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.


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.


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


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.

Why hasn’t Paul Reiser starred in a Woody Allen movie yet?

Yes, a quick internet search reveals that he was in an Allen play, “Writer’s Block,” which sort of counts. But it doesn’t count completely. I long for a permanent filmic recording of Reiser going full neurotic.

Diner is very nearly that. As Modell, he is a surrogate Woody, providing both the comic relief and the voice of reason in a circle of friends who are mostly rooted in reality. I love all the other adorable dudes in this cast, but Reiser edges them out for Most Charming because he’s more of a minor player — and thus leaves us wanting more.

Now for those other adorable dudes. Steve Gutenberg is Eddie Simmons, the soon-to-be husband of the never-seen Elyse, and he has a hell of a grin and a hellish attitude toward his mother. But there’s something about Barry Levinson’s relatable, non-sequitur-filled writing (and the cast’s improvising, I’m sure) that makes me ignore his cockiness and, instead, revel in it.

The same thing goes for Kevin Bacon’s Fen — he’s sweet, stupid and troubled, all wrapped into one, the guy who’s easy enough to let go of because he’s too much agony to deal with, but hard to let go of because he’s impossible not to care about. Current — crispy, you might say — Bacon’s roles have been hardened, unemotional, stoic in the face of challenges, so it’s nice to check back in on the early 80s and remind ourselves of what a softie he was.

I also enjoyed Tim Daly as Billy, though I found his early-80s mien indistinguishable from present-day Chris Hardwick’s. (That’s a compliment to both.) I equated Daniel Stern’s Shrevie with a hybrid of Josh Charles and Ben Schwartz, too, also flatteringly. Finally, though, Mickey Rourke blew my goddamn mind as Boogie. He rolls in right at the end here:

I didn’t even know it was Rourke until I looked it up. I hate to be superficial for a second, but I must: DREAMBOAT ALERT. MY GOD.

I’m back. That scene is exemplary of the movie as a whole. There’s love in the pointless banter, and poetry, too. As these gents gear up for Eddie’s wedding, they cover a lot of emotional ground. It’s pretty unrealistic how much ground they cover, considering the movie is supposed to take place over the course of a single night, but disbelief is worth suspending in this case. I think coming-of-age movies are at their best when they’re simplified, when they focus on a particular event rather than trying to span decades of growth. The growth happens in bursts, in meaningful moments, mostly around a plate of fries at a diner.

Before there were fingerprints, scripts were a lot easier to write.

That’s no disrespect to current screenwriters; on the contrary, setting your crime story in the olden times is a smart move, one that maybe lets you play down the special effects mumbo-jumbo (that’s the technical term for it) and play up the plot development.

And that’s exactly what the Coen Brothers did in Miller’s Crossing, all the way back in 1990. I had been told to watch this movie many moons ago but only got around to it in the past year, perhaps as a subconscious palate cleanser for their most recent release. It did the trick.

It’s a quick, dirty noir that’s never grimy, thanks in large part to Carter Burwell’s warm score. The juxtaposition between the movie’s gangster darkness and musical lightness is refreshing, and it’s exactly the type of unexpected touch you’d expect from the Coen Brothers, even back then. They have a penchant for lightening darkness, usually with hilarious dialogue (mostly from Frances McDormand), and so the music takes them down a different tonal path.

The Coens also bring out the asymmetry in Hollywood’s most symmetrical elite. Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden fit quite nicely into the world of Miller’s Crossing; Byrne is no stranger to mob stories, but he always gives off an outsider air. Here, he’s in it the thick of it as someone else’s consigliere Tom. Byrne is Tom Reagan, second-in-command to Leo (Albert Finney) and first in bed with Verna (Harden), who’s also seeing Leo.

Two of the Coens’ usual suspects stand out in that stacked cast: Steve Buscemi, as unlucky Mink, and John Turturro, as bookie Bernie Bernbaum. In fact, I’d say Turturro gives the performance of his life as Bernie, who is embroiled in a war between Leo and his rival, Caspar (Jon Polito). He is cocksure to some, groveling to others, never confident in himself and always willing to reassign his loyalty. He runs such a gamut of emotions that you’re never sure what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be real in that particular moment. Bernie is pathetic, but he’s not unsympathetic. I can’t believe this guy hasn’t won an Oscar.

Miller’s Crossing is peak Coen before their peak. (And I’m not entirely convinced their peak has happened yet.)