly satirical reference to a sentiment that in a real way helps perpetuate the existence of an underclass: “It’s fine baby girl I don’t need a rubber, nothing wrong in the world with another mother.”  In this way, Staples describes in an emotionally devastating way that there is a segment of the population for whom suicide may be the best option.

Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus: Quick Joey Small (Run, Joey, Run) (1968)

This is a great pop record born out of an ill-considered idea.  Two record producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, brought together eight separate groups into one supergroup, an experiment that ended just a year after its conception.  Despite the frankly boneheaded nature of the enterprise in itself, “Quick Joey Small,” the centerpiece of this mishmash, is pure fun.  This song is the story of a work-prison escape, and the verses are belched by what sounds like a frog-voiced field foreman, giving updates on a street corner through a paper cone.  Though this is addictive and grin-producing, the song truly comes into its own at the chorus, where a mass of singers warn Joey that “The hounds are on your tail.”  Then with a slight upturn in pitch they continue, saying that “They’re gonna send you back to jail.”  I’m hard pressed to imagine a song more playful than “Quick Joey Small,” and the fun it inspires will linger long after the last note is struck.

David Byrne: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover) (2008)

The Talking Heads are, all things considered, my favorite band of all time, and since their dissolution, frontman David Byrne has continued to produce occasionally exceptional music.  One example of this comes from his 2008 live album, Live from Austin, TX, where Byrne did an emotionally revelatory rendition of Whitney Houston’s 1987 party-pop megahit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”  While Houston’s version is definitely fun, it might give you cavities, and her performance does not correspond with the lyrics.  The lyrics portray a lonely individual, pleading to an empty sky for someone to love, though it delivers no one.  While Houston tackled the depressing nature of these lyrics by simply ignoring them, Byrne instead layers them over a sweeping line of violins, thus giving them a sense of proud hope.  These violins, as well as bongo’s, marimba’s (I believe), and many other instruments I’m unfamiliar with, give the song a beautiful energy, and a wonderful sense of fun.

4 songs

Poem: Becoming

Way home from Tony’s, eggs and Halava in a plastic bag, a brilliant moment exploded,

a Toyota ripped down the street, screeched and ejected a passenger, a frantic fat man undoing his pants,

you know the expression, he is frenzy want and need, one that left the car running,

unsmiling, as if in a trance, I just took it.

 

I was only 15, and I don’t know where it came from, this conception,

that rules don’t mean anything, and penalty is only consequence, catch me if you can,

I just drove, knowing no one was looking for me, until I abandoned in two blocks adjacent,

scampering through bush over fence.

 

I was free of it, my decision, and I only wonder what I’ve wrought back then,

how much inconvenience, and perhaps pointlessly missed the birth of his son, or some likewise calamity,

I’ll never know or care probably, as it shakes out in memory, realize that reality is what you say,

I didn’t really, I wish I had, don’t you?

Poem: Becoming

Poem: Inevitable War

Blink with a whoosh and a rise up, doom leads the way looming, and it’s not like we don’t all know,

facing it in the sun and wash ourselves in the “oh well.”  Bisecting processions of misunderstandings,

no one owes or pays like ever, really.  Nihilism is my birth stone, and I’m adorned with dirt and tatters,

but perish and cherish, the shadow creator, you’ll terrace it all in a day or two.  My head stays dry,

understand that we don’t always know how we got where we are, just remember it’s pointless and,

dot dot dot you know, pointlessly pointed and dangerous deadly, and I just have to remember that.

 

But remember what?  Remember that?  Screw that it’s not, because tables have corners and good’s to be had,

kiss your best girl, make her a disco ball and see what happens.  Jab, center point, elbow intent, comrade gain,

capital G in the house, makin’ it like you didn’t know it could, and yeah maybe it’s not really him.  So scream us,

punctuate longing and it’s not a thing, nothing motionless exists at all.  God is motionless, that’s the whole thing.

 

I ask, how can you just stop wanting?

 

Chuckle little thing, snapping your fingers and twiddling a reed in your teeth, crossing your shins,

not a whisper seed concept possibly, none of it man is what the kids call me, freedom personified,

ready for all every of nothing.  It’s path is a memory-eraser, and who cares if shit is free, it’s shitty,

tyrant rise from ashes full afire, every wasted sentence will stick, sickness of a rush compact air,

the world waving plague tides, freedom sentences harshly, and punishment falls like raindrops,

so find the disciple within, steel him to the coming trials, and be the key, but more than likely not

 

Probably?  Is that what we’re saying?  Destiny Press Your Luck, Deal Howie and then laugh or cry depending,

knowledge of ignorance noxious stink tail, seeing eyes peer monopoly fractals, from and at every of every all,

sight is not vile, to be met with pancake batter, but sharded sharp-edge.  A samurai aim precisely pricked up,

point focus falter, as all else shatters and peppers the air, time is study, remaking cameras following my every.

 

You answer, why would you ask?

Poem: Inevitable War

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year, the striking feature from up-and-coming writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost), is an astounding achievement.  From the performances (Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyewolo), the intensely layered plotting, and the fantastically subtle screenplay, it is in every way superior.  Set in New York, 1981, the time, date and location, in captions, are the first things seen on screen.  Beyond this, the film is conspicuously absent of any dating, as no pop culture or even news from the time receives any mention in this insular, personal story.

It would only be possible to tell such a personal story with an extremely gifted actor in the lead, which this film has in Oscar Isaac (Drive, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina).  In an early scene Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), giving his newest sales reps a pep talk before they head out for the first calls, says “You will never do anything as hard as looking someone straight in the eye, and telling the truth.”  While Abel is allowed by his position to believe that this is true, his wife and head accountant Anna (Jessica Chastain), daughter of a reputed New York mobster, knows that things are more complicated than that.  With his wife and his attorney (Albert Brooks) telling him from one side that he must deal with the gangsters ripping him off in whatever way he can, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyewolo) watching him closely for any malfeasance, and a slate of hijackings crippling his business, Abel must find a way to survive.

But for Abel, it is not enough merely to survive, he must thrive and conquer.  This brings us to the core of what A Most Violent year truly is; an immigrant story.  In one pivotal scene Anna (Chastain) laughs at her husband for believing that they’ve achieved their opulent lifestyle purely through the sweat of his own brow, when she knows that the truth is far murkier than that.  He follows what he refers to as “standard industry practice,” glossing over the fact that these practices include some things (like under-reporting load weights and hiring undocumented workers) that are not technically legal.  The film does not dig deep into what specific illegalities Standard Oil (Abel’s Trucking company) perpetrated, preferring instead to load its script with beautifully written and intensely emotional speeches.

I’m so personally enamored with the central performances in A Most Violent Year that they almost overshadow the screenplay, but the screenplay is so precise and well-observed that it shines through as the most exemplary component of the film.  When Abel has a meeting at the back of a large seemingly Italian restaurant with the heads of other, presumably larger oil companies in the area, he sits them down and says simply, “stop.”  The simple desperation of this conversation is matched by the next scene in which, during a conversation with his college-student nephew, a cadre of girls walk by and Abel simply says “Jesus, I don’t know how you get any work done around here.”  This simple spot of humor caused me to laugh out loud, though it is not all that funny, because with this his third film, J.C. Chandor has introduced himself as a master of understated tension, and created what may come to be the greatest film of the decade.

 

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Movie Review: A Most Violent Year

The Head (Volume 2)

His name was Alister, or that’s what he took, anyways,

like a coin he flipped, into the thieves ken, student-wise,

“Or so he says” said the boy, but Horshoe is elder, he decides,

“The future can be ours,” he said, “But I am older always,”

like a windy rainstorm on the plain, rushing and nothing else,

the boy is blustery screaming vengeance for the horror wrought,

wrought in the future though, it must be said, if he’s honest,

“For now you tire,” says jackal taking a knee, “Rest and heal,”

these were kind words, the boy realized, and felt a familiarity.

 

He lay on a cot against the wall, Jackal kicked the leg out,

calcium musical collision, he was socked, eyes open,

“Okay kid,” Horshoe howled coyotily, and Jackal too,

“”First task:” in unison declared, “We need a dinner,”

“Get us food,” Jackal put plainly, an assignment was had,

“Find a stranger,” Horshoe held my gaze in his hands,

as he pounded his palm, “And take what’s his,”

“Get food,” Jackal interjected, “If you don’t I’ll be cross,”

Horshoe cackled, “Worry not, he’ll do naught without say-so,”

Jackal said nothing, allowing his knuckles to dangle,

the boy was off, to search for a coin purse or pettibag,

bystanders are spread wide, seems, rivers between,

daylight lingers caution, so once again waiting’s the game,

no hidden hovel, his shelter was the strength of his gait.

 

Sunset and Alister saw a citizen, stretching in a field,

“Like a mental case,” spoken aloud, “What are you?”

“Readying,” he said, folding his arms over his knee,

“Do you not?” he quested like he’s the teacher,

so the boy threw a rock, on a straight line to his temple,

that was intent, of course far from real, as it landed in hay,

the citizen ignored it, as if righteous, or he didn’t notice,

lies like these are oil, pour it on and set it aflame,

charging, gripping, pounding and crushing his head,

such was Alister’s intent, but he was disarmed quick,

his wrist was wrenched, and his eyes blurred white flash,

the boy cried out, praying as his knees hit the ground,

and a final thud, just as he heard Jackal and Horshoe,

 

The boy woke to the two of them sitting, filled up and forthright,

he noticed a dead body near the fire, “was his death required?””

the boy asked, crestfallen morality mask, asking and curving eyebrows,

“Requirement is illusion,” Horshoe taught, “4 letter words,”

“Like have and must are poison, directions and barriers,”

and they taught that in the world, self is the one only good,

the boy saw through their seduction, his eyes on the guidebook,

they were vulnerable, the boy figured of the unarmed thieves,

wine was a drunk then, and each of them swayed crashing,

but there were two of them, so he set to sewing conflict,

“So where to next?” he asked, to Jackal only, as Horshoe watched,

“Training,” said Horshoe stone faced, “You need teaching,”

“This is true,” Jackal agreed, “But our stores need filling,”

and the two of them fought, plastered confusion face paint.

 

Each of them cursed the other, and Alister stirred the pot,

“Horshoe said” was a lie I told, and “Jackal said” the same,

Horshoe: “I taught Jackal all he knows, and he would be nothing were I not everything,”

Jackal: “Horshoe is a liar and a thief whose day as come, he’s dead and his time is done,”

he agreed to aid each, palming blades and burying pebbles,

the boy pledged aid to each, waiting for a cleansing bloodbath,

Jackal: “You will approach from behind, piercing flab and muscled exterior coverings,”

Horshoe: “You will cut his throat while I hold his arms and we douse our flame in his blood,”

at sunrise, dual betrayal deliberated too late, time to go,

this was the time pledged to both, so the boy decided to see,

Jackal and Horshoe both struggled, expecting my aid, forthcoming not through the fight

Jackal stabbed Horshoe in the torso, as his throat was cut, and both of them fell away.

 

Both of the thieves Alister travelled with were bleeding to death,

as he had killed both of them, in self defense he’d figured,

and though they were both dead, their lessons remained,

he searched both satchels, finding them empty, thieves are poor,

but thrown off discarded into a ditch, a wolf’s eyes were still,

the boy boiled as this bystander was a salesman from the night before,

the boy’s thoughts of honor, his belief in the concept was threatened,

perhaps no such thing is, he spoke aloud in his head to himself,

honor is dead, and coin is the one poor good, so he wrapped the head,

slinging it in a satchel over shoulder, he set out to sell his wares,

he wait for darkness, the head overslung shoulder, torch held aloft.

 

Volume 1:

https://andrewhalteromniblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/poetry-the-head-volume-1/

The Head (Volume 2)

My Case for Michael Shannon as Batman

I recently saw Midnight Special, and though overall it left me somewhat cold, I did come out of the theater confident in one assertion: Michael Shannon should be the next actor to play Batman.  I say this because more than any other actor who’s played this iconic role, I believe Shannon has the perfect combination of an intimidating aspect, all-consuming passion, and absolute insanity that I’ve come to believe the role requires.  Because of this I believe that Shannon is by far the best choice to take the role of Batman, and that he could find new dimensions of character in Gotham City’s vigilant guardian.

For the straight-faced intimidating stare Batman uses when he shakes down criminals, look to Nelson Van Alden, Shannon’s character on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  As Van Alden, Shannon brings an impenetrable gloominess and a clear-eyed certainty, both of which I think would be perfect for the caped crusader.  I envision Shannon in the cape and the mask beating a few street toughs silently, wordlessly and mercilessly, giving them all nightmares with his permanently stone faced glower.  He also would not need to modulate his voice (like Bale’s annoying rasp), as his bass mumble evokes the ultimate humorless authority figure.

I feel that Shannon would animate the untrusting, secretive and obsessive nature of Bruce Wayne.  Given Shannon’s wonderful performance in Jeff Nichols Take Shelter, wherein he plays a man consumed by terrifying nightmares and apocalyptic hallucinations.  As the film goes on, it is plainly evident in Shannon’s face that his character has an increasingly tenuous grasp on reality, and as this grasp evaporates he becomes more wide-eyed and desperate with each scene.  I believe Shannon would do well to bring these elements of inner torment and social disconnection to Bruce Wayne, perhaps ruling over board meetings by pounding on surfaces with unnerving intensity.

Bruce Wayne is not a well man, and Michael Shannon could portray this with effortless ease.  William Friedkin’s stellar nightmare Bug is a prime example of Shannon’s ability to play unhinged.  The physicality Shannon portrays in Bug is dangerous and manic, such as I believe has been lacking in previous portrayals of Gotham’s most eccentric citizen.

My Case for Michael Shannon as Batman