Tag Archives: Richard Linklater

My Dinner With Andre 40 Years Later


My Dinner With Andre, directed by Louis Malle, is a cult classic from 1981 that is still widely discussed today. It’s been called a prophetic look at a society that is increasingly alienated and dominated by technology. I hadn’t seen it for many years, so I thought it would be a good time to rewatch it and share my thoughts.

Just a Conversation

If you’ve never seen it, My Dinner With Andre is simply about two men, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn and theater director Andre Gregory, playing themselves, having dinner at a restaurant. Yes, it’s all talk. The only thing that prevents it from seeming like a stage play are the scenes before and after the dinner, where we are treated to some vintage scenes of New York City in the early 80s.

There aren’t very many movies, especially popular ones, that are 99% dialogue. Some of Richard Linklater’s films, such as the Sunrise-Sunset trilogy are dialogue-heavy, but in that case there’s a romantic mood as well as a variety of scenes (e.g. European cities). Waking Life is a closer comparison, as it’s full of philosophical inquiries, but that film diverts us with animated special effects. My Dinner With Andre is just two guys sitting in a restaurant for almost 2 hours. Yet, the movie continues to captivate viewers more than 40 years after its premier.

Does My Dinner With Andre Have a Theme?

Fortunately, Wally and Andre aren’t just uttering random, meandering thoughts. Although their conversation veers in many directions, there are some central themes. Andre introduces a fairly radical criticism of modern society, describing how people are almost entirely inauthentic and sleepwalking through life. His point is reminiscent of the mystic George Gurdjieff, who spoke of people being unconscious. I don’t believe Andre mentions Gurdjieff, but he does refer to Zen, which emphasizes living in the moment. Wally, meanwhile, argues for a more conventional and less confrontational attitude.

I suspect the disagreements between Wally and Andre are a bit exaggerated for dramatic effect. Most of the discussions revolve around Andre’s outlook while Wally takes on more of a Devil’s Advocate role as he upholds the virtues of bourgeois comforts over adventure and radical discontent.

One could say Andre’s point of view reveals a certain bourgeois privilege, as he has the freedom to travel the world in his quest for self-actualization. Of course, he understands this fully and expresses the requisite self-loathing that is, ironically, also characteristic of bourgeois intellectuals.

A Prophetic Movie?

It’s popular in some circles to look back at all the dystopian prophets, such as Orwell and Huxley, and discuss who came closer to the truth. My Dinner With Andre is sometimes mentioned as a prophetic work.

Many of the topics do take a grim view of modern civilization and the direction it’s headed. It’s especially disturbing to hear about alienation and self-preoccupation in 1981, about 15 years before internet culture, much less smartphones and social media.

I don’t think Andre is a prophet as much as an astute observer of what was already happening. He says at one point that the 1960s were the  “the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished.” To understand this point of view, it’s helpful to consider the era when these comments were made.

While it’s easy to be nostalgic about the 80s now, it was actually a rather pessimistic time, especially in big cities. The economy was in a recession, it was the middle of the Cold War, and the AIDS epidemic was peaking. This was also the beginning of the decline of New York’s (and America’s) middle class due to soaring housing costs. We get a glimpse of this mood early at the beginning of My Dinner With Andre, as Wally mentions his struggle paying bills and boards a graffiti-ridden subway.

It’s not entirely coincidental that Escape From New York, the post-apocalyptic thriller starring Kurt Russell as the vigilante anti-hero who rescues a US president who is trapped in a New York that has been turned into a prison, also came out in 1981. As different as these two films are, they share some of the dystopian angst that was in the air during that time.

Andre’s Vision of a New Underground

Andre’s vision is not wholly pessimistic. He advocates for a type of underground to keep civilization going during these new dark ages, using the model of communities such as Findhorn in Scotland, which is famous for its innovative agricultural methods and neo-pagan outlook.

This notion is similar to the  concept of temporary autonomous zones, an anarchist ideal that advocates the formation of spontaneous pockets of resistance and culture. Sadly, such idealistic visions have not fared well when people make a serious attempt to implement them.  This was brought to light in 2020, when an actual “autonomous zone”  called CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) sprung up in Seattle, where the initial euphoria soon degenerated into violence.

Similar problems have  plagued other utopian communities, including many that sprung up in the 1960s. I am digressing, but the point is that the kind of idealism Andre expresses is more easily experienced by financially independent individuals than by groups of people from disparate backgrounds who must contend with everyday survival and  conflicting social forces around them.

Was the Movie Scripted or an Improvised Conversation?

As Wally and Andre talk, it would be easy to believe that the movie is a documentary, capturing a spontaneous conversation. It turns out that this was not the case. As you can read in the review by Roger Ebert, the film was actually carefully scripted and was taped over a period of several months. So the conversation reflects the two men’s actual personalities but we can assume many of the events discussed (especially in Andre’s life) were invented or exaggerated for dramatic effect.

My Dinner With Andre: A Timeless Classic

My Dinner With Andre is a movie worth watching every so often. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem dated today (aside from the shots of 1981 New York of course). Most of the topics they discuss are timeless. On the one hand, intellectuals have long bemoaned the decline of civilization. On the other hand, the modern world does seem to be getting ever more chaotic, alienated, and fragmented. My Dinner With Andre may not provide any solutions, but it can help to clarify some of the questions.

Watch My Dinner With Andre on Amazon Prime

11 Top Movies Featuring Trains and Subways

If you’re a fan of trains and the allure of the open tracks, you won’t want to miss out on the cinematic experience of a good train movie. From classic Westerns to pulse-pounding action thrillers, trains have been a staple of the silver screen for over a century. Here are some of the very best movies to take a ride on the rails. Subways are included here as well. These movies are listed in chronological order, going way back to 1903.

1. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

One of the earliest narrative films ever made, The Great Train Robbery was a sensation upon its release and set the standard for train-based action onscreen. Directed by Edwin S. Porter, the film, in a mere 12 minutes, tells the story of a band of bandits who take over a train and make off with its cargo of gold. With innovative editing techniques and thrilling action sequences, it’s easy to see why The Great Train Robbery remains a classic to this day. It was remade in 1978 by Michael Crichton, starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland.

2. The General (1926)

Buster Keaton’s silent comedy masterpiece The General is perhaps the definitive train movie. Set during the Civil War, the film follows Keaton’s hapless train engineer as he attempts to rescue his beloved locomotive and thwart a group of Union spies. With stunning stunt work and Keaton’s trademark deadpan humor, The General is one of the greatest films ever made.

3. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic noir mystery is another example of a movie where a train plays a crucial role. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train is about two men who concoct a farfetched but wickedly brilliant scheme: each will commit a murder on behalf of the other, making it extremely hard to catch either of them. This film has influenced countless other murder mysteries.

4. North by Northwest (1959)

Another entry for the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. North By Northwest is a masterclass in suspense filmmaking, and its climactic chase sequence atop a moving train is one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. Starring Cary Grant as an advertising executive mistaken for a spy, the film takes him on a wild cross-country journey that culminates in a showdown aboard a speeding train.

5. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

This one features the subway as a major character. A gritty crime thriller stars Walter Matthau as a New York City transit cop who must negotiate with a group of hijackers who have taken a subway train and its passengers hostage. With tense action and a sharp script, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a classic of the genre. The film was actually remade twice, once in 1998 and again in 2009. Critics may argue which of the three is best, but if you haven’t seen any of them you should definitely start with the original.

6. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Based on Agatha Christie’s popular novel, Murder on the Orient Express is a classic mystery movie that takes place aboard the famous Orient Express train. The story revolves around Detective Hercule Poirot as he attempts to solve a gruesome murder on board the train. With an all-star cast featuring the likes of Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, and Lauren Bacall, this whodunit film remains a timeless classic. It was remade in 2017 by Kenneth Branagh.

7. The Warriors (1979)

Not well reviewed when it came out, The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill has become a cult classic and an iconic New York 1970s movie. It’s a violent, surreal journey of a street gang having to fight its way from the Bronx to its home base in Coney Island, mostly via the New York City subway system. It can be viewed as a modern urban version of The Odyssey featuring unique cinematography and intricately choreographed fight scenes.

8. The Fugitive (1993)

The Fugitive, a 1993 movie starring Harrison Ford, is based on the TV series from the 1960s that’s become a cult classic. One of the outstanding scenes in the film is a train crash scene. In the scene, Ford’s character is being transported to prison by train when a collision occurs, allowing him to escape. The crash, filmed using a combination of practical effects and CGI, is one of the most impressive train crash scenes ever filmed.

9. Before Sunrise (1995)

The first in Richard Linklater’s brilliant trilogy, Before Sunrise features two young travelers, played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke who meet and fall in love on a European train journey. The film is a great example of character and dialog-driven filmmaking as it manages to keep viewers captivated without any action or complex plot devices. The sequels Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are also worth seeing, though not as train-centric. See my full review of Before Sunrise.

10. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

The Hogwarts Express, the train that takes young wizards to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is a major part of the Harry Potter books and movies. In the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Hogwarts Express is introduced in a memorable scene where Harry boards the train and meets Ron Weasley for the first time.

11. Snowpiercer (2013)

In a post-apocalyptic world where the Earth has frozen over, the last remnants of humanity survive aboard a massive, perpetually moving train. Snowpiercer follows a rebellion led by Chris Evans’ character as they make their way through the train’s various classes and compartments, fighting against its strict hierarchy. With stunning visuals and a gripping story, Snowpiercer is a train movie unlike any other.

Trains have been an integral part of movie history. From the earliest films to modern blockbusters, trains have been used to create suspense, excitement, and drama. These iconic movies are just a small sample of the many great train moments in movie history. I may add more train movies in the future, as there are surely many I overlooked here.

Love trains? See Rail Buffs, another of my sites, where there’s a version of this article and lots of other content on railroad history, model trains, subways, metros, and more!


Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

Boyhood is one of the most impressive films in the career of Richard Linklater, a director known for making innovative and captivating independent films -e.g. the Before Sunrise trilogy, Waking Life and Dazed and Confused, to name just a few.

Most of the publicity around Boyhood comes from its gimmick -the fact that it was filmed over a 12 year period, in which we get to see the characters, especially star Ellar Coltrane, grow older. This certainly adds something to the movie and makes it truly unique. The only films it has been compared to in this regard are the Up series, which follow the lives of characters every 7 years. Those, however, are documentaries, which are a different breed altogether. It is indeed fascinating to watch the protagonist Mason (Coltrane) grow from a 6 year-old to an 18 year-old college student by the end.

Boyhood, however, should ultimately be judged by its merits as a film, not by the method used by the director. And in this regard, it succeeds triumphantly. What I admire most about Linklater’s films is the way he blatantly violates the cliches of formula filmmaking and nevertheless manages to end up with movies that are so much more compelling than the paint-by-the-numbers efforts of his more conventional contemporaries. At the same time, his style is down-to-earth and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching a performance piece that’s being clever and artistic just for the sake of it.

For this reason, a film like Boyhood ends up being far more interesting that it sounds like from the description -which is the exact opposite of most movies. A kid grows up; his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) split up; his mother makes some questionable choices for replacement fathers; Mason dates a girl who ends up disappointing him…none of this is very noteworthy on the surface. Yet, with Linklater’s script and direction, there is scarcely a moment that’s not fascinating.

Boyhood has some of the philosophical, somewhat trippy dialogue found in other Linklater films, especially Slacker and Waking Life. Characters manage to convey intelligent and existentialist mindsets without coming off like people in a 1960s French New Wave film (not that there’s anything wrong with that -just that it could come across as pretentious and unlikely when the setting is 21st century America).

Creating dialogue-centered movies without having them sound like stage plays is a skill Linkater has perfected. In the Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series, he avoids this (mostly; the final entry does get a little melodramatic towards the end) by the diverse settings. In Boyhood, there are similarly a multitude of settings, from backyards to wooded areas to the colorful streets of Austin.

Boyhood is a major cinematic achievement, both for the way it was created and, more importantly, the final result.

Movies That Make You Question Reality

Question Reality” was always one of my favorite bumper stickers and some movies actually provoke this reaction in viewers.

Lots of movies of recent years can be said to be “consciousness expanding” in one form or another. In trying to put together a brief but meaningful list, I decided to exclude certain types of films -specifically documentaries and movies whose action or special effects aspects outweighed their mind expanding qualities, at least IMO.

This list is obviously incomplete and highly subjective! I will publish more lists of this kind in the future.

Some of these films have already been reviewed on this site, in which case I’ll include a link to the review.

Dark City

The premise is that the reality we experience is a false construct, created by an alien race. This has some of the same concepts covered in The Matrix, but I believe in a more thoughtful and less hyped up manner. This basic idea goes back to Plato and Gnosticism and is at least as relevant today as in ancient times!

What the Bleep do We Know?

Ok, this one is at least 1/2 documentary (though skeptical critics say it’s pure fiction, naturally), but since it also includes many dramatized sequences, it can’t be said to be a true doc. Whether you agree with its interpretation of quantum physics or not, it’s certainly extremely thought provoking.

Waking Life (2001)

Richard Linklater’s animated exploration of philosophy, consciousness and the perennial question -“How do I know I’m not dreaming right now?” This will be of particular interest to anyone fascinated with lucid dreaming. Waking Life has recently been added to Netflix Streaming.

Mr. Nobody (2009)

I just saw this recently, so it’s fresh in my mind. This film explores the fascinating possibility of multiple timelines. Rather than wondering about the road not taken, imagine if many roads are taken, but in different realities!

The Stunt Man (1980)

I’m listing this one partly because it’s a great film that’s not very well known. While many movies have dealt with the boundaries between movies and real life collapsing, none does it better than The Stunt Man, where an egoistical director played by Peter O’Toole orchestrates events that have life or death consequences.

Mr. Nobody Traverses Multiple Timelines

Mr. Nobody (2009), directed by Jaco Van Dormael, is a long (140 minutes), ambitious, fascinating and sometimes confusing film that is both highly original and reminiscent of a few other experimental films of recent years. Whereas many movies deal with the question of decisions and how they impact our fates, none does so in a way that’s more thorough and deep than Mr. Nobody.

The film starts off with a premise that’s quite perplexing, even by the standards of science fiction. The protagonist, whose actual name is unknown, is an apparently confused 117 year old man who is publicly recognized as the last mortal human, in an age when medical advances in stem cell technology have conquered death. This brings up the question of why this man has been singled out for this fate and how, if he’s unknown, they even know how old he is. The film may or may not answer these questions satisfactorily.

The film then focuses on flashbacks, dreams and/or hallucinations that Mr. Nobody has about his past, where he experienced (or imagined) several mutually irreconcilable lives. Not only was he simultaneously married to different women, in certain “lifetimes” he actually died at a young age. We are first taken back to his childhood, where he is compelled to choose between his parents when they split up. The pivotal moment is when his mother is riding away on a train and the boy chases the train and either does or doesn’t -or, rather, does and doesn’t- catch up to it. From this point onwards, the boy’s life starts to branch off into different timelines.

Fans of fantasy, science fiction, and even certain alternative news and conspiracy websites, will be familiar with the concept of timelines. This is also related to possible worlds theory in the realms of academic philosophy and quantum physics. The premise is that every possible reality actually exists in some dimension. Yet Mr. Nobody isn’t content to “merely” examine the notion of timelines. It takes us even further afield, invoking the Butterfly Effect, a future when humans visit Mars and, as alluded to, the technological defeat of death itself. If that wasn’t enough, there is even a sequence with angels and a unicorn, to portray the alleged moment before babies are born and choose their parents.

What can we make of such a complex and seemingly over-ambitious film? I actually found it more enjoyable and accessible than this summary probably indicates. While it is overly complex, convoluted and, ultimately, indecipherable, it is also thought-provoking and philosophical. It also manages to avoid being overly dry and cerebral. Indie actress and director Sarah Polley, plays Elise, a bipolar (or perhaps borderline personality) love interest of Mr. Nobody, and one of the women he marries. Their tumultuous relationship is one of the factors that gives the film some emotional weight. His other two wives are also aptly portrayed by Diane Kruger and Linh Dan Pham.

The film it most closely resembles is the better known Cloud Atlas (2012), which, at 172 minutes was even longer, had the advantage of some big name stars such as Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry. Both movies deal with long periods of time and individuals living out multiple lifetimes. Although Cloud Atlas, which was based on a book, got more attention and, in general, better reviews, I actually preferred Mr. Nobody. I found Cloud Atlas overly long and somewhat sanctimonious. Mr. Nobody, despite what could be called its flaws (but which I’m more inclined to simply call its style), was more an open-ended exploration of some fantastical (but not implausible) theories and possibilities. For what it’s worth, both Cloud Atlas and Mr. Nobody envision a future where guys with intricate face tattoos are prevalent.

Other films that Mr. Nobody can be compared to include Richard Linklater’s exploration of lucid dreaming (among many other things), Waking Life, the reverse aging saga, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and a number of David Lynch films that deal with issues such as multiple identities. Finally, anyone who saw the quasi-documentary What the Bleep do We Know? will recognize the rather farfetched interpretations of quantum physics, such as multiple dimensions.

Mr. Nobody combines philosophy, science fiction and drama in a way that is difficult to reconcile. It’s probably better if you just watch it without trying to understand exactly what it’s all supposed to mean. If nothing else, you should take away from it that life is more complicated and multifaceted than most of us realize most of the time.

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

This romantic, witty, and ultimately poignant glimpse at two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who share thoughts, affections, and past experiences during one 14-hour tryst in Vienna somehow remains writer/director Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused, Slacker) most overlooked gem. Delpy, a stunning, low-key Parisian, meets the stammering American Hawke, as the two share a Eurorail seat–she’s starting school in Paris, he’s finishing a vacation. Their mutual attraction
Buy Before Sunrise at Amazon

Before Sunset

Before Sunset

In 1994, director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) made Before Sunrise, a gorgeous poem of a movie about two strangers (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) wandering around Vienna, talking, and falling in love. Ten years later, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have returned with Before Sunset, which reunites the same characters after Hawke has written a book about that night. Delpy appears at the final book reading of his European tour; they have less than two h
Buy Before Sunset at Amazon

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has directed at least as many innovative, cutting edge films that are also highly entertaining as any other director out there. The only other director I can think of who may be his equal in this regard is Jim Jarmusch (who has an equally original but very different style).

Slacker was his first film, an underground tour of Austin, Texas and its quirky inhabitants. I’m not sure if this is a pure documentary or mockumentary, but it is funny and enjoyable all the same. Look for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has appeared in later Linklater efforts as well.

Dazed and Confused is a teen comedy without the mindless quality of most Hollywood versions of this genre. It takes place in the 70s on the last day of high school. It’s an episodic tale of the various kinds of kids who populate any school and their goals, desires, fears and, as the title suggests, confusion.

Before Sunrise is one of the best dialogue-centered movies ever made (among the others I’d include the sequel, Before Sunset, My Dinner With Andre and Coffee and Cigarettes). It’s very difficult to pull of a film with little conventional action, almost all talk, that is not only interesting to watch but doesn’t feel like a play. The fact that it takes place in scenic European cities, and on board trains, doesn’t hurt, nor do the performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The conversations seem real and spontaneous rather than scripted, yet they are intelligent and interesting as well.

Before Sunset
is one of those rare sequels that is just as good as the original, no small feat in this case. Delpy and Hawke continue where they left off, rekindling their tentative steps towards romance.

Waking Life
is another of my favorite Linklater films. This is an animated exploration of dreams, and it raises some timeless philosophical questions, such as how can we ever be sure what is “real” and what is a dream? Waking Life features the voices of many Linkater favorites such as Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and radical libertarian activist Alex Jones. A fascinating film, worth seeing several times.

Fast Food Nation
is based on the book by the same name, though this is a fictionalized version while the book is nonfiction. While this film has a definite and somewhat heavyhanded political message, Linklater’s good sense of dialogue and character save it from being tedious. Still, I would not call this his best film.

A Scanner Darkly is based on Philip K. Dick’s paranoid dystopian world of the near future where the Drug War is the dominant fact of life. This is a strange film, full of ambiguity and not always easy to follow. We are never sure exactly what is going on, but then neither are the characters themselves. Perhaps being familiar with Dick’s work (which I’m not, unfortunately) would make it clearer, but the movie is still interesting and illustrates some of the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the war on drugs.