DISCLAIMER: HIS POST CONTAINS MANY, MANY SPOILERS. STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS.
1) Sorcerer, William Friedkin, 1977
Sorcerer is the best movie I've seen this year. It was directed by William Friedkin, the man married to my Single White Female Obsession, Sherry Lansing. Sorcerer is about four desperate men looking for a way out of their hellish existence. Unfortunately, there are no actual sorcerers, wizards, or magic in the movie. Steve McQueen was supposed to play the main role but he insisted that Friedkin give his then-wife Ali McGraw a producing credit which Friedkin said no to and Roy Scheider, who had just starred in Spielberg's Jaws and was a hot actor at the time, took his place. Friedkin often talks about how Scheider and other actors from his various movies were not his first choice but rather, his 4th, 5th, or 6th choice, but I thought Scheider did a terrific job.
The ending is a tragic twist and the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is AMAZING. The main theme pulsates throughout the film, keeping you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The movie is relentless and unforgiving. Filming in the jungle looked brutal and Friedkin said it was just that in reality. Sorcerer actually completely bombed at the box office when it was released in 1977 but has since been rediscovered and rightfully lauded.
2) Ozark, Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams, 2017 - 2022
Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything
And the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together
This show is really, really good. Jason Bateman plays Michael Bluth, I mean, Marty Byrde, a man who moves his family from Chicago to the Ozarks to launder money for the Mexican drug cartel. They get involved with the locals and their various shenanigans as well.
The casting is terrific. Jason Bateman is surprisingly good in this role. He’s a bit too snarky for me at times but is subdued and much more likable in this role. Laura Linney is amazing as always, and Esai Morales has got to be one of the most handsome men alive. I was mad when they killed off my boyfriend, Esai Morales, but his replacement, Janet McTeer, was so so good!!! She was terrifyingly effective as the cartel lawyer. I now understand why some actors get so much work after a certain role.
I’ve never seen Breaking Bad but I hear these two shows are very similar. If you enjoyed Breaking Bad, you’ll definitely like Ozark!
3) Lord of War, Andrew Niccol, 2005
I watched this movie when it came out in 2005 and thought it was terrific. The whole Brittney Griner thing has been in the news recently and when they began talking about the prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, I was surprised to discovered that Cage's character was partially based on Bout. And so I decided to rewatch Lord of War.
Cage plays a very successful arms dealer. The movie is about the American Dream in many ways. Cage’s character comes from nothing and rises to become an extremely successful man, albeit in a highly illegal and dangerous way. It’s very similar to Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). The screenplay is extremely well-written and Cage’s delivery is always pitch perfect. The movie is violent, deeply touching, and unusually hilarious. Ethan Hawke is very well-cast as Cage’s foe and Donald Sutherland has several blink and you’ll miss it voice cameos. Cage and Hawke’s conversation at the end is great. Cage may be evil but he’s a necessary evil. We all have a lofty, idealized view of what we would do and how we would behave but at the end of the day, the world is going to run in the way that it’s going to run.
4) The Platform, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019
This is one of the most disturbing and unsettling movies I have ever seen in my life. The premise was bizarre and it has been on my list of things to watch for a while. I’m not going to talk about the moral messages behind the movie because so many reviewers have done so already. I’ll just discuss the things I liked:
a) The acting was terrific. This movie is filled with Spanish actors that I’m not familiar with but they were all amazing.
b) This movie was extremely well-shot given its limited budget. The director, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, was very smart in how he decided to film everything. The entire movie was basically filmed in one room and everyone wore the same clothes. There was obviously some use of CGI but it was limited and conveyed the appearance of the never-ending floors. When your budget is small, you really are forced to think creatively of how you want to film things and I thought Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia did a terrific job.
c) The story was so creepy. In regards to how one would survive, I don’t think we should loudly proclaim what we would do / not do. No one knows how they would behave in a situation like this until they’re actually in it.
I sincerely hope Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia gets more work after this. This movie really got under my skin and I still think about it many moons later. This was a very creative story filmed in a more than competent manner and I really hope Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia gets the chance to tell more stories.
5) My Cousin Vinny, Jonathan Lynn, 1992
Jonathan Lynn’s Clue (1985) is one of my favorite movies of all time. The one-liners are endless and I think it’s a PERFECT movie. I had always heard good things about My Cousin Vinny and when I saw that Jonathan Lynn had also directed this, knew that I had to watch it.
My Cousin Vinny is hilarious from start to finish. Joe Pesci is always cast as a violent gangster but he’s also a very good comedic actor. The entire cast is great and this movie is just very, very funny. Similar to Clue, there is a lot of physical humor and the script is pitch perfect.
6) Prey, Dan Trachtenberg, 2022
I love LOVE the Predator movies. The Predator is one of my favorite movie monsters. The premise was interesting as it’s more of a prequel to the main movies so the Predator isn’t as advanced as the later iterations. I really liked the supportive brother-sister relationship, the action scenes were great, the soundtrack was very good, and the movie was overall, highly entertaining. One standout was Dakota Beavers, the actor who plays the brother. This was his first ever movie role and he was so terrific! Here’s hoping he has a long, successful career.
7) The Grey, Joe Carnahan, 2011
When I saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was about Liam Neeson beating up wolves. That didn’t sound very interesting to watch. But it is a lot deeper than that, it’s about fighting for your life even when you don’t think there’s much to live for, and about facing your fears head on. I also personally like wolves, the animals themselves. They’re beautiful animals and their creepy howls remind you why they’re such a staple in horror movies. The ending was great, and I liked that it ended on an ambiguous note.
8) House of Gucci, Ridley Scott, 2021
Succession planning for a family business is very interesting to me. Freakanomics did a terrific podcast show about this a long time ago. I can’t find the link anymore but the main takeaway is - It’s not a good idea to hand your successful business to your children, especially if they have no experience, just because they’re your children. The ensuing results are not as good as handing it to someone who has a successful track record.
That’s really what House of Gucci is about - the members of the Gucci family eventually bring about their own downfall. Given that this movie is based on real people, I want to be respectful of the Gucci family and note that I obviously don’t know them or what really went on behind the scenes.
I think it’s often hard for wealthy, successful parents to teach their children the value of hard work. The children have never done any grunt work and feel entitled. I thought this movie demonstrated that well and my favorite scene was the one where Maurizio Gucci is pushed out of Gucci by Investcorp's leaders at the breakfast table. He views Domenico De Sole as a traitor (“She was right about you”) but Domenico De Sole was truly the right leader for Gucci as he brought the brand from near bankruptcy back to its lofty heights.
I didn’t care much about the love story plot with Lady Gaga but she was quite good in this role. Everyone was very good, and I thought this movie was much better than the Getty movie Ridley Scott did, All the Money in the World (2017).
9) Celeste and Jesse Forever, Lee Toland Krieger, 2012
Romantic comedies are my least liked movie genre. I find them to be deeply unrealistic. I only watched Celeste and Jesse Forever because it takes place in Los Angeles and I am deeply, unfairly biased toward movies set in Los Angeles. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good this movie was.
The premise is different than that of your typical romcom - Celeste and Jesse are getting a divorce but have a hard time letting go as they’ve been together since high school and still love each other.
What was interesting about this movie is that Celeste realizes they’re not a good fit anymore and initiates the divorce. She’s grown up but he hasn’t. But she still loves him so much and has a hard time moving on. If you’ve been with someone for such a large part of your life, they become a part of you. I found the portrayal of the changes in their relationship and her confusion on how to move on to be highly realistic. Their split really is the best for everyone in the long run and Celeste slowly but surely comes around to see that. Ironically, this is not what I necessarily see in real life. The sunk cost fallacy is a very real thing in relationships but that’s an uncomfortable discussion for another time.
The casting in this movie was so great!! Rashida Jones is one of the most beautiful women alive and radiates intelligence. Andy Samberg is not really my cup of tea but he is surprisingly subdued in this movie and came off well. Chris Messica is so cute and I just love everything he’s in.
10) Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, Johannes Roberts, 2021
The original Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich are some of my favorite action horror movies. She’s SO SO good in them. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a reboot of the franchise and it’s pretty great! I legitimately don’t understand why it got such bad reviews. I’m really not sure what people are expecting when they watch a movie like this. It’s based on a video game. Surely they’re not expecting Oscar bait.
The cast was great, the action was great, and there are some truly creepy scenes in the movie. I kept yelling “AHHHH!!!!” every time a zombie came on the screen (I'm an annoying person to watch a horror movie with) and at one point, M looked at me and asked me if I was going to be able to sleep that night. I am looking forward to the inevitable sequels!
11) Joel Schumacher movies
I’ve been thinking a lot about Joel Schumacher recently and revisited some of his old interviews. He passed away two years ago in June 2020 but his movies live on forever. He's a particularly good interviewee, and I encourage any movie lover to listen to his interview below with Charlie Rose while promoting Batman Forever (1995).
Schumacher has an incredibly interesting background. He grew up very poor, was “out on the streets as a young kid and made every mistake in the book” (his words). He had addictions to alcohol, drugs, and other vices. But when he turned 30, he decided to clean up his act, and go out to Hollywood. He started out making $200 / week as a costume designer, began to write his own scripts (after much encouragement from Woody Allen), and eventually became a very successful movie director. He is very well known for spotting talent and hiring famous actors at the very start of their careers when they were still unknowns (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey, and more).
I’ve never met Schumacher but he seems like he would have the most interesting stories to tell. From his interviews, he sounds quite thoughtful, open-minded, and highly articulate. There's one quote I really liked - “If you do not strive to be the best human being you can be, then you have no defense for privilege.” It reminds me of something David McCullough Jr. said at the 2012 Wellesley High School graduation “Be worthy of your advantages.”
Schumacher talks a lot about how his life turned out to be so much more grand and amazing than anything he could have dreamed of when he was growing up. I think Schumacher is a good example of the manifestation of the American Dream. Having said all that, here’s a list of some of his best movies that I encourage all of you to check out.
a) St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
b) A Time to Kill (1996)
c) Batman Forever (1995)
d) Falling Down (1993)
DISCLAIMER: HIS POST CONTAINS MANY, MANY SPOILERS. STOP READING RIGHT NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS.
1) Squid Game, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021
This show is terrific. It was so hyped up that I figured I’d be disappointed but I was very pleasantly surprised. It is highly entertaining and addicting to watch. I thought the first episode was a bit slow but we do need to establish all the characters and their backstories. After that, the show really ramps up.
I thought about it and there’s no way I would have made it through all the games. I probably would have made it through Red Light, Green Light, and maybe even the Cookie Challenge but I never would have gotten through Tug of War unless I was lucky enough to be on a strong team. My survival through Marbles and Glass Panels would be very much based on luck. Unfortunately, there’s no way I would have made it through the final eponymous Squid Game as there is no way I’d win in a knife fight. I’m clumsy and have little upper body strength.
My #1 favorite death was the one when player 212 (female con artist / semi-comic relief) pulls player 101 (the bully gangster with the face tattoo) to his death during the Glass Panel game. Deok-su, she said she’d kill you if you betrayed her. Weren’t you listening? The side story where Jun-Ho, the police officer who sneaks onto the island, and finds himself in the middle of an organ harvesting scheme, was super interesting. I’m very much looking forward to season 2 when we learn more about the Frontman, the VIPs, and the backstory of how the games came to be.
The actors were also very well-cast. Below is live footage of me when I saw the salesman, played by Gong Yoo (he played the father in the terrifically fantastic zombie action thriller Train to Busan).
I always like to read ahead and find out what’s going to happen so I knew that Player 1 was the mastermind behind all the games. I then carefully watched for all the clues showing that this was the case. Although I had many questions about the logistics of pulling off these games and didn’t believe that super rich people (the VIPs) would bet on other humans in such a manner, this really is a show where you have to suspend disbelief and just enjoy. Squid Game is really terrific and I highly encourage everyone to watch it.
2) Casino, Martin Scorsese, 1995
This movie is fantastic. I thought it was going to be some sort of mob movie but it is really so much more than that. Sharon Stone is very, very good. Her role really needed an actress who was not afraid to go crazy and look ugly. Her descent into madness was heartbreaking. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are also terrific but Sharon steals the show. Movie is a bit long but it moves fast and is highly entertaining.
3) Born Free, James Hill, 1966
I loved, loved, LOVED this movie so much. Anyone who knows me knows I never shut up about big cats. This is based on a true story about Joy and George Adamson, a real-life couple who raised Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned lion cub, to adulthood, and released her into the wilderness of Kenya.
Virginia McKenna, the actress who played Joy Adamson, later created a wonderful non-profit called the Born Free Foundation, an international wildlife charity that campaigns to "Keep Wildlife in the Wild".
4) The Girl, Julian Jarrold, 2012
I’m a big fan of Tippi Hedren due to her work with big cats at the Shambala Preserve. Before Shambala, Tippi was a very famous actress. She got her big break after being cast as the lead in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds. She later followed it up with Hitchcock’s Marnie.
The Girl is about Hedren’s relationship with Hitchcock throughout the filming of both movies. Basically, he was a creep and sexually harassed / assaulted(??) her. We should keep in mind that this is all alleged behavior but there doesn’t appear to be any reason why Hedren would lie about this. If what Hedren said is true, I’m impressed that she didn't give in. She was the sole breadwinner of her family, a single mother, and there is an insane amount of competition in the film industry. She was easily replaceable. She and Hitchcock never worked again after those two films.
I read Hedren’s biography Tippi: A Memoir, and she has had an incredibly full life. Not only was she a successful actress, but her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, have followed in her footsteps, she founded the Shambala Preserve, and she was surprisingly instrumental in the development of Vietnamese-American nail salons in the US. However, I’m most impressed with her work at Shambala. She has given hundreds of big cats an amazing life.
5) Unorthodox, Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, 2020
This TV show is based on the hugely popular book “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” by Deborah Feldman. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but I’ve listened to many of Feldman’s interviews and am so impressed with her poise, drive, and bravery. She is truly living her best life now in Berlin. I went through something similar a while ago. I was in a situation where I didn’t fit in at all and was quite unhappy. Once I left, my life improved dramatically. If I had known how much happier I would have been, I’d have left a lot sooner. My situation was nowhere as dramatic as what happened with Deborah but the happiness she felt after leaving and starting a new life was something I could relate to.
The TV show does dramatize a few things but overall, it’s very good. Shira Haas is terrific as Esty. Everyone else was very good as well. I wish Deborah continued happiness and joy.
6) Predator 2, Stephen Hopkins, 1990
Predator 2 is such a fun joyride. I forgot how great it was. The first Predator with Schwarzenegger gets all the attention but this sequel is actually really good. It takes place in the late 1990s in a dystopian Los Angeles. Danny Glover is very effective, Bill Paxton is very funny, and I just, quite frankly, am biased toward movies set in Los Angeles.
The best scene is probably when the Predator crashes an apt bathroom in DTLA and the resident gets a broom ready to beat him down.
7) A Fish Called Wanda, Charles Crichton, 1988
There are some movies that make me laugh out loud every time I watch them, no matter how many times I’ve watched them. Some that come to mind include Jonathan Lynn’s Clue, Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Tom Shadyac’s Liar Liar, and more. A Fish Called Wanda has joined that list. It’s a comedy heist film starring Jamie Lee Curtis, one of my favorite actresses, John Cleese, and many others. I love physical comedy and snappy dialogue.
James Cameron said he hired Jamie for True Lies after watching her performance in this movie. What’s interesting about Jamie is that she started her career acting in horror flicks but was able to very successfully transition into comedic roles as well. Despite her very famous parents, Jamie has worked hard to establish a successful career of her own. You don’t necessarily see that with nepotism hires and it’s great to see that she’s an exception.
8) Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lyne, 1990
This movie consistently shows up in every “Best Horror Movies” list and there’s a reason for that. I finally watched it and it’s creepy as ****. The movie is about a Vietnam War veteran played by Tim Robbins who experiences some weird (to put it mildly) things after the war.
This movie perhaps has the most frightening “descent into Hell” sequence I’ve ever seen, when he gets wheeled into the nightmare hospital. I’m not going to link to it because it’s really NSFW. Although you could view the ending as “It was all a dream??” type of ending, the movie is so visually powerful that you almost don’t mind.
Tim Robbins was great and I was very impressed with Elizabeth Pena. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t have a bigger career, she’s a fantastic actress. There are some deleted scenes on the DVD that are even more freaky. I wish Lyne had included them in the movie. I’d highly recommend this movie. It will stick around in your mind. Those are really the best movies, the ones you don’t forget.
9) The Girl with All the Gifts, Colm McCarthy, 2016
This movie presented a very interesting twist on your typical zombie movie. I really like zombie movies so I do like to watch different interpretations of this subject. Most are forgettable but The Girl with All the Gifts was quite good. The cast, especially Sennia Nanua, the young actress who plays the eponymous character, is really terrific. The storyline is unique. The movie was entertaining and also had a lot of heart. I think that with zombie movies, it’s very important to root for the human characters.
10) Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder, 2021
I’m going to be upfront here: This movie was not that great. The trailer was good and I was SO EXCITED for this movie but it just wasn’t good. There are too many characters that you don’t care about and it has no heart. However, I loved the concept, the zombie tiger, and Tig Notaro replacing that gross guy who I will not be naming. I’ve gotten bad vibes from this actor for a long time and the stories that came out were not surprising. I’m glad Snyder decided to cut out all his scenes and replace him with Tig, someone significantly more appealing. The movie was done when Tig was cast so she just acted against a green screen by herself. I’m glad Synder and Netflix went this route. Now let’s have Tig replace some other people!
A year ago, I bought a single family home in a very lovely suburb of Los Angeles, CA.
When I first visited it, I liked it but thought it wasn’t quite right. The two bathrooms were small. The only entrance to the third bedroom was through the second bedroom. It really needed some cosmetic changes. My realtor / master property flipper, YingYing Zhang (contact info at end of post), was very smart and told me to buy it because 1) the location was great (it was safe, quiet, in a terrific city with a great public school district), 2) the overall square foot lot size was big and would allow me to expand the house, and 3) the price of the house was actually reasonable for LA standards, even though I did have to bid above the asking price to get the house.
YingYing encouraged me to expand the third bedroom into a proper master bedroom, expand the second bathroom into a proper master bathroom, and add a third guest bathroom. A lot of other things needed to be changed too: the HVAC had to be completely replaced, new plumbing, wiring, painting, floors, fixtures, etc, had to be added. I needed to have a place to do laundry. There was a lot of work that needed to be done. I couldn’t afford to buy one of those “ready to move in” homes so I agreed with her suggestions and bought the house.
A year later, after living out of a suitcase in a disheveled, messy space, the project is finally complete and I can FINALLY move in for real. YingYing’s suggestions were spot on and I love my new home. My post below will explain the steps needed to add an addition to your house.
Before I go on, I want to add a disclaimer:
There are many construction projects that spiral out of control. People don’t think carefully about their budget and spend way more than they thought they would. They don’t communicate well with the contractor. The contractor doesn’t do good work. Etc. I know there are a lot of fancy, well-lit HGTV shows that use editing to make everything seem easy-peasy, but it’s really not very glamorous at all in reality. And it can be very expensive. I don’t have unlimited money, and most people don’t either.
I would not encourage anyone to engage in a major construction project to their house if this doesn’t increase the value of their house. LA’s real estate prices have lost their damn mind a long time ago and so I knew my construction project would be a great financial investment. There are many places around the US where home prices DO NOT appreciate. In those areas, unless this is a family home that you plan to keep forever, I would not engage in construction projects. Save yourself the money and stress.
Having said all that, here are the steps needed to add an addition to your house.
1. Hire an architect to draw up plans for your house (I used Steve Sun; contact info at end of post)
2. Hire a structural engineer to work with your architect (I used Jim Wang; contact info at end of post)
3. Submit your plans to the city to get permit approval. It look seven months for the city to approve my plans. It is REALLY, REALLY important to get permits for your work. Get it done correctly right from the beginning.
4. Conduct an asbestos test on your residence to see if asbestos need to be removed before construction starts. My house unfortunately did have asbestos and I had to pay to get it removed. It wasn’t cheap but the area needs to be safe for the demolition to happen.
5. Hire a contractor to do the construction work (I used Build Method Construction; contact info at end of post). It look four months for Build Method to complete construction. More details are below.
6. The city inspector comes out during the completion of different milestones. He will either approve this phase or give your contractor corrections to make. After the final approval is given...
7. Get lien releases from the contractor, his subcontractors, and suppliers before making the final payment.
The construction process was no doubt the biggest part of the whole process. I hired Build Method Construction, a company founded by Danny Kab and Orr Barouch. I met with several different contractors and ended up going with Build Method because they were a company and appeared to have different project managers on staff. I figured if one person didn’t do a good job, there would be another one who could replace him.
Build Method was really terrific. Orr Barouch was my project manager and he was at my house pretty much every day making sure the project was moving along quickly. All the workers (Selvin, Reuben, Jose, Leo, Renee, Victor, I know I’m forgetting people) were terrific and very respectful. I was a little nervous about having strangers in and out of my house every day for 4 months straight but I always felt safe and at ease with everyone. They also worked so hard; I was extremely impressed with everyone's work ethic.
Work would start every morning at 7am and there would be a lot of drilling, banging, hammering, throughout the day. Sometimes the workers would come on Saturdays. Orr even showed up the day AFTER HIS WEDDING to crawl through my dirt-filled crawlspace to fix something. I remember looking at his legs sticking out and thinking, “This man needs to be on his honeymoon and not crawling through my crawlspace.”
Danny and Orr plan to grow Build Method into a big company so they are here for the long haul. They really did such a great job for me and I know they will do an amazing job for you. As my future projects get bigger and more ambitious, they will certainly be the first people I call.
I also have some random tips:
1. When you hire a contractor (if you are in LA, call Build Method first obviously), you should not be asking “How much will the job be per sq ft?” That is not the right way to look at things. Different rooms (bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, sunroom, etc) require different things (windows, wiring, plumbing, etc). The cost of lumber has also lost its damn mind and has jumped up to a ridiculous level. The quotes you get will change every few weeks given how much the material cost changes.
2. Communicate well with your contractor. I didn’t expect Orr to remember all the details about my job. He’s got a lot of other jobs going on whereas I just have this one so I would remind him about things all the time. Orr probably thought I overcommunicated with him but that’s just who I am. I write EVERYTHING down and I made sure we completed everything.
3. Be aware of your budget and stick to it the best you can. However, add some padding to the budget because there WILL be unexpected costs that come up.
4. Be aware of the timeline and hope that your contractor sticks to it the best he can. My initial contract with Build Method said the job would be done in three months but that seemed very optimistic to me so I tacked on one month and hoped it would be done in four months, which is what happened.
I love how my house turned out. It is around 1,780 sq ft and has 3 beds / 3 baths. I call it a Frankenstein home. It was initially built in 1939 as an 800 sq ft home. How entire families lived in a home that small is beyond me. The previous owner then added around 750 sq ft in the late 1970s. And now, I just added another 230 sq ft. I’m very happy with the results of my Frankenstein home and wish you the best of luck on your home renovation project.
If you have any questions about buying your own home in Los Angeles (one that's ready to go or one that you want to renovate), I'm also a realtor (my CA Department of Real Estate ID is 02137141) and can help you with your house purchase. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contact info of the awesome people who helped me with this project is below:
Realtor YingYing Zhang - email@example.com
Architect Steve Sun - firstname.lastname@example.org
Structural engineer Jim Wang - email@example.com
Contractor Build Method Construction - https://buildmethodconstruction.com/; (818) 900-9626
I'm pretty late to the game with a lot of movies so the ones listed will not actually be from 2020. Here we go ...
1) Body Double, Brian De Palma, 1984: The movie is about mistaken identities, is set in 1980s Los Angeles, and ends with an interesting twist. Craig Wasson is adorable, I'm surprised he didn't have a bigger career after. Melanie Griffith is lovely, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her because her mother, Tippi Hedren, has a big cat sanctuary called Shambala and has done a long of amazing work with big cats. I had no idea, Gregg Henry, Logan Huntzberger's dad, was so cute when he was younger!
There is a very cool movie within a movie sequence in the film where Craig Wasson's character wanders onto the set for the filming of the music video for "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I am OBSESSED with this song. It's so catchy! Holly Johnson, lead singer for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, was in his early 20s during filming and he looks like a BABY. I wonder what it's like to have such monster success when you're so young.
Here is a PG-13 version of the movie music video for "Relax." If you are easily offended, don't watch it and for the love of god, don't watch the actual music video. Let's just say it involves a rotund man dressed as a Roman emperor, some baby tiger wrestling, and some other freaky stuff.
2) Scarface, Brian De Palma, 1983: This movie is amazing. It's about the manifestation of the American Dream. Al Pacino's character decides to achieve it in a certain way that I obviously wouldn't recommend but we understand where his motivation comes from. Michelle Pfeiffer has got to be one of the most beautiful women alive. The world is yours ...
3) Session 9, Brad Anderson, 2001: This movie is consistently on the "best scary movies ever" lists. It is such a creepy, effective movie. No gore, very tight editing, there are no wasted seconds. The whole cast is excellent but Peter Mullins is the real standout. He has such a sad, expressive face. The real Danvers State Hospital has since been converted to an apartment complex which must be a little weird.
4) Bird Box, Susanne Bier, 2018: This movie is AMAZING!!!!! I saw posters for this all over LA when it premiered but I didn't watch it for the longest time because I thought the premise was far too ridiculous. But the movie is extremely good. Much more violent than I expected. They really don't hold back on anything. Sandra Bullock is amazing as always. I liked how the movie showed the progression of her ambivalence toward motherhood to becoming a fierce protector of her children. This was one of those movies where I thought I would only sit through 20 minutes before turning it off but the next thing I knew, two hours had gone by. Those are the best kinds of movies.
5) The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, various directors, 2018: I was listening to a terrific podcast called Even the Rich and they talked about the Versace family. Their story is fascinating and I remembered that Ryan Murphy created a show around the family a few years ago on netflix. This technically isn't a movie but the TV series is very good and I highly recommend it. The first thing you notice is how GOOD-LOOKING everyone is. But the story is solid, and the acting is very good. Some standouts for me:
a) Max Greenfield as Ronnie. This is a small supporting role but he looks NOTHING like he normally does in real life. I've never actually seen him in anything else but I recognized him and was shocked at his physical transformation. In reality, he is really, really handsome. It's astonishing how actors can physically change their appearance for different roles.
b) Cody Fern as David. He is terrific in this role. I really liked the scenes of him with his father. The last scene (I won't spoil here), the very obvious dream sequence of his last meeting ever with his father, made me tear up. Cody is very good and I hope he becomes a very successful actor.
c) Finn Wittrock as Jeff: He is very cute. I just have to say, there's one scene where his character says, "I'm leaving San Diego to move to Minneapolis to find myself" and I wanted to shout at the TV screen, "You're not going to find anything in Minneapolis! There's nothing there for you!" No offense to anyone in Minneapolis but I lived there for a few years and his character was just not going to fit in.
6) Mia and the White Lion, Gilles de Maistre, 2018: Anyone who knows me knows I never shut up about big cats. This movie is about a young girl growing up with a white lion in Africa. They actually used a real lion, and the movie is filmed through the course of three years so we see the girl and the lion grow up together in real time.
There's a big cat education and conservation center called Project Survival Cat Haven up in Dunlap, CA, right outside of Sequoia National Park, that I visit often and they took in a baby white lion named Barafu last year that looks just like the lion in the movie. Barafu is now a year old and I can't wait to watch him grow up to be a big, strong, handsome white lion just like in the movie.
7) Bombshell, Jay Roach, 2019: I'm a huge fan of both Charlize Theron and Megyn Kelly. Once again, movie transformations can be amazing. Charlize looked virtually identical to Megyn Kelly. Margot Robbie is overrated. Yeah, I said it. FIGHT ME. I haven't been impressed with anything she's done. This movie is highly entertaining. Several elements are taken from Megyn's book Settle for More, which is a very solid biography. Megyn is very honest about her life and what she has failed at, succeeded at, and what she's learned over the years. There was none of that "Kumbaya, let's all lean in and hold hands and take over the world and all your dreams will come true" nonsense. Megyn cuts straight to the point, just like she is in real life and I found that utterly refreshing.
8) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Joe Berlinger, 2019: This is the netflix biopic about serial killer Ted Bundy. I HATED the trailer. It was too violent and set the wrong tone for the movie.
The movie itself is actually amazing. It's not violent at all, except for one very quick shot at the end. Its more a character study into Bundy and his former girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. Lily Collins and Zac Efron are very good in this film. They have such baby faces that they look like teenagers playing dress up. This movie has one of the most effective endings I've ever seen. The song is a haunting Marco Beltrami remix of Mozart's song "The Magic Flute Queen of the Night Aria."
9) Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria, 2019: This movie was based on the Jamie Pressler article "The Hustlers at Scores". This is an incredibly good movie. Jennifer Lopez is outstanding. Once again, it's about achieving the American dream. I wouldn't recommend it the way the women did it in the film but just like in Scarface, there are certain people who come from nothing and have the grit and determination to go to the very top. I don't see this trait in many people so I like watching movies that explore this idea.
10) Molly's Game, Aaron Sorkin, 2017: This movie is based on the book by Molly Bloom called Molly's Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World. This movie was terrific. Moves very fast, super tight editing, movie was over before I knew it. Jessica Chastain is very good. The casting of Michael Cera is brilliant. His character is based on a real-life actor (I'm not going to name who here but you can easily find out who online) who is always cast as genuine, Pollyanna-type people but is apparently the exact opposite in real life. Once again, this movie is about a person who rises to the top in an industry I wouldn't recommend but you've got to admire their grit.
I just recently bought a house in Los Angeles, CA. I am purposely not naming the city for privacy reasons and because I’ve watched too many home invasion movies. I bought it in this particular city for the following reasons, reasons that I believe every potential homebuyer should consider:
1. Excellent public schools: I myself am a product of the Los Angeles Unified School District system. I grew up going to public schools and received a terrific education. I’ve met a ton of people who went to private school and I don't see much difference between them vs the people who went to public school.
Los Angeles has many cities with highly ranked public schools, schools that are more than good enough for your children. Even if you don’t plan to have children, owning a home in a highly rated public school district directly correlates to a higher sale / rental price later on.
I don’t mean to keep harping on public vs private schools but I have some friends who are very insistent on only sending their children to private schools so that they have a better chance of getting into a great college.
All I’m going to say is this: Colleges don’t care if you went to Phillips Exeter, Groton, Choate or any other fancy school whose names sound like the names of people who came over on the Mayflower. Unless you are famous, a national champion in something, or the child of famously wealthy parents, top colleges are only going to admit you if you have high AP and SAT scores. They will not give a flying duck where you went to high school if you don't have high test scores.
AP and and SAT exams are standard across the nation and it is CRITICAL to do well on those exams (and to take as many AP exams as possible) to be considered for top schools. I hope you take my advice and save yourself the $400K per kid.
Screed over. Time for the hate mail to flow in!
2. Close proximity to other cities: This city is very much in the heart of the city and it’s super easy to get around from here to anywhere else.
3. Close proximity to my workplace and to some of my favorite places in the city
4. Safety: This particular area has one of the lowest crime rates around. Many of my neighbors have already introduced themselves to me and I feel at peace here.
5. Practically guaranteed return on my investment: You cannot go wrong with Los Angeles real estate. Yes, the prices are absurdly high. Everyone else around the country (other than San Francisco and New York City) tells me I’m living in another world. But when you put practically anything on the market in Los Angeles, it’ll get snatched up super fast.
When I was looking, I was told to go visit the house immediately (like the day of or the day after it was posted) and to make an offer over the asking price immediately (and to even expect COUNTEROFFERS to my offer price that was ALREADY ABOVE the asking price). Some people even place an offer without seeing the house!
I have friends who buy in other parts of the country and while the cost is much more reasonable, I have also seen them sit on their home for years before it sells or they sell it for breakeven / less than what they bought it for.
My only regret is that I didn’t buy a house sooner. I grew up a few miles from here and when I look at how much property values have increased, I think “UGH! Why didn’t I buy a house when I was 13!!” This particular city has always been very popular due to the type of companies headquartered here and the creative types that live here. As the years have gone by, it’s no surprise it’s gotten even more popular.
6. (Somewhat) close proximity to my parents: I never thought I’d say this but it’s nice being close to my parents. They are getting older and I feel better knowing that I’m physically close by and can help them whenever they need it.
When I started house hunting, I had a specific budget to stick to and the best piece of advice I got from my real estate agent was the following - Buy a more rundown or older house that will need some renovations. You’ll be able to get that for a better deal than a “recently renovated” house. As we looked around, she pointed out homes that had recently been flipped (they start to look alike after you’ve walked through a few) and which ones that hadn’t. I ended up buying a house that had a great core foundation but does need some remodeling.
Now that I’ve gone through the process, here is my advice for any of you looking to buy a house:
1. Be responsible and stick to your budget. DO NOT THROW AROUND MONEY THAT YOU DON’T HAVE. Do not engage in a bidding war. My first three offers were turned down and I only was successful on my fourth one. This is because I refused to play the bidding game. I had set aside a certain amount of money and planned to stick to it.
Yes, now is a great time to buy because interest rates are low but don’t forget that you still need to pay the bank back ALL THE MONEY THEY LOANED YOU. Some people seem to have this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality with their mortgage payments. “What’s another $200K addition to our offer? We’re still paying the same monthly amount to the bank!” Please don’t have that mindset. Don’t owe more money than you need to.
If you can pay with cash, even better. As Kathy Griffin said, “I bought my house for $10.5 million cash outright, because as Suze Orman taught me, if you can’t afford to buy a house in cash, you can’t afford it."
And besides, there is no such thing as a perfect dream home. Every week, new homes come on the market and you’ll find one that you like pretty frequently.
2. Don't be afraid of renovations. You should think about the future rental or resale value of the house ten years down the line. Just like you should think about your personal finances (how will my investments now compound in ten years) or a potential marriage (is this person going to be a good financial and semi-life partner who will make my life better), you simply must think about how your house is going to increase in value in the future. Don’t just accept a house for what it is. Think - what I can do to make this better? Here’s what you should be on the lookout for for a house:
a. Have a bathroom for each room. The best combo is 3 beds, 3 baths. (It’s okay if the house doesn’t have that currently. With the approved permits, you can always add a bathroom and / or room depending on the layout of the house and how big the backyard is). People LOVE bathrooms. An extra bathroom increases your property value greatly.
b. Don’t live close to freeway because of air pollution
c. Don’t live close to high voltage towers due to the possible health risks. I found one house in this neighborhood that looked terrific but was suspiciously cheap. When I got there and stepped out of the car, I immediately heard loud buzzing coming directly from the high voltage towers above and noped it out of there.
d. Don’t live close to a school (loud noises and rowdy children)
e. Don’t live close to a commercial area (noise and safety issues).
f. Don’t buy a house with a pool. It presents a lot of liability and your homeowner / landlord insurance rate will be super high.
g. Don’t buy a house that has a high owner turnover rate. There’s a reason why previous owners are leaving and you’ll find out yourself if you live there.
h. Try to buy a house with a 6000 sq ft lot minimum. This would then allow you to build an Attached Dwelling Unit in the backyard to rent out.
i. Do not buy a house where you have to deal with a HOA. HOAs are great at making sure this is a safe, clean, and and beautiful community but they can get very picky about weird things. This is just not something I personally wanted to deal with.
j. Do not buy a house with big trees physically close by. The tree roots will get into the water pipes leading to some terrible sewage problems.
k. Check the cabinets of the house to see if you need to replace them! I made the terrible mistake of not looking inside my kitchen cabinets before moving in. I just saw the exteriors, said "They look fine! No need to replace!" and after I moved in, discovered the cabinet interiors were quite dirty. There were lots of stains that I couldn't scrub out. I ended up replacing all the shelves with melamine wood and putting hardboard panel "skins" over the cabinet walls.
l. Shortly after I began looking, it became clear very quickly that homes in the hills in Los Angeles were a terrible fit for me. The streets are absurdly narrow and parking is atrocious, even at your own freaking house. Congratulations, you just spent $1.5 million on a house with one parking space.
m. Get a really good realtor to work with. Mine was really terrific. She was incredibly knowledgeable about every house we visited. She pointed out all the flaws (foundation problems, water damage, insurance risk, etc) and vetoed homes that, in her eyes, would not be a good fit for me, even if they were expensive. It was very obvious to me that she was not out to just get the highest commission possible by pressuring me to buy the most expensive house I could. In fact, she encouraged me to buy a cheaper house and do my own renovations.
Her strategy is: Why buy a house that has recently been remodeled (which many homes in this city were) when you can do your own renovations and build the house to the specifications that YOU want? Don’t get a realtor that just parrots back what you yourself can read on realtor.com. Get someone who knows what she’s doing and can bring a tremendous amount of value to your real estate journey. I was very impressed with her and will work with her again.
I moved around a lot in my 20s and it’s nice to finally set an anchor down. I grew up in Los Angeles and it’s nice to be back home.
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.