31 December 2023

A Brief Reader Survey to Finish 2023

Busy Streams Employees

I’d like to end 2023 with a brief reader’s poll in order to improve services here at Streams of Unconsciousness in the coming year. We’re always looking for new ways to please our regular readers (estimated to be in the tens of millions) and attract new customers as part of our global outreach. Thanks for your participation. We look forward to hearing from you and perhaps seeing you in 2024. And oh by the way, Happy New Year!!!

If you visited the Streams headquarters in the past year, which of the following on site attractions did you visit the most?

  1. The museum
  2. The gift shop
  3. The cafe
  4. The opium den
  5. The disco

Also if you visited Streams this year, which of the following did you most frequently participate in?

  1. A seance
  2. An orgy
  3. A bocce ball tournament
  4. A dance marathon
  5. Primal scream therapy

If you’ve made purchases from the Streams online store, what have you bought most often:

  1. A hoodie
  2. A tee shirt
  3. A cap
  4. A girdle
  5. A dildo

If you’ve visited the museum, which exhibit did you enjoy the most?

  1. The Hall of Typos
  2. The fluorescent post-it collection
  3. The original Streams mimeograph machines
  4. The papier-mâché shower clogs
  5. The looted art from third world countries

What would you most like to see added to the Streams restaurant menu?

  1. Roasted bald eagle
  2. Watermelon rind souffle
  3. Calamari Cup O Noodles
  4. Mescaline dosed trout
  5. Haggis

If you could pick one of the following entertainers to make an encore performance at the Streams Pavilion, who would it be?

  1. Paul McCartney
  2. Beyonce
  3. Taylor Swift
  4. The Vienna Boy’s Choir
  5. The Moosejaw Middle School marching band

Which forthcoming Streams-published book are you most likely to read in 2024?

  1. The Mystery of the Missing Adjective by E.Q Pettifogg
  2. How to Tame a Rabid Wolverine by Myra Myron
  3. 100 Recipes for Grouper by Hasenpfeffer Conroy
  4. An Illustrated History of Bank Foreclosures by Bob Bleak
  5. Winds Across the Patio: A Novel by Millicent Whitcomb

What blog topic most interested you?

  1. Reviews of recent films
  2. Discussions on classic movies
  3. Angry diatribes against “the man”
  4. Paranoid rants against “the system”
  5. Incoherent ravings about ducks

27 December 2023

My Top Ten Films of 2023

Fallen Leaves

This was the best year in films since….I’m not exactly sure. A long time. It might be the best year of the current century. I had a deuce of a time picking between three GREAT films for the number one spot (Three great films in one year!). As you’ll note there’s a gap between three and four but that’s no slight on the rest of the top ten. Any of the first six would have been worthy of the top spot in a “normal” year. Eight films were well worthy of being in the top four and at least thirteen were top ten worthy. My faith in the film industry is -- at least temporarily -- restored. 

1. Fallen Leaves (Kaurismäki)

2. Godland (Pálmason)

3. Oppenheimer (Nolan) 

4. May December (Haynes)

5. Afire (Petzold)

6. Poor Things (Lanthimos)

7. Fair Play (Domont)

8. Showing Up (Reichardt)

9. The Holdovers (Payne)

10. Past Lives (Song) 

Honorable Mention: Killers of the Flower Moon (Scorsese), Asteroid City (Anderson), Bottoms (Seligman), Dream Scenario (Borgli), Barbie (Gerwig), Anatomy of a Fall (Triet)

Best Actor: Colman Domingo (Rustin) Runners Up — 

Alden Ehrenreich (Fair Play), Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) and Paul Giamatti (Holdovers).

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (Maestro) Runners up - Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon), Alma Pöysti (Fallen Leaves) and Natalie Portman (May December).

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer). Runners Up — Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things) and Ingvar Sigurdsson (Godland)

Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers) Runners Up — Juliane Moore (May December) and Jodie Foster (Nyad

23 December 2023

Save an Intelligent Animal From Suffering and Help the Environment in the Bargain, Don't Eat Pig Meat

Having ham with your Christmas dinner? Don’t.

Would you bake the family dog and eat it? Would you roast your toddler?  Of course not. Yet pigs are smarter than dogs, cats and your average three-year-old. They’re smarter than horses. Don’t believe me? Ask The Humane Society. Also, according to the website animal equity: Researchers have found that pigs are intelligent beings capable of remembering their surroundings, learning from their friends, and solving complex problems. Pigs can be trained just as dogs are. They are gentle and make good pets.

Their reputation as filthy animals is undeserved. It stems from the environments that farmers put them in. They clean themselves and — contrary to common misconceptions — don’t wallow in their own filth. They do wallow in mud, especially during hot weather, to keep cool and avoid sunburns. According to sentinentmedia org. pigs are sentient beings who can feel stress, fear and joy. Pigs are the fifth most intelligent animals in the world. Pigs understand when they see themselves in a mirror. The ability to recognize an image of themselves, known as self-recognition, is only found in the world’s most intelligent species. Pigs are known to have both good long and short-term memories. They are social animals who work well together in groups.

I don’t understand how people with good conscience can tacitly support the slaughter of these relatively intelligent creatures which they do every time they have a slice of bacon.

And about that slaughter….On factory farms pigs designated for your dinner table are treated horribly. Often confined in crates that are so small they can’t even turn around. Piglets are separated from their mothers soon after birth.

Pigs have a lifespan of ten to fifteen years, unless they are designated for your pulled pork sandwich or plate of bacon. Factory farms pigs are sent to the slaughterhouse after six months of life. Up to a million pigs a year die in transport, freezing to death in the winter and dying of heat exhaustion in the summer. By the time of their deaths their lungs and legs are so weak from confinement that they can’t run and can barely walk. Their short lives are miserable and end horribly.

According to PETA: “A typical slaughterhouse kills up to 1,100 pigs every hour. The sheer number of animals killed makes it impossible for them to be given humane, painless deaths. Because of improper stunning, many pigs are alive when they reach the scalding tank, which is intended to soften their skin and remove their hair. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who ‘were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun] as many as four times.’ According to one slaughterhouse worker, ‘There’s no way these animals can bleed out in the few minutes it takes to get up the ramp. By the time they hit the scalding tank, they’re still fully conscious and squealing. Happens all the time.’”

But there are other methods of killing pigs. Like the gas chamber. In an article published earlier this year the San Francisco Chronicle reported on film footage snuck out of a slaughterhouse. It revealed: “pigs screaming, gasping for air, thrashing violently and desperately trying to escape as they slowly suffocated in a pool of invisible carbon dioxide gas.”

Like other kinds of animal farming, pig farming is bad for the environment and a contributor to global warming. Pork has the third highest environmental impact among meats. According to a University of Colorado study: Raising livestock for human consumption generates nearly 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, which is greater than all the transportation emissions combined. It also uses nearly 70% of agricultural land which leads to being the major contributor to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. 

Save a pig today. Don’t have ham, pork chops or pork sausage. Encourage others not to. Support humane treatment of all animals and end the slaughter of pigs. If you can, adopt one as a pet. Here’s some ways to help are oinking friends.

16 December 2023

Yuletide Fun on Film, Another Edition of My Favorite Christmas Films

Fanny and Alexander

Welcome to the 1,000th iteration (
he’s exaggerating) of my favorite Christmas films. If you go to the Christmas label on the side of the blog you can find hundreds (again, he’s exaggerating) of other such posts. I believe the exercise worth repeating as tastes change, new movies are seen and changing perspectives worth adding. 

We live in an age in which there is a proliferation of really lame Christmas movies. The Hallmark channel has been cranking them out for about ten years now and Netflix has gotten into the act. They feature sappy story lines, d list actors and shoot-the-script directors. I happily ignore those. Fortunately there are the tried and true with occasional new additions. Many of my favorite are older films, as you’ll note, from the time when story was king. In a lot of these pictures Christmas scenes are tangental. Most have big stars and some are from really good directors. Some try to capture something of whatever the Christmas spirit is. While for others Christmas provides an interesting backdrop or is like one of the characters. 

I’ll not be detailing plot points, instead focusing on the many great performances that highlight these films as well as the picture's relation to the holiday season.

(The following are offered in no particular order.)

Fanny Alexander (1982) Bergman. We start off with the question of what constitutes a Christmas movie. I’ve wrestled with this question before. Here is my latest answer: a movie that centers around Christmas, is set around Christmas or has a significant Christmas scene. Fanny begins with a very long scene on Christmas Eve and then ignores the holiday completely for the rest of its several hours running time (I only consider the extended TV version worth watching). But what a glorious Christmas scene it is with all the pageantry, fun, food, gifts and family (seen through the eyes of a child) that can make the holiday seem magical. It is some of the best stuff on celluloid. The great Ingmar Bergman directed.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) Capra. It’s a wonderful film. Like F&A one of the greats of all time. It begins and ends on Christmas Eve with the vast middle exploring other times of year. It is sentimental (but not overly) with a simple but profound message. The fact that many people such as myself never tire after repeat viewings is a clear indication of its power. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Thomas Mitchell lead a fantastic cast featuring many of Hollywood’s Golden Age’s top supporting players (such as Ward Bond, H.B. Warner, Frank Faylen and Beluah Bondi).

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Godfrey. Another picture I watch every year and never tire of. The first “pure Christmas” movie on the list it all takes place during the Christmas season, mostly on December 24 and 25. Barbara Stanwyck is radiant, Dennis Morgan is charming, Sidney Greenstreet, Una O’Connor, Reginald Gardner and S.Z. (Cuddles) Sakall round out a top notch cast. It’s a classic romantic comedy with a tight script more than ably directed by Peter Godfrey who, lamentably, never did anything nearly as good. 

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) Jutra. A criminally underrated and under-appreciated movie (probably because it’s over 50 years old and French Canadian — you know how people are). The film is set entirely during Christmas in a rural Quebec mining town in 1949. It’s a coming of age story but a damn good one. Moving, beautifully shot. Realism tinged by the fantasy that is Christmas and being young. Thankfully TCM shows it every year.

The Shop Around the Corner
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) Lubitsch. It’s as close to perfect a film as has ever been made. Ernst Lubitsch directed. He was constitutionally incapable of making a bad picture. Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as are Frank Morgan and the rest of the cast — special shout out to Felix Bressart. Touching, warm, romantic and the story concludes most satisfactorily on a snowy Christmas Eve.

Rare Exports (2010) Helander. Finland’s (Hyvä Suomi!) contribution to the list. Most definitely a Christmas movie through and through centering as it does on the true story and secrets of Santa Claus. It’s an action/horror/fantasy comedy Christmas story all in 82 wild wonderful minutes. A different take on the typical holiday film, to be sure but one that is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) Sturges. Another film that begins and ends and ends at Christmas with a vast middle that has nothing to do with the holiday. Indeed there’s very little reference to Christmas at all but it’s still a holiday favorite for me and countless others. Plus it’s a Preston Sturges film so you know it manages to be wild, whacky AND intelligent fun. Those Sturges comedies of the early/mid forties never disappointed and all stand up after repeat viewings. The real miracle of the Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is that they got this story of pregnant young girl (who doesn’t know who the father is) past the censors. Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton star but William Demarest steals every scene he’s in.

Happiest Season (2020) DuVall. A fairly new addition to the list. Just had my second ever viewing of it and consider it now to be worthy of regular viewings. One of two LGBTQ friendly Christmas stories on my list, this a more modern take about coming out. It is largely predictable but great fun in getting to the inevitable and somewhat sappy conclusion. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis co-star but supporting players Daniel Levy and Aubrey Plaza are scene stealers.

Carol (2015) Haynes. Fully the first half is during the Christmas season and then we’re off into other times of the year. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara co-star in my favorite movie of 2015. Our second LGBTQ friendly film, this one set in a time when “no one” came out (the fifties). It’s heart-wrenching, heart-warming and moving and has more than enough Christmas in it to justify inclusion on this list. Todd Haynes’ direction, the set designs and costuming are significant co-stars. 

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Koster. It stars Cary Grant as an angel, what more could you want? That Loretta Young and David Niven co-star (and James Gleason and Monty Woolley are supporting players) clinches the deal. If you’re curious about the word charming just watch Grant in this picture. He manages to be an angel without being preachy about it and rattling on about Jesus and God (who needs that?). Set entirely within the Christmas season ending on the day itself.

Home Alone (1990) Columbus and Home Alone 2 (1992) Columbus. Two more films that I find it impossible to tire of. You know the stories, you know the stars. Macaulay Caulkin was the precious Kevin, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern were the cartoonishly evil bandits, Catherine O’Hara (the brilliant comic actress) was the frazzled mother. A cameo by the late great John Candy was a highlight of the original and a cameo by the detestable DJ Trumpy is the blight on the second.

Elf (2003) Favreau. Pure Christmas. Pure fun. It’s unimaginable with anyone but Will Ferrell as the oversized titular character. Bob Newhart plays his dad and Ed Asner is Santa. James Caan features as well. It’s a silly movie but the good kind that makes you smile and delight in child-like hi-jinks. For the kind of movie it is it’s excellent. A seasonal staple.

Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol (1951) Hurst. Except no substitute. This is the best (my humble opinion) cinematic rendering of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the redemption of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Alistair Sim stars in a remarkable performance. He’s on the verge of chomping on the scenery but has just enough restraint to make his performance perfect. 

The Holdovers (2023) Payne. Still in theaters. Obviously the latest addition to the list, I believe it will become a seasonal regular. The missus and I saw it last month and enjoyed it a lot and I wrote a little about it on this blog. Excepting the very end it is set entirely around the Christmas season. Paul Giamatti shines as do co-stars Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

The Thin Man (1934) Van Dyke. Okay not a very Christmasy movie but it does have scenes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Anyway it is the first of the delightful Thin Man series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy and if there’s a better regular screen pairing in cinema history I haven’t heard of it. Nick and Nora Charles (and their dog Asta) tipple their way through life wise-cracking all the way. They also solve murders. This is the best of the series.

Trading Places (1983) Landis. Somewhat of a hybrid Christmas and New Year’s Eve movie. SNL alums Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy co-star along with Jamie Lee Curtis in one of the few really good comedies to come out of the Eighties. It constantly edges towards poor taste but stops short enough for me and is damn funny fun along the way. Begins during the Christmas season and continues just past the new year.

Others to consider: Meet John Doe, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, Remember the Night, A Christmas Tale, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (1938), The Muppets Christmas Carol, The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Boy Named Christmas, Klaus.

11 December 2023

A Career Choice Made While Drunk -- Of Course it Worked Out

I was drunk when I decided to become a teacher. (Isn’t everyone?). I was about to turn thirty or -- maybe I’d just turned thirty -- and was sitting on my preferred barstool in my preferred watering hole into my third or fourth hour of drinking when it occurred to me that I wanted something more out of life than to be a proofreader and copy editor. The drinking I was fine with, but being a wage slave is where I drew a line. I’d by this time self-sabotaged my career as a journalist which is another story and rather sad one at that. Another time, perhaps.

Back to the barstool ..... Okay, Richard, I reasoned, you’ve always loved history, why not try teaching it? Fair enough, I responded. Mind you I’d never given being a teacher any thought. Not for a second. But when intoxicated I was liable to imagine myself  in all manner of scenarios like being married to Linda Ronstadt or Cybill Shepherd. This idea of being a teacher had a tinge of respectability and believability to it.

The damnedest thing is that when sober the next day I still managed to envision myself teaching. I thought something along the lines of: let’s go for it. So I did.

No one I mentioned the idea to burst out laughing or screamed, “for the love of god don’t do it, the humanity!” Not even my level-headed girlfriend. Maybe I was on to something.

A few months later I was enrolled in school completing a degree in history (I’d minored in it when I got my journalism degree). I enjoyed my courses and had some good professors and for the first time in my life I was enjoying school — that is, the classes part of it. I’d always enjoyed the extra curriculars of school from kindergarten through college, but the class time had bored me silly — with exceptions here and there. Now I was looking forward to classes and diving headlong into the reading, studying for tests and researching/writing papers. 

After two semesters I was the proud possessor of my second bachelor’s degree. Not good enough. I wanted to further my studies, both for my own edification and also to make me an even better prepared historian when I began teaching. But I was in a bit of a rush so made the seemingly foolhardy decision to try to complete my two-year Master’s program in half the time. I was warned against this by the head of the history department and two trusted professors. But I was on a roll.

The following year was, to put it mildly, intense. I scheduled virtually every second. I maintained a calendar which specified how much (to the page) reading I was to do each day. I stuck to it. (Remarkably my career as a drinking alcoholic continued apace as I even scheduled when I could get drunk.) By this time I’d quit my job and was a full time student and I loved it. Indeed, I loved that academic year and if you’ll excuse the expression, I kicked ass. I became only the third person to complete the schools’s MA program in one year and to top it off, not only did I not struggle, I graduated with distinction. That I received this honor in doing two years in one made me a positive marvel to my professors. Two of them convinced that I should continue my studies by pursuing a PhD. They assured me that I would get into any program I chose. I had applications sent to the University of Wisconsin and Boston University when my girlfriend (now wife) convinced me that if we were to start a family it might be best that I stick to my original plan and get a teaching credential. She was — as has generally been the case — quite right. I’d have been ill-suited for academia, besides which my particular kind of energy was then ideally suited for teaching younger folks. 

I was not enamored of the credential program classes. It quickly became obvious that when it comes to teaching you learn by doing. I’d always intended to teach high school but when our program visited a middle school something clicked. I connected both with the age group and the particular school. In fact I determined that I would absolutely HAVE TO teach at that school. I did my student teaching there and it went well, especially the day I did a lesson on the Great Depression by dressing as if an elderly hobo transported from that era. Right down to a fake beard, cane and tattered clothes. Students and adults were enthralled.

Alas there were no openings for history teachers at the school, nor for that matter, anywhere else. I spent my first year as a credentialed teacher subbing, though mostly at my preferred school. After another half year of subbing they had an opening and I had a job. 

By this time I’d also gotten sober and become a father. I was all set to be an adult with a career.

I was at the school for twenty-two years in total. They were not all smooth, especially at the end as I’d ran afoul of administrators on far too many occasions. I was oppositional and rebellious fighting both important battles and unnecessary ones. As faculty adviser of the school's student newspaper I'd once sicced the ACLU on the district when they threatened to censor the paper. This put a large target on my back.

Two things are true about my middle school teaching career: 1) I was loved by and an inspiration to many students 2) I often showed a lack of judgment and maturity and constantly struggled with discipline. I was handicapped by struggles with mental health issues. Indeed it’s remarkable that I was as successful as I was given that I was improperly diagnosed and given a series of the wrong medications many of which had problematic side effects. (Sometimes I wistfully wonder how my career would have gone if I’d been properly diagnosed as being on the bipolar spectrum and been prescribed my current medication for panic attacks from the beginning.)

In any event I eventually resigned when trumped up charges got to be too much to bear. (It should be noted that while the bastards at central administration were determined to be rid of me, no one at the school who’d actually saw me teach wanted me to go. I was, despite it all, a valued member of the school community.)

In the moments, days and weeks after my resignation I felt an incredible lightness as if — excuse the cliche — a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I quickly decided on a new direction as a teacher and thus returned to school to get a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. I would teach English to students visiting from other countries. Though I’d never done the like before, it seemed a grand idea and sure enough it has been an absolute joy these past thirteen years. I’ve never been happier professionally. I have a mutual admiration society with my students. Administrators revere me as a veteran teacher who always shows up, is professional and popular and an integral part of the school.

I was at EF in San Francisco for seven and half years before deciding (foolishly) to retire. Retirement lasted three months before I took a job at LSI in Berkeley where I was for four and half years, leaving the school last week to return to EF next month. I’ll be 70 in February so can’t be sure how much longer I’ll continue to teach, certainly another two years seems reasonable. As long as I’m ambulatory and have the power of speech I can keep going. I love it. I love doing something that I’m good at. I constantly push myself to innovate and improve. I’m there for my students and never mail it in. 

Who’d have thought that a decision made in the throes of drinking spree would — despite a few bumps along the way — work out so well? 

I've had hardships but gracious it's been fun and rewarding.

A shout out to my good friend (all the way back to high school), Phil. He did go into academia and was a positive marvel at it. He is likewise a marvel as a person.

27 November 2023

Turkey, Movies, Basketball and Stuck in a Tunnel, My Four-Day Weekend

The Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers

My four-day weekend began with the end of my work day on Wednesday afternoon. Two hours after lunch I went to the gym for a vigorous workout. Back home my lovely wife made dinner and I graciously consented to eat it. In the evening I watched one of my favorite films of all time, Ice Storm (1997) Lee. I often watch it on Thanksgiving Eve as it is set during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973.

I spent the first part of Turkey Day reading and watching a movie on Criterion Channel called, Safe in Hell (1931) Wellman, a very pre-code film that I much enjoyed. Then it was off to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner. In attendance were the missus, my daughters, my nephews, a niece, significant others, five children, my sister-in-law, a dog and one person who was not family who I never got to know. I had a grand time chatting with kinfolk, playing with children and petting and sneaking food to the dog. I also ate quite a bit of food as one is prone to doing on this particular occasion. I feel safe in saying a good time was had by all.

The next day I went to a women’s basketball game as Cal hosted game one of their tourney. Our heroes bested San Jose State. I then walked to Moe’s bookstore to look for a gift for younger daughter who shares her dad’s passion for reading. I found nothing suitable but enjoyed my time in one of the world’s best bookstores.

I returned home to find both daughters visiting and of course enjoyed their company. In the evening I watched my second favorite Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers (1932) McLeod. Despite this being my umpteenth viewing it I managed several chuckles, guffaws, titters, hardy-har-hars and belly laughs.

Saturday started with me watching my favorite English football (that’s soccer to you Yanks) team (Arsenal) win on a late goal. I did my happy dance. Then it was off to the second day of the tourney. This time a Bear team depleted by injuries lost. The game was even for three quarters but the exhausted locals faded at the end. Never mind it was a good day.

At home it was movie time again. The missus and I watched Godland (2022) Pálmason on DVD. My copy had only just arrived, I’d pre-ordered it not long after watching it for the first time on the Criterion Channel.  A great film is always better the second time. This was followed by watching my favorite college football team, the University of California Golden Bears, defeat UCLA in a stunning upset, 33-7. Two great wins on telly for the day with a loss in person sandwiched in between. Fair return.

Sunday morning I spent a fair bit of time with the Sunday New York Times. Mostly I was reading it. Having poured through a majority of it, the missus and I embarked on our big adventure. We went into San Francisco to see the latest movie from the great Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves. The closure of virtually all of Berkeley’s theaters necessitated making the long journey. We went to the Opera Plaza Landmark cinema which is a stone’s throw from Civic Center. That meant walking from the BART station past all variety of mendicants, tramps, loonies, methheads, and paranoid schizophrenics. As a social worker, this is younger daughter’s clientele. Lucky.

The theater was tiny — no, microscopic -- with only three rows but the seats — dear god, they were comfy, you sank into them. The movie was sublime, in other words, typical  Kaurismäki. From there we dodged the hoi polloi and made our way back to the subway and what we assumed would be a pleasant and quick journey back to Berkeley. But fate intervened — as it so often does.

Just outside Oakland’s 12th Street Station the train stopped. And stayed stopped. At one point the lights went out. That terror (slight exaggeration) lasted only half a minute. But the tedium of sitting on a train in a tunnel continued. Of course my wife went about chattering with other passengers, meanwhile my mood plunged, my anxiety rose. I took an Ativan. It helped a bit. We were constantly thanked for our patience and apologized to. Never helps. Finally a “rescue” train arrived. We had to walk to the back of our train where we were told we would “cross over.” I did not like the use of this phrase as it invoked what many people refer to as dying. Nonetheless we soldiered on and literally stepped over a small plank onto another train. I gave our driver a parting fist bump.

Again we sat for awhile but eventually were on our way and arrived safely in Berkeley. We decided to treat ourselves after the trauma of being tunnel-bound by having dinner at a local eatery. From there it was home sweet home.

The rest of the evening hardly deserves mention though it did entail washing towels, reading and watching a spot of TV before retiring for the evening. All told not a bad weekend. How was yours?

20 November 2023

The Good, the Bad and the Surprising, Six Recent Releases that I've Seen

Fair Play

Hey kids, guess what time it is? You’re right! It’s time for me to catch up with some of the recent releases I’ve seen. How did you know? It’s movie season (much more fun that cold and flu season) and many of the better films of the year are popping up in theaters and on streaming services. Let’s have a look at some of the new films I’ve seen lately.

Killers of the Flower Moon (Scorsese). Killers fits in perfectly with the kind of pictures that the great Martin Scorsese has been making this century. In other words it’s very good but nowhere near the quality he produced with such classics as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Age of Innocence, King of Comedy and Mean Streets, all made between 1973 and 1993. Like other Scorsese films of the past twenty-five years, Killers is bloated (206 minutes) though never boring, features some fine performances and is nicely edited and beautiful to look at. I just wish he were capable of making leaner, tighter movies. Here are running times — in minutes -- for other Scorsese films of recent vintage: The Irishman 209, Silence 161, The Wolf of Wall Street 180, Shutter Island 138, The Departed 151, The Aviator 170, Gangs of New York 167. I greatly admire Shutter Island and The Aviator and like the other films but they’re all excessive. Not just in length but in what we are expected to absorb. Mind you I hardly yawned throughout Killers but there was so much there that weeks later the story does not stick with me. It’s possible to make great films that are long (The Godfather, Heaven’s Gate, Tess, Barry Lyndon) but it’s rare. I feel as though Scorsese is overdoing his films, showing us too much. Killers is another example.

Fair Play (Domont). This is one of the best relationship movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a study in the dissolution of a relationship that initially seems perfect. It’s the opposite of rom-coms where the mis-matched couple find love. The two leads, Phoebe Dynevor and especially Alden Ehrenreich are transcendent, capturing the full range of emotions that being in a love-to hate relationship entails. Fair Play is intimate film-making, at times claustrophobic. It can be uncomfortable as if we are in restaurant where a loud, awkward scene is unfolding at another table. There is so much to unpack about relationships and about the clash of work and personal lives. It’s a film that deserves to be studied and seen by a wide audience. 

Anatomy of a Fall (Triet). It’s a difficult movie to say much about without spoilers as the ending is so critical to any discussion one can have about it. Suffice to say that Anatomy takes a long time getting to its denouement but is worth the ride. As much as anything Anatomy is a courtroom drama and a character study with it’s long hard look at the wife — played brilliantly by Sandra Hüller — of a man who jumps/falls/is pushed out of high window to his death. She is bereaved, she is accused, she seems both guilty and guiltless. There is something very French about Anatomy, mostly in the way that it is studied and measured, avoiding the spectacular but making the most out of the fascinating world of details. Details of deaths and of the lives we lead.

The Holdovers
The Holdovers (Payne). Stubborn old teacher facing off against angry, precocious teen. A mixed match pair on a road trip. Two opposites fighting each other AND inner demons. You pretty much know where the story is going at every point. There’s nothing original here in terms of the situation or the lead characters. We’ve seen it all before. But have we seen it told as well? Have previous iterations of this story had such strong leads? The answer to both might well be, no. I enjoyed the hell out of The Holdovers despite it’s predictably. Alexander Payne knows how to make a thoroughly watchable film (see Nebraska, About Schmidt, Sideways, Election). Paul Giamatti is as good an actor as there is these days and Dominic Sessa in his screen debut very much holds his own opposite him. Da’Vine Joy Randolph has been turning up a lot lately  (for example on Only Murders in the Building) and is proving to be an excellent supporting player and probably due for a significant lead role. She is an excellent third wheel here. The Holdovers offers no surprises but it’s still surprisingly good.

The Killer (Fincher). A watchable film but ultimately empty calories. There’s no real substance, nothing to be learned from this story of a paid assassin. Michael Fassbinder plays a hit man with all the charm of toll both. There’s nothing interesting about him or the story. There’s some tension, there is a minor surprise, there’s an action scene — that goes on too long to be credulous — and there is much musing and philosophizing by the eternally thoughtful and ruminative killer. But it all adds about to not much of anything. I don’t honestly understand why this movie was made, especially by a talent like David Fincher. 

Rustin (Wolfe). I’m surprised that many critics are muted in their praise of Rustin, rightfully praising lead actor Colman Domingo but wanting more from the film as a whole. I thought there was plenty there and it was mostly damn good. Bayard Rustin always seemed to me a peripheral figure in the civil rights movement, I knew him to have been a key organizer of 1963’s March on Washington and was also aware that he’d been considered somewhat of a liability to the movement because of his homosexuality and past affiliations with the community party. A triple threat for the likes of J Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Rustin helped fill in my understanding of the man and made me want to learn more. It also gave me much respect for this singular figure. Domingo’s bravura performance is the centerpiece of this fine film but kudos to the overall casting (Chris Rock was excellent as Roy Wilkins) and the look and feel of this fine film.

13 November 2023

Roll On You Bears, A Love Letter to Cal Football

After the game last Saturday

It is dusk on an autumn afternoon. Saturday. The light is a yellowish-brown hue. An unseasonably warm day is cooling. I am in a football stadium that rests in Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley, California. Past the east rim are hills including one called Tightwad Hill where some fans huddle to watch games for free. Behind me is the west rim of the stadium. From there one can see all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Anytime of day the views are spectacular, but especially as the sun descends.

The stadium has mostly emptied out, there were close to 30,000 people in it less than half an hour ago. The University of California marching band is on the field. They are playing the campus alma mater. Alistair and I have linked arms and are swaying to the campus alma mater song, our previous revelry at the final gun replaced by a mellower savoring of a long afternoon well spent. 

Later I’ll leave the stadium and follow the band as it marches down Bancroft Way. I want the joy to last, especially as this was the last home game of the season. It was also only the third home victory for my beloved Golden Bears in six tries. Three wins. Only three. It will be nine and half months before they play again. Cal football home games are precious. Victories for this perpetually woebegone team are especially so.

Despite the many, many, many heartbreaks that California football has inflicted on me, I have been a devotee since childhood. I don’t remember my first game, I was so young and went so regularly that it feels like Cal football has always been a part of me, it’s like a body part (one that causes occasional discomfort and sometimes euphoria). The first game I specifically remember going to was in 1962 when I was eight-years-old. The team was generally bad when I was a kid (some things never change) but I fell in love nonetheless. What was it about the experience of going that so enraptured me? Certainly the classic Roman Colosseum like stadium nestled in the hills (construction completed 100 years ago). Definitely the band and its jaunty spirit songs. Obviously the cheering section and its clever yells (that have sadly gone generic in recent years). Also the victory cannon booming for Cal scores and the team taking the field. Without a doubt, Oski, the Bears lovable mascot. Unquestionably the colorful blue and gold uniforms and those same colors being worn in different forms by tens of thousands of fans. The roar of the crowd. The unrepentant joy in victory. Victory. Many schools roll through their schedules facing only one or two challenges a season. But not the Bears. We savor our days of glory. Whether a trouncing of a lower division foe, an upset of higher ranked opponent or a thrilling win over our arch rivals, we veritably dance (sometimes literally) in the streets when victorious.

I have but few happy memories of my mother who was afflicted with serious mental illness in middle age. But I remember quite fondly her taking me to Cal football games including my first Big Game (the annual clash with hated Stanfurd University). She attended Cal from 1938-1942 and sat in the student section (then segregated by gender) for home football games. 

My dad took me too, of course (he also took me to pro football, pro and college basketball, baseball, track and field, boxing and ice hockey). Everyone liked the Bears in our household, except me — I loved them.

As the years went on my interest in Cal football didn’t wane one iota. Even as a rebellious teen who could be found at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and arguing for overthrow of the government, I enjoyed the tradition-bound spectacle that was college football — especially as played by the Bears. 

I attended games as a high schooler, as a college student, as a young working man, as lost soul given to drinking and using drugs copiously. I went through all manner of changes, re-inventions and internal revolts, but the Bears were a constant. Perhaps even acting as a steadying influence. I attended games with rowdy drunken companions, with girlfriends, with relatives, with serious fans and those out on a lark. I missed a few seasons when I lived elsewhere and when I say I missed seasons I don’t merely mean that I wasn’t able to attend games, it was the one thing about the Bay Area that I yearned for. After all, Cal football and its fan base were family and who doesn’t miss a loving family?

There were a few seasons in which Cal did well: the mid and late seventies, a few years in the early nineties and most of this century’s first decade. These were magical times, surreal. To see the Bears excelling on the football field was like watching that wonderful dream you had last night actually happening. It was like the most beautiful girl at the party dancing with you. It was like winning the grand prize at the raffle. It was like an out of body experience. But even at their best the Bears never quite reached the top of the mountain. The Rose Bowl was always the dream. In ’75 they tied for the conference title but the failure of one rival to beat another on the season’s last weekend cost us a trip to Pasadena. The Bears were great in ’91 but Washington was a touchdown better when we met. That season was marred by a face plant in the Big Game. In 2004 the Bears were great again but U$C was a touchdown better. That season was marred by an ugly loss in our consolation prize appearance in the Holiday Bowl. We again tied for the conference title in ’06. A player tripping over a yard marker cost us the brass ring. So very Cal.

Since then the Bears haven’t even come close. They had a few more good seasons to close out the decade but have been mostly bad — occasionally rising to mediocrity — in the years since.

The losses hurt less than they used to. One gets used to it and then despairs at having gotten used to it. The regularity of the defeats makes one nearly immune to an individual loss but the weight of the accumulation is a heavy cross to bear. But then there are the wins. They make it all worthwhile. The reward for the suffering. Those games that make me think: I am privileged to have been here, there's no other place in the world I'd rather have been. The wins are a better high than I ever experienced drinking and using.

Throughout it all the Bears have suffered some terrible thumpings, though mostly on the road. At home their thing is more the inexplicable heartbreaking loss, one in which the fates conspire against us in the form of costly turnovers or ridiculous referring decisions or bonehead plays or stupid coaching decisions. Twice this season the Bears have — as the cliche goes — snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Auburn and U$C should have been well-beaten, but missed field goals and a team wide case of fumbilitis, respectively, cost us. Saturday looked for awhile to be another crushing loss. The Bears had gone up by 18 insurmountable points with nine minutes to go. But no lead is safe for the Bears — never has been. Our heroes had to hold on by the skin of their incisors to clinch victory with an interception on the game’s last play. No one was upset that it had gotten so close (it’s kind of our thing). But everyone was relieved then jubilant that the day had been won.

I don’t know how many seasons I have left but I do know that I’ll be there for all of them and I won’t be missing any home games. Cal football is coursing through my blood. It is part of who I am. My own eternal zeitgeist. 

You may have gathered by now that it’s more than just the football. It is the whole experience. It is the days and hours leading up to each game. It is the days and hours following each game. It is all the time spent in contemplation of the team’s prospects and ruminating over their latest performance. It is a feeling in my bones. It is my heart. I hardly watch any other football at all. I’m much more of a soccer guy. When I go to Memorial Stadium it’s not to see a football game, it’s to see Cal play football. It is the atmosphere.

Loyalty is love practiced.

I cannot close without mentioning the people who have been part of the journey. Of course my parents, so many elementary school and junior high school and high school friends. College chums. Girlfriends. My wife. Friends I drank with and friends who I’ve stayed sober with. Special shoutout to my late friend Kevin who I watched decades of Cal football with. When he died I was left suddenly alone at Memorial Stadium. Then a new friendship was forged with Alistair. Like Kevin and others before him, he gets it (poor sap). But also a shoutout to all those people I’ve attended games with that I’ve never met but with whose voices I’ve joined in exhorting on our Bears. Our efforts have not always borne fruit, but we wouldn’t change the experience for anything. 

Go Bears!!!

06 November 2023

I Said What? Revisiting My Yearly Top Ten Lists

Vicky Cristiana Barcelona, My First #1 On the Blog

I was looking at one of my yearly top ten films lists over the weekend and couldn’t understand how I’d rank one film so high and another so low. Tastes change quickly. We see a movie a second time and appreciate it a lot more noticing not just the what of the story but the way the story was told. Also some movies don’t hold up to a second viewing, having an initial appeal but not much substance. This is particularly true of rom coms and action pictures. You didn’t even need to re-watch a film to re-assess it. How it sits with you in the coming weeks and months — or how it totally recedes from memory — influences your opinion. In this exercise I’ll be reviewing all the top ten lists I’ve published on ye olde blog since the first for 2008 releases.


1. Vicky Christina Barcelona (Allen)

2. Milk (Van Sant)

3. The Visitor (McCarthy) 

4. I’ve Loved You For So Long (Claudel)

5. In Bruges (McDonagh)

6. A Secret (Miller)

7. Frost/Nixon (Howard)

8. Rachel Getting Married (Demme)

9. The Last Mistress (Breillat)

10. Synechode, New York (Kaufman)

Nailed the first one. I don’t see anything here to change. I don’t think that I’ve seen any from the second half of this list a second time. I don’t remember a thing about The Last Mistress so goodness knows where I’d rank it after a second viewing.


1. Inglourious Basterds

2. A Serious Man

3. The Messenger

4. Precious

5. The Hurt Locker

6. Broken Embraces

7. Me and Orson Welles

8. A Single Man

9. Sugar

10. Damned United

Definitely got the first two right. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t  have A Single Man and Damned United higher.


1. Winter's Bone

2. Black Swan

3. The White Ribbon

4. True Grit

5. Vincere

6. The American

7. The Ghost Writer

8. Shutter Island

9. A Prophet

10. The Town

Not a great year for movies was it? That said the list looks fine except I’ve come to really like Shutter Island and it would top a revised list.


1. Melancholia

2. Of Gods and Men

3. The Artist

4. Midnight in Paris

5. Shame

6. Hugo

7. Le Havre

8. The Tree of Life

9. Beginners

10. Young Adult

Wow, Midnight in Paris has become one of my favorite films of all time and would easily top a revised list and Le Havre is another top 100 film and would be second. Melancholia would be a solid third and Of Gods and Men a very worthy number four.  I really had Hugo ahead of Le Havre? I had The Artist ahead of Midnight in Paris? Unbelievable.


1. L'enfant d'en haut (Meier)

2. Django Unchained (Tarantino)

3. Moonrise Kingdom (W. Anderson)

4. Gianni e le donne (DiGregorio)

5. Bernie (Linklater)

6. The Master (P. Anderson)

7. Lincoln (Spielberg)

8. Holy Motors (Carax)

9. Noordzee, Texas (Defurne)

10. Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)

Another down year. Moonrise Kingdom would top a revised version of this last and The Master would be second. The rest seems fine. I didn’t see Silver Linings Playbook until much later. It would have topped the list if I’d seen it in time.


1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coens)

2. Her (Jonze)

3. Nebraska (Payne)

4. Blue Jasmine (Allen)

5. Frances Ha (Baumbach)

6. Reality (Garrone)

7. 12 a Slave (McQueen)

8. Kill Your Darlings (Krokidas)

9. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)

10. La Grande Belleza (Sorrentino)

I already revised this one. Six months after I posted it I, in an unprecedented Streams of Unconsciousness move, I posted an altered versions in which I put Llewyn Davis first and dropped the original list topper, Nebraska to third. Llyewyn Davis went on to be named my film of the decade. In a re-revised list I’d move Blue Jasmine to second and Blue is the Warmest Color to fifth.


1. Birdman

2. Under the Skin

3. Boyhood

4. Venus in Fur

5. The Skeleton Twins

6. Top Five

7. Gone Girl

8. Whiplash

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

10. Foxcatcher

Looks good to me.


1. Carol  (Haynes)

2. The Revenant  (Inarritu)

3. Tangerine  (Baker)

4. The Martian  (Scott)

5. Room  (Abrahamson)

6. Spotlight  (McCarthy)

7. Clouds of Sils Maria  (Assayas)

8. Star Wars: The Force Awaken  (Abrams)

9. Love & Mercy  (Pohlad)

10. Dope  (Famuyiwa)

Another week year. The only revision I’d make would be to move The Clouds of Sils Maria to second.


1 Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan)

2 Paterson (Jarmusch)

3 Moonlight (Jenkins)

4 The Handmaiden (Park)

5 Hell or High Water (Mackenzie)

6 Nocturnal Animals (Ford)

7 The Lobster (Lanthimos)

8 American Honey (Arnold)

9 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi)

10 Silence (Scorsese)

I got this one spot on too.


1. Personal Shopper (Assayas)

2. Phantom Thread (Anderson)

3. Call Me Be Your Name (Guadagnino)

4. The Florida Project (Baker) 

5. The Disaster Artist (Franco)

6. Wonder Wheel (Allen)

7. Columbus (Kogonada)

8. I, Tonya (Gillespie)

9. The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki)

10 . Get Out (Peele)

I’d move The Other Side of Hope to second (what it’s doing way back there at 9th is beyond me) and Wonder Wheel to fourth.


1. First Reformed (Schrader)

2. Roma (Cuaron)

3. Burning Chang-dong Lee)

4. Shoplifters (Koreeda)

5. You Were Never Really Here (Ramsay)

6. The Favourite (Lannthimos)

7. Blackkklansman (Lee)

8. A Star is Born (Cooper)

9. Blindspotting (Estrada)

10. Wildlife (Dano)

I don’t know what Wildlife is doing back at number ten, fourth or fifth seem more like it. Other than that it’s fine.


1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino)

2. Waves (Shults)

3. Parasite (Joon Ho)

4. Little Women (Gerwig)

5. The Irishman (Scorsese) 

6.  Jojo Rabbit (Waititi)

7. Uncut Gems (Safdies)

8. Queen and Slim (Matsoukas)

9. Joker (Phillips)

10. Transit (Petzold)

Again I’ve got a film in the tenth spot (Transit) that deserves to be in the middle and I’d slide The Irishman back a few spaces. Otherwise, good job by me.


1. Promising Young Woman (Fennell)

2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Hittman)

3. Mank (Fincher)

4. Nomadland (Zhao)

5. Sound of Metal (Marder)

6. The Assistant (Green)

7. Palm Springs (Barbakow)

8. I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Kaufman)

9. Judas and the Black Messiah (S. King)

10. One Night in Miami (R.King)

Shortly after publishing this much delayed list (thanks for nothing, pandemic) I saw Another Round and if I’d a mind too would have revised the list right then and there and put it at number one. The list is otherwise fine except Palm Springs should be a few spots higher.


1. Drive My Car (Hamaguchi)

2. The Power of the Dog (Campion)

3. Licorice Pizza (P.T. Anderson)

4. The Tragedy of MacBeth (Coen)

5. Red Rocket (Baker)

6. tick, tick...Boom! (Miranda)

7. The Lost Daughter (Gyllenhaal)

8. The Hand of God (Sorrentino)

9. Belfast (Branagh)

10. Spencer (Larrain)

I hit this one out of the ballpark. Drive My Car is in my top 100. The only other films I've watched again are tick, tick and Licorice Pizza. I'd move the latter into second.


  1. Aftersun (Wells)
  2. Babylon (Chazelle)
  3. Eo (Skolimowksi)
  4. Decision to Leave (Chan-wook)
  5. Tar (Field)
  6. The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh)
  7. Rifkin’s Festival (Allen)
  8. Petite Maman (Sciamma)
  9. Emily the Criminal (Ford)
  10. All Quiet on the Western Front (Berger)

Other than moving Rifkin’s Festival and Emily the Criminal up a few places and dropping Babylon a couple of spots, I’m happy with this.

In completing the assignment I found that there were far less changes than I’d anticipated. Initial readings of a film are generally correct but with huge exceptions. More often, I noted, I like good films more a second time, sometimes a helluva lot more.