Recommended: Spring 23 Edition

Here are some of the films and books I consumed over the last months.


Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)

Set in a 14th century monastery in Northern Italy, Eco’s claustrophobic mystery encompasses semiotics, apocryphal religious texts, and insights into the Church’s efforts to purge itself of heresy.

The Luminaries (Elizabeth Catton)

Despite its 800 page length, this historical novel reads quick. Set in 1860s New Zealand’s gold camps, it concerns a death, a disappearance, and a bequest.

I Celebrate Myself (Bill Morgan)

I learned more than I wanted to about Allen Ginsberg in this fine-tuned biography, though the insights about his poetry, particularly Howl, are invaluable.

Appointment in Samarra (John O’Hara)

A small town bourgeois’s complete self-destruction. Ernest Hemmingway and Dorothy Parker were fans.

Arthurian Romances (Chretien de Troyes)

The basis of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Here are the roots of Romance.

The Horseman on the Roof (Jean Giono)

A  young Piedmontese hussar navigates the post-Napoleonic South of France during a cholera outbreak. Existentialist!

The White Company (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Doyle considered this Late Medieval-set story his best novel.

The Passenger (Cormac McCarthy)

Probably McCarthy’s penultimate book. Not as scorching as Blood Meridian, yet fraught with greed, obsession, and schizophrenia.


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Nelson 2019)

Miles was a genius, obviously. And a bit of a bastard.

In Fabric (Strickland 2018)

Stylized, Giallo-like art direction. Great pallette. Still images/ variable film speed. Retro score.

Cashback (Ellis 2006)

A winsome post-college rom-com.

Hyena (Johnson 2014)

The English Bad Lt.? No, that’s too glib. Even so, this crime drama is a lot of fun.

True History of the Kelly Gang (Kurzel 2019)

Based on Peter Carey’s stupendous, Booker-winning novel. Cross-dressing bushrangers punish the Brits Down Under.

The Mauritanian (McDonald 2021)

Ultimately far too forgiving. Guantanamo Bay is a necrotic sore, and those who administered it, including Ron DeSantis, deserve punishment.

The Wonder (Lelio 2022)

Florence Pugh dominates this story about faith and fraud set in 19th century rural Ireland.

That Man from Rio (de Broca 1964)

Jean-Paul Belmondo at perhaps his lithest and most nimble pinballs around Brutalist Rio during its dictatorship era, something no one in the film feels compelled to address.

That Touch of Mink (Mann 1962)

There’s an icy distance to Cary Grant in his later films, a quality not even Doris Day’s sunny enthusiasm can dispel in this 1962 romantic comedy.

Berberian Sound Studio (Strickland 2012)

This homage to Italian trash cinema includes Toby Jones as a meek audio engineer whose work on a bloody giallo begins to warp his sense of reality. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the complete absence of screen violence. Instead of watching gore we witness foley artists hacking apart watermelons. Lacking any visual counterpart, the screams and squishes land that much harder. A great movie to use for Thought and Image.

Pilgrimage (Muldowney 2017)

A gratifying film for any fan of medievalist cinema. A 13th century Cistercian monk transports a holy relic through the bogs of Ireland, where Norman invaders and Gaelic warriors clash.


If I try to say it. If I try to say the truth. It’s that when I met you… All my life I’ve been thinking a little bit about money.

And you didn’t ask me in.

Shiv, you kept me out.

And I always agreed to all the compartments… but it seemed to me that I was gonna be caught….

And I really really really love my career and money and– you know– the suits and my watches and…

Yeah, sure. I know. I like nice things. I know…

And if you think that’s shallow why don’t you throw out all your stuff for love? Throw out your necklaces and your jewels for a date at a 3-star Italian.

Yeah? Come and live with me in a trailer park. Yeah?

Are you coming?

Film Project (310/485)

For this project you’ll choose your own film.

Your task is to very thoughtfully choose a scene from your film that not only lends itself to a thorough formal analysis, but that relates in undeniably meaningful ways to the film as a whole. Your scene should also resonate with some of the major themes of the course.

The scene you pick should not be longer than 3 or 4 minutes.

Here’s how to begin:

1. Review the Yale Film Analysis Guide and Villarejo’s “The Language of Film”. These readings constitute the theoretical foundation of your response to the assignment.

2. Turn off your phone and put it away, then screen the film. Take notes.

3. Pick a scene.

4. Watch your film again.

5. Now write a formal analysis (3-4 pages). In other words, deconstruct the scene using the key concepts of film studies. Remember the four major categories: mise-en-scène, camera work, editing, sound.  While you don’t necessarily need to undertake a shot-by-shot analysis (though you’re welcome to do so) you should absolutely note the time signature of the shots you do discuss. How do the scene’s formal choices emphasize its dramatic content? What and how does the scene signify?

6. Minimum length: 1000 words.

Film Project (310/485)

Choose one of the following films for your film project:

American Psycho (Harron 2000) FREEVEE

Dark comedy about a yuppie serial killer.

There Will Be Blood (Anderson 2007) HOOPLA

A film about extractive capitalism and the entrepreneur as psychopath based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!

RoboCop (Verhoeven 1987) HOOPLA

A sci-fi satire about a near-future, neoliberalized Detroit.

Norma Rae (Ritt 1979) HBO MAX

Drama about efforts to unionize a factory in the American South. Based on real events.

American Gangster (Scott 2007) NETFLIX

A ficitionalized account of Harlem kingpin Frank Lucas’s rise and fall.

Sorry to Bother You (Riley 2018) RENT ON AMAZON

Dark satire by Boots Riley.

Joker (Phillips 2019) HBO MAX

Not really a superhero movie.

The Florida Project (Baker 2017)



Love this song but the worst part is suspecting that everybody born in the 21st century knows it as the background music to a montage of computer-animated guinea pigs plotting an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

I first watched this film in the Kabuki theater on New Year’s Eve 2012 then went for a mediocre ramen in Japantown. Over ten years later, my second screening, on a late afternoon as my braised chicken bubbles in the oven, granted me a fuller appreciation of the film’s analeptic structure as well as its accomplished cast. Imagine: Tom Hardy! Stephen Graham! Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney, David Dencik, John Hurt (!), and Gary Oldman (obviously). Yes it’s a sausage party, but who could ask for a more riveting ensemble?

For me, the most alluring aspect of TTSS is its mise-en-scène, its socio-temporal setting. Nobody uses a cell phone, thank christ. There appear to be no computers. And thus the tactile, sensual world of analog technology prevails. Every press of a button or flick of a switch produces an audible click. Examined intelligence files emit the quiet rasp of paper against fingertips. This is a world most of us yearn to inhabit.

I was never a Le Carre fan and I frankly don’t care much about late-Cold War, gray-faced spook-bureaucrats. But the diegisis of TTSS– its textures and ambience– is seductive.


Report to the Commissioner

Yaphet Kotto, easily the most compelling African-American actor of the 1970s, plays Crunch Blackstone, a brutal Black NYC policeman who came up before the Civil Rights Era. He’s been partnered with that absolute freak of law enforcement, the fabled hippie cop. Michael Moriarty, playing Det. 3rd grade Bo Lockley, sweats a lot as he agonizes about the institutional indifference to human suffering. This film distills the racial antagonisms and utopian yearnings of a long gone era.