Monday, January 29, 2018


SPOILER ALERT: Pepe Le Pew is no longer a parody of the stereotypically insistent, aggressive French lover, but instead, apparently, a symbolic symptom of everything that is and has ever been wrong with male-female relations, a cartoon character who should be frowned upon in the sternest possible manner, one whose very existence is inappropriate for the times and the struggle in which we currently find ourselves engaged. At least that’s what the incensed woman who was lecturing a snack bar employee after Thursday (1/25) night’s Phantom Thread screening I attended seems to think.

Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Pepe Le Pew short in a theater packed with woke, self-righteous hipsters ready to jump all over old-timey conventions of humor which they actually suspect represent the evilness of present-day toxic sexual predation. Whether it was intended as a way of addressing the concerns of the MeTimesTooUp movement, or perhaps as sly commentary on the movie we were about to see, the theater showed a Chuck Jones-Pepe Le Pew cartoon, "The Cat's Bah,"
 in lieu of trailers before the PTA picture, and it may naively not have understood the wasp’s nest at which it was poking. When the short started I felt “uh-oh” uncomfortable at first, but I eventually thought that placing this vintage bit of comedy before Phantom Thread was an interesting juxtaposition, and I laughed at the ridiculousness of PLP’s relentless pursuit, not knowing yet the lengths to which Reynolds Woodcock would be compelled to go in his own romantic pursuit of fulfillment. (Given this is Hollywood, and that Paul Thomas Anderson has banned any trailers from showing before 70mm print engagements of the movie, the possibility certainly exists that the cartoon was personally chosen by the director, in lieu of a trailer at this theater, as precisely the sort of humorously pointed juxtaposition to the psychosexual drama I initially sensed. Unfortunately, pointedly humorous juxtapositions are often wasted on the humorless.)

Even as a kid I was able to understand that the amorous skunk’s behavior was not being held up as a standard for sexual relations— I always identified more with the object of his pursuit, the cat who accidentally gets a white streak painted down her back and desperately tries to escape the clutches of the stinky Romeo who can’t even figure out what species it is he’s trying to fuck. At any rate, the behavior is absurdly exaggerated, and tonight’s cartoon ended, as Pepe’s adventures often did, with the skunk shackled to his terrified prey, the master romancer and his literal slave to love. In other words, it’s a critique of Pepe’s behavior, not a primer entitled “Kids, This Is How You Do It.” Amirite? No wonder the generation who grew up on cartoons like these is so universally fucked up. Not like the millennial warriors who fully understand the sensitive interplay of male-female relations in a way that their predecessors could never approach.

Now, like I said, if one chose to, one could perhaps see this cartoon’s very existence, especially in this context, as a deadpan comment on the State of Things v.2018, or at the very least the prickly groundwork laid before the richer, deeper exploration of a very particular battle of the sexes as seen in Anderson’s film. But the woman who was giving the poor snack bar employee a hard time, a kid who, trust me, doesn’t know Pepe Le Pew from Maurice Chevalier or Charles Boyer, wasn’t having any of that. She wanted to make sure *somebody* at the Vista knew how deeply offended she was by this wildly inappropriate cartoon. I’d be willing to bet she’d advocate Warner Bros. going through their archives and erasing every frame of Pepe Le Pew in the name of promoting respect between men and women, as if this silly skunk was ever meant to be some sort of standard bearer on how women should be treated. As I walked past, I slowed down, listened to a bit of what she was saying, read the “get me the fuck out of here” look on the popcorn vendor’s downturned face, and, rather than try to get into an argument right then and there, made sure she saw and heard me as I laughed, looked at her and said, “Unbelievable.” At that point I walked away, and she never missed a beat. She was still haranguing this kid as I hit the streets. For all I know, she kept at him until the manager was called to the scene, at which point she could justify letting him have it too.

It was an ugly scene, further evidence of our enlightened new society’s inability to read and process texts in any context except for the ones they’ve already predigested to fit their favored agendas. It made me angry and not just a little bit sad, and if Phantom Thread hadn’t been so strong, so beyond my expectations, the aperitif of outrage I was exposed to might have been enough to trash the experience of the whole night. Fortunately, I can think for myself, so that didn’t happen. But I think about that kid and wonder how worried he’s gonna be to come to work tomorrow, wondering whether he’s gonna be subjected to further bullying from someone who is deadly certain she knows what’s best for everyone. And I worry that we are close to losing it as a society— when the credits of that cartoon came on, even I felt my chest contract slightly in dread of how this audience was going to react to the barbarous, licentious assault of a 65-year-old animated joke. The wounds of predation run deep, no doubt, but unfortunately there’s no more room, it seems, for discussion or debate over the intent of Chuck Jones, or the Vista Theater, or perhaps even Anderson in showing that cartoon. We’re only to tolerate lectures from people who are convinced we can’t think for ourselves, or who are profoundly disturbed by the independent thoughts we come up with.

I can’t wait to see Phantom Thread again, and maybe I’ll even go back to the Vista. And next time the snack bar kid finds himself pinned down under SJW fire I hope I’ll feel compelled to offer more than a scoff of disbelief.


Sunday, January 28, 2018


Okay, okay, I’ll go see Darkest Hour! Jeez!

The first thing that struck me as I mused in the glow of the announcement of the Oscar nominations Tuesday morning, specifically about the Best Picture nominees, is that outside of not yet having seen the film mentioned above, I don’t have a problem with the presence of any of them. Of course, there are several movies I’d rather see in there instead which, even given Oscar’s new Age of Diversity and Enlightenment, would have no shot at a nomination (Personal Shopper, Slack Bay), and even one that you’d think would fit right in with Oscar’s previous profile (The Meyerowitz Stories). This year, of all years, I just assumed that Wonder Woman was a shoo-in for a Best Picture nod, and maybe even one for Gal Gadot. But the pool of performances by actresses this year was just too rich, and I guess the one for New-Age Oscar-style pictures was too.

Certainly richer than I ever anticipated. The mock-annoyed first sentence above, when I first wrote it Tuesday morning, included Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, which I also had not yet seen, perhaps the biggest surprise among strong showings among Oscar nominees— six nominations, including Best Picture, two more even than the more vocally favored Get Out (itself providing a nice surprise on Tuesday morning). Well, I saw Phantom Thread Thursday night, and now I’m even more surprised that it was included to such an emphatic degree. It’s a lush period piece of a sort, yes, and that certainly puts it in Oscar’s wheelhouse, but it’s also a bit more demanding and a lot more perverse than the films that usually worm their way into the high-profile slots and multiple nominations.

On top of all that, I absolutely loved it. Though I had come to look forward to seeing Phantom Thread, I had most definitely tempered expectations given my reaction to Anderson’s two previous films, The Master and the virtually unwatchable Inherent Vice, a movie that is indulged by members of the PTA cult to a degree which encompasses sins of indulgence they would never tolerate in other circumstances or from most other filmmakers. (I was underwhelmed by There Will Be Blood too, but I recognize that it’s a far better movie than either of the other two.) But Phantom Thread is operating on an entirely different, richer level that left me as gobsmacked as Wormwood and Slack Bay did. Anderson’s movie is light-years ahead of just about any filmmaking I saw this year, and maybe even any I’m likely to see in 2018. We’ll be talking and thinking about Phantom Thread for a long time, and I certainly can’t stop thinking about it now.

Anderson eschews his usual camera and editing pyrotechnics and instead burrows into the material with a less ostentatious, more subtle, patient approach that some audiences have apparently mistaken for boring. But it’s the furthest thing from boring— what Anderson has created is an unmistakably alive work of art, a penetrating, unsettling and, oh, yeah, very funny examination of the lengths to which the demanding artist, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a revered dress designer in 1950s London, pushes his equally strong-willed paramour Alma (Vicky Krieps) in pursuit of a previous unattainable romantic fulfillment, in extremis.

The movie is fetishistic and focused in unexpected ways throughout, and Anderson spins the narrative in such a way that I experienced Phantom Thread, on its surface a period romantic drama with all the accoutrements and detail one might expect from a movie about fastidious, unforgiving control in a 60-years-removed world of fashion design, almost as if it were a thriller, like Dressed to Kill— deep into its running time, I felt as if I hadn’t blinked for 90 minutes. But it feels organic, not programmatic, with beauty constantly available to be unearthed and consumed, often in ways and forms that won’t be easily anticipated. (Even the movie’s late-period wrinkle, which casts the movie’s obsessiveness in an entirely unexpected light and which won’t even be hinted at here, develops in a way that will take even partially pre-spoiled audiences by surprise.)

And the film is presided over not only by Day-Lewis’s insinuatingly good performance, and the surprising strength brought to the mix by Krieps, who I’d never seen before, but most dominantly, and most pleasurably, by Lesley Manville as Cyril, Woodcock’s quietly imposing, steely-nerved sister, who takes it upon herself to keep her brother’s business, and proper appearances, operating smoothly within the realm of their needy, often neurotic high society clientele. Manville is working somewhere within the universe of Dame Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers (that’s no spoiler, by the way— Phantom Thread evokes Rebecca as a touchstone, but not a slavish homage), and she keeps her cards artfully, tantalizingly, spectacularly close to her conservatively coutured breast. But when she does lash out, Manville (and Cyril) has no use for histrionics. A scene midway through the film when she asserts her position to her brother is played near a whisper, and it’s infinitely more powerful for it. A lesser actor (and a lesser director) might have pitched this scene, and so many others, to the rafters, but Manville sharpens the blade on her measured cool to such a degree that it’s a goddamned wonder anyone could survive her icy gaze. I hope, come Oscar night, she steals that statue right out of Allison Janney’s universally presumed clutches, and gives her one of Cyril’s glares while she’s at it. Manville’s is easily the best performance of the five nominated actresses. It’s one of my favorites of the year, period. As is Phantom Thread.

So here’s my new favorites list, revised from its original 11 to accommodate not only Phantom Thread, but another movie that surprised me as much as any of the others on this list, making ultimately a tidy baker’s dozen of unmissable movies:


(The original list, with comments on each film and more, can be found here and  here.)

As for the rest of the nominees, on the Most Prominently MIA list: Martin McDonagh for Best Director, which effectively sinks Three Billboards Best Picture chances— and as it seemed to be developing that juggernaut momentum that makes watching a show where everyone knows what’s going to win boring as hell, I’m almost kinda glad, even though I love the movie, warts and all.

Also MIA: Septtacolo and Kedi for Best Documentary Feature. The presence of Spettacolo is more wishful thinking on my part, but I would have thought that Kedi would be (forgive me) irresistible catnip to Oscar voters. May all those Turkish street cats slink their way into the bedrooms of said dismissive voters and steal their collective breaths!

I will spend the month burning tea leaves and lighting incense in the hope that someone— Laurie Metcalf, Mary J. Blige, but especially Lesley Manville— knocks Alison Janney off her high horse as she trots toward an apparently inevitable win for Best Supporting Actress. I, Tonya is a showcase for things the actress has done a thousand times before, and always better, and it’s as one-note as it could possibly be. The hammering on that one note is abetted by the one-note writing. too Janney’s foul-mouthed Mrs. Bates act grows wearisome very quickly— she speaks to everyone, not just Tonya, in the same way in every situation, and the result is neither illuminating or amusing, but it’s close to insulting. (All that said, I’m okay with Margot Robbie among the nominees, but unfortunately there’s one other actress I wish were in her place– see below.)

What else? Well, The Boss Baby is in no way one of the five best animated movies of the year. The Academy has to find its way to Coco, or The Breadwinner.


I would have never guessed that it would be remembered, let alone so honored, so I feel pretty good about Get Out making such a relatively strong show. I doubt it’ll win anything, but it’s presence at all would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. And there are those who, since Tuesday, have made pretty good arguments for Jordan Peele’s movie being the spoiler that brings The Shape of Water and Three Billboards to their knees. We’ll see!

I like The Shape of Water a lot, and as much as I love McDormand in Three Billboards it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all to see Sally Hawkins win. That said, I hope that this year, like last, the awards are spread out more evenly and we can somehow avoid a Shape sweep.

BAM! Christopher Plummer snags a Best Supporting Actor nomination for All the Money in the World! The thing is, above and beyond the obvious “Fuck You, Kevin Spacey” factor, he deserves it. At various points I actually forgot that I wasn’t watching the real J. Paul Getty– even the shape of the man’s head was right on the money.


That said, maybe the year’s biggest snub (and maybe it isn’t even a snub, because did anyone think she’d really be nominated?) is Michelle Williams in that same movie. This woman has been turning in great work for a long time now, and this was a full-bodied, surprising, resonant performance, much more so than the one she was deservedly noted for last year in Manchester by the Sea. One day, Michelle, one day…

I’m not surprised by James Franco’s absence, especially given the timing, just two days before closure if Oscar ballot goes, if the accusations against him. But even without that cloud, the Academy has a checkered history with Franco anyway, thanks to the epic blow-off of his hosting duties he delivered a few years back, and as uncomfortable as he looked at the SAG Awards he’d probably just as soon stay home anyway.


Some think that Roger Deakins will get a career award for Blade Runner 2049, and that his work on that movie is somehow subpar for an unparalleled modern master such as he. I disagree with the latter and am not sure about the former— I think the newly diverse Academy may find the catnip of awarding the first female nominee, Rachel Morrison, for her excellent work on Mudbound (a movie most of us probably saw on TV!) too hard to resist. Hoyt Van Hoytema for Dunkirk is a strong contender too.

And the best song category, with Mary J. Blige, Sufjan Stevens and “Remember Me” from Coco all included, seems a little more reputable, perhaps more listenable all around than in recent years.

One thing’s for sure— the level of quality of the nominees in almost every category this year has helped me slough off the Oscar doldrums I felt creeping in as the new year started. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to watch the ceremonies. But the inclusion of Phantom Thread, Get Out, Three Billboards, Christopher Plummer, Sally Hawkins, Lesley Manville and even presumptive conqueror The Shape of Water, has left me hoping for upsets and wins that I can feel okay with at the end of the night.

All right, enough of my blathering. I’m off to see Darkest Hour. Then there’ll be nothing to do but sit and wait for Oscar night. Well, maybe I’ll go see Phantom Thread a couple more times!


Sunday, January 21, 2018


Last week I made my way out of the Facebook forest and decided to take a brief hiatus from the constant barrage of input, positive as well as negative, and try to clear my head a little. I’ve already pretty much abandoned Twitter for the same reasons (How do all you Twitterers have the time to be constantly Tweeting and following other people’s feeds?), but that was never a platform I felt all that comfortable with anyway. But after only a week and change I already feel the Facebook junkie’s craving, and I wonder how much longer I can hold out before I initiate another indulgence of my addiction. The pull of the sense of community that naturally develops is, for better or worse, something I miss— though I have been lurking, I miss taking part in the discussions of posts made by my family and my smartest friends, and of course I miss posting myself—all the trivial stuff, like cat pictures (of my own cats) and silly memes, all the politically angry stuff, and all the random bits and pieces on whatever movie I happening to be watching. I don’t know that there’s all that many folks who care about what I’m putting on my page, but I enjoy interacting with those who do show up and drop a comment every now and again.

So, I may be back to Facebook a little sooner than I first expected. But in the meantime, there’s a whole week’s worth of Facebook posts I never made, observations about movies and other stuff that I could have made but, because of my self-imposed exile, I didn’t. And because I have this particular forum, you (if you should choose to continue reading), get to pay the price. Here’s some of the stuff that I would have laid on my Facebook page in the past week that at least I thought might be interesting.


I just saw Super Fly (1972) again last weekend, after maybe 40 years. A huge hit upon its release, right at the beginning of the short-lived “blaxploitation” trend of the early ‘70s, it’s a movie about which many viewers, black and white, hold a great deal of ambivalence. Is it a tale of black empowerment, of sticking it to the (white) man who holds the power structure in place which keeps African-Americans and other people of color down? (I can get behind that.) Or is it an amoral tale of a cocaine dealer whose primary worry is moving enough blow to get him out of the business for good, regardless of the effect his product has on the community at large? (Harder to justify.) And stitching the whole thing together is Curtis Mayfield’s excellent song score, maybe the best one ever created for a movie, a score that rather famously subverts the movie’s refusal to comment on the ramifications of the lead character’s trade by creating a running, and very catchy commentary on the movie’s social context, including harsh criticism of the very drug trade the movie could be credibly accused of glorifying. 

My first viewing of Super Fly was as a 12-year-old who thought the whole thing was awesome, or whatever word we used back then. Seeing it again in 2018, the movie seems like a lackluster effort, especially compared to the relative integrity on display in Shaft, the trenchant social criticism of Trick Baby, and certainly to the snap, crackle and funk of Pam Grier’s best movies, Coffy and Foxy Brown. I was struck not only by how contrapuntal Mayfield's score is to the attitude and action we see on screen, but also by how independently it seems to exist from the movie as well. We are a long way here from the way music and image is cut together today-- the images and the rhythms of Super Fly the movie seem to operate as if unaware of the music being used to bolster its power. This is a good and a detrimental thing, I think, at the same time—it almost negates the need for the typical dialogue scenes in favor of just showcasing the music, as if on a “music only” DVD track. But it also throws into relief just how indifferently, how artlessly the movie is constructed dramatically. Mayfield’s music is so independent, operating on a perceptively different plane than the entire enterprise, that it comes as almost a shock to see Curtis Mayfield and his band actually in the movie during a nightclub sequence early in the film. So, Mayfield was directly involved during the movie's production—he wasn’t just hired to lend an overall cohesiveness to the project, which makes it an even more monumental achievement how he was able to if not undermine, then at least provide an alternate take to the movie's amoral perspective on the Harlem drug trade in the early ‘70s.

(Film critic Odie Henderson wrote a revealing post on the movie and his experiences with it back in 2012, and you can read that piece right here.)

And while we’re on the subject of classic “blaxploitation” music, next to Mayfield’s brilliant work on Super Fly, I think my favorite song score would have to be Roy Ayers’ contribution of Pam Grier’s (and Jack Hill’s) Coffy, featuring Ayer’s great theme (“Coffy is the color”) and the terrific music he wrote to accompany the picture. And Marvin Gaye wrote the theme and score for another “blaxploitation” movie which I’d never seen before last week—Trouble Man, directed by Ivan Dixon from a script by John D.F. Black, who co-wrote Shaft. The movie is routine—not without interest, but also not anything too exciting either. Gaye’s theme song, however, is a genuine classic, certainly on a par with Mayfield’s “Super Fly.” Which is why, after knowing Gaye’s recording of “Trouble Man” for so many years, it was disconcerting to discover that not only is the song used only once in the movie, and not appealingly woven into the movie’s instrumental score, but that the recording of the song used over the opening credits is a different recording than the familiar version from the movie’s soundtrack album. This was true of the version of Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” heard in that movie as well, but Hayes’ vocals were close enough that even though one can recognize the difference between it and the album version (which got plenty of radio play by which to embed itself in our collective brain), listening to it wasn’t a disorienting experience. Not so the “Trouble Man” heard over the opening credits of Trouble Man—it’s an oddly-mixed version, which the familiar instrumental track laid way low underneath a strange combination of vocal track that apparently is Marvin Gaye, but honestly doesn’t sound much like him. It was so strange, Gaye’s recognizable falsetto laid over a lower-octave take that almost sounds like spoken word, that at first I thought we were supposed to understand that it was the movie’s antihero, private eye Mr. T (Robert Hooks), singing along to the song in his car! I’ll stick with the record, thank you.


Another look at Roy Ward Baker’s nifty Technicolor noir Inferno (1953) this week. The movie was shot in 3D, though it’s notable for its lack of typical “throw things at the camera” 3D trickery. Baker apparently was more fascinated by the stereoscopic process’s ability to make his actors stand out among the harsh, yet beautiful desert landscapes in which Robert Ryan finds himself trying to escape being abandoned to die by his wife (Fleming) and her none-too-sympathetic lover (William Lundigan). The result is a movie in which the 3D settles in and becomes a stylistic choice rather than just a jokey novelty—it’s more like watching a View-Master in motion, albeit one designed both for maximum effect while simultaneously allowing the 3D to almost disappear, a window on the natural world by way of a less-than-natural optical illusion.


Two movies logged on my new Movie Pass this week: Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World and Jaume Collett-Serra’s The Commuter. I wouldn’t have relished paying full price to see either one, but with the Movie Pass it’s a no-sweat situation. I suspect I’ll be returning to something closer to my previously ravenous theatrical movie habits if I’m not faced with the ugly prospect of laying down $17 for the very real possibility of disappointment. Movie Pass takes the danger away, so seeing a movie like All the Money in the World, an overall compelling thriller with an oddly slack center, isn’t so painful when it doesn’t quite measure up. By the way, Christopher Plummer makes a great J. Paul Getty, right down to the shape of his head—he’s a creepy ringer for the ex-richest man on the planet, especially compared to the doughy old-age makeup his predecessor, Kevin Spacey, was buried in. But the movie’s secret weapon is Michelle Williams, once again quietly devastating, and sporting a subtle, high-society East Coast accent that sounds at once eerily authentic and unlike anything I’ve heard for myself in real life. She’s great. 

The Commuter is the better movie, I think, a real old-fashioned popcorn thriller by a director who is slowly become a confident master of the genre, pitting Liam Neeson once again in a pressure situation—he’s an ex-cop who must ID a government witness, who will subsequently be subjected to assassination, or his family, and likely other passengers on the train will be killed. That the movie doesn’t seem to hold up in the logic department doesn’t seem to matter much while you’re watching it, so sharp and funny is the filmmaking, abetted by Neeson’s tensile conviction and a trainload full of interesting faces who all end up with a good scene or two to help them stand out. It’s only on the commute home are you likely to start the head-scratching, kinda like I did.


I bet I saw Juzo Itami’s Tampopo six or seven times in the theater when I first moved to Los Angeles. The movie was my introduction to Japanese food culture and it had the power then, as it does now, to render me completely hungry even if seeing it, as we did tonight, directly after a meal. The difference for me between 1987 and 2018 is that all the movie’s once-exotic food is so familiar and comforting to me now. The movie itself is like that too— it may have become even richer over the past 30 years, a limber, observant satire of Japanese culture, and movie culture, that has the loose-limbed trajectory of improvisation without sacrificing focus, purpose, or soul at the altar of self-indulgence. And Nobuko Miyamoto’s performance as the titular would-be-great ramen chef is more wondrous than ever, capable of reducing me to tears mid-laugh in a single, unexpected close-up, just as it always could. Tampopo is one for the ages.


Jared Hess’s 2015 religious satire Don Verdean, starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Will Forte and Jemaine Clement somehow never crossed my plane of consciousness when it was (barely) released about two years ago, and those critics who did see it didn't have many good things to say.. But any movie that can be described as a satire surrounding a self-professed biblical archaeologist who starts to bend the truth in order to continue inspiring the faithful is, to my mind anyway, a must-see. And after reading Richard Brody on the movie in The New Yorker, I’m more convinced than ever that Hess’s movie might be right up this agnostic’s alley.


And two movies for which, as we roll into Oscar season, I held considerably less love than most critics and guilds handing out year-end awards. I caught up with The Florida Project last week, and I have to confess that, though I recognize it as being “well-made” and “uncompromising,” and though I found the final images of desperate escape into fantasy satisfying in an unsettling way, spending time in the presence of these characters—the rambunctious, obnoxious kids, but more pressingly the young mother—made me eventually want to push away. I appreciated Sean Baker’s examination of the possibility of childish exhilaration of three aimless children in the shadow of Florida’s Disney World, all while skating the outskirts of abject poverty, and that he didn’t feel the need to make us “like” the mother of the little girl at the movie’s center or even understand her behavior, beyond its aggressive immaturity and anger. But I felt that exhilaration was too fleeting to register as much more than an affectation, and I didn’t find the portrayal of the mother’s emotional and economic stasis compelling enough to make me believe the torture of watching her was entirely worthwhile. At least Willem Dafoe, as the manager of the seedy motel in which all of them spin out their lives day-to-day, was very good, though probably too low-key to make much of a ripple on Oscar’s awareness. At least I don’t have to retrofit my top 10.

I won’t have to for I, Tonya either. This is “edgy satire” for those who like their targets big and fat and juicy and dumb. And for a movie that traffics in contradictory statements and displays of bad behavior repeatedly denied (on camera, often in the scene itself) by characters who openly question the veracity of what’s being seen, the movie comes to a conclusion about the illusory nature of truth which seems closer to Kellyanne Conway’s “alternate facts” and other fake news than to any genuinely disquieting examination of its subject, the rise and hard fall of American skater Tonya Harding. (The more warring perspectives, the less the filmmakers’ imperative to settle on something resembling a point of view.) Aside from one ugly sight gag near the beginning-- Harding’s mother unexpectedly kicking a chair out from underneath her 10-year-old daughter’s chair—I don’t find a lot to the charges that the movie makes a joke out of the abuse Harding suffered, at the hands of her mother, or her lame-brained husband Jeff Gillooly, whose misguided notions of expressing his love for Tonya (if you can believe the guy in the movie anyway!) set in motion the destruction of Harding’s career. And I do think that Margot Robbie’s performance is noteworthy—she’s far too conventionally pretty to accurately convey Harding’s fiercely embedded lack of self-worth, but she stands out, both in her physical presence and her guarded emotional stance, as the older Harding, recipient of a legal and media brutalization for which, no matter how you sense the movie view her overall, she’s not entirely blameless.

But am I alone in finding Alison Janney’s performance a tad on the overrated side? Janney could do this role in her sleep, and from the approach she takes, it almost seems as if she has, taking a one-note concept and streaking past subtle observation on her way to coronation as a gargoyle worthy of permanent installation in Norman Bates’ fruit cellar. Technically she’s impeccable. But when Janney is given almost nothing to do but scowl and swear vilely, without modulation, in every scene and in the presence of every single person she interacts with, the “joke” of her tone-deaf hostility—which she shares with Tonya, who never met a well-meaning coach or even an earnestly inquisitive police officer she wouldn’t greet with a petulant “What the fuck?”-- wears thin fast. It takes a pretty bitter pill to make this old salt want to swear off swearing, but after two hours of Robbie and Janney, all I wanted to see was something that had had its mouth properly soaped.

The screenwriter is the violator at whose feet these weaknesses, and several others, must be laid. When one character, a reporter for Hard Copy, expresses astonishment at a stupid move made in a story populated entirely by stupid people, all the movie’s pretensions to a Rashomon-esque dissection of fictionalized truth crumble quickly. I would have much preferred a stylistically dull talking-heads documentary, or even better a piercing Alex Gibney-style documentary about Tonya Harding and the ensuing media hypocrisy swirling around her case, to the relentless flippancy that cripples I, Tonya. If this movie is "the GoodFellas of figure skating" (whatever the hell that means), I’ll take 100 ccs of Sonja Henie, stat.


But lest I come off too cranky at the end, let me offer up a hearty recommend for Christopher Landon and Scott Lobell’s Happy Death Day which, if we’re going to play the I, Tonya game, is certainly the Groundhog Day of slasher thrillers. Anchored by a terrific, cagey performance by Jessica Rothe (La La Land), HDD is the story of a bitchy sorority sister who must, over and over again, relive the day of her own murder and solve the mystery of the identity of the killer, who wears an unsettling baby-face mask (think Michael Palin in Brazil, or even better, Who Framed Roger Rabbit's Baby Herman), before she ultimately runs out of deja-vu days and stays dead. The movie deftly plays with the disease that often afflicts these sorts of movies—the revelation of the killer being far less interesting than the trip toward the unmasking—by recognizing that inevitable disappointment and weaving it (and its antidote) into the fabric of the storytelling itself. And that I guessed who just had to be the killer way early on did nothing to dispel the fun of Happy Death Day, which has enough visual invention and sharp, funny performances for three similar movies of its ken. (And if I can guess such a mystery correctly, you can bet everyone else watching will have probably figured it out at least 15 minutes earlier.) This is a funny, sorta scary, altogether surprising and inventive little movie; along with Cult of Chucky it puts a happy face on a genre whose modern entries are often too nihilistic or just too baseline stupid to be believed. And as far as its source inspiration, it does Groundhog Day proud too.


Jeez, I write this much on Facebook in a typical week? No wonder I needed a break!


Saturday, January 13, 2018


When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a few friends who shared many of my interests-- in movies, music, movie monsters, comic books, drama, and other sorts of things that ensured we were forever categorized as “nerds.” (Whatever the modern equivalent of “Nerd” classification is, it doesn’t seem to be quite the albatross around the neck of a kid that it used to be, thankfully.) But among my friends, I was the only one who loved to collect newspaper movie ads, and the bi-monthly movie schedules, or “show calendars,” that my hometown movie theater published to let us know what movies would be rolling into town, usually a year or more after their initial release.  

I would scour the movie pages of the Portland Oregonian—we lived in Southern Oregon, but my grandma was a subscriber—in search of splashy ads for the latest films, and smaller ads for second-run and art houses. It was a great way to indulge not only my love for the graphic design of the original posters, and how they would often be altered and rejiggered to fit the space requirements of the movie page, but also to indulge my thirsty imagination for what life where so many movie options were available daily might be like, to say nothing of the places where these pictures played.

What I’m sure I didn’t know at the time was that these newspaper ads, and the calendars for my hometown theater, were made with letterpress plates and blocks, meticulous designs carved specifically for use by companies devoted to their creation and distribution. Which begs the question, what happened to these blocks when they’d served their purpose? Undoubtedly many of them were thought disposable and destroyed, either by the companies that made them or by the newspapers that used them.

But as D.J. Ginsberg and Marilyn Wagner discovered a couple decades ago, some of them were saved. While rummaging through an antique store in Omaha, Nebraska, the couple discovered dozens of boxes filled with over 60,000 letterpress plates and blocks made for movie ads that essentially chronicled over 50 years of movie history, reaching all the way back to the silent era. As they later found out, the artist who created the blocks Ginsberg and Wagner discovered began working in the craft while stationed in California with the US Navy. After his service, he returned home to Nebraska, opened a letterpress shop, and movie industry customers from California whom he’d encountered while in the military began sending him work. Omaha being a natural, central location for shipping such work to all parts of the country, the man and his company kept busy for decades creating the plates and blocks until sometime in the 1970s, when he sold his collection to the antiques dealer where Ginsberg and Wagner made their find. They purchased the entire collection for $2,000. It has since been assessed at a value somewhere between eight and $12 million.

Massachusetts filmmaker Adam Roffman, himself a collector of letterplate block movie ads, got wind of the Ginsberg-Wagner treasure and has chronicled its discovery in a short film that has been making its way around the festival circuit. It’s called The Collection (you can see it right here or click on the embedded video at the end of this article), and the 11 minutes it takes up will be a tantalizing morsel for fellow collectors and movie nerds, like myself, who will find its dip into film history arcana and commercial graphic design fascinating enough to hope that someday Roffman can marshall the resources to expand it into a feature.

(Photo courtesy of Adam Roffman)

“Their collection has every famous movie you can think of,” Roffman told a Medford, Massachusetts paper, “as well as thousands of movies you’ve never heard of, including a number of movies that aren’t listed in IMDB, for which there is no existing film print [and] no existing poster. This is in some cases the only existing record of some of these films.” And Roffman’s film communicates well the appreciation he has for what Ginsberg and Wagner have on their hands, what they are attempting to preserve. Watching Ginsberg ink up a printing press and hand-crank pages of ads using these meticulously restored plates-- he uses vinegar to gently brush away decades of desiccated ink—there’s an almost artisanal quality bestowed upon a process which was likely never considered anything more than the churning out of crass, disposable advertising, which itself has been long abandoned in favor of more expedient digital methods.  (In the ‘80s studios and theaters stopped using letterpresses for their ads, and the Omaha-based company that toiled on their craft for so many years went out of business.)
Whether or not someone will actually pony up to buy the collection is, for Ginsberg and Wagner, the $8-12 million question. Experts have confirmed to the couple that what they’ve spent so many years scrupulously cataloguing and restoring is likely the only collection of its kind—a spectacular graphic/textural/visual history of Hollywood ranging from the 1930s to the 1980s. They hope to sell it to a museum in order to display the blocks, as well as use the 1938 Vandercook letterpress, which is included in the collection, to print new versions of the come-hither vintage ads that always served as such a rich enticement to indulge in the promise of the movies.

For now, I will enjoy Roffman’s film, which sparks so many memories of my own personal collections, and hope not only that some museum will see the value in what Ginsberg and Wagner have on their hands, but also for a traveling exhibit someday.

THE COLLECTION from Adam Roffman on Vimeo.


Sunday, January 07, 2018


I don’t get out as much as I used to, and notice of that fact is certainly meant to include the frequency with which I make it out to the theater to see a movie. I think it’s because we find ourselves in what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, the Netflix Age of streaming and immediate access of some very high-profile releases, as well as a lot of “buried “treasures that aren’t quite as magazine- and newspaper-profile friendly, that my list this year is weighted so heavily toward movies I saw at home.

There are 11 movies that I placed at the very top of my list of favorites. Of those 11 I saw exactly one of them in a theater, and it wasn’t the one I now, with retroactive desperation, wish I’d seen in a theater. (Just before putting this piece to bed, I did see Pixar’s exceedingly gorgeous and emotionally overwhelming Coco on the big screen, and I’m really glad I did—if I’d made room for 12 movies on my list instead of just the arbitrary 11, it might well have been on it.) My Movie Pass card just came in the mail today, so maybe that watershed event will signal a restoration of the balance back toward attending more traditional exhibitions in 2018.

Of the many movies I included on my honorable mentions list, there are 22 that I saw theatrically; those are mostly the sort of top-notch blockbuster fare that turned out to be a whole lot better than maybe even my highest expectations, yet not quite good enough to think about in terms of the year’s peachiest highlights.

Finally, as if to insist that the theatrical experience is no guarantor of quality (either in presentation or the movie’s achievement), my candidate for worst movie of the year is one I took in with my family on a Saturday night in multiplexland, and the movie itself is the furthest thing from the sort of superhero-sci-fi-blockbuster mind-melt so often fretted over by those culture mavens who insist they know better.

While we’re at it, please note the phrase “my favorite.” If only to clarify the obvious, I have in no way traveled the completist road of the professional critic, this year or most any other. I haven’t come close to seeing the number of movies it would require for me to declare with any sort of confidence (most likely false, whatever sort) that the movies on my list were “the best.” Frankly, I don’t even see how professional critics could use the term “best,” or why they’d even want to. Year-end lists are confetti parties of subjective summation, the culling together of one’s experience and, hopefully, a soupcon of observation that serves as an autobiography of taste as much as it does any sort of cumulative movie culture reckoning. Lists of year-end movie favorites are arbitrary, subjective, often illogical, maddening and maybe even surprising; I certainly think mine is probably one or all of those things, and if it’s surprising, then maybe that means I’m at least pointing the way toward a movie the reader may not have considered before.

I published this list on Facebook earlier this year and it was pointed out to me with frequency and relish just how much good stuff I have yet to see. So then, in order to forefront my deficiencies, let me note that I have yet to experience such year-end forces of nature as The Florida Project (next week, maybe), Phantom Thread, Faces Places, BPM, In the Fade, Columbus, The Disaster Artist, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Marjorie Prime, Last flag Flying, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya and All the Money in the World. And may I further note the realization that with the inclusion of one title in particular in my top 11 I have likely lost a shit-ton of credibility within my own house, to say nothing of the respect for the many folks (some of whom are  professional film critics) whose opinions and process of thought I trust and admire, here are the movies of 2017 I liked best, from tippity-top-toppest to least-of-the-tippity-top:

Wormwood (Errol Morris)
In every way possible, the heightening and summation of everything Errol Morris has achieved as an investigative documentarian, this is a complex, unsettling, frightening, totally mesmerizing experience—the layers of truth and deception that are revealed as a son tries to make sense of the death of his father, who plunged to his death from a New York city hotel room after being unwittingly administered LSD as part of a behavioral experiment, is devastating in its portrayal of how obsession can never be fully satisfied, and how it subsumes and displaces the life of the obsessed. No movie I saw this year, of any length (it runs 241 minutes, plus intermission, in its theatrical incarnation) held me as rapt; no other cinematic journey was this absorbing; no other single work in 2018 did so much to redefine the parameters and possibilities within its chosen genre as did Wormwood. (Netflix)

Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont)
One of the few movies I saw this year for which I was able to go in totally blind, absolutely unsure of what I was getting myself into, and a better state for receiving Dumont’s absurdly beautiful, sometimes mean-spirited and often transcendent farce there is not. The sense of not knowing where a movie is going, and being completely thrilled at the prospect of finding out, is a rarity; by the end I felt like I was floating. (Netflix)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)
Besides offering a showcase for Frances McDormand’s dominating, yet at times surprisingly subtle performance, McDonagh’s most significant achievement  with his latest, a superb comedy of agony and varying shades of anger which is very much the work of the man who made In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, is its absolute conviction that no fury is ever thoroughly righteous, and that those we’ve decided are monsters may have surprising, if not redeeming, dimension. (General release)

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
A ghost story for audiences who enjoy the tease of the tale, the interruptions of mundane, pseudo-glamorous reality into realms of spectral speculation and, conversely, the subtle assertion of the spiritual into the material. The movie eschews big set pieces for subdued subversion and as a result it is deliberately and unfailingly unsettling all the way. Assayas’ new muse, Kristen Stewart, is terrific while displaying almost no distracting fireworks of “technique.” (Streaming and Criterion Blu-ray)

Spettacolo (Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen)
A Tuscan village defines and discusses its history and its present concerns through an annual theatrical production, and the movie made of the endeavor raises sobering questions of tradition, representation, and the value of art for audiences and performers far removed from any elite. It’s hard to remember seeing a movie that made the act of creation seem like such a vital, desperate, necessary thing. (Streaming)

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond—Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (Chris Smith)
The last movie I saw in 2017, one preceded immediately by Spettacolo, and the two seem to me entwined through their engagement with the idea of the ineffable,sometimes uncontrollable impulses that inspire artists to do what they do. Carrey's method-deranged submersion into the character of Andy Kaufman (and Tony Clifton), as documented in never-before-seen footage shot on the set of the Kaufman biopic Man in the Moon  is at turns fascinating, frightening, befuddling and possibly dangerous, and the actor commenting on his own apparent flirtation with madness carries with it its own deep wells of melancholy. If only Man in the Moon had been this adept at exploring the harsh, unknowable genius of its protagonist. (Netflix) 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach)
Anchored by career-best performances from Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, and a real eye-opener from Elizabeth Marvel (she was the 40-year-old Mattie in the Coen Brother’s True Grit), Baumbach’s slice-of-New York family comedy works much of the same territory as his The Squid and the Whale, but it’s not frozen by its cynicism and it ends up cutting far deeper. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun to watch; the family dynamics revolving around entitled Meyerowitz paterfamilias Dustin Hoffman, a sculptor harboring resentment at being largely set aside by the art world, are superbly realized, and Baumbach and his editor, Jennifer Lame, deserve some sort of award for their deftness in cutting away from characters (particularly Sandler’s) in mid-rage. The funniest movie of the year. (Netflix)

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison)
The history of a small town in the Yukon, and the early history of the movies themselves, as told through 35mm footage of silent films thought forever lost, then found buried in permafrost. Viewing Morrison’s assemblage of ghosts, their stories told largely without spoken words, takes on the quality of peering through glass into another vaguely recognizable dimension, one made even more delicate, like the remnants of a disturbing dream, by being embellished with and sealed in varying degrees of disintegrating celluloid. (Streaming)

Kedi (Ceyda Torun)
One could spend a lot of time, if one was inclined, arguing about whether this jaw-dropping documentary is more about the cats who rule the streets of Istanbul or, like Morris’ great Gates of Heaven, more about the people who care for them, who are cared for by them. That both answers are correct indicates the degree of emotional and empathetic depth Torun has managed to tap. Kedi might be one of those movies you judge relationships by—if he/she doesn’t like it, well… One thing’s for sure-- That Darn Cat this ain’t. (Streaming)

Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow)
Bigelow’s harrowing docudrama takes the infamous Algiers Motel incident as a microcosm of horror from which to expand on the agony and righteous frustration that fueled the Detroit riots of 1967. The immediate experience of Detroit is almost suffocating in its brutality, which is perhaps why it wasn’t a big Saturday night date draw when it briefly surfaced at the beginning of August before disappearing from theaters. But you should steel up and take a look on Blu-ray—it’s a surprisingly expansive work, emotionally speaking, full of unexpected grace notes amidst the unfolding nightmare. Were it less one-note in the depiction of the Detroit officers who perpetuated the torture, it might well have been a sickening masterpiece. (Streaming)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson)
Every ostensibly eye-popping CGI blockbuster promises to show you things you’ve never seen in ways you’ve never seen them. Valerian is one of the only ones, certainly this year, to actually come through on that pledge. All the rest probably have better acting (I spent at least a few minutes thinking about my own recasting of the leads), and maybe even more coherent storytelling. (Maybe). But none sported more “Oh, my God!” moments of visual beauty, hell, poetry, than Besson’s loony masterwork, more breathtaking, delirium-inducing, disorientingly exhilarating action sequences. And no other movie featured a cabaret number by a shape-shifting Rihanna. I know why you skipped it in theaters—for the same reason I did. But why are you waiting now? (Streaming, Blu-ray)

Other movies of 2017 I thought were, to one degree or another, perfectly keen (in alphabetical order):

Alien: Covenant, All I See is You, Beach Rats, Beatriz at Dinner, The Beguiled, Blade of the Immortal, Blade Runner 2049, The Breadwinner, Bugs, Buster’s Mal Heart, Call Me By Your Name, Coco, Dunkirk, Gerald’s Game, Get Out, Ghost in the Shell, A Ghost Story, Graduation, I Called Him Morgan, Icarus, Ingrid Goes West, It, It Comes at Night, John Wick: Chapter 2, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Justice League, Kong: Skull Island, Lady Bird, Life, Logan, Logan Lucky, The Lost City of Z, Mudbound, My Cousin Rachel, Nocturama, Okja, The Post, Shadowman, The Shape of Water, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, T2: Trainspotting, Their Finest, Thor: Ragnarock, Trophy, War of the Planet of the Apes, Wind River, Wonder Woman, Your Name.

Worst of the year (runners-up):

Good Time (Josh and Benny Safrie)
I Do… Until I Don’t (Lake Bell)
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (Peter Landesman)

Worst of the year, a movie that absolutely earned its lower-case representation:

mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
When I “saw” mother! on its theatrical release, I said that I would suggest it was “one of the silliest, most masochistic, self-aggrandizing allegories/fantasies ever committed to film (or pixels, or whatever)—the Artist as All-Demanding, Relentlessly Punishing Deity and Universe-Sized Megalomaniacal Creator Whose Supplicants Are Not Worthy of Him-- but unfortunately, beyond the general hysteria and cacophony and gooey vaginal floorboard gouges and piles of bloody-pulp-rendered sacrificial lambs, I can’t be entirely sure of what I even saw.” And that kicked off an account of one of the worst nights I've ever spent in a movie theater. So before deciding to cement Darren Aronofsky’s ludicrous vanity puzzle at the bottom of my list, I decided to watch it again on Blu-ray. Let’s just say, a second helping did not help.


Alibi Ike (1935; Ray Enright)
All Screwed Up (1974; Lina Wertmuller)
Anatahan (1953; Josef von Sternberg)
The Bandit Trail (1941; Edward Killy)
The Band Wagon (1953; Vincente Minnelli)

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979; Irwin Allen)
The Breaking Point (1950; Michael Curtiz)
Chisum (1970; Andrew V. McLaglen)
A Christmas Carol (1938; Edwin L. Marin)

Countdown (1967; Robert Altman)
Crossfire (1947; Edward Dmytryk)
Curse of the Faceless Man (1958; Edward L. Cahn)
Dames (1934; Ray Enright, Busby Berkeley)
Daughter of Dracula (Le Fille de Dracula) (1972; Jess Franco)
A Day in the Country (1936; Jean Renoir)

Downhill Racer (1969; Michael Ritchie)
Dynamite Pass (1950; Lew Landers)
The Earth Dies Screaming (1964; Terence Fisher)
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds (1972; Paul Newman)
Fallen Angel (1945; Otto Preminger)
Five Came Back (1939; John Farrow)

High Wall (1947; Curtis Bernhardt)
Hit Man (1972; George Armitage)
How to Steal a Million (1966; William Wyler)
Island of Lost Women (1959; Frank Tuttle)
Jigoku (1960; Nobuo Nakagawa)
Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966; Mario Bava)

King of Jazz (1930; John Murray Anderson)
The L-Shaped Room (1962; Bryan Forbes)
Leo the Last (1970; John Boorman)
Love Crazy (1941; Jack Conway)
The Lusty Men (1952; Nicholas Ray)
Miranda (1948; Ken Annakin)
Murder Ahoy (1964; George Pollock)

Othello (1951; Orson Welles)
Outrage (1950; Ida Lupino)
Panique (1946; Julien Duvivier)

The Reptile (1966; John Gilling)
Robin and Marian (1974; Richard Lester)
Run for the Sun (1956; Roy Boulting)
Rustlers (1949; Lesley Selander)
Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973; Bob Kelljan)
Son of Godzilla (1967; Jun Fukuda)
The Stone Killer (1973; Michael Winner)
Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes and Scent of Basil (1986; Lina Wertmuller)
Those Redheads from Seattle (1953; Lewis R. Foster)
Terminal Island (1973; Stephanie Rothman)
Unholy Rollers (1972; Vernon Zimmerman)
The Underworld Story (1950; Cy Endfield)

Villain (1971; Michael Tuchner)
Visions of Eight (1973; Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch,
        Yuriy Ozerov; Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar; John Schlesinger, Mai Zetterling)
Wagon Train (1940; Edward Killy)
Way Out West (1937; James W. Horne)
While the City Sleeps (1956; Fritz Lang)
Woman of the Year (1942; George Stevens)
The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962; Timothy Carey)


As almost always of late, my favorite moviegoing experiences usually involve my oldest daughter Emma, who will turn 18 in a couple of months. She’s turned out to be the big movie fan of my two, ensuring that I will never have to go through the near-complete rejection of values that I put my own outdoorsman dad through when I was a bookish, nerdy teen. And she is always up for adventure. We took in the opening weekend of Wonder Woman together in our favorite seats at the Vista Theater in Hollywood—it was quite a thrill to watch the movie with her, and to watch her watch the movie and appreciate the pleasures of superhero gender turnabout that the movie had to offer. For all the heroics and assertion of female empowerment, I think our favorite scene was Diana making her way through the streets of London, discovering ice cream for the first time and gushing over it to the modest vendor— "You should be very proud!")

We also thrilled memorably to Thor: Ragnarok, The Shape of Water and, on a particularly dreary post-holiday evening when we were both feeling a little down, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, an evening out with a silly movie that did us both a universe of good. We also tread the darkest part of the night together for a packed-house midnight screening of Akira, which may have impressed me even more than it did her.
Chucky, everyone’s favorite diminutive, quite plastic, and thoroughly deadly doll gave us perhaps our most unforgettable moviegoing evenings together this year, however. Joined by my best friend Bruce and little sister Nonie, we took in Don Mancini’s brand-new dose of mayhem, Cult of Chucky, together, a one-time-only theatrical screening hosted by Maestro Mancini himself. C of C is, to my mind anyway, the horror movie of the year, and it was a thrill to be one of the few, along with my daughters and my best pal, to get to see it this way.

But even better than that was the Bride of Chucky/Seed of Chucky screening we attended a month or so before that, which had as its centerpiece a bawdy and hilarious Q&A featuring, among others, Mancini, Jennifer Tilly and Billy Boyd, the actor who memorably portrayed Pippin in The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and, more importantly for Emma, voiced the character of Chucky and Tiffany’s gender-confused son, Glen (or Glenda). Glen (or Glenda) is easily Emma’s favorite character in her favorite Chucky movie, and she was abashed with excitement at just being able to see him on stage. But when beforehand I hinted to Don just how excited she was, he went the extra mile and introduced Billy to Emma from the stage! She was as thrilled as any mortified teen could possibly be, and even more so when, upon leaving the stage before the movie began, the infectiously friendly actor stopped by our seat to personally say hello again. And I got it all on my trusty phone. What a night!

Two great theatrical screenings stand out for me over the course of the year: the first is seeing Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut as the opening night salvo of UCLA Film & Television Archive’s August series of films culled from critic Charles Taylor’s book of essays entitled Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-in Near You. Taylor was there at the screening, interviewed by Los Angeles Times film critic extraordinaire Justin Chang, and in addition to seeing Ritchie’s terrific pulp artifact on the big screen, I got to meet both Taylor and Chang for the first time. Memorable, indeed.

The second came during the opening weekend of AFI Fest 2017-- a rare screening of a pristine 35mm print of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, which I’d never seen projected before (except in 16mm, which, believe me, I don’t count). It was an evening made even nicer by the attendance of Rene Auberjoinois, Altman stock player from the early ‘70s who plays squirrelly local businessman Sheehan in the film. During the brief Q&A that followed the screening, I even got to engage with Auberjoinois re another favorite Altman appearance, his bizarre turn as a professor who, over the course of the movie, morphs into a bird in Brewster McCloud, one of the Altman that, upon encountering in early in my college career, turned me from a merely interested observer into a genuine budding Altmanophile.

As for me on my own, the most thrilling discovery of a classic film had to be experiencing Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men for the first time. The year’s best rediscovery came via Criterion’s exceptionally lovely Blu-ray of Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (bonus: English subtitles provided by myself and my dear wife!), which seems now clearly, if it wasn’t before, to be one of the director’s finest works. At home my eyes popped, for completely different reasons in all three cases, to the Blu-ray of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Walter Hill’s magnificently outrageous The Assignment, and my first late-night encounter with the utterly deranged, demonically inspired The World’s Greatest Sinner, a career-defining showcase like no other for writer-director-star Timothy Carey. (Thanks, TCM Underground!)

But by far the best came one evening when, left to my own devices when the women went out for the evening, I made up a big bowl of popcorn, a homemade dinner and a tall glass of Diet Coke and luxuriated in the five-hour version of Wim Wenders’ gorgeously indulgent science-fiction obsession Until the End of the World, a movie made in 1991 which locates with unnerving prescience our current addiction to imagery and theories of connection. Wenders is the director who may have most precisely defined (or redefined) the road movie with his German New Wave masterpiece Kings of the Road and, later, his film (based on Sam Shepard’s screenplay) Paris, Texas, and Until the End of the World is probably, among many other things, his most piercing, technologically infused engagement with the themes of haunted wanderlust. In it’s five-hour version it’s unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, one to be absorbed into, to be approached on its own unhurried, exploratory terms. Seeing it was a revelation, one that may end up forcing me to extend my satellite subscription for fear of the moment of having to give up the DVR on which it is recorded. Seek it out, if you can.

Okay, that’s 2017 for me. Here’s to better fortunes for us all in 2018, including a wealth of new movies by which to be enriched and enthralled. Now I’m off to continue reading, along with everybody else, Fire and Fury, one book to which I hope there will never be a need for a sequel. Cheers!