Category Archives: Biography

82 of 366: City of Gold


It’s my dream, or one of them, to go to Los Angeles one day and see all the famous comedy venues, Largo, UCB, Comedy Store, Nerdist; and now, thanks to the documentary City of Gold, I know where to eat while I am there.

The documentary focuses on food critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Gold as he navigates his way through the different culinary neighborhoods of Los Angeles for the purpose of honoring good food from many regions while showing there is more to offer beyond Hollywood Boulevard; if you’re willing to search for it.

As food trucks become more and more popular, all you would have to do in LA is follow the owners and popular chefs like Roy Choi on Twitter to find their location and the hot menu item of the day.

Gold, writing for the Los Angeles Times and formerly LA Weekly, is known in the culinary world as a fair critic. Chefs want him to come to their restaurant, but deep down hope he doesn’t strictly to avoid the angst of knowing someone is judging their work. We’ve all been there, right?

At least the chefs, from all parts of the world and culinary influences, can rest assured Gold will visit a restaurant four to five times before writing a review; often why he misses his deadlines at the newspaper.

Gold discovers mom-and-pop restaurants, gourmet food trucks hidden on a corner downtown and world-class shops throughout the city. The documentary only skims the surface of the restaurateurs’ stories; perhaps that could be the sequel.

One year early in Gold’s career he “ate Pico Boulevard,” meaning he tried every restaurant along the 15 mile roadway.

I could try to hit a few of those hot spots when I go to LA, in hopes they are near a comedy club.

I would say City of Gold is more of a literary and storytelling achievement rather than one of high cinematic caliber because of how many threads of Gold’s life and work, as well as the city, filmmaker Laura Gabbert managed to fit into 90 minutes.

Gabbert, though interviews with Gold, his family, many other journalists and chefs, covered the definition of food criticism, how restaurant owners find their way to Los Angeles and the underlying character beneath Gold’s writing.

I recommend the film for its glimpse into the hidden treasures of the city of Los Angeles and people making their life there; and as I said for some tips about restaurants to try if you’re planning a comedic tour like me anytime soon.

Another plus of the film and Gold’s favorite eateries: it seems most of the restaurants and food trucks he tries are affordable. Just don’t leave your wallet in El Segundo.




48 of 366: Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words


If you think about it, actors and actresses in Hollywood have a lot more of their lives documented than the average person. Granted that documentation on camera stems from characters they are playing, but there is also behind the scenes time and interviews to look back on other than the finished product.

I thought about this tonight while watching Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Wordsa documentary about the actress starring in films such as Casablanca and Notorious including readings from her diaries growing up and home movies throughout her life. The home movies show the balance, often uneven, between Bergman’s work life and life as a wife and mother of four children.

They all appear in the documentary, speaking of Bergman’s charm and larger-than-life character that they miss without criticism of the lack of time she was there growing up.

The film, directed by Stig Bjorkman, shows the highs and lows of Bergman’s short life including what she also may not have wanted on camera.

On the other hand she didn’t seem to have fear in being completely honest about her thoughts in her diaries and dedication to her career above all else.

Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words is a documentary for movie-lovers and fans of her work alike to watch for its glimpse into Hollywood life as much as her life story. It certainly piqued my interest to watch more of her films this year now that I’ve seen the background on how they came to be.

“I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.”

Ingrid Bergman


43 of 366: The Big Short


I’ve seen all of the best picture Oscar nominees now after watching  The Big Short today and my verdict is it’s definitely my least favorite of the bunch. I think the contest is really anybody’s game at this point while there certainly has been some back-and-forth between The Big Short and Spotlight taking the win. For the first time in a while, the big winner announced later this month could actually be a surprise to Academy Award viewers.

The Big Short at first felt like the focus of  writer Charles Randolph and director Adam McKay was to make the viewer feel like they were watching the making of a movie about a movie  depicting the housing and economic crash in 2008 rather than a drama about those events, the people who knew about them and those who were impacted.

The transition for Adam McKay from comedy to drama did not work so well in my opinion, but I did like the script and writing from Randolph based on a book by Michael Lewis.

The story is told by weaving the personal career paths and lives of Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Christian Bale (Michael Burry), Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert), and Ryan Gosling (Jared Vennett) as they work in the banking industry and in their own way discover the housing bubble and economy was set to crash as a result of selling bad mortgages and issuing loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

Michael Burry learns, through crunching numbers and studying mortgage patterns, what is going to happen and his discovery leads to other investors buying insurance on the mortgage bonds for when the market would ultimately crash. (I think.)

As is surely well-known, the film is supposed to explain what happened leading up to and in 2008 in simple terms (with some tongue-in-cheek scenes featuring Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain) while telling the stories of the four main banking characters and some in supporting roles who had a hand in the industry during that time.

The film is also a commentary on what happened by displaying that the general public in the U.S. was too consumed by other news and pop culture trends at the time and and those issuing loans and bad mortgages were covering it up, or lying to themselves.

There were just too many components to The Big Short in that regard and the style, I think, ultimately took away from what a film about that moment in history could be. Perhaps Michael Lewis’ book as the source material is to blame. I can’t say because I haven’t read it, but whatever creative liberties McKay and the rest of the film’s creators used fell flat for me.


I did like the performances overall, especially by Gosling and Pitt, but they didn’t redeem the film for me.

34 and 35 of 366: Life Itself and Desk Set

“For me, the movies are like a machine that generate empathy.”

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in screening room for photo shoot for People Weekly, June 13, 1984; Chicago

It was hard to find a pairing to go with Life Itselfthe documentary about the life of Roger Ebert and based on his memoir, tonight but something about Desk Set fit the bill.

The film doesn’t come up in Ebert’s critiques presented in Life Itself and I’d like to leave it as a mystery if he did review it during his long career writing for the Chicago Sun-Times and talking through films on television with Gene Siskel.

Life Itself was finished years after Siskel passed away and after Ebert’s death as well. But, as Ebert’s wife Chaz describes in the film, he came to realize death is a part of life and was as open about his highs as much as his lows during Steve James’ filming and interviews.

James, through interviews and footage of Siskel & Ebert’s show as well as Ebert’s solo ventures, tells about his love of movies and writing and the love-hate relationship between the two critics as well as their colleagues in the business.

I wonder how many films Ebert watched and wrote about in his lifetime, maybe in the madness of my movie challenge I’ll get around to reading his memoir, but it’s clear he loved being at the movies and talking about them. I found the tales of his trips to the Cannes Film Festival to be the most interesting and the moments later in his life hardest to watch.

That also influenced choosing a pairing to follow Life Itself … it had to be funny and uplifting in some way.


Desk Set is a romance and office comedy of the 1950s about the switch of a longtime television network’s reference library to a computerized system.

That, said the library’s leader Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn – the early inventor of the top knot) would never happen because the computer couldn’t provide cross references much less a list of Santa’s reindeer at the drop of the hat, but unfortunately times changed and the IBM took over.

It’s a charming movie and Hepburn lights up the screen as she tries to save her library and has fun in her life as woman in New York City along the way. Her coworkers in the library provide added comedic relief as does Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the efficiency expert assigned to modernize the system.

Desk Set, whether intentional or not, clearly influenced movies of its kind for years going forward and has to have one of the best office Christmas party scenes with the champagne flowing well before Mad Men came along.

Life Itself and Desk Set are perfect for anyone with a love and respect of film and will certainly inspire you to keep on going with your goals and appreciate the small things in life.

“I’ll see you at the movies.”

— Roger Ebert




32 of 366: What Happened Miss Simone?




What Happened Miss Simone?, nominated for Best Documentary Featurepresents a comprehensive look at Nina Simone starting with her early years wanting to be a classical pianist and progressing through her rise as a jazz star and civil rights activist through her music.

The documentary, by Liz Garbus in collaboration with Netflix, also explores the singer’s dark moments in her family and career life and the health issues she suffered from.

Those aspects of her life couldn’t be ignored, but overall the film shed light on a powerful woman with a lot of struggles who accomplished an extraordinary career.

While she always dreamed of being a classical pianist, Simone landed in the world of jazz music and found ways to incorporate the two styles into her compositions. She achieved stardom, got married and had a daughter but her family life wasn’t without struggle, either.

She eventually divorced her abusive husband and was estranged from her daughter, interviewed in the film, as a result of subsequent abuse she committed in their relationship.

The rest of the story, much like Amy (also nominated for best documentary), is told through archival footage and interviews with Nina Simone throughout her career. I was enamored with Simone’s style on stage but, as her friend and band member Al Schackman described it, there was something else there and she did seem to be hiding her pain.

It’s a sad story in a lot of ways, also like Amy, but both films show the imprint their subjects left on the world and society they lived in. I didn’t know a lot about Nina Simone and I imagine, because of the film’s in-depth look at her life, even her fans and history buffs learned a thing or two from the personal story.

In other news, here is a quote of the day my everything Paul F. Tompkins posted on Twitter yesterday:

“Tired. Awakened too early by the sounds of Manhattan: traffic, stickball, the cry of the fishmonger, explosions, a heavily accented rat.”