retail news in context, analysis with attitude

If you don't come from the New York metropolitan area, the name Mike McAlary may not be familiar to you. Sure, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his columns about the Abner Louima case (another reference that may escape you - he was a Haitian immigrant who was the victim of police brutality). But McAlary was more than just a columnist. He was a New York tabloid columnist, which is something very specific, following in the footsteps of people like Jimmy Breslin. He wrote during the great tabloid wars of the eighties and nineties, when the New York Daily News, New York Post and New York Newsday fought tooth and nail and noun and verb and especially adjective and adverb for every reader.

I tell you about Mike McAlary because he is the subject of new play: "Lucky Guy," the last plan written by the great Nora Ephron before she died about a year ago. "Lucky Guy" is on Broadway now, starring Tom Hanks in his first Broadway play, and I am here to tell you that when we saw it a week ago, we had an exhilarating time. "Lucky Guy" is sort of a "Front Page" for the late 20th century, and succeeds in being a funny, sometimes scathing, and frankly adoring look at the New York newspaper business in the days just before the internet started to change everything.

I say "frankly adoring" because Nora Ephron started her career working for the Post, and she is passionate about the genre, even as she shows the flaws of the men (and very few women) who drove the tabloids to new heights and lows. McAlary was a mass of contradictions - he loved police reporting and he wanted to be almost as good as Breslin, and yet his ego drove him to make enormous professional and personal missteps. In this, Ephron is indeed lucky to have Hanks as the lead in "Lucky Guy" - he's so likable that he allows you to see past the clear character flaws. And he's a stage natural. (I'm going to say it right here - someone should cast Hanks as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman." I'd be willing to bet that he'd be wonderful. And I'd buy that ticket right now.)

If you find yourself in New York between now and July, try to get a ticket to "Lucky Guy." You'll be glad you did.

Speaking of Nora Ephron...

There was a piece in the New York Times the other day that I found enormously affecting, writing about how some writers deal with the final days and weeks and months of their lives.

Noting that Ephron was diagnosed with a rare and fatal blood disorder, the story says that "the existential sniper’s bullet, aimed at her, was no longer spiraling in slow motion. She decided to sprint toward her final deadline. In her last six years she wrote two books, two plays and 100 blog posts, and directed a movie.

"Roger Ebert, the beloved film critic who died from cancer earlier this month, raced death to the finish line, too. He delivered more than 300 film reviews and many other bits of writing in his last full year on earth. Christopher Hitchens went out the same way, essentially dying at his laptop, churning out essays, reviews, introductions and 'Mortality,' a last book.

"One begins to wonder: Has it become obligatory for people with terminal illnesses to work like dogs during their final months or years? Is this how we define a 'good death' now? Is one a slacker to perform otherwise? Is this kind of determination healthy for sick people? Is it healthy for anyone?"

I'd recommend that you read the whole piece, which you can see here.

I was reminded, when reading it, that Robert B. Parker, who apparently suffered from heart disease, died at his computer, working on a novel.

And I was glad to see that the story does not criticize these people for focusing on work when death comes calling. it isn't like they ignored their families and friends - people like Ebert and Ephron and Parker, from all reports, had happy and robust marriages, families they loved, and private lives that were full and rewarding.

But they were lucky enough to have work that they also found to be fulfilling, that was intrinsic to who they were. And so working to the end was like challenging death, sort of like saying, "I will be who I am until my last breath, and create work that, hopefully, will survive me."

I think that's important. And I just thought I'd share the piece with you.

The Company You Keep is a new movie directed by and starring Robert Redford as a former sixties radical living under an assumed name, who is forced to go on the run when the fBI starts to close in on him. Redford's character isn;t running because he's guilty of the bank robbery with which he is charged; rather, he is trying to clear his name, which forces him to seek out and visit a series of aging, former revolutionaries with whom he shares a radical past.

The cast is terrific - Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Sam Elliott all manage to create rounded characters, even though most of them have just a few minutes of screen time. And it is wonderful to see some of these folks onscreen - many of them are the movie stars of my youth, and it is great fun to see them working and as vital as ever.

The movie has some plot holes one could drive a truck through, but the cast and Redford's steady directorial hand keep it from going off the rails. you don't get flash with Redford - he is a linear director who believes in taking his time. There are no fast cuts, no fancy editing, and he likes to let shots play out, believing that truth can be found in the quiet moments.

I'll also say this. The people who have said that The Company You Keep is a way of justifying the violent revolutionaries of the sixties are nuts. In fact, the movie has a kind of sadness about it, about lives unfilled, of bad choices made, and about how, in the end, love is more important than war. Any kind of war.

I have two wines and a beer to recommend this week.

The beer, appropriately enough considering my movie review, is Flower Power IPA from the Ithaca Beer Co., a big body beer that is really, really good.

And the wines are a couple of whites that are bright and thirst quenching and perfect with pasta and seafood ... the 2011 Basilicata Re Manfredi Bianco ... and the 2011 Mar de Vinas Albarino.


By the way, can I say something here that is entirely self-congratulatory?

This week, Michael Sansolo wrote about his USA Today experience. Last week, Kate McMahon wrote about Roger Ebert, based on when she served as his editor. And I should point out here that Kate was at the Daily News when McAlary was.

And I am just so lucky to have people like Michael and Kate writing for MNB, because they bring a depth of experience and insight that you can't get in other places. I am so much better for being in their company.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.

KC's View: