Movie Review: Run Lola Run (1998)

Title: Lola rennt
Release Date: 20 August 1998
Director: Tom Tykwer
Production Company: X-Filme Creative Pool | WDR | Arte

In the summer of 1999, everyone was agog over The Blair Witch Project.  So one night I met up with some friends at the cinema, waited in a long line, and when we got to the front learned that all showings of The Blair Witch Project were sold out.  So we ended up seeing a German art film, Run Lola Run, instead. Run Lola Run quickly became one of my all time favorite movies, while I still haven’t seen The Blair Witch Project.

Set in Berlin (and incorporating the city as a character), the movie stars Franka Potente as Lola, a young woman who must find 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes.  Her doofy boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a bagman for a mob boss and lost the bag of money he was supposed to deliver and will meet certain execution if the money is not replaced.  As the title implies, Lola runs through the streets of Berlin trying to find the money, primarily from her estranged father who is a banker (Herbert Knaup).

What makes the movie unique is that the story is told three times with Lola’s split-second decisions affecting the outcome of her story and of the people she comes in contact with.  It’s basically the hip version of Sliding Doors which came out the same year.  People have compared it to a video game where one can start over after dying and keep trying to get it right.  The movie features a lot of innovative camera techniques for the time it was released, although they may seem clichéd after a few decades of overuse. In addition to the great visuals the film is expertly scored to a techno soundtrack on which Potente provides many of the vocals.

The movie is an exercise in efficiency getting across the basic plot points swiftly but still bearing emotional heft.  I’d completely forgotten that the movie also intercuts animation with the live action sequences that makes it a fun touch.  There are probably some deep philosophical issues that can be discussed in regard to this movie.  But I like it just for the pure energy it brings to telling a story about love and fate.

Rating: ****1/2

Favorite Albums of All Time: 130-121

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.

250-241 200-191 150-141
240-231 190-181 140-131
230-221 180-171
220-211 170-161
210-201 160-151


Artist: Various Artists
Title: O Brother Where Art Thou?
Year: 2000
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Down to the River to Pray” – Alison Krauss
  • “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” – The Soggy Bottom Boys
  • “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” – Chris Thomas King
  • “I’ll Fly Away” – Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch
  • “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” – Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch
  • “O Death” – Ralph Stanley
  • “Lonesome Valley” – The Fairfield Four
  • “Angel Band” – The Stanley Brothers

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Right after I saw the movie in 2000

Thoughts: Pretty much every genre of American popular music saw it’s origins in the South.  O Brother Where Thou?, the Cohen Brothers pastiche to the mythology of the South, appropriately features a soundtrack of bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, and Southern folk music tunes mainly performed by modern day artists. The soundtrack became a phenomenon in its own right with tours and live concert recordings and big boosts to the careers of all involved (and some who sounded like them).

Bonus Sounds: A few years before O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Smithsonian Folkways issued the compilations Crossroads: Southern Routes, an excellent primer in the variety of music from the South.


Artist: Various Artists
Title: Wattstax: Highlights from the Soundtrack
Year:  2004
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by The Dramatics
  • “Oh La De Da” by The Staples Singers
  • “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Kim Weston
  • “Respect Yourself” by The Staples Singers
  • “Walking the Back Streets and Crying” by Little Milton
  • “Pick Up the Pieces” by Carla Thomas
  • “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right” by Luther Ingram
  • “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2007, after watching the movie


The soundtrack to the movie made of the music festival held at Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972 as a benefit for the African-American Watts community seven years after riots devastated that neighborhood.  The recording features performances by some of the great soul, gospel, R&B, blues, funk, and jazz artists of the time.  The concert was organized by Stax Records, hence the name Wattstax (which is a play on Woodstock, of course).

Bonus Sounds: So, something I embarrassingly didn’t know is that soundtrack recording called Wattstax: The Living Word was released in 1973.  It features a lot of performances that don’t appear in the movie while omitting some songs that appear in the movie.  Up to now I’d only been familiar with the 2004 release which more strictly corresponds to the movie.  Anyhow, they’re both great and complement one another.


Artist: Vinal Avenue String Band
Title: Live at Tir na nÓg 
Year: 1999
Favorite Tracks:

  • Front Porch Song
  • Tear Stained Eye
  • Place for Me in Heaven
  • Tear My Stillhouse Down
  • Tír na nÓg
  • Lighthouse Light
  • Stupid Motherfucker

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2000

Thoughts: This is a personal album for me in many ways.  Tír na nÓg was a pub in Somerville’s Union Square.  The Vinal Avenue String Band was a group I saw perform their multiple times (on Monday nights!) in my early years living in Somerville.  The trio was made up of Boston folk luminaries Sean Staples, Kris Delmhorst, and Ry Cavanaugh.  The owners of Tír na nÓg eventually decided to foolishly sacrifice the bar on the opposition to state restrictions on smoking.  The Vinal Avenue String Band is no more.  But this fantastic recording of a band in a bar remains!

Bonus Sounds: Ry Cavanaugh made another great album with his wife Jennifer Kimball in their band Maybe Baby who released an eponymous album in 2003.


Artist: Milla
Title: The Divine Comedy 
Year: 1994
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gentleman Who Fell
  • It’s Your Life
  • Bang Your Head
  • Don’t Fade Away
  • You Did It All Before

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 90s, I think?

Thoughts: The stereotype has it that an album of songs that a model/actress wrote as a teenager would be self-indulgent and bad.  But Milla Jovovich created a fantastic collection of folk rock/pop tunes with deeply introspective lyrics.

Bonus Sounds: Jovovich has contributed music to film soundtracks but not released another album focusing mostly on acting.


By The cover art can be obtained from Nettwerk., Fair use,

Artist: The Be Good Tanyas
Title: Blue Horse
Year: 2000
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Littlest Birds
  • Rain and Snow
  • Lake of Pontchartrain
  • Only In The Past
  • Up Against the Wall

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2001, not long after its release in the U.S.

Thoughts: The Canadian trio plays traditional folk/bluegrass instruments and creates beautiful harmonies on folk standards and originals.

Bonus Sounds: The band’s follow-up album, Chinatown (2003), is also quite good.


Artist:A Tribe Called Quest
Title: The Low End Theory
Favorite Tracks:

  • Verses from the Abstract
  • Show Business
  • Vibes and Stuff
  • Check the Rime
  • Jazz (We Got)
  • Scenario

The First Time I Heard This Album …: azz was the first widespread African American popular music but by the end of the 20th century it had been elevated to art music.  A Tribe Called Quest used hip hop, the newest African American popular music, to revive jazz.  I remember this album being big when I was in my first year at college and I’m kicking myself for not getting my own copy, but albums were expensive, and I made some poor choices regarding which ones to acquire or not., last year…

Thoughts: Jazz was the first widespread African American popular music but by the end of the 20th century it had been elevated to art music.  A Tribe Called Quest used hip hop, the newest African American popular music, to revive jazz.  I remember this album being big when I was in my first year at college and I’m kicking myself for not getting my own copy, but albums were expensive, and I made some poor choices regarding which ones to acquire or not.

Bonus Sounds: Midnight Marauders is also excellent!


By Derived from a scan of the album cover (creator of this digital version is irrelevant as the copyright in all equivalent images is still held by the same party). Copyright held by the record company or the artist. Claimed as fair use regardless., <a href="//" title="Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Physical Graffiti">Fair use</a>, <a href="">Link</a>

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Physical Graffiti
Year:  1975
Favorite Tracks:

  • In My Time of Dying
  • Houses of the Holy
  • Kashmir
  • Bron-Yr-Aur
  • Down by the Seaside
  • Boogie with Stu
  • Black Country Woman

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s/high school

Thoughts: Led Zeppelin’s double album – 8 newly created songs with some unreleased tracks leftover from earlier albums – is a box of chocolates full of treats. The album includes a lot more of the band’s acoustic and British folk sound in addition to (and entwined with) their bluesy hard rock.

Bonus Sounds: Back in the day I was so enamored with Classic Rock that I even got an album by perhaps the most inspired tribute band of all time, Dread Zeppelin.  The band performed reggae covers of Led Zeppelin tracks lead by an Elvis impersonator.


Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers
Favorite Tracks:

  • Trenchtown Rock
  • Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
  • No Woman, No Cry
  • Get Up, Stand Up

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s/high school

Thoughts: The live concert recording from London in 1975 is a compendium of Bob Marley and the Wailers early hits.  The imperfections, such as the audience singing along a bit off-key or the feedback in “No Woman, No Cry,” have always made this album more endearing to me.  After watching the documentary Uprising, I became even more aware of the importance of reggae to the West Indian community in London in the 70s and 80s.

Bonus Sounds: The reggae compilation Rhythm Come Forward was my introduction to the genre as a child.  It included some early songs from when The Wailers were a ska band including this great rendition of “One Love.”


ArtistEddie From Ohio
Title:Portable EFO Show
Year: 1998
Favorite Tracks:

  • One
  • Very Short Fuse
  • Payday in the Village
  • The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown
  • This My Town
  • Very Fine Funeral
  • The Bridge
  • Oh My Brother
  • The Train Song

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Picked it up at a concert on the day the album was released.

Thoughts: Despite the name, Eddie from Ohio were a folk/indie pop quartet known for their funny and insightful original songs.  They’re one of those bands whose energetic concert performances and rapport with the audience never translated as well to their studio performances.  So this album collects a lot of their best songs the way they were meant to be heard.

Bonus Sounds: I was a huge EFO fan from about 1997-2003, attending a couple of dozen live performances in that time.  I had all their albums and consider A Juggler on His Blades (1992), Actually Not (1993), Big Noise (1997), and Looking Out the Fishbowl (1999) to be their best.


By, Fair use,

Artist: MGMT
Title: Oracular Spectacular
Year: 2008
Favorite Tracks:

  • Time to Pretend
  • The Youth
  • Electric Feel
  • Kids

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2008

Thoughts: This album is one of the first gifts of the millennial generation to popular music.  The psychedelic/New Wave/synthpop sounds of the Connecticut duo’s debut album bowled me over when I first heard it and drew me out of a period when I wasn’t listening to much new music.

Bonus Sounds: I reviewed MGMT’s most recent album Little Dark Age back in 2018.  It’s okay.

Movie Review: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 
Release Date: July 1, 1953
Director: Howard Hawks
Production Company: 20th Century Fox

I went into Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hesitantly because I feared cringeworthy sexual politics.  On the surface that is true, but this is a more subversive movie than it appears.  At its heart, the movie is about a friendship between two women, Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), and the women are calling the shots.  The men in this movie are almost tangential characters: Gus (Tommy Noonan), the meek heir engaged to Lorelei; Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), the detective hired by Gus’ father to see if Lorelei is up to no good who also becomes a love interest for Dorothy; and Piggy (Charles Coburn), an aged diamond baron who is enchanted by Lorelei.

The basic plot of the movie is that Lorelei is going to Europe to marry Gus, and Dorothy is her chaperone.  Lorelei is drawn to wealthy men, and particularly diamonds, but Dorothy prefers men handsome and strong. They sail on a transatlantic liner along with USA men’s Olympic team and the aforementioned Malone and Piggy.  Hijinks ensue.

I particularly like the movie’s song and dance numbers.  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is the most famous and iconic, but what is up with the women posing as light fixtures?  “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” is extremely funny and somehow combines the female gaze with perhaps the gayest thing ever shown in a Hollywood film up to that point.  But my favorite number is when Russell and Monroe duet in in a Parisian cafe on “When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right.”

Gentlemen may prefer blondes but I think that Russell steals the show with her seemingly effortless and wry performance.  That’s not to knock Monroe, who’s character is written to be dumb, but she undercuts this characterization delightfully with her performance.  There’s a lot about this movie that I’m surprised made it past the production code in 1953.  I mean they probably have plausible deniability that Dorothy and Lorelei don’t actually marry one another at the end of the movie, but it seems perfectly rational to interpret it that way.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Author: Ryka Aoki
Title: Light From Uncommon Stars
Narrator: Cindy Kay
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio, 2021

Shizuka Satomi is a world-renown violin instructor who has made a deal with a demon to trade the souls of 7 violin prodigies for success.  She has one more soul to collect and has returned home to Southern California to find a likely candidate.

Lan Tran is a starship captain who has escaped a galactic war with her family, and now operate a doughnut shop as their cover.

Katrina Nguyen is a teenage transgender girl who has run away to Los Angeles from her abusive family and supports herself making YouTube videos.  She also plays the violin.

Somehow not only are all these characters in the same novel, but their interactions create a heartfelt human story that transcends genres. Shizuka and Lan meet, share their strange histories, and strike up a romance. And of course, Shizuka takes on Katrina as her student, and yet treats her with such tenderness that it’s hard to believe she plans to sell Katrina’s soul to the Devil.

And that only scratches the surface of the brilliant, warm, funny, and creative novel!

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Midsummer Recent Movie Festival: The House (2022)

Welcome to my first Midsummer Recent Movie Festival!  For the past couple of years I’ve reviewed a bunch of recent movies on New Year’s Day.  But why wait when there are new movies to review now! My only qualifications for the Midsummer Recent Movie Festival are 1) a US release date January 1, 2022 or later, 2) a Letterboxd average rating of 3.5 or higher, and 3) available to me at no extra cost on my streaming platforms.

TitleThe House
Release Date: January 14, 2022

I – And heard within, a lie is spun: Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels
II – Then lost is truth that can’t be won: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
III – Listen again and seek the sun: Paloma Baeza

Production Company: Nexus Studios | Netflix Animation

The House is an anthology film with three stories all set in a mysterious large house.  It is animated in stop-motion animation with characters made of fabric not unlike the style of The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

In the first segment, a poor family in rural England are allowed to move into the newly-built house but the mad architect continues to have the house built around them turning it into the maze.  9-year-old Mabel (Mia Goth) investigates what’s going on with the baby Isobel while her parents seem oblivious to the strange things happening.  This segment has the strongest elements of horror of the three.

In the second segment, an anthropomorphic rat contractor (Jarvis Cocker, of the band Pulp) is rehabbing the house and hosting a reception to entice potential buyers.  He has to deal with an infestation of beetles and then a strange couple at the viewing essentially move in without actually buying the house.  Despite the very creepy bugs, this segment is also the most comical.

In the final segment, the house survives in a world where everything around it has been submerged by a catastrophic flood. Rosa (Susan Wokoma), an anthropomorphic cat, is attempting to renovate the house while renting out the rooms.  She has only two tenants, Jen (Helena Bonham Carter) and Elias (Will Sharpe), neither of whom pay rent in cash. Things come to a head as the flood waters rise.  Despite the apocalyptic setting, this segment feels hopeful.

The animation in this film is beautifully done with great voice acting and music as well.  The combination of surrealism, fantasy, horror, and humor works well.  I think each segment is better than the previous, but maybe it’s just because I like cats.

Rating: ***1/2

Midsummer Recent Movie Festival: Badhaai Do (2022)

Welcome to my first Midsummer Recent Movie Festival!  For the past couple of years I’ve reviewed a bunch of recent movies on New Year’s Day.  But why wait when there are new movies to review now! My only qualifications for the Midsummer Recent Movie Festival are 1) a US release date January 1, 2022 or later, 2) a Letterboxd average rating of 3.5 or higher, and 3) available to me at no extra cost on my streaming platforms.

Title: Badhaai Do
Release Date: February 11, 2002
Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni
Production Company: Junglee Pictures

Shardul (Rajkummar Rao), a gay policeman, and Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), a lesbian PE teacher, decide the only way to get their families to stop pestering them is to enter into a marriage and live together as roommates.  While Sumi has her girlfriend Rimjhim (Chum Darang) move in and Shardul pursues a relationship with Guru (Gulshan Devaiah), their families continue to meddle and begin pestering about babies.  Sumi and Shardul begin to consider adoption.  A whole bunch of hijinks ensue.

I didn’t thinks this movie was bad but I also didn’t think the jokes were particularly funny. That’s likely a cultural divide, though.  I appreciate that the gay and lesbian characters were never made the butt of the jokes for being homosexual.  The movie also has a good message of how taboos against homesexuality in India cause loneliness and real harm.  It also shines a spotlight on the injustice of laws forbidding same sex marriage and LGBTQ people adopting children in India.

Rating: ***

Midsummer Recent Movie Festival: Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

Welcome to my first Midsummer Recent Movie Festival!  For the past couple of years I’ve reviewed a bunch of recent movies on New Year’s Day.  But why wait when there are new movies to review now! My only qualifications for the Midsummer Recent Movie Festival are 1) a US release date January 1, 2022 or later, 2) a Letterboxd average rating of 3.5 or higher, and 3) available to me at no extra cost on my streaming platforms.

Title: Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood
Release Date: April 1, 2022
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Netflix Animation | Minnow Mountain | Submarine | Detour Filmproduction

Apollo 10 1/2 is a sun-soaked, nostalgic film about growing up in the newly built suburbs of Houston in the late 1960s in a neighborhood where everyone’s dad worked for NASA. The movie is based on director Linklater’s own experiences growing up.  It is animated in a rotoscope style which basically involves tracing over live-action film and includes a lot animated archival TV and movie footage with the new content made for the movie.

The story focuses on Stan (Milo Coy), the youngest of six kids in a family where the dad has a “boring” job at NASA and the mom teaches at a college.  The framing device for the story is a fantasy that Stan has of being recruited by NASA to fly a secret mission to the moon because they accidentally made a lunar module too small for adults.  But this story doesn’t carry through much of the movie which is really just a catalogue of memories of being a kid in the the Houston suburbs in the late 60s.

The wry narration of adult Stan (the comforting voice of Jack Black) makes the movie feel like a more recent version of A Christmas Story or a less fantastic version of My Winnipeg.  I guess it all depends on your tolerance of the Gen X genre of nostalgia that basically boils down to “we did a lot of dangerous things without supervision and had a lot of fun!”  Personally I found that the warmth and charm made up for a lot of the deficits in plot, but that I’ve also seen better movies about the Apollo program and better coming of age stories from Linklater.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Field of Dreams (1989)

Title: Field of Dreams
Release Date: May 5, 1989
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Production Company: Gordon Company

One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was W.P. Kinsella. I was excited when I learned that his novel Shoeless Joe was getting adapted into a movie.  But when I finally saw the movie, I was disappointed.  There were a lot of changes from the book to movie, and on screen the story just seemed to ooze with cheesiness.  Over the years, Field of Dreams has become regarded as a classic baseball movie to the extent that Major League Baseball has started hosting an annual regular season baseball game in an Iowa corn field. I figured Father’s Day was a good opportunity to revisit Field of Dreams and watch it with my kids for the first time.

The basic story is that aging hippie and baseball fan Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) having married Iowa native Annie (Amy Madigan), has acquired a farm that they live on with their young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). Hearing voices in the corn field, Ray comes to a realization that he must build a baseball field on his farm. As a result, the deceased but not ghostly former baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears, and is soon followed by other former baseball stars.  Other messages prompt Ray to go to Boston to take the reclusive counterculture author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to a Red Sox game, and then to a small town in Minnesota to find “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a baseball player who played only one half-inning in the 1920s.  As all this happens, the Kinsella’s farm is failing and faces foreclosure at the hands of Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield).

The movie still oozes cheese.  There are changes from the book (including removing two significant characters) that effectively change the story.  There’s also a move away from the book’s magical realism to more of a Reagan-era nostalgia for baseball as something emblematic of America.  My wife noted that James Earl Jones’ famous speech about baseball has elements that feel eerily close to MAGA ideology.  While baseball is upheld as being something that was from a time when America was “good,” all of the former ballplayers who emerge from the corn come from a time when baseball was segregated.  That being said there’s a scene in the movie I’d totally forgotten where Annie takes on a group of conservatives who are trying ban books at the public schools which felt unfortunately relevant to our times.  Even then though, the feel of the movie is still steeped in a toothless nostalgia, this time for for 1960s.

With all that being said, the biggest change from the book to the movie is also the best, and I think improves upon the book.  In Shoeless Joe, Ray takes the real life author J.D. Salinger to Fenway Park.  The filmmakers knew that they couldn’t depict the notoriously reclusive Salinger on screen and instead created the fictional 60s icon Terrence Mann, who is more than just a substitute for Salinger but a character with a well-developed history of his own.  It’s surprising that in 1989, Hollywood cast a Black actor in the role originally written as white character, doubly so since in 2022 there are people who still lose their minds when a Black actor is cast as a character originally written as white.  Jones is great for the part and his performance brings a lot of energy and authority to the movie right at a time when it needs a jolt.

I probably sound like I’m hating on the movie, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, but I’m just a harsh judge since I love the book so much.  It is a bit slow-going, but then again so is baseball.  I love baseball, and I’m not immune to the magic of ballplayers emerging from a corn field or an impassioned speech about baseball’s role as America’s pastime.  For all it’s flaws, Field of Dreams is one of the best baseball movies ever made.

Rating: ***

Favorite Movies of All Time: 130-121

Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to watch lots of movies considered to be among the best of all time.  Now, for the first time, I’ve made my own list of favorite movies of all time.  Every other Wednesday throughout 2022, I will be revealing ten movies in my list of 250 Favorite Movies of All Time.

250-241 200-190 150-141
240-231 190-181 140-131
230-221 180-171
220-211 170-161
210-201 160-151


Title: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 
Director: Miloš Forman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield
When did I first watch this movie?: 1990s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?:  A collection of tour de force acting performances in this tense, anti-authoritarian drama.


Title: Virunga
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Cast: Virunga National Park rangers
Year: 2014
When did I first watch this movie?: April 2019
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This heartbreaking documentary follows in the path of brave park rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who risk their lives to defend mountain gorillas amidst poaching and warfare.


Title: Once Upon a Time in the West
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Gabriele Ferzetti, Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Lionel Stander, Paolo Stoppa, Frank Wolff, Keenan Wynn
Year: 1968
When did I first watch this movie?: April 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: A mesmerizing pastiche Western tropes and the “rituals” of violence that emerge from machismo.


Title: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Director: David Hand
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan
Year: 1937
When did I first watch this movie?: Maybe when I was a kid, definitely in April 2020
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: A groundbreaking work of animation that features a still frightening scene of Snow White lost in the forest and great exploration of motion and characterization in the Dwarfs and the animals.


Title: Dark Days
Director: Marc Singer
Cast: Documentary
Year: 2000
When did I first watch this movie?: April 2007
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: A documentary about the “Mole People” who created a shanty town in the railroad tunnels beneath Manhattan. It serves as anthropological study of a community that forms out of sight of most people in the city with a hopeful conclusion.


Title: The Green Knight 
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson
Year: 2021
When did I first watch this movie?: December 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: An ancient legend is told anew in this visually innovative film.


Title: What We Do in the Shadows
Director: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford
Year: 2014
When did I first watch this movie?: October 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This comedy asks the question, what if we had vampires but followed their daily activities reality TV style?


Title: Let the Right One In 
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, Peter Carlberg
Year: 2008
When did I first watch this movie?: October 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This drama asks the question, what if we have a vampire but it represents children who form a bond when they are bullied and outcasts?


Title: Laura 
Director: Otto Preminger
Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson
Year: 1944
When did I first watch this movie?: mid-1990s
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Film noir at its delightfully wacky peak.


Title: Fruitvale Station
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O’Reilly, Octavia Spencer
Year: 2013
When did I first watch this movie?: September 2021
Why is this one of my all time favorites?: We “Say Their Names” when we protest the murders of black people at the hands of police and vigilantes.  This is the story behind one of those names, Oscar Grant, and the introduction of Ryan Coogler’s unique style.

Movie Review: Being There (1979)

Title: Being There
Release Date: December 19, 1979
Director: Hal Ashby
Production Company: Lorimar Productions

This is a movie that I know I watched sometime back in the 1980s but had next to know recollection about what happens in it.  In fact, I read the Jerzy Kosiński book it is based on in the 1990s and don’t remember that either!  So it was essentially like coming to this movie anew.

Peter Sellers stars (in his last film released before his death) as a simple-minded gardener named Chance.  I think if this movie was made at a later date they would probably identify him as being on the autism spectrum. His background is a bit of a mystery as he has lived his entire life on the grounds of a Washington, D.C. mansion and no one seems to know he exists beyond his benefactor and the maid, Louise (Ruth Attaway). With such little interaction with other people Chance spends his free time obsessively watching television.  As an aside, this movie makes great use of clips from 1970s television shows and advertisements that comment on the action of the film.

When “the old man” dies, Chance is forced out on his own.  Through a series of mishaps he becomes enmeshed in the lives of the wealthy and powerful Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine).  Chance’s comments on gardening are mistaken as an optimistic philosophy on business and the economy.  Ben, who is terminally ill, finds comfort in Chance’s companionship, while Eve falls in love with Ben.  As a result of his connection with the Rands, Chance is able to meet the President (Jack Warden), appear on a TV talk show, and attend a state dinner with the Soviet ambassador (Richard Basehart).

The movie is a product of the cynical 70s with the power brokers of Washington all projecting their desires onto Chance.  It also pokes fun at how easy it is for a well-dressed white man to “fail up.” But there’s also a sweetness to the movie, especially in the quick but real bond that forms between Chance and Ben.  The movie succeeds on the impressive performance of Sellers who really immersed himself in the role, finding that he identified strongly with Chance. The movie is beautifully shot, with Sellers appearing in the foreground of the Capitol building and in the Rand’s mansion (filmed at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina) being particularly iconic.  This is a movie worth remembering.

Rating: ****