Spotlight (2015; d. Tom McCarthy)
Excellent newspaper movie. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 4, “Baby” (2015; d. Thomas J. Wright)
Perfection, both formally and structurally as well as emotionally and spiritually.
Truth (2015; d. James Vanderbilt)
Another newspaper movie, this one about the fall of Dan Rather following the whole “font controversy” in regards to President Bush’s National Guard career. The movie is terrible. Blanchett is very bad. Robert Redford is quite good. My perspective on this whole story – which has not changed since the original controversy – is that Mary Mapes deserved to be fired, deserved all of the criticism that she got. The film tries to tell the story that Mary Mapes was “punished for asking questions” (unfortunately, this is looped in over and over and over again with her childhood trauma for being “punished for asking questions”. “I am being PUNISHED for asking questions.” “You mean … she was PUNISHED for asking questions??” UGH. STOP IT.) Dan Rather, as figurehead, was pressured to step down. That’s too bad. The story was rushed onto the air before it was ready. But the responsibility for that does not lie at the network’s feet, but at Mapes’ feet. The film seems to set her up as a martyr for free speech. The final words on the screen state that Mary Mapes has not worked in television since. Are we supposed to think that is a tragedy and a loss? Because I thought, “Good.” Objectivity does not really exist in journalism. But integrity should matter. And there are checks and balances built into good journalism where a journalist can keep a watch on his own bias. Mapes’ bias against the President clouded her judgment. Blanchett gives an overblown actress-y performance that I thought was quite bad. Another problem is that Truth came out at the same time Spotlight did, and Spotlight made no mistakes while Truth made them all. Mary Mapes is not a martyr, nor is she admirable. “I’m being PUNISHED for asking questions!!” she sobs in the film. Yeah, well, Mary Mapes should have asked MORE questions before she put those phony memos on the air.
I’m Not There (2007; d. Todd Haynes)
A re-watch in preparation for Carol. I love this film so much I have very little to say about it. I love its examination of identity, I love its fractured narrative that ends up weaving together all of these different aspects of one man. I loved its stylistic diversity, but how it all poured into the whole. I love the performances. And I love that this film is not like anything else. Brava.
Operation Filmmaker (2007; d. Nina Davenport)
My God, this documentary made me feel uncomfortable. I almost wanted to stop watching it. Well-meaning liberals, aflame with the desire to do good and also to appear doing good, invite a young Iraqi film student to be a PA on Everything Is Illuminated, an American film being shot in Czechoslovakia. This was during the invasion of Iraq. What a heart-warming story it should be, right? However, when the Iraqi student shows up, he is not what anyone expected. He has such a sense of entitlement you are embarrassed for him, he’s lazy, he’s irresponsible, he half-asses every task he is assigned, rolls his eyes at the mundane tasks of the PA (“This isn’t my job,” he mutters). In short, he fails to be grateful in an appropriate way. And his failure to be grateful then makes everyone question their own well-meaning motives. It’s fascinating. All of these people who work on the film live in a bubble of liberalism and can barely mask their horror and incomprehension when the Iraqi kid says he supports the invasion of his country because Saddam was awful, and also, “I love President Bush.” Nobody knows what to DO when he says stuff like that. It makes them look politically unsophisticated, but no matter. It’s an interesting culture-clash, that’s for sure. Eventually, even though the kid is so annoying, so entitled, so RUDE, you start to think: who the hell can blame him? He’s been airlifted out of a nightmare, put down in the place of his supposed dreams, and expected to play a certain role. Gratified happy refugee. It’s insulting, almost, the position they put him in. This is not to say they MEANT to do that. Liev Shreiber, whom I love, is totally honest about how much he wanted to help this kid, how much he wanted to support a young artist whose film school had been destroyed in his home country. But then realizing, slowly, that maybe the kid was not on the level. Schreiber is honest. Elijah Wood is honest. The kid is an exaggerator, a complainer, a partier, the kind of guy you walk across the room to avoid because you know he’s gonna hit you up for 10 bucks. Fascinating documentary, very difficult, highly recommend it. It’s one of those examples of a documentary that started out with one intention (“let’s show the experience of a hopeful Iraqi kid working on an American film”) and then was forced to deal with reality, and give up what was planned/hoped-for. It reminded me of Daughter from Danang in that way, that clearly started out to be the heartwarming portrayal of a Vietnamese-American woman who had been airlifted out of Vietnam as a tiny child right before Saigon fell. Her biological father was white, so she could “pass” as white in America. Nobody even knew her ethnic heritage. Her American family encouraged her in that direction. But then, as a grown woman, she decides to go back to Vietnam (her first time as an adult). She speaks no Vietnamese. She says, worriedly, in her Southern accent, “I hope they know that I am completely Americanized.” At first, the reunion with her mother in the airport is so intense and emotional that you think the film is going to go one way, the expected way. Happy reunion, a new life unfolding, the cultures meeting and coming together. But boy, does the film NOT go that way. It completely falls apart. It’s unbelievable. Operation Filmmaker gives up its intentions, and becomes something way WAY more interesting than another self-congratulatory documentary about a bunch of people helping out someone less fortunate than they are. It becomes an examination of preconceived notions, assumptions, cultural divides too wide to be bridged, and a “lead character” who refuses to play the role assigned to him.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 5, “Thin Lizzie” (2015; d. Rashaad Ernesto Green)
I grew up in Rhode Island, where Lizzie Borden was as real to us as Goldilocks. We chanted the Lizzie Borden song on the bus during field trips. So it was fun to see that old story re-visited.
Call Me Marianna (2015; d. Karolina Bielawska)
An incredibly moving documentary about Marianna (born Wotjek) and her journey towards getting a sex change operation. A very human story. I introduced it at a showing at MoMA this past month.
The Assassin (2015; d. Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
One of my favorites this year. My review here.
Far from Heaven (2002; d. Todd Haynes)
Again, a re-watch to prepare for Carol. Gorgeous Sirk-ian colors and photography, every shot a keeper. Speaking of which …
All That Heaven Allows (1955; d. Douglas Sirk)
One of the most beautiful-LOOKING films ever made. Sirk was a master. Jane Wyman is very touching, and Rock Hudson is great. I want to live in that renovated mill.
Born to Kill (1947; Robert Wise)
A favorite. Claire Trevor is fascinating, as the hard-boiled cold-eyed dame who can turn on a dime and be ingratiating and soft. But this is one tough cookie. Lawrence Tierney is sexy sexy sexy. Lots of really interesting class issues too.
Supernatural, Season 4, Episode 13 “Afterschool Special” (2009; d. Adam Kane)
Ah, humor. “Walk it off.”
Supernatural, Season 4, Episode 15 “Death Takes a Holiday” (2009; d. Steve Boyum)
This one strikes a very deep chord in me. Not to be spoken about too much because it enters tricky personal waters but this episode captures what a love affair with death feels like in a very profound way.
Intervention, Season 1, Episode 8 “Tina” (2005)
I find this show irresistible. The format is pretty brilliant, especially the end title-card giving us the update. No sugar-coating. Super-depressing, I realize. But I can’t look away.
Intervention, Season 2, Episode 1 “Corinne” (2006)
The Long Hot Summer (1958; d. Martin Ritt)
Everyone is so sweaty! A hothouse environment of sexual frustration (Joanne Woodward) and sexual fun (Lee Remick). Paul Newman smolders and sweats and drawls. Orson Welles’ performance is a masterpiece of camp.
Safe (1995; d. Todd Haynes)
My first introduction to Todd Haynes. I saw it in the theatre. It destroyed me. 1995 was a hell of a year for me. I moved to New York. I left everything I knew and loved behind. I was heartbroken because of a man. I was completely unmoored from routine, reality. Safe was upsetting on all of those levels. Great film.
The Killer Speaks Season 2, Episode 5 “Lawrence Tarbert: Natural Born Killer” (2014)
This was chilling. So senseless.
Magic Mike XXL (2015; d. Gregory Jacobs)
It has not diminished. It is still a weirdo miracle of a movie. It shouldn’t work. It breaks all the rules. It shows the irrelevancy of the rules. It’s an adrenaline shot of joy.
Intervention, Season 11, Episode 7 “Zeinah” (2012)
I mean, it’s all really the same story, isn’t it. Yet still: I am invested.
Intervention, Season 11, Episode 1 “Christina” (2012)
Nothing new to say. Drugs are bad.
Sweet Micky for President (2015; d. Ben Patterson)
An entertaining documentary about the insane Presidential elections in Haiti in 2010. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Supernatural, Season 4, Episode 16, “On the Head of a Pin” (2009; d. Mike Rohl)
Sometimes I like to put myself through this.
The Killer Speaks, Season 2, Episode 4, “Gary Ray Bowles”
I’m into this show. I like looking into the minds of sociopaths.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 6, “Our Little World” (2015; d. John F. Showalter)
I enjoyed it.
Carol (2015; d. Todd Haynes)
Beautiful. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
By the Sea (2015; d. Angelina Jolie Pitt)
The more I think about this movie, the more I love it. And I think about this movie a lot. My thoughts on it here.
The Naked Kiss (1964; d. Samuel Fuller)
Really interesting film about a prostitute who gives up the life to work as a nurse in a hospital for disabled children. But her past life comes back to haunt her. Her last “gig” as a hooker was sleeping with the police chief in the small town she’s moved to. So he’s “onto” her. But at the same time, he likes her. He’s not a sneering misogynist, which is refreshing. Anthony Eisley is very sexy and taciturn as the policeman. Constance Towers is awesome as the prostitute. Great mood and jazzy feel.
Secret Admirer (1985; d. David Greenwalt)
My pal John recommended this to me a long time ago when we were discussing 1980s teen comedies. I had never seen it! C. Thomas Howell, Lori Loughlin … need I say more? It has a clever premise: an anonymous love note is passed around, and wreaks havoc on every single character – who thinks it’s for them. My favorite was the parents’ bridge night that derails into a group fist fight where a man falls into a grandfather clock. Unfortunately, like with all 1980s teen romances, you have to just “forgive” the casual homophobia. They all have them.
Night Nurse (1931; d. William Wellman)
One of my favorite pre-Codes. Barbara Stanwyck gets a job as a nurse in a hospital. Joan Blondell, another nurse, shows her the ropes. Stanwyck gets an assignment involving “home care,” visiting two little girls who seem very sickly for no apparent reason. Their mother is a floozy, cavorting with the chauffeur (Clark Gable, in riding boots!) and doesn’t seem to care what happens to her kids. Stanwyck nearly goes crazy trying to get help for them before it is too late. The plot summary does not do the film justice. Kim Morgan discusses “Night Nurse” over on her site.
Supernatural, Season 5, Episode 10, “Dark Side of the Moon” (2010; d. Jeff Woolnough)
One of my favorite episodes in the whole series.
Supernatural, Season 6, Episode 13, “Unforgiven” (2011; d. David Barrett)
I love this one. Not just because it takes place in Rhode Island.
Supernatural, Season 6, Episode 15, “The French Mistake” (2011; d. Charles Beeson)
Never gets old. “You married fake Ruby?”
Midnight Mary (1933; d. William A. Wellman)
Great pre-Code. Loretta Young comes out of a childhood bounced around in the system and starts sleeping with people for money and rabble-rousing. When the movie starts, she is on trial for murder, and she sits at the lawyer’s table, reading Cosmopolitan magazine, totally unconcerned. Young is just great. By the 50s, she was playing sweet motherly parts, but in the beginning she was a tough cookie.
Top Hat (1935; d. Mark Sandrich)
A frivolous beautiful Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers pairing, with the always-reliable Edward Everett horton providing backup. To-die-for dance numbers. Her feathered dress. Iconic.
Now, Voyager (1942; d. Irving Rapper)
A favorite. One of Bette Davis’ best performances. And it looks very different to me now than it did when I was a young woman. Bette Davis’ character provides an alternate path for strange difficult women who don’t fit in. Not without its sadness and loss – because don’t we all want the five-course meal not just the appetizer? But there is a triumph in it too. Because no, things don’t always “work out.” And you have to find a way to go on, to create a life that still has meaning.
Lonely are the Brave (1962; d. David Miller)
A film Gena Rowlands did, co-starring opposite Kirk Douglas. She only has two scenes but she kills them. This was in preparation for my big Gena Rowlands piece over at Rogerebert.com.
Tempest (1982; d. Paul Mazursky)
I love this film. Another re-watch for the Gena Rowlands piece.
Something to Talk About (1995; d. Lasse Hallström)
I had forgotten how much I liked this movie. Very unique, despite the fact that it was created as a vehicle for Julia Roberts. Callie Khoury’s script is very specific. It’s not particularly feminist. But I appreciate it, not despite that, but because of it. It’s different, in other words. The characters have unexpected attitudes, they don’t do what they’re supposed to do. And so the film is able to surprise you. The men are not evil buffoons, and the women are not saints. Everyone’s a little bit crazy. Another re-watch for the Gena Rowlands piece.
Creed (2015; d. Ryan Coogler)
One of the best films of the year.
The High Cost of Loving (1958; d. Jose Ferrer)
Gena Rowlands’ film debut! She’s wonderful.
Mouchette (1967; d. Robert Bresson)
Devastating and depressing. Hopeless, really. It had been years since I saw it. Suicide is triumph in this bleak picture.
Hysterical Blindness (2002; d. Mira Nair)
Another re-watch for Gena Rowlands. I loved it so much when it first aired on HBO and I still love it. It’s also bizarre because an old friend-with-benefits of mine has a small part in it. I laughed out loud when I saw him at the pool table. I had forgotten he was in it. He told me some pretty funny stories about the shooting of it. That Juliette Lewis was super nice to everyone is the main thing I remember.
The Big Knife (1955; d. Robert Aldrich)
It’s one of my favorite Clifford Odets plays. Obviously written with John Garfield in mind, in its story about a former radical who has gone on to become a Hollywood star, and in the process has sold his soul. It’s always cut and dry with Odets: you have money (and a soulless existence) or you don’t have money (and you are pure and free). It’s naive and would be very annoying if Odets couldn’t write like he did! For me, there’s something off about the film. It’s so melodramatic, the acting is at such a high pitch with no let-up that you want to tell everyone to take a Xanax. Everyone is great – Rod Steiger, Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Shelley Winters … but I think it’s better on the stage. I saw it a couple of years ago with Bobby Cannavale in the lead role and it was excellent.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 7, “Plush” (2015; d. Tim Andrew)
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015; d. Brett Morgen)
Crushing. Wrote about it here.
Trouble Along the Way (1953; d. Michael Curtiz)
John Wayne, in a charming performance where he’s a dad (that didn’t happen often), plays an unconventional football coach, hired by a small Catholic college (run by Charles Coburn) to turn their school’s fortunes around. Donna Reed plays a CPS worker, hired to investigate whether or not Wayne’s young daughter should be allowed to stay with him. I’m not sure the ending is as happy as the film wants me to believe … like … she’s going off into foster care and this is okay?? But maybe he and Donna Reed will get married (of course they will) and get the daughter back and all will be well.
Face to Face (1976; d. Ingmar Bergman)
Liv Ullmann gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen in this film. There’s one scene where she lies in bed with a guy who might be about to become her lover, you’re not sure. Early in the day, two random guys had tried to rape her, but didn’t succeed. She confesses to her new lover what happened. It strikes her as funny. She starts laughing uproariously, but the laughing turns to crying, then goes back to laughing, and then becomes serious hyperventilation which then morphs into screaming and wailing. She moves across the room to the chair, hysterical, and then when she tries to stand up, she literally can’t. She feels like she will fly apart. The sequence is over 5 minutes long, and it all happens in one unbroken take. It is one of the greatest moments of acting I have ever seen. The entire film is filled with moments like that. Some of the symbolism is a little on the nose, Bergman being oh so Bergman-ish, but Ullmann is BEYOND good. It’s harrowing just watching her. Then of course there’s this connection:
What Happened, Miss Simone” (2015; d. Liz Garbus)
Upsetting. But with amazing footage of Nina Simone performing. My thoughts here.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 1 “Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire” (2015; d. Robert Singer)
It’s even better than I remembered. Very rich Season 11 premiere.
The X-Files, Upcoming Season, “My Struggle” (2016; d. Chris Carter)
Yes! I saw the first episode of the new X-Files, the one that will air in January. I thought it was incredible: most of the old team has been assembled, Mark Snow, the editor, Chris Carter – and of course, Scully, Mulder, and Skinner. Very much looking forward to the rest!
Millennium, Season 1 Pilot (1996; d. David Nutter)
Keith and I started Millennium yesterday. He thought I would like it, and he is right. I love serial killers, and Lance Henriksen is just wonderful in this part.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 2 “Gehenna” (1996; d. David Nutter)
There’s a lot of Supernatural echoes here: apocalypse, Revelations, Biblical plagues, plus David Nutter.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 3 “Dead Letters” (1996; d. Thomas J. Wright)
This was the episode that hooked me: the dynamic between Henriksen and James Morrison, who played the troubled profiler who basically has a nervous breakdown over the course of the episode. I loved it because it showed two men working together, not a lot of peacocking, and also honesty between them, an “I know where you’re at” level of understanding. It’s rare that men get to have such relationships onscreen.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 4 “The Judge” (1996; d. Randall Zisk)
John Hawkes! He’s so young!!
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 5 “522666” (1996; d. David Nutter)
Amy (2015; d. Asif Kapadia)
The documentary about Amy Winehouse. This is the third very very upsetting music documentary I’ve seen this month. This one is the most upsetting. I’m haunted by it. That poor poor girl.