Posted: October 13, 2016 in Music


Everybody’s talking about Bob Dylan today, so I figured I’d check to see if I’d ever written anything about his work, and hey look, here’s this thing from 2011:




For Bob Dylan’s seventieth birthday this week, Rolling Stone put out a list of the 70 Greatest Dylan Songs.  I’m no authority, so I’m not about to quibble with the ordering. In fact, it says plenty about the uncanny depth of this essential artist’s discography that he has so many more than 70 great songs. (So many prominent musical artists stop with the greatness after just three or four.) But Bob Dylan means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I thought it would be fun to name the songs that mean the most to me (off the top of my head).


My mom loves Bob Dylan and he means maybe the most to her generation, who came up with Dylan in the 1960s. That’s how I first came to hear Bob Dylan, with his protest songs and folk tunes. “Blowin’ In The Wind” (Rolling Stone’s #20) and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (RS #28) were big around my house. When I was in college, I had a friend who listened to literally nothing besides Bob Dylan, which at the time I thought was pretty pretentious but also at the time I knew and in retrospect I still believe, there’s no faulting that dude’s taste. If you listen to nothing but Bob Dylan, you’re still getting as diverse a catalogue as could possibly be imagined from just one artist who writes and performs all of his own songs. The guy who sang “Like A Rolling Stone” (RS #1, predictably) and the guy who sang “Lay, Lady, Lay” (RS #24) hardly even sound like the same guy, let alone the guy who recorded Love And Theft. That’s why Dylan has stayed so relevant for so long, because of that creative restlessness and constant evolution.  (And why Todd Haynes had the inspired, understandable notion to cast six different actors in the role of Dylan in his recent sort-of biopic I’m Not There.)


Anyway, like I said, I’m hardly an authority on Bob Dylan and his music, though the older I get the more I have learned to appreciate him. Quite honestly, he’s come to mean more to me through the legion of artists that he has influenced. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in some of my all-time favorite musical acts, from Bruce Springsteen to Jimi Hendrix to U2 to Cat Power to The Roots to motherfuckin’ Johnny Cash – they’ve all spent a significant amount of time not only talking about Bob Dylan, but performing his songs. At a certain point, your influences’ influences become important to you almost as much as your influences have, and so it has been with Bob Dylan.


So here are my top five songs, ranked in order of preference which is sure to change by tomorrow. These would be my top five if someone asked me TODAY.



  1. Series Of Dreams (not on Rolling Stone’s list)


This one came to me through seeing it in a Bruce Springsteen interview. Generally, when Springsteen says something, I listen, and when he recommends a song, ten to one I’m gonna check it out. I like the imagery of this song’s title, and I especially like the momentum of this song. Without getting too precious about it, this song sounds to me like the passage of time, and it sounds more optimistic than not (although as it happens, Dylan’s lyrics are a little more cautious here than the upbeat tune suggests).







  1. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (RS #25)




You can tell a person’s age from how they came to certain Bob Dylan songs. I got into this one through Guns N’ Roses, so that’s the generation we’re dealing with. Dylan wrote this song as part of his soundtrack to Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (which he also appeared in), a forever-underrated Sam Peckinpah movie that has come to mean almost as much to me as the song does. This song has such an immediate and potent mythic quality that it’s easy to see why it’s such a strong entry-way for younger romance-minded dudes like me into the Dylan discography.






  1. Not Dark Yet (RS #50)


A lot of Dylan songs can be inscrutable. It’s clear from most of the journalism I have ever read about the man that a lot of critics have a lot of fun trying to decipher his lyrics and deciphering how they may apply to his life story. I’m not that kind of a listener. Sometimes I like it best when I can tell what the song’s about, and when the melody fits the words so perfectly. The music here is a pretty simple and steady (but lovely) drone, almost a dirge, and if I had to guess, this song is about getting older, seeing the end coming and taking the moment to recollect before it gets here. Hopefully I’m not near that point in my life yet, but there’s something about that idea that has always been very profound to me. This is why people that know me best still struggle to decide whether I’m an old soul or an immature one.








  1. Shelter From The Storm (RS #66)


I put this song on a mixtape I made for my baby niece when she was first born. I know that there are several more valid interpretations of this song in many other contexts, but the great thing about music is its malleability of meaning to each listener, and to me, this song sounds like solace and safe harbor. And that’s what spending time with my niece means to me.








  1. Boots Of Spanish Leather (not on Rolling Stone’s list)


One of Dylan’s earliest songs, this is just plain one of the better love songs ever written, to my ears anyway. Is there more I ought to say about it? Take a listen:







Not that he will ever read this, but Happy Birthday Bob Dylan. You have affected a lot of lives in a deeply meaningful way with your art, which is art’s highest possible purpose in my dumb opinion.














Tonight at 9:30pm at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, the monthly Kevin Geeks Out show returns with KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN!


Kevin Maher, a writer and comedian who just plain always puts on a good show (and who has recently become a Daily Grindhouse contributor!), will host the event, which involves a screening of various film clips related to the “Deadly Women” theme, with color commentary from a variety of speakers. I myself will be there to talk about — what else? — Pam Grier movies.




Here’s the trailer for the show:


trailer – KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN at Nitehawk Cinema from Kevin Maher on Vimeo.



There are still a couple tickets left, but literally only a couple. Hope to see some of our New York people there!




For some idea of what goes on at these things, here are a couple expanded editions of my talks at a couple past KGO events:








Lip Sync Battle Champs.

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Uncategorized



Proud of my niece. She helped with the choreography here, and won a first-place trophy for her trouble.

Also this is me doing a test to see if I know what I’m doing, technology-wise. (I don’t.)



Grandpa, Part Two.

Posted: June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


This is what I said at the memorial in honor of my grandfather Sam Seifter at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine in December of 2009, ten months after he died. I was speaking to his colleagues and distinguished faculty and lots of extremely intelligent people I otherwise had no business addressing. It was a supreme honor.




My grandfather instilled in me the ultimate importance of family.  That’s far from the only thing I learned from that great man, but it’s one of the lessons that has stayed with me most consistently.  So when I stand in front of you today representing my grandfather’s grandchildren, I feel a little less uncomfortable speaking on behalf of four distinct and vibrant personalities than I might otherwise.  My sister Rebecca is a shining light to me, a legitimately heroic social worker and an amazingly sensitive young mother.  My cousin Andrew is one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read, and a remarkably adept thinker and conversationalist.  My cousin Charlie is one of the most emotionally perceptive people I have ever known, and one of the funniest and most charming.  I consider my sister to be the closest person to me in the world, and I consider my two cousins more like my brothers.  So while I would never presume to speak for any of them, I hope that I can adequately approximate their feelings.


I have to be honest with you, because that’s all I know for sure how to be.  This has been an impossibly terrible year for my family.  Losing my grandfather is losing something incalculable and really, unexplainable.  My grandparents together are the hub of the wheel that makes our family go, and that structure has been irrevocably altered.  To mix a metaphor, it’s like someone turned the lights out on us, and we’re all trying to try to learn how to stumble around in the dark.  No one has suffered a greater loss than my grandmother, who has lost the love of her life.  Think about that:  So many people search for true love and my grandparents actually found it. It hardly ever happens and the only reason I can believe in the concept is that I’ve seen it in action.  As far as I could tell, my grandpa and my grandma appreciated every moment they had together, but now he’s gone and my grandma is left without.  My mother, no ordinary achiever herself, has done her best to shoulder the weight that my grandpa’s loss represents, but that’s one considerable weight.  My father has lost a mentor.  My sister and I have lost our moral compass.  My niece, Jessica, remembers her great-grandfather but doesn’t understand yet why she doesn’t see him anymore.  These are things you don’t understand until you’re in it.  As soon as I was old enough to comprehend the fact of death, I knew this year would come, but there was nothing to prepare me for it.  It’s been hard.  But don’t worry, I’m getting to the more uplifting parts.


Firstly:  On behalf of myself, my sister, and my cousins Andrew and Charlie, we want to thank the committee at Einstein for memorializing our grandfather today, and we want to thank everyone who is here today out of love and support for my grandfather.  As you all probably know, there is no more worthy man to celebrate.  There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather deserves the stature of presidents and kings.  The only reason why the whole world didn’t stop to mourn his passing this year is that he was so resolutely humble.  Of all the literally countless deeds of goodness and generosity that he committed, of all the people that he taught and inspired and saved, of all the tangible positive acts he was responsible for, of all the brilliant minds he encouraged and facilitated, he did none of that in order to be recognized.  Frankly, he would have hated all this attention.


But he deserved it, and then some.  He was a thoroughly astounding person, a legitimate genius with a heart in scope as unparalleled as his intellect.  He had a profound effect on anyone who knew him, as you have heard and will hear more about today.  There have been few people who more directly benefitted from my grandfather’s influence than myself.  I grew up two blocks from his house, and I was over there all the time, right up until the end.  Even my relocation to Los Angeles couldn’t keep us apart for very long.  He taught me how to be a good person, to be thoughtful and sincere and searching and intellectually inquisitive.  He put me through college and supported my creative and artistic aspirations.  So much of everything that is good and worth knowing about my personality comes out of knowing and wanting to be more like him.  Honestly, I usually feel somewhat unworthy of having been the lucky recipient of all that time with such a remarkable human being.  I feel somewhat unworthy of speaking about him today, being on the same program with so many of his accomplished colleagues and students.  I feel unworthy of being on the same program with my mother and my uncle, brilliant teachers and generous souls who have gone on to be such effective advocates of my grandfather’s philosophies in the world.  Standing amongst all of these people today, all I feel is humble.  The only thing that makes me special, the only thing that makes me worthy of speaking here I guess, is that my grandfather loved me.  That doesn’t make me unique in this room, because there are so many people here today whom he loved, but it makes me unique to the rest of the world.  Because I knew him so well for so long, I can’t help but carry him with me everywhere I go.  It is my most sincere hope that I can in some small way be able to impart something of Sam Seifter to the rest of the world, because the world needs Sam Seifter now as much as it ever did.


I don’t know where my grandfather is now.  I don’t have those kind of big answers and wouldn’t presume to launch into that endless discussion here.  I did have some rare and brief conversations with my grandfather about spirituality, and his words on the subject then certainly informed my views on the subject now.  I know that my grandfather was a man of science, and I know that he loved this institution.  I know that the people here are doing the work that matters.  I am thankful to all of you, his colleagues and students and fellows.  Whether you knew my grandfather well or not at all, I am personally thankful to you for continuing the kind of work that my grandfather did.  My grandfather believed in science, both as a way of knowing, and as a way to improve the world we live in.  Whether or not this life is all we have, then I can think of no more noble calling.  The spirit of my grandfather is alive in all of us today, in the walls of these buildings and in our souls, and to me at least, that is a profoundly inspiring thought. We love you forever, grandpa.


One last thing:  There has been a lot of interest in my grandfather’s book of poetry, called To Every Truth Its Season – I would love to accommodate everyone’s request for a copy, so please contact me if you have been looking for the book.  Thank you very much.









The brilliant Bob Herbert, giving the Sam Seifter memorial lecture at Einstein named in honor of my grandfather. Click through to hear it.


Grandpa, Part One.

Posted: June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized



This is what I said at the memorial service for my grandfather Sam Seifter on March 1st, 2009. Find out more about him at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine’s website. That’s more of a biography of an incredible life. What follows is just what a grandson said about his grandpa. 




Hi everybody, if you don’t already know me, I’m Madeleine’s son, Jonathan Abrams.  I am speaking today to represent the grandchildren.  I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else; I can only serve as the representative.  Rebecca, Andrew, and Charlie can share their own feelings when the time is right for them.  However, I will speak for us all when I say how deeply we loved our Grandpa Sam, how much we miss him right now, and how much we will always treasure the time we did have with him.


Grandpa loved all four of his grandchildren equally, without question, but I was probably the luckiest of us, in that, by chance of age and geographical proximity, I got to spend that much more extra personal time with him over the years.  I grew up two blocks away from my grandparents’ house, so it would hardly be exaggerating to say that I was over there all the time.


In my early childhood, my little sister and I would look forward to weekend brunches personally cooked by Grandpa, with his individually-designed menus.  I loved to listen to classical music, page through his stamp collections and his flower pressings, and to walk with him through his garden.


In my adolescence, I racked up several blue ribbons at the school science fair thanks to my grandpa’s help.  Let it not be said that he did my projects for me – these collaborations were about the process of learning and teaching.  I was always taught to understand and to be able to explain to others the concepts and experiments I was working with, and I always did all of the artwork, writings and presentations.  He encouraged me to use humor whenever appropriate.


In high school, I got to work in my grandfather’s lab at the Einstein College of Medicine, alongside his colleagues and students.  It was there that I witnessed the admiration that Grandpa had earned in his profession, and it was there that I learned to share his faith in science.  There was never any pressure for me to follow in those footsteps, however.  My interests in the creative arts were always respected and encouraged and even admired.  Grandpa supported me, in every sense of the word, with my college education and choices, and later on, with my move to California.  He was my sage.  While my life has seen more than its share of mistakes and missteps and failures, believe me, none of them happened under his watch.  Still, I should have all of the confidence in the world, because I know he believed in me.


In the year 2001, I was asked by Grandpa to take part in what will be for the rest of my life my proudest creative achievement:  providing a bunch of black-and-white ink illustrations for a book of poetry that he had written over the years and was intending to publish.  We spent over two weeks working on those drawings together.  He brought me photo references, or had me find my own, or had me imagine what to draw for some of them.  What I thought was most telling about the process was that he was not at all precious about it.  The pictures I drew were the pictures he wanted to represent his poems.  When one of my drawings wasn’t exactly right, he had me redraw it.  When I wanted to redraw something and he liked it as it was, he wouldn’t let me.  He encouraged me but never falsely, and his constructive criticism was just as encouraging.  He treated me like a professional throughout.  The result was my personal best work.  He didn’t love those drawings because his grandson drew them – he loved those drawings because they were the drawings that he felt best illustrated his poetry.  And because his grandson drew them.



In truth, my grandfather himself was poetry.  He was calm; he was unbending integrity; he was accessibility, precision, and clarity; he was artful phrasing and unobtrusive persuasiveness; he was profound wisdom and meaning and subtle brilliance; and he was uncomplicated beauty.  And if Grandpa was poetry, then it was a poem about love, and you can’t mention my grandfather without mentioning my grandmother:


My Grandma Eleanor, the love of my Grandpa’s life.  They loved each other the moment they met as teenagers and they didn’t stop from that moment on.  They shared the kind of love that books and songs and movies are written about.  Young people wonder when such a love will happen for them, and old people wonder why it didn’t.  This kind of a love story only actually occurs in reality so very rarely, and my grandparents knew it and remembered it and appreciated it.  My grandparents are true soulmates, inseparable and inspiring and each the other’s best self.


Because he had my grandma, Grandpa always had hope.  He never once had it easy but still he made a good life for himself.  He had a life that mattered.  He didn’t want to leave it; he fought longer and harder to continue it than the rest of us can comprehend.  And I know that his persistence proved rewarding to him:  He saw his two children – my mom and my uncle – grow up to become brilliant teachers themselves, thoughtful people of integrity who continue to be the best examples of what human beings can be.  He saw my mom and my uncle start families of their own, families full of people he loved.  He lasted to see the new century; he lasted to see strides made in social tolerance and cultural equality; he lasted to see a multicultural president elected; he lasted to see science return to the national discussion.  Best of all, he lasted to meet his great-granddaughter Jessica, whom he loved so much it almost hurt.  He didn’t get to see the Yankees get it together… but he always kept those things in perspective anyway.



When a great man like my grandfather passes, people like to enlist descriptive phrases like “giant” or “legend,” or they will emphasize what the world has lost with his passing.  I am confident that I am joined by thousands in my knowledge that my Grandpa is an uncommon person, and that the world is in fact a far darker place without him in it.  There is not just a massive hole in my own life with him gone, but a hole in the entire universe, because such a consistent source of kindness and decency has left it.  Grandpa was just such a brilliant, loving, lovable, generous, and honest human being that it is honestly unimaginable to picture life without him.


All of that said, Grandpa would not like me to go on and on about his greatness, in fact he would certainly have hushed me off the stage by now, so I’d better hustle to bring this home.  Grandpa didn’t like pomp and circumstance.  He was the most humble genius I have ever witnessed.  He loved people, and he treasured his relationships, his friendships, and his mentorships, and he appreciated being appreciated, but he was not one to bask in the platitudes that he nonetheless warranted.  He was content to live in the same lovely blue-shuttered house that he lived in with my grandmother for decades, next to his carefully tended garden and two blocks away from his daughter, a couple hours from his son.  He was unquestionably a great man, of the kind history books are written, but he didn’t need it to be known.


Grandpa was a great mind and an artist, a gardener and a chef, a humorist and a humanist, a poet and a scientist.  He was the only hero I have ever needed in my life.  I find myself struggling to know what to do without him.


I think that, when our heroes leave us, in a way it falls upon us to become them.  For thirty-one years, I sat at the knee of the greatest man I’ve ever met.  It is my most sincere hope that I learned something during that time.  I can’t expect to be remotely close to the man he was, because he was truly one of a kind.  But I can ensure him some measure of immortality by working that much harder to do as he would have done, to be that much better.  Just by knowing him, he influenced me immeasurably.  I can encourage within myself those influences.


I can say for sure that I already see it in the others – I see Grandpa in Charlie’s love of nature, and photography, and in his generous spirit.  I see Grandpa in Andrew’s love of sports, and travel, and in his love of an intelligent, feisty, educational conversation.  I see Grandpa in Rebecca’s love of music, and family, and in her dedication to social justice.  And I even already see Grandpa in Jessica’s love of books and in her hearty laugh and her world-brightening smile.


It’s not for me to discern which aspects of Grandpa I was gifted with.  All I will do is revisit those years of proximity to him, and thereby conclude these words in the way that he himself would:


Grandpa wouldn’t want us to feel so sad.  He would understand that we are devastated by his loss, but he wouldn’t want us to spend too long in that misery.  He would want to see us cheered.  He would put a hand on our shoulder, or make a clever pun, or offer us something to eat, or even blow a kiss, as he did so many times when he saw Jessica cry.


He would be thankful.  He would thank everybody for coming here today to honor his memory.  He would thank my Grandma Eleanor for being the reason why he held onto life, and enjoyed it, for as long as he could.  He would thank my Uncle Julian for being the warm and charming and brilliant person who he was so proud of, whose pictures and writings he kept on his nighttable.  He would thank my aunt and my dad and my cousins and my sister and my niece, and especially my Aunt Esther in Cleveland who couldn’t be here today.  He would thank all of the caretakers who looked after him in his later years, all those good people who I will not name individually because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but who were so important because they talked to him and held his hand when he needed it.  And he would thank my mom, his daughter Madeleine, who was his engine over this past decade, who cooked and cleaned and wrote and sang and tirelessly raised his spirits when they were at their darkest, and whose heart rivals his own in size.  He would want us to look after her now, to appreciate her, and to appreciate all of the people who we love, because that’s what he did.


We love you, Grandpa.









KING KONG (1933)

Posted: April 7, 2016 in Uncategorized





My day job is centered at the Empire State Building, so I think about this movie literally every single day, but I’m thinking about it today because it went into wide release way back on this date, April 7th, in 1933. Can you even imagine being a kid in 1933 and seeing this movie for the first time?!? Here’s what I said about it back when I force-elected its star one of the ten best movie characters of all time:




On Skull Island, he was a king. In New York City, he was just another guy brought low by love. This may make me sound crazy, but I strongly believe there’s a case for KING KONG as the great American film. If you, as I do, are convinced that the story of America is one driven by race and by sex, then KING KONG has it all over CASABLANCA, CITIZEN KANE, or VERTIGO as far as tangible cultural relevance. The racial and sexual subtext of KING KONG is barely subtext at all, perhaps uncomfortably. Perhaps that kind of subtext should be uncomfortable. Is the subtext here outright racist? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m still not even sure. In this particular country, with our history, it’d be irresponsible not to consider it. That reading of the film might depend upon one’s reading of the title character, though. How are we supposed to view King Kong? Unlike Godzilla, King Kong isn’t exactly a hero. As the Godzilla films progressed, it became more clear Godzilla was here to protect Earth, not just to stomp on Tokyo. (That’s one thing 2014’s GODZILLA got right for sure.)




King Kong, by contrast, is more of a basic-cable anti-hero. He’s a merciless killer, if you’re a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a military biplane pilot or just an adventurer with a gun, but he’s great at it, and here in America we forgive a lot from a character who’s good at his job. Besides that, King Kong is infatuated with the blond ingenue Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and America does enjoy a good crazy-in-love story too. King Kong’s cataclysmic talent for violence makes him awesome — in the textbook definition, not the colloquial — and his infatuation with the pretty lady makes him human. So to answer the question, I think we’re supposed to find King Kong to be pretty rad, despite how many guys he tosses off a log bridge, and that’s what makes the movie complicated and fascinating. But that’s a conclusion that’s sort of unnecessary to intellectualize — I could have told you King Kong was awesome (in the colloquial sense) when I was eight. That I’m saying the same thing thirty years later doesn’t mean I haven’t grown up at all — it means I’ve grown up with the movie, and that it continues to give me plenty to think about and to dream about.















Posted: February 28, 2016 in Lists, Movies



It’s Oscar night, which is surely the last possible instant for anybody to potentially care about my favored titles, as far as last year’s movies go. This list would have gone up on Daily Grindhouse, but due to a transitional phase, Daily Grindhouse has been down for most of the past two weeks, so here we are.

No need for a long prologue. Does anybody read those? If you care about this list in the slightest, you’ve probably scrolled down past this paragraph already. I always joke that the introduction before a top-ten list is the best place to unburden yourself if you’ve ever committed a serious crime. You can alleviate the guilt that’s been burning you up, and still get away scott-free. Far as I know, the only crime I’m guilty of committing without being prosecuted is an egregious sense of timing.

The only thing I wanted to say is that I saw two movies this year that I didn’t feel I could cram inside a top-ten structure. Those are THE LOOK OF SILENCE and CALL ME LUCKY. Both are perfectly-crafted documentaries that provoked a real visceral response from me. Not that I don’t have the same level of respect for every movie I listed below, but as wrong as it feels to me generally  to rank movies (it’s like ranking emotions) it felt borderline offensive in those two cases. That aside, this list IS in order.



Assassin (2015)


Writing about movies alters your experience as an audience member. As you watch a movie, you can’t help but begin to compose whatever you’re going to write about later on in your mind, while it’s still being projected. For “normal” people it’s probably easier to sit back and let a movie happen in front of you. Writing about movies means you can’t be a spectator. You’re not exactly a participant, but you’re imposing your will and your unique thought process on the experience all the same. All of that is to say that THE ASSASSIN has a determined stillness and an insistent patience that forced me to settle down and just watch. There isn’t much story to it, but that’s part of why I keyed into its frequency — I didn’t have to track over-heated plot developments, or opine to myself about my feelings about each character. I could just watch. Especially in this attention-flicker of a day and age, there’s a boldness to a film that holds on a shot long enough to let a slight gust of wind blow through the frame. And there’s a secret liberation in knowing I can submit to that boldness rather than making myself part of the experience.


Chi-Raq (2015)


Hateful Eight (2015)



Grouping these two together because they’re two sides of a coin in my mind, and because it delights me to do it. It’s ironic that Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino are often at odds in the press, because they occupy neighboring terrain in the landscape of my thinking. Hard to think of two other filmmakers who are simultaneously so talented and so frustrating, so right up my alley and yet so prone to adding a single scene or a character or musical cue or plot device that threatens to derail my appreciation. As hard as it is for me to choose sides when Quentin and Spike fight, it’s got to be that much harder for Sam Jackson. He’s a signature actor for them both, and he plays pivotal roles in both CHI-RAQ and THE HATEFUL EIGHT. In one he’s the Greek chorus and in the other he’s the de-facto protagonist, but in both movies his war trumpet of a voice is a defining element of the orchestra being conducted by a bold, confrontational, cinematically-hyperliterate director. CHI-RAQ is a modern-day retelling of a classical play told in verse, and THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a “spaghetti” Western with provocation on the brain, so they’re very different movies, but they’re also unified in operatic nature and in thematic concern. These are two movies about race, about violence, about America. Another similarity is that both movies, while definitely engineered to inflame conversation, drew criticisms that were misplaced. I saw many essayists question Spike Lee for making CHI-RAQ about women withholding sex from their men in order to quell violence — despite that plot coming directly from Lysistrata and being a couple millenia old — and I saw others go after Quentin Tarantino for misogyny in THE HATEFUL EIGHT when nothing good happens to anybody in that movie, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue is by far the most compelling character in the whole thing. (As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I also think Quentin is working in a disreputable genre and honoring its conventions, as troubling as they may be.) I’m sure neither of these movies are particularly easy to like, and they may even be imperfect, but it’s uncommon to have one movie so defiant and lively and formally unruly in a calendar year, let alone two of them.

Oh, and Teyonah Parris is a goddamned movie star. There’s no way to look at CHI-RAQ and think any different.



Duke of Burgundy (2015)


By any objective measure, this is one of the most technically impressive films released in the past twelve months. Like THE ASSASSIN, it’s fascinating to look at and to listen to. For somebody like me, who looks at movies as moving pictures more than filmed plays, that’s not something to ignore. It’s arguable that THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is an emotionally chilly movie, beautiful but impenetrable, but I wouldn’t be the one to argue it. I liked how this movie challenged me; I liked how it made me watch it again almost immediately to reconsider how I felt about it. Doesn’t hurt that I spent a large part of 2015 gaining a newfound affection for the giallo genre, so that by the time I got to THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, I was waiting right in the middle of its wheelhouse. But I think any grown-up would find this movie equally as mystifying and intoxicating (it’s probably not one for the kids).



Creed (2015)


If there’s no way to stop the mounting flood of reboots and remakes and sequels and re-imaginings, then at least there’s a movie like CREED to come along and knock a franchise on its ass. I don’t have the same affection for the ROCKY movies so many fans of CREED seem to — to me, Rocky Balboa is less the draw than the friendship he forged with Apollo Creed over the course of the series. In that first ROCKY, Apollo is basically the villain, and the way he subsequently becomes Rocky’s brother-in-arms is what interests me most about the movies. It doesn’t always happen in life that a heated rival becomes a trusted friend, and to my eyes that’s as much the appeal as the victorious-underdog aspects of the franchise. We don’t get an appearance in CREED from Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, but what he brought to the movies is still present in Michael B. Jordan’s fierce likability (he even looks like the young Apollo Creed at times) and Sylvester Stallone’s familiar but adjusted-for-weight-of-age performance. This is a sequel that comes at the idea from a dynamic angle — the son of Rocky’s most legendary rival comes to him for training in the same sport that killed his father. Rocky sees he can’t stop Donnie and feels he owes it to Apollo to protect his kid. CREED is about a reluctant mentor and an angry, hurt, haunted hero. If we’ve seen that relationship on film before, it’s not often, and never this fresh. On top of that, Tessa Thompson’s “love interest” character Bianca provides such a real, warm, unpredictable, lovable, tangible presence — it’s rare for a male-dominated movie, rare for a franchise movie, rare for an American movie. I suspect the pleasure of revisiting CREED will be less to thrill in the mechanics of the boxing sequences — which are tremendous — but more to spend time with these characters again.


Tangerine (2015)


When I first moved to L.A., I got a job in an office building just off Santa Monica Boulevard, which I had to cross to get to work after parking my car in the lot across the street. Since it was a TV industry job, I came and went at all hours of the day and night, which means I got a crash-course in the environment of the neighborhood. This was two blocks from the Donut Time where so much of the action of TANGERINE takes place. So when I join the many voices praising TANGERINE for its sense of authenticity, it’s coming from some direct observation from the field. But I didn’t usually stop too long to talk to the many characters I encountered on Santa Monica Boulevard, and that’s the difference. TANGERINE brings the viewer into that world, by function of form (the film was famously shot on smartphones and favors dynamic close-ups and tracking shots) and by its vivid performances, most notably from Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Like its two lead characters, the movie explodes with energy. TANGERINE is exciting because it has real social value, making a marginalized culture spring beautifully to life and doing it not with melodrama but with recognizable relationships and a friendship that would win anybody over. All you have to do is look and listen.



Bone Tomahawk (2015)


I wrote more extensively about this movie when it hit Blu-Ray. The point I’d reiterate is that this isn’t a horror-Western. It really is a straight-ahead Western-Western. Westerns are a uniquely American genre whose usage tends to reflect the tenor of the times in which they were made. The stereotypical white-hat hero was never exactly a reality; pick up a history book or take a look at Deadwood. Westerns tell America what we’re thinking about ourselves — the more idealized Westerns of yesteryear are telling, as were the revisionist Westerns of the late 1960s and the early 1970s, as was the fact that the Western basically went away for a while, and so now is a movie like BONE TOMAHAWK, which is scary as all hell. Because that’s where we are today.




Blackhat (2015)


I saw this twice in theaters and wrote effusively about it elsewhere. If I’m being completely honest, it’s probably true that Michael Mann has made stronger movies than this one. But there’s still no filmmaker working today whose movies I’d rather watch — over and over.



Spring (2015)


Another one I wrote about before now. But I will keep writing about it in case it helps anybody new discover it. SPRING is a jewel. It’s not a monster movie that sort of has a love story in it. It’s a love story that sort of has a monster in it. Huge difference. Astonishingly rare thing. If this is the first you’re hearing about this one, please give it a look.





This is only seven minutes long, but it was more on my cinematic frequency than almost anything else this year, so I don’t know what all these prestige movies are doing running over the two-hour mark. This video has just about everything I need in a feature film — pretty ladies, freaky character actors, action, motion, color, scope, scary sexuality, dodgy morality, something to think about, something to tap my foot to while I’m doing it.



Fury Road (2015)


Because I saw it three times during its theatrical run and because I bought it on Blu-Ray months ago and still haven’t dared to watch it on a smaller screen. That’s how resolutely big-screen it is.

Because there’s no reason it should have been this terrific. It wasn’t an easy movie to get made, or an easy one to make, and it definitely wasn’t a sure thing box-office-wise.

But mostly because “Let them up!” is the final line of the movie for a reason that’s even bigger than movies.