The End of the Tour – Day Six of the 2015 Sarasta Film Festival

“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” – Infinite Jest


That’s a quote from David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest, which was published in 1996. Following was the highest of acclaim for Mr. Wallace. On his book tour for Infinite Jest, Wallace spent a few days with a staff writer for Rolling Stone. His name was David Lipsky. Although Lipsky did conduct this interview, it was never published.


However, Mr. Lipsky published a book called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself in 2010. This book told about these five days or so at the end of Wallace’s book tour. This movie, The End of the Tour, is an adaption of that book. The film is directed by James Ponsoldt, and the screenplay was written by David Margulies.

I saw this film on Day Six of the 2015 Sarasota Film Festival.

Essentially, this film is a two-hander meaning two actors dominate the screen. Unlike an interview that you might see or have seen on TV with Charlie Rose, Mike Wallace, Oprah, or Barbara Walters – where the interview is on a single set – this film is out and about. Wallace and Lipsky were on a book tour so there was travel involved. Meaning there was a rather large supporting cast – but really, the supporting players were not of consequence.

David Lipsky is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve not a lot of experience with Eisenberg in the movies but two films come to mind – To Rome With Love (from Woody Allen) and The Social Network. I guess I’ll always recall early on in The Social Network when Rooney Mara called Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg) an asshole.

While Eisenberg can excel in characters that are frustrating, annoying, or awkward, apparently he has reigned in most of those traits to appear as David Lipsky. Lipsky is smart, competitive, in awe of Wallace, and a person who will forever hope he can attain the same acclaim as did David Foster Wallace. Yet, Eisenberg as Lipsky, breathes life into a character we may be predisposed to dislike. Of course this is an inherent and unavoidable situation in the world of celebrities and those who use celebrities.

David Lipsky

David Lipsky

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Yours in Truth: A Personal Biography of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman

Speaking of newsrooms….

Yours in Truth: A Personal Biography of Ben Bradlee became a controversial book when it rolled off the printing presses and onto the shelves of the brick and mortar and the internet book sellers. Its release date was May 8th, 2012. Author Jeff Himmelman took fire from a lot of folks for what he wrote. A guy like me, who had lived through the Watergate days, had never heard of the Himmelman book until I heard  Terry Gross, of the Fresh Air radio show on NPR, (click —>) who replayed excerpts from an interview she did with Bradlee back in 1995. This rebroadcast was just the day after Ben Bradlee had passed away, at the age of 93, near the end of October 2014.

I had knowledge of Bradlee, the famed Executive Editor of the Washington Post, but that probably didn’t have any kind of depth or clarity until after I had seen the film All The President’s Men which was released in 1976. Following the Fresh Air replay of the Bradlee interview, I re-watched All The President’s Men on Amazon Instant Video. This was the last week in October of this year.

Watching that film led to more research, and I ordered the Himmelman book from Barnes & Noble. I have recently completed the book, and following that, I started to look into reading some book reviews. To my surprise, many of the reviews took Himmelman to task, claiming that he had been openly negative about Bradlee in many instances.

It was also true, that Himmelman at times painted many of the people in the book whose circles intersected with Bradlee in less than ideal terms. People like John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Richard Nixon, as well Bob Woodward, the investigative journalist. Bradlee who has married three times made available to Himmelman a near lifetime of files, memos, correspondence, and personal letters = both sent and unsent.

I must also state that Himmelman reported early on in the book that Bradlee had told him point-blank that he didn’t give a fuck about what Himmelman wrote.

Bradlee was a Boston Brahmin – a member of a group of old, wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin which were influential in the development of American institutions and culture. Benjamin Crowninshield (now there’s a middle name you don’t hear very often) Bradlee went to Harvard University. In fact, Himmelman tells us that Bradlee was the 55th Bradlee to attend Harvard. Fifty=five members of one family attended Harvard? Wow – to give you an idea about that – I can’t even name 55 members of my own family on both my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family. And that’s not even considering who attended Harvard.

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Philip Kerr’s Detective Bernie Gunther

Are you a fan of ‘locked-room murder mysteries’?

You know the kind. Some one had been expected and was a no-show. Phone calls go unanswered, and these days – ditto for texts and emails. After a forced entry into a house/condo/apartment/room, a body is discovered. In a room that has been locked from the inside. Windows, if there are any, are locked, all the air conditioning vents sealed, and the floor boards secure.

At this moment. we now have a ‘who done it’ paired with a ‘how did they get in or out’?

Fictional detectives have dealt with scenarios like this for years, and quite often. However in real life, we don’t see this kind of event very often.Today’s detectives have it far easier by rarely, if ever, having locked-room-mysteries appearing on their dance cards.

Supposedly (actual sales charts are not readily available) the first of these kind of stories, to have made a substantial impact as far as book sales go, was Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). Closer to our present times, but still a bit further back in years, are writers who have successfully mined this sub-genre of detective fiction that are the most notable are John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie.

However neither are currently alive, each died almost 40 years ago, so we shall have no more new works from them. Now, meaning currently, mystery writer Philip Kerr has taken on the challenge of this kind of story.

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Baz Lurhmann’s Gatsby – It’s not History, It’s Art

Didion: American teenagers still get marched through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) early in their high school careers, told that this is a “classic.” I haven’t read it since then, so it was a revelation to find how much I remembered its contemplative mood. Gatsby is still as inscrutable, and Daisy as shadowy as I remember. It’s a beautiful, evasive book punctuated with moments of the most spectacular clarity of prose and insight — all the better for being so slim and accessible to high school kids.

Ask Jordan Baker to come up. I need to talk to her privately

Ask Jordan Baker to come up. I need to talk to her privately

Told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a well-to-do Midwesterner whose job selling bonds has landed him a house out on the shores of Long Island Sound, the story fixates on Carraway’s fantastically wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Rumors fly about him: he might be an Oxford man, or a murderer, or perhaps just a liar. As if to cultivate those tales, Gatsby throws lavish parties and uses oddly unpopular expressions like “old sport.” But as we learn early on, part of this is a show for the benefit of Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives with her lout of a husband across a small bay from Nick and Gatsby, and who had a short romance with Gatsby years ago when he was a poor serviceman stationed in her hometown of St. Louis. Famously — memorably — Gatsby stands at the edge of his property in the evenings, gazing out across the water to the green light at the end of the Buchanans’ pier, longing for her and hoping that his new wealth and status might be enough to win her back.

Jack Clayton’s 1974 film with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston emphasized the gauzy, sun-lit aspects of the tale, and the grandeur of Gatsby’s house, but critics generally felt the film was better at conveying the surface appearance of the tale than the book’s melancholy soul.. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby famously complained that “the sets and costumes and most of the performances are exceptionally good, but the movie itself is as lifeless as a body that’s been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool.” It may have got the 1920s/ Jazz Age look right, but it failed to capture the classic Americanness of this story.

The song Isn't It Romantic? by Rodgers & hart didn't come along until 1932

The song Isn’t It Romantic? by Rodgers & Hart didn’t come along until 1932, so it is not in the film

All the more reason for a new interpretation. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire in the three core roles, does Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated film achieve what Clayton’s could not?

You must tell Tom that you never loved him...

You must tell Tom that you never loved him…

JMM: Great question, Didion. Upon publication in 1925, the book sales were tepid: about 20,000 copies sold in the 1st year following publication. In contrast, the book has sold about 405,000 copies in the first three months of this year. And that number would not include the copy I bought late in April, after not being able to acquire one from my nearest public library.

But before we launch into a discussion of the film, I’d like to point out that the budget/cost of this film was in the West Egg-ish neighborhood of $127,000,000. One would have to be quite creative to spend that much money on a movie. And just think of the clothing and accessories tie-ins with Prada, Tiffany & Co, and Brooks Brothers. I don’t think I’ll be trotting off to Brooks Brothers to pick up a straw boater at $198 a pop. How about you? Will you be going in for the 1920’s look?

Didion: As long as I can score a new tiara, I’ll be all set. You know how us professors get paid so lavishly that a visit to Tiffany is, like, yawn.

So I’m curious, JMM — tell me your thoughts about the relationship between book and film. Obviously, literary adaptations are always tricky; directors want to make films that anyone can see, from big fans of the book to those who’ve never read it. Do you think Luhrmann succeeds?

All that glitters may not be gold, but it will be Gatsby

All that glitters may not be gold, but it will be Gatsby

JMM: Yes, he succeeds. As you said above, the book and its titular character Gatsby are inscrutable which to me means that it is subject to many interpretations — almost as many as the number of bits of confetti and streamers that fell during the Gatsby soirees.

I think the transfer of the literary to the screen was well done. Especially if you consider that the charm of the book is less the story, and more the excellence of the writing.

Didion: I agree with you in part. I felt Luhrmann succeeded with the overall look and the vividness of the characters — no one is going to say, as Canby did about the previous version, that this is lifeless — but I disliked the hyperactive melodrama of the film. It missed, to me, the book’s soul: its narrator’s desire for something real behind all that glitz.

JMM: Yeah, in the film, the Carraway character was either in awe, or watching with stunned amazement – or busy twirling a glass in his hand – but isn’t that what makes the book so difficult to film – the charms of Nick are all his internal discoveries rather than something he actually does?

Nick to Gatsby: [you're better] than the whole damned bunch together

Nick to Gatsby: [you’re better] than the whole damned bunch together

Didion: That’s exactly right. Nick wants to believe that Gatsby really is “worth the whole damn bunch altogether,” as he shouts to Gatsby across the lawn. But the film doesn’t quite show us that Gatsby is anything more than an imperfect invention. Luhrmann couldn’t quite commit: are we supposed to attach to Gatsby? or are we supposed to see through him, and thus become aware of Nick’s naivete?

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The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan

You’ve got time on your hands. Your wife and daughter have gone upcountry and now seems to be the perfect time to paint the apartment. Though painting is not your favorite activity, a trip to the paint store gets you out for a while, meaning some time is spent somewhat pleasurably.

After you’ve made your selections which are Apricot Cream, which Rose liked for the living room, and Urban Decay, a paint color that is best described as having the look of a rotted eggplant, which Miaow picked out for her bedroom, and you’ve paid for the paint – you find yourself outside of the store but still in front of it, you suddenly realize that there’s a bit of a commotion.

People are running by you in one direction, and real fast. You turn to look in the direction that the people are running towards. At once, someone runs into you from behind and the collision takes both of you down to greet the sidewalk – up close and personally.

As you and the guy atop you struggle to right yourselves, there some loud noises. The guy has just been shot, and then again, and again. You get the guy up to a place where he’s half-sitting, half lying across your lap. He’s going fast – that is, he’s dying in your arms. The man raises his head and whispers with his dying breaths: HelenEckersleyCheyenne … before slumping over.

So begins Timothy Hallinan’s new novel The Fear Artist. About to be published by Soho Press, this novel will be on your book seller’s shelves in just a few days. This is the latest in Tim’s great series of Poke Rafferty thrillers. They’re all set in exotic Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand is called ‘the land of smiles’, and even though the people do smile as often as possible, and want to live their lives filled with sanuk (fun), that doesn’t mean that aren’t some mean streets in town. Danger can be found around any corner. Or as we’ve just discovered – sometime the danger finds you.

After getting out from under the man who has just expired in his arms – Poke Rafferty, an American writer of travel books, who now calls Bangkok his home, discovers that there’s a camera crew already on the scene. Just seconds have passed. How are they here already?

Police are also present – and when Poke says this man has been shot – the police say no one was shot. Poke knows better. Despite the street being covered in Apricot Cream mixed with the Urban Decay, Poke has enough blood stains on him to know he didn’t image the sounds of the gunfire. Nor did imagine this man’s body shuddering from the impact of the bullets.

So after an alarming face off/stare down/confrontation from the cops on the scene, Poke is allowed to head home. But the affair is far from over. Poke is going to be facing an interrogation by some Thai intelligence officers otherwise known spooks. Only he doesn’t know it yet. Continue reading

Vincent Calvino – The Bangkok, Thailand Based P.I. Created by Christopher G. Moore

Christopher G. Moore

Ever been to The City of Angels – home to 12,000,000 folks? That’s a lot of angels to be fluttering their wings in the heat. Besides those wings aflutter, that’s an awful lot of feet pounding the pavement and sidewalks. Sorry – we are not talking about Los Angeles.

The first City of Angels is actually Bangkok, the capital and largest urban area of Thailand. This isn’t a place for those of you who can’t abide hot weather. That heat is the reason why Bangkok has been called the Furnace of the earth.

It is also the home of writer Christopher G. Moore, author of the famed series of novels about Private Eye Vincent Calvino. So far there are a dozen Calvino novels. The first one, Spirit House was first published back in 1992. The most recent Calvino novel called 9 Gold Bullets came out in early 2011.

In this post, we are going to give you a look at four of the Calvino books. The series has hit best seller lists in about a dozen different languages. There’s no doubt that Vincent Calvino is a very popular Private Investigator. So who is he?

He was born and raised in New York. Calvino’s background is that he is half-Jewish and half Italian. He takes on a variety of cases. Some from well-heeled corporate clients, some from well to-do ex-pat society wives who think their husbands are cheating on them, and other cases which don’t bring in much in the way of revenue (sort of like the pro bono cases done by lawyers) but might result in some positives for a local community.

Calvino’s office is in a small office building. On the ground floor of his building is a massage parlor called One Hand Clapping. Not what you might call inspiring to his clients who agree to meet Calvino at his office. In the first Calvino novel, that space was occupied by an always-out-of-town Finnish real estate developer. But that didn’t last, and the space would eventually be taken over by the rub-and-tug massage business.

Calvino’s office and business is maintained by his secretary/office manager called Ratana. Though Ratana is indeed gorgeous, at least in the books I’ve read – his relationship with Ratana could best be described as both friendly, semi-personal, as well as professional. What I mean is that he hasn’t slept with her.

Don’t let that point give you the wrong idea about Vincent Calvino. He likes women, and women like him. There’s no shortage of intimate moments in these novels.

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Breathing Water – A “Poke” Rafferty Thriller

As best selling novelist Timothy Hallinan recently wrote in his blog, never begin a blog topic with “I”. More about Tim to follow – read on. Okay – I had a visitor last night. About 9:00 PM I decided to do a bit of food shopping. Off I went to the nearby Publix – they stay open until 9:30 PM most weekday nights, with bonus open time expanded to 10:00 PM on the weekend. When I came back, I noticed a small snake coiled up in my entrance way. Yeah – a snake!

It wasn’t much of a snake. Maybe 3 to 3 1/4 inches in length and not too well filled out. He could safely hide in an un-mowed lawn. He was sitting on the tiles, possibly not too pleased about the chilled air circulating through the apartment. The thermostat called for a chilly sixty-eight degrees. I found my trusted air canister thing-y; the one you use to blow the dust, small crumbs, hairs, and what-not out of the crevices of a computer keyboard. A few blasts of this arctic-like air and he was out the door and back in no man’s land otherwise known as the breezeway. Good night and good riddance to you sir I called out as I closed the door. After all, he was the epitome of the worst kind of unexpected events – the dreaded pop-in.

Speaking of snakes, over the last 8 or 9 weeks I have been absorbing every word written by Timothy Hallinan in his Poke Rafferty series of books. I think I discovered these books by searching on for mystery or thrillers set in exotic locations in their book section. The Poke Rafferty series (there have been four books published so far) are all set mainly in Bangkok, Thailand. Now I’ve been to Thailand four times and have a feel for the city of Bangkok as well as the resort island of Phuket. Not once while I was in country did I have any kind of a run-in, or pop-in, with a snake.

But in Hallinan’s 3rd book in the series, Breathing Water, a de-fanged cobra is found in Poke Rafferty’s 8-year old daughter’s bed. Now the Rafferty apartment is on the 4th or 5th floor of a Bangkok apartment building, so it was a safe bet that while said snake may have indeed arrived by means of the building’s elevator, we can be sure it wasn’t under its own power. The snake had been placed there, by unknown parties, as an indisputable warning to Poke to cease and desist.

So who is Philip “Poke” Rafferty anyway? In the series, his background is a tad muddled or mysterious, but as the series opens we find him in Bangkok. He’s already authored two rough-travel books, the short name of both is Looking for Trouble. These are the kind of books that are considered off-beat, and the kind that would appeal to those who travel with back-backs instead of luggage, those who stay in hostels rather than internationally known hotel chains, and those who dine daily on food made and sold on the street.

Poke’s Dad was an American and his Mom a Filipino woman. So Poke has a look about him that more than hints at Asian-ness, and simultaneously tells the Bangkok locals that Poke is a farang or foreigner. But Bangkok had gotten a hold of him, and a few years have gone by. His third book is still being worked on. Poke has acquired a significant other, and there’s a former street urchin (the previously mentioned 8 year old girl) that Poke wants to adopt. In short, they are a family.

Breathing Water opens with a high stakes poker game. We don’t know it initially, but the game is a kind of sting operation. Poke’s friend  Arhit, is one of the few Bangkok cops who are honest, is also playing in the game. Also at the table is Khun Pan who was once a green kid in Bangkok who came from an upcountry village where electricity and plumbing were on everyone’s wish list. But now Pan is a self-made and ostentatiously showy billionaire. In short – once a mob goon now a mob boss. He worked his way up by making a lot of smart deals, and a lot of forceful deals, that people could not just say no to. He made friends, or established connections with some very big and powerful men in Bangkok.

Now if you’ve read the papers over the last three or four years, you know that the real-life world of Thailand politics has been quite unstable. Pan has been noticed by the Bangkok establishment, and the Bangkok underworld, and the hoi-polloi, as more than just an up-and-coming possible player in the political arena.

There’s a group that wants to use him as puppet Prime Minister. And this group could be considered criminal either on the surface or just below the surface. But Pan is adored and idolized by the poor because he gives to charities, puts up hospitals and schools, and the collective working man consider him a peer, one of their own. The various power groups, movers and shakers, and the political cognoscenti behind the scenes, correctly reason that this very substantial group of the country’s population could deliver such a large block of votes, that any election would be a walk-over, a mere formality.

But there’s another group with a contrary view, and that would be Bangkok’s wealthy and conservative establishment. They’ve been in power for so long. They are the rich and the connected. They don’t want a sea-change at the top of political establishment – they want things to stay just the way they are. The poor stay poor and the rich get richer. To them, Pan would be an anathema and they would not want Pan in office at any level under any circumstances.

Simultaneously two ideas are floated – One that Poke Rafferty could write a biography of Khun Pan that would help sweep him into power. The other idea was that Rafferty was a very smart guy, and that he could write a biography of Pan that would ruin his political chances. Meaning that Pan had some deep dark secrets that could never be brought out in the light of day and that Rafferty would be able to uncover them and they’d get published. which would be the end of Pan’s career as a politician.

So at the outset Rafferty is given a handsome advance, and told that he must write the book, and at the same time he is absolutely threatened that not only would he lose his life if he wrote the book, but before that they’d take care of his wife Rose, and the little girl Miaow as well in a way that no man would want for his family.

Wow, what a dilemma – one group insisting that he write the book, along with the severe threats of death if he didn’t, and the other side demanding, and threatening everything he loved and cherished, if he did write the book.

There’s your set up. You’ve got exotic Bangkok as your setting with a cast of gangsters, confidential informants, information peddlers or middle men that work both sides, news reporters, an army of street kids, cops both crooked and honest, and a bevy of bar girls who serve drinks, dance, and prostitute themselves nightly in the seedy Patpong bars and clubs that are magnets for men from all over the world.

Poke himself is a one of a kind. He’s tough, he’s fearless, and his bravado often works against him as he’s the type of guy who speaks first, usually a wisecrack, then thinks second. Despite his singularity in the Bangkok setting, you could easily compare him to two of author Nelson DeMille‘s best loved protagonists – former NYC Police Detective John Corey who has appeared in five DeMille novels – the most recent of which was The Lion published in hardcover in June of 2010. The other DeMille character that Poke will remind you of, is from the DeMille novels Gold Coast and The Gate House. That would be lawyer John Sutter.

I’ve got two more character references – both of which were performed by actor Bruce Willis. His Die-Hard character noted for his wisecracking – New York cop John McClane is the first. The other was from Willis’s stint on a TV Series called Moonlighting. In this popular series which ran in the early 80’s, Willis played David Addison, who ran a private detective agency opposite Cybill Shepherd who owned the agency. The Addison character could be described as a very charming loudmouth.

Now Poke Rafferty is a bit of all of those characters only without the muscle. But he’s quite clever and he’s aces up when it comes to figuring things out. He’s not much on the physical side and more often than not he has to take a beating of sorts. But he proves over and over that brains are better than brawn.

As for Timothy Hallinan’s writing: His Rafferty thrillers are not only best sellers but he is getting the best reviews of his life. Me? I’m a big, BIG fan of the Poke Rafferty novels and am currently engrossed in the most recent Rafferty novel, and the 4th one that I’ve read, The Queen of Patpong. And I’m loving it.

For an excellent read – head over to your public library, or to your local book store,  and see if you can pick up the Poke Rafferty novels. You’ll be glad you did. The novels titles (listed in the order of publication) are:

A Nail Through the Heart

The Fourth Watcher

Breathing Water

and The Queen of Patpong

If you can’t locate any of these books, don’t get angry. Instead, please use the Thai expression Mai Pen Rai – which means, No worries or No problem. You can always order the books on line or download the e-book versions.