Christmas, Again (2015; d. Charles Poekel)
So good. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Back Street (1932; John M. Stahl)
Back Street is the story of a woman who allows herself to be a “back street” woman: a long-time mistress to a married man, a woman who gives up her own chance for happiness to stay by his side (or … hovering on the sidelines of his life.) It’s so pre/anti-feminist that I am sure some people’s heads would explode. But, in my opinion, it does show the tendency of women to hang on, to submit themselves to doomed situations, to hope that he will change. (Or, to save myself the trouble: SOME women’s tendencies.) It’s honest about the allure of sex, and it’s honest about the fact that some men marry the wrong woman and then want to have what they’ve missed out on, which isn’t necessarily sex but intimacy. Back Street is bold enough to portray that his desire is for comfort and intimacy, not crazy sex. So you may hate him, but it’s great (story-wise, anyway) that the character is not portrayed as a villain. He’s weak but not evil. It’s based on a best-selling novel by Fannie Hurst, who knew how to write about powerful female emotions of loyalty and passion and heartache (along with Back Street, she also wrote Imitation of Life). Her stuff was made for the movies (even short stories were adapted to film.) Irene Dunne plays Rae, an innocent flirty young woman who is swept off her feet by a charming guy named Walter (John Boles). But turns out, he’s married. She accepts the position of being in the “back street” of his life, and the film shows us the next 30 years of her experience, where she is kept on hold in the background. It’s agonizing and infuriating. Irene Dunne makes it work. You can’t really understand what is so great about Walter, but she makes us understand. She’s a martyr to her own love and that may be a bitter and unwelcome truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless.
Night Owls (2015; d. Charles Hood)
Loved it. Reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Sicario (2015; d. Denis Villeneuve)
It was showing up on so many people’s Best of 2015 lists that I finally saw it. I don’t like Denis Villeneuve’s work, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it – although Roger Deakins, as cinematographer, was a huge draw. My favorite of Villeneuve’s films is Enemy, and one of the reasons why I like it, compared to his others, is that it is not political. It’s when Villeneuve gets all political that I hurt my head while rolling my eyes. He sounds like a spluttering undergraduate who just discovered the world was unfair, haranguing his family at the Thanksgiving dinner table: “DID YOU KNOW THAT U.S. OFFICIALS ARE CORRUPT????” “Yes, dear. Everyone knows that.” “I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE IN POWER ARE CORRUPT!!!!” “Read history books, dear. It’s always been that way.” Like, that’s what Denis Villeneuve sounds like to me.) So Sicario is very political, and I had my typical response to it. It looks great (there’s an incredible shot of a phalanx of gleaming black government vans swooping through the Mexican border-booths, from high overhead.) But is it a revelation that in order to bring down bad guys (and no one except the very naive, or brainwashed, would suggest that the drug cartel guys are not bad – like, empirically bad: and Villeneuve connects the bad-ness of the drug cartels to the US system, but until decapitated bodies hang with regularity from the Brooklyn Bridge, and people just drive on by because it’s such a common sight, I’ll maintain a little skepticism about that view, thankyouverymuch) sometimes the good guys have to BECOME bad, and make alliances with bad people? If this is a revelation, then you need to read more. Also see more and better films. Every other movie in the 1970s was a corrupt cop movie. This is well-trod territory. Emily Blunt, whom I really really like, is okay here … but just okay. She’s supposed to be “us,” but she’s really just Villeneuve’s stand-in. She’s an FBI agent who is shocked … SHOCKED … that CIA/DEA guys get in bed with unsavory characters and do some pretty shitty things in order to fight the drug cartels. I found myself on the side of the supposed bad guys, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro (both are great in the film). I mean, they’re not “bad,” but they’re practical realists, who know the monstrous nature of what they are fighting and they will do what it takes. Stop crying, Emily, there’s work to be done. I’m actually shocked that people list this as one of the Best Of the Year. Especially in such a strong year.
Arabian Nights, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (2015; d. Miguel Gomes)
It’s a six-hour extravaganza: three separate movies. Each movie was released separately, in staggered fashion over a three week period. I saw all three. They resist easy summary. They are breath-taking.
Mustang (2015; d. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
Astonishing and important. I wrote about it here.
The Big Clock (1948; d. John Farrow)
This noir is extremely depressing to me. I guess all noirs are depressing, but this one in particular. Maybe it’s the long-suffering wife. And the delusion in office-bureaucrats that someday they’ll be allowed to take a breather from the Rat Race and go on a honeymoon. Something. The film is relevant to today’s world, too, where no one, ever, is “off the clock.” You go on vacation and you’re still checking your emails. So yeah. It’s depressing.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 8, “Just My Imagination” (2015; d. Richard Speight, Jr.)
So much fun. I still can’t stop laughing when I think about air-guitar imaginary friend crying out in agony, “SHE WAS MY GIRL!” That actor MEANT that in his bone marrow and it was very very very funny.
Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015; d. Kent Jones)
Charlie and I went to go see this at the Film Forum. I’ve met Kent Jones before, and he was there that night. Charlie knows him well, so we talked with him briefly before going into the theatre. I read the “Hitchcock/Truffaut” book so many times in college that my huge paperback copy is literally falling apart. It’s so good! And the documentary is excellent: a feast for Hitchcock fans, for sure (tons of clips illustrating the conversation going on), but also a feast for Truffaut fans, and film fans in general.
Born Under Libra (2001; d. Ahmad Reza Darvish)
I don’t know how I had not seen this film before. It was right up my alley, especially the final sequence of the film where the lovers find themselves trapped in an old battlefield, still sprinkled with land-mines. It’s frankly surreal, terrifying … you’re not sure whether it’s all a dream or not. The lovers surrounded by the apparatus of the war with Iraq, a war that has haunted Iran for a generation (well, mainly because it practically lost an entire generation in that war). This is an extremely angry and political movie. The director was kidnapped by opponents to Iran’s reform-minded government and taken out into the desert where they left him stranded. The final sequence is so strange and scary and dream-like, but the opening of the film has almost a documentary feel to it: a student uprising at a small college, the two lovers embroiled in a student strike about the college’s plan to separate the sexes. Put together, these two parts of the film make it an extraordinary unforgettable experience.
Criminal Minds, Season 4, Episode 8 “Lucky” (2007; d. Steve Boyum)
The show is so overblown (and the “device” of having cast members read quotes throughout is pretentious and often the quotes have nothing to do with what we just saw … they just are supposed to sound “smart”), and yet I can’t look away!! I’ve seen all episodes multiple times. I just choose one at random from Netflix. Shoutout to Supernatural’s Steve Boyum!
Joy (2015; d. David O. Russell)
Lots of people seem to hate this movie. I didn’t mind it. It has a lot of problems, and it’s not great, but I didn’t mind it.
Mistress America (2015; d. Noah Baumbach)
I missed this on its original release. I love Greta Gerwig, and I love what she has brought out of Noah Baumbach. Something kooky. He is clearly inspired by her. It’s making for a very interesting and entertaining collaboration. Gerwig is that weird thing: an original. I read some silly person comment on Twitter or FB (and this is a critic person): “Every movie Greta Gerwig is in, becomes a Greta Gerwig Movie.” He did not mean it as a compliment. It’s such a stupid thing to say, I’m sorry. Yes: everything she is in becomes a Greta Gerwig Movie: That’s called Being a Star. She’s not a transformational actor. She’d look ridiculous in a corset, for example. She is who she is. And Noah Baumbach has created stuff for her to do that highlights her special Greta Gerwig-ness. You may not LIKE Greta Gerwig, she may not be to your taste, you may not ENJOY her persona. But to turn that into “everything she does turns into a Greta Gerwig Movie” means you don’t understand how Stardom operates (and always has operated), and if you don’t understand how Stardom operates and you spend the majority of your life watching films, then you’ve got some serious issues in terms of analysis. I happen to be one of those people who enjoys the Greta Gerwig Thing, but what I really loved about Mistress America was its weird-ness. It’s not weird just to be weird. It’s weird because sometimes human beings are VERY VERY weird. There’s an extremely long sequence in the middle of the movie, with multiple characters hanging out in a Connecticut mansion. Some are connected to each other, others just happen to be present, but the event of that encounter is so loopy, so chaotic, so hilarious, that I almost couldn’t believe it was sustained as long as it was. The movie is very good, but that Connecticut sequence was magnificent.
’71 (2014; d. Yann Demange)
A bat-out-of-hell thriller with the backdrop of 1971 Belfast, represented (correctly) as Hell on Earth. I visited a friend in Belfast in the late-1990s, a friend whose family (and husband, in particular) lived in the neighborhood depicted in ’71. When I visited her, they were still on “that side” of the Falls Road, the Catholic housing-projects side, and while much had changed, the remnants existed – You could feel the remnants in the amazement of people that a Starbucks had opened in Belfast (international businesses feeling Belfast was safe now): we went to the Starbucks and the excitement was palpable. You could feel the remnants when my friend and I went to have an afternoon drink at a restaurant with gigantic picture windows that overlooked a public square surrounded by government buildings, my friend telling me that this was a major moment for Belfast, because huge picture windows would never have been safe in ’71, or at least those windows would have had to have been bulletproof. My visit was over 20 years later, and the community was still in the thick of it. The Black Cab tour we went on was a fascinating monologue of residual – and in many cases – understandable outrage. “See dat pub over dere?” asked our Catholic tour guide (the Black Cab tours are all Catholic). “My girlfriend’s Da got his leg blown off from a bomb in that pub.” It’s PERSONAL. ’71 is not really a political film, and treats Belfast as a third-world anonymous country that untried British soldiers are dropped into with little/no preparation for how much they will be hated. Good thriller.
The Revenant (2015; d. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Gorgeous, violent, and unforgettable.
Starting Point (2014; d. Michał Szcześniak)
A fantastic short documentary (it’s about half an hour long), about a Polish woman in prison for murdering her grandmother, who then starts to work (under the auspices of the prison) at a local old folks’ home. It is part of the hope for rehabilitation: she will learn responsibility and caring for others. Maybe it will help in her eventual release from prison. An elderly lady who has been disabled all her life shares afternoons with the prisoner, and the two talk. The documentary is excellent. The Polish Filmmakers of NYC asked me to do a QA with the director after a recent screening. It was a wonderful event. One of the most striking features of the documentary is that it LOOKS like a feature film. One of the audience members observed, “The film looks very very expensive.” Starting Point is short-listed for the Academy Award.
The Big Short (2015; d. Adam McKay)
I am in love with it. I’ve seen it three times already.
Grand Hotel (1932; d. Edmund Goulding)
All of those 1960s/70s movies featuring a star-studded cast holed up in one location (for disaster reasons or otherwise) owe a great debt to Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel also has a light giddy European touch (you can tell that Wes Anderson watched it repeatedly, it’s all over Grand Budapest Hotel). Joan Crawford is excellent and almost walks away with the whole thing. Her posture! Her shape! Her easy friendly manner, the shop-girl vibe. She may have been a thoroughbred physically, but she hauled her way out of poverty and obscurity to get where she was, and she played those types of roles. I love this movie (in particular the opening sequence, with the busy lobby and snatches of conversation heard at the telephone banks.)
I Heart Huckabees (2004; d. David O. Russell)
A re-watch in preparation for my Joy review. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are a match made in heaven. And Naomi Watts with the sun-bonnet? Dying laughing.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012; d. Stephen Chbosky)
I had somehow missed this one. It was very good. Also, it was such a perfect representation of what my own high school years were like, complete with midnight screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Leftovers, Season 1, Pilot (2014; d. Peter Berg)
Allison is deeply involved in this show so she made me watch Episode 1. It was creepy as shit and I admit I am now sucked in.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (2015; d. Walt Becker)
Sue me. I found it entertaining. Almost against my will. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Wild Strawberries (1957; d. Ingmar Bergman)
Dream-like and strange. Eerie at times. A man who has never taken the time to really get to know himself, starts on that process of discovery. He moves in and out of the past. The scene where the teenagers serenade him is so frankly sentimental – one of the most sentimental things Bergman ever did – and I find it so poignant.
Air Force (1943; d. Howard Hawks)
I’m working on a Howard Hawks project so I thought it was time to re-visit this one. It’s a fabulous movie.
Sadie McKee (1934; d. Clarence Brown)
Joan Crawford, in another of her early “shopgirl” roles. It’s a tour de force performance. She’s humorous and funny in the early sequences. After her experiences in the city, the downfall into prostitution, her entire demeanor has changed: her voice, the look in her eyes, the posture, her reactions. It’s a sad film and she’s great in it. I have a post in the works about one of her bits of physical behavior but I just haven’t gotten around to putting it all together yet.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 6, “Kingdom Come” (1996; d. Winrich Kolbe)
Keith and I have continued on with our project to binge-watch Millennium! (He’s watched the whole thing multiple times, of course. It’s all new to me.) “Kingdom Come” has almost a spooky supernatural aspect: Priests are being targeted and their deaths have a ritualistic aspect to it. One man is burned at the stake. There are deeper existential issues at work: a bird flies into the window of Frank’s house, and their adorable young daughter is very concerned about it. Is it dead? Will it come back to life? I am very very curious to see where this series goes. Keith isn’t telling me anything! He’s a good guide.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 7, “Blood Relatives” (1996; d. Jim Charleston)
I thought this one was really interesting: a sort of creepy young man appears to be going to funerals and then attacking attending family members. Is he a killer? Or is he just one of those weirdos who likes to be in the presence of other peoples’ strong emotions in order to feel like he belongs to something? Side note: It is the actors who play the “guest spots” who have to do the real heavy lifting. The stars are more remote, although they get to have emotional depth too. But these guest spot people have to create a fully realized character in 2 minutes, and usually have enormously emotional scenes they have to play. Millennium has superb acting, across the board.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 8, “The Well-Worn Lock” (1996; d. Ralph Hemecker)
Paul Dooley! I got so excited when I saw his name in the credits: “I love him!” Keith murmured, “I don’t think you’ll love him here.” And I don’t.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 9, “Wide Open” (1997; d. Jim Charleston)
So much for investing in hi-tech security systems. No one is safe. You would have to pay me money to live in a community like that.
Millennium, Season 1, Episode 10, “The Wild and the Innocent” (1997; d. Thomas J. Wright)
First of all: Go, Thomas Wright from Supernatural! I loved “The Wild and the Innocent” for a couple of reasons:
1. Clearly inspired by Badlands, with its dreamy somewhat cut-off narration by the young girl (Heather McComb, who was so so excellent in that one episode of X-Files, and she’s excellent here too.)
2. Jeff Donovan plays the wild boyfriend. Jeff Donovan is an old old friend of both my cousin and my brother. He is an honorary O’Malley. He used to show up at O’Malley cousin get-togethers in New York and comedy always ensued, because that is the kind of person he is. It has been very exciting to see him reach the level of success he has, with Burn Notice and the Clint Eastwood films, and speaking of Sicario, he was great in his small role in Sicario. My brother was on a couple of episodes of Burn Notice, in a very funny recurring role. The first time he appeared on the show it was filmed in Colombia and Donovan was the director. So it’s all kind of a fun full circle. It was fun to see him here, too. He was great. His emotions blunted and impulsive in that psychopath way.
45 Years (2015; d. Andrew Haigh)
Such an incredible film: quiet and unrelenting. Good observations about behavior and rhythms. It plays like a stage play (it could definitely work in the theatre). It’s theatrical: it opens with a morning scene of a woman (the great Charlotte Rampling) going through her morning routine: walking the dog, washing the dishes. She gets the mail, delivers an envelope to her husband (Tom Courtenay): he opens it, reads it, and … nothing will be the same again. All of that happens in the first … 2 minutes of the film? That plot description may make it sound like a thriller or something. But it’s not. It’s the story of one woman, busy planning the party for her 45th wedding anniversary, realizing that not only did she not know the extent of her husband’s past, she ends up realizing that she did not know her husband at all. And her whole life starts to seem like a lie. They’ve been married 45 years. Nothing was really changed by that letter. But nothing will ever be the same. You know, sometimes I wish I had been married. The culture so assumes that that is “what you do” that it’s almost like living in a one-party state if you opt out. But still: the wish is there. But when I saw the final gesture in the film – what Charlotte Rampling does with her hand just before the screen goes to black – I thought to myself afterwards that maybe I’ve gotten off easy by opting out of that nonsense. INCREDIBLE film.
Son of Saul (2015; d. László Nemes)
I had heard so much buzz about it, but didn’t know “what happened.” I went into it pretty cold. There aren’t real spoilers or anything, but it was a very interesting experience because the film is quite confusing: much of it is done in whispers by characters huddled in the dark where you can’t tell who is who. Not knowing even the bare bones of the plot helped, I think, immerse me in the sheer chaos of that film, of that time. I would think, “Wait … who the fuck is that now?” and before I knew it, he’d be gone. Nobody has time. Nobody can speak in normal tones. Everything is rushed. It’s brutal. It’s a unique style, and apparently some people issues with it, with focusing on one individual in that dreadful historical moment. I found it harrowing and effective.
Creed (2015; d. Ryan Coogler)
Not only one of the best films of the year, but one of the best of the Rocky franchise. I like all of the Rocky films, although I think Rocky V was a bit of a misfire. Rocky Balboa was terrific too. It’s an important and emotional franchise on a populist level, with Stallone’s writing akin to Clifford Odets’ street poetry (which Stallone acknowledges as an influence.) Nothing can really touch the original, but Creed brings that franchise into the new era. (And it has a similar Odets-ian feel in the dialogue: the “date” over Philly cheese-steaks is a perfect example.) The film acknowledges the nostalgia for those early Rocky films, it’s a tribute in many ways to what that franchise means to people … but it’s also a new and energetic thing, a very NOW thing. I loved it. (I’ve seen it three times.)
Supernatural, Season 6, Episode 9, “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” (2010; d. John F. Showalter)
A favorite. I watch it when I’m stressed out. I was very stressed out in December. It works like a charm. “What were the aliens like??” “They were grabby incandescent douchebags. Good night.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015; d. J.J. Abrams)
A lot of fun. It was what I wanted/hoped for it to be.
The Mend (2015; d. John Magary)
What an incredible and bizarre film. Josh Lucas is amazing: when has he ever even been allowed to be this good, this out there? There’s a Repulsion-like thing going on with the two brothers: the wife leaves, and all hell breaks loose, the apartment descending into such chaos that you feel like life will never go back to normal. There is nothing here that is expected. You, the audience, are on your own.
Queen of Earth (2015; d. Alex Ross Perry)
So so good! Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston (who was so unforgettable in Inherent Vice) play best friends (but with friends like these who needs enemies) spending a weekend at a house in the country. Elizabeth Moss is recovering from a couple of horrible life events. Katherine Waterston tries to understand. But doesn’t seem to really get it. But that’s just the beginning. I found this film so unsettling and half the time I couldn’t point to why. It’s fantastic.
Ballet 422 (2015; d. Jody Lee Lipes)
Such a good film. One of the best of the year, certainly one of the best documentaries. I wrote about it here.
Supernatural, Season 3, Episode 8, “A Very Supernatural Christmas” (2007; d. J. Miller Tobin)
A classic. I watched it on the night before Christmas Eve. It’s still a miracle that it works as well as it does and doesn’t tip over into … too much. I’ve watched it a bunch. And it’s still mysterious how all the pieces fit together. I love it when that happens, when the nuts-and-bolts don’t show … when it’s clearly well-constructed but there’s still magic at work.
Supernatural, Season 3, Episode 9, “Malleus Maleficarum ” (2008; d. Robert Singer)
I hadn’t watched this one in a long time. I love blonde Ruby. I could never have her hair unless I had a wig stitched to my head, and I love her hair.
A Fool There Was (1915; d. Frank Powell)
A vehicle for the sexy vampire woman Theda Bara, it was a blockbuster for the time, and very controversial. At one point, the title card says, “Oh, kiss me. Kiss me, you fool!” That was too much for the mores of the day. While Theda Bara’s character is every stereotype of the spider-woman known to man (she brings men to ruin using her sexuality and does so just for the fun of it), it’s still pretty radical and at least – at LEAST – it acknowledges that women have power. I know it’s not all that nuanced, but whatever: it has almost a mythic quality. Woman as so Other that she is barely human. Bara is great (I love the opening sequence, the only really surreal sequence, where she picks up a rose from a nearby table, admires it, and then plucks the head off, laughing. It’s something from out of a nightmare: and watch her gestures: that’s the echo of the 19th century, it was already on its way to becoming a lost art). She drives men to suicide, she lures men away from the plump stodgy wives (looking at the wife in the film and then looking at Bara I think, “No contest. I’d choose Bara too.”) There are a couple of scenes where Bara is running around in her loose nightgown, with her hair tumbling down her back and around her shoulders, and she’s luscious and unbound and touchable. To quote Camille Paglia: a powerful sexual persona.
Supernatural, Season 7, Episode 7, “The Mentalists” (2008; d. Mike Rohl)
A conversation on Twitter where I mentioned my love for Melanie (well-known to old-timer SPN participants here) caused confusion for some, because she’s not generally touted as a major character, she’s supposedly just a one-off so there was a: “Wait … who is that?” She’s my favorite of all the Dean Girls, and became much more than a one-off for me, but as a valid alternative for Dean Winchester if he wasn’t such a weirdo. In other words: he’s a specific man and he needs a specific kind of woman. Or, he doesn’t need her, but if something WERE to solidify with another person, she would have to be … equally weird, but with an energy to counteract/calm down his. So I went back to watch, and got sucked into their very unique dynamic, unlike anything else in the series (in terms of his male/female interactions, that is). Much of this in part to Dorian Brown, who plays her. It’s not a generic “girl of the week” performance. There’s humor in her line readings (watch HOW she says “I need a drink” – it’s not just the line that’s funny, it’s how she says it). She seems fun, not a DRIP, Dean could never be with a drip. I love how the character is written and I love how she plays it.
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965; d. Henry Hathaway)
John Wayne was too old to be dragged into that river by his feet. The moment always hurts me, he looks awkward. Wayne should never be allowed to look awkward. (He had just gotten diagnosed with the “Big C.”) Dean Martin is great, drawling, and natural in the role. You can tell Wayne and Martin get a kick out of each other (they were friends and had worked together before). The youngest brother is terrible. Wayne is great. Not my favorite Wayne, but I’ll take it.
Shampoo (1975; d. Hal Ashby)
Some of the commentary about this film doesn’t do it any favors. The commentary: It’s social-commentary/it’s political-commentary/it’s a sad and existential treatise on loneliness. Granted, you can’t get more existential/lonely than that final sequence. But come on, the thing is practically a French farce, except a French farce usually takes place in one location, with bedroom doors slamming open and shut down hallways, and here, poor Warren Beatty has to race around from bed to bed on his motorcycle, because L.A. is so spread out. But he is his own walking embodiment of a French face, spiked with distraction, desperation, and also (so important) a kind heart, which is hard to believe, and only Beatty could put that all together. The guy is not a user. He’s a pleasure-spreader, he feels an obligation to please all these women. It’s not really “using”, what he’s doing. God, I love this movie. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. Julie Christie getting drunk at that election party is a high-point, flicking olives at the back of Jack Warden’s head. And the Senator showing up with his drum to sing some “Native” type of song? “Hy-uh hy-uh hy-uh hy-uh HY-uh HY-uh …” It goes on forever and it is so funny – the deadpan looks on everyone’s faces as they watch him, like: “What the hell has happened to politics in this country … what exactly are we watching …” I tried to count how many times Beatty had sex in that one day. I think it’s 6, but I may be missing one. Brilliant film.
Concussion (2015; d. Peter Landesman)
O’Malley Tribal Pride must be taken into consideration since my cousin Mike appears in the early scenes of the film as Will Smith’s boss, who gets increasingly frustrated with his underling’s approach, and also conclusions. The two have a great fight scene that suddenly sparks into rage on both sides: and it’s a wonderful setup for all of the pushback that Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) will face throughout the film, and the sheer scope of the Football Temple he is cracking apart. Aside from cousin Mike, though, this is a very good film featuring a really superb performance by Will Smith. He is so charming, and inhabits this man’s personality so beautifully: it seems organic. Smith has tapped into the humor and the honesty that drives the character forward. David Morse is absolutely haunting. And if Concussion doesn’t make you re-think some of the aspects of football, if it doesn’t cause you grave concern for these players, especially when it comes to the Pee Wee Leagues, you’re part of the problem.
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015; d. Stephen Cone)
It opens this Friday. I will be reviewing for Ebert. All I will say is it is gorgeous and funny and sad and thought-provoking: Look for it.
Ball of Fire (1941; d. Howard Hawks)
An all-time favorite. It’s re-released in theatres right now (or, at least, it’s playing at the Film Forum) and what an intense joy it was to see it in a packed house. There was none of that “oh aren’t we so superior to those old-fashioned people in old films” laughter that RUINS so many screenings of old films (even in arthouse cinemas like the Film Forum where you think the audience would know better) … everyone was truly engaged. “14 watercolors ….”
Heaven Knows What (2015; d. Ben and Joshua Safdie)
Incredible film. I discussed it here.
I’ll See You In My Dreams (2015; d. Brett Haley)
Do you know how exciting it is when Blythe Danner generates buzz? It’s just as exciting as Charlotte Rampling generating buzz. Oh, what Bette Davis and Joan Crawford might have done in their latter years if they hadn’t been shuffled to the side due to their age. They still worked. Dammit, they were actresses to the end. But some really interesting things are going on right now with older actresses, Meryl Streep being the main pioneer. If Barbra Streisand starred in something right now, she’d be a bigger box office draw than any young actress I can think of, even Jennifer Lawrence. So yay for the older ladies. But Blythe Danner has always been a supporting character in films (although in theatre she always plays leads.) And she’s always wonderful. But here, she’s the lead. And when the film opened, people were calling it one of the best performances of the year. I missed it on its release, and finally caught up with it, and in this case the Buzz is justified. It’s one of the best performances of the year. Before I say more on Blythe Danner: I get excited when Mary Kay Place shows up in anything. She’s awesome, and has one of the funniest moments in the film: “We live right over there. In the Royal Oaks Village Retirement Community Village.” Long long silence as you watch the struggle on her face and then she BURSTS into laughter as though her head has exploded. And Rhea Perlman! Yes!! Great ensemble of older ladies. And Martin Starr: the younger man in the film. He’s phenomenal, he gives a very unexpected performance (and it’s unexpectedly written as well: Brett Haley also wrote the script). You keep thinking (or I did anyway) that his character will go a certain way. But he doesn’t. He’s so wonderful. But back to Blythe Danner: Her performance in this film was part of the Best Performances of 2015 list, put together by Rogerebert.com contributors. I loved what my friend Odie had to say about her performance:
Later, she is serenaded by Lloyd (Martin Starr), whose friendship has a slightly romantic, though unrequited touch. Carol’s a musician, so Lloyd’s act is a big risk on his part. But watch Danner’s reaction. She’s paying attention with her entire being: she’s the musician impressed with Lloyd’s composition, the supportive friend easing the nervous singer through his performance, and the listener experiencing an introspective catharsis through the lyrics.
Rent it immediately.
The Making of a Murderer
I watched all 10 episodes in a frenzied binge because I could not bear the suspense and the whole thing was giving me a heart attack. I may have a minority view on this one. The police are corrupt, no doubt. The prosecutor is a skeeve of the highest order. (In the last episode, when it’s revealed what was going on with him during the trial, I admit I thought: “I KNEW it. I KNEW something like that was going on with that guy.”) And there’s a lot of pathos in the poverty/attitude of the Avery family. But I don’t see Steven Avery as a martyr. Or not in terms of the SECOND case. What happened in the first case was an abomination, but I think there’s more to the story than we’re being told in the doc. He had a violent reputation, and a violently sexual reputation already. I think him making “jerking off” gestures at his cousin was just the tip of the iceberg. She may have exaggerated (and I think she did: NOBODY comes off reliable or truthful in this thing – and neither does Avery) but that behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The man doused a cat in oil and threw the cat into the fire. He did jail time for that. Killing animals is a clear indication of a disturbed and violent mind. So I don’t think the police (corrupt and awful as they are) were way off-base in focusing in on him. I am not exonerating the police. But I think equating this totally with wrongful conviction – at least in terms of the second case – is not really what was going on there. To counteract this thought (because the whole documentary is so ambiguous I couldn’t keep up with everyone’s lies): I don’t think the prosecution proved its case in court, by the way. The evidence did not match up and there was evidence of police misconduct. No doubt. But I think Steven Avery did that second crime. I’m sorry everyone. I don’t think he did it in the way the police/prosecution painted – that whole story was a fabrication and the evidence did not support it (where the hell was the blood in that trailer?). We will never know what really happened to that woman because the police/prosecution fucked it up so badly. But I think he did it. Maybe with help from the cousin who was “going hunting” at the time. Not the 16-year-old cousin, whose first legal representation was so sinister I couldn’t even catch my breath. He’s the real victim in this thing, but I also think he was involved, even if he just watched. I also think Teresa’s brother knows more than what he is saying: not that he killed her, but that there was something else going on that he felt guilty about. (In the video where Teresa mentions love for the people in her life, she mentions only her sisters, not her brothers.) So maybe somebody else did it, maybe Steven Avery didn’t do it. I turned on him and distrusted him the second I heard the cat details. (He mentions it so casually, but if you realize what really happened – the real story that the documentary does not provide, but the information is out there – it was brutal and gleeful cruelty on his part, and that behavior doesn’t come from out of nowhere. Imagine dousing a cat in oil and throwing it into a fire. Can’t do it, can you? Steven Avery could.) I imagine a lot of people will be angry with what I have to say. I’m sorry, I truly am! I’m not alone though. One of the best things about this documentary was the sheer confusion it creates. And the flip-flop of attitudes. Maybe some people immediately assumed he was railroaded because of the current environment and its attitude towards the cops, and that’s understandable. I went into it feeling the same way. But slowly, my mind changed. I felt the documentary was not telling the story it thinks it was telling. Or maybe it was. The whole thing remains ambiguous (and I think that’s one of its huge strengths.) The only people in the film whom I thought were even halfway reliable/truthful were his two defense lawyers and then the false-confession advocates brought in late in the game. Everybody else had something to hide and lied lied lied. I won’t be signing any online petitions to free Steven Avery any time soon.
On that not-so-positive note, my viewing diary for December 2015 has ended.
What have you seen this year that you really liked? Or disliked?