Book Review: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Author: Ray Bradbury
Title: Dandelion Wine
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc., 2010 [Originally published in 1957]
Other Books I’ve Read By the Same Author:


I read Dandelion Wine 30+ years ago and it swiftly became one of my all-time favorite books.  However, there’s actually very little I remember of the book. My main memory is the scene where the main character’s grandfather is indignant when someone tries to convince him to get a lawn where dandelions won’t grow, and thus lose the main ingredient in the titular beverage (By the way, since this book is set in 1928, does making dandelion wine violate the Volstead Act?).

This book is a more personal work for Ray Bradbury, based on his childhood memories of summers in his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois (which he calls “Green Town”). Bradbury admits in the introduction that Waukegan is an unattractive, industrial city but for a child it was full of wonders, something the jibes with my own experience of growing up in a mundane Connecticut suburb.  The main characters of the book are 12-year-old Douglas, his younger brother Tom, and their friend Charlie.  But it’s not a novel as much as it is an interconnected collection of short stories, several of which don’t involve the children at all.

The book is not science fiction or horror as it typical of Bradbury’s work, but contains aspects of these things.  Douglas finds magic in the feeling of being alive in the summer and an elderly neighbor is considered a “time machine” because of the stories he can tell.  While rooted in childhood, this book is very much an adult’s perspective on ideas of mortality.  An elderly woman is convinced by children who believe she was never young to let go of her memories, while Douglas’ great grandmother predicts the hour of her death.  There’s also the horror of a serial killer known as The Lonely One stalking the town.

Bradbury’s work is filled with nostalgia and poetic language, but it is not divorced from cold reality.  It embraces the magic of every day life while not shying away from the fact that one day everyone will die.  Through all the change, there are always things that will remain the same.

Rating: ****

50 Years, 50 Movies (1997): Eve’s Bayou

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously. 


Top Grossing Movies of 1997:

  1. Titanic
  2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  3. Men In Black
  4. Tomorrow Never Dies
  5. Air Force One

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1997:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1997:

Title: Eve’s Bayou
Release Date: November 7, 1997
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Production Company: ChubbCo Film | Addis-Wechsler

This Southern Gothic melodrama is told from the point of view of 10-year-old Eve Batiste (a strong performance by an adorable Jurnee Smollett) who experiences life-changing realizations about her family in the summer of 1962.  Eve grows up in a prosperous family because her father Louis (a nuanced performance by Samuel L. Jackson) is the most successful Black physician in Louisiana.  Louis is a hero to his family and community but the adoration goes to his head and he is frequently unfaithful to his wife, Roz (Lynn Whitfield).

The film begins with two incidents that begin to shake Eve’s world.  One is witnessing her father canoodling with a neighbor and the other is the accidental death of an uncle, the third husband of her aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) to die.  Mozelle has the gift of sight, able to see glimpses of other peoples’ futures (but not her own).  Eve is also developing this gift and they have unsettling premonitions about the family’s future. On top of everything else, Eve’s older sister Cicely (Meagan Good) begins behaving strangely and isolating herself.

The crux of the movie revolves around an incident that is seen differently by everyone involved, leading to tragedy.  The movie questions what we can know about our perceptions of reality and memory especially contrasting the perceptions of a child and an adult.  As a character study, this movie oddly reminds me of A Streetcar Named Desire, although the circumstances of that film (white/working class/urban) are almost exactly opposite of this one (Black/prosperous/rural).  It’s an impressive debut for Kasi Lemmons, who has most recently directed Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and a great performance by Smollett who is now more well known as the star of several TV shows I haven’t ever watched (but maybe I should?).

Rating: ****


Movie Review: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Title: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Release Date: April 21, 1978
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Universal Pictures

Robert Zemeckis’ first feature film is a lot like his later works Back to the Future and Forrest Gump in its focus on the cultural touchstones of the Baby Boom generation.  In this case all the action happens on one day in New York City as fans gather to welcome The Beatles for their first performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s interesting that the events that took place 13-14 years before the movie was made already feel like “a long time ago.” The movie feels very influenced by American Graffiti with a lot of the madcap antics of 70s comedies like The Blues Brothers or 1941 (a movie that included a lot of the same cast members).  The antics don’t really work for me, but the overall themes and character development are actually pretty good.

The story focuses on a group of teenagers who drive into the city from New Jersey.  The key characters are Grace (Theresa Saldana) who wants to take photos of the band, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) who is obsessed with Paul, and Pam (Nancy Allen) who reluctantly comes along for the ride even though she’s planning to elope with her boyfriend. Also along for the ride are Larry (Marc McClure), who agrees to drive a limo from his family’s funeral home because he has a crush on grace, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a folk music fan who plans to protest the Beatles, and Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) who also hates the Beatles and unfortunately expresses this through homophobic and xenophobic comments.  In the city, Rosie befriends Richard (Eddie Deezen), a nerdy teen who obsessively collects Beatles paraphernalia, while Janis teams up with Peter (Christian Juttner), a younger boy whose father will give him tickets to the performance but only if he gets a haircut. Iconic NYC radio disc jockey Murray the K appears as himself and his narration provides a thread among the stories (much like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti).

The movie is hit or miss, but I think the whole is better than the sum of its parts.  The scene where Pam basically has a sexual awakening by being along in the Beatles’ hotel suite is well done, and the scene where Peter is forced into a barber’s chair is truly frightening.  There’s a lot of slapstick involving cops getting injured as they fail to catch determined teenagers.  The soundtrack is entirely made up of Beatles songs of the period which must’ve been expensive to license.  There’s also archival footage of the Beatles and body doubles who are never seen in full and have atrociously bad accents.  I was surprised to learn that none of this movie was filmed on location because it really does capture the feel of New York City.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Flipped (2010)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Flipped
Release Date: August 6, 2010
Director: Rob Reiner
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment

Rob Reiner kicked off his directorial career in the 1980s with a string of instant classics This Is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally… as well as big hits with Misery and A Few Good Men. His career hit a snag with North in 1994, a movie remembered mostly because of how much Roger Ebert hated it. In the ensuing decades, Reiner’s films have been pretty forgettable if I heard of them at all. Flipped is a movie I’d never heard of when it came out, but it has good reviews on Letterboxd so I’d thought I’d give it a chance.

Set in the early 1960s in suburban Michigan, Flipped is the story of two eight-graders who have been neighbors for several years.  Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) has always had a crush on Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) while Bryce has always found Juli’s attentions to be annoying.  Over the course of the movie Bryce begins to realize there’s something special about Juli at the same time Juli starts noticing that Bryce is, well, kin of an asshole. Significant events in their relationship are shown from one of their perspectives and then flipped to show the same scene from the other one’s point of view.

The movie is very good at showing believable early teenagers (with age-appropriate actors).  It captures that age when kids begin to recognize their place in a larger world, recognize their parents as humans, and start to define their identities.  The supporting cast is also strong with Rebecca De Mornay and Anthony Edwards as Bryce’s parents and John Mahoney as his grandfather, while Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller play Juli’s parents.

There’s a lot to love about Flipped, but for some reason the movie has a whole didn’t quite work for me.  The Boomer nostalgia is laid on too thick and it feels like a knock-off of The Wonder YearsFlipped is based on a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen that was set in the 1990s and I think a more contemporary setting would’ve fit the story better. Bryce’s father is too much of an asshole, even Archie Bunker had redeeming qualities.  Meanwhile, John Mahoney’s character is too perfectly nice.  And there’s way too much attention given to spotlight significant moments with the direction, music at al.  In sum, a decent Rob Reiner movie but not one that stands with his earlier work.

Rating: ***

50 Years, 50 Movies (1985): The Breakfast Club

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.


Top Grossing Movies in 1985:

  1. Back to the Future
  2. Rambo: First Blood Part II
  3. Rocky IV
  4. The Color Purple
  5. Out of Africa

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners in 1985:

  • Out of Africa
  • The Color Purple
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman
  • Runaway Train
  • Witness

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1985:

Title: The Breakfast Club
Release Date: February 7, 1985
Director: John Hughes
Production Company:A&M Films | Channel Productions

When you grow up, your heart dies.

The Breakfast Club is the platonic ideal of the 80s Teenage Comedy-Drama Movie. It’s probably the best work from writer/director John Hughes, although Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is still my favorite.  The premise of this film is that five students who never interact at their high school spend the day together in an all-day Saturday detention. Initially they see one another by the stereotypes they’ve been pigeon-holed into – “the Brain” (Brian played by Anthony Michael Hall), “the Athlete” (Andrew played by Emilio Estevez), “the Basket Case” (Allison played by Ally Sheedy), “the Princess” (Claire played by Molly Ringwald), and “the Criminal” (John played by Judd Nelson).  Over the course of the day their shared experience

As has been noted by many critics of this film, its greatness lies in how it captures the way that teenagers actually talk and behave more than your typical Hollywood fare.  It’s also unflinching in depicting the casual cruelty adults inflict upon teenagers, from the bullying of Vice Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) to the characters’ parents.  Judd Nelson dominates the early half of this movie and comes of as a real (and realistic) jerk.  But Nelson’s performance is great in how he shows the character is still a vulnerable kid especially when he’s being tormented by Vernon.  Ally Sheedy hardly even talks in the first half of the film but convincingly transform into the lead protagonist (or maybe antagonist) in the second half.

I relate most to Brian, of course, not only because I was the kid who got good grades but of the awkward attempts he makes at socializing. I totally remember the feeling of connecting with someone one day and then having the person I connected with act like nothing had happened the next time I see them. Kudos to him for calling it out.

I remember seeing this movie as a kid and having mixed feelings about it.  This was partly because I was 11 and it dealt with older kid problems, but also because it was mostly talking instead of silly fun like other teen movies of the time.  Of course, that is why The Breakfast Club holds up so well 40 years later compared to say, Sixteen Candles. There are two things I don’t like about the ending.  One, is that Allison’s makeover betrays both her character and the message of the movie.  Two, the formation of two romantic partnerships – Claire & John and Allison & Andrew – feels abrupt and unlikely.  Other than that, this may be a perfect movie.

Rating: ****1/2

50 Years, 50 Movies (2021): Petite Maman

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.

Note: Each week I’m choosing a year randomly and then deciding what movie to watch from that year.  You can help by voting in the poll below!  Next week’s year is 1985.


Top Grossing Movies of 2021:

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
  2. The Battle at Lake Changjin
  3. Hi, Mom
  4. No Time to Die
  5. F9

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 2021:

  • CODA
  • Belfast
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Drive My Car
  • Dune
  • King Richard
  • Licorice Pizza
  • Nightmare Alley
  • The Power of the Dog
  • West Side Story

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2021:

Title: Petite Maman
Release Date: 2 June 2021
Director: Céline Sciamma
Production Company: Lilies Films | Canal+ | Cine+ | France 3 Cinéma

It’s easy to say this is a simple and quiet film, but that would deny it’s underlying metaphysics or the fact that it involves time travel! The essential sweetness of this movie is evident as it deals with deeper issues of grief, depression, and the relationships of mothers and daughters.

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is an 8-year-old French girl whose beloved grandmother (Margo Abascal) just died.  She stays at her grandmother’s house for a few days with her mother, Marion (Nina Meurisse), and father (Stéphane Varupenne) to clean the house out. Nelly’s mother disappears without explanation and that same day she meets a girl in the woods building a tree fort.

The girl is also named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) and she lives in a house identical to her grandmother’s and Marion’s mother has the same physical disability as her grandmother.  Nelly and Marion look similar.  You can probably guess where this is going.  The sisters Joséphine and Gabrielle do a great job at playing their respective roles and showing the bond that forms between the two girls.  The film is gorgeously shot, and deeply human, and ultimately hopeful.

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Wales

Author: How Green Was My Valley
Title: Richard Llewellyn
Narrator: Ralph Cosham
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2011. [originally published in 1939]

This novel is a coming-of-age story set in the Welsh coal mining region of the late 19th century that blends sentimental nostalgia with gritty reality.  The narrator is Huw Morgan, the 8th of 9 children and the youngest son in a family of coal miners.  An accident in Huw’s childhood makes him unable to walk for several years and during that time he develops a passion for reading that leads to him going on to higher levels of education than the rest of his family.

Through the novel Huw observes the conflicts between the miners and the companies that own the mines that leads to union organizing and strikes.  Huw’s father Gwilym and some of his brothers are opposed to activism while other brother are labor organizers.  Over time the declining fortunes in the valley lead to Huw’s siblings leaving Wales to try their luck elsewhere.  Huw also observes the environmental degradation to the valley by the mining operations.  The novel also deals with gossip and scandals in the valley such as affairs and unplanned pregnancy.  While Gwilym supports Huw’s education, his mother Beth is firmly against it, especially when Huw’s teacher only speaks in English and discriminates against the Welsh.

There are apparently a whole series of books about Huw Morgan, but I think I’ve had my fill of Huw.  The style of writing is too old-fashioned for my taste although I can see why it’s considered a classic novel.  I once watched the film adaptation of How Green Was My Valley as a teenager (mainly because I had a crush on Maureen O’Hara) but I don’t remember it at all.  I will have to rewatch the movie and see how faithful it is to the book.

Rating: ***

90 Movies in 90 Days: Liz and the Blue Bird (2018)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Liz and the Blue Bird
Release Date:April 21, 2018
Director: Naoko Yamada
Production Company:Kyoto Animation | Bandai Namco Arts | Pony Canyon |
Rakuonsha | Animation DO

Mizore (Atsumi Tanezaki) is a shy and introverted girl who is a talented oboist in her high school’s concert band.  Her only friend is Nozomi (Nao Tōyama), a much more popular and outgoing girl who plays flute in the same band, but with less interest in perfecting her art.  Mizore has a deep attachment to Nozomi, and while not explicitly stated, a romantic interest as well.

The film focuses primarily on their rehearsals in their senior year for a piece called Liz and the Blue Bird based on fictional German fairy tale. The story involves a girl named Liz (played on the oboe) who befriends a mysterious girl who is actually a blue bird magically transformed (played on the flute).  The musical piece and the fairy tale serve as the central metaphor for Mizore and Nozomi’s story as they need to learn to let go of one another to succeed in their lives after high school.

This is a sad and sweet coming of age film with beautiful animation that resembles water colors and great incorporation of music into the story.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Girl Picture (2022)

Title: Girl Picture
Release Date: 14 April 2022
Director: Alli Haapasalo
Production Company: Citizen Jane Productions

This coming-of-age drama/comedy/romance is known in its original Finnish title as Tytöt tytöt tytöt or Girls Girls Girls. That title makes it sound raunchier than it is, but make no mistake there is a level of horniness in this movie appropriate to its teenage protagonists.  The movie focuses on the lives of three teenage girls over three consecutive Fridays.

Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) has a rebellious streak, the point of obnoxious (and violence!), as a result of feeling abandoned by her mother who remarried and has a younger child.  Her best friend Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) is disappointed that she cannot find pleasure in her sexual encounters with boys.  Emma (Linnea Leino), a girl who goes to their school, is a competitive figure skater who is dealing with a sudden inability to perform her key move, the triple Lutz. Over the course of the film, Mimmi and Emma form a romance, although Mimmi struggles with commitment.  Emma, meanwhile, questions whether she wants to continue to have her life consumed by figure skating.  And Rönkkö finally meets a nice boy although that story may not go the way you’re expecting.

The strange thing about this movie is that while we sometimes see the girls’ parents they also appear to have a startling amount of independence to the point where it looks like they don’t live with their parents.  Like many movies, the teenagers are played by actors in their 20s making them seem more mature than they should be.  Nevertheless, their stories seem to be grounded more in reality than your typical movie where the dreams and concerns of teenage girls are often overlooked.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Slash/Back (2022)

Title: Slash/Back
Release Date: 13 March 2022
Director: Nyla Innuksuk
Production Company:Mixtape VR | Red Marrow Media | Scythia Films  | Stellar Citizens

On the summer solstice, all of the adults in the Inuit village of Pangnirtung, Nunavut have gone away to a dance.  So when blood-sucking aliens who take on the skin of dead animals and humans invade the town, it’s up to four teenage girls to rely on their hunting skills to defend the village.  Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Jesse (Alexis Wolfe), Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), and Leena (Chelsea Prusky) have relatable problems when they’re not killing aliens, such as attraction to boys, tension with their parents, and the desire to escape their “boring” hometown.  More uniquely, they also struggle with identifying with their Inuit heritage or adapting to more “modern” culture.

Slash/Back name drops The Thing and a lot of people correctly note a similarity to Attack the Block.  But I also feel there’s a connection to 80s childhood dramas like E.T. and Stand By Me.  I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the undeniably stiff acting of the nonprofessional actors in the cast.  But personally I feel that it lends a feeling of authenticity to this contemporary Inuit tale.  This is also helped by the fact that the girls in the film also worked with the filmmakers to inform the script and characterization.  I also found the practical effects for the monsters to be simple but effective.  In short this is a fun and interesting horror/coming of age film from well outside of Hollywood.

Rating: ****