Movie Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Release Date: 7 July 2000
Director: Ang Lee
Production Company: Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia | Good Machine International | Edko Films | Zoom Hunt Productions | China Film Co-Production Corp. | Asian Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.
Summary/Review: I last watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it was released in US theaters 21 years ago and it turns out I remembered very little of the movie.  The one thing that stuck with me was the duel fought on the tops of a forest of bamboo which remains an awe-inspiring image in this rewatch.

The film centers on Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of a governor who is promised in marriage but yearns for a life free to determine on her own terms.  She learns Wudang skills from a bandit named Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) who is disguised as her governess and steals a famed sword named Green Destiny from the renowned swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat).  Mu Bai and his friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) investigate the theft of the sword and attempt to aid Jen who resists any interference.

The movie features several wuxia fight setpieces, and in addition to being amazing action sequences also are all rooted in relationships and plot points.  I’m impressed at how central women are in almost all the roles of this film especially since in just the last decade it’s been “controversial” for women to be centered in Hollywood action films.  I also was really touched by the unspoken romance between Mu Bai and Shu Lien which is paid off in the film’s denouement.  Chow and Yeoh are really terrific actors and express a lot of emotion with very little external display.

Rating: ****

Album of the Week: Daptone Mood by Various Artists

Album: Daptone Mood
Artist: Various
Release Date: May 12, 2022
Label: Daptone Records
Favorite Tracks:

Thoughts: The new compilation from Daptone Records is a collection of slower tunes released by the label’s many artists.  If you’re not familiar, Daptone Records is a Brooklyn-based label founded in 2002 most noted for enabling the late career resurgence of Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley (both of whom are now deceased) and recording numerous other contemporary artists making classic soul and funk as well as reggae and afrobeat.  The album is full of gems and really hits the spot for me right now.

Rating: ****1/2


Album of the Week 2022






Song of the Week: “Stay On It” by wild Up


wild Up – “Stay On It”

A little something different for Song of the Week from the Los Angeles experimental classical music ensemble.  “Stay On It” is an interpretation of a work by minimalist composer Julius Eastman, originally performed in 1973.

Song of the Week 2022






Movie Review: Top Secret! (1984)

Title: Top Secret! 
Release Date: June 22, 1984
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
Production Company: Paramount Pictures

The team of Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker followed up their hit Airplane! with this comedy that turned out to be a flop.  It’s a bit unfortunate because I feel that in some ways it is better than Airplane! While the previous movie was a straightforward disaster movie spoof, Top Secret! is a more esoteric parody of Cold War spy thrillers and Elvis Presley musicals that evolves into a strange pastiche of World War II resistance movies.

Val Kilmer makes his film debut as American rock star Nick Rivers who is invited to perform at a cultural festival in East Germany.  He ends up caught up in the attempts of resistance member Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge, who appears to mostly work in British theatre and tv) to escape the authorities.  Hijinks ensue. There are a lot of great gags, but among them the opening song “Skeet Surfin'” and the Swedish bookstore scene are absolute classics of the genre.  At the more lowbrow end, there are a lot of jokes about breasts and penises.

This was not the type of movie Kilmer wanted to make, but nevertheless puts his all into the role making him the perfect straight man for all the nonsense.  Veteran actors Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, and Michael Gough all appear in small but memorable roles.  And the rock and roll parody songs are all pretty hilarious. Plus there’s always something going on in the background that’s worth watching.

I put Top Secret! on my 250 favorite movies list earlier this year.  If I revised the list now, it might not make the cut, but it’s wouldn’t be too far off.

Rating: ****

Favorite Albums of All Time: 160-151

Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

250-241 200-191
240-231 190-181
230-221 180-171
220-211 170-161


Artist: Fleet Foxes
Title: Fleet Foxes
Year: 2008
Favorite Tracks:

  • White Winter Hymnal
  • Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
  • He Doesn’t Know Why
  • Your Protector

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2008

Thoughts: “White Winter Hymnal” left me dumbfounded the first time I heard it and it’s still just a sonically amazing song.  The debut album of Seattle’s indie folk band Fleet Foxes indie folk is full of such treasures.

Bonus Sounds: Fleet Foxes have released three albums since their debut, and while none resonate with me quite as much, they are all excellent: Helplessness Blues (2011 – the title track is another of my all-time favorites), Crack-Up (2017), and Shore (2020).


Artist: Crooked Still
Title: Shaken by a Low Sound 
Year: 2006
Favorite Tracks:

  • Can’t You Hear Me Callin’
  • Come On In My Kitchen
  • Ain’t No Grave
  • Wind and Rain

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2006

Thoughts:  Crooked Still were a Boston-area band of recent music school graduates who took a modern approach to traditional folk and bluegrass.  I’m pretty sure I saw their debut show at Club Passim in Cambridge.  This album highlights the gorgeous vocals of Aoife O’Donovan and the resonant cell of Rushad Eggleston.

Bonus Sounds: Crooked Still haven’t been active for over a decade but Aoife O’Donovan continues a successful solo career including this year’s release Age of Apathy.


ArtistTilly & The Wall 
Title: Bottoms of Barrels
Year: 2006
Favorite Tracks:

  • Rainbows in the Dark
  • Bad Education
  • Lost Girls
  • Sing Songs Along
  • The Freest Man

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2006

Thoughts: Around 2006 I started listening to podcasts from NPR Music which kickstarted another phase of my listening history of indie rock/pop bands that apparently appeal to NPR audiences.  Tilly and the Wall were a band from Omaha whose high-energy performances exuded positivity and whose tunes were built on the percussive sounds of tap dancing.

Bonus Sounds: Tilly and the Wall made a memorable appearance on Sesame Street, teaching the ABCs.


Artist: Kris Delmhorst 
Title: Five Stories 
Year: 2001
Favorite Tracks:

  • Damn Love Song
  • Broken White Line
  • Words Fail You
  • Yellow Brick Road
  • Garden Rose
  • Mean Old Wind
  • Honeyed Out

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2001

Thoughts: Kris Delmhorst is one of my favorite singer/songwriters who arose from the Boston-area folk scene in the late 90s/early 00s.  Five Stories came out during the peak period where I was seeing her perform in local venues on a regular basis.

Bonus Sounds: There will be more from Kris Delmhorst coming up on this list, both solo and with others, but I have also reviewed her most recent releases Long Day in the Milky Way and The Wild.


Artist:The Jimi Hendrix Experience 
Title: Electric Ladyland
Favorite Tracks:

  • Crosstown Traffic
  • Voodoo Chile
  • Burning of the Midnight Lamp
  • All Along the Watchtower
  • Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: During my high school Classic Rock Phase in the late 1980s.

Thoughts: The third and final studio album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience shows an artist diversifying his musical range and displaying the maturity of an already massive talent.  The sounds of this album blend psychedelic and hard rock with blues and funk.


Bonus Sounds: All three of the Jimi Hendrix Experience studio albums are stone-cold classics, so definitely check out Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love as well.


ArtistKate Bush
Title: The Sensual World
Year: 1989
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Sensual World
  • Love and Anger
  • Deeper Understanding
  • Rocket’s Tail
  • This Woman’s Work

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2016, although I’d heard bits and pieces of it going back to the 80s

Thoughts: Over a decade into her career, Bush made maybe her most accessible album.  That being said it thematically deals with issues relating to computer sex and a musical interpretation of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Ulysses, so it’s still pretty esoteric! “Love and Anger” remains one of my favorite Kate Bush songs, and “This Woman’s Work” always makes me weep a bit.

Bonus Sounds: There is more Kate Bush to come in this countdown, but in the meantime you can read my Kate Bush Music Discovery blog post.


Artist: Squirrel Nut Zippers
Title: Hot 
Year: 1996
Favorite Tracks:

  • Got My Own Thing Now
  • Put a Lid On It
  • Hell
  • Meant to Be
  • Blue Angel

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I heard “Hell” on the radio in 1997 and cracked up laughing while also being struck by how unusual it was for the time.

Thoughts:  North Carolina’s Squirrel Nut Zippers were one of the main acts of the late 1990s swing arrival, but unlike other bands who just recreated older sounds, they used the swing sound to make quirky songs that fit the alt-rock mood of the era.  Some songs feature the ethereal voice of Katharine Whalen while the the tracks with male vocal leads tend to have tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Bonus Sounds: The Zippers follow-up studio album, Perennial Favorites (1998), includes the absolutely brilliant “Ghost of Stephen Foster.”


Artist: The Mekons
Title: OOOH! (Out of Our Heads)
Favorite Tracks:

  • Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem
  • Take His Name in Vain
  • Only You And Your Ghost Will Know
  • Bob Hope & Charity

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Probably around 2004-2005 when I borrowed it from the library

Thoughts: The Mekons were already in their 4th decade when they created this album, but seemed to have lost none of the creativity or edginess.  They veer easily from post-punk to folk rock to “what the hell is this” over the course of the album.

Bonus Sounds: I need to dive deeper into The Mekons catalog, but they remain an active unit after 45 years having commented on Brexit and still releasing new albums.


Artist: Mission of Burma 
Title: ONoffON 
Year: 2004
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Enthusiast
  • Falling
  • Prepared
  • Wounded World
  • Nicotine Bomb
  • Absent Mind

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2004

Thoughts: Boston’s legendary post-punk band Mission of Burma broke up in 1983 due to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus.  They made their triumphant return in 2004 with their second studio album ONoffON. Listening to this album alongside their earlier work makes it seem as if no time passed, and it was perfectly time for the post-punk/new wave revival of the 2000s.

Bonus Sounds: There will be another entry for Mission of Burma in this list, but their later releases – The Obliterati (2006), The Sound the Speed the Light (2009), and Unsound (2012) – are all worth a listen.


Title: Post
Favorite Tracks:

  • Army of Me
  • Hyperballad
  • It’s Oh So Quiet
  • Isobel
  • Possibly Maybe
  • I Miss You

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Probably around 1997-1998 when I went on a big Björk kick.

Thoughts: Björk’s sophomore album as a solo artist shows an amazing amount of growth as an artist and willingness to experiment with electronic dance sounds.   This album is full of bangers including some of Björk’s most famous and timeless songs.

Bonus Sounds:  There will be more Björk in this countdown, but do not overlook her earlier work with the Sugarcubes, such as the classic “Birthday,” and tracks from her first solo work Debut, like “Big Time Sensuality.”

Movie Review: Moonstruck (1987)

Title: Moonstruck
Release Date: December 18, 1987
Director: Norman Jewison
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Star Partners II Ltd.

A bride without a head!

A wolf without a foot!

I never saw this movie back when it came out and probably wouldn’t have appreciated, so I’m glad I got to watch it with more mature eyes.  The movie is a romantic comedy set among the Italian American community of Brooklyn which feels at first like it’s going to be getting laughs from broad ethnic characteristics but evolves into something deeper and a touch magical. Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a young widow who is very pragmatic and unsentimental and feels her life has been cursed by bad luck.  She accepts the marriage proposal of Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) whom she likes but doesn’t love out of this sense of pragmatism.  Johnny’s one request for Loretta is that she talk to his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to help them reconcile before the wedding.

Implausibly, but satisfyingly, Loretta and Ronny fall instantly in love and find something they’ve both been missing in their passion for on another.  Around this main story are also the stories of Loretta’s parents.  Her father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is having an affair with a longtime mistress.  Her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) suspects her husband’s infidelity and has a (platonic) dinner with serial philanderer Perry (John Mahoney) to question him about why men behave the way they do.  Loretta’s Grandpa (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), along with his dogs, watches over all of this like a wise Greek chorus.

Despite the average-length runtime of this movie, all of these characters and their subplots are fully realized.  It almost feels like it could be a pilot for an ongoing series about the Catorini and Cammareri families.  But I suppose we will not be getting the Moonstruck Cinematic Universe anytime soon.  I’m glad I finally watched this move which is deservedly considered a classic.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity by Jill Lepore

Author: Jill Lepore
Title: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2021) [Originally published in 1998]

Jill Lepore explores the history of King Philip’s War, fought in New England from 1675 to 1678 between an alliance of several Algonquian-speaking indigenous tribes under the leadership of Wampanoag Chief Metacomet, a.k.a. King Philip, and the English of the New England colonies and their Mohegan, Pequot, and Mohawk allies.  The war is poorly defined in American history with even the name controversial.  Was Philip a King? Was his name even Philip? Was it really a war or an exchange of atrocities?

Lepore investigates how the war changed the way the English colonists identified themselves.  She also examines the historical resources to find the Native perspective on the war that’s not often directly recorded in Western literature. A large part of the book focuses on the captivity narratives that became one of the major forms of literature that arose from the war.   She also details the lasting legacy of the war, particularly how Metacomet became a romanticized figure in American drama in the mid-1800s at the same time that Andrew Jackson is forcibly removing the Cherokee from the Southeastern states.

It is a very interesting historical account of a significant but forgotten war and a historiology of the study of war itself.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Title: The Exterminating Angel
Release Date: 16 May 1962
Director: Luis Buñuel
Production Company: Gustavo Alatriste

A group of wealthy people attend a dinner party at mansion of Señor Edmundo Nóbile (Enrique Rambal) and his wife Lucía (Lucy Gallardo).  Strange things begin to happen as most of the Nóbile’s servant staff leave the mansion as if they are escaping, scenes and dialogue are repeated, and animals (wild and domestic) appear where they don’t belong.  When it comes time for the party to end, the guests find themselves unable to leave.  There’s absolutely nothing blocking their exit, but whenever anyone tries to leave the room they find themselves reconsidering and just staying put. As days and weeks pass, the guests are reduced to their basest instincts and turn against one another, although Dr. Carlos Conde (Augusto Benedico) attempts to keep order.

I kind of liken the experience of the characters to standing at the end of a high diving board saying “I’m going to jump” but then failing to move.  Of course the story works metaphorically on many levels.  Our U.S. Congress today knows what they need to do to move the country forward and yet remains frozen. Buñuel, of course, was satirizing the inertia of the elite social classes and the church of his time.  I like to think that these rich people were just totally helpless of what to do once the working class people abandoned them.

In short, The Exterminating Angel takes the premise of movies like The House on Haunted Hill of a group of people trapped inside a mansion but instead of camp horror gives it a Twilight Zone spin.  Of course, surrealism should be expected from the creator of Un Chien Andalou.  Ultimately, this film about a bunch of rich people trapped in a room is far more entertaining that I’d ever expect!

Rating: ****

Album of the Week: Timbuktu by Oumou Sangaré

Album: Timbuktu
Artist: Oumou Sangaré
Release Date: April 29, 2022
Label: World Circuit Limited
Favorite Tracks:

  • Wassulu Don
  • Kanou
  • Kêlê Magni
  • Dily Oumou


Oumou Sangaré is a veteran vocalist from Mali who sings traditional songs of the Wassoulou region.  The music reflects the joy, sadness, and tenderness of strife-torn West Africa with an emphasis on the struggles of women.  Like many recent recordings, Timbuktu was created during and inspired by living in isolation during the COVID pandemic.  In Sangaré’s case she was trapped in Baltimore while touring the United States and unable to return home.  Sangaré’s voice and lyrics are supplemented by music played on traditional instruments of Sangaré’s and a chorus of female voices.

Rating: ****

Album of the Week 2022






Song of the Week: “Elevate Us” by SiLVA

SiLVA – “Elevate Us”

Moving into the weekend with the classic club music sound of “Elevate Us” by SiLVA, who is also a DJ/host of radio programming on KCRW in Los Angeles.

Song of the Week 2022