Light Essays

Stream Gems

  • Godzilla Minus One
    I’m not a Godzilla fan though I’ll admit to a soft-spot for Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla. So I came to GMO with mixed expectations. The reviews were sterling. The franchise not so much. And when all was said and done and Tokyo was saved, I leaned toward the reviews. The best parts of Godzilla Minus… Read more: Godzilla Minus One
  • Bob Marley: One Love
    When it comes to Bob Marley, I’m of that typical class of loose fan who know next to nothing about someone except their most famous work. From that perspective, One Love will both reward and frustrate you. Kingsley Ben-Adir (impossibly handsome and showing none of the real-world mileage of Marley) is damn good: charismatic, funny,… Read more: Bob Marley: One Love
  • The Blue Angels
    Can a documentary that is exactly what you expected ever be good? The Blue Angels is here to answer that question – at least if you love spectacular flying and wildly gung-ho fliers. All that’s missing is the Top Gun Anthem and Take My Breath Away. But hey, you do get “The Blue Angel Creed”… Read more: The Blue Angels
  • American Fiction
    It would be hard to imagine a more convincing send-up of modern leftist attitudes on race than American Fiction. Every moment of the plot that focuses on My Pafology (or Fuck as it comes to be called) is laugh out loud funny and spot on. Cutting without being cruel and only occasionally a bit broad,… Read more: American Fiction
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
    “Saigon. Shit. I’m only still in Saigon.” There was a time when I knew almost every line of dialogue in Apocalypse Now but it’s been a few years since I last watched it. The director’s cut currently on Max is NOT the best version. It’s larded down with two extended scenes that were mercifully cut… Read more: Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Anselm
    It was Wim Wenders not Anselm Kiefer that drew me to watch the documentary Anselm. I knew next to nothing about his work and, if I had known, probably wouldn’t have been that big a fan. But Wenders’ uses the camera to get inside Anselm’s work and make you experience it. Even the paintings seem,… Read more: Anselm
  • The Three Body Problem
    My (fairly stupid) rule of thumb when it comes to a TV miniseries is that I will only watch it if I have read and enjoyed the book it’s based on. Three Body Problem qualifies, though it’s probably the only trilogy I’ve read where the first book is my least favorite. Still, this is a… Read more: The Three Body Problem
  • Harakiri
    A meditation on honor that captures its essence and its danger. Though wrapped in the form of a vengeance movie, the suspense is genuine and you never quite know exactly how it’s going to come out. Nor does the ending disappoint – though in some respects it definitely DOES disappoint. No spoilers, but…justice? Forget it,… Read more: Harakiri
  • The Incomparable Mr. Buckley
    In a world of consumer-packaged ideology, we have come to expect our political thinkers to be stupid. Sometimes, as with so many of the “thinkers” of the new right, they are rabidly stupid: dogs in heat screwing ideas. Often, particularly on the left, they are profoundly stupid: obscuring their Saharan cranial emptiness with a word-salad… Read more: The Incomparable Mr. Buckley
  • Enough Said
    James Gandolfini’s work in Sopranos was so powerful and defining that it’s an effort to not think he’s Tony Soprano whenever you see him on screen. But his final performance in Enough Said is modest, touching, and utterly without edges. He’s a surprisingly strong romcom lead, and wonderfully paired here with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As Seinfeld… Read more: Enough Said
  • Office Space
    A late ’90s classic that captures what office work is really like. That’s not something Hollywood does well. This isn’t the ham-fisted satire of Gerwig’s Mattel scenes (what a contrast from Ladybird). This is white-collar working life written by someone who knows something about it. “Write what you know,” turns out be pretty good advice.… Read more: Office Space
  • Brooklyn
    A remarkably faithful adaptation of Colm Toibin’s excellent novel. It has most of the strengths of the book (courtesy of a fine and well-cast group of actors) and also its biggest weakness. Because what Eilis does when she returns to Ireland didn’t feel either right or true when I read the book and still feels… Read more: Brooklyn
  • Metropolitan
    Why has Whit Stillman made so few movies? His filmography is great. Sure, it’s tailor made for someone like me, but I note that most of his (very modestly budgeted movies) seem to have done okay at the box office. His U.H.B (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) trilogy (which Metropolitan kicks off) is unique. Each movie is… Read more: Metropolitan
  • Heat
    In some alternate, happier Michael Mann universe, Robert De Niro just keeps driving to LAX and Pacino has the shootout with Kevin Gage’s Waingro. Justice wouldn’t be served, but I’d like that ending very much – and not just because it would be so unexpected. But even if we all know that De Niro and… Read more: Heat
  • First Cow
    This movie currently stands at 3.7 stars on Amazon and, honestly, it doesn’t deserve more. So why recommend it? For 90% of its runtime, it’s really good. The story about a remarkably sweet cook, his growing friendship with a wanderer from China, and their struggles to build a life in the barely settled Oregon Territory,… Read more: First Cow
  • Escape from New York
    Bear with me here. I’m not saying Escape from New York is a good movie. It most definitely is not. But it is a fun movie. Like Highlander, it would benefit hugely from a remake. Many of the special effects are risible. Some of the casting decisions are worse than that. Donald Pleasance (surely one… Read more: Escape from New York
  • Asteroid City
    Wes Anderson movies are an acquired taste and, unfortunately, I seem to have acquired the taste. It was Grand Budapest Hotel that really did me in. I love it. And while no other Wes Anderson movie is in the same ballpark (I merely survived The French Dispatch), I enjoyed his Roald Dahl shorts and –… Read more: Asteroid City
  • Matchstick Men
    Another gem of misdirection in Criterion’s ‘Con Collection’ with the inimitable Nic Cage taking the lead. Cage’s performance is…Cage…alternating between charm, pathos, manic intensity, and an over-the-top set of tics. Matchstick Men conforms to the genre’s demand for a giant flip at the end as the con is revealed. In a lot of con movies,… Read more: Matchstick Men
  • After Hours
    Not as famous as the movies that surrounded it, but After Hours is very much Scorsese at his peak. Griffin Dunne finds himself in a late night fever dream, swallowed up by the craziness of SoHo when it was still SoHo. And no matter how hard he tries, he cannot get home. Each time he… Read more: After Hours
  • The Sting
    Criterion’s newest collection is movies all about con-games. I love this sub-genre and while some great ones are missing, you can choose from The Grifters, The Lady Eve, Trouble in Paradise, Matchstick Men and, of course, the platonic form of con movies, The Sting. Few movies have such balanced leading-man roles and both Redford and… Read more: The Sting
  • Tetris
    Not quite as elegant or compelling as the game itself, the origin story nevertheless manages to tell a fascinating and surprisingly sweet tale of gamesmanship and devotion to craft. Yes, the closing sequences in Russia border on farce and do the movie a disservice, but the essence of the story, much like the game, is… Read more: Tetris
  • Dark City
    The year before Matrix and more than a decade before Inception came Dark City. Perhaps The Matrix’s all-around brilliance and incredible special effects cast a permanent shadow on Dark City. Yet it is a compelling and fascinating story in its own right. And I can’t help but think Nolan’s incredible shifting cityscapes owe some debt… Read more: Dark City
  • The Day of the Jackal
    As the elaborate cat-and-mouse game unfolds, it’s never quite clear who is the hunted and who the hunter. The Jackal (a brilliant Edward Fox as a professional assassin) is stalking de Gaulle. And the entire French government is stalking the Jackal. I suppose one knows that de Gaulle isn’t going to die, but what makes… Read more: The Day of the Jackal
  • Midnight Run
    Charles Grodin displays immense actorly patience, letting you warm to his character oh so slowly. His blank, backward-staring gaze – not De Niro’s fire, humor and despair – dominate Midnight Run. Then come the moments when he confiscates “counterfeit” bills, slams the train door on De Niro, and turns out, gloriously, to be a pilot.… Read more: Midnight Run
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
    As straightforward an account of the problem of transformative experience as you will ever find, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar tells the tale of man who, in the experience of acquiring a difficult skill, finds his preferences and values so changed that his original purpose for wanting the skill no longer applies. Children’s books,… Read more: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
  • It’s Quieter in the Twilight
    Fifteen billion miles from Earth, the Voyager spacecraft glide outward into the vast of interstellar space. They are still working, still communicating, but with power levels in a long, slow decline toward final dysfunction. While in Pasadena, a dozen or so aging engineers, programmers and scientists – the sort of people one NEVER sees on… Read more: It’s Quieter in the Twilight
  • The Eight Mountains
    The journey from book to movie is arduous and fraught. It is exceedingly rare for a movie to flatly exceed its source (e.g. The Godfather) and perhaps even less common for the movie to be a perfect distillation of the novel. The Eight Mountains is that. It brings every scene and every character to life… Read more: The Eight Mountains
  • Annie Hall
    As in most great movie romances, the lovers in Annie Hall do not end up together. Jane Austen may assure us that well-suited, rational lovers can live with as much chance of happiness together as it is possible to have, but we tend to believe that the essence of great romance is in its loss.… Read more: Annie Hall
  • A Bridge Too Far
    A Bridge Too Far is a big movie. Every male movie star of the second half of the 20th century has at least a cameo. Redford. Olivier. Caan. Gould. Caine. Hackman. O’Neal. The talent is everywhere. Richard Attenborough directs. And oh my the money they must have spent to film this thing. The parachute drops.… Read more: A Bridge Too Far
  • 13 Assassins
    Whichever version you choose to watch of 13 Assassins, you won’t go wrong. The new version is faster, bloodier and more visually striking. The old version has the same great story beats and is even more perfectly Japanese. Not to be missed by anyone who enjoys Samurai movies (and who doesn’t?). (Prime)
  • The Fabelmans
    After the disappointingly bland remake of West Side Story, Spielberg returns to form. Yes, it’s obviously a “late” work in the mold of great craftsmen reflecting on their life and craft, but it has all the classic Spielberg touches: masterly direction, a certain innocence, a genuine love of the craft, and a gift for getting… Read more: The Fabelmans
  • The World’s End
    The fitting conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy, each of which has its special pleasures. But I’ve always loved World’s End the best, perhaps for my namesake – the “King” of Gary’s in film. One mile. Twelve pubs. Twelve pints. And a story of friendship, loss, and what the total absence of personal transformation might look… Read more: The World’s End
  • Clueless
    Pride & Prejudice and Emma are Austen’s two greatest books. But while Pride & Prejudice has a slew of fine, straightforward adaptations, Emma has proven much more difficult to bring to the screen. That’s probably because it’s not a great romance like P&P. As a comedy of manners, though, it’s plainly superior. Clueless is far… Read more: Clueless
  • The Hornet’s Nest
    This is as close as you can (or would want) to come to combat in Afghanistan. Those are slugs whispering by the camera and you can see the very unsimulated fear on the faces of the father and son doing the filming. There is no real story arc (it’s Afghanistan), just visceral, hard-to-watch, gripping, and… Read more: The Hornet’s Nest
  • The French Connection
    Probably the Platonic Form of the cop chasing criminals movie. A great star (Gene Hackman), a great supporting cast, a ZERO frills (1.44 run-time) script so tight your jaw will need unclenching by the end, one of the great car chases ever – so good it holds up after five decades – and a dark… Read more: The French Connection
  • (Anything But) Babylon
    La La Land was about people who take their art seriously. Babylon is about people who don’t. And while Hollywood might always have had more of the latter, Babylon fails because A) people who take their art seriously are a lot more interesting than people who are just screwing around and B) Chazelle doesn’t seem… Read more: (Anything But) Babylon
  • Living
    A London-based remake of the Kurosawa classic, Ikuru, with Kazuo Ishiguro doing the screenplay and Bill Nighy playing the lead. This version hits many of the same beats and sometimes does it just as well as the original. If there’s a flaw, it’s in the decision to set the story (like Ikuru) in the 1950’s.… Read more: Living
  • Air
    How much of Sonny Vaccaro’s inspirational close to MJ is really about Ben Affleck? Ben, after all, knows a thing or two about meteoric rises, the insatiable public need to tear down its heroes, and the long-term price of fame. Affleck is having a well-deserved “moment” right now, and, even better, is delivering consistently good… Read more: Air
  • Infernal Affairs
    Tight, intricately plotted, often thrilling, this 2002 Hong Kong crime drama delivers in almost every way except, perhaps, for its romantic nods. Two great leads, Tony Leung and Andy Lau, anchor the action and give real heft to the movies concerns about choice, identity, and, yes, transformation. –. .-. . .- – (Criterion)
  • RRR
    Rambunctious, Revanchist and Ridiculous in the extreme, this might be the silliest movie since 300 (to which it bears a passing, well-oiled resemblance). But despite a disappointingly banal ending for the Governor’s wife (she deserved something more), it’s pretty sure to please from stem to stern. Best watched with a large and not very sober… Read more: RRR
  • The Nice Guys
    Gosling and Crowe do Redford and Newman (and do it damn well) in a movie with near perfect comic beats. Watch it for the ankle gun scene alone…and stuff… (HBO Max & Netflix)
  • Aftersun
    The man you are for your children is not necessarily the man you are. Often, that’s a good thing – at least for your children. A sad, dreamy, slow-burn sans ignition that will remind any father of their daughter’s brief age of perfect grace. (Cheated and watched this on the plane flying home from NY… Read more: Aftersun
  • Royal Warriors
    All hail Michelle Yeoh who is absolutely kick-ass in this ’80s HK martial arts thriller. The story is silly, the ending out-of-control, and the last bad-guy-standing mugs shamelessly. And so what. Michelle Yeoh. (Criterion)
  • Highlander
    The original. The only. Still a great B movie despite some of the most awkward sword-fighting you’ll ever see (looking at you Sean Connery)! A modern remake with up to date fight choreography – and less ’70s music – would be awesome. (Amazon).
  • One Night in Miami
    It’s easy to assume that good reviews for a movie like this are just a product of the vast ideological packaging machine serving up another heaping plate of racial injustice. Mistake. The writing is sharp enough to shave by and the actors make four compelling men come alive.
  • Downhill Racer
    A prototypical late ’60’s and early ’70s Redford movie. Slick, cynical and awfully good. But it also happens to written by THE James Salter before he kicked Hollywood aside and wrote really good books. And you know what? It kind of feels like James Salter. (Amazon Prime)
  • Emily the Criminal
    Crisp storytelling and a satisfyingly nefarious ending make for a compelling modern crime story. (Netflix)

Asides

  • Godzilla Minus One
    I’m not a Godzilla fan though I’ll admit to a soft-spot for Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla. So I came to GMO with mixed expectations. The reviews were sterling. The franchise not so much. And when all was said and done and Tokyo was saved, I leaned toward the reviews. The… Read more: Godzilla Minus One
  • Bob Marley: One Love
    When it comes to Bob Marley, I’m of that typical class of loose fan who know next to nothing about someone except their most famous work. From that perspective, One Love will both reward and frustrate you. Kingsley Ben-Adir (impossibly handsome and showing none of the real-world mileage of Marley)… Read more: Bob Marley: One Love
  • The Blue Angels
    Can a documentary that is exactly what you expected ever be good? The Blue Angels is here to answer that question – at least if you love spectacular flying and wildly gung-ho fliers. All that’s missing is the Top Gun Anthem and Take My Breath Away. But hey, you do… Read more: The Blue Angels
  • Damn It! Politeness is a Virtue
    Nobody seems to give a damn about politeness. Until, that is, they are treated rudely, ignored, made to feel ignorant or displaced, or pushed aside in a queue. Then, suddenly, we see all too clearly how much we appreciate polite society. Those moments do not translate into the world of ideas,… Read more: Damn It! Politeness is a Virtue
  • American Fiction
    It would be hard to imagine a more convincing send-up of modern leftist attitudes on race than American Fiction. Every moment of the plot that focuses on My Pafology (or Fuck as it comes to be called) is laugh out loud funny and spot on. Cutting without being cruel and… Read more: American Fiction
  • Is Love a Virtue?
    Virtue theories are the only strand of modern ethical thinking that makes much sense in light of cognitive science. Utilitarian calculus becomes a funhouse of infinite regress in a world where experience changes both who we are and what we value. It didn’t take cognitive science to cast doubt on… Read more: Is Love a Virtue?
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
    “Saigon. Shit. I’m only still in Saigon.” There was a time when I knew almost every line of dialogue in Apocalypse Now but it’s been a few years since I last watched it. The director’s cut currently on Max is NOT the best version. It’s larded down with two extended… Read more: Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Anselm
    It was Wim Wenders not Anselm Kiefer that drew me to watch the documentary Anselm. I knew next to nothing about his work and, if I had known, probably wouldn’t have been that big a fan. But Wenders’ uses the camera to get inside Anselm’s work and make you experience… Read more: Anselm
  • The Three Body Problem
    My (fairly stupid) rule of thumb when it comes to a TV miniseries is that I will only watch it if I have read and enjoyed the book it’s based on. Three Body Problem qualifies, though it’s probably the only trilogy I’ve read where the first book is my least… Read more: The Three Body Problem
  • Harakiri
    A meditation on honor that captures its essence and its danger. Though wrapped in the form of a vengeance movie, the suspense is genuine and you never quite know exactly how it’s going to come out. Nor does the ending disappoint – though in some respects it definitely DOES disappoint.… Read more: Harakiri
  • Thinking About Utopia
    We are all trapped in time and place to certain kinds of life. We spend most of our big-picture energy thinking about the kind of life that’s best for us, given the world we live in. And so we should. But every now and then, a group of people decide… Read more: Thinking About Utopia
  • The Incomparable Mr. Buckley
    In a world of consumer-packaged ideology, we have come to expect our political thinkers to be stupid. Sometimes, as with so many of the “thinkers” of the new right, they are rabidly stupid: dogs in heat screwing ideas. Often, particularly on the left, they are profoundly stupid: obscuring their Saharan… Read more: The Incomparable Mr. Buckley
  • How to Live: Montaigne and the Role of Exemplars
    Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live or A Life of Montaigne may have a Frankenstein title, but the title perfectly represents what the book is trying to do. It is very much a biography of Montaigne. But it’s a biography organized around a series of life lessons drawn from his Essays and his life. Combining… Read more: How to Live: Montaigne and the Role of Exemplars
  • Comfort Books
    When you’re depressed or feeling stressed, there’s no better cure than friends. But when you’re sick, there isn’t much friends can do for you. You’re at home, feeling bad. If you’re too sick to work but not quite at the vegetative stage (like I was for a good chunk of February),… Read more: Comfort Books
  • Escape from New York
    Bear with me here. I’m not saying Escape from New York is a good movie. It most definitely is not. But it is a fun movie. Like Highlander, it would benefit hugely from a remake. Many of the special effects are risible. Some of the casting decisions are worse than… Read more: Escape from New York
  • Asteroid City
    Wes Anderson movies are an acquired taste and, unfortunately, I seem to have acquired the taste. It was Grand Budapest Hotel that really did me in. I love it. And while no other Wes Anderson movie is in the same ballpark (I merely survived The French Dispatch), I enjoyed his… Read more: Asteroid City
  • Parfit and the Philosophical Life
    Reasons and Persons may be the most extraordinary book I have ever read. Yet the why behind that statement isn’t easy to articulate. It isn’t the best book of philosophy I’ve read. It’s an important and influential book, but not on the level of something like A Theory of Justice. It’s a grind to read. It broke a lot of new ground in philosophy, yet while it’s too soon to have an historical verdict, I think those new directions mostly pointed to dead ends. Nor is personally that meaningful since, unfortunately, I happen to disagree with almost everything in it. Yet when you read Reasons and Persons you get an extraordinary sense that it was written by a profound, remarkably inventive, and unusual mind.
  • A Year in Books – Readings From the Last Year
    A year covers a lot of books when you’re an avid reader. Old favorites, too much sci-fi, a few Great Courses on audio, and some truly great books. Here’s everything I read with quick notes, highlights and links to the ones that got written about in detail.
  • In Memoriam: Bob Knight
    As an Indiana boy and Duke graduate, Bob Knight had peculiar salience in my life. He was growing into legend as I was growing into fanhood. And while there’s no denying that he could be a jerk (he wasn’t always a jerk, but he obviously had problems with his temper),… Read more: In Memoriam: Bob Knight
  • Exhalation: Transformative Experience and AI
    Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is one of the best collections of short science fiction that you can find. It also happens to have several stories directly concerned with transformative experience and decision-making. That’s unusual. Most short science fiction stories are idea driven. They take a concept and run with it. In… Read more: Exhalation: Transformative Experience and AI
  • A Daughter of the Samurai: A Memoir
    Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s memoir from the early twentieth century lives inside one of the great cultural collisions of the modern era. It spans her girlhood in Japan living through the final collapse of the samurai tradition and the Western-mania that swept Japan to her arranged marriage and life in America.… Read more: A Daughter of the Samurai: A Memoir
  • Reason to Believe & Something to Believe In
    Crisis of confidence? Resilience of hope? Springsteen and Clannad (via Mr. Shuffle) offer two hauntingly laments on the seemingly illusory nature of hope, the endless disappointments of life, and the essential challenge we face in finding something to believe in. This might as well be the soundtrack to the latest… Read more: Reason to Believe & Something to Believe In
  • Cities in Dust and Go, Go, Godzilla
    Seems like Mr. Shuffle might have played these two songs in the wrong order. I would have put them the other way around. But then… History Shows Again and Again How Nature Points Out the Folly of Men.
  • Saturday Sun & Chelsea Morning
    After a long, wet SF winter, it’s easy to appreciate how New Yorkers and the English feel about a warm sunny day. And what better company for the sun could Mr. Shuffle devise than a rare almost cheerful Nick Drake tune and Joni Mitchell’s buttery ode to the sun through… Read more: Saturday Sun & Chelsea Morning
  • The Man Who Can’t Be Moved & I Will Follow You Into the Dark
    Mr. Shuffle channels his grown-up Romeo with two impossibly romantic songs. It isn’t stalking if you’re just hanging out on a corner with The Script. While for Death Cab for Cutie, even the big D isn’t an excuse to part.
  • Be My Number Two & Be My Mistake
    Mr. Shuffle gives a sad, cynical shrug with these two bitter as kale “love” songs (from Joe Jackson and the 1975). If you had to choose, you’d probably rather be someone’s second choice than their drunken folly. Or maybe not.
  • This is the Sea & Theme from Brideshead Revisited
    You might wonder what links a classic Waterboy’s song to the iconic theme from Brideshead in Mr. Shuffle’s “mind”. Both are epic stories of Christian conversion. We may never have gone their personally, but, damn, it can make for good art.
  • The Beauty of Dissolving and Oblivion
    Ambrose Akinmusire’s Beauty of Dissolving is as perfectly named as any piece I know. There are many songs named Oblivion, but here Mr. Shuffle didn’t place Grimes but Allison Balsom playing Astor Piazzolla’s tango piece.
  • Cantus for Benjamin Britten & Four Seas Interludes
    Mr. Shuffle scores big time with this remarkable pairing. Arvo Part’s Cantus is a lovely and moving memorial and following it with Dawn from the Four Seas makes for a truly fitting combination. MTT couldn’t have programmed it better.
  • America & American Pie
    Simon and Garfunkel and Don McClean go back to back with quintessential American songs of ambition, longing, and sadness.

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