Will We Catch Your Eye?

Pet Shop Boys get Very theatrical on their masterpiece, now up over at 100 Albums.

Pumpkin Season

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Upon returning to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we found it overrun with pumpkins.

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Piles and mounds of pumpkins all over the grounds, suffusing clear blue October skies with more than just a hint of orange.

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There was also a row of pumpkins.

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An endless procession of pumpkins, in fact.

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However, the gardens also had room for a variety of gourds, those less-loved pumpkin cousins.

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Some miniature gourds adorned window boxes…

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…while others hung from the rose arbor on strings.

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Swaying happily in the sunshine… or HANGING FROM THEIR DEATHS?

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Not a pumpkin, although wouldn’t it be great if they came in this exact color?

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Also not a pumpkin, but after seeing so many I couldn’t help but notice all the other pumpkin-shaped plants at the gardens.

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Also also not a pumpkin, but… (you get the idea).

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Again, not a pumpkin (though you can spot some in the background), but one of a few new steel sculptures currently on display.

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Those pumpkins do often seem to be lurking in the background.

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In addition to naturally orange pumpkins, there were a few painted pumpkins scattered throughout: some in bright colors…

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…others cloaked in silver or gold.

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Still, nothing beats the autumnal glow of an orange pumpkin patch.

Last Ten Films: What Happened, Movies?

What Happened, Miss Simone?

What Happened, Miss Simone?

My last ten films seen (in chronological order, between August 24 and October 23, 2015):

My Winnipeg* (Maddin, 2007) 10/10
Phoenix (Petzold, 2014) 7/10
Harold and Maude* (Ashby, 1971) 10/10
Sicario (Villenueve, 2015) 8/10
Freeheld (Sollett, 2015) 5/10
The Master* (Anderson, 2012) 9/10
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Garbus, 2015) 8/10
Portrait of Jason (Clarke, 1967) 6/10
Back to the Future* (Zemeckis, 1985) 9/10
Steve Jobs (Boyle, 2015) 7/10

(*At least my second viewing)

I do not normally take sixty days to watch ten films; I could blame this drop in moviegoing on a deficit of interesting new titles (also, I already saw Grandma at PIFF and 99 Homes at TIFF), family commitments, and, of course, television. Can any recent indieplex title match Mr. Robot for style, originality and occasional batshit insanity? If David Simon’s six-hour HBO miniseries Show Me A Hero was released theatricality, it would place in my top ten films of the year. So, in all of September, I only saw Harold and Maude—one of my all-time favorites. This was my first viewing on a big screen with a large audience, whose reactions only further enhanced my appreciation of this singular cult romantic comedy.

Fortunately, as the weather worsens and Oscar season kicks in, I have more reasons to spend a few hours indoors in front of a movie screen. While Sicario is probably too violent and relentlessly bleak to gain much awards traction, it’s a near-great film featuring two very good performances that end up in a yin/yang symbiosis before the credits roll, with supposed lead Emily Blunt simply becoming less and less integral to the story which Benicio del Toro increasingly, effectively dominates. Still too bleak for me to want to sit through again, it’s the rare issue film that excels at establishing and sticking to its thesis until a logical, if harrowing conclusion.

Steve Jobs is the most guilelessly entertaining new film on this list; chalk up its rating to a trio of good, sure-to-be-feted performances: Michael Fassbender, steely and charismatic as Jobs; Seth Rogen, his near-tragic, Fozzie-bear-like Steve Wozniak a role he was born to play, and Kate Winslet, mesmerizing (although submerged in wigs and accents) as Jobs’ longtime marketing executive Joanna Hoffman. As someone repeatedly disappointed by Boyle’s post-Trainspotting oeurve, this is one of his better efforts; the tension between his cinematic flourishes and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s talky interludes is even sublime at times. Still, it loses points for being an emphatic crowd pleaser (read: more than a little corny and calculated).

Phoenix is an equally accomplished film with a different problem. Painstakingly constructed and beautifully written, this novel adaptation and post-World War II German gloss on Vertigo is Petzold’s solid follow-up to Barbara, with the song standard “Speak Low” cannily providing running commentary. However, it all hinges upon what you make of a rather implausible plot point. I enjoyed the film despite it, even if I couldn’t believe it. Still, it’s not implausible as to why Phoenix was made; I can’t say the same for Freeheld, a dramatization of an 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary short. Detailing the fight of a dying police detective to leave her pension to her female romantic partner, the short was timely and sobering; this film, on the other hand, seems little more than an excuse to give a few talented actors juicy parts. Julianne Moore, Ellen Page and Michael Shannon (as Moore’s professional partner) are all terrific, but you’d expect them to be, and what surrounds them is superfluous if not stale, regrettably never fully coming to life.

The Netflix-only What Happened, Miss Simone? surely would’ve received some theatrical distribution in another time. Opening with footage from a scintillating 1976 concert (later released as Nina Simone, Love Sorceress), it then proceeds like your standard (if impassioned) film biography, but what a story (and what archival footage)! Garbus gives meaning to all of Simone’s contradictions and quirks and also emphasizes how underappreciated a talent she was in her lifetime. I wonder what Simone would’ve made of Jason Holliday, the gay, black prostitute/aspiring nightclub performer who is sole subject of Shirley Clarke’s long-hard-to-find avant garde classic. Simply placing the camera on him for a few hours and plying him with endless cocktails, Clarke certainly anticipated the “look-at-me-and-I’ll-(hopefully)-show-you-what-you-don’t-expect” notion that drives a lot of today’s reality TV; however, while intermittently fascinating, I found Portrait of Jason overall to be a slog—perhaps seeing it within a theater’s confines (as opposed to home DVR) would’ve made for a more effective setting.

As for the three rewatches here (not counting Harold and Maude), Maddin’s “docu-fantasia” holds up the best and is perhaps his most successful effort to gradually, beguilingly draw the viewer into his strange world (seeing it also stoked my anticipation for The Forbidden Room). Maybe The Master is not the game-changer I remember it being (certainly not on the level of There Will Be Blood), but I can imagine returning to it every few years without boredom. Back To The Future was seen in a theater on October 21, of course; influence of childhood nostalgia aside, it’s still the best blockbuster of its era, and now looks like one of the more audacious ones, too—would the oedipal stuff between Marty and his mother even be thinkable in a studio film today?

All The Bridges Blown Away Keep Floating Up

I explain how Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville is not all dirty talk over at 100 Albums.

 

Woods Hole

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Right next to Falmouth, the village of Woods Hole is at the very Southwestern tip of Cape Cod. As a ferry port to Martha’s Vineyard, it gets a lot of heavy traffic, but its remoteness helps it to stand apart from many of the Cape’s other likeminded enclaves.

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Eel Pond sits in the center of town, providing a marina for local boat craft.

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I’d like to know how this one got its name. Cute logo, but I can’t help but want to read it as “Cot’s Pow”.

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Some significantly larger boat craft docked in the Great Harbor leading out towards the Atlantic.

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The Water Street bridge in mid-ascent, allowing passage from Great Harbor to Eel Pond.

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I love bright red maritime lamps, although their placement is important–they probably wouldn’t work as fixtures in my current landlocked home.

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Bits and pieces of Woods Hole remain stuck in another time, like this sign…

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…and this one (though I can’t place whether it’s old or just made to look that way.)

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Representing modern Woods Hole, an honest-to-god film festival that’s actually been around for almost a quarter century.

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Even more mod.

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Ah, but who doesn’t love a classic ship, even one rendered as a sign?

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Stroll around town and you’ll find quirky public structures like this upright sundial.

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Across Eel Pond on Millfield Street sits the Angelus Bell Tower.

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The Angelus has a door devoted to Saint Joseph…

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…and wouldn’t you know it, Saint Joseph’s church is right across the street.

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As with Saint Joseph’s, the neighborhood is dotted with charming old architecture.

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Given its location, Woods Hole is a natural home for an aquarium, an oceanographic institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory (whose Lillie Laboratory is pictured above.)

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This MBL building is at least a few decades younger than nearly any other in town. To say it sticks out is an understatement, but I can almost appreciate its modern vulgarity in the middle of all this traditional New England style.

She’s Got The River Down Which I Sold Her

The ex-lead singer of ‘Til Tuesday makes the first of multiple appearances on 100 Albums with her solo bow, Whatever.

Summer Assortment

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Since I took my summer vacation in late spring, I’m left with a true assortment of photos taken over the season that don’t really lend themselves to thematic photo essays; thus, I present the best of the rest, like this perfect pink rose spotted on Marlborough Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

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One expects a statue of George Washington at the Boston Public Gardens, but not necessarily palm trees.

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The BU-West T stop on the B line: note the slender vertical gleam along the John Hancock Tower.

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Another view of the Hancock Tower, looking down Blagden Street in back of the Boston Public Library – a good representation of the city’s architecture from numerous eras.

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The new Liberty Mutual building, as viewed through structural latticework of the Back Bay commuter rail station.

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On a balmy mid-July Tuesday evening, an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s The Birds at The Coolidge at the Greenway.

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Tippi watches the Greenway, who in turn watches her.

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This truck with the distinct, cute logo is a Haymarket mainstay.

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The monolithic “luxury condos” at Commercial Wharf along the Waterfront.

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Striking signage on Parmenter Street in the North End.

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Crossing the Charles River into Cambridge, Sew Low Discount Fabrics in its last days; I remember shopping there for curtain-making material way back in ’98.

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For those longing for Sew Low, fear not: there’s another business further up Cambridge Street with a punny name (though not as good of one).

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Closer to my side of town, the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills, mid-dismantle. It’s entirely gone now (save a support column or two); I still can’t get over how much brighter the area now appears.

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And, just down the road from my place, the lovely Mother Brook as seen from Dedham Blvd.

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Millennium Park, slightly later in the season.

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An unseasonably chilly mid-July Saturday at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

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On the same day: calm, curving Nonesuch River in nearby Scarborough.

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Luckily, the sun soon shone on the Nonesuch.

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Cape Neddick, Maine. Home of the Nubble Lighthouse, but I already have far too many pictures of that.

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A bright afternoon at the Plymouth Breakwater near season’s end.

Signs of Newburyport

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The second-last town on Massachusetts’ North Shore before you hit New Hampshire, Newburyport has a charming historic center full of vintage, well-kept brick buildings and plenty of interesting signage.

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Even some vintage signage remains, like this one for Fowle’s newstand/soda fountain, recently converted into 17 State Street Cafe. I wonder if they plan on doing anything to that faded storefront.

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Seemingly every other New England coastal town has a similarly-named establishment, a la The Drunken Clam.

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Still, not all of Newburyport is stuck in the past, as you can see via the modern signage above.

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The trend continues along Pleasant Street.

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Artisan shops, wine and cheese boutiques–this is clearly not your father’s Newburyport.

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Tucked away from Pleasant down Hales Court, a little bit of whimsy from Fun Way Tutoring.

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Back on Pleasant, some simple, effective, pragmatic signage.

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Practically around the corner, other “dogs”, though I question just exactly what’s in them for such a low price.

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You can get yer two-bit frankfurters at Richdale’s, which somehow continues to cultivate business in the age of Shaw’s and Stop N Shop.

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Poking through a Pleasant Street window, I spotted this over-the-top font, safely confined from most passersby.

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Down Green Street, the quieter, classier side of Newburyport signage…

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…but not one without any groaning puns.

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Back to Pleasant Street and Pretty Poppy at twilight.

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Come to Newburyport for the signage, stay for the gorgeous, late-Summer Saturday evening.

Don’t Forget To Catch Me

Saint Etienne’s So Tough proves a game changer over on 100 Albums.

Last Ten Films: Unknown Pleasures

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

 

My last ten films seen between July 27 and August 23, 2015, with number ratings out of 10.

Tangerine (Baker, 2015) 9/10
Boogie Nights* (Anderson, 1997) 9/10
Irrational Man (Allen, 2015) 5/10
Brazil* (Gilliam, 1985) 10/10
The End Of The Tour* (Ponsoldt, 2015) 8/10
The Trip To Italy* (Winterbottom, 2014) 7/10
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (Pennebaker, 1973) 6/10
Best of Enemies (Gordon/Neville, 2015) 6/10
Mistress America (Baumbach, 2015) 7/10
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Heller, 2015) 10/10

*indicates that this was at least a second viewing

Two exceptional new indies bookend this list; both may very well end up in my year-end top ten.

I’ve seen enough coming-of-age films to contribute to a Chlotrudis poll about them, but I’ve seen nothing quite like The Diary of a Teenage Girl: funny, intense and sexually graphic in equal measures, it’s also a period piece, set in 1976 San Francisco. And, it kicks off with a whopper of a revelation: 15-year-old protagonist Minnie (Bel Powley) has just lost her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who is not only twenty years older but also her mother’s (Kristin Wiig) boyfriend.  Divulging this news via a diary recorded in her bedroom on cassette tapes, Minnie’s not ashamed of what happened, but clearly transformed: you sense the thousands of hormonally charged emotions rushing through her as she both carefully considers while also allowing herself to be swept away by the newness and immensity of it all.

In adapting Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, first-time director Marielle Heller fluidly and inventively incorporates animation into Minnie’s world. An aspiring comic book artist, Minnie’s drawings often leap off the page and onto the screen, creatively depicting the realms of her imagination and how it co-exists with her reality. Which gets complicated as she continues her clandestine affair with Monroe, for her emotional maturity hasn’t yet caught up with her recent sexual liberation. Exacerbated by an unstable, overly permissive environment (Monroe, her mother and assorted friends often hang out at home drinking, dancing and snorting lines of cocaine), Minnie wants to be bold and free, but is she ready to take responsibility for her actions? Heller lets this all play out refreshingly without judgement or moralizing, allowing Minnie to reach a place of catharsis that’s not without consequences. However, the resulting wisdom she gains from her experiences is genuinely powerful.

Skarsgård is ideally cast as a slacker/loser who is nonetheless nice to and fully aware of his desire for Minnie (however misguided it is) while trying, not always successfully, not to exploit or take advantage of her. Although somewhat overshadowed by her co-stars, Wiig steps into the fun mom role with ease, while Christopher Meloni has a few good, acidic moments as her intellectual, withholding ex-husband. Still, this is rightfully British actress Powley’s film. Both charismatic and convincing, she manages to make Minnie a believable American teen (she was 21-22 during filming) and has a winning enough persona to create a distinct young heroine for the ages (think of Thora Birch in Ghost World, or even Ellen Page in Juno). Although exceptionally raunchy and raw at times, this uncommonly perceptive coming-of-age tale is highly recommended for anyone going or having once gone through puberty, regardless of gender, sexuality or era.

Tangerine

Tangerine

 

Tangerine, Sean Baker’s so-microbudget-that-it-was-shot-on-an-iPhone (though it looks good enough that you’d never guess) feature appears to be a throwback to indie film’s golden age (‘80s Jarmusch, but also New Queer Cinema) in that it seems like it came from out of nowhere to saturate the festival and arthouse circuits (it has quietly grossed $600K in six weeks). It’s far more modern than that—innovative, actually, in how naturally it presents its two male-to-female transgender leads, Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Some may balk that they’re both playing prostitutes (respectively named Alexandra and, ahem, Sin-Dee), and at first, the film can barely keep up with this motor-mouthed duo as they seem to invite drama and create chaos wherever they go.

Happily, within 10-15 minutes, Baker and his leads establish an identifiable, endearing rhythm as they traverse L.A.’s seedy sidewalks and parking lots and the corner donut shop which serves as the film’s home base. The story centers on a single day-into-night search for the girl rumored to be sleeping with Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend Chester (James Ransome). Then, Baker introduces a parallel narrative involving Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) whose path intersects with the leads intermittently until both strands eventually, fully align with an extended screwball exchange back at that donut shop.

The film succeeds largely in part of Baker’s direction of his cast. From the start, you pick up on Taylor’s and Rodriguez’s chemistry; both are also strong enough to carry scenes individually–especially Taylor, whose karaoke performance is a highlight (she could easily achieve Laverne Cox-level fame with a higher-profile role). Karaguilan maintains his protagonist status even as the film reveals increasingly less savory facets of his character. Ransome’s Chester is like an older and slightly (but really not much) wiser iteration of the actor’s best-known role, fuck-up Ziggy from season 2 of The Wire. For all its zesty trash-talk and colorful situations, Tangerine is more or less about friendship—how you’ll put up with a friend, remain loyal to them, or just simply be there for them in good times and bad. Remarkably, Baker emphasizes these points in the final two scenes not with cloying sentimentality but via a lived-in bond between Alexandra and Sin-Dee that feels honest and earned.

*****

As for other new titles: preferable to While We’re Young but certainly no Frances Ha, Mistress America is as scattered as Greta Gerwig’s more ambitious-than-talented New Yorker, although it’s at least pleasantly fizzy, like that Whit Stillman film she starred in a few years back. Based on her droll turn here, I’d bet on Lola Kirke maintaining a more interesting career than her older sister Jemima (currently saddled with the worst-written character on Girls). Best of Enemies is indeed best when showing clips from the Buckley vs. Gore debates but occasionally fumbles when it tries placing them in a meaningful context. The End of The Tour mostly held up to a second viewing, but this time Segel’s Wallace seemed a little more novel than real; I’m not really aching for a third viewing. Despite Joaquin Phoenix’s and Parker Posey’s decent effort to fit into the Woodyverse, Irrational Man is a lukewarm Hitchcock pastiche that doesn’t catch fire until the final climactic scene (and even then, not worth sitting all the way through for).

Two of the older titles I hadn’t seen since the late ‘90s: Brazil has aged as well as one could hope—one of the key films of the ‘80s, really, and seeing it on the big screen definitely heightened its impact. Boogie Nights is also still a blast, but it loses some steam in its second half (though not in the brilliant, startling “Sister Christian”/Alfred Molina sequence); I think I now prefer Paul Thomas Anderson’s last three films to his first four, (which does not prevent me from wanting to see all of them again and again). The Trip to Italy, re-watched more for the scenery than the Coogan/Brydon banter remains solid entertainment for those who like that sort of thing; Ziggy Stardust succeeds less as a piece of filmmaking than as a document of David Bowie at his delirious peak, as fabulous as Liza Minnelli the previous year and as influential and original as David Byrne would prove a decade on in the cinematically superior Stop Making Sense.