A Hollywood-produced art film rarely had its ducks all in a row quite like 1987's Ironweed. You had the screen?s two reigning actors, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep; a hot director, Hector Babenco, coming off a recent succès d?estime; and a Pulitzer Prize–winning literary property by William Kennedy. Throw in Kennedy as screenwriter, as well as the best set direction that money could buy, and expectations grew high -- too high. The resulting work -- purposely meandering, resolutely unsentimental, relentlessly downbeat, and missing the mythic Joycean resonances of Kennedy?s breakthrough novel -- just refused to find its way deep enough under anyone?s skin. Critics praised the flawless acting (and those sets) but the word "masterpiece" never settled near enough this film. It still hasn?t, but time -- and unfortunate present circumstances -- has altered its impact. Ironweed is set in Depression-era 1938, and Babenco, unapologetically, does everything he can to evoke it. The palpable sense of urban stagnation and decay -- which Babenco brought over from his earlier Pixote -- is never diminished by the Hollywood star power. Death surrounds a story drenched in blighted dreams and populated by dead-end existences. Lyrical and poignant moments punctuate the grim goings-on -- the brief reunion between Nicholson?s character and his estranged family finds an honest balance between tenderness and bitterness, while Streep?s barroom rendition of "He?s My Man" rightfully looms large in her legend -- but the sense of lives desperately out of whack due to economic straits never leaves us. Ironweed carries a prescient tinge of fear: As bad as things are now, may they never get as bad as they were then.

July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).