Daily Archives: October 19, 2013

Another Earth – movie review

Another Earthwas released in 2011 and is listed as a science fiction movie. However it is really a psychological drama. It is the story of a brilliant and beautiful  young high school senior, who has just been accepted into MIT as an astrophysics major.

On the day she learns about her acceptance to MIT two things happen. The first is that astronomers discover  there is a planet the exact duplicate of Earth which is close enough  to be reached by  spaceship. The second is a sudden tragic event that intertwines her life with that of an accomplished music composer (played by William Mapother).

Another 1

The story is not about the science fiction aspects, and it has no special effects. It is about the capriciousness of life and the choices we make. Does a duplicate Earth mean there is a chance to correct past mistakes? Is there really such a thing as redemption for past sins, and if there is do we deserve such redemption?

Another 2

To tell you any more of the plot would be to give away too much. I will say that this is a beautiful and moving story.

Another 3

The high school girl is played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the story with the director Mike Cahill.  It is brilliantly written and directed and it has our highest recommendation. Please let us know if you enjoy it as much as we did.

We give this movie our highest rating of Five Stars *****

I Am Not A Serial Killer – book review

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells – Is a short novel (271 pages) first published in 1977, although it has be re-printed and you can still find it in the book store or through Amazon.

It is the story of a high school boy who is obsessed with serial killers. Other kids talk about sports figures, rock or movie stars, but his interest is serial killers. The hero of the story (John) can spout off statistics about serial killers the way other kids can tell you about batting averages for major league baseball players. Number of kills, cities where the murders took place, exactly how the bodies were dismembered; John knows them all.

His obsession, of course, is a great cause of concern to his mother and his high school teachers. It doesn’t help that John’s family owns the town’s only funeral parlor, and that he works there after school helping prepare the bodies.

Then the unthinkable happens. An actual serial killer begins striking the small town. And no, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, John is not a junior version of Dexter.

About half way through the book the story turns from a  mystery about a high school boy into a sci-fi/horror story. While it is exciting, I do sort of wish it stayed with the pure mystery theme throughout.

I highly recommend this book. It is fast-paced and a quick read. If you read it while riding public transportation like I did, be prepared for some very strange surreptitious glances from your fellow passengers. For some reason they seem to feel uneasy seeing a stranger on a subway with his face buried in something titled, “I Am Not a Serial Killer.”

The Last Connecticut Gentleman – Merritt K. Sawyer

It is always strange to see your teacher outside of school, especially when you are in middle school and the teacher is someone everyone is afraid of. His name was Merritt K. Sawyer. He was a scary-looking old man. Mr. Sawyer always wore a black suit and a white shirt, and walked with a pronounced limp. He was not a large man, but he had a certain presence that immediately made anyone in the room pay attention to him.

Mr. Sawyer lived in a scary house too. It was  an old, dark green Victorian, with the yard perpetually dark due to a forest of huge, untrimmed oak trees crowding every inch of the property. Instead of a garage he had a full sized red barn with the boards sagging so much it looked like it would collapse any second. In the barn was his ancient Dodge Dart. Unlike everything else on the property, the car gleamed like it had just come out of the showroom.

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

The worst part was that Mr. Sawyer’s house was directly across the street from mine, although I never had any interaction with him outside of school. That is, until King School decided to save money by eliminating as many of the school buses as it could. Students who lived near teachers were told they would have to ride to school in a teacher’s car.  That’s how Jimmy Sachs and I ended up riding in a shiny Dodge Dart every day with the most feared teacher in Connecticut.

Since it was his car, Mr. Sawyer got to choose the radio station, and all he every picked were news stations. National news, local news, business news. I had no idea all those stations even existed. And he insisted we all discuss the stories after we heard them.  “It is important for a gentleman to be well informed,” he used to say.

Merritt K. Sawyers tried to teach us to be Gentlemen

Merritt K. Sawyers tried to teach us to be Gentlemen

Gentleman. It’s a word he used to say a lot. He seemed to be living in a different time period from the rest of the world. Jimmy and I didn’t want to be gentlemen. We wanted to be cool. How much more un-cool could you get than riding to school in an old car with an old teacher every day? But Mr. Sawyer wanted us to be gentlemen. When were  not listening to the news, he lectured us on what it meant to be a gentleman. A real gentleman had to be intelligent and brave. You had to be physically strong and stand up for what is right . A gentleman is always polite. Not because he is subservient to anyone, but because he has the strength to be polite, when a lesser person would be rude or angry.

Now that we all car-pooled, Mr. Sawyer seemed to take more of an interest in the neighborhood. He started turning his lights on for Halloween, and my parents made me go tick-or-treating there. He had two kinds of treats you could choose from – Saltines or pennies (for UNICEF). People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but that is actually what he handed out on Halloween.

In February, we got a huge unexpected wet snowfall which looked like it might collapse the roof of Mr. Sawyer’s home. Jimmy and I were walking on the sidewalk when suddenly we heard Mr. Sawyer calling to us. There he was up on a flat section of his roof limping about with his bad leg and trying to push the snow off with a plastic broom. He looked like he would fall off any second.

When Jimmy and I went over with snow shovels, Mr. Sawyer met us at the door, thanked us profusely and invited us in. It was the first time either of us had ever seen the inside of his house. It was a beautiful house, with polished hardwood floors and lovely red curtains. Everything was spotlessly clean. He took us to the upstairs guest room, which had a large window from which we could climb onto the roof. The bed had a large, thick American flag draped on it. The type they put on the coffin of a soldier and then give the family. We were dying to ask about the flag, but of course did not. Was it from a family member? Had he been in the war? Is that why he had a limp?

After the day we had saved Mr. Sawyer’s roof from the snow, he seemed to loosen up on the morning drive a little. Sometimes he even let us choose a music station, although he could not help but comment on how bad our taste in music was. It was a long daily drive to the school, all the way from the beach section in Shippan Point  where we lived, to the country in the hills.

The old Connecticut was dying  and it was obvious even to us kids.  There were still working farms, but every day a few more of them got sold and turned into tract housing developments. Each day we passed a an especially beautiful farm with rolling hills, and a lovely white farm house. On a particularly sunny spring morning I happened to say, “That’s a beautiful farm.” That was when Mr. Sawyer surprised me by revealing the only piece of information I was ever to learn about his past.

“Yes it is,” he said, “When I was a boy my father almost bought that farm; but he died about a month later so we never got it. A little boy sure misses his daddy.” It seemed so strange. It was the only emotion I had ever seen from him except for anger (when the kids at school were especially loud, or late for an assembly).

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

My morning rides with Mr. Sawyer ended when I graduated from middle school. Of course he was still my next  door neighbor, and so I saw him outside raking leaves or washing his Dodge Dart. By the time I was a senior in high school, it was time for Mr. Sawyer to retire. Rumor was that he didn’t want to retire, but was being pushed out. The teachers and parents were having a retirement party on Saturday night for him and were going to present him with a rocking chair with a Princeton logo.

My parents had gone to the party since they had donated some money to the school. As usual, I was sitting at home doing nothing but watching T.V. when the phone rang. It was my father with an order for me. He sounded very angry and said, “Go over to Mr. Sawyer’s house and see why he isn’t here. We keep calling his house and there’s no answer. There are three hundred people here and that old fart hasn’t shown up!” He gave me a phone number and I promised I would call him back.

Mr.  Sawyer’s house looked as dark and scary as I had ever seen it. I was afraid I was going to find him dead. It was a cold night with no moon, and the clouds were blocking any stars. I walked up the old wooden porch and rang the bell. Mr. Sawyer opened the door looking very old and tired.

“Gregory,” he said. “How nice of you to come by. Please come in.”

I followed him into the living room. Mr. Sawyer mas moving and speaking very slowly, almost as if he were in a daze. I followed him into the living room and he motioned for me to sit in a plush red chair. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a cheeseboard. “Please have some cheese and crackers and soda.”

The phone rang while he as pouring a 7-UP, and Mr. Sawyer ignored it while it rang twenty times before it finally stopped. As gently as I could I leaned forward and said, “I think that is the school. People are worried that you did not show up at your retirement party.”

“No they are not,” he replied wistfully. “They just want me out. And then what do I do? What do I do?” He had a look of real fear in his eyes. He was not the mean teacher, or the frightening man with the limp in a black suit. He was just an old man with no family, worried about what would come next.

Mr. Sawyer and I sat drinking 7-UP and eating sharp cheddar. Every once and a while the phone would ring and we would ignore it. Then he walked me to the door and shook my hand. “Thank you so much for dropping by,” he said solemnly.

I called back my father and said that Mr. Sawyer had a real bad stomach virus and would not be able to make the party. He had not answered the phone since he was in the bathroom most of the time. My father was still angry, but there was not much he could do about it.

After he retired, I continued to see Mr. Sawyer around the neighborhood driving in his perfectly maintained Dodge Dart. He still handed out Saltines and pennies every Halloween. One Spring the town had a junk pick-up, and I noticed that Mr. Sawyer had thrown out a rocking chair with a Princeton logo on it.

Once and a while I would drop by his house to see how he was doing. If the weather was warm we sat on the front porch of the old Victorian having cheese and soft drinks. We never spoke about the night of his retirement party. I still listened to all the news stations, so we conversed about world events while we looked out at the huge oak trees shading his yard. Just two Connecticut gentlemen.