White Lotus, and a few more movies


White Lotus (first season, 2021) 

Streaming on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Max
Free on DVD from the library 

This is a six-part mini-series, and I'd intended to watch the first installment, but ended up watching all six back-to-back like a long movie. That's Mike White's fault — Freaks & Geeks, Chuck & Buck, School of Rock, etc. He wrote and directed all of White Lotus, which is basically Grand Hotel for the 21st century:

A bunch of rich white people vacation at an elite Hawaiian resort. In the first few minutes of the first episode, it's established that someone's died there, and then we flash back a week to the guests' arrival, and spend all six episodes wondering who's gonna be dead. There are several worthy candidates.

There's a rich software executive and her insecure husband, with their withdrawn teenage son, spoiled daughter, and the daughter's friend; a gorgeous young man and his gorgeous new wife on their honeymoon; and a ditzy woman carrying her dead mother's ashes to be tossed in the ocean. Over the course of the series, these eight guests carom off each other and a few members of the resort staff, and it's never quite what you'd expect and never not a blast.

All these characters are flawed. Some are mostly flaws. Some seem as shallow as a drip of water, but they might surprise you. 

The conversations are sometimes lightly-heated arguments about where these people fit into the societal hierarchy. Being mostly white and rich, the answer is "at the top," but like most of us, they talk of lofty ideals that tend to crumble when exposed to daylight. White's going to expose them to daylight.

There's a lot of what I'll assume is authentic Hawaiian music, odd to my ear, but beautiful. The show itself is like that, too — odd but beautiful, and it builds to both the happiest and saddest ending these characters could have.

Mike White is a frickin' genius, and White Lotus is a great place to spend an afternoon.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Caged Men: Tales from Chicago's SRO Hotels (2017) 

Streaming free on YouTube 

This is a documentary about single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels — places with toilets and showers down the hall, like where I lived in San Francisco. An SRO is as low as you can go before homelessness, but for an affordable price you get a bed and a room of your own, and some privacy and dignity. Cities that don't allow SROs have more homelessness, because these people have nowhere else to go. So SROs are vital, if anyone cares about addressing the homeless problem, but in America that's a big 'if'.

That's me talking, more than the documentary, though. Early on, the film establishes its perspective, as SRO owners talk on camera about their problems owning rez hotels, while an off-screen opera singer warbles a sad aria. The singing gets louder and louder and finally drowns out the hotel owner who's talking.

The opera extract seems intended to make sure you know you're watching a tragedy. One by one, Chicago (where this was filmed) is shutting down its SROs, and that is a tragedy, but the film implies it's tragic that people live in such places at all. "Caged men," the title calls them? I never knew any resident of an SRO who would've described himself as that.

I didn't watch it with a stopwatch, but it feels like about 40% of the film is hotel owners talking. One of them seems like a decent human, and one's a scumbag, others are in between, but the filmmakers keep coming back to the scumbag.

Another 40% of the film is front desk clerks telling us about their job, which is very interesting, and most of those men deserve a big hug.

Perhaps 10% of the film's time is spent with SRO residents, and I would've preferred much, much more of that. And also, how do you make a movie on this subject, without ever panning the camera to show the layout of a typical room, or without giving us a glimpse of the communal toilets and showers?

If it sounds like I hated Caged Men, well, I kinda did, but it's a rare topic to be addressed, and the documentary is helpful and informative and I'm not saying it's crap.

It's frustrating for me, though, because SRO's are not inherently tragic, and because the film kept bringing back that scumbag owner to let him drone on a little longer about how he dislikes his line of work and his customers. 

Verdict: YES, but also, jeez.

♦ ♦ ♦    

Eight Characters in Search of a Sitcom (2003)

Streaming free on YouTube

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was possibly the finest sit-com ever on commercial TV. I loved it when I was a kid, and re-watched all of it a couple of years ago, and almost every episode is still smart and funny. If you've never seen the show, and you're looking for laughs with brains, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is not to be missed.

Eight Characters is a documentary that asks the surviving (as of 2003) actors and writers to explain what made the show great. Mary herself isn't here, though she was alive and, I believe, well. Everyone else weighs in, though, and it's nice seeing the cast a couple of decades later. 

Everyone's points are illustrated with clips from the show, and the clips are great because the show was great, and there are lots of clips. I'd never say "too many clips" — there's no such thing as too many clips from The Mary Tyler Moore Show — but the entire documentary is only 57 minutes. With a dozen or so actors and insiders talking, interspersed with lots of clips, there's simply no time for any depth or unexpected insights.

Verdict: MAYBE.

• Coming attractions •

The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980)

Freaked (1993)

Following (1998) 

Jurassic Punk (2022)

The Invisible Man (1933)

Naked (1993) 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (first season, 2022)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

Tunnel Vision (2023) 

12:01 (1993)

    • And then •

American Revolution 2 (1969)

The Cook (1918)

The Corporation (2003)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Delicatessen (1991)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

District 9 (2009)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

High-Rise (2016)

Hit! (1973)

Inherent Vice (2014)

Ishi, the Last Yahi (1993) 

Last Tango in Paris (1972) 

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

The Scarecrow (1920) 

They Live (1988)

The Thing (1982)

The Unknown Marx Brothers (1993)

Upstream Color (2013) 

We Steal Secrets (2013)

Who Killed Captain Alex (2010)    

Within Our Gates (1920)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. Captain HampocketsAugust 3, 2023 at 1:09 PM

    >Caged Men: Tales from Chicago's SRO Hotels (2017)

    Man, this sounded great, until I read the review. I want a Studs Terkel book, like Working, or Hard Times, talking to these residents. God, the characters we met. Ourselves included, obviously.

    1. We could've written the book ourselves, if we'd though to take notes.

  2. We must be on the same youtube recommendation algorithm, which wouldn't be that surprising actually, as Caged Men showed up in mine too. I actually lived in an SRO when I first moved to Chicago - I was young, broke, came to the city looking for fun and a job in that order and found both really. The place I stayed at was actually mostly widows on a fixed income, but there was no chain on the door to the roof and me and some folks I met used to go up and drink beer while lounging between a bunch of skyscrapers at night. When I found full-time work, I moved out (it actually wasn't even cheap compared to a "normal" apartment, just the week-to-week shit made it easier to budget when you were broke). I can't think of a better way to be young than to show up in a new city, knowing no one and dropping your bags in a cheap toilet-at-the-end-of-the-hall hotel, and it bums me out that it's another part of real life that is basically gone.

    Chicago and New York are undergoing a real crisis trying to find housing for migrants right now, they're sleeping in the street in NYC and on the floor of police stations here and have ALL YEAR. If only there were places that were nice, not expensive and were made for temporary, non-permanent housing, huh. Perfect for foreign migrants AND domestic!

    1. This reqires a slower, thoughtful response, which there isn't time for as I gotta catch the bus to the family breakfast in 12 minutes, Like Ahnold says, "I'll be Bach."

    2. I am still unable to post comments in either Firefox or Chrome, only in Edge. Take that as a helpful hint, if anyone else is having the same issues.

      Granville (which always conjures images of a 1960s station wagon) this is absolute and important truth. Addressing and reducing homelessness is a huge societal issue, very expensive to even begin addressing, which is why we haven't even begun addressing it and probably never will.

      And there's no solution at all without cheap, SRO-style housing. Build it, make it affordable, and the homeless will come. Those who can't afford to pay the nominal rent will have their rent paid by the city - county -state -feds, I don't care who, but whatever that costs will be far cheaper than the cost (psychologically and financially) of 1,000 homeless people per square mile.

      The units must be open to everyone, not merely those proven to be poor. They're also a cheap option for college students, for single people looking for cheap rent, for retired people. SROs run right can be perfectly livable housing, a place people would want to live. And with a thousand bums and cheapskates in one building, cheap restaurants and affordable shops will follow nearby. It'll be a low-income but livable neighborhood.

      Nobody should be homeless except the few who choose it, and given an easy SRO option, very few would choose homelessness.

      It's a solution so obvious, you know it'll never happen.

    3. That is perfect. You are absolutely correct. SROs and SRO-like housing really is the missing link, subsidized where it needs to be, otherwise turning what I have to imagine is a pretty good profit considering the rates and the fact that they are a cash business.

      Also you are right that there are a lot of reasons people need cheap no-frills housing. The place I stayed at was in Wrigleyville. Not coincidentally it was on the edge of Boystown. Every year there were thousands of gay young adults fleeing repression and familial abuse into the cities and gay-friendly neighborhoods. I can't imagine there are going to be fewer in the future as Christian nationalism is taking hold in rural counties in a huge way. What do we do with them? Sorry, no credit check, no apartment? Wait for them to raise $5k in a security deposit? It's absurd.

      Somehow there's "not enough room" in New York and Chicago to house a few thousand migrants that DeSantis and his cronies are shipping north? Chicago had A MILLION MORE people 80 years ago.

      Every big city mayor worries about their population fleeing, particularly here in what's left of the Rust Belt. But we have a ton of people who want to live cities, but weren't born upper middle class citizens. Instead of supplying the type of housing that existed since cities themselves existed, we're putting them in police stations, in cars or literally on the street.

    4. I'd be living downtown right now if it was viable, moneywise.

      > Sorry, no credit check, no apartment.

      It's been a long time since my rez hotel days, but there was never a credit check or background check of any kind. You pays the money, you gets the room. They asked my name, and may have wanted to see a driver's license (can't remember).

      Homelessness is largely caused by government providing insufficient everything for everyone who isn't rich, a huge system-wide problem that probably can't be solved short of ripping up everything and starting over.

      But the homelessness itself can be solved, with homes. Rooms. Living space enough for everyone who needs it.

      Not really much else to say, except variations on"you're exactly right."

      Best damned 'agreement' I can remember having with anyone on this subject, thanks.


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