The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016; d. Taika Waititi)
My favorite thing I saw at Tribeca. It hasn’t opened yet but this is one you want to see. My review here.
Midsummer in Newtown (2016; d. Lloyd Kramer)
I was afraid that my quiet sobbing was disturbing other audience members at the press screening. Tears POURED off of my face. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com, and you can get the gist on what the documentary is all about. Devastating, heart-explodingly moving.
The Last Laugh (2016; d. Ferne Pearlstein)
Is the Holocaust off-limits as joke material? Where do you draw the line? A fascinating documentary featuring interviews with Mel Brooks (Uhm, “Springtime for Hitler” anyone?), Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, and many many others. It’s an interesting conversation about art, whether or not artists are responsible for the connotations/misinterpretations of whatever it is they put out there, as well as the PURPOSE of comedy. I enjoyed it. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
My Scientology Movie (2016; d. John Dower)
I honestly do not know how to describe this because it really isn’t like anything else. The closest thing I can think of is Sacha Baron Cohen’s out-in-the-world performance-art stuff. But it’s different than that. Anyone who has read me for longer than a couple of years, knows my obsession with the topic at hand, and my attempts (with my sidekick Alex) to get as far into that organization as we could, without putting money down. Anyway, it’s a fascinating movie. I thought, “What else does one have to say after Going Clear?” But this is totally different. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
Mother (2016; d. Kadri Kousaar)
Really loved this deadpan “whodunit” housewife-malaise film from Estonia. One of my favorites in Tribeca this year. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com. I hope this one has legs. It’s terrific. And helmed by three women. And starring a middle-aged woman.
The Fixer (2016; d. Ian Olds)
Saw at Tribeca but chose not to review. I didn’t really care for it. Good performances from Melissa Leo and James Franco and Dominic Rains, but the plot was so complicated and hackneyed and obvious. Kind of a waste, because the topic is fascinating.
The People vs. O.J. Simpson, “Manna From Heaven” Season 1, Episode 9 (2016; d. Anthony Hemingway)
This whole series astonished me with its depth and complexity. Like I said before, I practically had PTSD flashbacks watching it, that horrible year where one could not escape that story even once you were exhausted by it… and the fact that two people had been murdered so viciously somehow got lost in the narrative, the biggest crime of all. The acting in this series was magnificent, across the board.
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932; d. Mervyn LeRoy)
As hard-hitting and devastating today as it was in 1932. It still shocks. It does not pull its punches. The final moment … It’s both realistic and intensely surreal. The horror of the permanent underclass. Must-see.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 8 “Just My Imagination”(2015; d. Richard Speight Jr.)
Air-guitar guy sobbing, “SHE WAS MY GIRL.” Not over it yet.
Forensic Files Collection 1, Season 14, Episode 11, “Water Logged” (2011; d. Michael Jordan)
A horrible story. But you go out on a stranger’s boat having just met him? Ladies, come on. You must take at least SOME responsibility for your safety in the world – to the best of your ability, that is – and you have to do as much as you can to … not be murdered. There are actually things you can do to lessen your chances of being murdered. You’re not supposed to say that, for some reason, but I think not saying it puts people even more at risk. (Or no, Here’s an essay that should win me tons of friends.) Still: imagining how they died is horrific.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 17 “Red Meat” (2016; d. Nina Lopez-Conrado)
An excellent episode. You honestly wouldn’t think that the death of either one of these guys would have any impact anymore at all. But here it is: THE thing that keeps the show running. Lopez-Conrado did an excellent job at resurrecting that fear in a very real way.
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 18 “Hell’s Angel” (2016; d. Philip Sgriccia)
It’s been such a good season. You gotta forgive the couple of clinkers along the way.
Men & Chicken (2016; d. Anders Thomas Jensen)
I just … what? You have to see this movie to believe it. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992; d. Michael Mann)
A re-watch in my preparation for my talk with Wes Studi in Albuquerque.
Dances with Wolves (1990; d. Kevin Costner)
This movie has suffered a little bit in critical acclaim since the time it first came out and I certainly never thought I’d want to see it again. I got it the first time. I re-watched in preparation for the Wes Studi talk, and – interestingly – his plot-line is one of the main things that has stayed with me since its original release. Plus his death-scene.
Heat (1995; d. Michael Mann)
Another re-watch for the Wes Studi talk. I love Michael Mann, and I love the ensemble of this film, but this one is not my favorite Mann, sacrilege though it may be. It’s absolutely gorgeous-looking, for sure, and I love all of the actors involved. However: I think Al Pacino’s over-acting is embarrassing, and and Michael Mann either loved it or couldn’t rein Pacino in. “Don’t waste my MOTHERFUCKIN TIME” is a particularly show-boat-y moment that would be clocked as phony in an Acting 101 class. (I feel the same way, by the way, about the beloved – except by me – “I drink the milk-shake” moment in There Will Be Blood, a movie I LOVE, except for that moment which I think is terrible. Reminder: Louder does not necessarily mean “good” or “committed” or “intense.” Don’t be fooled. Keep your wits about you. I look at that moment and think, PTA was either intimidated by Daniel Day-Lewis, or maybe it looked great “in the room” at the time, or maybe he was so in love with Day-Lewis as an actor that he lost perspective. It happens. DDL’s performance is a great one. That moment is embarrassing.) BUT. Back to basics. The film has a dreamy and blue mood, and every shot is practically a masterpiece, in that very Michael Mann way. I love it, don’t get me wrong but there are other Manns I like better. PLUS: I am so happy I saw this one on the big screen in its original release. Mann’s stuff should always be seen HUGE. Blackhat, Miami Vice. His images fill the frame. You could clock his “look” in a line-up.
Geronimo: An American Legend (1993; d. Walter Hill)
I highly recommend seeking this one out. I remember seeing it on TV at the time and being devastated by it, and that impression remains. Gene Hackman. Robert Duvall. Matt Damon, pre Good Will Hunting. Jason Patric. Wes Studi as Geronimo. Unfortunately – as per usual – we get the story of Geronimo told through a white man’s eyes. I wish this would stop happening, and perhaps it will someday. Jason Patric is our white man, and he’s wonderful in it, and you do see – an important element of the story – how the white allies of the tribes, those trying to work shit out in a fair way – were betrayed by how things went down. Wes Studi is incredible and has some stand-out scenes with Patric, as well as one with Gene Hackman, one of my favorite actors.
Mystery Men (1999; d. Kinka Usher)
So ridiculous! Wes Studi as The Sphinx is the standout. He “teaches” everyone how to be a better superhero, but his language is so circular (“The biggest hero is the man who has the courage to run away.” What??) that Ben Stiller finally is like, “WHAT the hell are you TALKING about?” It was really fun to see Wes Studi in a comedy!
Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 15 “Beyond the Mat” (2016; d. Jerry Wanek)
A great example of how the Supernatural crew creates little mini-worlds with each episode. They don’t always do that anymore, or at least not to the level that they used to do – but this one really does exist in that seedy Knights-of-Columbus wrestling circuit world. You can feel the chilly damp-ness of those rooms.
Air Force (1943; d. Howard Hawks)
Such a strong film. One of his most gorgeous LOOKING as well with show-stopping aerial footage.
The Tenth Man (2016; d. Daniel Burman)
Saw at Tribeca and really enjoyed it. My review here.
Magnus (2016; d. Benjamin Ree)
I saw at Tribeca and wanted to cover it but I ran out of time before Ebertfest. This is a wonderful documentary about the chess-prodigy-phenom Magnus Carlsen. Highly recommended.
Crimson Peak (2015; d. Guillermo del Toro)
Ebertfest feels like a million years ago because I went right from there to Albuquerque for my own film. How can one month contain so many events? I was doing the QA with Guillermo after the screening of Crimson Peak, and we had flown down to Champagne together from O’Hare, talking the whole way. (He made me sit in the seat across the aisle from him even though it wasn’t my seat. I hesitated and he said, like a conjurer or snake-charmer, “No, that’s your seat. Isn’t it?” The plane was so small anyway it didn’t matter.) Guillermo del Toro is voluminous in his commentary and enthusiasm. All you have to do is say, “So Notorious …” and you are off to the races. What a pleasure it was to talk about my favorite Hitchcock film with him! (There are so many nods to Notorious in Crimson Peak!) Here’s Brian Tallerico’s dispatch from Day 1 of Ebertfest, talking about Crimson Peak and my talk with Guillermo.
Grandma(2015; d. Paul Weitz)
I love Paul Weitz, I love Lily Tomlin, I love Sam Elliott, but I had missed this on its first release. It is incredible. Please see it. For many reasons:
1. It is very good.
2. It’s a film starring an elderly woman. SUPPORT THIS.
3. Lily Tomlin is a national treasure and here she is not playing a sidekick or a cameo but the LEAD, a role she was born to play. MORE OF THIS PLEASE. Do not throw our elderly actresses out with the trash.
4. The 11-minute long scene with Sam Elliott could be an entire full-length play. It’s breath-taking, that scene.
5. Sam Elliott has a moment that will BURN out of the screen into your blood-stream. Wait for it. You can’t miss it. If the movie had made more money, Elliott would have gotten an Oscar nomination and it would have been well-deserved. Oscar Shmoscar, he gives a great performance.
Here is Glenn Kenny’s review for Rogerebert.com. Paul Weitz was there for the screening and it was a pleasure to listen to him talk, as well as meet him. He’s just as intelligent and funny and humble as you would imagine.
Northfork (2003; d. Michael Polish)
What a strange and haunting and gorgeous-looking film. Reminiscent of Days of Heaven or Badlands, or anything featuring wide-open spaces. Michael Polish and his twin Mark produce, act, direct – and Roger Ebert raved about it, but still, somehow I had missed it. The acting is terrific (Nick Nolte, Darryl Hannah, James Woods), but it’s really the atmosphere, mood, production design, the color palette that is the show-stopper. Highly recommended. Michael Polish, director, was in attendance to talk about the film and Matt Seitz did the QA. Here’s Brian Tallerico’s report on Day 2 of Ebertfest.
The Third Man (1949; d. Carol Reed)
I’ve seen this one many times, of course. It is one of the great accomplishments in cinema, period. There’s a reason it usually has a spot in any Top 10 Greatest Movies Ever Made list. BUT and this is crucial: I had never seen it on the big screen, and the screen at The Virginia is gigantic. It’s how it should be seen. It was one of Roger Ebert’s favorite movies: Check out his Great Movies essay on it. Most exciting of all, Angela Allen, 91 years old now, was the script supervisor on The Third Man when she was 19 years old, and she attended the festival! The stories this woman has! A real highlight.
Disturbing the Peace (2016; d. Stephen Apron, Andrew Young)
Premiere of a documentary about the protest-organization “Combatants for Peace” in Israel/Palestine. The two directors were in attendance as well as two of the main participants, one Israeli and one Palestinian. The film was given the first Ebertfest Humanitarian Award. It hasn’t been screened anywhere else yet and they had to race to finish it for Ebertfest. It’s an extraordinary film. Here’s Nick Allen’s report on the screening of the film.
L’Inhumaine (1924; d. Marcel L’Herbier)
Every year, a silent film plays at Ebertfest, with live accompaniment by the terrific Alloy Orchestra (you can’t even believe it’s only three guys, considering the sheer amount of sounds coming from them in the pit). This year it was the almost indescribable surreal masterpiece L’Inhumane. Seek this film out just to see how “out there” it was – and still is. You KNOW that David Lynch has studied this film with a fine-toothed comb. Here’s Nick Allen’s report on the screening.
Eve’s Bayou (1997; d. Kaci Lemmons)
I saw this in the theatre when it was released, mainly because of Roger Ebert’s review. Director Kaci Lemmons said in the QA afterwards: “Roger MADE my career.” Interestingly enough, one of the producers – financing the film – made her cut a certain character, and they went back and forth on it, and she finally conceded because she’s a practical woman and sometimes these decisions have to be made. This dude was putting up the money and he really cared about the film. So he wasn’t some mustache-twirling villain. (It’s like the war Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams had about the character of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Kazan won the battle, but Williams won the war by having both endings included in the published edition of the script.) Anyway, the film we saw at Ebertfest had that “element” restored, and it’s so essential to the story that honestly I didn’t even remember it NOT being there originally. In other words: I can’t picture Eve’s Bayou without it. Kaci Lemmons was so happy to be there (artists, in general, are: it’s a different kind of festival. You aren’t pitching yourself, or trying for distribution, or hoping for a prize. It’s much more relaxed and celebratory.) I was on a panel about “women in film” with Kaci Lemmons (and Angela Allen and NANCY Allen) and it was great to hear their stories of hacking out a place for themselves as women in the industry.
Radical Grace (2015; d. Rebecca Parrish)
An excellent documentary about Catholic nuns, the now-famous “nuns on the bus.” There are a couple of nuns in my family, so I was very happy to write about the screening of Radical Grace. The film gave me hope, as a Catholic.
Love & Mercy (2015; d. Bill Pohlad)
Glenn Kenny’s review of Love & Mercy is the one to read. This was on my Top 10 for 2015. If you haven’t seen it … please rectify that. Mitchell had never seen it. We sat in the balcony. Within 5 minutes, he looked at me, gulping, almost like, “Oh my God, I’m already crying.” What touched me in the film was what touched him. Or wrecked him. The beauty of Banks’ performance. I thought she should have been nominated. YOU try to play a part that is 90% listening and make that ACTIVE. My GOD. Also the studio musicians thing. Mitchell sobbed through the entire sequence where they were recording “Good Vibrations.” It was thrilling to get to sit there and “show” something to Mitchell, because basically he’s seen everything. A real highlight of Ebertfest, and Mitchell’s favorite film of the bunch.
Blow Out (1981; d. Brian De Palma)
A favorite movie of mine – and another one I hadn’t seen on the big screen. It’s absolutely brutal, even more brutal than I remembered it. That final scene … you could feel the entire audience almost moan and cringe from its black-hearted cynicism. Audiences are way more protected/naive now than they were back then, coming out of the 70s, the decade of ambiguous cynical satirical films with nary a positive outlook in sight. Current audiences may think they’re way more “knowledgeable” now, but the audience at Blow Out (many of whom had never seen the film) cringed away from it like it was the plague. Good. It’s never a good thing to get too complacent. Nancy Allen was there!! It was so exciting to meet her!
In the Dark (2015; d. David Spaltro)
This was a three-state month for me. Or, actually, four. New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and New Mexico! Now we begin the New Mexico portion of our programming. I interviewed David Spaltro about his beautiful film Things I Don’t Understand (highly recommended). He’s a New York indie film-maker and we have a lot of friends in common. Back in 2012, I was looking for an actor to play Jack, the lead in my script, having its first New York reading at The Vineyard. We threw around a million names, and then Aaron Mathias, the romantic lead in Things I Don’t Understand came to mind. I reached out to Spaltro again, who introduced us, Aaron loved the script (his first comment after reading it: “Thanks for ruining my afternoon”), and was available, and the rest is history. He was so incredible as Jack! So now, 4 years later (ack, everything takes so long), one scene from my longer script is premiering at Albuquerque, and what do you know, David Spaltro also has a film at the same festival, a horror film called In the Dark – and Aaron was in one scene! So it was just too cool. It was playing at 9 pm on Friday night at The Guild, the same theatre where my short would play the following day. David Spaltro is an artist. It’s a film about demon possession (with four – not one, not two, not three, but FOUR – strong and complex female leads.) Filmed on a shoestring, as always, his film LOOKS expensive, like a studio production. It was truly eerie, the acting was top-notch, and I was very happy to see it. David, unfortunately, was not there. But it was fun!
Comfort Me With Absinthe (2014; d. Michelle Prebich, animation by Justine Prebich)
In the Dark played with three other “horror”-esque shorts. This one is actually a music video, created for the band Mr. Moonshine. It was terrific: humorous and bizarre, with really cool animation. Both director and animator were there, and it was really fun to talk to them. I love how they use sand in the animation. You can see the whole thing on Youtube already.
We All Go the Same (2015; d. Morgana McKenzie)
Morgana McKenzie is 15 years old. That fact alone is astonishing, especially considering the elegant and planned-out LOOK of this short. Many films at the festival were interesting, in terms of their topics, but not all that well-thought-out in terms of visuals. McKenzie’s visuals are beautiful. Like Comfort Me with Absinthe, it’s an unofficial (but authorized) music video for the song of the same name by Radical Fire. You can watch the whole thing here and remember: 15 years old. It makes you think, “Jeez, I’ve been a slacker my entire life.”
Sleep Now in the Fire (2012; d. Sean Pollaro & Elliot Pollaro)
I wish the film-makers had been there because I had a lot of questions especially about the locations and how they used them. This short was extremely effective: it plays like a horror movie, and it is a horror movie, but what it really is is a portrayal of combat-PTSD from the inside. A US soldier returns home from WWII, to be reunited with his wife and his child. What then follows is a nightmare. Gorgeously filmed and BEAUTIFULLY acted. Upsetting and nightmarish.
East of Hollywood (2015; d. Chris Caccioppoli)
Another short that’s a spoof/critique of the challenges facing Asian actors in Hollywood. It’s smart and hilarious (there’s a fictional acting class called “Orientification” where Asian-American actors learn how to talk with stereotypical “Asian” accents and do kung fu and other stuff). This short is about 20 minutes long but it makes its points. With humor, which is almost better than serious, because it points out the absurdity.
Mi Casa Su Casa (2016;d. Sara Verhagen)
What a bizarre and entertaining little short. A French woman returns from her vacation to find a bunch of lunatics holed up in her apartment. None of whom she has met before. Comedy and absurdity ensues.
Total Awesome Viking Power (2015; d. Morten Forland)
Didn’t really care for this one about a bunch of LARP-ers pretending to be Vikings.
Twinsburg (2016; d. Joe Garrity)
This narrative short – taking place in the annual “twins” festival in Twinsburg, Ohio – was one of the highlights of Albuquerque for me. Twins, along with Wes Studi’s short Ronnie BoDean, felt like a Feature in Embryo. Like, it’s DYING to be a feature. Twinsburg tells the story of identical twin brothers (adults), meeting up in Twinsburg for the Twins Festival, as they have done since they were kids. There’s a ritualistic aspect to it: they wear costumes, they participate in the talent show, they’ve been doing this forever. One is gung-ho, the other one is drawing away from it, wondering why they still keep coming and don’t they want to develop their own identities now? Garrity filmed it DURING the actual Twins festival: the footage is amazing, but definitely not hand-held cheap-looking docudrama style. This is a beautiful-looking film, with a romantic dreamy aesthetic: it’s also very funny and also features something we haven’t seen before. The screen is filled with real twins. Very pleasurable experience.
Ronnie BoDean (2015; d. Steven Paul Judd)
This short, starring Wes Studi, was just so great, and again, just made me think, “Oh God, I need the full-length version.” I wrote more about it here.
Frontman (2015; d. Matthew Gentile)
There were four shorts in the shorts-program where my film was featured, and this was one of them. I found it devastating, and so did my mother. It’s about a rock star who gets the bad news that he’s going deaf. The rock star is played by Kristoffer Polaha, and it’s a terrific performance. The film is shot in a dreamy surreal way, so that the encroaching deafness is felt viscerally by an audience: with buzzing, and low voices and terrifying shots of Polaha diving deep down into a pool of water, leaving the surface behind. It was beautiful and very sad.
The Room Rental (2015; d. Bettina Bilger)
Another short, this about a city woman who rents out a room in her apartment through Air BnB and a gorgeous man comes to stay. Not quite sure what was happening with this one.
One Smart Fellow (2015; d. Timothy Busfield)
Oh my God, this film! It played right before “mine” played and it was the longest short in the program – almost 45 minutes. Timothy Busfield is one of my favorite character actors, dating back to thirtysomethibng, where – as Elliott – he gives basically a tour de force. Because who doesn’t want to hate Elliott? Or scorn him? Timothy Busfield is unique in his willingness to play weak, contemptuous, flawed, and never once plead for sympathy from the audience. There are four people in this film: Busfield, real-life wife Melissa Gilbert, Laura Innes (whom I mainly remember from E.R. – and she plays a totally different kind of character here), and Belle Shouse. The final credit says the film was shot in one day. Each of the four is listed in the writing credits. So I wonder if it was an impromptu improvisation, like “Okay, we’re all here in this beautiful beach house, let’s make a film!” It’s FANTASTIC. I haven’t checked to see if it’s anywhere in its entirety, but keep your eyes peeled for it. Hilarious ensemble drama, kick-ass performances, total Cassavetes-ish chaos, and plays like a bat out of hell for an audience.
July and Half of August (2015; d. Brandeaux Tourville)
I am having a moment, as they say, listing my own film in this viewing diary. Can’t even believe it. It was a high water-mark experience and I knew it as it was happening. I put up some screen-grabs here. I am very proud of it and I look forward to more festivals.
Nathan East: For the Record (2014; d. Chris Gero)
Final night in Albuquerque. Wrote about that extraordinary night here.
Hail the Conquering Hero (1944; d. Preston Sturges)
I love this film. It’s pretty brutal about the political process. And hilarious. That homecoming scene, with the warring marching bands waiting at the train station. Preston Sturges, man.
Dough (2016; d. John Goldschmidt)
Criticizing this well-meaning movie makes me feel like a cynical Bitch. Oh well. If the shoe fits. I reviewed Dough for Rogerebert.com.
A Double Tour (1961; d. Claude Chabrol)
One of my favorite film-makers of The French New Wave, and he worked up until the end (he died in 2010.) His film, La Ceremonie, is one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. Also one of the best portrayals of folie a deux in cinema. I love crime stories anyway, and have a soft spot for any movie that features a French detective. (A leftover from seeing the Pink Panther movies as a kid.) Chabrol’s style is so BOLD. Those camera moves, especially in this film. The camera is rarely stationary and the moves keep you totally off-balanced. They tell you where to look but they don’t tell you how to feel. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a great PIG. All of the acting is superb. It’s a “whodunit” of course, drenched in color and an incestuous mood.
Supernatural Season 11, Episode 19, “The Chitters” (2016; d. Eduardo Sánchez)
I liked this one. I’m liking this season in general. Like Season 10, it is all over the damn place, and I actually prefer that to having one arc that is too much focused on. There’s lots of wiggle-room in Season 11, and so things can get fucked-up, go off course, lose the track, and it’s okay. I don’t care about Castiel or Crowley anymore, and the show barely seems to either. Sam said, “We’ll get Cas back” and I thought, “No, you know what? Just let him go, kthxbai.” I continue to be intrigued by Amara. But this was a good monster of the week that focused more on relationships than on the actual case itself. The image of monsters fucking in public out in the woods is truly disturbing. That town has been hiding lots of secrets. I love Cesar very much and (SPOILER) was amazed and gratified that he didn’t die. The second he showed up I thought, “Well, he’s a goner. Get ready for it.” But the episode didn’t go there. Now, of course, I see why, because it’s about relationships, and end-game, and “settling down” (Dean? Saying those words? It was like he was speaking a Druid dialect, I barely could register it). For me, the takeaway was: “Sinner.” “Rebel.” The two distinct looks on JA’s face in those close-ups have been seen in out-takes and bloopers from the get-go, but as far as I can remember, never in the show itself. It’s so funny and so STUPID I want to eat it up with a spoon.