It’s fun when movie titles are instructional.

Do the Right Thing. Something’s Gotta Give. Maybe “imperative” is the word I’m looking for.

Not that I’m trying to equate a Spike Lee joint with a Nancy Myers movie, but it’s fun, right? Anyway. I consumed my first SLJ (not Samuel L. Jackson, though coincidentally he’s in it!) not too long ago. It was indeed Do the Right Thing, and it was embarrassingly overdue. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I’m curious to watch more of Lee’s movies now, particularly because the style of DTRT was very theatrical — by that, I mean that it felt like watching live theater. Which is a beautiful, incredible feat on his part, because so many streets in Brooklyn look so worn-down and not-ready-for-primetime. But the vibrancy of the colors, the one-of-a-kind angles and the undeniable love that the characters had for their neighborhood made the Anytown locale feel like the most sought-after location in all of New York. (And now it is!) I mean, look at these cool dudes shootin’ the shit in front of their red wall. Don’t you want to join them?

red wall

It took me awhile to realize that Spike himself played the main character, Mookie — he’s such a kid in it, even if he’s 32 and kicking off a brilliant career. Giancarlo Esposito was unrecognizable as Buggin Out, too, underscoring how incredible he was to begin with and how nuanced his career has been since 1989. Everyone’s a baby, aglow in the buzz of a project that would wind up somewhere high up on the list of great American films.

The story begins so nonchalantly, with the day so intolerably hot and the urge not to go about one’s daily routine so overpowering. Race isn’t even an issue, until it is, and then it’s the only issue, and then it hits you — nothing’s changed in society for nearly 30 years. Everything Lee wrote about then is happening now, and the worst part is that the widespread awareness that comes with globalization hasn’t improved the situation at all. We’re just not listening to each other.

Mookie and his girlfriend and family live in Bed-Stuy, a mostly black neighborhood. He works at a pizzeria owned by an Italian family, most of whom are perfectly pleasant. (The token bigot, Pino, is played by John Turturro.) The tension — or maybe the tension of that day, since it never really goes away — arises over the fact that the Italian patriarch, Sal (Danny Aiello), won’t put up pictures of any black celebrities on the wall of his restaurant. He’s a nice man, but he just won’t do it. And as his layers are peeled back — he doesn’t wear his racism on his sleeve, like his son Pino, but rather tucked into his front shirt pocket — we see just how hate crimes arise and how police brutality escalates and how situations go from docile to destructive before anyone’s had a chance to process anything. It’s devastating to watch, and it’ll make you think about your own buried prejudices. It’ll make you angry, it’ll make you sad and it’ll make you want to hold your friends and neighbors the way they do toward the end of the film. (I won’t spoil anything else.)

Listen to the title. Watch it if you haven’t. And love your people.

The key to any successful ensemble cast is Tom Waits.

I say “successful” with love and bitterness, because Mystery Men was a flop at the box office, because the world (myself included) was ignorant in 1999 and didn’t see it in the theaters. God, it’s funny. It’s the kind of movie that makes your face tired because you’re either smiling or laughing really hard. And the cameos become increasingly more delightful as you watch.

Waits is that special enigma who’s both exactly what you expect and nothing like you expect. He’s got a Keith Richards quality about him, but nerdier — and that’s for the better. He and William H. Macy were my favorite parts of this movie, Waits for the aforementioned magnetism and Macy because he’ll never be without his sincerity, even when he’s playing someone called “The Shoveler.” Ben Stiller is also predictably great and charismatic as Mr. Furious, slightly toward the Zoolander end of his Zoolander-Greg Focker spectrum. And there are plenty more where they come from, because of the aforementioned “ensemble cast” nature of the movie, but I’m not going to mention too many more, because it’s more fun to discover along the way. Suffice it to say that Paul Reubens was the weak spot — and he was still hilarious.

Waits, Macy et al are superhero-types, the absurdities of which are funny on their own but inconsequential enough to be downright precious when put into the context of their world, Champion City. It’s that sincerity that bleeds through the entire movie — they take themselves seriously, but the movie does not, which is an ideal combination for comedy. I only wish more of the killer lines had been distributed evenly among the cast. Anyway, they band together, as superheroes do, to save their city from an evil that they’re pretty underqualified to defeat. It’s a story you’re familiar with, but its details are like no other and its makeup/costuming toes a charming line between kitschy and steampunk.

Go back in time to ’99 and give this one some love. Or, at the very least, appreciate it now. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Just because Jack Nicholson wears sunglasses inside, doesn’t mean he’s not a dork.

This thought occurred to me while watching Batman, that of the Tim Burton variety, for the first time. Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker is very famous, yet he’s got this ultra-freaky-cool-guy persona that’s followed him around for decades, since most of his characters fall into the ultra-freaky-cool-guy category. (See: Jake from Chinatown, McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack in The Shining, Frank in The Departed, the Lakers’ most devoted courtside fan.)

He’s always intense, but he’s always in control. Most of his acting is done behind his eyes, leaving you to wonder what’s going on inside of his head to make his eyes look that way. But the Joker is pure camp, pure spectacle, pure mania. Pure theater kid fun. Nicholson carries himself completely differently as the Joker — he’s very significantly a clown, tragedy and all, but he’s also a rich bastard whose wealth completely defines him. I suppose you could define the Joker as another ultra-freaky-cool-guy, but the guys I was referring to before don’t even exist in the world of Joker or Batman or Tim Burton. Each component of that description means something else entirely in this universe.

Burton isn’t about nuance — also the sky is blue — but that’s fine. His aesthetic is perfect for Batman (as is Christopher Nolan’s; apples and oranges) because it makes the comics themselves jump to life. The brightness of the colors, the harshness of the lighting, the heightened emotions, the absurdity of the props (see below) — it’s a stage play with an extreme noir bent. And Burton isn’t about nuance only in the visual sense; the characters in his movies are also very straightforward, even if they have layers or alter-egos. Batman and the Joker are two interpretations of Robin Hood, plain and simple. It’s hard to find nuance in a story we already know so well, but again, that’s totally fine. America likes to repeat things it likes. (Go figure.)

Batman is far from a perfect movie — Prince’s song did not sit well with me, nor did the romance between Bruce Wayne (Michael Freakin’ Keaton) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), which jumped from boning to basically betrothal in what seemed like seconds. (That’s the movies, I know.) I really loved Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. I wanted more of him, in fact, but he was perhaps the most serious, subdued and nuanced part of the film — and thus the least seen. But Keaton and Basinger themselves were/still are divine, and watching this movie almost 30 years since it was made enhances that statement. Due to my inverted way of familiarizing myself with popular culture, Keaton was Birdman to me long before he was Batman. I’m envious of everyone who knew him as the Dark Knight first.

Insert bat signal here. I’m ready for the next one.

Diane Nguyen is my forever Halloween costume.

After living in the Bay Area for 10 years, and experiencing a disproportionate amount of peer pressure to dress up for this holiday — in San Francisco, Halloween is to costume stores what Christmas is to, uh, all other retail stores (great analogy, I know) — I’ve been over dressing up for quite some time. I love when other people do it, and I’ll be the first to commend a clever costume, but I just don’t have it in me anymore.

Enter amazingly-timed first viewing of Bojack Horseman. In the weeks leading up to that semi-dreaded last day of October, I tried out this excellent show and not only loved it, but also found my forever costume. Diane Nguyen, the ghostwriter hired to help Bojack write his memoir, also happens to be my sartorial (and spiritual) two-dimensional doppelganger.

diane

I, too, have (1) glasses, (2) shoulder-length dark hair, (3) a green jacket and (4) a last name that’s very common in Asia. She just gets me.

But enough about us. Bojack is great, and I’m not the first person to tell you that. I’m also pretty over stories about Hollywood up-and-comers, has-beens, currently-ares, you name it. TV and film can get pretty self-congratulatory when they’re not kept in check. But this show’s phenomenal cast — Will Arnett as Bojack, Alison Brie as Diane, Paul F. Tompkins as Mr. Peanut Butter, Aaron Paul as Todd and Amy Sedaris as Princess Carolyn — and straight-up hilariously weird visual jokes put it so far ahead of any other show or movie that might share a similar premise.

Bojack is a washed-up star trying to figure his shit out. He’s got an agent (Carolyn), a roommate (Todd) and a nemesis (Mr. PB). That stuff’s all pretty standard. But the brilliance — and again, no news here — is that he’s a horse. Carolyn is a cat. Mr. PB is a dog. And any number of other beings everyone interacts with in this alt-Hollywood are also animals. It’s the best, and it enhances every single scene with something subtle, unexpected and hysterical.

I recall one scene in which Bojack was hitting on some girls at a bar. Two human, one chicken. In a moment of surprise, the chicken drops an egg, and I lost my shit.

egg

And another, in which Carolyn is at the gym, running on the treadmill next to a sloth, who is not.

treadmill

Equally brilliant is how the animal qualities are ignored completely in other scenes. This one in particular made me laugh, mostly because I was imagining the conversation creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg must have had with Wallace Shawn to get him to do the bit.

I also love the pace, exemplified above. Carolyn and Diane are sharp as hell, whereas all the men are at various points on the nincompoop spectrum. Bojack’s self-loathing, Mr. PB’s completely shameless and Todd’s wholly lazy. It makes for very empowering conversations, at least from the female side of things. And the patter feels so snappily human, which is a credit to the actors. If they were playing apples and pears, you’d still have no doubt they were sentient.

Arnett, especially, found a winner here. He’s not that easy to cast — Arrested Development‘s Gob is by far the best role he’ll ever get, and I think he knows it, and I mean that as much of a compliment as it can be — because he’s not incredibly believable as a guy who can garner sympathy. Bojack, then, is probably the second-best thing he’s ever done. He plays another cocky man, but that’s where the similarities end. The washed-up aspect of Bojack is so nuanced and tragic, and Arnett somehow digs into that, despite Bojack being almost completely unlikable on paper.

I want to know what else B-W has up his sleeve. This seems to be his first major project, so we should be in for an entertaining as hell career. Or, at the very least, a shit-ton more Bojack, which would be just fine.

Richard Linklater’s first Oscar better not be Honorary.

I’m serious. Give the guy some hardware already.

He’s a true artist and visionary, taking a specific medium and bending it to his creative and innovative will. Boyhood is a beautiful, self-contained example of that, and probably his most-awarded work. But after seeing his Before trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, I’m convinced it’s his masterpiece. There are no movies — or pieces of art — like the three of them.

Before Sunrise has an initial romantic, cinematic hook. Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet on a train and decide to spend a whirlwind, unbelievable 24 hours together in Vienna. It’s a standard meet cute, but it escalates into something incredibly profound and complex. I found myself abandoning all cynicism because I was captivated (and a little frightened) by their bare honesty. Say Anything was made six years before Sunrise, yet Jesse seems like he inspired everything about Lloyd Dobler, and not the other way around. Celine, meanwhile, is everything but the Pixie in MPDG — which is to say she’s manic, dreamy and female. She’s impossible but impossible not to love. They enhance each other’s methodical brains, and they adapt to each other’s communication styles.

Jesse and Celine experience a whole relationship over the course of the day, and they jump into it instantly but naturally, with first-date-type awkward jitters at a record store to few-months-in conversations about past loves to one-year-anniversary speculation about future commitment. No interaction is shallow, no thought is insignificant and no emotion is invalid. Both of them want to be loved, and each trusts the other enough to move toward that goal at the same pace. By the time they agree to make the insane promise to see each other in the same spot, six months later, it doesn’t seem so insane.

Before Sunset picks up nine years later in Paris. Jesse and Celine never met up six months later, because life happens, but Celine happens upon Jesse’s book tour stop and they end up spending another day together. “Catching up” seems like such a trivial term to describe their interaction, because it’s so much more than that. There’s clearly still a very strong attraction between them, a what-if hanging over them as they walk around, but there’s also this very plain desire just to look at each other and feel that same inexplicable, strange comfort they felt with a stranger so many years ago. They look at each other with such longing, such understanding and such pain that it’s almost like the lives they’ve lead in the meantime really didn’t happen. When Jesse reveals he has a wife and kid back home, it shouldn’t be surprising but it is. The ease with which they — and the viewer — slip back into their love story is powerful, and it makes their (seemingly) final moments together in the car all the more overwhelming to watch. My friend and I were utterly destroyed (but completely satisfied!) by the ending: Though Jesse’s on his way to the airport, he stops at Celine’s apartment for a drink, and he stays there and misses his flight back to the U.S. It’s my favorite of the trilogy.

Before Midnight is the most emotionally draining of the three because it’s the most anchored in reality — despite the otherworldly-shades-of-blue setting of Greece. Nine years after Sunset, Jesse and Celine are married with kids and on vacation, and their dreamy love is subjected to the banalities, logistics and consequences of everyday life. They continue to push each other’s buttons, for lack of a better term, but it makes for tense disagreements instead of provoking conversations. We also get to see them as a real couple and as people in the world who interact with other people, their bubble burst and their normalcy exposed. The movie builds toward a heavy, cutting fight in a hotel room in which Jesse and Celine express their doubts about their relationship and its future.

I watched Midnight with the same Sunsetfriend, and she brought up a great point — over the course of the first 2.5 movies, we’re used to seeing them in varying states of bliss, so this fight is more impactful because it’s the first we’ve witnessed, but it can’t possibly be the actual first fight, can it? They seem so perfect, so yin to each others’ yang, that this fight feels like it’ll ruin everything. The ending — a semi-cheesy kiss-and-make-up moment — seems unsatisfying for that very reason, because their love is too powerful, too extreme to overcome a fight that basically consumes it. It would almost make more sense for them to split. But if they’ve indeed overcome many passionate fights over the course of their relationship, maybe this one is just a blip on the radar, and their reconciliation checks out.

Throughout the fight, I was on Jesse’s side, because Celine’s irrationality does not wane one bit over the course of 18 years. He made the sacrifice to live with her in France, so it seemed logical for me that she’d do the same for him and move the family to Chicago so he could be more of a parent to his older son from his previous marriage. But these kinds of decisions eluded them when they were falling in love, because they did so very quickly and uniquely. They never grew together, they just jumped in. They knew each other in pieces when they were young, but they only really comprehended each other when they were older. So it makes sense for their love story to culminate in something so intense and potentially life-altering. And even though the drama subsides curiously easily, it still pleases me to know that somewhere out there, on some continent, Jesse and Celine’s love story is still being written. Maybe we’ll see them in 2022, Hawke and Delpy’s schedules permitting.

Wonderment is hard to come by as an adult, but at least there are dinosaurs to think about.

Maybe the most wondrous moment of Jurassic Park — a movie that’s basically back-to-back-to-back-to-back wondrous moments — is when the brachiosaurus comes into view for the first time. It’s truly awe-inspiring, no matter your age. I watched this movie for the first time recently, in my never-ending quest to fill in childhood blanks, and seeing their long, swooping necks was completely unreal.

I’m a little bummed I never saw this magnificent movie when it came out. I would’ve been six years old, maybe too young, maybe easily spooked, but I think I would have loved it, and I think it would’ve had a profound effect on me. I was a very sci-fi averse child, mostly because no one was telling me how cool it was, and I think I would have had a stronger connection to stuff I’m just now learning about, like this flick.

But watching it in my late 20s, and watching it with someone who did watch it back then and adores it to this day, I found myself with a different kind of appreciation for it. He pointed out the brilliance of John Williams’ score and the tightness of the editing, which I know I would’ve glossed over as a kid. “Every shot had a purpose,” he also said, which is such a lovely observation. I realized just how much we take certain blockbuster-level directors like Steven Spielberg for granted. Guy knew exactly what he was doing, and undoubtedly still does. That’s why Jurassic Park turned out as magically as it did.

The dinos are the obvious centerpieces of this movie, of course, as their other-worldliness captivates kids and adults alike. But there’s beauty beyond the visuals, too. I especially loved how the children were portrayed — sweet, resourceful — while most of the adults were annoying and acerbic. Some were benevolent, like Sam Neill’s Grant, Laura Dern’s ass-kicking Ellie and Jeff Goldlbum’s Jeff Goldblu–er, Malcolm. (He’ll never not play himself, which is fine.) Both were scientists, pitted against the business-minded fogeys who ran the theme park and tasked with making sure it was safe. But without the presence of the kids — the grandchildren of one of the fogeys — grounding the adults with some of that aforementioned wonderment, the movie would have been too weighty, even cynical.

I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat to see the sequels or the reboot. I might read the book. But for now, I just want to continue to live in the world of 1993, when this movie (and dinosaurs) were maybe as real as they’ll ever be.