Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Recently I posted my poem, "Darling Mary," which was first featured on the lovely podcast Other People's Flowers 

Here is another of mine from Other People's Flowers inspired by the 1979 Suzann Pitt short film.


-after Suzann Pitt

Candy red apple heels,
blonde hair pulled back,
I pull on the asparagus
and wrap my lips around
its purple bloom. I leave him
to sleep in his maroon
leather Laz-E-Boy, the bunny–
eared TV lit with grinning
Republicans. I clip-clock out
the dollhouse into the night
of polymer snow and I sneak
into a theater, where,
in the dim light, I make out
that the spectators are made
of clay. I shake plastic
flurries off my black fur
and watch the screen:
a clown smears his makeup
with tears. His voice creams
with agony. He stabs a man
and then his woman.
The clay people rise
out of their seats
with scowling faces. I leave
to find in an alley, a discarded box,
the size of a coffin, with a picture
of a RobotMaid on it. I take my heels
and I slide inside to wrap myself
in my fur and the bubbled plastic.

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, July 26, 2019

once upon a time in hollywood

The phones flashed on and off occasionally during my mall theater viewing of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, jolting me a bit out of from Quentin Tarantino's mythic, luxuriating 1969 world-building. I could sense the audience's restlessness. This is a movie that wallows in period detail. The technical elements--rich, riveting soundtrack and sound design--the exquisite production design and effects (all those buzzing neon lights!)--the costuming (by Arianne Phillips--delivering a few soon-to-be cinematic iconic looks)--are all outstanding per usual. It's been some time though, maybe since Ingloruious Basterds, that the Tarantino universe has really shined. In fact, it's his first set distinctly  from an era he has constantly riffed from. The movie is fueled on period entertainment and consumerism (loved all the use of commercials fading in and out of the rock radio soundtrack)--and one can see how these elements are part of an ongoing American capitalistic slog--"a circle game"--of distraction from our wars and world events (blindness is a motif throughout).

Leonardo DiCaprio's craggy, alcohol-swilling washed-up actor Rick Dalton is one of his finer portraits--a woozy mix of humorous sways of wheezing broadness and a deep underlying sadness. Even though DiCaprio is still firmly a movie star (his last picture was his Academy Award-winning turn in The Revenant), it's interesting to see him play a character so reflective upon his golden boy past. 

He is paired with Brad Pitt, in buddy-flick fashion, playing his stunt double, who is given a rich characterization by Tarantino as no-frills aging, but still nimble, tough guy. Clad with shades in either denim or a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt, he has a solitary, breezy but sort of melancholy existence with his pit-bull; one of the best scenes is Cliff's long evening ride home from Rick's mansion to his mac-n-cheese dinner-making in his tiny and tinny desert trailer.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, with her convertible windblown blond hair, who happens to live with husband Roman Polanski next to Cliff on the eve of the Manson murders. It's a haunting character and Tarantino delivers another strong scene in a simple sunny afternoon as she picks up a present for Polanski and joyfully sees one of her pictures at the cinema.

As the title suggests, Tarantino's film is a fairy-tale, though rooted and mired in historical specificity. The most captivating obsessions are ones that are simultaneously repellent and alluring. This is an intentionally shaggy movie and there are some less-than-successful parts like the somewhat weak portrayls of the hippies and a finale which was a bit overcooked--so to speak--though my restless audience applauded that they finally got what they paid for. But the when Tarantino is bathing in details and characterizations, the movie soars like no other out there in years. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg 

Monday, July 15, 2019

annabelle comes home

I’ve been listening recently to the audio book of John Updike’s Rabbit Redux. It takes place in 1969 Pennsylvania during the moon landing, 2001: Space OdysseyChappaquiddick and the beginnings of parking lot sprawls. Depicted within is Rabbit's white male rage against blacks, Greeks shilling Toyotas, chemicals in food, the Kennedy clan and FDR, smug late night hosts on the “idiot box.” In his piercing critical essays on cinema, James Baldwin said of The Exorcist, "The mindless and hysterical banality of the evil presented... is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should certainly know more about evil than that; if they pretend otherwise, they are lying, and not only blacks—many, many others, including white children—can call them on this lie." So much in America could be described as "mindless and hysterical banality." In the year of the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon, the same systematic powers persist, the same evil churns, and we still go to movies to be presented with horror--affecting us all in differing ways.

If the fashions and AM gold music cues bear true—Annabelle Comes Home takes place somewhere in the middle of the eras of Rabbit Redux and The Exorcist. This is the latest Warner Brothers horror quickie with period polish in James Wan’s seemingly endless universe of Lorraine and Ed Warren supernatural lore. Directed with Scooby Doo panache and bumper car haunted fun-house inflected cheese by Gary Dauberman, the new Annabelle sequel is surprisingly effective in its mostly "one night," small parameters of the Warren house: a fog machine and jump scare-drenched treat. Dauberman helped write many of the Conjuring spin-offs as well as the It remake—all of which are of varying degree of quality (I was lulled asleep in the theater by The Nun).

But Annabelle Comes Home is a groovy sleepover flick with textures that could have been devised by Sofia Coppola (egg beater whipped pink frosting, wallpaper of thorny twisted red blooms, an effectively used Mattel pastel boxed late 60s game called Feeley Meeley). The story follows Annabelle as she's taken back to the Warren house and enclosed in a cathedral glass cage, to keep the evil "contained." A goody goody babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) is watching the young Warren daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace--who memorably played young Tonya in I, Tonya) and also celebrating her birthday. No one wants to hang out with the ostracized Warren kid, but Mary Ellen's friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) crashes the party and snoops around the Warren's off-limits room to attempt to communicate with her dead father. The movie is mostly bump-in-the-night hi-jinks of Daniela unleashing all the haunted relics in the Warren house. When Daniela opened Annabelle's glass room, someone in my audience loudly groaned. The person next to me simply said "nope." I do wonder if the movie would have more effectively opened with Daniela's car crash that killed her father. It might of made the movie less of a stretch to drum up much sympathy for the havoc she ends up releasing. But oh what fun is to be had for the audience watching all the sinister heirlooms on the loose.

The bright uplift of the film's coda is a crass, glimmering elegy to Lorraine Warren (one wonders, would she have wanted it any other way?). How much more chilling would have it had been if it ended on a darker note with the aftershock of the wonderful kaleidoscope primary color credits and “Dancing in the Moonlight” wheeling us off? But Lorraine’s bright coda also feels particularly cold in this Americana moment, years after Updike and The Exorcist, and the tumult of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As the barrage of cinematic sequels continue to stew in their marketable familiarity--our country continues to stew in social regression. Lorraine, played again perfectly by Vera Farmiga with steely patience, assures us of all the evil contained in the latched backroom of her house, pointing out her window telling us that there is good out there. But as the movie unwinds and we go back out into the night, it feels that so much evil is "out there," and any good is severely thwarted, in our country ruled by ghouls blinded with coin. ***

-Jeffery Berg