Ordering a Low-Sugar Frappuccino: The Impossible Dream?


Starbucks:  You are leaving money on the table.  Luckily, I’m here to help.  I’m talking about the steadfast way you ignore your many customers who are trying to reduce the sugar in their diets.  I’m one of them.  I absolutely love me a Venti Mocha Frappuccino, but ordered as is, the sugar content in it would probably render me unconscious.  I want to order the lowest-sugar version of this lovely treat that I can.  But, because your baristas collectively have zero clue about sugar as an ingredient, every time I try to do this, it’s a frustrating ordeal.


The first problem is that your lovely employees don’t know how to distinguish between low sugar and low fat.  Just today while I was waiting for my custom-ordered frappe (“Light syrup.  Light base.”), the manager turned to me and said, “So, for that skinny mocha frappe, what kind of milk did you want?”


Uh, no.  Even I know that in Starbucksland, “Skinny” means low fat.  I never said low fat.  In fact, I asked for whole milk and whipped cream.  I’m not afraid of the fat.  I’m trying to reduce the sugar.


I’m never confident that I’m getting the lowest-sugar version of the Mocha Frappuccino, no matter how many times I order it.  Sometimes the manager tells me to ask for “light base.”  Sometimes the manager tells me to ask for “light syrup.”  Which is it, my dudes?


The answer is so simple.  PUT A LOW SUGAR FRAPPUCCINO ON THE MENU.  There.  Done.  Add it to the list of drinks your employees learn to make.  Then my low-sugar caffeine addict friends and I will know how to order it.  And, hopefully, your baristas will get clear on how to make it.  We’ll all waste less time talking about it; you’ll move the line along more quickly, sell more drinks and everybody wins.


Starbucks, you are in the business of selling complicated overpriced caffeine drinks to urban people willing to pay for them.  Understanding and owning what the ingredients of these drinks are is sort of your job.  Do it better.  You’re welcome.frap


2016 Movie Awards


The Year’s Best Films

  1. Moonlight
    Beautiful, unexpected coming of age triptych
  2. Hidden Figures
    Exhilarating corrective racial history lesson
  3. The Witch
    Horrifying depiction of religious madness
  4. La La Land
    Candy-colored L.A. fantasia
  5. Tickled
    Jaw-dropping mystery documentary with an authentically juicy villain
  6. OJ: Made in America
    Titanic use of the documentary form
  7. Arrival
    A rare smart science fiction movie!
  8. The Handmaiden
    A fever-dream of sex, deception and betrayal
  9. Manchester By the Sea
    A very pure and heartfelt portrait of grief
  10. Midnight Special
    Forget Loving. THIS was the GOOD Jeff Nichols movie this year.

Honorable Mention:

The Nice Guys

The Wave [Norway]

Train to Busan

10 Cloverfield Lane

Don’t Think Twice

Eye in the Sky

Sing Street

Green Room

The Invitation

Love and Friendship

Hell or High Water

In Order of Disappearance [Norway]



Perfectly Enjoyable

Barbershop:  The Next Cut

Edge of Seventeen


The Duelist [Russia]

The Meddler

Everybody Wants Some!!

Finding Dory


Don’t Breathe

The Shallows

De Palma

Women He’s Undressed

Becoming Mike Nichols


Lo and Behold:  Reveries of the Connected World

Blue Jay


Denzel Washington, Fences

Vincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man [France]

*Casey Affleck, Manchester-By-The Sea

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Honorable Mention:  John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane; Ralph Ineson, The Witch


Viola Davis, Fences

Min-hee Kim, The Handmaiden

Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

*Annette Bening, 20th Century Women

Honorable Mention:  Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Ruth Negga, Loving; Hailee Steinfeld, Edge of Seventeen; Sally Field, Hello My Name is Doris; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins; Kate Beckinsale, Love and Friendship

Supporting Actor

Tracy Letts, Indignation

Sunny Pawar, Lion

Russell Hornsby, Fences

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

*Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Honorable Mention:  Tom Bennett, Love and Friendship; Gil Birmingham, Hell or High Water; Simon Helgberg, Florence Foster Jenkins; Ashton Sanders, Moonlight

Supporting Actress

Michelle Williams, Manchester-By-The-Sea

*Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Kate Dickie, The Witch

Molly Shannon, Other People

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures


*Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Robert Eggers, The Witch

Chan-wook Park, The Handmaiden

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival


City of Gold


Presenting Princess Shaw

The Eagle Huntress


*OJ: Made in America

Animated Feature


Kubo and the Two Strings

*The Red Turtle

Foreign language feature

*The Handmaiden (South Korea)

Train to Busan (South Korea)

The Wave (Norway)

In Order of Disappearance (Norway)

The Duelist (Russia)


Café Society (Vittorio Storaro)

*Nocturnal Animals (Seamus McGarvey)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

The Handmaiden (Chung-hoon Chung)

Production Design

*La La Land (David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)

Hidden Figures (Wynn Thomas)

The Witch (Craig Lathrop)

The Handmaiden (Seong-hie Ryu)

Costume Design

*La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Hidden Figures (Renee Ehrlich Kalfus)

The Handmaiden (Sang-gyeong Jo)



*Office Christmas Party

Sausage Party

Neighbors 2

People who need to be a bigger deal

T.J. Miller, who was so terrific in Deadpool and Office Christmas Party

Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Gil Birmingham, low-key but irresistible in Hell or High Water

Jerrod Carmichael (The Meddler, Neighbors 2)

Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some!!, Edge of Seventeen)

Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures)

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Hidden Figures)

Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier, whose film Green Room was the thriller of the year

Writer/Director Mike Birbiglia, who showed amazing growth between his first feature (Sleepwalk With Me from 2012) to this year’s Don’t Think Twice

Jenny Slate, so good in Zootopia and My Blind Brother

Best Sly Casting Joke

Tom Everett Scott in La La Land.  Think about his resume and you’ll get it.

Best performance as a lesbian taco

Salma Hayek in Sausage Party

Best Performance by a former game of thrones actor

Kate Dickie in The Witch

Country whose movies need more viewers and awards and stuff

South Korea.  If you’re not going to South Korean movies these days, you are really missing out.

what the  actual @*^ do they have to do to win a freaking oscar?

Annette Bening

John Goodman

Guilty Pleasures

Hardcore Harry

Office Christmas Party

Best Thriller

Green Room

Best Mystery


But At least it looked good.  right?



The Lobster

Most reprehensively deceptive trailer

The Lobster


Sing Street

The Nice Guys

The Witch

Midnight Special

Best Extended dialog scene

Indignation:  Logan Lerman (college student) and Tracy Letts (Dean) spar in an increasingly odd and uncomfortable exchange.

Memorable lines

Moonlight:  “Ok. Let your head rest in my hand. Relax. I got you. I promise. I won’t let you go. Hey man. I got you. There you go. Ten Seconds. Right there. You in the middle of the world.”

The Witch:  “Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”

Hidden Figures:  “There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrison. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.”

Zootopia:  “Fear ALWAYS works!”


Jungle Book (sorry, everyone)

The Feel-bad movies of 2016

Weiner Dog

Nocturnal Animals


Just a hot mess

The Little Prince

Worst movies of 2016

Too Late




In Memoriam

The roster of performers and other show business types we lost in 2016 is absolutely overwhelming.  Feel free to skip this portion if you’ve run out of tears.  But here goes.  The purely objective short list of the losses that particular sadden me are at the top.

Alan Rickman

Maurice White

Harper Lee

Umberto Eco

Pat Conroy

Patty Duke

Gene Wilder

Edward Albee

Florence Henderson

Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds



Pat Harrington, Jr.

David Bowie

Dan Haggerty

Glen Frey

Abe Vigoda


George Gaines

Sonny James

Tony Burton

George Kennedy

George Martin

Keith Emerson

Phife Dawg

Garry Shandling

Jim Harrison

Eric Bauersfeld

Merle Haggard

Doris Roberts


Billy Paul

Guy Clark

Alan Young

Muhammad Ali

Theresa Saldana

Ron Lester

Anton Yelchin

Ralph Stanley

Bernie Whorrell

Michael Cimino

Noel Neill

Garry Marshall

David Huddleston

Pete Fountain

Barry Jenner

Kenny Baker

Fyvush Finkel

Steven Hill

Juan Gabriel

John Polito

Alexis Arquette

W.P. Kinsella

Curtis Hanson

Bill Nunn

Tommy Ford

Leonard Cohen

Robert Vaughn

Leon Russell

Holly Dunn

Sharon Jones

Ron Glass

Grant Lake

Grant Tinker

Joseph Mascolo

E.R. Braithwaite

Alan Thicke

Zsa Zsa Gabor

George Michael

Rickey Harris

Richard Adams

Barbara Tarbuck

William Christopher



PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS!  I look forward to arguing with you!


Movie Review: The Hustler (1961) directed by Robert Rossen


Fast Eddie:  How can I lose?hustler newman

This line, tossed off with Paul Newman’s deceptively casual nonchalance, contains at once the bravado and the curse of poor Eddie Felson, a pool shark riding the whirlwind in Robert Rossen’s haunting film.

Though it was released in 1961, last night was the first time I had ever seen this legendary movie.

Newman plays a pool prodigy from Oakland who’s on the prowl to match his skills against the king of the pool halls, the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Along the way he encounters a world so dangerous and dark that even love seems to have poisoned teeth.

This is one of those films that makes you want to kiss the casting director.  The losers who hang around the bar are so incredible looking, so real, so sad, that you can’t take your eyes off of them.  Combined with Harry Horner and Gene Callahan’s production design and Eugen Schüfftan’s cinematography (both Oscar winners for the film), the scenes in seedy pool halls are elevated to a dreamy, mythic grace.

In addition to the bit players, the film is full of wonderful supporting actors like Michael Constantine, Myron McCormick, William Duell and Vincent Gardenia.

But it’s the leads who knock it out of the park.  Murray Hamilton is astonishing as an oily, creepy southern rich guy with a pool fetish, giving a performance every bit as memorable as his famous turns as Mr. Robinson in The Graduate and Mayor Vaughn in Jaws.

George C. Scott, three years before Dr. Strangelove, is scary, intimidating and perverse as rich gambler Bert Gordon.

hustler gleasonJackie Gleason, known for comedy, has barely a dozen lines as Minnesota Fats but is quietly great.  The fact that he actually was a superb pool shooter surely helped his confidence in the role.  He comes off as sort of a pool hall Godfather – he’s irresistible.

Paul Newman is, of course, superb as the doomed Fast Eddie.  Beyond his gobsmacking looks, dangerous eyes and ripped physique, he’s an actor of enormous feeling and earnestness.  Eddie is justifiably one of his most famous roles.

piperBut it’s Piper Laurie as Sarah who is the soul of the movie.  Sarah is a drinky, polio-lame aspiring writer with casual morals who gets under Eddie’s skin more than he ever suspected was possible.  Laurie had languished as a contract ingénue in the 50s, and she got offered The Hustler after being seen in an off-Broadway production of the Actor’s Studio.  With a voice like liquid amber and an almost other-worldly poise and allure, it’s easy to understand how Eddie cannot get away from her.

Curiously, after the release of the film, Piper Laurie dropped out of the film business completely, only returning fifteen years later when Brian De Palma, to his everlasting credit, coaxed her back to play Margaret White in Carrie (a character and performance that would easily make my top ten in the history of film).  As she had been for The Hustler, Laurie was again nominated for an Academy Award for her unforgettable work in Carrie.

In all, The Hustler receiver nine Oscar nominations, winning two.  If you are a film lover who, like me, had somehow managed to miss seeing it before, I heartily urge you to seek it out.  You’ll be glad you did.



Ray’s 2015 Movie Awards!


Best Films of the Year

1. Anomalisa. Such a clever movie, so moving. It made us look at the mundane realities of life with fresh eyes.
2. The Revenant. Stunning film craftsmanship.
3. Bridge of Spies. Best traditional movie of the year. A great history lesson for adults.
4. The Martian. Science wins!
5. The Hateful Eight. Lots of really really good talk by great actors.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road. More spectacular craftsmanship.
7. Brooklyn. It’s just sort of perfect.
8. Carol. Haunting and oh so beautiful.
9. Inside Out. Even Sadness can be the hero!
10. Room. Beautiful and horrifying adaptation of a beautiful and horrifying novel.
11. 99 Homes. Beautifully written and acted Faustian fable set during the housing market crisis.
Honorable Mention: Welcome to Me, The Big Short, Chi-Raq, Spotlight, The Truth, What We Do in the Shadows, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The Gift, Meet the Patels, Love and Mercy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, While We’re Young, Far From the Madding Crowd, Predestination, Maps to the Stars, Love and Mercy, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, 45 Years, White God, Straight Outta Compton, Creed
Won’t hurt you to watch if you’re interested in the movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Five Flights Up, Spy, Trainwreck, Ricki and the Flash, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Walk, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, The Final Girls, Labyrinth of Lies, Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, People Places Things, Joy, Hitchcock/Truffaut


Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
*Brie Larson, Room
Kristin Wiig, Welcome to Me
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Honorable Mention: Teyona Parris in Chi-Raq, Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Cate Blanchett in The Truth, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Anomalisa, Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd, Lily Tomlin in Grandma


Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Matt Damon, The Martian
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
*Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes
Honorable Mention: Jason Segel in The End of the Tour, Taika Waititi in What We Do in the Shadows, Andrew Garfield in 99 Homes, Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Supporting Actress

*Sarah Snook, Predestination
Rooney Mara, Carol
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Banks in Love and Mercy

Supporting Actor

Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
*Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario


Ridley Scott, The Martian
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Todd Haynes, Carol
*Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa

Documentary Feature

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The Wrecking Crew
An Honest Liar
The Best of Enemies
Being Evel
We Come as Friends
*Meet the Patels
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Honorable Mention: Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,


While We’re Young by Noah Baumbach. Really smart, wistful, and surprising.
Inside Out by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. One of the smartest kid movies I’ve ever seen.
The Gift by Joel Edgerton. A brilliant thriller for grownups.
Steve Jobs by Aaron Sorkin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Bridge of Spies by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers
*Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman
99 Homes by Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi


Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Far From the Madding Crowd
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Roger Deakins, Sicario
Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies
*Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Edward Lachman, Carol
Joe Passarelli, Anomalisa


*Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design

The Martian
*Mad Max: Fury Road
The Hateful Eight

Foreign Language Feature

White God
Son of Saul

Best Adaptation of a Property I Love and Assumed Hollywood Didn’t Know About

Predestination: A stunning film version of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic time travel short story “All You Zombies.”

Creative Match Made in Heaven

Creepmeister director David Cronenberg and Hollywood Babylon scribe Bruce Webber teamed up for the acidic and irresistible Maps to the Stars.

A Year of Bio-Documentaries! So Many to Enjoy!

The Wrecking Crew. The story of the amazing studio musicians behind, as Joni Mitchell’s David Geffen would put it, “the popular song.”
An Honest Liar. The indispensable debunker James Randi.
The Best of Enemies. Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley, Jr.
Being Evel. Easy to forget how influential Evel Knievel was.

Best Movie Ever About a Pack of Dogs Taking Over The City of Budapest

White God


Unfriended. Clever little horror film that takes place entirely on one computer screen.
Truth. Why did people hate this movie so much? I really liked it and I thought Cate Blanchett was sensational.

Busy Actors: I saw the following actors in THREE films this year

John Cusack: Love and Mercy, Chi-Raq, Maps to the Stars
David Thewlis: Macbeth, Legend, and Anomalisa (okay, you don’t actually SEE him in that one, but still)

Busier Actors: FOUR Movies in 2015!

Tom Hardy: Mad Max Fury Road, Legend, The Revenant, Child 44
Kristen Wiig: The Martian, Nasty Baby, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me
Domhnall Gleeson: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn

WOW: Five Releases in 2015!

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, Burnt, Testament of Youth, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

A Word about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s fun. It didn’t change my life. It’s a fun remake of the first movie. It was nice to sit through a Star Wars movie without wanting to jab knitting needles deep into both of my eyes. That said, it IS merely a redo. And it didn’t treat Leia very well. Or her relationship with Han. And Kylo Ren is a huge bore. And that Super Weapon was the stupidest weapon ever, and that’s saying something.

Great Set Pieces

Sneaking around the opera in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The first Indian attack and the bear attack in The Revenant
That part in Mad Max: Fury Road right between the beginning and the end
Though the movie disappointed me, the dinner table confrontation at the end of Sicario was genuinely surprising and shocking.
Stop-action cunnilingus in Anomalisa.
The escape attempt in Room.
The final Canine/Human confrontation in White God.
The first eviction in 99 Homes.
What happens when you have an insane sheep dog in Far From the Madding Crowd.
Julianne Moore has a close encounter with an acting award in Maps to the Stars.
Judy and Matthew Shepard intervene in the sentencing process of one of the men who murdered their son Matthew in Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.

Proof That Ed Harris MUST GET A NEW AGENT

Run All Night. We love Ed Harris. Why does he appear in stuff like this?

Best Lines

“Werewolves, not Swearwolves.” Lycanthropic self-control in What We Do in the Shadows.
“Petyr’s 600 years old. He’s not coming to the breakfast meeting.” Apartment politics in What We Do in the Shadows.
“He wants more than he has. I want precisely what he already has.” The grass is always greener in The End of the Tour.
“Now, Daisy, I want us to work out a signal system of communication. When I elbow you real hard in the face, that means: shut up.” Kurt Russell gets physical in The Hateful Eight.
“Mars will come to fear my botany powers.” Matt Damon gets his agriculture on in The Martian.
“Let’s castrate.” Kristin Wiig takes her role as a source of enlightenment seriously in Welcome to Me.

Year’s Best Catch Phrase

“Would it help?” in Bridge of Spies.

The Year’s Single Greatest Cinematic Moment

Jennifer Lopez is given “a first edition” of THE ILIAD in the spectacular The Boy Next Door. This is also the film that features Kristin Chenoweth’s final transformation into E.T.

Biggest Turnarounds

Lenny Abrahamson directed one of the most obnoxious movies of 2014 (Frank) and then lo and behold made one of this year’s best: Room.
After years in Ray’s Doghouse, scrappy Jennifer Jason Leigh has finally re-arrived, valiantly doing heavy lifting in TWO of the year’s best films.

2015 MVP Goes To…

The versatile and daring Kristen Wiig, who appeared in no fewer than four 2015 releases. She gave tremendous performances in Welcome to Me and Diary of A Teenage Girl, appeared in the edgy indie Nasty Baby, and was a pillar of sense in the big budget hit The Martian. This on top of a ton of television work. Do you ever sleep, Miss Wiig?

E For Effort

Chi-Raq isn’t completely successful, but I give props to Spike Lee for attempting something challenging, literary, and timely. We need more film adaptations of the comic Greek plays.

Best Movie Villains

Mitchell Winehouse, Amy
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars

Please Let’s See More Of…

Teyona Parris. She commanded the screen in the brash Chi-Raq.
Hamish Linklater. I keep noticing him shoring up the supporting casts of films like 42 and The Big Short. Give him more lines, already.
Donald Glover. Stopped the show with his demo of a rescue plan in The Martian.
John Magaro. Charmed in both Carol and The Big Short. Keep hiring this dude.
Finn Wittrock. Has the looks and the muscles of Taylor Kitsch but, unlike Kitsch, has charisma and talent.
Sarah Snook. Her gender-bending turn in Predestination knocked out both of us who saw it.
Emory Cohen. Utter charm and authenticity in Brooklyn.

The Year’s Worst

Most Inconsistent Polish Accent

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Most Inaccurate Title

Mad Max: Fury Road. It wasn’t about Mad Max. Mad Max is barely in it. The movie should have been called Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road.

Disappointing Documentary

Wolf Pack: Great setup, ultimately lame storytelling.

Most Disappointing Production of Macbeth Since That Tedious One I Walked Out of at A Noise Within in Glendale

Macbeth: GOD this movie was boring and terrible. You know, if you don’t want to film the “Double double, toil and trouble” scene… then you really don’t want to do Macbeth, do you?

Annoyingly Overrated

It Follows. It was just plain bad.
Ex Machina. It was good, but it wasn’t the second coming of Jesus, which you’d have thought it was from the reaction it got.
Sicario. The movie’s main character (Emily Blunt) had no agency. The main character clearly should have been Benicio Del Toro.

Jodie Foster Award For Worst Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role

Maika Monroe, It Follows

Worst Motion Pictures of 2015 by a Mile

Tomorrowland. Such promise, such a great director, such a crushing disappointment. The most incoherent major release since Prometheus.

In Memoriam

Leonard Nimoy, actor
B.B. King, musician, demigod
Maureen O’Hara, actress
Jackie Collins, author
Fred Thompson, actor
Omar Sharif, actor
Marty Ingalls, actor
Cory Wells, founding member of Three Dog Night
Joan Leslie, actress (High Sierra)
Jack Larson, played Jimmy Olsen in “The Adventures of Superman”
Wes Craven, director
Alex Rocco, actor
Gary Owens, radio announcer
James Horner, composer
Haskell Wexler, two-time Oscar winning cinematographer
John Guillermin, director (The Towering Inferno)
Bud Yorkin, producer
Jerry Weintraub, producer
Melissa Mathison (wrote E.T.)
E.L. Doctorow, author

Please feel free to comment!

And yes, the asterisks indicate the winners.
You can read my weekly column on the movies at www.theeagle.com and read my other musings at www.starkravingray.com.

Surprise ScandiRAYvia Epilogue!


I’ve been shockingly tardy in wrapping up my ScandiRayvia pieces. As 2016 starts, it’s time to finally bring my reportage on my trip to a close. You know, as I completed the trip six months ago.

I have one final surprise for you, Dear Readers, if you’ll indulge me on this tired topic just one more time.

Let’s roll back the videotape to Friday, June 26, 2015. Perhaps you remember the day as intensely as I do.

I’ve already talked about hearing about the SCOTUS decision while on a boat tour on the Stockholm Archipelago way back in ScandiRayvia #13. But what you may not know is that I left out a big part of the story of my day. Unless I’ve spoken to you about it on the phone or in person, you haven’t heard this part until now.

So. I’m having a great time at the Mälarpaviljongen bar that evening with Joakim Zetterberg’s friend Neil. As you may recall, Jay very graciously hooked me up with Neil and his very nice friends so I would have someone to celebrate the just-announced and life-changing Obergefell vs. Hodges SCOTUS decision.

Here's the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).
Here’s the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).


Here’s the part I left out of that evening:

At one point, Neil turned to me and said, “You know, I’m not Swedish. I was born in Texas.”

“No you WEREN’T,” I said.

“Yup. I grew up in Plano.”

“Well, I grew up in Bryan. I went to college with a raft of kids from Plano.”

Har, har, har, isn’t that funny, small world, etc. And that would have been that. Except, for some reason I still don’t really understand, Neil went on:

“I wasn’t born in Plano, I was born in Dallas. And my mother is from a little town called Blooming Grove.”

I paused.

After a minute, I slowly said, “Well, that’s… odd. That’s where my family is from. That’s where my Iveys are from.”

Then Neil paused. For a long time. Finally he said:

“Uh… my grandmother was Thelma Ivy from Blooming Grove.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found my newest Ivey cousin. In Stockholm. Neil and I share a great-great grandfather. He was a veteran of Gettysburg (and many other Civil War battles) with the colorful handle Hinton Clinton Gaither Ivey/Ivy (1844-1921). Which makes Neil and I third cousins. Neil has lived in Stockholm for many years, where he has a super cool job that I can’t really even tell you about.

Of all the things I expected to find on my ScandiRayvia trip, a Texas cousin was definitely not among them. It was one of the oddest coincidences of my life and one I’m extremely grateful for.

So if any of you see Neil on Facebook, be nice to him, or I’ll start singing show tunes.

And there’s not much else to tell. The trip home was very long but happily uneventful. And after three weeks away from my beloved LA, here’s how I felt when I got off the plane at LAX:

kiss the ground

I have no idea when I’ll get to take another trip that compares with ScandiRayvia, but I do know I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to take this trip and see so many places I’ve dreamed about seeing.

NOTE: There is a certain fluidity to the spelling of the Ivey/Ivy surname.


Film Review: The Revenant


Alejandro González Iñárritu is determined to beat me into submission. After really liking his first film, Amores Perros, I REALLY disliked his next two big features, 21 Grams and Babel.

But then came last year’s Birdman, Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Even though I walked into the movie expecting to hate it, and was annoyed by certain aspects of it (drumming so loud it drowned out 30% of the dialog), I was stunned by the craftsmanship. I was fully on board with it winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

Last night I watched, or rather endured, Iñárritu’s new picture, The Revenant. I say “endured” because it’s a grueling 156 minutes. But it’s also fascinating, horrifying, thrilling, and irresistible.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the guide for a group of fur traders on Montana in the 1820s. I don’t want to give much away plot-wise, so I’ll just say the boys have some Indian trouble, and then Leo has some VERY nasty bear trouble. The bulk of the film deals with Leo’s attempts to survive in the wilderness long enough to get revenge on them that done him wrong.

The excellent cast also features one of my favorites, Domnhall Gleeson as the leader of their expedition and Tom Hardy as the Leo’s Machiavellian nemesis. (In a refreshing change, I could understand most of Tom Hardy’s lines this time around.)

Once again Iñárritu is working with heroic genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who is only the second DP in Oscar history to win two years in a row (for Gravity and Birdman). After seeing his jaw-dropping work in The Revenant, I think he’s got a good chance of going three for three. In addition to Gravity, let’s remember that this is the man who shot The New World, Tree of Life, Y Tu Mamá También , Sleepy Hollow and Children of Men.

The first fifteen minutes of the movie are absolutely flabbergasting. The majesty and menacing mystery of the north woods country is almost overwhelming in the hands of Iñárritu and Lubezki. The Indian attack that opens the movie is a masterpiece of staging that reminded me of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, which is about as high praise as I can summon up regarding an action scene.

revenant vistaThe rest of the movie can’t maintain that astronomical standard, but then neither did the rest of Saving Private Ryan. It’s merely brilliant. It features shot after shot that’s either so beautiful or so crafty it literally pushed me back into my seat.

Iñárritu has revealed himself to be an absolutely take-no-prisoners filmmaker. He has that in common with his friend and fellow director from Mexico, my hero Alfonso Cuarón. Every single scene in the movie looks like it must have been brutal to shoot. Remote woods, cold weather and lots and lots of water — all elements that challenge any film team. The movie was shot in sequence for 80 days over nine months. At one point while filming in Canada, the weather warmed up a little too early and they lost the snow. Undeterred, Iñárritu packed up the entire team and relocated to southern Argentina to finish the scene. He’s a beast. But he’s OUR beast. He needs to stay healthy and make many more movies.

Special mention must be made of the remarkable bear attack scene. I assume it was accomplished with a combination of CGI and puppetry, but trust me, you’re ready for the emergency room yourself before it’s over.

There’s been a lot of talk about The Revenant being the film that could finally net veteran favorite Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. I think it will. Though he only speaks 15 lines of dialog in English in the entire movie, his performance is the stuff Academy Award voters love. I’m not a fan of his; the last movie I liked him in was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? But I do think he’s a terrific actor and he certainly deserves a win for this beautiful, bleak, unforgettable movie.


Film Review: Legend


Why am I supposed to care about The Krays? Why do they keep making boring movies about them? Maybe I’d care about the twin gangster brothers if I was British, but good grief, Brian Helgeland’s new film “Legend” isn’t going to stir up any new passion about them.

First of all, the title. Legend. That’s so lazy. Did he ask his eight-year old to name the movie. And speaking of eight-year olds, I’m convinced the director also had a child do the song placement in the movie. On-the-nose song placement is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. It shows extreme laziness and lack of imagination. A song, particularly a well-known song, in a movie, should ADD to the narrative, not just simple-mindedly underscore it. Here’s how bad it is in “Legend”:

When Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy, and we’ll get to him in a minute) is getting married to the film’s narrator and his wife Frances (Emily Browning), guess what song is playing? “Goin’ to the Chapel.” Yeah, it’s that bad. Earlier in the film, when the brothers are first really climbing the ladder of London’s organized crime scene, we are treated to “The In Crowd.” Good grief. My friend and I would just roll our eyes as each blindingly obvious famous pop song began underscoring an already obvious event on the screen. Sheesh.

Next, the narration. Narration is almost always a bad idea in movies, because, again, it’s lazy. You’re telling instead of showing. There are exceptions, of course, when the narration adds immeasurably to a film (All About Eve, Little Children, Network, etc.) But usually it’s a bad idea. And in Legend, Frances’s voiceover provides FAR more plot than the actual film does.

Now to current It-Boy Tom Hardy. I’ve really liked him in other things, particularly in Locke and The Drop, but he just sucks in Legend. He tries so hard in helping us distinguish between the two identical twins he’s playing that he forgets to actually act. Reggie, the “nicer” criminal maniac, is simply boring, but Ron, the batshit crazy one, is a disaster. The combination of ridiculously thick Cockney accent and slang plus a mouth full of, well, something, means you can only understand about a third of what he says. I don’t think he utters more than three consonants in the entire film. He’s not acting, he’s just showing off. There is a difference.

After his non-performance in Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year (why was that movie even called Mad Max instead of Imperator Furiosa? He had like three lines in the movie. The movie was about Charlize Theron’s character.), and remembering how awful he was in the third “Batman” movie (his entire performance was a stupid lazy Sean Connery imitation), I’m afraid I may have to re-evaluate him as a major talent.

Legend is full of violence, which shouldn’t surprise me, considering the subject matter. But it’s depressing and upsetting violence. I spent a good portion of the film with my eyes covered.

If I’m not coming through clearly here, I hated, hated, HATED this movie.

I’m bewildered by writer/director Brian Helgeland’s misstep on this one. This is the guy who wrote “LA Confidential,” and wrote and directed one of my favorite films of recent years, 42, not to mention a movie a lot of people really like, A Knight’s Tale. Let’s hope Legend is a soon-to-be forgotten blip in an otherwise excellent body of work.


This is from my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here as well.

Disliking Nickleback does not mean you dislike your friends who like Nickleback.

Disagreement is not dislike. Questions are not attacks. If you prefer only compliance on your Facebook page, never discussion or disagreement, you should probably save us both time and aggravation and unfriend me. That’s fine. It’s your FB page; I wholeheartedly support your right to control the content on it. But if you consent to me being your FB friend, please do not be shocked or act all attacked if I don’t like Nickleback. The minute I attack you, you’ll have a legitimate complaint. But Nickleback does not need protection.

And no, of course, I’m not talking about Nickleback.*

*I’m talking about Adele.


ScandiRAYvia #29: Me and Greig!


I spent my final full day abroad in the beautiful town of Bergen.  The day was mostly devoted to Bergen’s most famous son, the composer Edvard Grieg.

Though his heritage was Scottish (“Grieg” was originally MacGregor a few steps back up the famlily tree), by the time young Edvard came along, the family was resolutely Norwegian.  I have always loved Grieg’s work, particularly his collaboration with Norway’s most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen:  Peer Gynt.  I fell in love with the music as a kid and I love it to this day.

Even if you had no clue that Grieg was associated with Bergen, you could hardly miss it when come here, as you seem to trip over statues to the great man everywhere you go.  Here’s just two of them:

Grieg and Me
Grieg and Me

By the way, the statue is pretty much life sized.  He was a hobbit.  This statue is just outside the Grieg Hall, which is the premiere classical music venue in the city.  Seen from above, you can see that it’s shaped like a piano!

And then there’s this one:

Again with Grieg.
He’s not that tall.

The nice Swedish couple that took the first photo for me told me about a terrific tour they had just taken to the old Grieg summer house.  I signed up for it at the nifty visitor’s center down on the wharf.

Groovy Bergen Tourist Center (1 of 1)
The Bergen Visitors Center looks like a floating gay boxcar.

The tour started with a lovely bus drive out of the city, during which we learned about Grieg and his life with his wife Nina.  The only thing marring the trip was the clueless American mom who thought it was a good idea to bring an infant on a tour of Edvard Grieg’s home.  Was her precocious little tyke inordinately interested in Norwegian composers?  If so, then why was it so unhappy?  I tried to rise above the wretched noises emanating from its cryhole and concentrated on the tourguide’s words.

The Grieg Center, located on a small bluff over the fjord just a few miles outside of town, consists of three buildings:  A museum, a concert hall, and the old summer house.

The house is not a mansion, but a pleasant and rustic retreat from the city:

summer villa


Of course, the grounds have yet another statue of Mr. Grieg:

Second Grieg Statue (1 of 1)

The highlight of the day — indeed, one of the highlights of the trip — was a mini lunchtime piano recital of Grieg’s music in this lovely, turf-covered concert hall:

Turf Covered Concert Hall (1 of 1)


The performer was the very handsome and talented Håvard Gimse.  It was a “teaching” recital, so we also learned a lot about Grieg’s music between pieces.  I did not get a photo of him, but here’s one for your reference:

Havard Gimse
Håvard Gimse. (Not my photo; no copyright infringement is intended.)

At first I was worried, because Ms. Entitled American Parent Person fulfilled my darkest fears and brought her INFANT INTO THE CONCERT.  Who does that?  Luckily, my heroic tourguide nipped that shit in the bud within two minutes, and we adults were left free to enjoy the music.

Once the horrible baby was banished, I had a few minutes of near perfect happiness.  Enjoying a live concert of beautiful music, in this lovely hall, presented by such a dashing performer, with the gorgeous sun-dappled fjord in the background, felt like a perfect way to end my Scandinavian journey.

Troldsalen:  My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.
Troldsalen: My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.

Even more perfect:  The concert hall’s name is Troldsalen, which means, of course Troll Hall.  The summer villa is named Troldhaugen, or Troll Mound.  (LOVE.)

Edvard and Nina even have a troll grave, buried into the side of a hill:

No mere tombstone for Norway's greatest composer!!  The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.
No mere tombstone for Norway’s greatest composer!! The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.


After the concert, which I didn’t want to end, I personally thanked our tourguide.  “Much better for you to handle it than for me to…. which I would have,” I told him.  Then it was back to town and packing for home!  I was tired, chilly and ready to return to loud and sunny Los Angeles.

Next:  Obligatory Deep Thoughts on the Way Home!



ScandiRAYvia #28: Beautiful Bergen


The final stop on my ScandiRAYvia was Bergen, Norway’s second city.  It’s on the southwest coast of the country, and it’s a gorgeous city with a rich history.  And one of the prettiest MacDonald’s you’ll ever see.

I stayed in the local Scandic hotel, and it was my least favorite of all of the hotels on my trip.  It wasn’t offensive or terrible, or anything, just very business-like.  It was also quite large, run with Nordic efficiency and consequently felt a bit like staying in a very comfortable bee hive.

The room I was in also had the single most obnoxious piece of decor I’ve ever experienced in a hotel room.   Check out this American bald eagle image.

Ghastly.  Just GHASTLY.
Ghastly. Just GHASTLY.

The best part:  IT WAS BACKLIT.  It was like having a Coors ad over my bed.  Eeeeek.

But on to Bergen.  This was the coldest I’d been on the trip while at sea level.  It was about 40 degrees there.  In July.  Imagine February.

By this time, I was getting a bit homesick.  But I was still glad I included Bergen on my itinerary.  I think it’s a very underrated tourist destination, and I wished I had had more time to explore it.

There’s a funicular that takes you high above the city for some great views.  I never met a funicular that didn’t like; I’ve taken them in Naples, Paris, Switzerland, LA (Angel’s Flight!)  and any other place I can find them.  My only regret was that I didn’t have a sunny day with blue skies for my vista photo:

Bergen Vista (1 of 1)

But it’s gorgeous!  Here’s some snaps I got while wandering around the city:

Bergen Emo (1 of 1)


Bergen Deco (1 of 1)
I’m always a sucker for Deco.


Okay, so I'm a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.
Okay, so I’m a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.


Ridiculously attractive McDonald's.
Ridiculously attractive McDonald’s.

Bergen is famous for its Fish Market.

Colorful Bergen Houses (1 of 1)


Bergen Fishmarket (1 of 1)


Next:  In the Hall of Edvard Grieg!




Vital Information for the Beautiful, the Daring, and the Doomed