Haunted Jukebox

For everything I’ve posted from 2016-on, please go to hauntedjukebox.com. Some highlights:

24 Frames (my latest project, currently ongoing)

100 Favorite Albums

Films Watched

Photo Essays

Memoir Essays

Best of the 2010’s

Annual Booklists

Thanks for reading!

The Best Films of 2015

duke of burgundy

As I previously wrote, Peter Strickland’s strange, sublime film is “not just a kinky parade of verbal abuse, face-sitting, being tied and locked up and other unmentionables alluded to behind closed doors; it’s also a profound, intriguing, complicated love story.” It’s that last part that makes The Duke of Burgundy truly special, in part because it’s so unexpected: come for the dizzying homage to Italian horror, soft-core erotica and the avant-garde masterworks of both Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage, and stay for a fascinating, eloquent exploration of what it means to play a role in a loving, sexual relationship—and how not fulfilling your partner’s expectations throws everything out of whack (as detailed by Borgen actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, whose stunning lead performance is for the ages).


Not all will agree, but I believe Todd Haynes has yet to make a bad film. His very best—Safe, Far From Heaven and now this Patricia Highsmith adaptation—all have female protagonists reacting against boundaries set by their respective cultures. What distinguishes Carol’s early ‘50s lesbian relationship apart from Far From Heaven’s heterosexual interracial dalliance (set a few years later) is more complex than a shift from the suburbs to the city, or different gender or class dynamics: it’s the love story itself—As expected, Blanchett and Mara are both terrific and the attention paid to recreating meticulous detail is top-notch; still, it’s all in service of a bravely slow-building screenplay that feels even more nuanced in retrospect after you take in its absolutely perfect final scene.

look of silence

Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to The Act of Killing may leave admirers of the earlier film underwhelmed—it doesn’t have as ingenuously entertaining a hook and it never reaches the same level of catharsis, either. However, it’s just as essential a documentary for laying bare the long-lasting consequences of Indonesia’s 1965 genocide of over two million Communist citizens. Whereas the preceding film focused on the killers, this one is from the perspective of the victims’ families as filtered through a middle-aged ophthalmologist (his brother was murdered before he was born) who confronts the killers in the guise of an eye exam. His attempts to start a necessary dialogue about something that’s still not talked about are by turns revealing, shocking and nearly heartbreaking (and, in at least one case, somewhat hopeful).


Like the three titles above it on this list, Anomalisa provides exceptional insight regarding the human condition; unlike those films, it does so with puppets. An inventive, visually distinct, full-length, stop-motion extravaganza even better than Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie Kaufman’s latest (co-directed with animator Duke Johnson) could have come from no other mind. While it’s best to go into it cold—the film’s conceptual twist is most effective as you gradually comprehend it, and thus too good to give away—I will say the relationship that develops in the second half (with strong voiceover work from David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh) is just as lovingly executed and uncompromised.

kumiko the treasure hunter

I’ve raved about this odd little film since I first saw it at a festival nearly two years ago, and I continue to mention it whenever someone asks for a recommendation. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone but I would hope most people I know could take to this wondrous mash-up of David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch, built around a reference to Fargo (the movie, not the TV series) that traverses from Tokyo to Minnesota and has as perhaps its most beloved character, a noodle-eating pet rabbit named Bunzo. Rinko Kikuchi, best known for Babel and The Brothers Bloom, brilliantly portrays the stubbornly insular misfit while filmmaking team the Zellner Brothers survey a structure that allows for both rigid symmetry and inspired surrealism.


My most middle-of-the-road selection, but a damn near perfect film for what it accomplishes. Recounting The Boston Globe’s 2001-02 investigation of sexual abuse cover-up within the local Catholic archdiocese, director/writer Tom McCarthy constructs this story in a simple but effective linear fashion, almost building the narrative block by block until the immensity of it all becomes resoundingly clear. The great ensemble includes spirited flashy turns from Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, but thankfully, far more subtle work from the likes of Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci (both nearly unrecognizable here) doesn’t get overshadowed. Easily the best Boston-set film of the modern era.


As a cineaste, it’s often to your advantage to remain open to anything. For instance, I never guessed a two-hour plus, excessively talky Israeli drama about a woman trying to get her husband to grant her a divorce would’ve made my year-end list; even as the action never, ever left the courthouse, I found it constantly riveting—a testament, perhaps, to its writer/director/star Ronit Elkabetz, whom I had noticed in earlier films like Or (My Treasure) and The Band’s Visit. It’s a name you should know, and Gett masterfully revivifies the courtroom drama for a specific time and place that nonetheless scans as relatable to a discerning viewer of any culture.


Funny, intense and sexually graphic in equal measures, this 1976 San Francisco-set coming of age tale is the sort of indie gem you didn’t think anyone still made. In adapting Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, first-time director Marielle Heller conjures up a meaningfully imaginative world for its 15-year-old heroine, Minnie (a breakthrough role for charismatic, convincing British actress Bel Powley). Although exceptionally raunchy and raw at times, Heller lets her story play out refreshingly without judgment or moralizing, allowing Minnie to reach a place of catharsis that’s not without consequences. And, the resulting wisdom she gains from her experiences is genuinely powerful.


In retrospect, I was correct in calling Guy Maddin’s last feature a transitional effort, because this is a leap to another plane entirely. Still recognizably a Maddin film (although co-directed with new accomplice Evan Johnson), this takes the limitless reach of stuff like Brand Upon the Brain! and just runs with it, stitching together a dozen or so short films into a massive, nesting doll-structured epic that reprises all of his pet themes and twists and turns them into something that feels new, even if it looks ancient and ephemeral. Admittedly, it’s a lot to take in, but there’s no other title in this top ten I currently want to watch again and again.


Put aside all the much-discussed talking points (entirely shot on an iPhone, has two transgendered actresses as leads, takes place on Christmas Eve in seedy Los Angeles) and you’re still left with a thoughtful, surprising, one-of-a-kind film. It doesn’t appear that way in its abrasive, hyperactive first ten minutes, but as it organically develops a rhythm and gets deeper into this small world full of richly-defined misfits, it increasingly endears as a cultural slice-of-life and eventually, as a portrait of friendship—specifically how you’ll put up with a friend, or just simply be there for them in good times and bad.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or winner (it first played Boston last March) was inspired by a few Chekhov stories, which explains the intense, mesmerizing twenty-minute long conversations in the midst of the usual astonishing and vast Turkish landscape shots.

A surprise breakout from the new indie horror film ghetto, and a deserved one: this cunningly executed, mostly psychological notion of terror shrewdly reaches its fullest fruition not in Detroit’s ravaged, abandoned neighborhoods but in its aging, nondescript suburbs

Debra Granik’s nonfiction companion piece to Winter’s Bone benefits considerably from her foresight to center on Ron Hall, a grizzled biker and Viet Nam war veteran suffering from PTSD who proves to be a natural, compelling subject.

Some balked at the idea of Andrew Bujalski making a romantic comedy (especially right after Computer Chess), but this likable effort ends up nearly salvaging the genre for his generation; of course, it helps to have a superb trio of leads (Kevin Corrigan, Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders).

15. 99 HOMES
Like The Big Short, it’s far from a perfect study on the housing crisis, but Michael Shannon’s turn as a self-serving realtor is nearly up there with his great work in Take Shelter, and Andrew Garfield resumes his pre-superhero career as an actor to watch.

Co-directed with four other people, Albert Maysles’ final film (following the pleasant, if middling Iris) simply views riding an Amtrak train as a transformative journey with a sense of community not found in any other means of long-distance travel, and it deserves a place at the table with Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter and Salesman.

17. ROOM
A few minor quibbles (the score, Jacob Tremblay’s unnecessary voiceover) kept this off my top ten, but this gutsy literary adaptation has lingered longer in my mind than expected. Brie Larson more than makes good on the promise of Short Term 12, as does director Lenny Abrahamson on Frank.

The year’s most underseen, vital documentary recaps a black Floridian teenager murdered by a white middle-aged adult for playing his music too loud. As much about the need for gun control as the value of the Black Lives Matter movement, I can’t name a more relevant (and moving) documentary from this year.

Remember Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace dominating awards buzz when this premiered at Sundance a year ago? Remember the likes of DiCaprio, Fassbender and Damon once seeming ideal for such a small but articulate, stimulating project? Remember how some films used to be concerned with ideas and observed behavior, as opposed to plot-centric actions and speechifying?

Every few years, Francois Ozon emerges with another lush dramedy that reminds us he’s a big talent, albeit one too French (or too gay) for the film crit cannon to fall over for. This charming Ruth Rendell adaptation has Romain Duris in a dress, which the actor pulls off with effortless aplomb, just like his director does with this tricky, lovely story.


About Elly, Amy, Brooklyn, Call Me Lucky, Ex Machina, Girlhood, Grandma, The Hateful Eight, Heart of a Dog, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Packed In A Trunk, Phoenix, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tom At The Farm, Tu Dors Nicole, What Happened Miss Simone?, What We Do In The Shadows

Last Ten Films: From Blockbusters to Outliers

Tom At The Farm

Tom At The Farm


My last ten films seen in chronological order, between December 23, 2015 and January 8, 2016.

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 2015) 8/10
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) 7/10
People Places Things (Strouse, 2015) 6/10
The Stanford Prison Experiment (Alvarez, 2015) 6/10
Tom at the Farm (Dolan, 2013) 8/10
Queen of Earth (Perry, 2015) 7/10
Joy (Russell, 2015) 5/10
Results (Bujalski, 2015) 9/10
The Fallen Idol (Reed, 1948) 7/10
La Sapienza (Green, 2014) 6/10

The two “blockbusters” leading off this sequence both surprised me. The first, inspired by 1970s New Hollywood, is the Tarantino film I’ve enjoyed most all the way through since, oh, Jackie Brown, partially because I adore the 70mm “roadshow” presentation but mostly because for all its ugliness/misoygny/voluminous bloodshed, the construction’s tighter than Inglorious Basterds and it adheres to a stronger, more plausible moral code than Django Unchained. The second, heavily inspired by, um, Star Wars: A New Hope works because it places character and plot way ahead of special effects and mythology. Sure, the Hans/Leia/Chewy stuff is a little cornball, but it sure as hell resonates as well as any fan (either fervent, or in my case, near-nonexistent) could want.

With the exception of Joy (third time decidely not the charm for Russell/Lawrence, though the latter gives better than she gets) and The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s persecuor to The Third Man, and every bit the warm-up to that), the rest are Chlotrudis-eligible films (nominations are due this Friday) I’ve been busy catching up on at home. No real stinkers so far, but nothing revelatory either (apart from Results, which will likely secure a place in the year-end best of list I’ll be posting soon). Nearly all of them contain at least one recommendable facet: Elisabeth Moss’ fearless performance in Queen of Earth, La Sapienza’s striking cinematography and editing (the (purposely?) stitled acting in it threw me off a bit), a great sense of place and utilization of claustrophobia in the occasionally-fascinating-but-often-excruciating The Stanford Prison Experiment and Jemaine Clement’s winning underdog persona keeping People Places Things afloat.

Slighly better than most of them? The film Xavier Dolan made between Laurence Anyways and Mommy, a belated release here (and a minimal one at that, as it played for one week last summer in Salem, though luckily one can stream it on Amazon). Not as good as either of its bookends (or I Killed My Mother), this contained, Hitchcockian thriller (complete with anachronistic orchestral score) is intriguing as a peculiar, potential outlier in Dolan’s catalog—as is his character’s (purposely?) awful, shaggy, bleached hair.

2015 Booklist

My ten favorite books that I read this year, in alphabetical order by author:

i love you more than you know

Jonathan Ames, I Love You More Than You Know

Impulsively picking up a used copy of this essay collection at The Book Trader in Philly, I cracked it open while sitting across from the fountain at Logan Square, and instantly found a new favorite writer. Ames’ candidness isn’t for everyone (the blurb describing him as “an edgier David Sedaris” is an understatement), but along with a willingness to depict himself in the worst possible light, he comes across as utterly sincere and human (and also laugh-out-loud funny). I’ve since devoured two more similar books of his, but this is the best of them.

bad kid

David Crabb, Bad Kid

Crabb and I are the same age. While my own teenage years differ from his considerably (he did copious amounts of drugs, whereas I was more (perhaps unintentionally) straight edge), I spent much of his memoir nodding my head in recognition. With a self-deprecating wit that keeps in check any hint of self-importance, he recounts what it was really like to be a (mostly closeted) gay high school student in the early ‘90s: the music, the fashion, the tempestuous rush of surging emotions and anxieties, all of it an evocative backdrop for his gradual journey to self-acceptance.


Sloane Crosley, The Clasp

Crosley’s first novel builds on the promise of her two earlier essay collections. Initially straightforward but increasingly more convoluted, its story, while tautly constructed is just a receptacle for its three distinct, cliché-free primary characters, college friends who reunite about a decade after graduation at a wedding. While her prose is as darkly funny as ever (especially via an ancillary character responsible for the book’s title), her three leads are never less than likable, despite their considerable neuroses and quirks.


Jonathan Franzen, Purity

Franzen gets a lot of flack for being an unpleasant shit in real life, and that’s too bad because his latest doorstop of a novel might be his best yet. It has a finely drawn female protagonist, an ever-expanding supporting ensemble, a big but effective narrative twist halfway through and such timely concerns as the notion of privacy and the consequences of exposing it (a la Julian Assange). And, unlike a few other lengthy tomes I read this year, none of its 500+ pages felt unnecessary.

First Bad Man

Miranda July, The First Bad Man

This might July’s best work since her wonderful debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know ten years ago. However, it wouldn’t necessarily make for a great film—the peculiar symbiosis it details seems better suited to thought than action, which is not a bad thing, especially when confronted with a lead character as vivid, enigmatic, winning and annoying as Cheryl Glickman. July also excels at fully committing to a wildly strange and challenging concept until it nearly seems conventional (though thankfully her writing never is).

my struggle book two

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book 2: A Man In Love

I should probably reserve a spot on these year-end lists for each volume of Knausgaard’s six-part magnum opus as I make my way through them. Volume 2 is much longer than its predecessor, and yet even more concentrated, mostly confined to the author’s relationship with his wife. I fear I can’t do justice in describing just what these books achieve in the length of a small blurb, because via his singular point-of-view, Knausgaard can often alter one’s perception of the entire world.

how to build a girl

Caitlin Moran, How To Build A Girl

Moran’s deservedly a national treasure in the UK. While her first novel is no less Anglo-centric than her nonfiction work, it’s still essential for American anglophiles and for teenage girls of all cultures. Covering roughly the same time period as Bad Kid (that’s all the two books share in common), it’s explicitly autobiographical but Moran proves she can adapt her own coming-of-age into a story anyone can relate to without dumbing it down or obscuring its powerful feminist leanings.


Paul Murray, The Mark and The Void

If Skippy Dies was the quintessential modern comic novel about Irish boarding schools, Murray’s long-awaited follow-up does the same for investment banking—admittedly an unlikely milieu for the author’s Oscar Wilde-like humor, but his attention to those specific idiosyncrasies that really flesh out a character suggests he could take any setting and make it funny (and also riveting and considerably emotional). He even manages to insert an author character named Paul into the story without taking the reader out of it.

visions and revisions

Dale Peck, Visions and Revisions

Ever since his early landmark experimental novels, Peck has suffused his fiction with autobiographical elements (and vice-versa). Even this slim but potent “memoir” concludes with an extended prose poem of sorts. Still, for someone who has built up a self-mythology that’s not always easily discernible, it’s refreshing to read this actual autobiographical account—even one made up of letters, essays, journal entries and other ephemeral remnants of a life lived.


Sam Wasson, Fosse

Given my love of All That Jazz, I’ve always wanted to find out more about Bob Fosse’s life, to see how “real” a representation Roy Scheider’s alter ego was. Even at 700 pages, Wasson’s biography doesn’t provide a clear answer to that question, in part because Fosse was such a complex character himself. While the subject’s obsessiveness and perfectionism both make for an entertaining read, Wasson’s greatest achievement is simply detailing and lending context to Fosse’s own historic accomplishments.

My complete 2015 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):

1. Jason Heller, Taft 2012
2. Andrea Martin, Lady Parts
3. Bob Odenkirk, A Load of Hooey
4. Patton Oswalt, Silver Screen Fiend
5. David Thomson, The Big Screen: The Story of The Movies
6. Sam Wasson, Fosse
7. Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
8. Douglas Coupland, Generation A
9. Robert Hofler, Sexplosion!
10. Clifford Chase, Winkie*
11. Hilton Als, White Girls
12. Robert Christgau, Going Into The City
13. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book Two: A Man In Love
14. Miranda July, The First Bad Man
15. David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts*
16. Amanda Petrusich, Pink Moon (33 1/3 series)
17. Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole
18. Jonathan Ames, I Love You More Than You Know
19. Nick Hornby, Funny Girl
20. David and Joe Henry, Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him
21. Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again At A Decent Hour
22. Tracey Thorn, Naked At The Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing
23. Julia Glass, The Widower’s Tale
24. Dale Peck, Visions and Revisions
25. Jonathan Ames, My Less Than Secret Life
26. Gina Arnold, Exile in Guyville (33 1/3 series)
27. Kurt Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House*
28. Maria Semple, This One Is Mine
29. Isaac Oliver, Intimacy Idiot
30. Caitlin Moran, How To Build A Girl
31. Barney Hoskyns, Hotel California
32. Jack Kerouac, On The Road*
33. William Hjortsberg, Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan
34. David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and other Essays
35. Jonathan Lethem, Lucky Alan and Other Stories
36. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay*
37. Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City
38. Jonathan Ames, The Double Life Is Twice as Good
39. Jonathan Franzen, Purity
40. Hanya Yanagihara, The People In The Trees
41. Daniel Clowes, The Complete Eightball 1-18
42. Jim Gaffigan, Food: A Love Story
43. Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters*
44. Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing In America, The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster and In Watermelon Sugar
45. Paul Murray, The Mark and The Void
46. Sloane Crosley, The Clasp
47. David Crabb, Bad Kid
48. Derek Jarman, Modern Nature*

Beyond the top ten, I also really liked the beautifully reprinted edition of Clowes’ indispensible alt-comic book (the original home of Ghost World), Yanagihara’s unique and unsettling debut novel (her follow-up, A Little Life is my most anticipated read of 2016), Andrea Martin’s memoir (a reminder as to why she should be a national treasure), the Toltz novel (a dollar bin find!) and Oliver’s promising debut essay collection. Since I spent nearly three months wading through it, I also have to mention Hjortsberg’s alternately dazzling and redundant Brautigan biography; it might’ve made my top ten if it was half its actual length.

Last Ten Films: Returns and First Reactions

The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room


My last ten films seen in chronological order, between November 29 and December 21, 2015.

Spotlight (McCarthy, 2015) 10/10
Heart Of A Dog (Anderson, 2015) 8/10
The Forbidden Room (Maddin/Johnson, 2015) 9/10
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Hartley, 2014) 6/10
Iris (Maysles, 2014) 7/10
Tu Dors Nicole (Lafleur, 2014) 8/10
Trumbo (Roach, 2015) 7/10
The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years (Spheeris, 1988) 8/10
Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944) 7/10
Youth (Sorrentino, 2015) 6/10

Ten titles viewed for the first time—itself a first for this series. Actually, I watched Spotlight twice during this period. Fully living up to the hype it has received all season long, it’s a damn near perfect film, which is not to say the most innovative or stylistically dazzling or even lovable film of the year. But, between a solid ensemble cast (ranging from Mark Ruffalo’s effective and earned outbursts to Liev Schreiber’s poker-faced allure) and an intensely focused, start-to-finish gripping narrative, it’s still easily and deservedly a Best Picture front runner, unless the Academy opts for something more populist.

I’m happy to report that The Forbidden Room is a return to form (and then some) for Guy Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) after the stillborn Keyhole. Rejuvenating his love of early-cinema ephemera, it plays like a Greatest Hits clip reel, only with all “new” material. Admittedly, its sheer scope overwhelms—I found myself stumbling to keep up after the 60-minute mark, but here that’s less a deterrent than encouragement to return to it again and again. At best, it could very well end up a visual equivalent to one of my favorite albums, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, whose layers and density only clicked and gained meaning over time.

Heart of A Dog could also probably further benefit from another viewing. I would’ve appreciated Laurie Anderson’s artier tendencies more back when I was taking an avant-garde cinema class in grad school, but her ability to tell stories like no one else (primarily through content and perspective, but also her vocal cadences) keeps her from slipping into archness and solipsism. Unfortunately, those latter qualities nearly sunk Youth for me. It’s my first Paolo Sorrentino film, and while he’s unique and clever (and knows his way around a musical cue), he’s no Fellini and his pretensions feel stilted (comparatively, for me, Wes Anderson’s gradually connect and continually expand.) Michael Caine’s unforced, beatific presence ends up Youth’s greatest asset; the great, over-the-top Jane Fonda cameo is as exactly long as it needs to be.

A leftover from TIFF 2014, Tu Dors Nicole is almost a minor masterpiece: a languid, somewhat pokey, black-and-white coming-of-age tale set in a sleepy Montreal suburb, sweetly, lightly spiked with magic realism and naturalistic performances. Iris is a decent epitaph from the late Al Maysles (along with In Transit), its kindred spirit of a subject coming off like a genuinely wiser, better-adjusted “Little” Edie Beale. Trumbo is a good, old fashioned middlebrow biopic: fairly obvious (Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper is brilliantly acted and flimsily one-sided) and studiously surface-level, but painstakingly crafted and entertaining, with Bryan Cranston affably carrying the picture. Electric Boogaloo is even more of a blast, a valhalla of ‘80s B-cinema in all its shoddy glory, but it would benefit greatly from taking time to breathe as the relentless pace of the clips and talking heads interviews quickly becomes wearying, leaving little room to develop some much-needed context.

Only two older titles this time out, and they have little in common. Meet Me In St. Louis, a MGM musical I’ve always been meaning to see, is as grand an exhibit for Judy Garland’s greatness as The Wizard of Oz or A Star Is Born; predictably, it feels lacking when the focus isn’t entirely on her (which thankfully, isn’t too often). In a way, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is also a musical, fully documenting a hyper-specific era that now seems as distant and foreign as the Minnelli film likely did in 1988. Certainly more fun than its punk-scene predecessor, it’s also far more revealing, quickly transcending its initial, real-life This Is Spinal Tap trappings, growing increasingly surreal in some respects (I’ve honestly never seen anything like Chris Holmes’ debauched pool interview before) but also remaining relatable as you can increasingly discern (but rarely belittle) the chasm between aspiration and reality (often self-acknowledged) for these poodle-haired rockers and their fans.

You Could Fall In Love

I’ve begun counting down my top ten albums of 2015 over at Haunted Jukebox; above, a highlight from one that almost made the list but at the last minute got relegated to an Honorable Mention.


I Know You Say Love When You Mean Control

Pour a drink for Sam Phillips’ wonderful Martinis & Bikinis, now up at 100 Albums.

Last Ten Films: Playing The Part

The Duke Of Burgundy

The Duke Of Burgundy


My last ten films seen (in chronological order, between October 26 and November 26, 2015).

The Search For General Tso (Cheney, 2014) 7/10
Anomalisa (Kaufman/Johnson, 2015) 9/10
The Assassin (Hou, 2015) 7/10
The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris, 1981) 5/10
Room (Abrahamson, 2015) 8/10
The Duke Of Burgundy (Strickland, 2014) 10/10
Brooklyn (Crowley, 2015) 7/10
The Conversation* (Coppola, 1974) 10/10
Best In Show* (Guest, 2000) 9/10
White God (Mundruczó, 2014) 7/10

(*At least my second viewing)

Peter Strickland hasn’t made a safe follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio; if anything, The Duke of Burgundy is even further out there, paying intricate homage to not one, but two subterranean genres. It reprises the previous film’s Giallo fixation, and pours over it a soupcon of classy sexploitation as its two lead characters are involved in a lesbian love affair. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a wealthy, middle-aged lepidopterist and Evelyne (Chiara D’Anna), her younger housemaid, initially appear to have a working relationship with master-and-servant undertones; within the first fifteen minutes, those undertones become explicitly sexual overtones.

However, the film is not just a kinky parade of verbal abuse, face-sitting, being tied and locked up and other unmentionables alluded to behind closed doors; it’s also a profound, intriguing, complicated love story. While Cynthia plays the master role, it’s increasingly apparent that Evelyne is the person leading the whole pas de deux, dictating much of the action, feeding Cynthia many of her lines. Meanwhile, Cynthia feels less and less comfortable in her role as she falls deeper in love. Strickland parses this dynamic carefully via interactions between the two women that often ask what it means for a lover to play or even live up to her role. The slightest shift, the smallest change in routine or crack in a façade can bring a significant, occasionally devastating result.

The Duke of Burgundy is a both an extreme visual and aural feast, from its deliberately lovingly retro opening credits (greatly enhanced, like the rest of the film, by a beguiling psych-folk score from the band Cat’s Eye) to its stunning lighting and cinematography (watch out for Evelyne’s eyes as she repeatedly looks into the microscope) to its overall period design, which heavily suggests late ‘60s/early ‘70s without ever definitively pinpointing it. I could also go on about the Stan Brakhage-like editing, the rich butterfly motifs, the many scenes where the narrative seems to pause and temporarily fade away as if dangerously entering a dream state. Knudsen is also flat-out brilliant in expressing the wide chasm between Cynthia’s assumed role and her actual self. Although not for everyone, Strickland has made a daring, stimulating, one-of-a-kind, as filling as a seven-layer-cake confection that affects the senses in a way only film as an medium can—that he did it with an all-female cast (when’s the last time you saw a film that had one?) is the extra icing on top.




I’ll write about Anomalisa in more depth once it’s released nationally in January (and I have a chance to see it again), but I suspect cineaste buzz regarding Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop-motion animation (co-directed with Duke Johnson) will be off the charts come then—it’s as very much its own thing as Synecdoche, New York (or for that matter, Her) was, and I can’t imagine how Paramount will market it. As for other new titles, Room excels mostly because of Brie Larson’s performance, which will surely nab her the Oscar nomination she deserved two years ago for Short Term 12. I’d tighten up the second half and nix Jacob Tremblay’s so-occasional-it’s-pointless annoying voiceover, but this might be the most challenging film (subject matter-wise) to win the audience award at Toronto. Brooklyn also benefits from a solid, film-carrying lead performance; I hadn’t really noticed Saoirse Ronan in anything since Atonement (never saw Hanna), and here she renders what could’ve been another middle-of-the-road prestige indie quite watchable (Emory Cohen also comes into his own as her affable beau.)

If I were rating The Assassin on technique and style alone, it would get a higher mark. The narrative begins and ends strongly but sags in the middle—a problem I’ve often had with Hou’s work (in particular, his historical epics). But if you have a chance to see it on a big screen, by all means go. On that note, I think I might’ve gotten a little more out of White God had I seen it in a theatre, especially for the film’s already-famous wide shots of dogs running through Budapest’s streets. Sort of a gloss on The Birds but told from both perspectives, it’s interesting in how it shows/contrasts processes of learned behavior for both canines and humans. However, I can only recommend it with the caveat that it does contain many scenes of animal cruelty—all humanely staged, as the credits take great pains to point out, but I couldn’t sit through them again. Although far from the best new doc I’ve seen this year, I have no qualms recommending The Search For General Tso, a thoughtful, fizzy think-piece on Chinese-American food and the secret history behind the titular, seemingly omnipresent take-out staple.

As for older titles: Best In Show remains the funniest Guest-related mockumentary, though not the one with the most heart (or the one with the most soul)… The Decline of Western Civilization has value as a cultural artifact, a decent record of Los Angeles punk circa-1980, but the scene itself simply isn’t as intriguing or as good as its New York/London progenitors. I have higher expectations for the sequel (AKA The Metal Years), currently sitting in my DVR queue… I have yet to watch The Godfather Part II (someday, I promise), but I’ll bet The Conversation is Coppola’s best work, made at a smaller scale he’s tried to recapture in recent years and probably never will post-Apocalypse Now. A big name star (Gene Hackman) playing a rather prudish (but brilliant) character, a crisis of conscience, intricate sound design and camera work, a plot twist that remains startling 15+ years since the last time I saw it: is there, or could there possibly be any modern analogue to all of this?

’78 Network Promos!

Proud As A Turkey!

Proud As A Turkey!


Continuing a fine Kriofske Mix tradition, this year’s Turkey Day post was inspired first and foremost by this clip:

Behold, the Fall TV Season Promo! Back in the day, the Big Three networks advertised their lineups via a series of commercials centered around a theme or slogan, often in song. In their ’70s/’80s heyday, they were inescapable every September. Although they never entirely went away, in an age of the internet, streaming platforms and 1,000+ channels, they’re obviously far less necessary. Still, if you once wanted to learn anything about the new fall season which constituted a crushing majority of what you could watch on TV, well, these promos and TV Guide were your best bets.

NBC had some catchy, memorable slogans; their 1978 effort was not one of them. Of course, considering that year’s slate of new shows, perhaps the excruciating pun of “NB Seeeee Us” was the least of their problems. Not one of those shows lasted beyond one season–only Diff’rent Strokes survived (it’s absent here because it was actually a mid-season replacement that premiered in November.) In fact, the 1978-79 season might be NBC at their pre-Comcast nadir, with only three shows rated in the entire top 25 (Little House on the Prairie, NBC’s Monday Night Movie and CHiPS)! I haven’t even mentioned Supertrain.

CBS looked only slightly less desperate that season, despite their somewhat silly (though less clunky than NBC’s) slogan–do you really want to “be turned on” by the likes of Archie Bunker, Lou Grant and Weezie Jefferson? Sure, they had the great WKRP In Cincinnati on their schedule, but have you even heard of Flying High or American Girls? Why feature Bob Newhart when his show ended the previous season? That they led off by stumping for Mary Tyler Moore’s spectacularly ill-advised variety show Mary suggests they were lazily resting on star power rather than quality. I haven’t even mentioned the Star Wars Holiday Special.

In the late ’70s, ABC was by far the most popular of the Big Three (their ’78 season alone had Mork and Mindy and Taxi), but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to those halcyon days of Happy Days and Charlie’s Angels, ABC was usually a distant third place. Concerning promos, this worked in their favor, for there’s a treasure trove of stylistically daring ABC material on YouTube from the late ’60s and early ’70s–just look at this Fall ’72 extravaganza, whose opening graphics nearly emulate the trippy vortex sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Alas, by ’78 the network toned down the visuals, although those bright colors violently swirling around the ABC logo are quite something. The most interesting thing about that fall’s “We’re The One” campaign is how the network gathered any of its stars who were willing (or maybe contractually obliged–remember, this is also the time of Battle of the Network Stars) to appear in a rousing, strained musical number (this being ’78, it has more than a hint of disco in it.) The first few scenes in the above clip are reasonably entertaining, with various stars toting ginormous, gaudy lightbulb-dotted letters around L.A, hamming it up as some stars do (Hi, Rerun!). Naturally, they all converge on a charmless, cramped soundstage in order for the letters to spell out the slogan, and passionately sing about their employer. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore; despite their unintentional charms, I’m mostly thankful for that.

Acadia and Elsewhere


On the first Sunday in October, we visited Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. It’s the furthest East I’ve been.


I found a temporary artifact left behind on the aptly-named Sand Beach.


Sand Beach is one of the park’s most popular attractions, for obvious reasons.


A cove along the park’s stunning coastline.


Triumphant waterfowl as seen from the Ocean Trail.


A typical stretch of Park Loop Road.


The view from Otter Cove, facing South.


Along Otter Cove, looking North.


Cadillac Mountain, a trip up which we decided to save for our next visit.


Pines along Jordan Pond.


After leaving the park, we spent a few hours in nearby Bar Harbor, a port popular with tourists. Above, a juxtaposing of two very different types of ships that often frequent it.


CJ’s Big Dipper on Main Street, across from the Village Green (I always thought the latter only existed in England.)


Swatches of Bar Harbor remain gloriously un-gentrified, like this vintage stained-glass sign, complete with Rexall logo.


Another blast from the past. What could this be?


It’s the underside to this classic marquee, which predates the movie theater I work at by one year.


We actually stayed near Boothbay Harbor that weekend, taking an easy day trip from there to Acadia. Above, a Boothbay Harbor business I always visit when in town.


Spotted at another bookshop in nearby Damariscotta (sadly, it was too late in the day for browsing.)


My husband and I have spent considerable time in Boothbay Harbor (even getting married near there), but not so much in Wiscasset, which once has to pass through in order to get there if coming from Portland or any point South. In Wiscasset, this combination of old lettering, filmsy white curtains and christmas lights (in October!) intrigued me to no end.


Wiscasset is tiny but full of charming signage for businesses new and old.


Perhaps Wiscasset’s most famous, iconic eating establishment (in summer, there’s usually a long line of people leading up to that window), and one I hope to try someday.