April 15, 2024

Until last week, I had never seen The Princess Bride (1987). I understand this to be some species of crime. It never felt criminal to me. I had my fantasies of a Spanish-speaking cat, challenging his father’s murderer for all eternity. To my mind, it also starred Anne Hathaway and may have included Grace Kelly. Such was my contented vision. I turned out to be wrong on each count. Usually, I like to be right. In this case, I’m happy... Read more

April 8, 2024

Gone with the Wind (1939) has a dubious honor. It exists at a triple remove from us. The David O. Selznick-produced epic is a tale of the mid-nineteenth century told by way of the wistful Lost Cause made by strongheaded, modern studio executives high on the fumes of the Roaring Twenties. If my brief perusal of Reddit is any indication, its racisms are too convoluted to do much but concern young people (or at least, I hope they’re young people).... Read more

April 1, 2024

I’m a word person. This is, I think, a sound investment. The word is the structure of our most common communication, whether spoken or written; it is the form which most often gives shape to our needs, desires, and losses. No greater technology (save perhaps penicillin—itself dependent on words as much as on chemical experimentation) has yet existed. Even the artificial intelligences that haunt us often speak in words. Their ersatz thinking is a language denuded of ambiguity, language reduced... Read more

March 25, 2024

Barb Wire (1996) is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. That is a value neutral statement. Despite pondering the question for a whole day, I’ve not yet been able to disentangle the film’s frantic, leathery energy from the schizoid cultural paradigm it represents. In this case, I wish a cigar were merely a cigar and that Pamela Anderson Lee (Barb Wire herself) were merely Pamela Anderson Lee. But Pam is her breasts and leather onesies. And Barb Wire... Read more

March 19, 2024

When Kubla Khan did his stately pleasure-dome decree, I imagine his court was excited. Dancing? Zithers? Wine? What’s not to like? I have trouble seeing Kubla or one of his Sinicized Mongol courtiers looking dour: “no. I already watched the dancing girls today! I want new dancing girls! And wine from Shanxi, not Hebei! And the goose stinks! Have the chef executed!” Maybe it happened that way, I don’t know. But life in the saddle ain’t easy. Seeing half your... Read more

March 12, 2024

This one is likely to be short. I’ve just handed in my dissertation, and I think my brain will blow out like a whoopie cushion exposed to a pin prick if I try to go on for any length of time. I’m running on the neural equivalent of fumes. The term “late medieval mysticism” is banging around in my head, and there’s nothing I can do to silence the farting echo. The only thought that brings me peace is Ingmar... Read more

March 4, 2024

I like Showgirls (1995) and Cocktail (1988). I’ve got a thing for the underdog, the Razzie winner. No doubt because I consider myself the underdog (what kind of self-respecting neurotic doesn’t?). Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987) is anything but a shrimpy lightweight duking it out with Brutus Beefcake. May, now 91, stands head and shoulders above the competition, a comedic doyenne for half a century. The film stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Even Isabelle Adjani crops up in a side... Read more

February 26, 2024

In middle school, I played Albert in Bye Bye Birdie (1960), a musical loosely based on Elvis Pressley’s 1957 drafting into the US Army. When you participate in a show at such a formative age, the lyrics stick with you. I can’t sing well and yet the director thought it a good idea to cast me as a character with a handful of songs. These live within me, periodically emerging to remind me of the acting career that could have... Read more

February 19, 2024

As a kid, I spent countless hours drawing up maps of imaginary civil wars, feuding statelets marked by jagged lines on printer paper. I’d have these make-believe polities fight, draw arrows to signal invasions, and mentally play out cartoon versions of on-the-ground violence. When I wasn’t doing that, I’d spread playing cards across bedroom and hallway floors, shaping units and formations out of twos and tens, sorting armies by suit and value (I learned to play poker when I was... Read more

February 13, 2024

I’ve lounged the beaches from San Juan to Cinque Terre, but I prefer a brisk. day and a thick jacket. No sunblock for me. Outside my window at this moment, snow is stacked a half-foot high. Soon my dogs will beg to go out (bellies full of snow as they are. At least they had fun). My Slavic skin isn’t made for intense heat and direct exposure; my complexion (and my mood) fare better with early nights, deep darkness, and... Read more

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