Thursday, April 30, 2015

You Really Should Watch...A Private Eye's Starter Kit Of Classic Crime Flicks

These aren't the best private eye flicks of all time. Heck, many of them don't even contain private eyes as such. (Nick and Nora are amateurs, really, who stumble upon crimes. Others are cops or claims adjusters for insurance companies. But they all "feel" like private eyes.) Here's a starter kit of classic and recent crime films (usually with private dicks) for the aspiring gumshoe.





VERTIGO (1958)


SHAFT (1971)










KLUTE (1971)






LONE STAR (1996)


BRICK (2006)

LAURA (1944)





Japanese Movie Starter Kit

This is not a list of the 20 greatest Japanese films of all time. It's a grab-bag of classics and genre flicks, sentimental Japanese favorites and worldwide smashes. The intention is to offer a quick survey of Japanese cinema that will hopefully lead you in a dozen different directions. A list of the most important films by the most important directors is easy to find elsewhere. These are the first 20 that sprang to mind, offered in alphabetical order.

A COLT IS MY PASSPORT (1967)  -- A wacky crime flick, sort of a cross between a spaghetti western and a Warner Bros. gangster movie. It will quickly convince you the idea of Japanese films as samurai movies or noble and slow-moving is far from the truth. Joe Shishido stars as a hitman trapped between two rival gangs.

CRAZED FRUIT (1956) -- A hugely popular teen melodrama, a la Rebel Without A Cause. Director Ko Nakahira's controversial movie shows the young and privileged teens reveling in their new-found sexual freedom as two brothers compete to win over a beautiful young woman over the course of a summer at the seashore. Shocking!

FLOATING WEEDS (1959) -- Ozu remade his own silent film with this gem about a traveling theater troupe in a seaside town. An ode to acting, complete with low funds, affairs, off-stage turmoil and a love of performing that makes it all worth enduring.

HIGH AND LOW (1963) -- One of many films by Akira Kurosawa on the list. For a long time, he was the only Japanese director known overseas. Now he's been eclipsed a tad by critics crazy for Ozu and Naruse and others. But he's still a master. This is a contemporary drama about a businessman about to take control of his company when a little boy is abducted to force his hand. Gripping and a great glimpse into the upper class.

I AM WAITING (1957) -- A great-looking and fatally romantic film. Yujio Ishihara stars as a loner, the manager of a restaurant and a one-time professional boxer who wanders the docks and keeps to himself. Until the desperate, doomed (and beautiful) Mie Kitahara walks into his place looking to escape her gangster boss. Terrific and not well-known outside of Japan.

I WAS BORN, BUT... (1932) -- A delightful early Ozu film. Two little brothers form a "gang" and make friends after they move into a new neighborhood. They idolize their hard-working father though a glimpse into his real status at the company is a sad eye-opener for the boys who have been lording it over the boss's son. Gentle social satire and a charming look at the life of kids.

LATE SPRING (1949) -- More Ozu. This time a widowed father must marry off his adoring only daughter in post-war Japan. Bittersweet drama.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988) -- This is one of two animated movies by the master Hayao Miyazaki. In this one, two little girls move to a new home in the country because their mother is ailing. They have a grand time playing with the wood spirits that live nearby but sadness is never far from the surface in this lovely film.

PALE FLOWER (1964) -- Another really great-looking, glamorous film. A doomed, almost-romance between a handsome young gangster just out of prison and the gorgeous rich girl who gets her kicks by holding her own playing against the men in gambling dens. It's not going to turn out well....

RASHOMON (1950) -- An iconic film, one you have to see if only because any time people have competing versions of the truth, it's referred to as a Rashomon-like incident. In this brief but memorable period tale, a terrible crime has occurred and everyone involved gives their spin on what happened, with the incident dramatically different each time. This broke through internationally and established Japanese cinema as an artistic force with the rest of the world.

SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) -- Perhaps the longest film on this list, but also the most fun and purely entertaining. It was remade in the US as The Magnificent Seven, a great western in its own right. This is the story of seven samurai who are hired by peasants in 1587 to protect them from bandits that come every harvest and steal all their crops. Great, great fun.

SPIRITED AWAY (2001) -- The second animated film from Hayao Miyazaki. This one follows a ten year old girl whose family moves to a new neighborhood. She wanders into a spirit world, where her parents are transformed into pigs. She has to become self-reliant and figure out how to rescue them and get back to the human world. A worldwide smash, this is Miyazaki's masterpiece. While it will be familiar to anyone who's read fairy tales, it's also very Japanese and has a sensibility and style that couldn't have arisen anywhere else.

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS (1939) -- Not easy to find, though it is sometimes broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Another ode to acting, in this case it's the story of the adopted son of a famous kabuki star. He must follow in his father's footsteps but everyone around him just blandly praises him despite his many artistic shortcomings. Only the wet nurse speaks honestly to him about the work he needs to do. They fall in love and he runs away to hone his craft and prove himself. Romance is often doomed in Japanese cinema, so watch out for when a character coughs -- in classic movies, the only reason someone coughs is to give you a warning sign that deadly illness (and much weeping) is only a scene or two away.

TOKYO DRIFTER (1966) -- A sardonic mocking of movies that glorify the "honor" of gangsters, this is a really nutty, over the top crime film with the hero wandering around whistling, a catchy theme song, bar brawls and more, all in service of ridiculing the idea of unquestioning loyalty. Loyalty being a highly valued character trait, it's a pretty revolutionary tack for the movies to take. But above all, it's just a crazy, crazy flick.

TOKYO STORY (1953) -- Considered by many to be Ozu's masterpiece, this is the story of an elderly couple who go on a trip to visit their various children, all of whom are too busy to pay them much attention. Only a widowed daughter-in-law shows them the respect and love they deserve. A quiet heartbreaker.

TONY TAKITANI (2005) -- It was kind of a shock to see how few Japanese films have made my best of the year list (other than Miyazaki's animated movies). All the action has been happening in Hong Kong and Korea and Japan. But two dramas do appear: Twilight Samurai (from 2002) and this drama about a man who falls in love with a woman who is obsessed with shopping. It's based on a short story by Haruki Murakami (the author of Norwegian Wood) and is very spare and quiet and strange.

TWENTY-FOUR EYES (1954) -- A sentimental favorite among Japanese but little known in the west, this is the story of a beloved female schoolteacher who inspires and delights her students from the mid-1920s through the war. A tearjerker.

UGETSU (1953) -- Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece is a ghost story about greed. Villagers struggle to survive in the 1500s as war swirls around them. One man who makes pottery sees the turmoil as a chance to make a lot of money, despite his wife's pleading to stay with her and various warnings to not take that path. Does he listen? Of course not. Does he yearn to become a samurai and take part in the glory of battle? Of course he does. Is war glamorous? Hardly. A gorgeous, haunting film that along with Rashomon established Japanese cinema on the world stage.

WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960) -- Director Mikio Naruse often had women at the center of his films and this is perhaps his masterpiece. Keiko is a "hostess," not a prostitute but a Japanese variant that comes close to it and sometimes crosses over. She yearns to open her own bar rather than remarry because she still honors the memory of her late husband. Noble? That doesn't even begin to describe a woman who must sacrifice everything in order keep her brother out of jail and help a nephew crippled by polio walk again, all while battling off a potentially fatal illness. Melodrama of the highest order.

YOJIMBO (1961) -- Samurai films are Japan's westerns and not only are the best of them important classics, they're also tremendous fun. This one is a blast, with the great Toshiro Mifune playing a wandering ronin who comes into a village and finds two rival gangs at war and desperate for his services. He plays them off each other with hilarious results. It was remade as A Fistful Of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood in one of his most famous roles.

You Really Should Read...Sci-Fi & Fantasy


I was asked by a friend to compile a list of the essential texts in sci-fi and fantasy and this was the very personal list I came up with, one that includes a chunk of fairy tales and mythology since so much of the genre springs from that same well.

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams

3. The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson (any edition that looks like it's for adults and not kids)

4. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (He kept adding to the Foundation series, but read the definitive trilogy first and then wait a while before reading more if you want)

5. I. Robot by Isaac Asimov

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

7. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

8. Peter Pan by JM Barrie (the full novel, obviously, not some picture book or abridged version)

9. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (learn Spanish first or, if you must, read it translated into English)

10. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

11. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

12. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

13. Tarzan Of The Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

14. Arabian NIghts: The Marvels and Wonders Of The Thousand and One Nights by Richard Burton and edited by Jack Zipes (two volumes)

15. The Complete Cosmic Comics by Italo Calvino

16. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (the only one worth reading of his)

17. Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

18. Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

19. Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

20. The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

21. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

22. The First Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson (Lord Foul's Bane; The Illearth War; and The Power That Preserves)

23. Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison

24. To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer

25. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

26. Neuromancer by William Gibson

27. The Bible by God (Cheeky of me, no? But whether you're a believer or an atheist, you really must read the Bible at least once or you'll miss way too many references and allusions in the arts. So which versions should you read? There are hundreds if not thousands of translations of all or parts of the Bible in countless languages. In English, the King James Version in general; Thomas Jefferson's Bible for his take on the Gospels; the Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox; any translations by Stephen Mitchell, who has done Proverbs, the Book Of Job, his own Gospel According To Jesus and so on. And yes, you can skip the begats)

28. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

29. The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes

30. The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

31. Mythology by Edith Hamilton

32. Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

33. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

34. Dune by Frank Herbert (really it's the only one you need to read)

35. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

36. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

37. Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

38. King Matt The First by Januzs Korzcak

39. The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

40. The Red Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

41. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

42. Le Morte d'Artur by Sir Thomas Malory

43. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44. A Song Of Ice And Fire by George RR Martin

45. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (original trilogy: Dragonflight, Dragon Quest, The White Dragon)

46. Martin Dressler: The Story Of An American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser

47. We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser

48. A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

49. Winnie The Pooh by AA MIlne

50. The House At Pooh Corner by AA Milne

51. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

52. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

53. Ringworld by Larry Niven

54. Animal Farm by George Orwell

55. 1984 by George Orwell

56. The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake

57. The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

58. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullmam

59. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars)

60. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

61. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

62. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

63. Abel's Island by William Steig

64. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

65. Dracula by Bram Stoker

66. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

67. The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkien

68. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

You Really Should Read...Fifty Personal Favorites

Not a list of the best of all time, not a grab bag of obscurities. Just 50 books I recommend to people and urge on them at various times for various reasons. All personal favorites, ranging from all time classics to award winners to respected titles to under-appreciated gems. No rhyme or reason here. But when people ask for a personal favorite of mine or something off the beaten track, these are the titles that spring to mind. These are the ones I buy in multiple copies so I can hand them to guests or use as fool-proof gifts. In other words,


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (translated by Gregory Hays)

The True Confessions Of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Wartime Lies by Louis Begley

Mapp And Lucia by EF Benson

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

True History Of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell 

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint Exupery

The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

The Meadow by James Galvin

Black Jack by Leon Garfield

The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Act One by Moss Hart

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

The Thin Red Line by James Jones

Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

The Debt To Pleasure by John Lanchester

Slapboxing With Jesus by Victor LaValle

West With The Night by Beryl Markham

The Lighthouse At The End Of The World by Stephen Marlowe

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

An Arrow's Flight by Mark Merlis

Tales From The South Pacific by James Michener

Martin Dressler: Tale of an American Dreamer by Stephen Millhauser

The Book of Job translated by Stephen Mitchell

Two Adolescents by Alberto Moravia

The Spyglass Tree /Train Guitar Whistle  by Albert Murray

The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

Thunderhead by Mary O'Hara

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill

Edisto/Edisto Revisted by Padgett Powell

The Yearling by Margaret Rawlins

Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Was by Geoff Ryman

Dusk and Other Stories by James Salter

The Human Comedy by James Saroyan 

The Rings Of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

Kara Kush by Idries Shah

A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

Year of the King by Antony Sher

The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham Smith

Endless Love by Scott Spencer

Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne

The Old Forest and Other Stories by Peter Taylor

The Palm-wine Drinker by Amos Tutuola

In The Blue Light of African Dreams by Paul Watkins

Sideswipe by Charles Willeford

Stoner by John Williams

The Virginian by Owen Wister

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

SciFi Fantasy Flicks You Should Watch

Because John just watched "Transcendence" on Netflix, which proves he REALLY needs this list! Now if only I could jump into a TARDIS to get this to him by yesterday....


The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension (1984)
Akira (1988)
Aladdin (1992)
Alien (1979) (Top Five of that year)
Aliens (1986) (Top Five of that year)
Babe (1995) (the best film of that year)
Babe: Pig In The City (1998) (Top Five of that year)
Back To The Future (1985) (Top Five of that year)
Blade Runner (1982) (Top Five of that year)
Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)
Brazil (1985)
The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) (the best film of that year)
The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
A Clockwork Orange (1971) (Top Five of that year)
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) (Top Five of that year)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) (the best film of that year)
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)
District 9 (2009)
Donnie Darko (2001)
Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Top Five of that year)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) (the best film of that year)
Evil Dead II (1987)
The Fly (1986) (Top Five of that year)
Frankenstein (1931) (Top Five of that year)
Gattaca (1997)
Ghostbusters (1984) (Top Five of that year)
Godzilla, King Of The Monsters aka Gojira (1954)
Her (2013) (the best film of that year)
The Hidden (1987)
Highlander (1986)
The Host (2007)
Howl's Moving Castle (2005)
Inception (2010)
The Incredibles (2004) (the best film of that year)
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956) (The best film of that year)
I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Kaboom (2011)
Kick-Ass (2010)
King Kong (1933) (Top Five of that year)
Let The Right One In (2008, Swedish language film)
The Lobster (2016)
Logan (2018)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (but NOT The Hobbit) (Two Towers the best film of 2002)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) (Top Five of that year)
Metropolis (1927) (Top Five of that year)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Nosferatu (1922) (the best film of that year)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006) (the best film of that year)
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
The Road Warrior (1981)
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)
Somos Lo Que Hay/ We Are What We Are horror flick (2011)
Spider-Man (2002)
Spider-Man 2 (2004) (Top Five of that year)
Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse (2018)
Spirited Away (2002) (Top Five of that year)
Starship Troopers (1997)
Star Trek (2009) (Top Five of that year)
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Star Wars (1977) (the best film of that year)
Superman: The Movie (1978) (the best film of that year)
The Terminator
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) (Top Five of that year)
The Thief Of Baghdad (1940)
Time Bandits (1981)
28 Days Later (2003)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (the best film of that year)
WALL-E (2008) (Top Five of that year)
War For The Planet Of The Apes (2018)
Where The Wild Things Are (2009)
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
Young Frankenstein (1974) (the best film of that year)

77 films as of July 13, 2019

BOLD: the best film of that year
ITALICS: Top Five film of that year