Movie Review: Roger & Me (1989)

Title: Roger & Me
Release Date: December 20, 1989
Director: Michael Moore
Production Company:  Dog Eat Dog Films

Roger & Me was one of my favorite movies of my youth and one I find that holds up well revisiting it several decades later.  This was Michael Moore’s first documentary and his most human.  While later films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 were important agitprop for their time, Roger & Me holds up best as an actual movie.  This is partly because Moore was not yet famous and thus the subjects of the film had no frame of reference for what to do when Michael Moore crosses their threshold with a camera.  But it is also less scattershot and more focused on a central narrative.

The premise of the film is that Moore is returning to his home town of Flint, Michigan after working in San Francisco.  His return coincides with General Motors’ president Roger Smith closing down several assembly plants in Flint and laying off thousands of workers.  Moore makes it his mission to talk with Smith and bring him to Flint to see the effects of the layoffs, something that proves very hard to do.  In between attempts to locate Smith, Moore interviews ordinary people in Flint as well as city officials and civic boosters attempting to revive the city with increasingly ludicrous plans to replace the auto industry.

The movie is very funny, but not due to Moore.  A couple of jokes he tells in narration fall flat.  Instead the enthusiasm of city officials and celebrities for saving the city with things ranging from an indoor theme park to a prison bring the laughs.  The cockeyed optimism is hard to believe, but the 1980s were a very optimistic time.  Optimism trickled down from President Reagan (see what I did there?) and lead people to believe that famine could be ended with a song or homelessness would be solved by a human chain across the country.  Even the ordinary people suffering layoffs and evictions depicted in this movie don’t have the rage that you would expect to see today.  Of course, they had no idea that things in Flint would continue to get much, much worse.

The Beach Boys’ song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is featured prominently in this movie over a montage of abandoned buildings.  I forever associate this song with this movie, and its appropriate in that the lyrics express hopefulness with an undercurrent of melancholy.  Whatever the flaws of Michael Moore’s later career, and he really did let fame go to his head, this movie remains a masterpiece.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: The Virgin Suicides (2000)

Title: The Virgin Suicides
Release Date: April 21, 2000
Director: Sofia Coppola
Production Company:  Paramount Classics  | American Zoetrope | Muse Productions | Eternity Pictures

The five sisters of the Lisbon family – Therese (Leslie Hayman), Mary (A. J. Cook), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Lux (Kirsten Dunst), and Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall) – are teenagers growing up in a prosperous suburb of Detroit.  Their strict and religious mother (Kathleen Turner) and father (creepy ass James Woods) control their lives, particularly to prevent them spending time with boys and dating.  Most of the movie takes place after Cecilia takes her own life and a therapist urges the Lisbons to allow the other girls to have more of a social life.  Lux forms a quick romantic attachment to the most popular boy in the school, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett).

The great thing about this movie is that it really captures the awkwardness of being a teenager.  There are no 28-year-old teenagers here as most of the young cast are actual kids.  The weird thing about this movie is that it’s told from the perspective of a group of boys who obsessively watch the Lisbon sisters narrated in the first person plural by Giovanni Ribisi.  I think the point of this movie is to be so over the top that it reveals the insidiousness about how teen girls are sexualized and how women in general are treated as mysteries to be solved.  It is deeply unsettling as it’s designed to be.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Title: Grosse Pointe Blank
Release Date: April 11, 1997
Director: George Armitage
Production Company: Hollywood Pictures | Caravan Pictures | Roger Birnbaum Productions | New Crime Productions

This is one of those movies I’ve always wanted to watch but for some reason never got around to.  I like John Cusack in just about anything which was is the primary draw.  Turns out that this movie is full of actors I like in just about anything: Minnie Driver! Dan Aykroyd! Joan Cusack! and Alan Arkin!  It also has a killer soundtrack with music provided by Joe Strummer of The Clash and includes songs by The Clash, Violent Femmes,  English Beat, The Specials, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Pixies, Motörhead, and more!  Never has a movie made me more want to get up and dance.

But what about the actual movie?  Well, John Cusack stars as professional assassin Martin Blank who is sent to carry out a hit in Detroit at the same time as his high school’s tenth reunion in the nearby suburb of Grosse Pointe.  His assistant Marcella (Joan Cusack, god I love her) insists that he attend the reunion.  Blank admits to his therapist Dr. Oatman (Arkin) that he’s never gotten over his high school sweetheart, Debi Newberry (Driver).  It turns out that he never showed up on their prom night disappearing to begin the path he’s taken to hired assassin.

Blank is at a crossroads in his life and attends the reunion wondering is he is still suited for killing and if he should have a different future.  In a running gag, he tells everyone who asks him what he’s been doing for 10 years the honest truth and they all think he’s joking. To complicate matters, several men are eager to carry a hit out on him, including Grocer (Aykroyd), a fellow hitman who wants Blank to join his union of hired killers and doesn’t take no for an answer.  This leads to a comical intermingling of Blank’s personal and professional lives as he tries to reconcile with Debi.

I don’t want to give too much away but this is a smart and entertaining film. It does a good job of mixing and playing with conventions both action films and rom-coms.  It also feels very original in a way that you don’t often see in Hollywood comedies.  I’m glad I finally watched it.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Author: Toni Morrison
Title: Song of Solomon
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2009 [Originally published in 1977]
Other Books Read by Same Author:


Song of Solomon is a novel I read a couple of times in college and is my favorite of Toni Morrison’s many masterpieces.  I feel unqualified to write about it, since Morrison’s used of words, world building, characterization, and storytelling are so terrific they are to describe.

The novel tells the life story of Macon Dead III, known by the nickname “Milkman,” and his journey of self-discovery.  Milkman comes from a prosperous African American family in an unnamed Michigan city.  His father, Macon, owns lots of real estate, and his mother, Ruth, is the daughter of the city’s only African American doctor.

Milkman’s aunt Pilate lives on the other side of the tracks and is a bootlegger and something of a mysterious figure who was born without a navel. Despite Macon’s alienation from his sister, Milkman begins visiting Pilate and establishing more of a link with his family past.  He also begins a long-term sexual relationship with his cousin Hagar.  Milkman is also contrasted with his older, more world friend Guitar who is part of a secret organization of men who kill white people in retaliation for racial murders of blacks.

Milkman begins a southward journey, opposite of the Great Migration occurring at the same time the novel is set, ostensibly to follow the trail of some gold his father and Pilate once found. In reality, Milkman is finding connections to his past and his people. First, he visits the real town of Danville, Pennsylvania where his grandfather was murdered by white people and his father and Pilate had to flee for his safety. Then he continues to the fictional town of Shalimar, where Milkman pieces together his family history to enslaved Africans and Native Americans.

The ending of this book is both tragic and triumphant.  I was surprised that there were scenes in this book that stuck in my memory perfectly over 25 years.  Although there was also a lot of the book I’d forgotten. The novel remains one of my all time favorite books.

Favorite Passages:

“I wish I’d a knowed more people. I would of loved ‘em all. If I’d a knowed more, I would a loved more.”

Rating: *****

Beer Review: Dark Horse Rain In Blood Orange Pale Ale

BeerRain In Blood Orange Pale Ale
Brewer: Dark Horse Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.3 of 10)
Comments: Orange in color with a thin head, this beer is also orange in aroma and taste.  Kind of bready, not too sweet.  There’s no lace and a light mouthfeel.  Pretty good, but I think it could be a bit stronger in flavor.
From the same brewer:

Podcast of the Week: “How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen?” by ProPublica

How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen? is an important podcast by the investigative journalism agency ProPublica about one of the greatest criminal acts performed by a government against its people in American history.  This is an important listen for gaining better understanding of this still under-reported humanitarian crisis in Michigan.

Beer Review: B. Nektar Black Fang

Beer: Black Fang
Brewer: B. Nektar Meadery
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.6 of 10)
Comments: Okay, now *this* is totally different.  A mead more than a beer (hence the name: “bee nectar”), this beverage pours out reddish-brown with a thick head.  It has a fruity aroma with a chocolate cherry taste.  The mouth feel is syrupy, and the overfeel experience is delicious.

Beer Review: Dark Horse Boffo Brown Ale

Beer: Boffo Brown Ale
Brewer: Dark House Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.6 of 10)
Comments: A solid dark brown beer poured with no head.  The aroma is chocolately and it has a roasted flavor with a caramel aftertaste.  It has a medium mouthfeel and looks a little flat after sipping for a while.  Not bad, and definitely something different from the typical craft beers being churned out these days.