About Elly (2009; d. Asghar Farhadi). At long last. Wrote it up here.
Misery Loves Comedy (2015; d. Kevin Pollak). Navel-gazing documentary about comedians and how they think about what they do. A cast of thousands. Lots of great anecdotes. Saw at Tribeca.
Jackrabbit (2015; d. Carleton Ranney). Dystopia. Some interesting ideas. But lackluster somehow. Saw at Tribeca.
Wondrous Boccaccio (2015; d. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani) I rather loved their Caesar Must Die, and this one (also playing at Tribeca) is based on The Decameron of course. Pretty pretty pictures onscreen. Some of the stories worked better than others. Some were hilarious. The opening, though, involving the plague overrunning a medieval village, was superb.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 17, “Inside Man” (2015; Rashaad Ernesto Green). The return of Bobby!! Very satisfying.
Sound Of My Voice (2012; d. Zal Batmanglij) Written by Brit Marling, and she also stars as the mysterious cult leader, who needs an oxygen mask to survive the dirty air of our time and place. Two documentary film-makers infiltrate a cult, wanting to do a story on them, and then they find themselves sucked in. This is a fantastic film about the power of brainwashing and group dynamics. I’m a big Brit Marling fan. She’s this beautiful young blonde, and she could go the typical route, but she is not interested in that. She’s a writer, a director, she works with her own tribe. I’m very impressed with her. Very good film.
The Celebration (1998; d. Thomas Vinterberg) It came out in Los Angeles that I had never seen this movie. My friend Larry was so appalled by this revelation that he sent me a copy to see as soon as I was able. It is superb. One of the Dogma movies. Crazy. Almost farcical in its intensity and melodrama. Phenomenal acting, grounded in utter reality, and yet also totally insane. Ugly, brutal, beautiful.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 18 “Miracle Man” (1994; d. Michael Lange) I never watched The X-Files so I am rectifying that now. I think it’s gorgeous. For me, the show really kicks into gear in Season 2.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 19 “Shapes” (1994; d. David Nutter) David Nutter directed the pilot of Supernatural and has a strong confident horror-movie style. In watching The X-Files, I can really see now the influence on Supernatural, including the same secondary character actors populating the series. Mitch Pileggi. Steven Williams. And more!
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 20 “Darkness Falls” (1994; d. Joe Napolitano). Jason Beghe! I love you, Jason Beghe, not only for your hot-ness as Demi Moore’s boyfriend in G.I. Jane, but for your famous exit-interview from a certain cult, which really helped turn the tides. You’re a hero. This one is very gross, and involves bugs and enormous cocoons. No thanks.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997; d. William Gazecki) I’d seen it before. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 21 “Tooms” (1994; d. David Nutter). First appearance of the marvelous Mitch Pileggi, who also plays a huge secondary role in Supernatural. What a great actor. Nice dark and moody episode.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 22 “Born Again” (1994; d. Jerrold Freedman). An entry in the “creepy kid” genre.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 23 “Roland” (1994; d. David Nutter). Guest star Željko Ivanek! When I was in high school, I saw him on Broadway with Matthew Broderick in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. What a fine actor.
The X-Files, Season 1 Episode 24 “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (1994; d. David Nutter). A major episode. Deep Throat was killed. There is evidence of a vast government conspiracy. (I am not a conspiracy theorist. Three people in one room can’t keep a secret amongst themselves, let alone entire bureaucracies. But no matter.) While I was certainly aware of the phenomenon of The X-Files as it was airing, I was not at all interested in it and did not follow it at all. That was easier to do back then because there was no Internet. Things were much more easily ignored. Now I basically have to stay off Twitter on days after a Mad Men episode so I can wait until I get to see it. But back then? I was living in Chicago, I didn’t watch much television except for late-night classic movies and monster movies at 3 a.m. with the guy I was dating. Regular TV-watching just wasn’t a part of my life and I’m not saying that to be sanctimonious. I love culture in all its forms. I love reality TV and I love episodic TV and I love late night talk shows. But in 1994, I just wasn’t into it. So it’s fun to go back in time and discover what everyone was FLIPPING OUT ABOUT in 1994.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 1 “Little Green Men” (1994; d. David Nutter). Season 2 premiere! So far I am deeply in love with Season 2. Reasons: The X-Files have been disbanded, and so for the first couple of episodes, Scully and Mulder are separated. They have to sneakily meet up in parking garages. And so the situation starts to feel … damn near romantic. There’s a yearning in both of them to be together. The show is so delicate and subverted with its romantic/sexual tension, and I find it, frankly, to die for.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 2 “The Host” (1994; d. Daniel Sackheim). So so disgusting!!
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 3 “Blood” (1994; d. David Nutter). I love the Lone Gunmen. I found “Blood” to be a bit of a bore, however.
A Separation (2011; d. Asghar Farhadi). A masterpiece. My review from when I saw it at The New York Film Festival. I’ve seen it 4 times now. Never disappoints. Shahab Hosseini is my new crush.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 4 “Sleepless” (1994; d. Rob Bowman). I’ve been having sleep problems recently – so connected to my illness and sleep problems bring forth all kinds of other emotional problems – and so this episode, with its focus on insomnia, hit a bit close to home.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 5 “Duane Barry” (1994; d. Chris Carter). Big important alien abduction storyline, which will (apparently) be very important to the larger series-wide arcs. I am trying to avoid spoilers.
El Cinco (2015; d. Adrián Biniez). Saw at Tribeca and fell in love with it.
Monty Python: The Meaning of Live (2014; d. Roger Graef) Documentary about the creation of Monty Python’s gigantic live show in London, July of 2014. Marvelous. Not to be missed. Wrote about the Monty Python QA I attended here and here
Mary J. Blige The London Sessions (2015; d. Sam Wrench). Huge disappointment. Saw at Tribeca. It’s basically a promotional video for her latest album. She’s such a fascinating and compelling figure, and the documentary is so shallow. The fact that she came to London, to record in these smaller studios with hungry British artists that she loved … a big change-up for her … but the documentary really doesn’t delve into WHAT exactly is the difference, and WHY this was such a risk for her. She’s so amazing. She deserves better.
Among the Believers (2015; d. Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi). A documentary about the militant jihad-training ground of the Red Mosque in Pakistan. Saw at Tribeca, reviewed here.
In Transit (2015; d. Albert Maysles). Unforgettable. Albert Maysles’ final film. My favorite at this year’s Tribeca. My review here.
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu (2010; d. Andrei Ujică). Amazing. My review here.
The Jinx (2015; d. Andrew Jarecki). Had watched the first two episodes while I was out in Los Angeles. I don’t have HBO but was able to catch the final four episodes at a friend’s house. The whole thing creeped me out.
The Motel Life (2013; d. Alan and Gabe Polsky). I reviewed for Rogerebert.com, and re-watched in preparation for Ebertfest, where I interviewed co-director Alan Polsky onstage following the screening.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 6 “Ascension” (1994; d. Michael Lange). Wow, is all I have to say.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 8 “One Breath” (1994; d. R.W. Goodwin). I seem to have skipped an episode. But another “Wow” is an order.
Goodbye to Language (2014; d. Jean-luc Godard) The more I think about it, the more I love it. It was the first film shown at Ebertfest.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014, d. Roy Andersson). It was the second film shown at Ebertfest. Nothing like it. I don’t believe it has been released yet, so keep your eyes peeled for this fascinating director and his unique vision. It’s hilarious and then … it’s not. Loved it.
Moving Midway (2007; d. Godfrey Cheshire). Godfrey Cheshire is a well-known film critic, who is now a regular Rogerebert.com contributor. His 2007 documentary about moving his family plantation (Midway) off of a crowded road was one of the highlights of this year’s Ebertfest. What an amazing film. More thoughts here.
The End of the Tour (2015; d. James Ponsoldt) Another film that hasn’t been released yet. This is the story of David Lipsky’s weekend-long interview of David Foster Wallace. More thoughts here. Both James Ponsoldt and Jason Segel were in attendance at Ebertfest.
Girlhood (2015; d. Céline Sciamma). What a fantastic film. I moderated the panel discussion following the screening at Ebertfest. It was a great conversation.
The Son of the Sheik (1926; d. George Fitzmaurice). Silent film, accompanied by live music composed/played by the Alloy Orchestra. I wrote about the Alloy Orchestra’s accompaniment at last year’s He Who Got Slapped (an unforgettable experience. Rogerebert.com contributor Glenn Kenny wrote a wonderful piece about this year’s screening of The Son of the Sheik.
A Bronx Tale (1993; d. Robert De Niro) It’s a great film and it was wonderful to re-discover it and watch it in that glorious setting. Chazz Palmenteri and producer John Killik were in attendance. More thoughts here.
Ida (2014; d. Pawel Pawlikowski). My favorite film of 2014, thoughts here. Participated in the panel discussion afterwards, with Matt Zoller Seitz, Todd Rendelman, moderated by the wonderful Nell Minow.
The Motel Life (2013; d. Alan and Gable Polsky). Great audience discussion following the film at Ebertfest.
99 Homes (2015; d. Ramin Bahrani) An Ebertfest favorite, and a filmmaker beloved by Roger Ebert. Ebert paid very close attention to whatever Bahrani was up to. You can see it in all of the Ebert reviews of Bahrani’s films. Bahrani was in attendance for his latest film (which hasn’t opened yet). Mum and I had particularly good conversations about this one, because of her long experience with real estate. It was great. I highly recommend attending a film festival with your parent: it’s a great bonding experience.
Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 16, “Roadkill” (2007; d. Charles Beeson) For my next re-cap, whenever I’m feeling well enough to put it together and post it. I’m sick these days and overworked. I love the episode so much.
The Wicker Man (1973; d. Robin Hardy). What an insane movie. Women dancing naked through the fields. It’s ANARCHY.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 18, “Book of the Damned” (2015; d. P.J. Pesce). The snoozefest that is the search for Castiel’s grace is offset by the presence of Charlie.
Superstar (2009; d. Tahmineh Milani). I had seen this Iranian film before, but watched it again due to my brand-new crush on Shahab Hosseini. It’s not an arthouse film and therefore it would not make it to our shores and there are no “external reviews” listed on IMDB. This was a hit in Iran, and it has the slick polished surface of a formulaic quirky comedy. It tells the story of a pampered Iranian film star (Hosseini), who lives a shallow egotistical life, snorting cocaine, keeping various women stringing along, fuck buddies and older ladies who parade him around like a prize, and hiding his mother away because he’s ashamed of his humble origins. He’s a jerk. Suddenly a teenage girl comes into his life. At first he thinks she’s an autograph-seeker, and he invites her to come home with him. She’s 15, and you know what’s on his mind, and it makes him creepy and perverted. Then she blurts out that she is his illegitimate daughter, fathered when he was 16 years old. He had thought that his girlfriend at the time aborted the baby. That was what he understood. Apparently not. This young girl wants to know her father, and basically infiltrates herself into his life. She is mischievous and outspoken. She looks around his penthouse and is ashamed of him (he has pictures of himself all over his own walls. She takes them all down: “I don’t want my friends to think I have a selfish father.”) A relationship develops. He starts to feel protective of her, he starts to make decisions based on the fact that he is a father. It changes him. The film swerves in tone in the last 20 minutes, becoming melodramatic, sentimental, and almost spiritual. The tone-swerve does not quite work, but I love the film nonetheless. Check it out! Hosseini starred in About Elly as a liberal Iranian ex-pat, and he also starred, unforgettably, in A Separation, as the furious husband of the nurse. The lower-class traditional guy, emasculated and enraged. There’s one scene in A Separation when his cringing wife confesses something to him, in their cramped kitchen, and he is so angry that he starts hitting himself in the head. Phenomenal acting. In Superstar he plays an asshole. There are no similarities between these three characters and he is totally convincing in each role.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976; d. Chantal Akerman). It doesn’t even seem real that Akerman was only 24 years old when she made this masterpiece. How … how … Well, some people are geniuses, that’s how.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 9 “Firewalker” (1994; d. David Nutter). Bradley Whitford as a crazy Mr. Kurtz-type!
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 10 “Red Museum” (1994; d. Win Phelps). I am interested in anything that has to do with cults.
Fastball (2015; d. Jonathan Hock). Documentary seen at Tribeca, my review here. Loved it.
Meadowland (2015; d. Reed Morano). Feature film seen at Tribeca, my review here. Luke Wilson and Olivia Wilde are excellent. I found out later that it was produced by Matt Tauber, whom I actually know. He directed me in a production of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe in Ithaca, New York in 1994 (which explains why I wasn’t a huge TV-watcher back then – just too busy.) That show was a great experience and I made lifelong friends, including Michael, whom regular readers will recognize. Wrote a whole essay about that experience, and Michael, in particular.) So it was after I saw the film and was looking at the credits on IMDB that I was like, “Matt Tauber, holy mackerel!!” Happy to see he is doing great stuff, still!
A Courtship (2015; d. Amy Kohn). Documentary seen at Tribeca. It’s an interesting topic, Christian Courtship, especially the really radical version of it which gives fathers the right to manage their daughters’ courtship, interviewing prospects, etc. This documentary, though, shows a woman in her 30s, alone and upset, basically moving in with a family so that this guy – unrelated to her – can manage her courtship. The whole courtship thing is supposed to lessen heartache, to lessen the risk involved. The documentary shows what a lie that really is. The documentary is interesting but it was extremely one-sided. I could have used some outside perspective on the whole thing. By sticking with this one woman’s very strange experience (the man isn’t even her father) … we get a warped view of the larger movement. I don’t know, I’m conflicted about it. I definitely want that young woman to go out on her own. This is not a healthy situation at all.
GoodFellas (1990; d. Martin Scorsese). There was a big GoodFellas reunion at Tribeca as well (which I did not attend), but in honor of it, I re-watched the film. It’s as good now as it was the first time I watched it. I remember watching it with the aforementioned Michael, and he explained to me shot construction and editorial choices. It took us 6 hours to get through the movie.
Being 14 (2015; d. Helene Zimmer) What a snoozefest. Saw at Tribeca. You have to actually have stuff HAPPEN onscreen to warrant pointing a camera at it. I was tremendously bored by this film. Zimmer does not know how to put together a scene, to make it stick together. There’s one scene at a party where the girls all jump around dancing. It goes on FOREVER, and needlessly so. I couldn’t help but compare it to a similar scene in Girlhood, when the four girls dress up and dance around to Rihanna’s “Diamonds”. The scene in Girlhood lasts for the entirety of the song. And not once does the scene lose its energy, its glue. What we are watching is an event, a moment, carefully set up and spontaneously (seemingly so) executed by the actresses. It’s not enough to just point your camera at a bunch of people dancing for 5 minutes. That’s lazy. What’s supposed to be HAPPENING? And the young actresses are not good enough to fill in those blanks.
Supernatural Season 10, Episode 19 “The Werther Project” (2015; d. Stefan Pleszczynski). I’m always happy when the Men of Letters return, but of course – since this is Supernatural and all magical entities (like angels and Heaven and Hell, etc.) end up being bureaucratic to the nth degree – they all seem like a bunch of “Mad Men” sitting around a table with sticks up their asses. A bit disappointing. Come on, Supernatural, let your characters be eccentric. Also, Goethe? I need to think more about the obvious Goethe connection.
Bugsy (1991; d. Barry Levinson). I have a great fondness for this movie. I love the love story. Bening is great.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 11 “Excelsis Dei” (1994; d. Stephen Surjik). A nurse is raped by an elderly ghost. Hijinx follow.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 12 “Aubrey” (1995; d. Stephen Surjik). You cannot escape your genetic predisposition, apparently.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 13 “Irresistible” (1995; d. David Nutter). So far, in Season 2, I am loving the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. They’re getting closer. Also, Season 2 puts Scully in peril repeatedly, which I find satisfying in a really retro way, and I am not ashamed of it. It’s entertainment. It works. Here, she gets extremely freaked out by the case they are working. It’s almost too much for her. Somehow this manages to be okay and not compromise her very strong character. They’re both moving deeper into the maze.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975; d. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones). 40th anniversary screening at the Beacon Theatre, with the 5 living Pythons present. An unforgettable night.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 14 “Die Hand Die Verletzt” (1995; d. Kim Manners). First Kim Manners-directed X-Files episode! He went on to direct over 50 episodes, before moving on to produce/direct Supernatural, helping set the tone and mood of the series. Very creepy episode, with an absolutely phenomenal breakdown-monologue by a guest star, a young teenage girl (Heather McComb). She does an incredible job.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 15 “Fresh Bones” (1995; d. Rob Bowman). Dealing with a Haitian refugee camp and voodoo curses. Yet another episode where Scully is imperiled. These situations add depth and shadings to the relationship with Mulder, professional, friendly, and yet growing in tenderness, since it really is the two of them against the world. I’m getting into the groove with the series now.
Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File (2007; d. Andrey Nekrasov). Documentary streaming on Netflix about Putin’s Russia. An intimate look at the fate of Litvinenko, as well as the various journalists/politicians who dare to speak out against the State. They end up dead. This documentary is not for beginners. There are no title-cards, for example, helpfully filling in information about who is who, and what is what. You have to keep up. I knew a lot of the names, including the journalist murdered in her stairwell after criticizing the government (she is just one of many) – but many were new to me. I did a lot of Googling. Nekrasov has personal involvement in the story, and he is in the documentary as a character.
The Thin Blue Line (1988; d. Errol Morris). Saw this film when it first came out. It creates such a lasting impression.
The World’s Most Dangerous Drug (2006; National Geographic Explorer series). Correspondent Lisa Ling investigates the “world’s most dangerous drug,” crystal meth. Terrifying.
I Escaped a Cult (2012; National Geographic documentary). Three ex-cult members talk about their experiences. It’s harrowing. The documentary is online in its entirety.
Macao (1952; d. Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray). Producer Howard Hughes fired von Sternberg mid-filming and hired Nicholas Ray to finish it. Great Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle. Their chemistry is so phenomenal. They’re so much fun to watch together, since both of them are tough, hard-boiled, not prone to sentimentality. And the final line. STEAMY.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 16 “Colony” (1995; d. Nick Marck). Things getting serious now! Mulder’s sister returns! There are clones running about! Great stuff!
Vagabond (1985; d. Agnès Varda). What a brutal film. Watched the Criterion version, and the special features are amazing. Conversations with lead actress Sandrine Bonnaire (she was told, about her character, “She’s dirty, and she never says ‘Thank you.’), Varda, the composer … There’s a great small feature on the 12 right-to-left dolly tracks that punctuate the film. Chapter-markers. Each one connected to the next. Because of how the film starts, the entire story has this feeling of dread overshadowing it. Phenomenal performance from Bonnaire. Brilliant film.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 17 “End Game” (1995; d. Rob Bowman). Steven Williams! (aka “Rufus” in Supernatural. Supernatural is basically an X-Files reunion.) A part 2 to “Colony,” which leads us up to the point of Mulder freezing in the Arctic Ice. All in a day’s work.
The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 18 “Fearful Symmetry” (1995; d. James Whitmore, Jr.) I was absolutely devastated by this episode. I had a hard time falling asleep. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Jayne Atkinson is superb (I also love her on Criminal Minds). When she falls by the side of the gorilla, sobbing, “No No No”, I thought to myself, “Shit. It’s 8:30 p.m. and I am far too upset to go to sleep right now.” Guest stars on episodic television are the heavy-lifters. The stars have it easy. They have to have a breakdown maybe once, twice, usually at the end of the season. But guest stars have to do it every single episode, and they MUST deliver. EVERYTHING depends on it. Jayne Atkinson was just phenomenal. I’ve never been a zoo person. I love animals and always think I want to go see them in the zoo, and think I will be able to handle it. I love tigers and polar bears. I wish I could look upon an elephant daily. But zoos bum me out. I have not been to a zoo in 25 years. Can’t handle it. “Fearful Symmetry” tapped into all of those feelings about animals in captivity. I couldn’t handle it.
The Black Narcissus (1947; d. Michael Powell and Emetic Pressberger). A favorite. STUNNING. Never ever get sick of the beauty of this film, its hallucinatory aspects, its use of color, Gothic elements. It is nearly impossible to believe that this was filmed on a backlot in England. I still can’t believe it. The illusion is so complete.
Welcome to Me (2015; d. Shira Piven). This doesn’t open until next week. I had such high hopes for it, based on the trailer, that I was almost afraid. Would it … “go there” as relentlessly as the trailer suggested? Would it have the courage to actually go the distance? I’ll write more about it but yes, Welcome to Me goes the distance. It has the courage of its convictions. It’s super dark, extremely bleak, and also hilarious. Very funny performances from Wes Bentley, James Marsden, Joan Cusack. But it’s a pointed critique of narcissism and it does not let up. Kristen Wiig is brilliant.
Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 20, “Angel Heart” (2015; d. Steve Boyum). Very entertaining: oil drill wall dividers, mini golf, and Willie Nelson. Plus an amazing fight sequence and gorgeous sunrise light in the final scene.
Rooster Cogburn (1975; d. Stuart Millar). I see just a picture of John Wayne and I relax. I know he’s got this. No worries. The movie is sheer star-power entertainment. Hepburn and Wayne batting it out. Of course it’s ridiculous but who the hell cares. These two are giants, and they get such great stuff out of each other. And John Wayne’s line reading: “Being with you ….. pleases me.” Nobody could do it like him. NOBODY.
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2015; d. Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker). Saw a screener-link of the documentary about the man who has played Big Bird for 40 years. Am reviewing for Rogerebert.com.
The X-Files, Season 2, Episode 19, “Død Kalm” (1995; d. Rob Bowman). Worm-holes. The Manhattan Project. The 65th parallel. John Savage! Very touching scene between Mulder and Scully in the hull of the ship as they wait to die.