Colleen Wallace

Colleen Wallace holds a Masters Degree in Strategic Communications and has over 20 years experience reviewing films, music, as a performer & playwright. A lifelong resident of Washington state, aside from the south of France, there's nowhere else she'd rather be. She also has a passion for films and movies on the big screen, physical media & rarely reviews films on streaming services. If you can't pick a film up at your local library or Scarecrow Video, chances are it won't be reviewed here.

Screens of Rami Malek Films A to Z (Films & TV)


‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’, (2013):

This film has the poetic vibe of ‘The Tree of Life’, but with bank robbery & gunfire. Haunting, with powerful performances by Keith Carradine and a Best Actress-worthy centerpiece performance by Rooney Mara. Her steady gaze and intense practicality in a scenario where the endgame brings only more loss is stunning.
Malek plays Will, a son of privilege with a good heart in a small, but pivotal role. His dialogue with Bob (Casey Affleck) reveals a stark contrast of how the word “family" varies between two men close enough in age to be peers. Both won Oscars for Best Actor before the decade was out. While it doesn’t happen on screen, there’s little doubt Will contributed to a more compassionate conclusion to the story than most of the players we meet in the first hour of the film could have managed.  —revised 5/7/2024

‘Amsterdam’, (2022):

This film deals with the end of WWI and the critical period between WWI & WWII. There are many players with a lot of talent & star power. The plot is intricate but hangs together well with enough attention.
It’s about the bonds formed during war, perhaps stronger than family, wisely in one character’s case. There’s mystery, comedy, caper, but dire stakes as the mystery unwinds. Malek had dialect irregularities in this film. There was a moment when I was unsure which movie I was watching. I thought “Wait, who let Freddie in here?!”
The conflict at the center of the film is as relevant now as it was then. “A lot of these things really happened” often prefaces David O. Russell’s films), but Russell’s applies just the right amount of pressure in driving the point home. —revised 5/7/2024

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, (2018):

So many people lost count of how many times they saw this movie on the big screen. It’s beautiful, messy, cinematic catnip. It’s also heteronormative for the story of a man who put the GB into LGBTQ. There was more drama off than on screen around this project over the 10 or so years it took to make it, including 2 directors.

All that aside, it’s impossible to deny the brilliant ensemble work in this film and that it’s brimming with joy so many viewers needed during a long, cold winter. Critics panning the film had a parallel to music critics panning the song which never stopped fans from loving them both. The little film that could, made for just $52 million (not a lot of money in the film world) made nearly $1 billion at the box office. And Rami Malek’s wholesale, stage dive transformation into the sex bomb supernova who was Freddie Mercury is sheer perfection. He swept award season with good reason. —revised 5/7/2024

‘Breaking Dawn, Part 2, The Twilight Saga’, (2012):

However you feel, or don’t feel about the Twilight Saga, Rami’s Benjamin makes this last installment of the four movies from three books worth watching. His first appearance is breathtaking, harnessing a gorgeous wall of water that defies gravity. Benjamin’s vampire superpower is over the elements and he works his magic over air, fire and earth as well. The film is uneven, patchy even, but Malek’s performance is solid and charming. I could tell you he’s the best element of this film, but that could be considered biased or even damning him with faint praise. —edited 5/7/2024

‘Buster’s Mal Heart’, (2016):

It’s in this film as well as his Emmy-award winning work in the TV series Mr. Robot that Rami had the screen time to prove he can carry a production as lead actor. ‘Buster’s Mal Heart’ is an indie mind trip, full of metaphor & paradox. Jonah starving in the belly of the whale corresponds & Malek’s Jonah wasting in the gut of corporate America. He follows the hotel’s impeccable dress code as his family is barely getting by.
This young family (Rami’s naturally sweet with kids) lives with controlling, racist in-laws as his wife is shops for apartments. Even with white collar hands, Jonah wants to own land & an apartment to him is the casket that boxes up & buries his dreams. His transformation into the titular Buster is a slow burn that’s not evident until it’s consuming. Wherever the film goes, viewers can trust Malek’s compassionate & occasionally hilarious performance moves through the changes with authenticity. —revised 5/7/2024

‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’, (2014):

Dedicated to Christopher Lee of Saruman in the LOTR films & Hammer horror fame, it’s assured that more than da sweet blood of Jesus would be spilled (and devoured) in this particular Spike Lee Joint. Spike is an auteur Malek mentioned after winning Best Actor. The film is said to “question the very nature of love, addiction, sex and status.” Zaraah Abrams puts in a performance that’s a master class in film acting. As to whether Malek as the butler Seneschal drops his impeccable manners & joins the bloodbath, I couldn’t possibly say. In fact, I may have said too much already. — revised 4/19/2023

‘Dolittle’, (2020):

“What do you do for an encore?”
Robert Downey Jr. was fresh from his finale as Iron Man in ‘The Avengers’ and Rami from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, or were they exhausted? Malek was also wrapping up ‘Mr. Robot’s final season and starting on ‘No Time to Die’. There are the dreams on screens and then there’s the reality of being a working actor. Here’s what they did.
‘Dolittle’ was the last film negotiated before Rami’s became known as the actor who brought Freddie Mercury’s story to the screen & swept awards season.
Downey leads an all-star cast as Dr. Dolittle and his menagerie. This film takes on a lot: the nature of grief, contending with fractured families, humor for kids, humor for adults, with varying degrees of success. Rami plays Chee Chee, a mountain gorilla who looks fierce, but is quite tender, needs support and has a blanket. Chee Chee echoes Linus in the Peanuts cartoon & the Cowardly Lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but is all Rami’s creation. The movie is fun, sweet, my friend & and the kids in the theatre loved it, applauding at the end. —CYH Revised 5/7/2024

‘Larry Crowne’, (2011):

Tom Hanks was another auteur Rami mentioned the night he won his Oscar for Best Actor. This collaboration between them isn’t as solid as Rami’s work in ‘The Pacific’.
Rami plays Steve, a bro-dude who manages to be both annoying & adorable. Hard to believe Rami was pushing 30 when this movie was made. Steve is mostly out of luck as there are no fraternities on community college campuses. He shares classroom scenes with Grace Gummer, a ‘Mr. Robot’ cast mate.
If you love Tom Hanks, this project was his baby, so see it. —CYH, revised 4/19/2023


‘The Little Things’, (2021):

A cast of 3 leads with 4 Oscars, 2 for Best Actor, 2 for Best Supporting Actor. Denzel Washington’s wins for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in ‘Glory’ in 1990 and for Best Actor for ‘Training Day’ in 2002 aren't even for his best work, as ‘Malcolm X’ in Spike Lee’s 1992 masterpiece. Rami won Best Actor in 2019 for his turn as Freddie Mercury. Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for his at first hilarious & ultimately heartbreaking portrayal of a pre-op transgender woman in ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’. There’s so much talent in this cast, just over 2 hours is barely enough to hold it. And yet…
This film was made during the most dangerous days of the COVID pandemic & the fact that it was made is remarkable. Malek, expressive in most roles, reins it way in as Detective Jim Baxter, a clean-cut Christian cop who adores his daughters and wife in the 3 minutes of screen time they share. No one dies on Jim’s watch, or that’s the plan anyway. It’s a high bar to set in police work.
Jared Leto, nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the prime suspect in the case, is witty, creepy, even campy & has all the best lines. He was nominated for the fine line he walks as Albert Sparma. Did he or didn’t he? Is he a murderer or just a fanboy of murderers? Does one follow the other?
Set & written in 1990, there’s a reason this script wasn’t made into a movie before the pandemic: It’s flimsy & while the actors did their best, all the star power in the world can’t prop up a weak script. Malek’s work is thoughtful and solid, but he’s the guy caught in the middle in this film, never a fun or glamorous role. Actors must act & there are at least three in this film who are a pleasure to watch. —revised 5/7/2024

‘The Master’, (2012):

Yet another auteur Rami mentioned Oscar Night, 2019 was Paul Thomas Anderson. Rami convinced Anderson to cast him in 'The Master’ & said something like “The guy makes a film every 5 years, I had to get in the cast!” He’s also said “Who knows me best in this movie? The editor, that’s who knows me best.” So keeping ‘The Master’ at a 2 hour 15 minute running time required sacrificing most of Malek’s scenes.
Rami also worked with the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffmann in this film. Hoffman consistently turned out acting work that was rarely short of phenomenal. Rami regards Hoffmann as the best actor he’s worked with thus far. The excruciating relationship between PSH’s Lancaster Dodd and Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie eclipses all else in the film & hammers home how cults abuse their members.
Rami plays Clark, a handsome young yes-man and eventual son-in-law to Dodd. While the wedding scene is lovely, the bride’s triumphant smile after the kiss with a look not toward her bridegroom, but Phoenix’s Freddie foreshadows strangeness to come. The entire cast are both guided and tainted by Hoffman’s Dodd, based on L.Ron Hubbard (Church of Scientology, Dianetics, & author of poorly written sci-fi). Dodd used followers as puppets, pawns & severely punished those deemed disloyal.
‘The Master’ is a good to great film, but painful to watch. I want a film industry where actors can buy back their deleted scenes and make a visual resume out of them, eventually making them available to fans. Somewhere I think I just heard a few attorneys specializing in intellectual property scream in their sleep.—CYH Revised 5/7/2024

‘Mr. Robot’, USA Network, Season 1 (2015-16):

“Hello friend” Rami, as Elliot says, welcoming us into his world.
Sam Esmail, creator & director of the series, had too much material for a feature film, so the series was born. There are recognizable parallels in the series: Iron Mountain/Steel Mountain, Enron/E-Corp & Anonymous/F-Society. Malek as Elliot Alderson is leading (or is he?) F-Society, a rag-tag crew of hackers set to tip over a beyond too-big-to-fail conglomerate. A principal player in F-Society is Darlene (Carly Chakin), a whip-smart, sharp-tongued survivor who turns up in the damnedest places...
Sam spends the next few seasons taking us through a crash course in the kind of global pluralism not taught in grad school. That said, it’s a New York Story in so many ways, from the Wall Street bull to the creaky, rattletrap, early 20th century constructed subway system where many of the scenes take place.
As the audience, we have front row seats to the Coney Island of Elliot’s mind, with actual stops in Coney Island. He sometimes loses time & directly addresses the audience, his “imaginary friend” from the beginning. His asides are hilarious, intimate, terrifying. While his stream of consciousness may be unsettling, it’s always compelling.
Elliot walks the genius/madness razor’s edge: his genius is tech. By day he works at a small firm with a good boss in a job his childhood sweetheart Angela (Portia Doubleday) helped him find after a situation revealed in a subsequent season. Elliot’s Dad and Angela’s Mom both died because of exposure to radiation belched out by the Enron-esque E-Corp which Elliot dubbed Evil Corp.
Michael Cristofer as Philip Price (what better name for the man running E/vil Corp?), Martin Wallstrom & Stephanie Corneliussen as the Wellicks, Tyrell & Joanna, a regular 21st century Lord & Lady Macbeth. All three inhabit and illustrate the power dynamic and ruthless competition of corporate America. Somewhere in the midst of all this is Gloria Ruben as Krista Gordon, Elliot’s long-suffering therapist, smart & compassionate, with legs for days. Then there’s Christian Slater, but we’ll deal with him later.
In his free time, Elliott hacks everyone and I do mean everyone (individuals, coffee empires, data storage, Department of Corrections). He researches people by the voyeurism of hacking & connects especially those who harm children with law enforcement who will hopefully take them down. While suffering from social anxiety, he has no trouble calling in tips, posing as different people on the fly to get what he wants from others, usually information, online face to face or over the phone. There’s always more to Elliott…
As King of the Anonymous Tip, Elliot at times causes more problems than he solves, leaving him more isolated. The acting work is solid all around, but so many of the best scenes encompass Malek’s spectacular acting work. On his own or in the ensemble, his astonishing range this season won him the Emmy Award for Best Actor and put him on the map.
His first words after winning are recognizable from the final line of the pilot episode:
“Please tell me you’re seeing this too.”—CYH revised 5/7/2024

Mr. Robot, USA Network, Season 2 (2016-17):

“Control is an illusion” is the theme for this season.
This season of Mr. Robot takes this quote to new levels of difficulty for Elliot & Mr. Robot. Elliot’s blackouts start making more sense in a world where everything else makes less sense by the moment.
The massive encryption hack aimed at Evil Corp sends smaller businesses and banks falling like so many dominoes as Evil Corp, wounded but not killed, soldiers on. The F.B.I. is involved, the Dark Army (based in China) is on alert and the body count mounts.
Very few people who raise the black flag of anarchy have any idea of the unintended consequences the reality of anarchy brings. The same hack that wipes out one person’s student loan debt also wipes out decades of payments, turning paid off mortgages upside down.
None of this is lost on Elliot to whom Malek brings brittle, desperate vulnerability, fierce resilience & much more. A new character Leon, brilliantly played by Joey Bada$$, befriends Elliot & calls him ‘cuz’, not only the stuff of Shakespeare, but one more accurate & for more than one reason. While Leon goes on about sit-coms, etc., Bada$$ nails his most important lines, never once with a heavy hand.
Season 2 is also about backstory: The night when Mr. Robot was conjured, the trippy arcade where F-Society met, now taken over by the F.B.I. and its generations of bad juju. It’s also the most brutal of the seasons, no spoilers, but fair warning. Shots are fired, people die or are beaten until the whites of their eyes turn red & there’s even an unhinged sitcom episode, not as captivating as Elliot’s withdrawal hallucinations in season 1, but it does the job. It’s astonishing how even in his mid-30’s Rami could still look 12 years old when the story called for it.
One character who has no intention of stopping, turning around or even slowing down the hack & its attendant anarchy is the titular Mr. Robot, played by Christian Slater in his best acting work. Whether Elliot is haunted by Mr. Robot, he’s Elliot’s Dad, his id, the manifestation of a psychotic break, multiple personality disorder or all these things is constantly shifting as the series goes on. The certainty is that Malek and Slater elevate each other’s craft in every scene.
Rami, who had been burnishing his acting craft over the years in supporting roles slipped this leading role on smoothly as Elliot’s hoodie, emerging as a leading actor who in turn supports an ensemble cast & makes it look easy, although nothing in Elliot’s life is easy. Ever.
The atmospherics are shudder-inducing and completely plausible as the infrastructure breaks down: Brownouts, blackouts and attendant car crashes, but it’s not totally doom & gloom. More than one scene where Elliot sits in on a church group are hilarious. It’s a season where characters tell of their dreams, nightmares and at least one tells of harsh realities, maybe with a sexual favor to soften the blow. —CYH revised 5/7/2024

Mr. Robot, USA Network, Season 3, (2017-18):

Season 3 begins with a tour of the nuclear power plant that White Rose (an impeccably dressed ultra villain) may have weaponized. Then the lights of New York City blink off until the city is in total darkness.
After witnessing the fallout of the initial hack, Elliot and most of the characters who show signs of a conscience spend considerable time and effort working to undo it. But it’s not a command in a computer application. Can a system be un-hacked once it’s been hacked? Fewer people are around this season who can answer that question.
Bobby Cannavale is new this season as Irving, the fixer who shows up only if things have gone seriously sideways. This season deals with Tyrell Wellick’s disappearance, putting that missing piece of the puzzle in place. From Wellick we learn asking for the full force of the Dark Army is not something you can un-ask. There’s no undo command.
The ensemble is great as always: Rami just gets better in every scene, Slater is solid and Portia Doubleday is subtly astounding as she gets ever further in over her head. She gets Elliot at job at E(vil) Corp, where he works to undo the hack. White Rose (BD Wong who delivers each line impeccably) makes Angela believe absurdities. Look up the quote from Voltaire as to what people who believe absurdities are capable of committing. Maybe it’s better to just watch & look up the quote later.
Carly Chakin puts in a powerhouse performance this season. After running the hack in Season 1, the post-hack in Season 2, we see the ruthlessness of which she’s capable. Cisco (Michael Dreyer)’s last gift to her is to help her find her compassion. In Season 3 Darlene’s world is set to 0 & Chakin’s acting work is brilliant as she navigates a number of impossible situations. To say Darlene and Elliot didn’t have much of a childhood is an understatement. Chakin shows rather and tells us how that trauma manifests and drives her actions independently as well as in relationship every bit as well as Rami. He’s just more lovable because he doesn’t want anyone to die on his watch.
The surreality ramps up even further In Season 3 where both International and domestic terrorism figure prominently. Elliot’s last day on the job at E(vil) Corp is a symphony of chaos in which he literally throws his body repeatedly between human life and harm to it. While the visuals are stunning, innocent people we have come to know through the series are framed for the attacks & the fallout is appalling.
There’s emergence from existential darkness and a ray of hope in the episode, ‘Don’t Delete Me’. It weaves a brilliant, thoughtful friend’s final acts with grieving families, video/audio tracks of ‘Back to the Future’ & ’War of the Worlds’. Homage to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’ also figure in with a pivotal, beautiful performance by Elisha Henig.
There’s almost a complete separation of Elliot & Robot in Season 3 & the whole ensemble is solid, but Chakin’s Darlene is fearless as she fights for her family. The plot twists & even switchbacks as to who owns who are enough send viewers to a chiropractor: The sub plot of ‘Who’s your daddy?’ is a big reveal and and another of whack-a-mole that’s even more satisfying. The atmospherics and great, unconventional camerawork that we’ve come to expect from Sam Esmail never cease to impress.
In 2012 Anonymous (perhaps the world’s most famous hacktivist group) was named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People of the year. In 2015, Anonymous Content brought forth ‘Mr. Robot’ through which Rami & Slater won Emmys & other awards. Then Rami was named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People of 2019. It’s enough to inspire hope in anyone who has ever said, shouted or thought “Power to the People”. —revised 5/7/2024

Mr. Robot, USA Network, Season 4, (2019-2020):

Season 1 of this series took place in Spring in New York City, Season 2 in summer, Season 3 in autumn and Season 4 lands with Elliott & Mr. Robot at Christmastime, where night falls fast & it stays dark for a long time. There’s at least one big reveal in each season and this one is no exception, but if viewers who’ve been paying attention they’re like puzzle pieces sliding into place, at times with a gut punch to drive the point home.
Elliott is working against time as he bulldozes through tasks, trying to stay alive. He has no time to talk with us, so Robot steps in, awkwardly moving the story along. Elliott has become so hard-nosed after an unthinkable loss that he’s nearly unrecognizable, which may well be part of the puzzle.
Everything about this season, the acting, the music, the atmospherics, how characters make their various exits: elegant, shocking, some both, others en masse, is incredibly satisfying. Mind-bending, yes, but it wouldn’t be Mr. Robot without that element.
The biggest and best hack is in play here. Since Season 3 many scenes have circled back to previous scenes in previous seasons, not in repetition but in symmetry. We see birthday parties or invitations missed and later see that that missed opportunity would be the last. But there’s a lot of redemption and even some sci-fi on the way to that finale. —revised 5/7/2024


Need for Speed, (2014):

Now here’s a romp, a ride, based on a video game, a prime palate cleanser after the art house murk of ‘The Master’ & heaviness & dark humor of ‘Mr. Robot’. If you love muscle cars, you’ll enjoy this movie. For all the speed, an editor could have shaved at least 30 minutes off the movie’s run time, making it leaner & more exciting.
Rami plays Finn, one of the pit crew for race cars in a garage bleeding money. Later Finn winds up in an office job in Detroit (speaking of bleeding money, I’m not sure how many jobs there were in Detroit, but it’s fiction and we’ll go with it.) One look from the high-rise window at a modified Mustang, how it moves and as soon he and his pit crew buddy diagnose what needs fixing on the car Finn’s white-collar days are over.
His exuberant, final kiss off to his office is one for the books. It’s outrageous, hilarious and endearing. For those longing to see more of Rami, this is the film.—edited 5/8/2024

Night at the Museum, (2006):

The ‘Night at the Museum’ trilogy is great family fun with excellent performances from the whole ensemble. As Ahkmenrah, Malek has more of a challenge coming to life, but busts out of the bands of cloth & after a quip about the dust, almost instantly establishes himself  as a leader. He’s an adept, multilingual young statesman. He recognizes, picks up a language and negotiates a truce, just seconds after shedding his mummification. His bearing is regal with a tendency to politely take charge of situations and he makes the most of a fabulous costume. He would have been a great Pharaoh had he not died so young. But death is far from permanent in this setting which makes the series so much fun.—CYH revised 5/8/2024

Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian, (2009):

If you’re a Night at the Museum fan, this one’s okay. If you’re a fan of Rami, he shows up at the very beginning and the end with a total of 5 lines, tops.
In an interview about this movie Malek talked about this sequel, about waiting for the script, which kept getting pushed back. It turns out the studio executives were nervous about his flamboyance in the first film for families & kids. It’s a relief that attitudes are more fluid now in Hollywood, as I remember seeing the first movie after seeing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and murmuring to myself “All roads lead to Freddie.”
The exhibits are split between New York & Washington and the most screen time goes the tiresome, man-who-would-be-pharaoh, resentful older brother. Amy Adams is delightful as Amelia Earhart, a standout of the ensemble.  —CYH revised 5/8/2024

Night at the Museum, Secret of the Tomb, (2014):

Back in the Museum of Natural History, complete with at least one erupting volcano (& isn’t one really all you need?) The finale is all about coming home after the madness of the battle of the Smithsonian & a side trip to London. Both Rami & Robin Williams don’t have much to do in the second film, but in this one they’re back, and ailing.
The coveted golden tablet is turning a deep shade of green and not coincidentally Rami’s usually graceful Ahkmenrah keeps falling down. Robin’s Teddy Roosevelt is turning to wax. From there on it’s all about restoring the tablet.

One of the sweetest scenes in the movie is when Rami is reunited with his parents, the great Ben Kingsley plays Merenkahre, Pharaoh of Pharaohs, his Dad. Something Rami & Ben* have in common is that they both won Oscars for Best Actor in their thirties for playing historical figures with ties to India. What are the odds?
But the real reason to see this movie is the late, great Robin Williams in his final leading role. His Teddy Roosevelt is dignified, tough, driven and hilarious. A story Malek tells about standing at the Rosetta Stone with Williams is beautiful. No matter what happened between the wrap of this film & the end of his life (Williams did not live to see the premiere), he was one of the greatest comedic actors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And he had enough range to win an Oscar for a dramatic film** as well.  —revised 5/8/2024
*1981 Best Picture biopic ‘Gandhi’  **1997 ‘Good Will Hunting’: See both of these films!

No Time to Die, (2021):

While the pandemic threw off the timeline of this film, it didn’t undercut it’s impact. Clocking in at just under 2- ¾ hours, it’s packed with gorgeous scenery from Cuba, Jamaica, points north and east and a tightly knit plot.
It’s a polished film with high production values supporting a compelling story with great performances all around. Craig is my favorite Bond because his fine acting work brings a depth to Bond other film stars have not. Ana de Armas as Paloma nearly walks off with the film. Her spectacular turn in Santiago de Cuba made me want to see a whole film about Paloma.
As Lyutsifer Safin Rami Malek underplays the villain as someone with nothing to lose who could commit atrocities without raising his voice or heart rate.Through Safin Malek shows us the result of following through with the threat of killing someone’s whole family. He takes hostages in the most civilized way, keeps his voice even and looks almost peaceful as he tends to his fleurs du mal, but because he has nothing left to lose, he couldn’t be more dangerous. He’s been wounded and has pragmatically gone about innovating more sophisticated chemical weapons, lethal on a genocidal scale. He’s not above picking up a gun and firing it, but prefers “tidier” methods.
Great performances in NTTD include Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Jeffery Wright & more. There’s not a weak link in the cast and the quieter performances require more attention, but it’s time well spent. At the beginning of the film Malek wears a Japanese Noh mask, but the lips are red & smiling. The opening scene is all about how those who carry trauma hand it on.
Cary Joji Fukanaga first caught my attention when he directed the first season of ‘True Detective’, showcasing a heart of darkness in the Louisiana swamp. When I heard he was directing ‘No Time to Die’, I knew the cast & the film would be in good hands. Fukanaga is Japanese & his use of the Noh mask is masterful. It’s theatrical, mysterious & compelling while giving nothing away easily.
Malek deliberately chose a mysterious dialect for Safin, a stroke of equity genius. He would not sign onto a project if the role called for an Arab terrorist. He chose against a dialect where someone seeing the film could later point to a country on a map and say “people who live here are evil.” Of many choices to be made in the making of a film, he & Fukanaga chose thoughtfully. Highly recommended. —revised 5/8/2024
Another take on Rami’s performance & Bond’s dilemma:
“The film’s main villain is Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, who made his presence felt in the movie before we even knew it. Malek, with mottled skin, an all-seeing leer, and the caressing voice of a depraved monk, makes him a hypnotic creep. (He could give Bardem a master class in how to underplay the overstatement.) Safin has, of course, headquartered himself on a remote island, which is where he’s perfecting his poison and everything he plans to do with it. The setting, and the chem-lab ickiness, are very “You Only Live Twice,” but what’s so good about Malek’s performance is the obscene way that he inserts his presence into the drama of Bond, Madeleine, and Madeline’s young daughter, Mathilde. Bond is there to save the world; he’s there to save Madeleine and Mathilide; he’s there to save himself. Can he do all three?” —Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Oldboy, (2013):

Spike Lee was another auteur Malek listed as crucial to his success when he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor in 2019. His character Browning in this movie, from the glimpse I got, has a close cut, impeccably groomed beard and hair that appears purple.
This Spike Lee joint is a remake If you’re a fan of Josh Brolin you’re in luck, he’s in almost every frame. But Malek’s character, Browning, has mere seconds of screen time. Noir is a harsh film genre, so unless you love the genre I would trace back to ‘Citizen Kane’, skip this one. —CYH 5/8/24

‘Oppenheimer’ (2023):

No auteur in the 21st century has yet outdone Christopher Nolan and ‘Oppenheimer’ is his masterpiece. In this film Malek plays one of countless scientists who grace the screen.

The myth of Prometheus distilled into two ominous lines opens the door to a 3 hour film where not a second is wasted. Cillian Murphy captures J.Robert Oppenheimer, a brilliant physicist, a rising star, later brittle & torn by the impact of his invention.

Malek’s character, David Hill wasn’t on the Manhattan Project but clearly paid attention from his post in Chicago. We see Oppenheimer take a pen out of Hill’s hand in one scene and push away a petition in another, but in both scenes Malek looks at Murphy/Oppenheimer as if he’s somewhere between a rock star and the Messiah.

As the substance of this film at its core is fire we see some characters at a slow burn over 3 hours and others take a judicial testimony blowtorch to those most deserving in one scene.

So much to take in and Nolan handles it all, keeping a cool head. I saw an interview with the lead actors and Robert Downey Jr. delightedly mentioned Rami, who filmed all his work in a single day. All this and the hearing turns on his testimony. That’s power.

Murphy swept the Best Actor category of awards season 2024 similar to Malek’s in 2019.—revised 5/8/24


‘The Pacific’, (2010):

Before Rami & Joe Mazzello played rock stars together, they played Marines serving in WWII. This is a miniseries, with Tom Hanks billed as executive producer and it’s more Joe/Sledge’s story than Rami/SNAFU’s. In an odd coincidence Bohemian Rhapsody & Queen fans love, Joe’s character even has a dog named Deacon. Joe plays Queen bassist John Deacon in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ if you haven’t seen it yet, drop everything & see it now! But I digress…
Joe Sledge enlists in WWII against medical advice. His Dad, who’s a doctor is sure his heart can’t take it, but after the Pearl Harbor attack all bets were off and people were knocking each other over to serve. So he wades into the fray on various fronts on tiny islands in the vast Pacific Ocean.
The impossibly young-looking SNAFU (Malek) dubs Joe “Sledgehammer”. SNAFU represents so many young men who lied about their age to serve in WWII, teen boys heading into battles they might not survive. Malek’s SNAFU has a wise-cracking, NOLA drawl, territorial, feral vibe and has picked up at least one rather hideous habit in the war.
‘The Pacific’ is based on true stories, one of the characters is a journalist who apparently got it all down and thanks to Tom Hanks (a champion of WWII/Greatest Generation stories), the miniseries was made. A friend I did some acting work with during our undergrad careers was a working journalist when he saw the series. As an actor he played Macbeth & in his journalistic work he had the gruesome task of reporting on serial killers. What this tough guy had to say about ‘The Pacific’: “It’s a great series & Rami Malek broke my heart.” See it. –revised 5/8/24

‘Papillion’, (2017):

The 1973 original of this film with Steve McQueen & Dustin Hoffman I have not seen & sometimes it’s best not to make comparisons. Charlie Hannam is well cast in the title role & it’s this film along with ‘Buster’s Mal Heart’ where Malek at last has enough screen time to tell a story with his eyes, the mark of fine film acting.
Rami’s Louis is a white collar criminal, l’homme le plus susceptible de mourir en prison (the guy most likely to die (soon) in prison.) Everyone there is serving a life sentence, unless…
Here’s where escape plans unfold. He hires Henri (Hannam) for protection & through a series of adventures and misadventures they become best friends. The arc of Hannam’s character hinges on his relentless pursuit of escape, but Malek’s character arc is much more complex, which makes him exceptionably watchable, even if you’re not a fan of prison films. —revised 5/8/24

‘Short Term 12’, (2013):

The facility is called Short Term 12 because it’s an inpatient mental health facility where, for up to 12 months, some youth are patients and others are foster kids with fragile mental health staying until they turn 18. It’s a safe, yet chaotic space. ‘Short Term 12’ the film deals with the lives of these kids and the people who serve them, most of whom are also young and sorting out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
Oscar winners Brie Larson (Best Actress, ‘Room’) & Rami Malek (Best Actor, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) shine in this realistic drama. Both present the potential that would catapult them to critical acclaim and stardom. Larson’s Grace has a problem and surfaces her trauma, from subtle moments to outright distress as the film goes on: Does she want to start a family when her own childhood has been a minefield?
Rami’s Nate is a son of privilege, who gets that privilege swiftly checked by Marcus (LaKeith Stanfield, ‘Judas & the Black Messiah’). It’s Nate’s first day on the job & this check happens almost as soon as he walks in the door. We see Nate grow into his job, make missteps and eventually shift focus from self-referencing to thoughtful service. It’s a sweet, subtle performance. Brave ensemble work in this indy film about a difficult subject. Don’t turn away. You may miss something remarkable. –revised 5/8/24

Womens' Her-Story Month:

Here's a combination of feature and documentary films that diverge from the icons of
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the first wave suffragettes. Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan are high profile, second wave feminists, all are worth looking up, but reviews are medium. I offer 8 films, an even split between documentary and feature/fiction about women's rights and lived experiences, many of whom we won't have the pleasure of meeting.

‘Alien’ (1979)

The tag line for this film was “In space no one can hear you scream”. I remember seeing it on a big enough screen to create the illusion that we were in space with the crew, one of the best casts I’ve seen: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, the greats: Harry Dean Statnton, John Hurt & Ian Holm. The terror of the alien constantly morphing, killing its host & everything in its path, the indifference of the corporation that considers the crew expendable and the fierce courage of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and of course Jonesy* the cat. It all happened here first. One of the most terrifying, well-made films I’ve ever seen about a smart woman who pays attention & as a result is the last human standing.

‘The Babadook’ (2014)

“Baba-baba-dook-dook-dook!” So fun to say, reading kids to sleep. Who knows where that book came from? Almost everyone likes a scary story now & then especially one you can chant along with… until it starts turning the house, the world upside down.

The principal players in horror stories: Zombies, banshees, ghosts and ghouls are reflections of the human ways various cultures contend with the mystery of death and the agony of grief. Sometimes grief isn’t always about death, but of loss of a vital connection: to community, creativity, a place loved and life-giving, now removed.

Jennifer Kent in her directorial debut explores layers and levels with this mother and son dealing with loss in a horror movie like no other.

‘Hidden Figures’ (2016)

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn & Mary Jackson: Names I never saw in history books in school. So grateful this film was made with strong performances and faithful to the source material. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monae portray these brilliant ladies with heart, humor and the ability to walk the tightrope of a workplace where their skills were needed, but their presence as Black women wasn’t always wanted.

The space race was revving up & NASA needed people who made accurate calculations with the lives of astronauts & crew at stake. These were women who excelled at math and rose to the challenge and various others, such as child care, segregated bathrooms & other forms of bigotry.

But they did the math, John Glenn was shot into space and landed safely back on earth. It was a much needed boost for NASA. While this film has a glossy sheen, there’s pure pragmatism at its core. Highly Recommended.

Katherine Johnson, who passed in 2020, was present & on stage at the 2017 Oscars.

‘Judy’ (2019)

I am of the generation who waited all year for ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and cleared our calendars to watch the great acting, song and dance along with all the pyrotechnics in the context of a fantastical story. In the center of it all was a 17 year old Judy Garland and her little dog too. My mother used to say she spent her whole career trying to capture how she sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ in the film but was never able to do it. There’s a scene in ‘Judy’ that touches upon this in a great show-don’t-tell moment. Zellweger does all the singing in the film and captures Judy’s late-career vulnerability, which easily could have tipped into camp, but she holds the line and saves the camp for the dance numbers when everyone gets into the act.

Judy’s on anything but a winning streak when the film opens: She has no place to stay, her fans in the States are mad at her, she’s on the brink of losing custody of her two younger children and her health is suffering  from a lifelong addiction to pills (first administered by a monster of a stage mother) and her penchant for hard liquor to wash them down isn’t helping matters.

The film includes a series of flashbacks featuring a predatory Louis B. Mayer and a woman who resembles more of a prison matron than a mother. We see young Judy’s vain attempts to snatch a moment of childhood or even spontaneity from the career she was born for but to which she’ll eventually sacrifice her childhood, her central nervous system and many years of her life. The problem with stardom is that somebody always wants more: The studio, the fans & whoever else it is that wants more money, more sparkle, more shine, more music. Next come the complaints that the work is uneven.

It’s an intimate portrait of a flawed, ailing genius and as the credits rolled I could hear people around me weeping. Judy Garland was an icon, a legend, but more importantly she was a woman, a flesh and blood human being who wanted to raise her family and work her craft. But sometimes even simple desires such as these can be out of reach.

Review: ‘La Vie en Rose’(2006):

I first saw this film at the Seattle International Film Festival. The young director, Olivier Dahan, said at the Q & A after the film that his vision was to create an impressionist painting of Edith Piaf. He succeeded, using every note she sang that was recorded, with a spectacular, shape-shifting Oscar-winning performance by Marion Cotillard.

As a child Edith was a consummate waif. Her mother was a street singer with substance use issues and her father was a circus performer. Neither had any idea what to do about raising her so it fell to a grandmother who managed a brothel to raise her. The sex workers looked after her and were attentive to her when she was sick.

As she grew, she discovered her superpower: To say she could sing was an understatement. At first in the street, then cabarets, eventually in concert halls all over the world, this tiny woman with a truly epic voice people filled those concert halls to hear. She had more than her share of heartache in life & poured that into her music.

The waif never left Edith, she’s portrayed a fragile vessel with substance use issues of her own. That paradox of frailty and power drives the film. She had only 47 years with us, sang all styles of songs & her voice was unmistakable. I wasn’t surprised by anything I saw as my mother was a fan and told me her story. There are several truly magical moments in the film that I hope happened. she deserved more sweetness in her life. While I can’t find an actual epitaph, my mother said that after she died Edith was referred to as “Le qui secoue’ le monde / The voice that shook the world”.

‘Promising Young Woman’(2020):

When we meet Cassandra, the protagonist of ‘Promising Young Woman’, she’s busy turning ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’ on it’s head. If you haven’t seen ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’, don’t bother, this is a far better film. Cassandra the name comes from Greek tragedy, a young woman who foretells a crime and no one believes her.

Carey Mulligan’s Cassandra is brilliant & layered, ranging effortlessly from subtle to over the top. The film deals with the fallout of sexual assault: Career, school, friends, community, the people you thought you knew slamming doors. Cassandra begins with marks in bars, then the story pulls us in deeper to the original trauma. It’s a film about a promising young woman we'll never meet. How many more?

‘Raise Hell: The Life of Molly Ivins’(2019):

I knew much of Molly Ivins’ work by reading her books ‘Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?’ and ‘Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead’ but it was great to revisit her life and work.

Molly did and was, a *lot*! Six feet tall with golden red hair and a gift for pounding out powerful prose for her entire professional life. She grew up in (and adored) Texas, then attended Smith College, as did three other women in her family. Thus, Molly had this confounding mixture of blue blood and redneck coursing through her veins that made for a unique, outspoken and compassionate communications style. No one else I’ve read can drawl from the page like Molly. The New York Times did not approve of her salty language or bare feet, but when it was time for Elvis Presley’s obit, they turned to her & she delivered.

Molly suffered no fools and gave no fucks. She had no reservations about holding up a mirror to those far too wrapped up in their egos to remember they were in public service. She had great compassion for the people on whom laws made by narcissists had so much adverse impact and told the stories it would be easy to gloss over.

There are a lot of talking heads, but in the case of Ann Richards and Molly herself, they are entertaining enough that it’s easy to overlook. There are great moments, such as “Moon the Klan” that can easily be recreated the next time the Proud Boys or Neo-Nazis decide to go parading around.  

‘Roma’ (2018):

A love letter from Alfonso Cuaron to all the women who raised him, this film follows closely the daily duties of women serving as domestic staff. The drama (everything from revolutions, forest fires, to domestic violence) unfolds and is anchored by the work that must be done and the women who take care of it. In the final scenes the lead actress comes through as a straight up hero. She was nominated for Best Actress when she’d wanted to be a teacher. Most of the time that goes the other way around…

"The Nominees for Best Picture, 2024 Are ..."

American Fiction’ (5 nominations total)

Craft, specifically the craft of writing fiction, family, loss (of memory and a loved one) and what writers are willing to sacrifice to pay the bills are all on the line in this film.

Jeffrey Wright is a fine actor with great craft and a pleasure to watch as Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison, a novelist who has been published but without much commercial success. He’s put on leave of absence after a white girl is offended by the title of a book on the board in his class. He goes back east to spend time in the minefield that is his family.

He sees another author raking in both cash & accolades for a novel where Black people are portrayed as stereotypical cartoons. His income has vanished and something expensive is unfolding in his family. The collision of these events drive the rest of the film. Wright is nominated for Best Actor, Sterling K. Brown is nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Leslie Uggams gives a beautiful performance as the family’s matriarch. Highly Recommended.  

‘Anatomy of a Fall’ (5 nominations total)

Things look bad for Sandra (Sandra Huller). After cutting an interview short because the music was too loud elsewhere in their chalet, she wakes to her son calling for help & finds him weeping over his father’s broken, lifeless body.

Investigations and autopsies are inconclusive as to whether he fell or was pushed. If foul play is determined, as his wife, she’s the prime suspect.

Justine Triet directs this subtle, spooky film with just the right touch and a peek into what a criminal trial in France might look like. Just when you think you know, you don’t. Recommended.

‘Barbie’ (8 nominations total)

This movie is everything: Satire, comedy, musical (with great choreography!), social commentary & more. It begins in Barbieland, where girls rule, literally: There are 9 Supreme Court Justices, all Barbies. While their robes are black, almost everything else is pink. Margot Robbie is a delight, referring to herself as “Stereotypical Barbie” & Ryan Gosling as Ken is hilarious… and jealous.

I don’t want to delve too far into the plot (yes, there is one). Greta Gerwig directs, Helen Mirren narrates and America Ferrera has a monologue that distills so powerfully the intricate dance women in our culture must do just to navigate said culture, too often out of airless, cramped corners. There’s a song with great choreography that my friend & I hoped will be nominated for Best Original Song to recreate that choreography live on a big splashy stage.

I’m aware there are those who are angry about this movie, what Barbie has done to girls’ self esteem and Mattel’s list of harms done to kids. I don’t mean to minimize any of those things. But this movie that is in fact a smart comedy exists too and it’s well done. Highly Recommended

‘The Holdovers’ (5 nominations)

From Alexander Payne, who brought us ‘Sideways’, ‘The Descendants’ & ‘Nebraska’ here’s another film featuring the American male on the verge. The backdrop this time is boarding/prep school.

The year is 1970 & the film takes great care in keeping everything in that time period, from opening rating notice to end credits. It’s a snowy December, carols are being sung & students are antsy to get home. Except that isn’t an option for a few students, some of them treated to Mr, Hunham (Paul Giamatti) in resentful, command & control mode.

The cast is great, I’ve seen 4 out of 5 nominees & Da’Vine Joy Randolph could take home the Oscar if America Ferrera does not. The story is compelling, the pacing excellent. Highly Recommended.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (10 nominations)

The film begins as oil is discovered on the Osage reservation and people in the tribe turn up murdered at an alarming rate. Add to this trend white men marrying Osage women who sicken and die. Here’s where we meet Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) who first stops to meet with his uncle Bill (Robert DeNiro), who likes to go by ‘King’.  

Soon Ernest is driving a cab and one of his regular fares is Mollie (Lily Gladstone) and romance blossoms. They marry and Ernest retires, having married brilliantly. The Osage tribe is prosperous and the town merchants waste no time in outrageously overcharging them.

I raised an eyebrow at the nearly 3-1/2 hour running time, but the story is complex. It takes time & care following how dozens of Osage people were murdered & the impact of the murderers on one family, the matriarch of which is portrayed wonderfully by Tantoo Cardinal. Unraveling the crimes, sorting out the criminals and seeing how many of them of them can be tried and/or convicted is even more complex.

Lilly Gladsone as Mollie is the true star of this film. She is the survivor, who grieves more relatives than most of us have and does so with great heart, economy, dignity & authenticity. Her steady gaze from the first time she appears on screen and all through the film is a beacon. With the alarming rate at which First Nations women and girls have gone missing in the 21st century, 3-1/2 hours was not to long to look in her eyes and take in the story at which this woman is the center. Were I a voting member of the Academy, she’d have my vote for Best Actress. Recommended.  

‘Maestro’  (7 nominations)

Bradley Cooper’s best work, having Leonard Bernstein’s life & music as a subject is to stand on the shoulders of an icon. It would have been more compelling to concentrate on Bernstein’s music over his sexual orientation. There’s enough passion in & for his music to move the story.

While Carey Mulligan is an excellent actor & a lovely woman, she was miscast as Felicia. She has great acting ability and beautiful brown eyes, neither of which make her Chilean. It was a safe, A-list casting choice, but ultimately not an effective one.

The last third of the film could do with better editing: Shorter scenes or some completely out wouldn’t be missed or detract from the story. It’s when the movie wades into the family drama that it drags, be it a marriage based on wishful thinking or arguments over who will tell which offspring what. Finally, the prosthesis was an unfortunate choice. As we age, our features age and In the second half of the movie when his hair was lighter with the same prosthesis, I saw more parallels to Liberace than Bernstein which I doubt was where Cooper was aiming.

If you’re a fan of Bradley Cooper, check it on Netflix. If you're a fan of Bernstein, listen to his music instead.

‘Oppenheimer’ (13 nominations)

Christopher Nolan is increasingly known for directing films on a vast scale (‘Inception’, ‘Interstellar’, ‘Dunkirk’) and continues this trend with ‘Oppenheimer’. The myth of Prometheus distilled into one ominous quote opens the door to a 3 hour film where not a second is wasted. Cillian Murphy captures J. Robert Oppenheimer, a brilliant physicist & rising star, later brittle & torn by the impact of his invention. Many in the cast portray those who made Manhattan Project happen with all the risk, tension, ambition & hostage-taking in sharp focus.

There are roughly 20 men to one woman with speaking lines, accurate for the lack of opportunity of the time and ambivalence about of the Manhattan Project and the few people who knew about it. Then we see the power brokers in Washington D.C. when J. Edgar Hoover was at the height of his powers and the H.U.A.C. was busy ruining careers & lives of people even suspected to have been members of, or had any dealings at all with the Communist Party.

All this history figures prominently into the plot. As the substance of this film at its core is fire we see some characters at a slow burn over 3 hours and others take a judicial blowtorch to those most deserving in one scene.

It’s a lot to take in and beyond all of it is the scientific feat, far-reaching destruction and The endless ethical questions, anguish and trauma that attend said feat. Nolan handles it all, keeping a cool head. Amid the summer blockbusters here’s a serious film for which it’s hard to get a seat. I can easily see various award nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor & Supporting Actor early next year for ‘Oppenheimer’. Highly Recommended.  —CYH 7/23/2023

‘Past Lives’ (2 nominations)

In Seoul, South Korea, a young boy & girl walk home from school together every day. Both are at the top of their class & the girl cries when she comes in second to the boy. They are parted by her parents decision to emigrate to the U.S.

The use of a still shot near the beginning of the the film and the full scene near the end is a stroke of genius. It gives nothing away, but provides a frame for the story. The patient viewer will be rewarded

The film jumps ahead and back in increments of 12 then 24 years, which brings them from childhood to young adulthood to young mid-life. It’s a story about childhood sweethearts and longing with a deliberate pace. The description that makes up the title, I will leave up to those who see the film. Recommended.

‘Poor Things’ (11 nominations)

As far as I know it’s impossible to explain the plot of ‘Poor Things’ because it is a fantasy. It is Bella’s story (Emma Stone) who has come to be in fantastic circumstances. She lives with Godwin Baxter (Willem DaFoe in a role he was born to play). They are attended by Max (Ramy Youssef) and interfered with by Duncan (Mark Ruffalo). The time period looks like late 19th/early 20th century, but occurs out of time as fantasies do.

Bella seeks and finds adventure, many adventures. Aside from a fierce intelligence, Bella has no filters, understanding of money, sense of social cues or shame. She finds the most direct (and hilarious) ways of describing things. There’s great comedy happening on many levels, but the constant is that Bella is the captain of her own ship, emerging not only as a leading lady, but a feminist icon as well. Highly recommended.  

‘The Zone of Interest’ (5 nominations)

In German with subtitles, the film begins in summer. Rudolf & Hedwig have a big family, are devoted to their children and extended family. Hedwig particularly loves her home and is very proud of it. In just a few scenes the film shows us Rudolf’s historical significance: His last name was Hoss, he was the Commandant of Auschwitz and the family’s yard borders the camp.

The death camp is visible from the yard, the meetings of the top Nazi brass, names like Himmler and yes, Hitler are part of the dialogue. Neutral language like “The Zone of Interest” “Joy Division” (*not* the band) & “The Final Solution” drive home the banality of evil.  Some guests from extended family can’t stomach the view. Other characters, by doing their best, manage to stay alive and leave nourishment for those suffering and starving. Recommended.  

For Black History Month :

‘American Fiction’ (5 nominations)

Craft, specifically the craft of writing fiction, family, loss (of memory and a loved one) and what writers are willing to sacrifice to pay the bills are all on the line in this film.

Jeffrey Wright is a fine actor and a pleasure to watch as Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison, a novelist who has been published but without much commercial success. He’s put on leave of absence after a white girl is offended by the title of a book on the board in his class. He goes back east to spend time in the minefield that is his family.

He sees another author raking in both cash & accolades for a novel where Black people are portrayed as stereotypical cartoons. His income has vanished and something expensive is unfolding in his family. The collision of these events drive the rest of the film. Wright is nominated for Best Actor, Sterling K. Brown is nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Leslie Uggams gives a beautiful performance as the family’s matriarch. Highly Recommended.  

‘Amistad’ (1997)

This historic drama is the first I’ve seen to show how horrifying the inside of a slave ship can be. Even empty, even the better looking, roomier version of Hollywood was appalling. I’m aware that most Black people in this country are the descendants of those who survived such conditions.

The film begins with the slow, painful breaking of a bolt attached to a spike, the beginning of the uprising and a metaphor for the film. Djimon Hounsou’s performance is riveting, the music is great and the words in closing arguments to the Supreme Court resonate: “If freeing (these people)… brings on a Civil War, let it come. It will be the final battle of the Revolutionary War.” I do hope that’s true. Recommended

‘Good Hair’ (2009)

A documentary featuring Chris Rock advocating for his daughters. He makes fascinating, hilarious and often poignant inquiries into the billion dollar business involving black women and their hair, a relationship it appears is anything but “relaxed.”  It’s a window to the impact hair has on relationships, health, culture and so much more.

‘Harriet’ (2019)

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” —Rumi

How this film was dismissed by critics while it was received by audiences enthusiastically speaks volumes on how black women are treated by those who assume they know what makes a good to great film. ’Harriet’, with Oscar nominated Cynthia Erivo in the title role and Kasi Lemmons directing is a remarkable film, unfortunately subject to the bigots on line & out in force.

How a crew helmed by Lemmons could make such magic from a slender budget of $17 million (a fraction of most film budgets) for a major motion picture is astounding. How Erivo uses her voice in the film, singing (just traces, a line or two where it has the most impact within the story) and speaking is phenomenal and transcendent. Her delivery is deep, strong, no-nonsense, telling the story of a woman who has known too much heartbreak and grief to waste time on sentimentality.

The cinematography is gorgeous and tells a crucial part of the story. Minty, as we first meet her, lives with head trauma. As a rebuke for acting like anything other than someone else’s property, a plantation boss hit her in the head, splitting it open. From then on, she has “spells” and with them come what some would call visions/premonitions, others second sight, still others prophecy.

Faced with the prospect of being sold, Minty runs 100 miles to freedom. She chooses her free name from names her family was never able to use, becoming who we know through history as Harriet Tubman.

While she ran alone, she can’t live as a free woman without those she left behind. Here she begins the audacious, driven work, taking drastic risks that landed her in history books that generally favor old or dead white guys.

Supporting performances by Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae are strong with more than one beautiful scene between Erivo & Monae learning from one another as one woman born into slavery and another born free. It’s a strong, beautiful film. Erivo was nominated for Oscars for Best Actress & Original Song for this film.

Harriet Tubman lived a long time and I hope Cynthia Erivo has a long, vibrant career. For now, see this film. You won’t regret it. —Revised 2/4/2024

‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ (2020)  

If you don’t know who John Lewis is, unless you’re feeding a baby, drop everything and see this film now. The youngest speaker at the March on Washington & architect of the Freedom Riders, Lewis was an icon of the Civil Rights movement. He sustained head injuries from police brutality and organized the march on Selma in 1965. Lewis carried on after Martin Luther King was assassinated, shifting from facing down bigots in the south to facing down bigots in Congress. He was known as the conscience of the Congress and all of this is celebrated in this film.

Malcolm X’ (1992)

Spike Lee’s towering, controversial masterpiece rates its 3 hour 21 minute run time & is faithful to its source. While Denzel Washington (in the best work of his great career thus far) was nominated for Best Actor and the film was nominated for costuming, there would be no Best Picture Nomination for a film opening with an U.S. flag (think ‘Patton’) as a speech from Malcolm X voices over footage of the beating of Rodney King. Then the flag begins to burn… Yeah, the right wing of the Academy couldn’t have liked it, if they even saw the film, which I doubt.

Malcolm Little (his birth name)’s father was a preacher in the style of Marcus Garvey and was lynched after the family’s home was burned by the KKK. His life insurance wouldn’t pay & the State determined that Malcolm’s mother was unable to raise her children without a man in the house. The siblings were scattered. There’s a scene or two more of his childhood, but as Malcolm didn’t have much of one, the rest of his too-short life is in Washington’s capable, committed hands.

Malcolm first appears as an adult in a barbershop ready (mostly) for his first “conk” from Shorty (Lee). A toxic lye-based straightener “relaxed” his red hair and burned his scalp. Malcolm & Shorty then hit the town (the dance scenes and music are terrific). Known as “Detroit Red”*, he & Shorty bounce back & forth from Boston to Harlem with various adventures, hustles & close calls before they land in prison.

Malcolm meets Baines (Albert Hall) who offers to set him free, sits him down with a dictionary & shows him how the cards have been stacked against him through language, even his name. Then Baines introduces Malcolm to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. The scenes between Hall and Washington are where the transformation from where Washington is still recognizable as an actor to where he disappears into
Malcolm X on screen is physical, intellectual and spiritual.

His speeches are powerful, but the real leadership hits the streets when one of the brothers in the Nation of Islam lands in jail when he belongs in the hospital. X leads dozens of Black men in suits, ties & overcoats to the police station. They quietly wait outside as he cuts through the indifference of the cops at the desk, finds the injured man & calls for an ambulance. The way he leads the men from the police station to the hospital is focused, charismatic and the message is clear: The difference between a Black man dying in jail & recovering in the hospital is the support of the Nation of Islam.

The film is riveting throughout and words fail to sum it up. Put simply: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, an excellent movie. was adapted from a 50 page short story, the run time is 2 hours 22 minutes. ‘Malcolm X’, a great film, is adapted from an autobiography of over 450 pages and has less than an hour more run time. Lee, Washington, Angela Bassett and many more rise to this challenge at the top of their craft. Highly Recommended.

*Legend has it Malcolm & Redd Foxx were friends and dishwashers at a restaurant in Harlem. They were dubbed Detroit Red & Chicago Red. Foxx went on to a performing career, stand up comedy and acting. He passed in 1991.  

‘Mo Better Blues’: (1990)

A non-documentary, non-bio-pic, Valentine to New York City, this time featuring the jazz clubs of Harlem, from Spike Lee, ‘Mo Better Blues’ stars a young Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Spike himself.

As the film opens, a little boy is practicing his trumpet as his friends call him out to play. His parents bicker over whether he should finish practicing before seeing his friends. The next time we see “Bleek” (Denzel Washington), he’s grown & his relationship with his trumpet eclipses all else.

The film has a dreamy feel to it and the title song is brilliant. If you love jazz, Denzel or Spike, this one is worth a watch.   

‘My Name is Pauli Murray’ (2021)

This film is an interesting hybrid of Bio-Pic & Documentary. Pauli Murray was a game changer and a social justice generator before anyone knew what those two phrases meant. She was also non binary (outside the gender binary) before that term was available. As a Black woman in law school & later practicing law she wrote about segregation on public transit 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in the south. She was also a published author & Episcopal Priest. As she’s no longer with us, I won’t assume a pronoun she might not consent to, but this documentary is well worth seeing about her remarkable life.

‘Respect’ (2021)

Jennifer Hudson’s performance elevated ‘Dreamgirls’ as a film. She is the perfect choice, acting and musically to play Aretha Franklin and is brilliant as she portrays the legend in her early years. Beyond musically nailing an inimitable style without going for a note-for-note carbon copy, Hudson subtly but powerfully captures the blind spots that accompany trauma. The 2 hour 25 minute running time flies. Audra McDonald & Forrest Whitaker among others comprise a strong supporting cast. ‘Respect’ also covers an album & documentary that feature her performance and guide the audience through a creative & spiritual experience. See this film.

‘Summer of Soul’ (2021)

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, ‘Summer of Soul’ is a respectful restoration of footage taken of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival by the multitalented Questlove. He expertly arranged the remarkable work into a narrative that would fit inside 2 hours.

A broad collection of Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Pop are showcased. B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, The Fifth Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder & Sly & the Family Stone deliver great performances. All of them with potent talent and most with careers in the ascendant.

These fabulous performances took place in what is now Marcus Garvey Park. The Black Panthers were there & the police as well as the audience, the performers and the technicians, but it was all good because the focus stayed on the music. Questlove lovingly curated this tour de force from Harlem. —(revised 2/17/2024)

‘Till’ (2022)

While it was a box office success, not enough people had the courage to see ‘Till’ & certainly not enough members of the Academy. If they had, this story of Emmett Till’s lynching and his mother’s unprecedented courage might have picked up nominations.

The BAFTA’s nominated Danielle Deadwyler for Best Actress for her performance of Mamie Till-Mobley, a grieving mother who insisted on an open casket funeral and photos to be taken of the crimes perpetrated on her 14 year old son. In 1955 she showed the world how she loved her son and precisely how hate took him from her.

It’s not an easy watch, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Ms. Deadwyler. Intuition, dread, courage, love, grief and a ferocious resolve move through her like storm fronts. I’ve never seen anything close to her work and it was miles above at least 3 of the perennial and suspect nominees.

Ms. Deadwyler carries this film as Mamie works with Civil Rights pioneers, among them Medgar Evers & his wife as they walk through the travesty of the trial in Mississippi. While her testimony scenes are both heartbreaking and heroic, she realizes justice must come from beyond Mississippi where her son was martyred. Eventually Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his family in Mississippi in 1963. This history bears out why Nina Simone wrote ‘Mississippi Goddam’ in 1963. Highly Recommended

For those who remember Tower Records, on my last visit there, I left with a gem. A DVD with 4 speeches, 3 from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would be 85 this year and one from Bobby Kennedy. I’m so grateful to have lived at the same time as these men. Dr. King’s courage, his fire, was rare.

The first speech happened at the Lincoln Memorial 8/28/1963, known as his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. It really contains 4 parts:
1.) In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King notes the Emancipation Proclamation was a promissory note & 100 years later it’s an NSF bad check. It’s fairly formal and while the mic doesn’t pick up her voice, legend has it that Mahalia Jackson, who sang at the event, said “Martin, talk about your dream!” And so…
2.) ‘I Have a Dream/Let Freedom Ring’: Dr. King shifted gears from cogent points to some of the most powerful oration of the 20th century. Almost everyone knows this speech & if you don’t, check it out.
3.) ‘With this Faith’: About faith & strategy, it makes plain the risks and that those working for Civil Rights would take & that they could take those risks together, guided by “This Faith”.
4.) “Free at Last” my favorite part of the speech and it speaks for itself!

The second speech happened in March of 1965 at a church in Selma, Alabama the night before the march across the infamous bridge. John Lewis wrote of that night in his memoir ‘Walking with the Wind’: It was hard to get Dr. King into the church and they weren’t even sure it was wise as the church was surrounded by the KKK and others who wanted everyone taking part in the march dead. But Dr. King showed up. The sound isn’t great, but that isn’t the point. He prepared the marchers for what they were likely to face.

The third speech happened 4/3/1968 the night before Dr. King was assassinated. He seemed to know it and had made peace as much with it as a young father of four could.
He expressed a desire to do God’s will. It’s known as the Mountaintop/Promised Land speech. He wraps it up, fairly roaring, “Mine *eyes* have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” & walks away from the mic.

Bobby Kennedy’s speech happened 4/4/1968 the night Dr. King was assassinated. He was on a campaign stop & used the opportunity to break the news, eulogize Dr. King and call for compassion and peace. He used the following quote from Aeschylus:

“The memory of pain falls drop by drop upon our heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God”.

Bobby himself would be assassinated just 2 months and 2 days later.

14 Films for February

’10 Things I Hate About You’(1999): 

This sweet, fun film is based on Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’, set in high school & filmed in Seattle & Tacoma(!) The dilemma is of two daughters with a protective obstetrician father. The younger one has no shortage of suitors, but Dad has insisted that Bianca, the younger daughter, will not date until Kat, the older daughter, will. He is assured that this will keep both daughters safe as Kat (a wonderfully sullen Julia Stiles) is having none of the dating scene. 

One of Bianca’s suitors is a fresh-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt. The film captures beautifully the developmental contrasts in high school, how some students with virtually no age difference are more like kids and others are more like young men & women. Both Kat (Stiles) and Patrick (Ledger) are infamous and remote, aloof enough that outrageous, hilarious rumors abound to fill in about how each of them came by their sheer badassery. 

The cast makes up an are adorable and awkward ensemble, but Kat has the title role and Stiles owns it. Her chemistry with a young Heath Ledger is pugnacious, vulnerable and natural. While I won’t tip spoilers, I will ask the question: What would a movie about high school be without a marching band? Well, said marching band is used in this film to great effect. See it. 

Review: ‘Amelie’ (2001): 

Also known as ‘The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain’ it's the story of a young woman who had a lonely, traumatic childhood (handled with a feather-light touch) and who waits tables in a Parisian cafe. It’s a story of lost and found and occurs around the time Princess Diana died in Paris. 

It’s a fantasy about simple pleasures how an introvert comes out into the world in the most creative of ways. The paradox of the Sacre Coeur and the sex shops nearby figure into the plot. The message of how “leaving something to the imagination” as my French mother used to say, is so important. 

A post script on the impact this film had on culture: Expedia, a young company innovating travel at the time, adopted the garden gnomes from a sub-plot from the film in their advertisements. 

‘Before Sunrise’(1995): 

On a train from Budapest to Paris, Celine (Julie Delpy) is distracted from her book by a couple near her, having a heated argument in German. As she moves to a quieter seat, they exit the car, loudly. In the “What was *that*?!” moment after the angry couple storms out, Celine looks across the aisle at Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & they strike up a conversation. A flirtatious friendship blossoms over a meal they share. 

Jesse is leaving on a morning flight from Vienna and persuades Celine to walk around the city with him the night before his flight. They spend the time taking in as much as they can of what Vienna offers and find themselves falling for each other. 

All of this fails to describe the simple, elegant magic of this film. The performances are great, the dialogue ranges from silly to profound, the setting is rapturous & the single scenes of the characters Celine & Jesse meet during their few hours together are perfectly imperfect. 

This film is not only about young lovers, it’s a meditation on time. 

‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005): 

This film is Ang Lee’s masterpiece. The still shots are breathtaking, strong performances all around, but I needed to turn on the subtitles to catch much of the dialogue. 

A script adapted from a short story from Annie Proulx is bound to be a gut punch. I have a sense she may have listened to Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Cowboy Song’ possibly more than once while working on the story. The screenplay is true to the source leaving out only one scene that’s told with more economy within another scene. 

The resonance of this film when it was released cannot be overstated, but when I saw it in the theatre at the time I still couldn’t hear most of Ennis (Heath Ledger)’s lines. Strong, silent & with a secret he hides from in underpaid work, Ledger’s performance is iconic, but there was keener competition for Best Actor that year. 


Arguably the most quoted (and misquoted) film of the 20th century as well as the best film made during WWII about WWII. Humphrey Bogart was in a place in his career where he was moving from tough guy to leading man roles and was concerned about the script, which is admittedly thin. That ultimately didn’t matter once the luminous force of nature who was Ingrid Bergman joined the project. 

The film deals with migrants during wartime, occupation and resisting a totalitarian regime. It’s also about people in impossible situations, not the least of which is an intractable love triangle. While the way Sam is referred to is problematic, the relationships he has are imbued with warmth and dignity. ‘Casablanca’ was one of hundreds of movies churned out by Hollywood’s “dream factory” when WWII was raging on all fronts and no one knew how it would go. Most of the rest have faded, but ‘Casablanca’ has held up well “As Time Goes By”.

‘Cold Mountain’(2003): 

Anthony Minghella (1954-2008) was at his best making films about love, loss & longing. ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, an early career gem featuring a young Alan Rickman as the romantic lead (drop everything & see it!) ‘The English Patient’ (WWII, falling in love with someone who is not your spouse & Juliette Binoche, brilliant in ways words fail to describe) put him on the map & won 9 Oscars including Best Picture & Best Supporting Actress for Binoche. 

‘Cold Mountain’ takes place during the Civil War & stars Nicole Kidman, Jude Law & Renee Zellweger whose performance as a resourceful woman who grew from a criminally neglected child won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Donald Sutherland plays a minister & Ada (Kidman)’s father who could no longer breathe the polluted air of Charleston, so the two of them move to Cold Mountain, North Carolina. 

The music is terrific in the film, from the shape note singing in the church scenes, Brendan Gleeson, Jack White & their band to a haunting score. There are so many great performances, but the center of the story is between Ada & Inman (Jude Law). They may not have much time together but it’s enough to keep them devoted to each other and facing the long days through years of gruesome conflict.

‘The Fabelmans’

Stephen Spielberg’s memoir film (as it is his medium) is about love: Love of the camera, family love, love of film, inconvenient love, discovering what love is & is not. If love is neither your thing, nor Spielberg your director, skip this one, but I found it to be among his finest 2-1/2 hours. 

Sammy Fabelman could barely make it through his first film on the big screen, but he was obsessed with the train wreck scene. He found a way to recreate it without wrecking his own trains, his first innovation in film. Soon he’s filming family & friends, his passion caught between a brilliant, intensely practical father and a creative, encouraging and complicated mother. 

While editing film from a family outing Sammy discovers images that once seen, cannot remain unseen. It’s an example of the phrase “the camera never lies” & drives the rest of the story. 

Michelle Williams is lovely as Mitzi, a free spirit in a solid marriage with lots of kids (the daughter/sisters all have strong opinions they voice freely). The force in her that no one and nothing can contain is the drive to create, improvising on her own or in her talent as a pianist, bringing life to composers long past.

There’s also a clear sense of growing up in a family different from the rest and being a target for violence because of that difference. 

It’s a warm, beautiful film, the kind that holds the audience in a warn embrace, warmth that stayed with me long after the final frame. See it.  

‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ 

This movie takes place in the mid 17th century as 17 year old Griet (Scarlett Johansson)’s father has gone blind, so she must support her family. The tag line, “Beauty inspires obsession” is problematic, but considering the average life span at the time was 35 years, Griet was practically at mid-life. 

She lands at the home of the painter Vermeer, works as a maid & takes an interest in painting. Johansson’s performance is one of intense curiosity, wide eyed & taking it all in. Even though she’s illiterate, the colors speak to her. She is also taking in the world of relationships beyond her own family. 

She’s pretty, which attracts somewhat welcome attention from Pieter (Cillian Murphy), unwelcome attention from Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) & while he looks great in long hair, not sure about Colin Firth as Vermeer. Before it is an artist/muse relationship it is one of master and apprentice. 

Amid constant accusations from Vermeer’s perpetually pregnant wife, they stick to collaborating artistically. Even so, the sexual tension is palpable, so much so that there’s even a 17th century booty call with someone completely clear of the VerMeer household and creepy old men with money. 

If you’re a fan of Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Cillian Murphy or Vermeer, seeing this one will be worthwhile. One critic complained that nothing happens in this movie, totally missing the point that one of the more iconic paintings of the 17th century happened. That’s about as far from nothing as it gets. 

‘King of Hearts’ (1967): 

The year is 1918 and a small, fashionable city in the north of France has been evacuated with the exception of the asylum. There are explosives stashed everywhere, some synchronized with clockwork. Private Plumpick (Alan Bates in a role that established him as a leading man in film) has been tasked with securing the area. Various soldiers, British and German scramble through the town in a panic. 
The people in the asylum, with the town to themselves, are joyful, calm and creative, adapting to various roles and enjoying themselves. They adopt Private Plumpick as their King of Hearts, although it takes time to get his attention. Phillipe de Broca directs this absurdist little gem and Genevieve Bujold as Poppy is exquisite as the consummate ingenue.  

‘Mississippi Masala’ 

Uganda, 1972: An Indian family with a young daughter is expelled among many others from Uganda under Idi Amin’s directive “Africa for Africans”. Fast forward 15 or so years and we find them in Greenwood, Mississippi. The young girl, Mina (Sarita Choudhury) is now 24 among a large extended family replete with dysfunction. 

She meets Demetrius (Denzel Washington, fresh from his Supporting Actor Oscar win for ‘Glory’) literally by accident. Sorting out the three car crash is a sub plot, but their attraction & courtship drive the rest of the film. 

As this was the first film for Sarita Choudhury, she and Washington had an agreement that they would only show as much of their bodies as their consent would allow. They also used their bodies to shield each other from unwanted camera angles. The result rather than just a sex scene is a love scene with affection, passion and respect. 

We see a better side of Mississippi here, including Biloxi, but the film doesn’t sanitize racism. Both Demetrius and Mina’s families are in service: Mina’s family runs a motel & the slogan for Demetrius’ carpet cleaning service made me shudder. 

It’s a beautiful film, catch it where it streams or pick it up for free at the library. 

Review: Past Lives 

In Seoul, South Korea, a young boy & girl walk home from school together every day. Both are at the top of their class & the girl cries when she comes in second to the boy. They are parted by her parents' decision to emigrate to the U.S. 

The use of a still shot near the beginning of the film and the full scene near the end is a stroke of genius. It gives nothing away, but provides a frame for the story. The patient viewer will be rewarded

The film jumps ahead and back in increments of 12, then 24 years, which brings them from childhood to young adulthood to young mid-life. It’s a story about childhood sweethearts and longing with a deliberate pace. The description that makes up the title, I will leave up to those who see the film.

‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998) 

Here’s a film about falling in love… with live theatre. The tension of art for art’s sake/money for God’s sake (thank you 10CC) is front and center from the start as is the expectation is comedy and dogs on stage to sell more tickets. 

But that’s not all there is to theatre as we’re about to find out. Young Shakespeare  (Joseph Fiennes) has a writer’s block and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) proceeds to remove that for him and much more. 

This film won Best Picture because of the care taken with the language in the screenplay, the period with the art direction, costumes, cinematography, directing  and acting, all of a piece. 

Everyone is great in their roles with three standout performances. Tom Wilkinson's character arc is from extortionist to actor & lover of live theatre. It’s there in his eyes, on his face as the play takes shape, fine film acting. Judi Dench, winner of Best Supporting Actress as Queen Elizabeth I with only eight minutes of screen time, but they are brilliant. Her power as a monarch, no-nonsense demeanor and powers of observation, all layered over loss of what is ineffable. As Best Actress in her best work, Gwyneth Paltrow plays both Romeo and Juliet. Not many performers have done this, none so well and the actor people howled about not winning went on to win 2 Oscars, so let’s move on, shall we? 

This Best Picture winner was the last of the 20th century. There is levity, wit and romance in this film, but also gravitas as the lovers discover theirs is a stolen season. 

White Nights (1986)

This movie starts strong with a rendering of ‘Le Jeune Homme et La Morte’, a ballet danced by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Florence Faure, so thrilling that Baryshnikov is the only one looking at his watch (when it’s your time, time’s up). Swiftly following is a plane crash in Russia. Despite his character Nikolai’s best efforts, he wakes up in Siberia. 

We’ve already met Gregory Hines’ Raymond, performing as Sportin’ Life, belting out ‘There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York’, tap dancing up & down the aisles to an audience who adores him & chants his name. Waiting for him after his performance is his bride, Isabella Rossellini in her first film role, her voice so like her mother’s. 

Raymond & Nik as he prefers to call Nikolai have a lot in common: They’re both showmen who have defected, there’s also the stark contrast of privilege and the lack thereof. Raymond wastes no time in schooling Nik on a large part of the U.S., Black America, to which Nik has been oblivious. Oppressive as the Soviet regime was, there was no shortage of oppression (Hines tells this story with his eyes) in the land of the mostly free and the home of the somewhat brave. 

There are cameras and recording devices everywhere and the action takes place around these, characters navigating what to reveal and/or conceal. Soon we meet Galina (Helen Mirren) Nikolai’s former dance partner and lover. He defected without a word, leaving her to years of interrogation. 

The dance sequences & Baryshnikov & Mirren’s scenes, so Chekovian, are the best parts of the movie. Chekov requires more depth than a mere film review can hold. Suffice to say, Russian people, whether under the Czars, the Soviets or the current quagmire, have endured countless, hopeless situations. Chekov wrote beautiful plays and stories about people enduing all this while maintaining their humanity.

Wings of Desire (1987) 

This film begins quietly, slowly, in a greyscale sepia achieved by filming in black & white with a nylon filter. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels watching over Berlin, They (and we in the audience) can hear peoples’ thoughts: usually whispered, some desperate, others mundane, always intimate.  

They listen to people, offering support as they can (the people can’t see them). The film offers a lot of Berlin: Homes, public transit, libraries (many angels are seen here), a film set & no man’s land. The Berlin Wall that couldn’t be filmed, so the crew built a replica they could use as a backdrop. No one knew the wall would be gone within 5 years. 

Damiel encounters a circus where he meets Marion (Solvieg Dommartin). The circus is wrapping up their season and Marion is not sure of her next move. Damiel finds himself falling in love with Marion, decides to let go of his wings and become human. One look into Bruno Ganz’s warm gaze, full of loving kindness and it’s a testimony to his craft and range that he played Hitler in 2019’s ‘Downfall’. 

But on to the final circus performances where Dommartin dazzles as an aerialist. There are sweet moments between Ganz and Peter Falk (known only as Der Filmastar). At a concert with Nick Cave’s band headlining, in the bar across from the show, the lovers meet with some of the most beautiful, open hearted dialogue I’ve heard in a film. It’s not for everyone, but given patience it’s a portal from grey and quiet, to love, color & sound. See it where you can. 

 For January :

 ‘Casino Royale’ (2006):   

This reboot & Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 begins with the theme song performed by another performer with piercing blue eyes: The late, great Chris Cornell. The tight pacing, high production values, excellent performances & wild ride action sequences all make the almost 2-1/2 hour run time fly by.

There’s an urgency, a messy intimacy to this film that held my attention, gave me all the idea I’ll need of just how hard it is to kill someone and what the fallout after the fact is like. It affects everyone differently and the scenes deal well with those differences. I haven’t seen many Bond films, but I enjoyed this one as it dealt with vulnerability, compassion and the very real possibility that we may never know the whole story. But with the right clue this Bond makes it his business to find out. Highly recommended. —1/5/2024

’Quantum of Solace’ (2004)

For reasons I don’t understand, this film is the least well reviewed of the Daniel Craig Bond series. ‘Casino Royale’ was great, but all Bond films can’t be about siting at a table gambling and trying to do each other in during the breaks.

This grittier, more political Bond deals with oil as money, water as life and those who want to buy all of it up and leave everyone else to perish. The locations: Haiti, Columbia etc. aren’t as glamorous but make for a great story. It’s a film about going rogue & settling scores.

The women in this film are so strong: Poised, powerful, realistic. Judi Dench as ‘M’ might as well be the Queen of MI6, but Olga Kurylenko as Camille and Gemma Arterton as Fields, not only hold their own but elevate their scenes with Daniel Craig and the rest of the cast.

Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter is brilliant in all his scenes, keeping a low profile and it’s impossible to tell it he's a good or a bad guy, so he has more broad-based intel. Then there’s great tech, gunfire, explosions, fire, you know, a Bond film. Daniel Craig at the top of his game: What’s not to love? 1/20/2024

‘Skyfall’ (2012):   

‘Skyfall’, the centerpiece of the 5 films with Daniel Craig as 007 contains an origin story, an exceptionally flamboyant villain (Javier Bardem) and focuses on Bond’s relationship with M (Judi Dench).

As with the two preceding films performances of the women in this film are remarkable: In addition to Dame Judi Dench, Berenice Marlone does a beautiful job of holding steady, yet showing a lifetime of trauma that could be easily over played, but her touch is just right. New and delightful in this series is Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny.

M’s career is under fire as a cyber attack targets her. When her unsettling habit of leaving agents wounded or in extreme danger to die surfaces, it’s not immediately evident the two are connected, but quite possible. Tough as he is, Bond finds this hard to swallow when a fellow agent he could have saved dies under M’s policy.

This tension drives the rest of the film. I saw this film the first time reluctantly at my son’s urging. We left the theater in agreement that it wasn’t only a great Bond film, it’s a great film. Highly recommended.—1/20/2024

‘Spectre’ (2015):   

‘Spectre’ has a great cast and begins promisingly in Mexico City at a Dia De Los Muertos parade. There’s a lot of exposition about how all the villains are linked to Spectre, there’s even a Spectre ring of power, but something is off about this one.

Director Sam Mendes, who handled ‘Skyfall’ beautifully, directs this film which comes off somehow both flat and bloated. It could be a pacing or editing problem. What is unpardonable a the waste of the brilliant, Oscar-winning actor Christophe Waltz as the least scary Bond villain I’ve seen. Not recommended. —1/21/2024

‘No Time To Die’ (2021):

After ‘Spectre’, Daniel Craig threatened self harm at the prospect of acting in another Bond film. No one suspected there would be a wait of 6 years (the premiere was pushed back 18 months due to the pandemic) to see Daniel Craig’s final turn as 007. Clocking in at just under 2- 3/4 hours, it’s packed with gorgeous scenery from Cuba, Jamaica, points north and east and a tightly knit plot.

It’s a polished film with high production values supporting a compelling story with great performances all around. Craig is my favorite Bond because his fine acting work brings depth to Bond. Ana de Armas as Paloma nearly walks off with the film. Her spectacular turn in Santiago de Cuba made me want to see a whole film about Paloma.

Rami Malek as Safin, shows the result of following through with the threat of killing someone’s whole family. He takes hostages in the most civilized way, never raises his voice and looks almost peaceful as he tends to his fleurs du mal, but because he has nothing left to lose, he couldn’t be more dangerous. He’s been wounded by chemical weapons and has pragmatically gone about innovating more sophisticated chemical weapons, lethal on a genocidal scale. He’s not above picking up a gun and firing it (I will leave who he shoots, who he spares and for what reasons to the film), but prefers “tidier” methods.

Great performances in NTTD include Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Jeffery Wright. There’s not a weak link in the cast and the quieter performances require more attention, but it’s well spent. At the beginning of the film Malek wears a Japanese Noh mask, but the lips are red & smiling. It’s a high end take on the creepy clown; the opening scene is all about how those who carry trauma hand it on.
Cary Joji Fukanaga garnered attention directing the first season of ‘True Detective’, revealing a heart of darkness in the Louisiana swamp. News that he was directing ‘No Time to Die’ was exciting, a fresh outlook. Fukanaga is Japanese & his use of the Noh mask is masterful. It’s theatrical and mysterious, compelling while giving nothing away easily. Thoughtful choices in this film. Craig as Bond wraps it up with fitting pyrotechnics, but no specifics here.  Highly recommended.—Revised 1/22/2024

 ‘Batman Begins’ (2005):

The first of the Nolan/Bale/Bat collaborations, this film draws the through line from Bruce Wayne watching as a helpless child as both his parents were shot to death, his battle with that horrific childhood trauma to the Batman we know, bat-shaped throwing stars and all.

Liam Neeson & Ken Watanabe guide a rudderless young Wayne, training him in martial arts to become part of the League of Shadows. Neeson’s character insists compassion is weakness. But like Princeton, Wayne didn’t complete the coursework.  

Trauma and psychosis, naturally occurring and chemically induced are thematic in this first installment of the trilogy. More important and challenging is the theme of facing one’s fear. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow is among the villains, campy & cold-blooded, enabling criminals & trying to destroy Gotham City. Whether Dr. Feelbad succeeds is anyone's guess.

The visuals are excellent and terrifying with iconic stills such as Batman watching over Gotham, like an oversize gargoyle on a tall building. Gotham is a mess of crime & corruption. Gary Oldman as Police Chief Jim Gordon is kind, pragmatic, tactical & overwhelmed. For anyone who saw his work in ‘Leon, the Professional’, this role is just one example of his considerable range.

Bale, Michael Caine as Alfred & Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are all great. There's a mind-blowing twist that knits the plot together perfectly; there were no holes, but the twist just makes it all tighter. It was a comforting watch on the anniversary of 9/11.

‘The Dark Knight’ (2008):

Anarchy. Chance. Chaos. A dark night of the soul. Duality. This centerpiece of the Dark Knight/Batman trilogy is the best illustration of why Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have enough gravitas to be called films. I’ve seen a lot of the Marvel movies and they’re fun, but when they try to be serious, they mostly fail.

But onto this film: The Joker and his malevolent clowns knock off a bank & use school buses as getaway/storage vehicles. The last vehicle you’d associate with crime unless you count what kids may do to each other.

Cillian Murphy makes a cameo appearance as Scarecrow who identifies Batman (The Dark Knight, Christian Bale) while the rather glib Harvey Dent (The White Night, Aaron Eckhart) and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) are busy putting criminals away. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is one of very few characters who talks with Batman who appears and disappears at will. Bruce Wayne has mixed feelings about Harvey dating his childhood sweetheart.

Enter the Joker, all anarchy & chaos. He starts with people who are mentally vulnerable (who may worship him) and small-time criminals, people easy for him to kill. His first scene is brilliant & terrifying from the laugh that attends his entrance to the way he kicks the door open sideways as he backs away, eyes those who may shoot, explosives at the ready. Anarchy, chaos & attempts to restore order drive the rest of the film as the stakes get higher, more & more innocent, vulnerable people in harm’s way.

Everyone in the cast is great, but I had to remind myself to breathe during all of Heath Ledger’s scenes. The scene between Ledger and Maggie Gyllenhaal is particularly riveting. The ease with which he wreaks havoc is astonishing and he’s a master of black hole humor, so dark that no light can escape. Ledger owned the Joker. Sadly he couldn’t surface after the film wrapped. Rest in Peace & Power, Heath. —1/22/2024

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012):

The most important thing about this film is that it’s a mainstream film that directly addresses the issue of privilege.

Tom Hardy as Bane had a tough act to follow in the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. He's one of the best actors of his generation, British or otherwise, and rises to the challenge powerfully. Anne Hathaway as Catwoman carries off the cat burglar, bad girl seductress effortlessly. Then she goes deeper into her character and when she does as Selena she’s even better.

It’s paradoxical that the finale of a trilogy would include so many origin stories, but that’s one of the best things in the film. Bruce Wayne’s origin story is mostly the only one that’s clear. In the beginning of this film he’s walking wounded & not walking without assistance. At the beginning of the film it’s been a while since he's seen anyone but Alfred (Michael Caine in great, vulnerable work).

The origin stories are mostly only glimpses, but they’re enough, locally to Gotham and globally to see the poverty and desperation that drives people to do what they do as their options vanish. And Bruce, even as the caped crusader, has no clue… and he’s let philanthropy lapse that made life tougher for kids.

New in this film is Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a lovely, elegant financier who has been keeping Wayne Enterprises afloat in Bruce’s absence. Miranda wants to change the world with hydrogen fusion, touting it as clean energy. But hydrogen fusion does much more than provide clean energy.

The League of Shadows, prominent in the first film and absent in the second is back. Bane is tactical and goes after Gotham’s infrastructure. There are too many details in almost 3 hours of run time to recount here. The plot is tight and circles around to commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) coming into his own after an injury amid the mayhem. And Cillian Murphy is back as Scarecrow, presiding over a kangaroo court with a gavel that sounds… Metal. The fictional Gotham may be saved, but if it is, it will never be the same. Maybe that’s for the best in ways none of us could imagine. —revised 1/22/2024

For December :

Lord of the Rings’, the Film Trilogy
’The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)

Sourced lovingly from the J.R.R. Tolkien novel of the same name & directed by self described “Ring geek” Peter Jackson, the previews of this film ran with the first Harry Potter feature over 20 years ago. The singular landscape of New Zealand was perfect for recreating Middle Earth from page to screen.

Howard Shore’s score pulls the viewer in and Cate Blanchet’s voice over is chilling, as

though she’s translating for someone disappearing into shadows and whispers. It’s a brief, but rich back story of dwarves, elves, men and the rings of power with a fresh, whole systems take on how power corrupts and the fall of men.

There’s more to Middle Earth: The sunlit world of the shire and Hobbits with Ian McKellen as Gandalf the kindly, but no-nonsense wizard. McKellen, one of the world’s greatest living actors was nominated for Best Supporting Actor & showed up at the Oscars with his Maori boyfriend back when no one was doing that. He didn’t win & yet he did. Ian Holm is Bilbo Baggins, perfect casting as a cuddly curmudgeon with a dark secret.

Elijah Wood was so good as Frodo Baggins that while he's worked in other roles, most people know him as Frodo & seeing him as anyone else has proven difficult. His best friend Sam (Sean Astin) sets off with him on an epic adventure and Merry & Pippin (Dominic Monaghan & Billy Boyd) invite themselves along, soon to be in over their heads. The hobbits provide their own ensemble as well, reliable comic relief.

The Ring Wraiths are soon tracking the hobbits. Peter Jackson has horror films on his resume and the Wraiths are a masterpiece. There are endless terrors to be found in Middle Earth: Orcs, Uru Khai, at least one Cave Troll among them, but the Ring Wraiths are some of the most artfully terrifying beings I’ve seen on film.

Liv Tyler as Arwen was one of the first cast in the films, precisely as Phillipa Boyens pictured while writing the script. She used her lower vocal register in the film and as she deals with the wraiths & carries Frodo away, we see this lovely elf has considerable  power. But she was afraid of horses. Viggo Mortensen offered to teach her to ride,but she was too scared. It was a source of some friction between the actors.

Viggo Mortensen as Strider/Aragorn was not the first choice for the role & had misgivings about spending 18 months away from his son. When his son learned what role he was up for, he said “Dad, Aragorn in Lord of the Rings? You’ve gotta do it!”

As soon as that was settled, he hopped on the long flight to New Zealand with books on ancient runes from Scandinavia, iconography, languages and an international star was born. Uneasy alliances between dwarves, elves and men with history drive the rest of the film. Hugo Weaving as Elrond is wonderful with a David Bowie vibe that’s not visible & I can’t explain.

I’m interested in what people watching the current, streaming Middle Earth saga would have to say about this film, but in any case see it if you haven’t already done so. Even if you have, when the nights are long, cold & the roads are bad, it might be time to see it again. Released at the beginning of the 21st century it remains one of the best films of this century we’re soon to be a quarter of the way through. It’s a satisfying watch. —CYH 12/4/2022

’Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ (2002)

Over twenty years ago this much awaited sequel to ’The Fellowship of the Ring’ arrived in theaters. There were howls of outrage from those devoted to the original text and attempts to co-opt the film politically to sell a globally unpopular war to the American public. But while ’The Fellowship of the Ring’ was new, exciting, about adventure and friendship, ’The Two Towers’ is about the fellowship splitting and as the hero’s journey goes, down and into the terror with no guarantee of re-emergence.

The film opens with snowy mountains tinged with the dawn and dives directly into Gandalf battling with the Balrog (yet another creature evoking primal terror) as Frodo awakens from a nightmare. He and Sam are tasked with taking the Ring to Mt. Doom and throwing it back into the fires where it was forged. They are joined by a brilliant Andy Serkis as Gollum in a most uneasy of alliances. Gollum may know the way to Mt. Doom but would he allow them to destroy the Ring that is most dear to him, that he calls “the precious”?  

Merry & Pippin, the hobbits carried off by orcs as they ran interference to allow Frodo to escape with the Ring are flung from orc to Ent (talking trees, because why not?)

Aragorn tracks the hobbits and with Gimli* (Dwarf) & Legolas (Elf) encounter a kingdom on the brink of collapse. Bernard Hill who had recently portrayed the Captain in ’Titanic’ is King Theoden and Miranda Otto is luminous as Eowyn, his niece. Theirs is not the only kingdom nearing collapse. Sauruman (the legendary Christopher Lee) at the behest of Sauron is breeding an army of Orcs and targeting various kingdoms to build a totalitarian state in Middle Earth.

It helps to know that the three films were made during a period of 18 months and that it takes a high capacity of world-building to bring this Tolkien epic to life. While they were released as three separate novels, Tolkien numbered the pages one through over one thousand as one book. Continuity is key. It also helps going in to have a high tolerance for battle on screen. The battle of Helm’s Deep is one of the more epic of epic battles & involved a month of night shoots which took its toll on cast & crew. Flood, fire, fell beasts (better seen than described) and wizards, of course.

With all the mayhem surrounding them, Gollum and Faramir (David Wenham) give two great examples of Sheldon Kopp’s quote that “All significant battles are waged within the self”. Most importantly, ‘The Two Towers’ is the hinge on which the film trilogy swings. Under such pressure to get it right, Jackson wisely re-cut the film in addition to adding scenes. While the theatrical release is my least favorite of the three films, this extended edition may be my favorite. I’ll need to watch ‘Return of the King’ once again to be sure. —CYH 12/30/2022


’Return of the King’ (2003)

As  J.R.R Tolkien worked on the third book of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series to be published in 1955, he didn’t like the title because he didn’t want a title that gave away what happened in the story, what we’d call a spoiler (title) alert in the 21st century. Fast forward to the 2004 Academy Award where a presenter quipped that ‘Lord of the Rings, Return of the King’ was up for 11 Oscars, one for every ending. They both nailed it.

That stated, ‘Return of the King’ earned every Oscar it won & it swept every category for which it was nominated, nearly everything but acting awards. There are at least two worthy contenders in acting categories, but the problem with sweeps, no matter how well-deserved, is that they’re boring. Now, to the film.

It opens with the origin story of how Smeagol became Gollum. Gollum is now leading Frodo (who is ailing) and Sam to Mt. Doom. Their uneasy alliance begins to fracture under Frodo’s fatigue, Gollum’s cunning and Sam’s fierce protectiveness.

Howard Shore’s score is exquisite and the world building of Minas Tirith & Minas Morgul juxtaposed with the terrifying creatures and relentless war make this a compelling, if exhausting watch. The stakes just keep getting higher for a small number of men vastly outnumbered by orcs, mercenaries and the Witch King atop a winged fell beast.

There’s a powerful cast to carry it off with standout performances by Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagol, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and an unforgettable musical moment from Billy Boyd as Pippin. Miranda Otto as Eowyn delivers a fabulous performance with range and depth.

Even as a tight story, it’s long with so many loose ends to wrap up to be true to the text. Even in the 4 hour version (20 minutes are credits) very little seems extraneous. It’s an epic battle on many fronts, on many scales from two hobbits and the corrupted shadow of one, to various parts of Sauron, hundreds of thousands of men, orcs, numerous horses, fantastical beasts & the occasional wizard, elf or dwarf providing an assist.  

Successions of ones were special to Tolkien: The whole epic sweep begins with Bilbo’s 111th birthday. I don’t think the Academy could have known about that when the film was nominated for and won 11 Academy Awards. If Tolkien could have seen it, I’m sure he’d have been pleased. —CYH 10/1/2023 

31 + Horror Films for October, A through Z, 2023:

’28 Days Later’ (2003), 113 minutes, Ratings:  85% Tomato-meter 7.6 IMDb
Danny Boyle established himself in the mid-90’s as a master of horror ranging from the unnervingly realistic ‘Shallow Grave’ to the surreality of ‘Trainspotting’. Here he takes on a pandemic meets a zombie apocalypse with a cast headed up by a very young Cillian Murphy. As Jim, Murphy wakes up in an abandoned hospital in London to find the streets empty & soon finds out why. These zombies aren’t the shambling ‘Night of the Living Dead’ variety. Of scary situations, zombies that can outrun you rank near the top. Naomi Harris & Christopher Eccleston costar.

‘Alien’ (1979) 104 minutes, Ratings: 97% Tomato-meter, 8.4 IMDb
(Sci-fi, Horror, Corporate evil)
screen The tag line for this film was “In space no one can hear you scream”. I remember seeing it on a big enough to create the illusion that we were in space with the crew, one of the best casts I’ve seen: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, the greats: Harry Dean Statnton, John Hurt & Ian Holm. The terror of the alien constantly morphing, killing its host & everything in its path, the indifference of the corporation that considers the crew expendable and the fierce courage of Ripley and of course Jonesy* the cat. It all happened here first. One of the most terrifying, well-made films I’ve ever seen.  

‘Angel Heart’ (1987) 113 minutes, Ratings: 77% Tomato-meter, 7.3 IMDb
In 1978 Alan Parker brought us the unforgettable ‘Midnight Express’. In 1987 he brought us to the Big Easy, captured the atmospherics of the woozy, sticky, heavy air and introduced noir to gore. Turns out to be a successful combination. Mickey Rourke plays Harry Angel in his best acting work & is seeking someone for Robert DeNiro, someone who has no desire to be found. Voodoo/Voodoun figures prominently and every lead Mr. Angel pursues meets a messy end. Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling complete this ensemble as they navigate the sensuality that was mid 20th century New Orleans and the ever escalating blood letting.  

‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ (2016) 86 minutes, Ratings: 86% Tomato-meter, 6.8 IMDb
(Ritual sacrifice/Witch Persecution/Haunting)
A horror film with a cadaver in the title role is so promising and this one delivers. As a funeral director and his son unravel the mystery within and surrounding the corpse of a young woman the palpable question could come from a riff on a 20th century ad: Was she or wasn’t she? A ritual sacrifice? A witch? An innocent who met a horrific end? All of these? Meanwhile a storm is coming and with it possible devastation. The element this film has in common with ’28 Days Later’, “Poltergeist’ & most Tarantino films is a most compelling one: Retribution. And a sequel is entirely possible.  

‘The Babadook’ (2014) 94 minutes, Ratings: 98% Tomato-meter, 6.8 IMDb
“Baba-baba-dook-dook-dook!” So fun to say, reading kids to sleep. Who knows where that book came from? Almost everyone likes a scary story now & then especially one you can chant along with… until it starts turning the house, the world upside down. The principal players in horror stories: Zombies, banshees, ghosts and ghouls are reflections of the human ways various cultures contend with the mystery of death and the agony of grief. Jennifer Kent in her directorial debut explores layers and levels with this mother and son dealing with loss in a horror movie like no other. See it.  

‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999) 81 minutes, Ratings: 87% Tomato-meter, 6.5 IMDb
This one is emblematic of the DIY spirit of Generation X. The first time I saw it I remember thinking, “They got lost in the woods? In Maryland?!” I was a single Mom with a little boy sleeping in the next room & didn’t scare easily. When my son was a teen, we found it again, watched it and had a fantastic time freaking out. Clocking in at a mere 81 minutes it’s raw, terrifying fun. For anyone who rolls their eyes, I’d love to give you $60,000 & tell you to make a better film, but frankly, I haven’t got it.  

‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992) 128 minutes, Ratings: 73% Tomato-meter 7.4 IMDb
(Grand master of Vampires)
There are taller, darker, more handsome Draculas, but Gary Oldman, carries this mess of a movie on his slender shoulder brilliantly as so many choke and chew the scenery around him. If you’ve ever wanted to see Oldman shave Keanu Reeves with a straight razor, drop what you’re doing and see it now. The scene that makes this movie for me is where Oldman may have pounds of age make up on his face, but catches sight of a woman he’s missed for 500 years. Love, longing & loss, it’s all there in his eyes, the mark of fine film acting. He didn’t tell us love never dies, he showed us.  

‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (1920) 67 minutes, 96% Tomato-meter, 8.0 IMDb
Here’s where basically every scary movie you’ve ever seen began. Silent films don’t come much more highly touted than this one in all its German Expressionism. If film acting is so much about the eyes, it is even more so in silent films & the cast delivers. One set in particular was positively hypnotic, but what did not work in the restoration I saw was the score. Free jazz with electric guitars? Whose idea was that?? It threw everything into anachronistic tension and not in a good way. Symphonic black metal would be a far better choice.  

‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012) 95 minutes Ratings: 91% Tomato-meter, 7.0 IMDb
(Zombies, Meta Sacrifice)
Slapstick splatter, red-neck, torture worshipping zombies and an overarching theme of ritual sacrifice. Sound like a good time? You’ll love this one. Joss Whedon collaborated on the screenplay so the plot is well constructed, a solid platform for the laughs, screams and the way out there systems trip. The acting’s great all around: Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are great as the corrupt, blasé bureaucrats as are Fran Kranz, Kristen Conolly and Chris Hemsworth as the college students heading toward what may be their last party. What elevates this film is the concept of “where nightmares are from” rather than something out of a nightmare. It manages to be both deep and fun.

‘Carrie’ (1976) 98 minutes, Ratings: 94% Tomato-meter, 7.4 IMDb
The combination of Stephen King, Brian de Palma, Sissy Spacek & Piper Laurie is sheer, dark movie magic. Carrie’s a shy girl bullied by her mother (Laurie, in her Oscar-nominated pitch-perfect pentecostal star turn). Margaret doesn’t bother to tell Carrie about anything as sinful as puberty. Carrie is in turn bullied by other girls who had better look out. Carrie has a superpower that resonates even after the superhero glut of the 21st century. She deals with the mean girls in their turn. William Katt & John Travolta mostly look pretty, but make no mistake, this is a story of woman’s inhumanity to woman. Karma is leveled unforgettably.  

The Changeling’ (1980) 1 hr 47 minutes 84% Tomato-meter 7.4 IMDb
(Lost Child/Haunted House)
A great horror film, based in Seattle, brings George C. Scott out west after a family tragedy. Scott plays a composer who is now teaching to packed lecture halls. The old house where he’s staying is huge, perfect for lavish parties with live music. The music he composes in the unfamiliar house unlike anything he’s written before… because he’s not alone in the house. Melvyn Douglas plays a U.S. Senator with ties to the house. As with all good ghost stories, there’s a mystery to be solved inside all the unnerving noises and creepy rooms, walled off or abandoned. One might assume the title would give away the mystery, but not so. See it, likely at your local library, free of charge: The pleasure of physical media…

‘Crimson Peak’ (2015) 119 minutes, Ratings: 73% Tomato-meter, 6.5 IMDb
(Haunted House)
Another haunted house? This is no mere shed out in the woods, but a sumptuous, ancient mansion with a wealthy, privileged and possibly inbred family. Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, & Doug Jones under the direction of the brilliant Guillermo Del Toro bring us ‘Crimson Peak’. Del Toro made this film between ‘Pacific Rim’ and his Oscar-winning ‘The Shape of Water’, which is a testimony to his range as a director and storyteller. The art direction cinematography and special effects range between decadent and heart-stopping. It’s far from perfect, but parts of this film are outstanding.

‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (2001) 106 minutes, Ratings: 92% Tomato-meter, 7.4 IMDb
I don’t think there’s a better setting for a horror film than an abandoned orphanage at the end of a war. The war in question is the Spanish Civil War. 10 year old Carlos arrives at the orphanage and very shortly looks like he’s seen a ghost, because he has. Spirits trapped between two worlds, secrets, lies and an unexploded bomb all figure into this story that is allegorical, political and has impact through decades and generations, generations that are a mystery to orphans. As we know, wars drive policy, make history, cost countless lives and make so very many orphans.

‘The Exorcist’ (1973) 122 minutes Ratings: 85% Tomato-meter, 8.0 IMDb
(Demonic Possession)
This had to make the list. It’s the law. Full on demonic possession, the temperature in the room dropping so suddenly you can see your breath. Ellen Burstyn wrote in her memoir of the ordeal of making this film and so many inexplicable & shudder-worthy things that happened on the set. Linda Blair’s performance was positively sacrificial and is illegal for underage actors today. In the title role, if Max Von Sydow’s repeated line “The Power of Christ compels you!” falls a little flat, it’s because, at least at that time Max was an unapologetic atheist. You’d think that would come up in the audition…

‘Get Out’ (2017) 104 minutes, Ratings: 98% Tomato-meter 7.7 IMDb
(Psychological Horror/Race)
A horror film addressing race, class and privilege, released in early 2017 & the timing couldn’t have been better. A young black man, his daughter of privilege sweetheart, a visit to her parent’s home. Events strange to alarming & beyond ensue. It’s Jordan Peele’s fist major splash in the cinematic sea and he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Few horror movies are honored with Oscar gold and this is the first to win for Original Screenplay. Bradley Whitford as the father reminds is just how creepy it can be to be too much of a fan of someone you’ve never met.

‘Halloween’ (1978) 91 minutes, Ratings 96% Tomato-meter, 7.8 IMDb
(Serial Killer)
Before the sequels, the franchises that no doubt paid off a few high end homes there was this humble tale of a boy who had stabbed his sister 15 years before on Halloween. Now a young man he has escaped from wherever he was locked up, just in time for the anniversary. Jamie Lee Curtis, then a newcomer with a name or two to live up to heads the cast in a film with pacing, sense of place and an ever building composition of not only jump scares but what a NYT critic called “still shocks… the ones that linger with you.” It’s been relentlessly imitated, but well worth seeing how they got this right the first time.

‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990) 113 minutes, Ratings: 72% Tomato-meter, 7.5 IMDb
(Psychological Horror/War)
A 20th century gem of psychological horror that jumps between New York City, Viet Nam and hell with a very young Tim Robbins as the titular Jacob. Some vets never made it home, others came home physically but still have one foot decomposing in the jungle. So many things went wrong in that war, in any war and we follow Jacob as he struggles to sort it out between flashbacks and moments unnerving, terrifying & despondent to sublime. Costarring a perfectly adorable Macaulay Culkin before the incident with aftershave made him famous.

‘The Lady Vanishes’ (1938) 96 minutes, Ratings: 98% Tomato-meter, 7.8 IMDb
(Mystery, early Hitchcock)
If you’re looking for blood, guts and mayhem, pass this one up, but if you’re looking for early Hitchcock when he was still working in the U.K. that’s a crisp, clear combination of great camera work, performances & story, don’t miss it. Miss Froy has been vacationing in the Balkans and goes missing on her trip home. Due to the devastation the Nazis rained on them and subsequent political blunders awakening vengeance, the Balkans would be a rare vacation destination for the rest of the 20th century, but I digress. The train is full of shady strangers who are pressing the idea she never boarded the train. There’s witty dialogue and plenty of humor as Hitch navigates us through the mystery.  It’s a delight, check it out.

‘Let the Right One In’ (2008) 116 minutes, Ratings: 98%Tomato-meter, 7.9 IMDb
(Vampire Etiquette)
Oskar is a 12 year old boy living in Scandinavia (long, long nights) who is a target for bullies. An eccentric, mysterious girl moves in right around the time a series of murders happen in the area. She’s different, she’s nice, she has good manners… and she could have had something to do with the murders… and yet…  The pacing, acting and storyline is familiar, but feels fresh in this setting. If you see it, you’ll never forget the scene at the pool, but that’s all I’ll divulge. It’s a study in vampire etiquette… and the blood effects are sublime.

‘Night of the Hunter’ (1955) 92 minutes, Ratings: 99% Tomato-meter, 8.0 IMDb
Okay, this is more noir than horror, but it was this seminal role the landed Robert Mitchum the role of Max Cady in the 1962 film ‘Cape Fear’, the only ‘Cape Fear’ worth seeing, but I digress. In the 21st century $10,000 isn’t a lot, but during the Great Depression that was the kind of money some would kill for. Shelley Winters plays the mother of 2 children, soon to be widowed because 2 people died in a bank robbery for which her husband was convicted. Along comes Mitchum, tattoos on his knuckles, preaching about love and hate. Sometimes the scariest monsters are those who walk among us.

‘The Others’ (2008) 104 minutes, Ratings: 83% Tomato-meter, 7.6 IMDb
(Haunted House)
No blood or gore here, this one’s all about the story and great performances, particularly by Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan. Mist envelops this island in post-WWII Britain where Grace (Kidman) lives with her photosensitive children. Daylight will harm and possible kill them, so Grace diligently balances candle and keys, protecting her son & daughter from the light. Her staff have left and she is overwhelmed when three people who can help appear. She holds out hope that her husband will return from the war, but the house inexplicably continues to shift. You won’t know heroes or villains until the final frames. Costarring Christopher Eccleston.  

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006) 118 minutes, Ratings: 95% Tomato-meter, 7.9 IMDb
(War/Family Violence/Phantasmagoric Escape)
This collaboration between Doug Jones and Guillermo Del Toro is particularly delicious and terrifying. It won Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography & Make Up, but to the point. Spain, 1944. A plucky young girl uneasily navigates her pregnant mother and new stepfather’s union when she discovers a labyrinth and is transported into an exciting world of terror and danger, much more interesting than the banalities of war (weird, brutal new dad is a military officer.) Pan transforms into various horrifying forms and puts Ofelia through her paces with exacting tasks, but he’s a sweetheart compared to her ruthless stepfather. Fantastically imagined, beautifully shot, this one is a feast for the senses. See it.   

‘Pit & the Pendulum’ (1961) 80 minutes, Ratings: 84% Tomato-meter, 7.1 IMDb
(Poe: Need I say more?)
Vincent Price was my very first favorite actor. It was in this adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story that at the tender age of 7 or so that I discovered an actor & genre that delighted me and a discipline I continue to respect. Price was a classically stage trained actor before finding his niche in scaring and thrilling audiences. There’s nothing like the Spanish Inquisition as a rich source for horror stories. Here Price is the keeper of the Medina castle, double cast. His wife had died under mysterious circumstances and her brother has come searching for her. A pendulum with a blade is involved and may or may not slice someone in half. I’ll never tell.  

‘Psycho’ (1960) 109 minutes, Ratings: 96% Tomato-meter, 8.5 IMDb
(Legendary Slasher/Taxidermy)
Blood effects: So difficult to make real. Film, TV, live theatre, very few get it right, but I’ll come back to that. ‘Psycho’ has two almost separate story lines: Marion Crane’s complicated relationships, her desire to break free, her fateful stay at the Bates Motel and in the second act her sister’s search for her and for justice justice. It’s a masterpiece of 20th century film in any genre, with Hitch at the top of his game: Performances, gorgeous black & white cinematography and the unforgettable score. But back to blood effects: You can get away with a lot in a black & white film and the sweet solution to realistic blood effects in the shower scene? Chocolate syrup. See it, if you haven't already.  

’A Quiet Place’ (2018) 90 minutes, Ratings: 95% Tomato-meter, 7.5 IMDb
(Family stalked by Alternate life forms)
For a mere $17 million (not a lot to make a major motion picture in the 21st century) here’s a horror film with an unearthly twist. Quiet is not the source of peace, but the lack of it means certain violent death at the claws of huge, bloodthirsty creatures. The family we’re following are fully developed characters, not mere marks to be picked off as in so many horror films. John Krasinsky directed and stars in an innovative horror film, one about a family that has been surviving for years in this state. Imagine labor & delivery of a child where making sound would mean far more blood than a birth. Now check this film out. — 10/1/2023

‘Rear Window’ (1954) 112 minutes, Ratings: 100% Tomato-meter, 8.5 IMDb
(Mystery/Serial Killer)
Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg and nothing to do but engage in a bit of voyeurism, something Hitchcock himself was given to. Hitch was a creeper before Woody Allen or Harvey Weinstein, but I digress. Anyway as life’s rich pageant unfolds before his binoculars, Jimmy notices something off. Raymond Burr is acting very strangely and may be more than just a bit of a brute. Solving the mystery of a possible murder ratchets up the tension with quite a bit of humor thrown in. And Grace Kelly’s entrance is perhaps the best in cinematic history. — 10/1/2023

‘Rebecca’ (1940) 100 minutes, Ratings: 100% Tomato-meter, 8.1 IMDb
The mayhem and debauchery mostly take place off screen in this adaptation of a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, but there is definitely a Fleurs du Mal vibe from this singular Hitchcock winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine star as the widower and his new bride. But the first wife casts a long shadow and there is nothing blithe about this spirit. How did she die? And why is everyone still so obsessed with her? Hitch guides us through this tangled web, at the top of his considerable game. See it. 10/1/2023

‘The Ring’ (2002) 115 minutes, Ratings: 71% Tomato-meter, 7.1 IMDb
(Cursed Video US)
Okay, a lot of jump scares in this U.S. remake of a cursed video tape (remember VHS? Beta??) From the time (usually unwitting teens) see what is on the tape, the clock is running and the ones who see are the ones who die. Usually a loved one seeking what happened to the deceased comes across the tape and the body count mounts. This is adapted from a far superior Japanese film released at the end of the 20th century (more on that below). Naomi Watts is great as a journalist whose niece is among the fallen. Her performance and the watery grave soundtrack are worth taking the time to check this one out. — 10/25/2019

‘Ringu’ (1998) 96 minutes, Ratings: 97% Tomato-meter, 7.3 IMDb
(Cursed Video Japan)
The original tale of the cursed tape and seven days to fight it or get your affairs in order and prepare to die is masterful. No jump scares, no cheap devices, just a slow burn and a story that unravels so completely you’ll forget you’re reading subtitles. The images, the pacing, the plot are subtle, relentless and horrifying. You may avert your eyes or be unable to because it is mesmerizing. The horse, the well with the detached fingernails stuck to the sides. It’s as close to a perfect a horror film as I’ve seen. — 10/1/2023

‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004) 96 minutes, Ratings: 92% Tomato-meter, 7.9 IMDb
(More zombies)
I know, more zombies, but this and Hot Fuzz’ (2007) are two of the more inspired comedies with a creepy edge. Time spent watching Bill Nighy work is always well spent. He plays Shaun’s Dad and there’s a scene between them where we witness how truly great his acting is, the craft that won him a Golden Globe in 2007 and BAFTAs for both Best Actor and Supporting Actor in 2004. Chase scenes through back yards with laundry hanging dry and how much people shuffling mindlessly toward the coffee that starts their hearts resemble zombies is all well played. —10/1/2023

‘The Shining’ (1980) 146 minutes, Ratings: 85% Tomato-meter, 8.4 IMDb
(Haunted hotel, burial ground)
Stanley Kubrick made huge films: ‘Spartacus’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ & ‘Full Metal Jacket’. Not always easy to watch, but hard to deny the grand sweep of his vision and his knack for catching people at their worst and never looking away. Kubrick didn’t like Jack Nicholson’s performance and neither did I. More than any player, the hotel is the true star of this film. Built over native burial grounds, there’s enough blood to cascade out of elevator doors and push furniture down the hall. There’s not enough of the little boy and *Scatman Crothers* confiding about shining, but the endless halls with geometric carpet pattens & what lies behind various hotel room doors will be to keep you in creeping horror and pouring darkness for the 146 minute running time. —10/28/2019

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991) 118 minutes, Ratings: 96% Tomato-meter, 8.6 IMDb
(Cannibalism/Serial Killer)
The list wouldn’t be complete without this one and to those who whine that serial killer films aren’t horror movies, you’re cordially invited to make your own list. Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster are at the peak of their considerable powers and the high stakes chess game they play as lives hang in the balance is breathtaking. She has much more screen time, but he makes his count. There’s a scene that’s literally about shooting in the dark that’s my favorite, but everyone has their own. This and ‘The Exorcist’ are the only horror movies to win Best Picture. I prefer this one, but watch them if you dare and decide for yourself. —10/29/2019

‘Us’ (2019) 116 minutes, Ratings: 93% Tomato-meter, 6.9 IMDb
(Stalked by Alternate Realities)
Lupita* Nyongo* is a great actress and delivers her most indelible performances of characters under horrifying circumstances. As Adelaide, she struggles with an unnamed trauma, but soon we’re viewing a story about parallel lives. What would our lives look like if we had different breaks, different opportunities, lived in a different neighborhood? Would we still be who we are? This film takes that thought experiment and runs with it. Sure, we assume we’re the hero of our own story, but what if we’re the villain and harmed others to secure our place in life? This may disturb your sleep for much longer than any jump scare. — 10/30/2019


 Led Zeppelin, the Beginning: The Yardbirds had disbanded & Jimmy Page was at loose ends. John Paul Jones approached him & said he was willing to be a part of "any project". Robert Plant & John Bonham were playing with Band of Joy & I'm not sure what was happening there.

Bonham, Jones, Page & Plant began playing as a band in a basement 12 July, 1968 Robert Plant was 19, John Bonham was 20, John Paul Jones was 22 & Jimmy Page was 24. It was the end of the '60's & the Beatles were breaking up, leaving a lot of great music and a cavernous void where their presence had been.

Probably discussing their viability for radio, Keith Moon of The Who who was in the studio & stopped by for a listen, said "Oh you'll go over like a lead zeppelin". Drop the "a" & the band had a name! As far as the transition between Beatles to Zep, I can only quote Monty Python: "And now for something completely different".

Zeptember, Track by Track: Debut through Physical Graffiti:
I (Debut): Released 12 January, 1968
‘Good Times, Bad Times’: Every one of these albums starts strong, but this one was particularly important. The Beatles were breaking up, leaving a cultural sinkhole and the ’60’s were drawing to a close. Everything about this song rings true, the band is tight and the equanimity about a lover leaving is never to be heard again in Zep’s lyrics.
‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’: This was nearly as much of a screamer as ‘Communication Breakdown’ & there are alternate versions that bear this out. I’m so grateful they started acoustically with gentle vocals, before the histrionics begin. They were a new band and this track gives them range and depth. (#11 of my top 20)
‘You Shook Me’: I found Led Zeppelin a teen & didn’t know this record as well as the others. Almost 25 years into the 21st century I’m aware this & other Zep songs were based on songs written by Black blues singers who likely died dead broke. I’m also aware that Plant was 19 when they started playing as a band & he & John Bonham were 20 when this record was released. Not many people knew what cultural appropriation was at that time, but the guitar line is right out of John Lee Hooker’s set list. Hendrix was still alive and innovating 12 bar blues was happening many places in the world. This song is the first time we hear Page/Plant call & response.    
‘Dazed & Confused’: One of their signature songs, Jimmy Page stretches this one out to 29 (!) minutes live in Madison Square Garden in the movie ‘The Song Remains the Same’. The descending bass line with the guitar line exploding over the top of it put those boys on the map. The band didn’t have a name at first and in the 9 days it took to record this album (including mixing). Keith Moon had a point, the critics weren’t kind. But that didn’t stop the fans, airplay or not, from snapping up this record & playing if for their friends.
‘Your Time is Gonna Come’: Love the intro (magnificent work by John Paul Jones), but the misogyny after that gets to me. I’m a lifelong fan, but some songs hold up better after a few decades. For me, this one doesn’t. Best thing about it is how it fades into the best track on the record,
‘Black Mountain Side’: Best track on the record, acoustic Zeppelin at its best. It’s a gem glimmering between two tracks more associated with this band, but so much better. Bonham & Page win this one. (# 26 of my top 30)
‘Communication Breakdown’: Even as a die-hard Zeppelin freak, this song has never done a thing for me. When people decry Led Zeppelin as nothing but noise and indicate this song? They’re not wrong.
‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’: Okay, everything I posted about ‘You Shook Me’ to this paler version. I get the nearly universal theme of not being able to walk away from a hopeless relationship & at 20 (or any age) I wouldn’t have managed better lyrics. Moving on…
‘How Many More Times’: There is rare footage of the band appearing on a television show performing this song & it’s sheer brilliance. This was before Peter Grant got ahold of them & allowed no further appearance on media. His approach: If you want to see Led Zeppelin, buy a ticket and see a concert.
But back to the song: On the record, the walking bass line is so much fun it almost makes up for the misogyny and DV at the end, But. Not. Quite. They couldn’t include that content on television so it was up to young Mr. Plant to rewrite it and he came through beautifully. Too many TV shows at the time did lip-synch/playback, but this was a live performance and it showcases them at the top of their form.
Track by Track: Led Zeppelin II, Released 22 October, 1969
‘Whole Lotta Love’: This one is hard rock with a soundscape, not exactly psychedelia, but like the band, all it’s own deal. John Bonham’s fine work is better showcased here & the guitar and bass layering throb through the song when Page & Plant aren't mixing it up. Then there’s Mr. Plant with lyrics that are considered tame today that scandalized sone and thrilled others. A powerful beginning to what is arguably their best album.
This song, along with ‘Rebel Rebel’, made no sense to me at all before puberty. A few years later I recognized them as Genius(!) This one made enough of an impact (crater?) that Zep was still using it as their finale for their Madison Square Garden shows filmed for ‘The Song Remains the Same’. (Rated 11 of the top)
‘What Is and What Should Never Be’: This one begins as a sweet outing with one’s beloved on the water and then starts playing with soundscapes before too many people used that term. A percussionist who uses the gong before the song ends commands respect. (#17of my Top 20)  
‘The Lemon Song’: The guitar breaks in this one are about the best thing about the song. Many excitable teens back in the 20th century loved this one because it was naughty (again, tame by 21st century standards), but musically it doesn’t stand up and the misogyny sours me on this one.
‘Thank You’: A rare love song, with a wedding vibe, but the organ is intense enough to keep it from being sappy. The outro with the fade out and fade in to finish the song is perfection. (#23 of my top 30)
To celebrate their second album, what would be the second side on vinyl, they have 2 sets of songs linked. Clever & fun…  
‘Heartbreaker’: When asked about founding the heavy metal genre, Jimmy Page dismissed it. While Zep may be an influence for many musicians, Page was not claiming paternity. That said, here’s one that’s aged like fine wine. The growly bass seems to breathe in this song. The guitar solo builds and just when you think it can’t build anymore it explodes into one of the finest breaks Page has unleashed. Collaboration with the bass and when it finally does top out, Plant is ready to drive it home. After decades of listening to Zep, this one jumped out at me a few years back & kicked it near the top of my list. As the last “Heart-“ beats, I joyfully skip ahead to ‘Ramble On’ & a couple of others that made my Top Ten. (#3 of my Top 10)
‘Livin Lovin Maid (She’s Just a Woman)’: The walking bass line is fun, but the band never performed this song live, because it’s Jimmy Page’s least favorite song of theirs and I can’t argue with him.
‘Ramble On’: The sweet rhythm of hoof beats in percussion, complimentary bass & sandy perfection of the vocals set this song apart from anything else on II. The lyrics are evocative of fall & eventually Tolkien-informed. Jimmy Page comes in with a solo that would fit in well with traveling musicians of old. The overdubs are never overdone, which enhances rather than overwhelming the song, exciting to the ear. (#17 of my top 20)
‘Moby Dick’: It speaks well of John Bonham (may he Rest in Peace) that I’d freely sit still for a drum solo and that it lands in my Top Ten. This one & ‘Bring it On Home’ are both great songs & the transition between them is brilliant. (# 9 of my top10)
‘Bring It On Home’: The opening vocal is another innovation within a collaboration that seemed to never run out of them. Yes, there’s the blue-eyed blues issue but it’s grand to hear the lads tear this one up. (#8 of my top 10)
Track by Track: Led Zeppelin II, Released 5 October, 1970
I listen to I through Physical Graffiti every Zeptember and III is usually one I like less, but this year a vibed with it: Strong, hard rock, a couple of complex tunes, strong, hypnotic blues, “butt-rock” & the rest is mostly sad country songs. The album’s art spun with a paper disc the same size as a vinyl disc, with windows that lined up with images. Mine broke.   
‘Immigrant Song’: Opening the record with another signature, full-on hard rock screamer, an often imitated, never duplicated song. Kurt Cobain cut his teeth on this song, whether with Nirvana or not, is unclear. When it was used in the film ‘Thor Ragnarok’ & the previews I thought “Hammer of the Gods… clever!”
‘Friends’: Here for the first time, but not the last, Plant’s hopeful vocals are underscored by Page’s sinister instrumental. The juxtaposition is delightful and no one I know does it better. (#21 of my top 30)
‘Celebration Day’:  ‘Friends’ slides into this one. Here Page & Plant’s switch places,  upbeat music with sinister lyrics. The chorus is about the winners, but the verses tell more about the conquered that are scary and this is no mere soccer match.
‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’: Sexy, dramatic blues as satisfying live (on film) as it is on the studio release (a perfect centerpiece track for III). The seven minute run time never feels too long and as I heard Plant lean into the first chorus, both in the film and on the CD I discovered & was reminded: *This* is why I love Led Zeppelin. Page is the High Priest of note for note solos & following the song as originally created. This melodic, minor gem is as much a spell as it is a song. (2 on my top 10)
‘Out on the Tiles’: After seven minutes of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, the lightness of this track is a great balance with another great bass line. A teen boy in my family was interested in Led Zeppelin & when he heard this song he said “This is butt-rock! Led Zeppelin played butt-rock?!” “Proto-butt-rock, dear” I replied.  
‘Gallows Pole’ Based on a folksong called ‘7 Curses’, the lads make it their own with banjo in the mix. The upshot? Don’t give up your sister. You still might die.  
‘Tangerine’ The band capture longing here for a love long gone with the prettiest outro I’ve heard in a while.
‘That’s the Way’ One of the best sad love songs, by Zep or really anyone. The steel guitar backs a story of childhood sweethearts separated by rumors, then a parent and the girl does not recover. Sad with sweet acoustic overdubs.
‘Bron Yr Aur Stomp’: After the last three this one provides sorely needed fun, a lot of it. The band is tight & going full on country stomp. Anyone asserting Led Zeppelin doesn’t have range, let them listen to this record.
‘Hats Off to Roy Harper’ This record has a distinct folky-country vibe. Here it’s mostly off the rails. I can hear the negotiation in the studio: “You want 10 tracks? Okay…”
Track by Track: Led Zeppelin IV, Released 8 November, 1971
‘Black Dog’: Love it or no matter how you feel about it, this is another signature song, instantly recognizable & a strong start to IV.
‘Rock & Roll’: Rock doesn’t get more classic than this one. My go-to at karaoke. (#25 of my top 30)
‘The Battle of Evermore’: A great and unusual duet, the mandolin and harmonies (with some excellent dissonance), this one has been covered by Heart, friends of the band. Rest in Peace Sandy Denny (1947-1978).
‘Stairway to Heaven’: This song rings in the ears of virtually anyone who lived through the ’70’s in the U.K. or the U.S. Its 3 parts wafted out of radios, some say overplayed, but never played out. Some love the first part with acoustic guitar, recorder and gentle vocals, others are patient with all that but ready to “wind on down the road”. I love it all & as I was taking a break from writing last night this song was playing and at hearing “Dear lady can you hear the wind blow and did you know, your stairway lies on the whispering wind”. I looked up at my laptop & thought “You talkin to me?”
‘Misty Mountain Hop’: Tolkien-influenced, with one of the best intros of Zep’s discography and one of their most danceable songs. The lyrics are both fun and insightful, just like the man who wrote them.  
‘Four Sticks’: This song would be stronger without the vocal track. Just step back & let the immortal John Bonham work his magic, guys!
‘Goin to California’: Here’s a sweet one, legend has it was written for Joni Mitchell, probably not an actual romance, but the lads had heard about the Laurel Canyon scene & likely wanted to be there. Some beautiful, human moments like Robert Plant taking an audible breath on the lead mic too soon (‘Tangerine’ & ‘Black Country Woman’ have them too) are left on the final pressing, long before the era of auto-tune, etc. The mandolin & more give us something gorgeous and melodic before the sublime chaos of ‘When the Levee Breaks’, which concludes IV, arguably the best of Led Zeppelin’s albums and certainly the most famous.  (#19 of my Top 20)
‘When the Levee Breaks’:  Words fail me as to how hard this one rocks. Everyone is firing on cylinders, the guitar and Plant’s wailing, the throb of the bass and Bonham tearing it up on the drums. Page in his element his guitar wailing in a way Derek & the Dominoes tried with ‘Layla’ & fell short, which is why the piano coda of that song is the best part. Zeppelin perfection and the lyric “Cryin' won’t help ya, prayin’ won’t do ya no good” is nearly as cold-blooded as Johnny Cash’s “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” In the final chord we all wind up under water. (#4 of my Top 5)
Track by Track: Houses of the Holy, Released 28 March, 1973
‘The Song Remains the Same’: To say this record starts strong is an understatement. This song starts out at speed, between guitar and drums with a great break after the intro. It slows down in grand style for the vocal. It’s a valentine to the road.  
‘The Rain Song’: Lyric and lovely, the shape of this song is elegant as to how love between people weathers the seasons. Soothing & compelling. (#5 of my Top 10)
‘Over the Hills & Far Away’: This has topped lists as the most quintessential Led Zeppelin song: Sweet acoustic guitar licks to open the song, sexy romantic vocals without a trace of sappiness, wasting no time getting to the volume, philosophical lyrics & danceable instrumental breaks. What sets this song apart is that it goes back to the quiet place & grows into a grand ending. (#13 of my Top 20)
‘The Crunge’ This is a great party song, very danceable. In the days of reasonably priced vinyl this song wrapped up the first side and when “Where’s that confounded bridge?” came over the speakers at parties most people would stop, look at each other confused. You’ve just been pranked by Zep kids, go back to your party, in progress.  
‘Dancin’ Days’: This song is what it says & the dance party continues…
‘Dyer Maker’: If ‘The Crunge’ was the band’s swing at funk, this is their swing at reggae and out of the gate John Bonham shows that he’s up to the challenge. When the rhythm is there, the rest tend to follow & the dance party that’s gone on for three tracks is about to stop short.
‘No Quarter’: Led Zeppelin and The Doors have in common that their bass players also handled keyboards, or bass on keyboards as well. John Paul Jones does an exceptional job of all of this all the way through in the extended introduction. While the live version in the film ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is great, the vocals on the studio disc were a revelation to me, something fearful & intimate that couldn’t be produced in a house the size of Madison Square Garden. Here’s one of many with a a spooky, menacing (see the title) vibe playable all the way through Rocktober. Another song that’s more of a spell. (#12 of my Top 20)
‘The Ocean’: Fun, bouncy hard rock & Grant counts it in. The bass line is fun, funky & the dance party is back on. I have a friend who worked at a record store and she told me the most often requested song by people who didn’t know the name of the song was this one.They’d have to sing it to her. In the last part of the song they capture an oceanic vibe without ever losing the pace. When Robert Plant say  “Oh… It’s so good” I have to agree. —CYH 9/20/2023
Track by Track: Physical Graffiti, Released 24 February, 1975
‘Custard Pie’: Another example of Zep albums starting strong: ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘The Song Remains the Same’, some of the male rock music critics were too uncomfortable with the metaphor in this one to appreciate or report favorably about the song. It’s showy, bawdy & uses a number of phrases from old blues songs, for which the band was likely sued, but Plant makes them his own and takes the musical innovation Zep is known for ever forward.  (#18 of my top 20)
‘The Rover’ This is a showcase for Jimmy Page’s virtuosity & while everybody’s great here, he is spectacular. If Plant could clip the “yay-yeah”s that are annoying ear worms, the song would be perfect.  
‘In My Time of Dying’: A huge song, beginning with a dirge and Plant’s vocals take it all the way through the crossover process with the band putting forth a wall of sound that would bring Phil Spector to his knees. Everyone is great, but John Bonham (may he Rest in Peace) takes top honors. His percussion work is precise and devastating. This is one of many tracks (‘Kashmir’ and ‘When the Levee Breaks’ come to mind as well) why Zep was dubbed “Hammer of the Gods.” (#15 of my top 20)
‘Houses of the Holy’: The dream side of vinyl was this, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ & ‘Kashmir’. This intro is perfect for making an entrance, Plant’s vocals are angelic over a riff that’s pointedly unholy and the song swings by delightfully. There’s a burlesque troop in Seattle called the Atomic Bombshells that did about 4 shows called “House of Thee Unholy”, each one in Zeptember. I was lucky to catch the last of them. Burlesque to Led Zeppelin, what’s not to love? (#29 of my top 30)
‘Trampled Underfoot’: In 1975 on a Pan Am flight to Heathrow there was in-flight music on headphones and this was one of the songs that turned up on that 9 hour flight. I caught this one on every rotation. I’m not overstating that it changed the way I listen to music & I have never, before or since, heard anything remotely like it with the possible exception of Billy Preston’s ‘Outta Space’. (#6 of my top 10)
‘Kashmir’: This one is a favorite of many and for those of you who know the genre of Symphonic Black Metal, here’s where it started. The ominous strings and Bonham’s march-through-the-desert drums are hypnotic and that’s just the beginning. It unfolds into a sonic feast with just the right amount of overdub at the right time to make it mind blowing. No band I know knocks it over the top like these guys. These are only a few reasons so many people adore this song & other than samples, I’ve never heard anything like it. Another song that’s a spell, as their best ones are. (#1 of my top 5)
‘In The Light’: The drone under an ornate intro (possibly harpsichord) leads into Plant’s hopeful vocals are underscored by Page’s sinister instrumental. The juxtaposition is delightful and no one I know does it better. (#20 of my Top 20)
‘Bron-Yr-Aur’: Perhaps the most known of Jimmy Page’s acoustic work, it’s impeccable & smooth enough to use for meditation. Yes I do meditate to Led Zeppelin. (#24 of my Top 25)
‘Down By the Seaside’: A sentimental song, sounding different from every other song of Led Zeppelin. If I’m going to the sea, I’d take ‘The Ocean’ or ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ over this one, but that’s only my choice. I’ve been a big fan of Zep since high school and there will always be some twerp who takes aim at things they know you love. Some boy said to me “All Led Zeppelin’s songs sound the same.” “Really?” I asked, “Name three.” Not a word from him after that.
‘Ten Years Gone’: Years ago, Robert Plant had a girlfriend who laid down an ultimatum: “The band or me.” Plant wisely chose the band, to the benefit of all who love them. This song is for &/or about her, a beautiful remembrance with one of my favorite guitar solos ever. Many a passenger in my car know it, as I’ve played it over and over… (#10 of my Top 10)
‘Night Flight’: This one begins sounding like a hook up then spins out to a full on warning for evacuation. It’s nigh on perfect if not for the gratuitous grunts at the end. How Plant managed them without vomiting is beyond me.
‘The Wanton Song’: A song about a succubus or an ode to sex on the road can be taken either way. In either case, the lush guitar and wicked stutter drum make it.
‘Boogie With Stu': This one’s a romp with crazy rhythm & a fun, silly vocal. ‘Physical Graffiti’ was as heroic an undertaking as a rock & roll album gets. A break for some fun was in order. This song made me grin the first time I heard it & it has ever since. (Top 27 of 30)
‘Black Country Woman’ holds promise instrumentally (Bonham, baby), but the old saw “I know your sister too” with the tag “What’s the matter with you, mama?” curdles it. Same teen boy listening with me was disgusted: “You f**ked her sister? Dude, what’s the matter with *you*?!” Exactly.
’Sick Again’: This one doesn’t sound like Zep, more like they’re riffing on a Stones song. It’s about the Hyatt House in Los Angeles that was dubbed the Riot House that featured John Bonham riding a motorcycle down the hall, Keith Moon demolishing various rooms and underage groupies. Sadly, ‘Sick Again’ probably means dope sick. A messy end to a masterpiece & they were likely exhausted.
Film Review,’The Song Remains the Same’  Released 20 October, 1976
What is worrisome about the music industry is that it’s more about industry than music. For years Peter Grant who managed Led Zeppelin kept them away from media insisting that if people want to see them, they should buy a ticket & see a live show.
He had a point, live music really is best. Led Zeppelin was so big at the time that everyone who wanted to see them might not be able to get a ticket for a live show. When Grant connected with a film producer the answer became clear. Two sold out concerts in Madison Square Garden, filmed and the band and Grant got to choose scenarios, proto music videos to pair with certain songs.
The movie is awash with the Hammer of the Gods at full momentum in a huge house. If you like ‘Dazed & Confused’, you’ll have 29 minutes of it! It could do with better editing, but it was my full introduction to Led Zeppelin beyond what I’d heard on the radio. I invited a friend over to see it and we became instant fan-girls. I bought many of their albums. That was the point.
Of all the scenarios (mobster, Arthurian, gothic graveyard, hermit) the one I love best is John Bonham’s. He doesn’t try to be anyone other than who he is and in his scenario, I saw what he loved best: Custom cars & motorcycles, coaching his son on the drums, dancing with his beautiful wife, working on his farm with livestock, preparing to demolish brickwork with a jackhammer & having a pint at the pub. It’s a beautiful window into his too-short life & what makes this movie golden. —CYH 9/16/2023 

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