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Showing posts from 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer: I Am Sam

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

I Am Sam (2001) never entirely worked for me, mainly because at times its efforts to tug at my heart strings seem too obvious, even bordering on manipulative. However, Michelle Pfeiffer's costarring performance, alongside Sean Penn, is nothing short of excellent. The New Yorker review said it best, "Pfeiffer, enormously likable in the role, almost saves the movie." It's one of her most underrated performances, and also one of my personal favorites.

Pfeiffer is Rita Harrison Williams, an attorney and mother overwhelmed by these difficult duel responsibilities. She's a serious Type A personality, with compulsive, obsessive tendencies, and an extremely harsh view of herself and the world. She's cynical, taking on Sam's custody case to prove she isn't heartless, that she'll do pro bono work. Of course, as the film pr…

Michelle Pfeiffer: One Fine Day

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

The classic screwball romantic comedy, when done right, is beautiful to behold. In 1996, established superstar Michelle Pfeiffer starred alongside then-rising Hollywood hunk George Clooney in the charming and delightful One Fine Day. When mentioning Pfeiffer's best work, this film isn't often named, but it deserves to be. Certainly, it's a light, frothy affair, which might lead some to dismiss it as unworthy. That would be a mistake, as Pfeiffer is simply radiant in a memorably sublime performance.

It's an utter joy to be in Pfeiffer's and Clooney's company here, tagging along as they make their way through one exceptionally frenzied day in the lives of two busy New Yorkers just trying to wrangle their kids while also doing their jobs. You know, just the usual adulting stuff, really. Throw into the mix that Pfeiffer's sin…

Joan Didion is Having a Moment

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”
— Joan Didion, "Goodbye To all That
The new Joan Didion Netflix documentary, The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, is at the center of a well-deserved return to the spotlight for one of our greatest American writers. Countless insightful op-eds and articles have been written about her since the documentary dropped a few weeks ago, and I've read every one I could find. Joan Didion is having a moment, and any time a writer of her import is discussed, our society is better for it. If only we spent more time discussing the written word and how much it gets at the heart of our grand, flawed condition. Can you imagine what that world would look like?

Didion's work, her writing, particularly in e…

Michelle Pfeiffer: New Year's Eve

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Revisiting nearly every one of Michelle Pfeiffer's over these last few months means carrying her entire career's worth of scenes and moments and dialogue around with me, in my head, acting as old friends keeping me company. I'm as surprised as you might be to admit that one moment I can't seem to stop thinking about is the end credits scene from the ensemble rom-com, New Year's Eve (2011).
The cinematic crimes against humanity in this film are legion: it's maudlin, treacly, and manipulative; many of the female characters lack sufficient agency; and don't even get me started on Katherine Heigl and Bon Freaking Jovi. But then there's Pfeiffer, who manages to make her little story arc feel true, and deeply affecting. She rises above the rest of this mess, even managing to elevate Zac Efron along with her.

Michelle is Ing…

Rank 'em: The Halloween Franchise Films

What better way to celebrate Halloween than by revisiting every single one of the Halloween franchise films? That's just what I've been doing all month long, so you know what that means: I'm a little punchy at this point and it's time to rank 'em.

A few spoilers lie ahead, of course.

10. and 9. Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)

I'm lumping together the two Rob Zombie reboots because, frankly, they're equally bad. Zombie added a stereotypical Zombie touch to the franchise lore—Michael Myers' family was pure white trash! Michael's mom was an exotic dancer! Dr. Loomis once looked like an old, dirty hippie!—but almost none of it worked, nor was any of it even necessary. Instead, it took what made the taut and lean original so good and bloated it into something unrecognizable. I'm a fan of Zombie's House of a 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, but the less said about these two films the better.

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)


Barely Making a Dent: October 2017 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

This time of year brings several things to mind: leaves changing color, chilly yet comfortable autumn air, pumpkin ales and pumpkin spice everything, candy corn, and of course Halloween. As a horror fan, this month is almost overwhelming—the desire to watch and read all the horror, all month long, is all-consuming. Of course that's not possible, but I am trying.

I've been working my way through rewatching all of the Halloween franchise films; just watched the sagging sixth film (Curse of Michael Myers)—which is always a big letdown after watching Tina and her neon heart in the previous film (Revenge of Michael Myers)—so only four more to go, counting the two Rob Zombie flicks.

Then the eerie and haunting Mindhunter appeared out of nowhere and, six episodes in, I'm completely hooked. I've also been reading some horror novels and c…

"Opium Wars" by Zoe Lund

She wants there to be more of her. More space taken by her body, More decibels conquered by her voice, More time by her wakefulness, More equations by her addition.
She wants more, I want less. Her blade is rusty, musty, sweaty and vain. I like it clean and sharp and dark-bright.
She traffics in surplus, I bare my essentials. Her world is elastic but brittle. Mine is bony but moonlit. Hers flows, she ebbs. Mine ebbs, I flow. She dies in life, I live in death.
—Zoe Lund, “Opium Wars”

Guest Post: Katya Orlova Versus the Volcano?

If you're enjoying my series on the essential performances of Michelle Pfeiffer, please check out the blog Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies. Spotlighting the work of Michelle and Meg Ryan, it offers a critical examination and heartfelt celebration of these two wonderful actresses. Here's the latest post from Paul S., focusing on an astonishingly good and highly underrated Michelle performance, along with what just might be my favorite Meg performance ever. I'm toying with writing about both performances at some point, but I'm not sure I can top what Paul's already written!


Once upon a time, 1990 to be exact, it would have been difficult to say who was the more charismatic couple, Barley Blair and Katya Orlova or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Indeed the charisma quotient went off the index when these cinematic superpowers paired off; not only thawing East-West relations but generating a Krakatoa-like eruption of cinemagic, lunacy, love and laughter.
Joe Versus the Volcan…

Michelle Pfeiffer: What Lies Beneath

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

What Lies Beneath (2000) is not a slasher film. It's solid, if unspectacular, mainstream psychological horror. Still, a case can be made that its star Michelle Pfeiffer turns in an outstanding Final Girl performance.
As Claire Spencer, Pfeiffer spends much of the film hesitantly peering through windows, behind doors and down desolate roads, terrified of what she might find staring back at her. Her mind is running wild on her, in no small part due to her isolation—Claire's scientist husband (Harrison Ford) spends much of his time at the university lab, leaving her home in an expansive New England house, with only her growing sense of unease to keep her company.

Something's not right in her marriage, that's clear. This unrest in Claire manifests in a sneaking suspicion that the new neighbors are up to something, possibly something horri…

Goodbye: Halt and Catch Fire

Somewhere along the way, and at some point during its four seasons, Halt and Catch Fire became the most human series on television. I suspect that thoughtful humanity was always there, from the start, it just took some time to fully reveal itself. The show's four main leads, Joe, Cameron, Gordon, and Donna—as well as lovable fifth wheel, Bos—have each undergone tremendous personal growth over the four seasons. Importantly, the series avoided treacly manipulation, instead opting for thoughtful sincerity in its portraits of people growing up and changing, together, through the years.


The series' fourth season has achieved a sublime sort of excellence, week in and week out, with one stellar and emotionally affecting episode after another. By the time we reached Gordon's sudden and unexpected death in the third-to-last episode, "Who Needs a Guy," Halt and Catch Fire was firing (pardon the pun) on all cylinders. This season has taken us on an emotional roll…

It Came From the '90s: "I want to write her name in the sky"

This series looks back at the 1990s and its influence on the generation of people who came of age during the decade.

It wasn't just Tom Petty's words and music that imprinted on us, it was also his videos that resonated, their images forever stored inside us, helping guide us through life. They seemed to originate within us, as if Petty was simply reflecting back our own lives and experiences.

We were the MTV generation, and for a stretch during the '80s and '90s, words and pictures melded together in perfect harmony, a perfect pop cultural storm. None more perfect than Petty's videos.

"Free Fallin'", from 1989—when the earliest and bravest explorers of the uncharted '90s first started beaming back messages to the mother planet— is one of Petty's more straightforward video-stories, yet it's still packed tight with an unassuming yet sharply wrought commentary on contemporary Americana—Petty's stock and trade, after all.

Our teenage hero…

Michelle Pfeiffer: Grease 2

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

While Grease 2 (1982) might have failed to reach the same levels of critical and audience adulation as the first Grease (1978), it's certainly aged well, especially in comparison to its older sibling. Now, the sequel does have its share of cringe-worthy moments (the "Reproduction" song and dance, anyone?), but the gender politics are much more palatable to contemporary audiences than those from the first film—which are at times grossly, abominably retrograde.

The number one reason for the film's continued relevance is simple enough: Michelle Pfeiffer, of course. This was her first big, starring role, and she brought it hard—singing, dancing, strutting, and quipping her way into our hearts. As Stephanie, she's a stunningly beautiful and totally cool cat, for sure, but she's also sharp as a tack and wickedly funny. Unlike Oli…

Even walls fall down

Memories rushing in, like waves crashin' on the beach.
I'm a bad boy, 'cause I don't even miss her / I'm a bad boy, for breakin' her heart
Young and selfish, unhappy and escaping to a brighter, better place, self-preservation conquers regret, self-loathing replaced by a tentative confidence. A perfect song, this was on constant rotation during those years, both on MTV and inside my head.
I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants / you'll be the girl at the high school dance
Summer '95, outside, evening air, then-girlfriend, me, and 25,000 other voices, singing every word at the tops of our lungs, as if our very existence depended on it.
Sometimes you're happy / sometimes you cry / half of me is ocean / half of me is sky
'96, then-girlfriend is now ex-girlfriend, but hearing this then-new song helps me remember, and appreciate, a heart so big it could crush this town.
The waiting is the hardest part
Must've included this song on every mixtape I …

Barely Making a Dent: September 2017 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

Do they still make those "READ" posters? Several years ago—maybe ten, or fifteen?—I used to see them everywhere, in libraries, at the office (I work in publishing, after all), in various stores and on various public transportation systems. The fact that I'm feeling strangely nostalgic for them now is probably one more sign pointing towards my ongoing slide into old age. I've also been curious to find 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure books and a Rubik's Cube lately, too. Sigh. It's pointless to resist, nostalgia wins every time. And, sadly, this Britney poster made me feel old back when it was plastered everywhere, and now thinking about how long ago that was only makes me feel even older. #smh

Recently read

Out of Sight, by Elmore Leonard. Here is an author who's been on my to-read list forever, yet who's novels I&#…

Michelle Pfeiffer: Mother! (2017)

Revisiting—or in a few cases, watching for the first time—and celebrating the work of Michelle Pfeiffer, the best actress of my lifetime.

Darren Aronofsky's Mother! might be the most polarizing film of 2017. It combines aspects of mythology, the Bible, and domestic discord into one potent allegorical stew that is addictively watchable one moment, then utterly revolting the next. In other words, it's a film that makes you feel things. Throughout, it puts both its star Jennifer Lawrence and its audience through the emotional ringer. At one point, you begin to wonder if watching the film might lead to increased risk of post-traumatic stress. Amidst this chaos and insanity, however, resides an actress who is completely at ease with the madness surrounding her: Michelle Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer's performance is electrifying, full of white-hot intensity, yet tempered with an icy coolness and some of the film's best, and most snidely delivered lines. Pure kinetic energy every time …