A Writer’s Review of Tetro


Release Date: June 26, 2009

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú

Written by: Mauricio Kartun (verse “Fausta”), Francis Ford Coppola

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Spoiler Level: Low.

Greetings, hacks and scribblers. I bet you thought you’d never hear from me again, now did you? As they say (or, as Robert Burns actually did say):

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,

Loosely translated: Shit happens. In this case, lots of schemes are ganging aft agley all over the place. Several writing projects, including the blog countdown to the release of Relative Karma on audio. I plan to revisit my commitment to this particular series of writerly movies later, and will likely amend the list of movies somewhat. For now, I am quite happy with the increased activity in my writing world. All good things!

all good things

So, on to the movie at hand. I give you: Tetro!

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

Bennie travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother, a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie’s discovery of his brother’s near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Two minutes into Tetro I knew I wanted this movie to make the cut. Ten minutes in and all doubts were gone. We have a tortured writer in Buenos Aries battling his inner demons. And it’s presented in gritty, black-and-white video. Yep, you bet it made the cut.

Entertainment Quotient:

Rotten Tomatoes averaged Tetro at 71% positive, labeling the movie as “Certified Fresh.” On the whole, I’d say that’s a little lean.

Tetro is one of those films for which they like to use the term Work of Art. In this case I think they’re right. Coppola knows what he’s doing, and what he’s doing in this film is showing us why we all know his name…in a good way.

Beautifully filmed in black-and-white, which makes the Buenos Aires locale that much more real, you believe within minutes that you are there, climbing the soiled steps with young Bennie to Angelo Tetrocini’s apartment.

The video quality is noir-esque from the get-go, and lends a surreal vibe to the film as a whole. (There’s a bit of nudity here, as well, and just why is it that black-and-white nudity is so much sexier than color?).

Speaking of color, there are a good deal of flashbacks in the film and they are all rendered in color, with the aspect ratio shrinking to a slightly smaller inset screen, almost like watching a movie within a movie, which somehow serves to make the flashbacks less “real” than the current-day black-and-white.

It is artsy, yes, but effectively so. With the exception of the method of filming, there are few bells or whistles here—this is slow, measured story-telling. This film is, at times, very nearly reminiscent of Greek tragedy. In flashback we see the tortured (and torturous) relationship between Tetro and his father. We begin to sniff out the ugly plot twist in the film. We get uncomfortable until the story sweeps us away again. Then we find ourselves at the end and we remember the twist…we were right and we were wrong.

Beautifully handled story-telling.

The Writerly Element:

There is so much here to offer, from virtually every corner of the writing life. In no particular order, here are a few things to watch for…

During a performance of “Fausta,” (a delightfully weird retelling of Faust from a female perspective), a sun-glassed, fur-wearing critic walks in and sends the small crowd into an awed hush—the critic’s name is Alone (make of that what you will).

Another scene I watched several times because of the painful resonance was this slice of Ouch between Bennie and Tetro.

Bennie: “Will you get back to your writing?”

Tetro: “I walked away from that.”

Bennie: “How do you walk away from your work? Doesn’t it follow you?”

It does, brothers and sisters. If you are a writer—if it’s what you are wired to do—forget trying to get away. It will follow you.

Later, in another poignant moment, Tetro says: “Am I not okay the way I am? Not famous enough?” Ouch again.

As younger brother Bennie continues to be rejected by Tetro, he begins piecing together and transcribing Tetro’s abandoned writings. We see these as ragged pen-and-ink scribblings, written in code, written backwards.

Bennie: “They’re great stories, they just don’t have an ending.”

Tetro: “They don’t need an ending. You know why? Because my stories will never be published.”

In a scene that could easily stand for Tetro’s entire motivation throughout the movie, we see Tetro’s famous composer father in a flashback, speaking to his son just before Tetro leaves to go on a writing sabbatical:

“To make a living as a writer…you’d have to be a genius. And we already have a genius in the family.”

Why Bother:

There are maybe a hundred reasons why I think Tetro is an important movie for writers. The section above barely scratches the surface. In the end, though, I was left thinking not just about writers, but the poor souls damned to spend their lives at our sides.

Tetro touches deeply on the Crazy in writers, and paints a vivid picture of the people who live with them; how hard it must be to put up with a bipolar personality who fears his own words, and the interior horror that inspired them.

With all our latent (and not so latent) insanity…these saints love us anyway.

Living with a writer, and all that entails, can be something of a punchline, but there’s a point to be made. Writers (and artists in general) do seem to run a greater risk of drug and alcohol dependence, not to mention courting madness on one level or another. Depression is common. Suicide often beckons as a final way to still the voices.

Speaking personally, I am grateful with everything I have for my partner—she understands my giddy highs and festering lows. She stands by me, props me up. She is, simply and always, there.

Maribel Verdú does a wonderful job of portraying Tetro’s partner, Miranda, who originally met Tetro during his self-committed stay at the local looney bin. At one point, when Tetro is spiraling out of control, she says:

“I’ll be at the other insane asylum. I need a break to clear my head.”

And later, in a moment of such authenticity I found it hard to breathe:

“I’m the only one who’s always in your corner, always supporting you, the only person in this fucking life who loves you.”

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills.

Final Thoughts:

There is one moment in this film I hope I never forget, and I’ll leave you with this: Toward the end of the film, when the skeletons had been dragged screaming from their closets and into the limelight, the critic (Alone) finally takes notice. Tetro looks at her and says:

“Your opinion doesn’t matter to me anymore.”

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(Going forward, I will likely detour liberally from the original list. There are far too many movies, and far too little time to view them all and present them here. I will continue in the original order, but will skip over movies that I feel aren’t spot-on to the discussion at hand. I beg your forgiveness.)

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Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what say you click on the image below and head over to the countdown? There be prizes, Precious, aye, prizes there be indeed.

Relative Karma - ACX FINAL



Aaaaand…we’re back.


Back from where? A brief disruption. A disruption from what? Why, Part 1 & Part 2, of course.


I am delighted to announce that the final audio proof has been approved!

i approve

Audible tells me the audio version of Relative Karma should be available for purchase within 2 – 3 weeks. Happy dance!

So, what is Relative Karma all about? As noted in Part 1, this is a “what-if” story. What if the true events that inspired the story had turned out differently? My imagination had an idea what that would look like and supplied a grimy landscape of depression and aimlessness, with our hero spending his days pawing through yard sale boxes and thrift store detritus in a search for castoff relics. We don’t actually see him do any of this, but it’s what my mind knew he had been up to in the year since he left Shelley. I don’t remember consciously deciding that Jeff Vincent’s search service would act as metaphor for something deeper, but that seems to be what happened. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, in which Jeff has staked out a table at The Yuba where he goes often to drink his runaway memories into submission:

Jewel seems to understand my obsession with finding things for other people when it clearly doesn’t pay to do so, which is saying something because I never quite understood it myself beyond the simple desire to stay distracted. She once said it’s like I was searching for something I’d lost, or maybe just hadn’t found yet.

Of course he lost—or threw away—Shelley, the one person in this great big world he truly loved. And he hated himself for it. And so, day in and day out, he went in search of lost things; missing things; or (to fine-tune the metaphor a bit) things people wanted and felt they couldn’t live without.

As I listened through the audio version recently I was struck by how much metaphor there is throughout the story.

A burning bed for our unfaithful protagonist? Yes, we have one. Trite? Maybe. Poignant? You bet.

And there’s more, a lot more, but I don’t want to give you everything here.

Maybe Relative Karma is not unique. Maybe every fictional story—be it roman à clef or not—is a symbol or metaphor for something. It almost has to be, doesn’t it? At the very least we are dealing with analogy. Every story is a writer’s attempt to show or understand an old thing in a new way, first to ourselves, then to our readers.

Read the book and see what you think. When the audio version comes out, give it a listen. And please share your thoughts. I’m truly interested.

And remember to share this blog with your friends and cohorts. Get them to follow along. There will be prizes at the end. Oh yes there will.


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“Awesome story with great characters and perfect flow. Martin Reaves writes with passion. You can feel it in every word, every sentence. He takes words and puts them together so successfully, it keeps you wanting more and more. He writes clean. He writes clear. And he writes with a purpose. Read this book, then read everything else by him.You will not be disappointed.” ~ Malina Roos ~

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(click on my scowling face–I promise I won’t bite!)


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Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

This is not Part 3 of our 10-Part Countdown. It should be, but it isn’t.



I began working on Part 3 and it occurred to me that my time could be better spent Writing (yes, capital W).

“But this is a promotion of a new (sort of) release,” my inner taskmaster said. “It’s important to your burgeoning career.”

I ignored my inner voice’s loose usage of the word “career” and wondered if the sentiment were true.

Is it important? It could be, of course it could. Get the word out. Make a splash. Create some excitement. Get people reading about the new…ahhh, and there’s the rub.

As I typed “Part 3” I couldn’t help but be distracted by the hollow echo of the keys. Clickety-clack (clack) ((clack)) (((clack)))…

Why the echo? Or, perhaps more accurately, why the feeling that my words are echoing in an empty cavern?

Because my own quacking voice is all I hear.

In Parts 1 & 2 of this countdown I opened the floor for comments and questions.


In Part 1 I admitted to something very personal that nearly destroyed my wife and I some fifteen years ago.


In both preceding parts (and this is maybe most disturbing of all) I made mention of prizes. Prizes, not incidentally, that would have been purchased out of my pocket.

Cue crickets.

I don’t have a promotional team. I have only me. My day job sucks very nearly every last bit of energy I have—what I do, I do long after or before normal working hours. We all do this, of course we do. I’m no different in this regard, but it’s a point worth making. Time is limited and it could (and should) be better spent turning out new work.

I think my limited funds will stay in my pocket.

And my limited time will be spent rolling the bones and exorcising demons. Which is to say: Writing.

I’m not so whiny as to say no one cares, but I am realistic enough to see what appears to be truth: No one is reading these words.

I don’t begrudge anyone their choice to offer their attention elsewhere—we all have too much to read and do as it is. I am happy to add to the load if anyone is paying attention, but I don’t think that’s the case here.

To clarify: I will keep Writing fiction, and even blogging when I have something to get off my chest, or something that just plain amuses me enough to set down in type. But blogging and Writing are not the same thing. Writing demands I do it. Blogging is about as productive to my Writing as watching television, although a good deal less entertaining.

That’s all for now.



And so we continue.

You may well be asking, “Continue with what?”

To which I answer: “Part 2 of the 10-Part Countdown to the Release of Relative Karma on Audio!”

To which you rejoinder: “Part 2? Where the deuce can I read Part 1???”

And I (trying not to become exasperated) say: “Right friggin HERE, ya big lummox!”

Go on, read Part 1…I’ll wait.

asleep at puter

Ah, back now? Good.

Things are heating up in the production booth, my friends. The final proof of the audio version of Relative Karma has been approved. I could not be happier. And as this process seems to be going a good deal more quickly than I anticipated, we’re going to need to speed through the next nine parts of this countdown and on to the quiz yonder down the road.

Ah yes, the quiz. Did I mention prizes? Prizes there will be, and so far—based on the sheer volume of crickets I hear—I will be keeping those prizes for myself. We shall see.

As noted in Part 1, I am open to questions. Hard or easy, hit me with your queries and I shall answer as best I can.

For this installment of the countdown, I want to drop a chunk of chapter 1 on you that was particularly poignant for me.

Our hero, Jeff Vincent, has been on his own for a year. Full of self-loathing and having no real desire to do anything other

than punish himself, he finds his way to a tattoo parlor (Roxy’s Ink Spot) where he is beginning to realize just how much a

tattoo in the center of one’s chest hurts. His reminiscence here is partially how things happened, and partially fabrication.

But the tone and intensity of his regret is very much how I felt during those very dark days in the real world.

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Relative Karma, excerpt from Chapter 1

“Here we go,” Roxy said.

I breathed in a lungful of Roxy’s cloying lemony body spray, and tried to relax into the incessant, swarming sting, to embrace the buzz of the needles and the resultant fire in my chest. It’s apparently not enough that the little harpoons are jamming ink under your skin—they have to scrape the fucking pigment in when they do the shading, which is the part they do last, fifteen or twenty minutes past the point where you decided this maybe wasn’t the brightest idea you’d ever had.

Though the pain was very nearly an all-consuming thing, I somehow managed to let my mind drift elsewhere. If I went far enough back there were uncontaminated memories to draw from, and these sepia-toned, eight-millimeter images of my childhood in Los Angeles began to float to the surface even as the metallic wasp did its work.

I let the burning acupuncture bury objectivity and found myself almost enjoying the impromptu trip back through time. Outside this silent-movie perfection Roxy murmurs something, but it doesn’t register because I am not there; I am fourteen years old, squirming on the hardwood church pew as the youth choir files onto the stage. And I am suddenly aware of nothing but little blond Shelley with the enormous glasses. Maybe it was her glasses that did it—they magnified her eyes and I swear she was staring at me. I couldn’t sit up tall enough. She saw me, looked directly at me—through me—and I swear to God nothing before that morning was ever as real or finely honed as that moment. She couldn’t have been more than twelve years old but I was barely fourteen and when had anything in church (or anywhere else) ever shanghaied my attention like this?

That had been the beginning, but that was then and this was now, and in the relentless fucking now my mind was trying desperately to slam on the brakes and drag me back to the present. But it was too late. From that first dreamy sight of Shelley in the youth choir I was suddenly thrust forward into the recent past: Shelley’s face is there, at first thrilled that I am home early from work…then her features seem to melt in my mind as she is drained of comprehension at the realization of my confessed betrayal. I see her beginning to hyperventilate as I deliver my half-assed fabrication of why I am leaving her, how I have been living a lie, pretending the love when the feelings were gone. I see her try to stand then collapse as though the floor is no longer there.

My mind began a sickening leapfrog through time, back and forth: That day the youth choir sang (“Dad, can Shelley go to lunch with us?”); our wedding day, watching her seem to float down the aisle on her father’s arm; our honeymoon, and the delightful shriek as I laid a sand crab on her gloriously bare stomach at Huntington Beach; then sobbing with her after she miscarried our first and only child.

Stutter-step back and I’m falling into her eyes as I promised to honor her as long as I lived; and twenty-two years later, shattering that promise with virtually no thought at all.

Roxy’s voice jolted me back. “What do you think?”

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And with that little bit of whimsy I leave you to comment as you will.

Feel free to share (please do, please do, please do) and I will see you back here for Part 3.

“Reaves is a quality wordsmith and his attention to detail is evident in his works. He understands mood and setting better than most and can spit dialogue like he’s emptying a machine gun’s clip. His books do not disappoint.”

~ Mark Leftridge, author of Our Bridges Made of Sticks, Safe Sects, and When the Hangman Weeps ~

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(click on scary me below…you know you want to)

creepy mott5

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Relative Karma - ACX FINAL

Ruminating on RSS Feeds.



Pay attention, kids, because there will be a quiz when the countdown ends and the confetti flies. It will be a tough quiz and there will be prizes. You have been warned.

Now then. Why have I brought you all here today? Because—cyber drumroll, if you please—Relative Karma is going audio! To say I’m excited is to vastly understate the situation. It’s more like this:


Yes, exactly like that.

Relative Karma is an intensely personal book for me; much of the inspiration for the book was taken (sort of) from real life. More on that later.

What has me squeeeeeing like that goldilocks above is the shear magic of hearing my characters rise up and speak so many years after their creation. They live, ladies and gents, they liiiive!


Ahem. It’s at this point that I need to give a hellacious shout-out to the brilliant narrator of Relative Karma, Branden Mckenzie. His gift is substantial and I am over the moon that we found each other.

But on to the reason for calling you all forth from the nether regions. As the audio rendition has brought Relative Karma back to life for its creator, so would I like to breathe life into the book itself. Or, if you will, the story. Why I wrote it. Why I had to write it. Why I care about it, and why I want you to go and do likewise. To that end, I will endeavor to open myself to you by giving a behind-the-scenes look at the characters, excerpts from the book (with commentary), and, as promised above, a sprinkling of clues along the way for the quiz at the end. I hope you will find all this interesting. I hope you will tell your friends. And (heck, we all know why you’re really here) I hope you will all go out and by the book (click here) and review it and generally make a great big fuss about it.

I intend to bare my soul. And trust me, the inspiration for Relative Karma ain’t pretty. Some of you may well decide you’d be better off crossing me off your list of acquaintances. I will understand. I very nearly crossed myself off. I do not take lightly the circumstances that led to the telling (or retelling) of this story.

Make no mistake: Relative Karma is a work of fiction; a what-if scenario that grew legs and ran off. But every ounce of emotion portrayed is real. I lived it, and nearly died with it.

That’s probably enough for starters, but I will leave you with this:

There are three people central to this story who are based on real folks—Jeff Vincent, Shelley Vincent, and Darcy Lytle. Only two will have their real names revealed. The third is long out of my life and I wish her no harm—there are very few people still in my life who know her true identity, and outside of my immediate family they are unlikely to read this post or my book.

Jeff Vincent is me. No big shock there, it’s a first-person narrative. Shelley is my lovely wife Charla (yes, I checked with her before posting this). And (this is where I want to delete all this and move on to something else) I did lose my mind and leave my beloved for another, more or less as described. And, as described in the narrative, I came unhinged when I realized what I’d done. Jeff’s self-loathing in the book tells it better than I want to in this post. Enough.

This is us, much as we appeared in my head during the writing, although not quite so blurry:

Jeff and Shelley

With the exception of Jeff Vincent’s colossal act of betrayal, none of the things in Relative Karma actually happened. But I did live for a brief, dark time at the exact location referenced in midtown Sacramento. And The Yuba is exactly where I said it is, although with a different name. Go there; eat the food; drink the beer. You will not be disappointed.

As I said, the story started with a what-if question: “What would my life have looked like if things had not gone as they did? In short: What if Charla had not taken me back?”

The question “What if?” is the writer’s best friend. Everything stems from that one simple query. We just have to be brave enough to try and answer it honestly. And on the subject of questions, I offer myself up to yours. Ask me anything (preferably about Relative Karma, but I’m flexible) and I will answer as honestly as is possible. Post your question(s) in the comments section below and I will address them in a later post. I promise.

I’ll leave you now with the opening lines of Relative Karma:

I’d been dead for a year…
The day my life began to literally take on color again was a Friday, exactly one year to the day after I did everything in my power to fuck it all up for good. This colorful Friday was also one day before people started showing up dead.

What one very kind reviewer had to say:

“This novel was an excellent, entertaining ride. I enjoyed it so much that I read it all in one day. Reaves creates a genuine landscape of real people suffering from regret and trying to pull their lives back together. He sets the stage for a juicy mystery, kicked off by a strange murder that turns the life of his main character upside down. The novel’s twists and turns keep the reader guessing and wondering what will happen next. This was the first novel I’ve read by Reaves, and it was fantastic.
~ Sara Brooke, author of Kransen House and The Awakening ~


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(click on fancy me below…I’m fancy)


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Relative Karma - ACX FINAL


2014 happened. It’s in the can, as the movie folk are wont to say.

The fat lady has shrieked, at times a delightful aria, other times more than a little off-key.


So what was all the bellowing about?

My dad passed on January 14th, just two days after I completed my first (and possibly only) Marathon. Those two events got the year started with a bang and a sigh.

Other things happened in 2014, including the sale of a short story entitled “Reaping a Quiet Lunacy.” Many of the things were memorable (including making the Solstice List 2014: Best Horror Books Not to be Missed in two categories), many more were not. Hard to top those opening two weeks, right?

But we speak of vaporous things when we speak of the year that was. The vapor dissipates and we move on—we really have no choice in the matter. For good or ill we turn our gaze forward.

And what do I see in the oft murky glass of my crystal ball?

I see a good year. A year I have dubbed The Year of No Worries. Here are a few other things I see in more or less chronological order:

1. A four-day trip to Disneyland. Well, duh, who didn’t see that coming? This one will be just Charla and me, which is my most favoritest way to do the Magic Kingdom (I love you, Erin and Mandie, but you’ll just have to deal with this truth).

2. A seven-day trip to Maui to celebrate thirty years of marriage to my sweetie-pie, snookums. I am, as might be expected, in a high state of anticipation. I fear for my ability to get back on the plane at the end of the seven days. If I fail to return to the contiguous forty-eight the rest of this list may well be moot.

3. I have been enlisted to officiate at the wedding of two good friends. I am working on my stand-up routine. They will rue the day.

And on the writing front…

4. “Scribblers on Celluloid” (a part of this very blog upon which your eyes have landed) will continue, although nowhere near as often as my far too ambitious once-a-week promise.

5. My novel Relative Karma will be available in audio format.

6. My novel Relative Sanity will available in audio, although this is subject to available funds.

7. There are not one but two projects in the works with a writer friend/hero of mine: one a pseudo collaboration, the other a double bill, in which we each offer a novella and the editor crams them into one book. I won’t name names because I am not clear on whether we are talking about this yet or not.

8. By hook or crook, my latest novel A Fractured Conjuring will hit the cyber stands.

These are all things I am fairly certain about.

A few other just-a-tad-bit-less-sure projects include work on a sequel to A Fractured Conjuring, a second book of short fiction, Dark Thoughts II, and a third (hopefully more lighthearted) installment in the Relative series in time for the holidays, Relative Yuletide.

But enough about me…what are y’all up to?

A Writer’s Review of Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut Poster

Release Date: August 11, 1945

MPAA Rating: N/A

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, and Sydney Greenstreet.
Written by: Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini, based on a story by Aileen Hamilton.

Directed by: Peter Godfrey

Spoiler Level: Low.

Greetings, hacks and scribblers. I trust you are all done with your Christmas shopping? Got those Hanukkah gifts lined up? All geared up for a week of Kwanzaa? How’s about you Pagans and Wiccans? Only a handful of shopping days left ‘til Solstice!

Ahem. So here we are again, ready to dissect (gently, oh so gently) another movie about writers. I have once again gone off-list because, well, I was feeling festive. Christmas in Connecticut may be a bit of a stretch for this series but, seeing as it also involves a food writer, it dovetailed nicely with “Scribblers on Celluloid #1.” We’ll start the real deal after the 1st of the year, what do you say?

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

A food writer who has lied about being a perfect housewife and master chef must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Hilarity ensues.

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

As noted above, I’m stretching things a bit with Christmas in Connecticut. It was on my original Master List, but had been relegated to a secondary when-I-get-to-it list, because it was just too…peripheral to the central theme. Then I looked around and saw lights going up on houses. I looked further and noticed my bank account crumbling under a deluge of early Holiday shopping. It occurred to me that once again Christmas had come rushing at me, seemingly from out of nowhere. Well, Christmas is a busy time of year, is it not? I didn’t want to think too hard on the next SoC entry and figured I’d cheat a little on this one. So there. And, wonder of wonders, the movie actually did have some things to say to the writer. As the movie unfolded in all its lighthearted Christmasy-ness, I found myself impressed by how much it had to say not so much about the writing process as the power of Story. More on that later.

Entertainment Quotient:

This is a hot cocoa and jammies kind of movie if ever there was one. Pure rainy-day fun. Of course, I feel that way about nearly all lighthearted black-and-white films.

Rotten Tomatoes certified Christmas in Connecticut as Fresh, with an 88% positive rating. Pretty good for a piece of fluff.

Barbara Stanwyck is one of those Silver Screen actresses for whom they coined the phrase: “They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” The woman just flat out glistens. And she can act, too. She nails the single working-city-girl part of Elizabeth Lane and is quite entertaining when faced with trying to actually cook the meals she writes about and having to take care of a baby that is supposed to be hers (it only gets better when they switch babies on her).

Dennis Morgan as war hero Jefferson Jones is almost too nice, contrasting well with Lane’s brash city-ness. His naiveté early on can be a little off-putting (aw, shucks, ma’am), but it manages to add a bit of charm to his character. This is likely a solid nod to the writing and directing—he’s a bit of a cardboard character, but we like him anyway.

The rotund Sydney Greenstreet as newspaper mogul Alexander Yardley is oddly charming—his little giggle and exclamation at the end of the film (“What a Christmas!”) is just plain goofy but I love it, and find myself looking forward to it every time.

If this movie is ever in danger of losing our attention it is saved by the wonderfully quirky restauranteur Felix Bassenak, played by S. Z. Sakall. It is his recipes that are featured in Lane’s columns (spuriously as her own creations) and she enlists him to play her uncle when they head off to a borrowed farmhouse in the country to perform their charade for the war hero.

Christmas in Connecticut does well what so many comedies of that era did, which is to pile complications on complications, making us wonder how someone can’t see what’s going on. The feel is that of a whacky stage play, the sprawling farmhouse a beautiful setup for the multiple angles, entrances and exits, and misdirection. If you go into this film planning to have a good time you won’t be disappointed.

The Writerly Element:

As noted above, I think where this film shines (from a writing perspective) is its portrayal of just how powerful Story can be. While the movie as a whole is something of a lark, there is a solid representation of what writing is, what it can do, and how effective it can be.

The scene introducing Elizabeth Lane shows her sitting in her New York apartment, typing away, describing country nirvana for her readers as she looks out on the urban scene: the clothesline stretching across the alley becomes the interior of the rustic old farmhouse, its art and charm; the sizzling radiator-style heater is the crackling fire in the fireplace. No big deal, but invention is taking place here. In fact, everything Lane writes is pure invention—the recipes are real (although they are not hers, she can’t cook to save her life)—but the rest is all lies, which is of course the fictioneer’s greatest tool and delight.

Lane is writing a food/cooking column, but we start to see that the food is maybe the least interesting element of her work. Okay, so the war hero Jefferson Jones dreams about the food in her article (incidentally, these dreams go a long way to keeping him alive—how’s that for a reason to write?), but what he ultimately wants is to experience a quaint country Christmas at the fictional farmhouse Lane has so enticingly described. Jones has bought hook, line and sinker into the lie. He doesn’t only believe it’s all true, he actually knows the details of this country life better than Lane herself.

There’s a recurring joke in the film where the readers of Lane’s column persist in sending her antique rocking chairs, all because of an article in which she described her desire to find an old rocking chair like her granny used to have. All made up of course, but the readers believe; they want to believe; they believe so hard they spend the dough to buy these antiques and have them shipped to Lane’s New York office. When Jones shows up at the farmhouse…yep, he’s carrying a rocking chair.

What we see is the result not of a stale food column, but the response to what equates to a serial novel in progress. The readers want to know what happens next on the farm; they know the name of Lane’s fictional cow; they know her likes and dislikes better than she does. This is a kind of voyeurism, and what is getting absorbed into a good story if not the thrill of the Peeping Tom or Tammy? They’re reading someone’s diary for crying out loud and loving every minute of it.

In the scene where Elizabeth Lane steps into the surrogate farmhouse, there was a surreal moment for me when it occurred that this was essentially a writer stepping into her own fictional landscape. What would that be like? You write about some imagined place for years, and one day…you walk through the door. Everything is where you said it was; somehow, in this alternate universe, it has all become real. That, hacks and scribblers, would be cool.

Why Bother:

Is there truly a writerly element in this film, or am I trying too hard to make it fit? There is something here, my friends. Without the column—not the recipes, but all that made up stuff about Lane’s farm living—there is no movie. Fiction writing is at the heart of the film’s plot.

I’m not going to try and convince you of the value of Christmas in Connecticut to the quality and/or output of your writing. What I will say is that this turned out to be important to me because it reminded me of how powerful and enticing a made-up world can be; how truly wonderful it is to get sucked into a fictional landscape.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Quills.

Final Thoughts:

How wonderful it is to be members of the eternal order of Hacks and Scribblers, that ragtag bunch of folks who find value in making crap up. I salute you, my brothers and sisters. Go lie your butts off. Because someone, somewhere, wants to believe it.

A Writer’s Review of Julie & Julia

Julie_and_julia poster

Release Date: August 7, 2009

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Messina.

Written by: Nora Ephron. Based on a work(s) by Julie Powell, Julia Child, and Alex Prud’homme.

Directed by: Nora Ephron

(Spoiler Level: Low.)

Greeting, hacks and scribblers. At long last (and with no valid reason to procrastinate further) here’s the first in what promises to be a very long-running series of my reviews on movies about writers. Before we dive in, perhaps you would like to take a peek at the Introduction to this series by clicking HERE. If you’ve already read the intro feel free to hang here with me while the newcomers travel back in time to see what this is all about. And while we wait we’ll sip some tea and talk about other things. That’s a lovely sweater jacket—J.C. Penney?

sweater jacket

Ah, I see everyone is now back and more or less accounted for (although it’s safe to say there’s little or no accounting for some of you).


Reviewing movies about writers. The idea was prompted, sort of, by Julie & Julia, the film version of what happened when Julie Powell decided to document her attempt to cook every one of the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child in one year. She damn well does it and the blog went viral. Nora Ephron (screenwriter and director) clearly knew a good stew when she smelled it.

The Whiz-Bang Synopsis:

A culinary legend provides a frustrated office worker with a new recipe for life in Julie & Julia, the true stories of how Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) life and cookbook inspired fledgling writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) to whip up 524 recipes in 365 days and introduce a new generation to the magic of French cooking. Stanley Tucci co-stars in director Nora Ephron’s delicious comedy about joy, obsession and butter. Bon appétit!

My Take on Things (or why this movie made the cut):

Julie & Julia practically screamed to be the first entry in SoC (“Scribblers on Celluloid,” duh). The primary audience for Mott’s Ruminations (all three of you) is likely made up of fictioneers; scribblers and hacks who would not read a memoir if their lives depended on it. But in the end, J & J may well turn out to be the movie with more to say about writing than any of the gazillion flicks to follow.

The movie is based on two books, Child’s My Life in France, and Powell’s blog-turned-book Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. There is of course another book that may be considered the third star of the movie: Julia Child’s first book, the essential cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So we have a film based not on one book, but three. That of course does not supply the requisite ingredients for a SoC entry. But the movie chronicles the actual writing of two of the three books. (My Life in France came later and is the basis for what we actually see Julia Child doing in the film, part of which is the writing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.)

Entertainment Quotient:

It would be easy to simply say that I friggin’ loved this movie. Because I did. There is much to love here and little to disdain (even for the most jaded critic). Even the notoriously tough critics at Rotten Tomatoes averaged this film at 70% positive, labeling the movie as “Certified Fresh.”

It’s been said often but I’ll go ahead and say it again: Meryl Streep is brilliant. She can do anything. Period. I won’t belabor this, but any film she stars in almost demands two viewings: one to sit in awe of how completely she owns whatever character she is playing; a second to actually follow the story line once you’ve stopped shaking your head at how the hottie who sang and danced in Mamma Mia!, then played Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, could so mesmerize us as the embodiment of the galumphing, high-spirited Julia Child. Just…wow, okay?

Stanley Tucci as husband Paul Child is as charming as charming gets. The chemistry between Tucci and Streep makes the onscreen couple a pure delight to watch. We want to be them. We want a Julia, we want a Paul, we want what they have.

And Amy Adams? This generation’s Meg Ryan, plain and simple. I love her. She’s on my list (if you’re a fan of the show Friends you know all about The List). Nuff said.

The movie jumps artfully back and forth through time, showing us Julia Child’s search for “something to do” in 1950s Paris through her neophytic attempts at cooking, then hopping forward to the early 2000s where Julie Powell is also in search of something to do that will define her in a way her call center job does not. And whether it’s Child’s Paris or Powell’s Queens, we want to be there. Nora Ephron knows her stuff and knows how to enchant the viewer with even the most common of locales (I could so live in Powell’s dingy and cramped apartment). Add to this a rare lighthearted and lilting score by Alexandre Desplat (one of my favorite composers incidentally) who typically elicits a darker sort of melancholy, and there’s really nothing to despise.

I’m an easy touch for this type of movie (I don’t believe there’s such a thing as chick-flicks, only insecure males) and this film touched me in all the right places. Delightful.

The Writerly Element:

There is much here to glean for the writer. At its heart, this movie is about both Julie and Julia trying to find themselves through creating something.

Julia Child fell in love with French cooking, the decadence and buttery artistry of it all. She was smitten and when it came time to ask herself, “Who am I? What can I do that is truly mine?” she looked to her passion: Food. She wouldn’t take no for an answer when the dominatrix headmistress of Le Cordon Bleu told her she had no talent as a cook. Rejection after rejection. We’ve all tasted it and, if we are any shakes at creating anything at all, we shrug it off. It is the only answer to rejection: Screw you, I’m going to do it anyway. Child did not give up, and before long her passion for cooking morphed into a passion for helping other American housewives accomplish the same. Kismet being what it is, she gets involved with a couple collaborators already working on a cook book. For me this is not so much chance as it is the natural culmination of pursuing your goal. To wit: do the thing you love, do it with great gusto, and the Universe will place people and circumstances into your path (or you into theirs) to help realize your goal.

The crushing self-doubt we writers face is evident here as well. The film bounces back and forth between Child (“I’m not a real cook”) and Powell (“I’m not a real writer”). Both are challenged by well- or ill-meaning friends and family with the question: “Why are you doing this?” Powell struggles at the onset with the soul-destroying cry of all beginning writers: “You’re not a writer unless someone publishes you.” (This happens to be untrue, by the by, but it is engrained in our DNA to believe we are only writers if someone buys our work.) We learn that Powell has written half a novel before giving up (haven’t we all?). But even this does not stop Powell, because she knows in her heart that what she really wants to do is communicate, which is what writing is. She tells her husband, “That’s what’s great about blogs, you don’t have to be published, you just go online press enter and there it is.” There is a delicious moment of recognition for me when Powell expresses her joy (and not a little amazement) that her blog has begun receiving comments from people she doesn’t know. I remember clearly the first time a book of mine received a glowing (hell, it was gushing) review by someone I did not know and from whom I had not solicited the review. I wept the first time I read that review, because I knew I had connected with someone in a powerful way.

We’ve all had dreams of winning the lottery (whatever that might mean for you) and exactly how we would feel and react when we saw our numbers come up. That moment is depicted with aching clarity when Julie Powell comes home to a glut of voice mails from editors, agents, and sundry publishing types wanting to represent/publish/interview her. For a struggling writer (Hi, I’m Mott and I’m a struggling writer) this is the kind of scene you rewind and watch over and over again. Because we see it as truth—sure, it’s a shiny, brass-ring kind of truth, but something in us believes it, and we want to applaud for her even while a deeper part of us kind of hates her for it. A similar thing happens when Julia Child’s mammoth cook book is repeatedly struck down (I just love it when Tucci’s character says, “Fuck them.” Now that’s support.) before she finally opens the mail and finds…The Letter. That mythical letter promising money in exchange for our written words. I dare you not to smile along with Child in that moment. And I defy any struggling writer to not rejoice out loud when Julia receives her hardbound copy of the book in the mail and practically explodes with excitement.

In the end, this movie is about passion, and following that passion; finding the thing you love and doing it no matter what. At one point, Julie Powell says, “Julia saved me.” As metaphor for the muse (or that unnameable passion that drives us to write in the hopes that someone somewhere will want to read our words), it doesn’t get any plainer than that.

Why Bother:

Call this section the takeaway section. Why, in a nutshell, I think this is an important movie for writers—better yet, why it was important to me. Why bother to watch Julie & Julia? Because I tend to question myself, damning myself for a hack and wondering if it’s worth the effort. Both Julie Powell and Julia Child helped me see the folly in that. It’s clear from the beginning of this film that Julia Child is all about fearlessness. Speaking to her television audience as she cooks, she says, “Never apologize. No excuses, no explanations.” I may just print that out and frame it above my desk.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills.

Final Thoughts:

I will let Julia Child’s character take the mic on this one, because in the end, this is the heart of the writer in all its childlike glory:

“I just want to savor this moment, the moment when anything is possible…you can just imagine they’re going to love everything you did and it’s going to sell a million copies…and it will change the world.”

We’re getting closer, folks. Clearly I have been lax in getting started on the never-ending blog series “Scribblers on Celluloid.” Well heck, I’ve been busy, okay?


If you’re wondering (all three of you) exactly what the deuce I’m babbling about, take a peek HERE for the details and come right back (that’s right, just click on the word HERE…or even THERE).

Okay, everyone back? So then.

It has been suggested that (while I procrastinate further) I supply a list of the proposed movies up for review. It’s a long list, and I’m not sure what will be gained by it, but here it is. Keep in mind that many of these may not make the final cut.

500 Days of Summer; 7 Psychopaths; 8-1/2; 84 Charing Cross Road; 20,000 Days on Earth; A Closed Book; A Face in the Crowd; A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; A Man for All Seasons; A Mighty Heart; A Murder of Crows; A Pure Formality; A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries; Ace in the Hole; Adaptation; Adult World; Alex & Emma; Almost Famous; American Splendor; An Angel at My Table; Angel; Anonymous; Another Woman; As Good as it Gets; Ask the Dust; Atonement; Author, Author; Bamboozled; Barfly; Barton Fink; Basic Instinct; Beautiful Dreamers; Beautiful Kate; Becoming Jane; Before Midnight; Before Night Falls; Before Sunset; Being Flynn; Bestseller; Blue Car; Bright Star; Broken Embraces; Burn After Reading; Call Northside 777; Capote; Carrington; Cartas a Elena; Castle of Blood; Certified Copy; Children of the Century; Chinese Coffee; Claire’s Knee; Closet Land; Cloud Atlas; Cole; Contempt; Crime Wave; Croupier; Da; Deathtrap; Deconstructing Harry; Delta of Venus; Diary of a Wimpy Kid; Eternity and a Day; Factotum; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Fellini’s Casanova; Finding Forrester; Freedom Writers; Funny People; Gentlemen Broncos; Good; Halflight; Hamsun; Hannah and Her Sisters; Heart Beat; Hed Wynn; Hemingway and Gellhorn; Henry & June; Henry Fool; Her Alibi; His Wife’s Diary; House by the River; How to Kill your Neighbor’s Dog; Howl; Hunger; Hysterical; I Capture the Castle; I Remember Mama; Il Postino; Impromptu; In a Lonely Place; In the Land of Women; Infamous; Isn’t She Great; Iris; Joe Gould’s Secret; Julia; Just One of the Guys; Kill Your Darlings; La Discrete; La Dolce Vita; Leave Her to Heaven; Leaving Las Vegas; Limitless; Listen Up Philip; Love and Other Disasters; Love Streams; Manhattan; Martian Child; Me and Orson Welles; Midnight in Paris; Miss Potter; Missing; Moliere; Moulin Rouge; Mother; Motherhood; Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont; Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle; Murder of Crows; My Brilliant Career; My Favorite Year; My Left Foot; Naked Lunch; Nim’s Island; Nine; No Place to Go; Nora; Notre Musique; Numb; On the Road; One Day; One True Thing; Orange County; Orpheus; Pandemonium; Paperback Romance; Peep World; Permanent Midnight; Pinero; Poetic Justice; Possession; Priest of Love; Prick up Your Ears; Providence; Purple Violets; Quills; Raven’s End; Reds; Reprise; Resurrecting the Champ; Rich and Famous; Riding in Cars with Boys; Roman de Gare; Rowing with the Wind; Ruby Sparks; Russian Dolls; Salinger: American Masters – The Life of the Writer; Satansbraten; Scoop; Secret Window; Sex and Lucia; Shadowlands; Shadows in the Sun; Shakespeare in Love; Shattered Glass; Sideways; Sinister; Slam; Sleuth; Slipstream; Snow Falling on Cedars; Somewhere in Time; Something’s Gotta Give; Sophie’s Choice; Starting Out in the Evening; State of Play; Storytelling; Stranger than Fiction; Stuck in Love; Sunset Boulevard; Swimming Pool; Sylvia; Teacher’s Pet; Tetro; The Accidental Tourist; The Adventures of Mark Twain; The Answer Man; The Basketball Diaries; The Best Bar in America; The Best Man; The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; The Boys are Back; The City of Your Final Destination; The Dark Half; The Diary of Anne Frank; The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; The Door in the Floor; The Dying Gaul; The Edge of Love; The End of the Affair; The Flower of My Secret; The Front; The Front Page; The Ghost Writer; The Great Beauty; The Help; The Hoax; The Hotel New Hampshire; The Hours; The Last Station; The Libertine; The Lost Weekend; The Mask of Dimitrios; The Master; The Motorcycle Diaries; The Muse; The Night Listener; The Ninth Gate; The Paper; The Paperboy; The Passion of Ayn Rand; The Perks of Being a Wallflower; The Pillow Book; The Philadelphia Story; The Player; The Prize Winner; The Pumpkin Eater; The Raven; The Reader; The Rum Diary; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Singing Detective; The Shipping News; The Soloist; The Squid and the Whale; The Stoning of Soraya M; The Third Man; The Tiger and the Snow; The TV Set; The Vanished Elephant; The Whole Wide World; The Words; The World According to Garp; The Wrong Move; The Year of Living Dangerously; Through a Glass Darkly; Tom & Viv; Topsy-Turvy; Total Eclipse; True Crime; Twixt; Veronica Guerin; Vincent, Francois, Paul and the Others; Waiting for the Moon; Welcome to Sarajevo; White Lie; Wilde; Winter Passing; With a Friend Like Harry; Whisper of the Heart; Wonder Boys; World’s Greatest Dad; Young Adult; Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key; Zodiac; Zorba the Greek.

You still with me? Makes your eyes cross a bit, doesn’t it?

So there it is. In all its very long glory. I’d bet a nickel there are at least a few on this list you’ve never heard of. There are more than a few for me, and that’s what excites me. I am looking forward to watching these, certainly with a writer’s eye, but also for the pure discovery. I truly hope this is fun for all of us.

There are a few titles I did not include. These are the more obvious ones: The Shining, Misery, etc. Those missing few are movies I’ve seen many times and I don’t want to let myself off so easy. I may well return to them if I survive the list above. We’ll see.

Incidentally, if you’ve seen any of these please do not feel compelled to add commentary about the films. Seriously—don’t do it. As I said, they may not all make the cut, and if they do the films you saw may not find their way into this blog for two years or more.

That’s it for now. I can’t think of any more less creative ways to put this thing off, so I hope to have the first movie, Julie & Julia, viewed and reviewed in the next week…or so.

Now off with you, I have other things to avoid doing.