Monthly Archives: December 2010

Movie Review True Grit

by Dan Fields
First published December 25, 2010 by the California Literary Review

“The Quality of Grit is Not Strain’d…”

Leave it to the Coen brothers to top off the year with a peculiar surprise. True Grit, their new adaptation of the late-60s Charles Portis novel, sidesteps any substantial resemblance to the well-known version starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell (ack!), and Kim Darby (ick!). The Coens play this western adventure fairly straight, with a healthy dose of dark humor, but without the pervading sense of bitter irony which drives films like Fargo, Blood Simple, and No Country For Old Men.

The protagonist, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), is a young girl out to avenge the murder of her father by a man named Chaney (Josh Brolin). Offered her choice of disciplined and fair-minded bounty hunters to help her find the killer, she instead chooses Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a one-eyed shambling wreck of a man known for his “true grit.” Mattie, who despite all her high talk wants blood spilled even more than she wants justice done, judges him the right man for the job.
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Movie Review: How Do You Know

by Dan Fields
First published December 18, 2010 by the California Literary Review

A Spell or Two Short of Enchanting

In lesser hands, How Do You Know could have been a thoroughly ordinary serving of what passes in this day and age for “romantic comedy.” Fortunately, the man at the helm is perhaps the only living person capable of making the genre palatable – delightful, in fact – to more than a tiny cross-section of moviegoers. James L. Brooks, executive producer of The Simpsons and director of such acclaimed films as Terms Of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets, offers yet another pleasant surprise with this witty and mature new comedy.

Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a pro softball player facing the fact that, while still young and beautiful, she is passing her athletic prime and needs to find a new path. George (Paul Rudd) is a very nice business executive who finds himself taking the fall for a mysterious criminal indiscretion within his company. On arguably the worst day of their respective lives, they find themselves on a blind date together. Already, the conventional path to romance seems out of the question. Nonetheless, they make a substantial impression on one another, though neither understands it fully until later.
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Tom Russell: American Primitive Man

Tom Russell's new album Blood And Candle Smoke (2009, Shout! Factory)

Russell pours heart and soul into 2009′s Blood And Candle Smoke.

Striding up from the back room in McGonigel’s Mucky Duck Pub – Houston, Texas, USA – is a tall, serene-looking man in cowboy boots and a black fedora. On the little stage in the bright red room, he shoulders his instrument and eyes the eager faces before him. “Well,” he muses, “we got the dinner crowd out of here. Who’s ready to hear some music?” Clearly, competing with a plate of fish and chips is not Tom Russell’s style. And once he begins playing, nobody would mistake his soul-deep strains for background music. Accompanied by veteran guitar picker Thad Beckman, Russell gives a truly memorable performance.

The history of Tom Russell, American troubadour, goes back a bit. His catalogue of recorded music dates to the late 1970s. Before that, he plied his musical trade during a stint in Nigeria, where he taught criminology, and later in the “Skid Row bars of Vancouver,” beginning in 1971. Much of this information is available on Russell’s website, but he also put a good deal of it into song on his 2009 album, Blood And Candle Smoke.


“I think the more you dig into the well, and the longer you write, you come back around to yourself.”


By Russell’s own admission, there is more of the artist’s “real life” on this new album. Songs like “East Of Woodstock, West Of Vietnam” and “Criminology” have the ring of autobiography to them, and he confirms that he dug deeper into his personal history to write them. Of “Finding You,” which he calls a “simple direct love song” written for his wife, he remarks, “I couldn’t have written this 20 years ago.” Continue reading