Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the Berkshires

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I was up in Massachusetts for the 4th of July weekend at my aunt’s, and on the evening of July 4th, I took the Mass Pike west, far west, to the Berkshires to see the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by David Auburn, who is not only a gifted director but a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright (for Proof.) He’s directed a couple of productions in the Berkshires, including Sick and Anna Christie. The main stage is nestled in the middle of the green mountains, trees curving in around the theatre (the theatre has been there since the early 20th century.) It’s a beautiful space.

The production starred Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James (mostly known for his role on True Blood and here, coming back to the stage after 8 years away) as Brick, Linda Gehringer as Big Mama, and Jim Beaver (from Deadwood and, of course, Supernatural) as Big Daddy. Filling out the cast of characters was Jenn Harris as Mae (that “monster of fertility”, as Maggie calls her), Timothy Gulan as Gooper, and David Adkins and Brian Russell as the tipsy preacher and the doctor, respectively. Jason Sherwood did the evocative and non-realistic scenic design which did what a set should do: put the audience in the right MOOD for the play the second they walk in the theatre doors. Dominating the stage was a gigantic white bed, and surrounding it were four old pillars leading up to a white ceiling panel with a chandelier hanging. Everything was open: no walls or doors. Along flats on the three sides of the stage stretched a horizontal panel showing a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. The whole thing looked like a slightly-dissipated Southern summer dream.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

The superb production in the Berkshires was an important reminder of the sheer stature of this play. Tommy Lee Jones (who once played Brick) said, when he came and spoke at my school, that he thought Cat may be Tennessee’s “only truly GREAT play.” Tennessee Williams’ body of work is one of the most extraordinary in 20th century American theatre, but I tend to agree with Jones. Maybe it’s the structure that seems like such a radical departure for Williams, but the themes too – and the MOOD – is also unique for Williams. The play unfolds in Three Acts, but the action onstage plays out in real time (it could be played all in one with no scene-breaks). The script is a massive symphony with multiple “movements,” one instrument dominating here, another instrument added there, a theme rising before submerging itself into another theme. One character steps forward (metaphorically) in each act and talks for 5 or 6 pages with almost no interruption. Cases are stated. Counter-point cases stated. It’s choral in structure.

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Jim Beaver, Rebecca Brooksher, Brian Russell, David Adkins, Michael Raymond-James, Linda Gehringer. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

From the very first moment of the very first scene in this production, with Maggie (the astonishing Rebecca Brooksher) racing around the room, shouting to her husband offstage, ranting about the “no-necked monsters” (brother Gooper’s 5 children) downstairs, all while trying to get the stain out of her dress, re-applying makeup, rolling down her stockings, rolling on new stockings, all as she talked non-stop in a frantic and irritable (and very funny) way, even as he refuses to respond … I knew that this was a production that had (to quote my acting teacher in college) “its fingers on the pulse of the playwright.” You could feel it. Instantly. Brooksher understood Maggie’s frustration, pain, and humiliation (more than anything else, Maggie is humiliated), and every line shimmered with some or all of those emotions. But on top of all of that, was Maggie’s life force, her hope, her determination to make things right with her husband, to say the difficult things, do the difficult things. It’s life or death for Maggie, and Brooksher’s performance is life or death. She was phenomenal. And so so smart with the language. (If there was a joke to be found, she found it.) She made Maggie’s terror at being poor comprehensible, visceral. You could see Maggie as a child, a barefoot girl in a dirty dress. Maggie’s not a gold-digger. She’s practical.

There’s so much going on in Maggie’s determination to get her husband to sleep with her, her desperation about why he won’t and what that means, her guilt about what happened with Skipper, her terror of being “old without money” (she has that great line: “You can be young without money. But you can’t be OLD without money.”) and her NEED to have a child so that she can solidify her position in the family. It’s extremely complex, and it all happens simultaneously. No wonder so many actresses are damn near “sunk” by Maggie. (Tennessee Williams joked once in a letter that actresses were “ruined” playing his roles, and he felt bad about it, but what could he do?) It’s a monster of a part, and watching Brooksher in action was awe-inspiring.

Michael Raymond-James was a revelation as Brick. Every Brick is different. Every actor is going to approach it in a different way, every production is going to have a different “take.” Because Brick is like that: Brick is a VOID. You could fill that void with anything, or you could leave it be, and accept it as a VOID. And that’s what is so terrifying about Brick. So difficult for actors to capture, maybe because actors feel like they need to, you know, be ACT-ive. Brick’s absence (even when he is present), his passivity, his fatalism, IS active … but still, the challenges are multifold. Raymond-James’ Brick was so absent up on that stage that he became (as he should be) the focal point of every scene, every character. Everyone else talks so much and talks at the same time in a wild cacophony, and Brick sits in the background, cast on his foot, drinking. The big question: Why? Why does Brick drink so much? Why? – is the question on everyone’s minds. What has HAPPENED to him? I think Brick may be the scariest character that Williams ever wrote, and he wrote some pretty scary characters.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

In every moment, every gesture, every interaction, you could feel Raymond-James’ Brick needing that drink. At one point, I noticed he was about finished with one glass, and I actually found myself getting anxious for him. He needs to fill up that glass! It was such a codependent reaction it was awesome. Raymond-James also found the dry humor in Brick, those single lines sailing into the mountains of texts from Maggie or Big Daddy, cool and dry and … airy … nothing touching earth. Floating. In the stage directions in the script for Cat, Williams often puts the word “vaguely” before Brick’s lines. (Williams was a big one for detailed emotional notes throughout his scripts.) It takes a LOT to “engage” Brick, to wake him from his stupor. Maggie is unable to do it in Act One, except for when she makes the mistake of mentioning Skipper. Big Daddy breaks through in Act Two, and the result is explosive. Brick is far far gone at the time the play starts. The best and truest thing in his life is gone. He is disgusted with mendacity, disgusted that his relationship with Skipper is tarnished by other people “calling it dirty”. His alcoholism is ACTIVE. He drinks until he feels what he calls “the click.” Peace comes with “the click” and he can’t stop drinking until he feels it. “The click” is one of the most chilling images in Williams’ entire canon. Even the other characters in the script acknowledge how scary the term is: when Brick tells Big Daddy what “the click” is, Big Daddy responds, “Jesus!”

Another thing that was so great about Raymond-James’ performance was you could see, over the course of the three acts, how drunk he got. It was a progression and he, the actor, was totally in charge of it. At first he was buzzed, and then at some point he got so sloppy he could barely get up off the floor. His inhibitions started to fray, his balance got even worse, and his emotions started to bubble up closer to the surface. It happened in real-time on the stage and was reminiscent of those moments at wild parties where suddenly people are no longer buzzed but wasted and it seems to happen instantaneously. Like: “wow, when did THAT happen?” Raymond-James clocked every step of that drinking-journey, but he did so in a way that it looked effortless. It was happening TO him. I can’t remember who said it – maybe John Wayne? or Dean Martin? – that the way to “play drunk” is not to weave around the stage. The way to “play drunk” is to do your DAMNEDEST to walk in the straightest line ever. Do THAT and you’ll look drunk to an audience. (Actors wanting to play drunk: Watch any Gena Rowlands drunk-scene. She’s in a class all her own but if you’re going to learn, you might as well learn from the best!)

I loved the placement of Raymond-James’ voice. There was a drawl to it, not just in accent (although that was beautiful and natural too), but in feel and mood. That “vague”-ness again. When Big Daddy gives him a hard time (understatement), Brick doesn’t fight back. Brick agrees with everything everyone says. Yes. He’s a drunk. He’s a loser. He’s a let-down. He agrees. He just doesn’t care. To not care to THAT degree, and still be a compelling figure onstage, is one of the major challenges of the role. Brick is filled with self-pity and yet at the time of the play he is beyond open expressions of it. You ache for him, especially because you can still see the confident golden-boy athlete that he once was. When Raymond-James exploded at his father, defending his relationship with Skipper, what you also could see was panic and terror that his father “thought so too” (that he and Skipper were romantically involved). Brick is a toweringly tragic figure, and Raymond-James gives a heartbreaking performance.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

One of the things that Williams says about Big Mama in the script is that she is “sincere” and Linda Gehringer was so fantastic showing the sincerity of this loud-mouthed anxious worry-wart Mama-Bear, racing around the house trying to keep everything together. Big Daddy says to Brick later that we all have to live with “mendacity”: Mendacity is the oxygen we breathe. Big Mama has her own web of lies she has created, and she – like Maggie – is ferocious in her determination to LIVE, despite the lies, or even because of the lies. If that means pretending that her husband isn’t as cruel to her as he actually is, then so be it. If that means engaging in gossip about Brick and Maggie, then so be it. She has her reasons. As obnoxious as she is, when Big Daddy turns on her, you cringed and ached for her. She looked, suddenly, smudged and shattered. Gehringer galumphed around the stage in her bright green outfit, always on the verge of either tears or bright uproarious laughter, sometimes at the same time. And, like Williams suggested: all of it was sincere. Beautiful work! Big Daddy observes to Brick later that his two sons both married women who had the same “anxious look”. Big Daddy might not see it but he married a woman with that look too.

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Linda Gehringer, Rebecca Brooksher, Jenn Harris, Timothy Gulan. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

The reason I went to see this production (and I feel so fortunate I was in Massachusetts anyway and could get over to see it) was to see Jim Beaver as “Big Daddy.” Jim Beaver is well known to Deadwood fans, as well as to Supernatural fans for his portrayal of Bobby Singer. It was also so great to see him as the Victorian-era patriarch in Crimson Peak (my Ebert review here), and I was honored to interview Guillermo del Toro onstage at Ebertfest and hear of how Del Toro only had Jim Beaver in mind for that role, and how much he loved him as an actor. The thought of Jim Beaver as Big Daddy – another towering role in American theatre – was thrilling. Tennessee Williams holds Big Daddy back. Big Daddy is talked about constantly through Act One. He looms in everyone’s minds but he does not appear until the final moment in Act One (Auburn gave Big Daddy a real star entrance: Beaver swaggered onto the stage, and then stood upstage center, waiting to enter the room downstage. Blackout. The anticipation was intense! Let this intermission end!)

Big Daddy is a tyrant. A careless and cruel man in a lot of ways. Rude and blunt and all the rest. He does not suffer fools. He is not a soft man. He doesn’t care if he’s talking to a child or his wife; that person is going to hear the Truth. He’s intimidating and everybody races around trying to please him, competing for his attention. He sees all. The only person who doesn’t get the full force of his wrath is Maggie. Perhaps he looks at Maggie and sees himself as a young man: a poor boy, a striver, determined to wrench his way out of desperation and poverty, whatever it took. He gets Maggie. He does NOT get his own son. Or, he has a pretty good idea what’s happened, but such things aren’t easily talked about, especially in a time when the language for “gay” or “being gay is fine if that’s what you are” wasn’t even created yet. But Big Daddy knows.

Act Two is a masterpiece in and of itself. With constant interruptions, and people eavesdropping at the doors, Big Daddy tries to get Brick to talk about his drinking, the “why” of it, which inevitably leads to a conversation about Skipper. Brick flips out at every mention of Skipper’s name: Maggie, Big Daddy … they are all just TARNISHING the one purely good thing in his life and he cannot bear it. He fights like a tiger. But Big Daddy – who has just been given a clean bill of health (or at least that’s what HE thinks) – has decided to get to the bottom of this damn thing once and for all. When Big Daddy reveals that he knows that his son and Skipper were probably in love, it’s a shocker, to us but especially to Brick, who can’t believe it, but the biggest revelation comes in what follows: what Big Daddy tries to say is, “It’s okay, son. I’ve seen it all. Weren’t those two men who owned this plantation before me like that, too? They slept in the same bed. Big whup.” Brick, because of his internalized ravaging homophobia, can’t bear any of this. (You’re comparing me to those two dirty old queers?) “YOU THINK SO TOO” Brick screams at his father, over and over … and over. Raymond-James looked like a little kid in those moments, especially because he was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. Big Daddy is bold enough, courageous enough, to say, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU ALL WERE IN LOVE. JUST STOP DRINKING.”

Beaver commanded that stage, Lord of the Manor, watch-chain, spats, hat, tie-pin, a man who expects to dominate every room he’s in. Beaver did not soft-pedal Big Daddy’s crude-ness, his lecherous lascivious side, or the cruelty with which he turns on his wife. Beaver made it all funny and awful at the same time (Big Daddy in a nutshell).

Beaver’s urgency in the scene with Brick was an object lesson for actors in how to play an objective with everything you’ve got. Every scene doesn’t have 10 objectives. Most good scenes have one strong objective, and in that scene, Big Daddy has one objective: get through to my lost son. Watching Beaver try all these different tactics in trying to achieve his objective was gorgeous, tense, thrilling. I was almost afraid to breathe in case I missed something. Big Daddy tries to talk to Brick man to man, he tells stories from his own life (including a disturbing one about a 5-year-old prostitute who propositioned him in Italy), he tries to empathize with Brick’s dissatisfaction, he speculates (“You started drinking after Skipper died …”) hoping Brick will either confirm or deny, he steals Brick’s crutch (a couple of times, I think) to keep Brick from going to get another drink, he bargains with his son via alcohol dispensing (“If you tell me what you’re disgusted with, I’ll give you a drink”), he opens up about his own fear of death and how he feels he has a new lease on life (the suggestion being; If it’s not over for me, then it’s not over for you, boy), he commiserates with Brick over how awful Gooper and his wife are, he asks how Maggie was in bed … It’s endless. These are all tactics, coming from a place of despair over the state of his son and his helplessness in the face of it. Big Daddy has a WALL of text, text that goes on in an unstoppable flow for the majority of Act Two, with intermittent non-committal responses from Brick … and Beaver was just masterful in managing this! Every moment specific, no nuance lost, every repetitive moment (“Tell me WHY you are disgusted” “Tell me WHY you drink”) getting more intense each time it returned. I KNOW the script and I had no idea what would happen next.

I was watching a Father and a Son go to places emotionally they had never gone before in the entirety of their relationship. It’s terrifying for both of them. It’s a duet, that scene, and Beaver and Raymond-James were so in sync (even when in conflict) in what they were attempting to create. You cannot play a strong objective as an actor without an equally strong obstacle coming back at you. You may want something but your scene partner is equally determined not to give it to you. When both sides are played 100%: boom, you have conflict, you have the scene. The closer Big Daddy got to the truth about Brick and Skipper, the more desperate Brick became for a drink, for escape, for oblivion.

It’s an extraordinary piece of writing on the page, that’s for sure. But it takes two geniuses like Beaver and Raymond-James to bring it so urgently to life.

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Michael Raymond-James as Brick, Jim Beaver as Big Daddy. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

In terms of the ending (more on that in a bit), whether or not you find any hope in it is probably dependent on the hand life has dealt you. Glass half-full/empty? Optimist/pessimist? The brilliance – and beautiful complexity – is that the play doesn’t come down on one side or the other (Williams’ plays rarely do). What you are left with is the mess of human life, the havoc wrought by repression and “mendacity”, and the desperate drive of every character on that stage to either push forward into life or retreat from life entirely. Death is omnipresent: unwanted death and death sought for.

During the development period of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1954/55, Tennessee Williams and director Elia Kazan (whom Williams hand-picked for the job) got into a battle royale over the ending of the script. It’s a well-documented argument, with Tennessee Williams’ letters on one side, and Kazan’s letters on the other. Reading both sides of the exchange is so illuminating, not only about the script for Cat but about what a creative process actually looks like. (For more of the background of the production of Cat, you can read this big tribute post of mine, filled with quotes.)

The source of the disagreement between Kazan and Williams was Act Three. Big Daddy disappeared entirely in Williams’ original Act Three, except for a cry of pain offstage. Kazan felt, strongly, that Big Daddy needed to return in Act Three, otherwise the audience would be wondering where he was. Such a strong character needed to return. Kazan also felt that there needed to be some “change” in Brick by the end, to provide a counterpoint to the nihilistic death-wish of the rest of it so the audience could “root” for him. Brick was (is) a mystery, and Kazan wanted more clarity. (Williams’ letters to Kazan about the character of Brick are amazing.) Now, Kazan was not a “happy ending” kind of guy, but he felt that there was something so unexplained in Brick that the play suffered. Williams disagreed on all counts.

As is obvious to anyone who knows the script, Kazan won that war: Williams re-wrote Act Three to include Big Daddy, and also slightly adjusted the ending so that instead of Brick, Maggie had the last line, her famous line starting with “Oh, you weak and beautiful people …” Brick is still laid low but in the “Kazan” version you feel like Maggie is maybe strong enough for the both of them. Maybe her prophecy will come to pass. The play opened on Broadway that way, and was a huge hit. But then, when the play was finally published, Williams included both versions of the final act, with a note of explanation on the “battle”, so that he could “let the reader decide.” (Kazan was very hurt by this. Their relationship survived – to the very end – but he still was very hurt by this.) In terms of what the audience is LEFT with at curtain, the two versions could not be more different. Williams’ final moment of Act Three (Brick’s line closing it out as opposed to Maggie’s) works better, in my opinion, but then I’m pretty pessimistic (I like to call it “realistic”) about serious systemic change in human beings. I admit it.

Williams’ original ending has Maggie climbing on top of Brick in bed, chanting in an almost incantatory way about how the “weak and beautiful people” need the stronger ones to take them by the hand, and she will do that for Brick and she will take care of him and he will give her a baby. She ends that small speech by declaring, “Oh, Brick, I DO love you.” Brick, lying beneath her, says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true.” Blackout. (Big Daddy says the exact same words to Big Mama earlier in the play, and so it is a soul-crushing echo coming from Brick’s mouth, and is its own disastrous prophecy.) This was what Kazan took issue with. Shouldn’t Brick change just a little bit? Who are we supposed to “root for” if not Brick?

As far as I can tell, director David Auburn blended together elements from “Kazan’s ending” and “Williams’ ending” for the production in the Berkshire Theatre. Big Daddy returned to the stage in Act Three (Kazan), and Brick’s final fatalistic line “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true” was added back in (Williams). It worked beautifully. It feels like that’s the way it was supposed to go, and I love that (in my opinion) both Kazan and Williams were right (although neither of them were 100% right). Kazan’s ending (giving Maggie the final line) is not as effective as Williams’ original that closes with Brick’s line, but I also think Kazan was right that Big Daddy had to return to the stage.

When Brick said his final line, and the house lights then slowly went down, making it clear to the audience that this was it, that was the end, I heard a woman down the row from me, gasp with pain, almost an “Oh no” sound. I think up until the final second she had hoped – hoped! – that Brick would put his glass down and take Maggie in his arms. Of course she hoped that. AND: her hope is the BEST part of us as humans. It may be doomed hope, or delusional, or filled with mendacity, but God help us if we ever abandon it entirely.

At one point in the correspondence between Williams and Kazan over the ending, Williams wrote:

The play was not just negative, since it was packed with rage, and rage is not a negative thing in life. It is positive, dynamic! … [Brick’s] one of the rich and lucky! Got everything without begging, was admired and loved by all. Hero! Beauty! — Two people fell in love with him beyond all bounds. Skipper and Maggie. He built up one side of his life around Skipper, another around Maggie – Conflict: Disaster! — One love ate up the other, naturally, humanly, without intention, just did! Hero is faced with truth and collapses before it … Maggie, the cat, has to give him some instruction in how to hold your position on a hot tin roof, which is human existence which you’ve got to accept on any terms whatsoever … Vitality is the hero of the play! — The character you can “root for” … is not a person but a quality in people that makes them survive.

It makes me want to cry and it’s a strange thing and I’m not sure I can describe it. When I go to see a well-known play, even if it’s not a very good production, I can still FEEL that great text thrumming on beneath, indestructible. I’ve seen high school productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Streetcar Named Desire that destroyed me, even with amateur teenagers acting up a storm and not understanding what they’re saying half the time, because the play itself is so monumental that there it is … still. Shining through. The kids GET it. They rise to the occasion of it. They feel its greatness too even if they are not skilled enough yet to make it come across.

But then when you see an excellent production with professional actors, like the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof I just saw in the Berkshires, the sense of being in the presence of an eternal and dauntingly brilliant piece of writing, something other playwrights – even very good ones – would KILL to achieve in their own work – is even more tremendous. You are in the presence of greatness. And you are grateful that you are there to witness it.

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Captain Fantastic (2016)

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Very sanctimonious and I did not care for it and that might piss people off since the movie will probably be referred to as “life-affirming” and “heart-warming” and God help anyone who harshes anyone else’s soft-hearted mellow (I’m close to the point now where those two phrases instantly sound sketchy to me, or at least a clue that I probably won’t like said movie). I got FURIOUS emails and Tweets for trashing another “heart-warming” piece of garbage, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Listen, I’m just telling you all what I think. If you read my language, I am NOT telling YOU what to think. That’s not what criticism is about. For you it’s a bouquet of roses, for me it’s a pile of garbage. C’est la vie. Write a counter-point piece putting your argument into words, leave a comment here telling me what YOU got, make your case. I guess that just takes too much work, huh.

Additionally, and this has been on my mind: “Life-affirming” seems to be shorthand for “feel-good,” “makes you happy,” “provides hope.” Fine, good. I guess. I don’t need art to “provide hope”, or I don’t need it to ONLY do that, but if that’s what you like, good for you, plenty of options. But that’s not the DEFINITION of good art. To me – ANY art “affirms life” because as long as human beings make art – even sad art – there is hope for us all. Shoah is life-affirming merely because it exists. You’re telling me Goya’s “Third of May 1808” is somehow “bad art” because it shows death, rather than “affirms life”? When did people get so WEAK and SOFT? The painting affirms life merely because Goya painted it. End-stop. That horrible moment will live forever, the painting bears witness. WAY WAY more important than being “life-affirming”. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which I just saw, so it’s fresh in my mind) ends on a totally fatalistic note (at least Williams’ stage version does) and you really don’t have hope for anyone on that stage, except for maybe Maggie, who will not get what she wants but she will at least continue to LIVE. But Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of the great American plays. It doesn’t provide jack-squat in terms of being “life-affirming”, or it does but in a far more complex way than what that term connotes. L’Eclisse is life-affirming because it exists and it is a masterpiece and that movie is bleak as shit.

I am tagging this Supernatural because Samantha Isler is in it as one of the hippie daughters, she who made such a huge impression (on me, anyway) as one of the young Amaras … (the 14-year-old one who basically had a seduction scene with a 37-year-old man and she KILLED IT. For better or worse, she KILLED IT).

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She’s even younger-looking than she was in Supernatural, highlighting just how good she was in the scene in Supernatural. She’s wonderful here too (all the kids are. Viggo is great. Frank Langella is great. But the movie is so misguided in what it thinks it’s about and the story it thinks it’s telling.)

All of that being said – and don’t let my rants distract you – here’s my review!

My review of Captain Fantastic is up at Rogerebert.com.

Posted in Movies | Tagged | 35 Comments

Jafar Panahi Remembers Abbas Kiarostami

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Jafar Panahi, the talented and persecuted Iranian filmmaker, is – as everyone knows – banned from making films (he’s made 3 since the sentence came down), banned from traveling, and forbidden from speaking to foreigners or giving interviews (he continues to give interviews). The man is a hero. Panahi needs no introduction and if you’ve been reading me for 5 minutes you know my feelings about his work and his life. Because of his situation, any time any word from him makes it out (there are a few journalists who know how to get to him, or whom he is in contact with, and then the word spreads to the rest of us), I am thrilled. Light from the caves. Keep on, Panahi, keep on!

Panahi got his start as an assistant to the late great Iranian auteur (truly deserving of that label), Abbas Kiarostami, who just died at the age of 76. Kiarostami wrote some scripts for Panahi, and was instrumental in giving Panahi his start. In recent years, as Panahi’s situation worsened, attracting international attention, Kiarostami – who has escaped persecution (his films were not as political as Panahi’s) – would speak out in support of Panahi as well as all of the Iranian artists either in prison or silenced. When this happens, and it happens from the main stage at Cannes or the Berlinale: this is a political act. People in Iran are watching. People in Iran who hate what is happening see this, hear this, and know that there are millions of people “out here” who think what is happening is appalling. And no matter how much the censors and the mullahs and the idiots in charge there want to stop the back-and-forth flow of information: it is too late. We hear from them, they hear from us. It’s the Internet age, bitches: you cannot control it. Just let it go.

And so, Jafar Panahi has reached out – through a translator who has since passed it on to the outside world – with a statement of tribute for his old mentor, Abbas Kiarostami. It’s a beautiful reminiscence about how their friendship started and what Kiarostami taught him.

My favorite bit is this.

Later that afternoon, he asked me to ride with him to another location. Along the way, he stopped and gave me a handkerchief to use as a blindfold, which I did. He continued to drive for a while and stopped again. He helped me get off the car, held my hand, and, after walking me for a couple of minutes, asked me to remove the blindfold. I opened my eyes and saw what turned out to be the final shot of “Through the Olive Trees,” that majestic landscape! As I was stunned by the view, Mr. Kiarostmi told me, “That’s my vision. That’s how I see this place.”

The experience taught me a valuable lesson. I realized the importance of having a vision and how each filmmaker needs to develop his or her vision. The spot we were standing on was Mr. Kiarostami’s vision. He didn’t tell me that was the best vantage point. He just said that was his point of view, and I realized I had to have mine.

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R.I.P. Abbas Kiarostami

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Iconic Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has died at the age of 76, causing shock waves to erupt through the film world, his fans, and the critics who loved him. If you’ve seen just one of his films, you will know their unique-ness, their radical insistence on distance (very Brechtian), the characters often driving around in vehicles, their faces seen through the windows of a car, with reflections of trees and buildings flowing over them like water.

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Certified CopyI reviewed the film here.

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Like Someone in Love

His films defy description. They have to do with life, and how to see, how to think, how to perceive. The questions are more important than the answers. Seen as a whole, it is an absolutely extraordinary body of work, one of the most impressive in the last 50 years.

Kiarostami’s films that made it here (and most of them did after <Taste of Cherry) were not just films, or limited-release foreign films, or indie arthouse hits or glittering Cannes-festival winners. His films may have been SOME of those things some of the time. But what a Kiarostami film was ALL the time was an EVENT. Like Jean-Luc Godard, like Terrence Malick, like Wong Kar Wai … there are only a few directors who inspire such reverence, such passionate interest over DECADES.

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Taste of Cherry

Kiarostami kept getting more and more inventive, he never stopped coming out with challenging thought-provoking films, he never rested on his laurels, his talent did not calcify as he grew older (as often happens with directors). Two masterful – and radically different – films as Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love coming out one after the other? It’s been thrilling.

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Shirin

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Shirin

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Shirin

I have written a lot about Kiarostami over the years (full archive here), although there are many I still have not seen (many are hard to find, in general). He lived and worked in Iran (making it through the Revolution and continuing to make films afterwards), and it wasn’t until the end that he made two films outside of Iran (Certified Copy and Like Someone In Love). At the very same time that his former assistant Jafar Panahi was being hounded, arrested, and persecuted, he was flourishing in a way that other Iranian artists could only dream of. He had a cosmopolitan intellectual mindset. He was an example to other struggling Iranian artists on what could be possible. His films were not as political as Panahi’s, but they did not lack for controversy. (Taste of Cherry, about a middle-class man driving around a construction site looking for someone – anyone – willing to bury his body after he committed suicide – won the Palme d’Or at Cannes – the first film from Iran to get that honor – but in Iran, the mullahs and censorship office went nuts because of the suicide factor.) His roots in the great Iranian cinema tradition were strong, and he wrote scripts for other directors (including Panahi), collaborating with others in the “everyone does everything” atmosphere of Iranian cinema. But Kiarostami’s reputation was not local. He was an international man. He worked with Juliette Binoche twice (in Shirin and Certified Copy), he was a regular at Cannes and the Berlinale, one of the glittering lights of the film world for decades, a true icon.

I wanted to point you to Godfrey Cheshire’s piece about his friendship with Kiarostami (Cheshire is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Iranian film, and has traveled there repeatedly for film festivals. You want to learn more about Iranian film? Read Godfrey Cheshire’s stuff.)

The writers at Rogerebert.com, myself included, have each written a tribute, collected here.

It’s telling, and indicative of the power of Kiarostami’s imagery, that I shared the below screen-grab on Twitter and Facebook when I heard the news, putting it up with no text attached. Just the image. And people started sharing it, liking it, leaving comments “I’m so sad.”

Because the image is all.

And once you’ve seen it, it will never ever leave you.

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Close Up

Very sad news. But what an artist.

Posted in Directors, Movies, RIP | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On This Day: July 5, 1954 – Elvis Presley Recorded “That’s All Right”

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All photos of Sun Studio in this post were taken by me.

“That’s All Right”, what would be the first single, which went off like a bomb (at least in Memphis, although other regions of the South would follow) was recorded on July 5, 1954, by Elvis Presley, Bill Black (on bass) and Scotty Moore (guitar), with Sam Phillips in the control room. Elvis was 19 years old.

Excerpt from Dave Marsh’s amazing Elvis about that day.

They hit the new sound while fooling around between takes. Elvis began to sing an Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup country blues, “That’s All Right”, and Scotty and Bill joined in. From the control booth came Sam’s voice, excited. “What are you doing?” They shrugged. “We don’t know.” “Well, find out …” Phillips commanded. “Run through it again.”

Every rock writer returns to “That’s All Right”, as though to the Rosetta stone. It’s not the greatest record Presley ever made, and it certainly is not the bluesiest. But it has something else: a beautiful, flowing sense of freedom and release. Elvis’ keening voice, so sweet and young, playing off the guitars, Scotty’s hungry guitar choogling along neatly until it comes to the break, where it simply struts, definitive, mathematical, a precise statement of everything these young men are all about. Is it art? Is it history? Is it revolution? No one can know, not anymore, unless they were there to hear it before they’d heard any of the other music Elvis made or any of the rock & rollers who followed him. Is it pure magic, a distillation of innocence or just maybe a miracle, a band of cracker boys entering a state of cosmic grace?

What’s most remarkable, given how assiduously pursued this sound had been, is its spontaneity and unselfconsciousness. “That’s All Right,” like the best of the later Sun material (its B side, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Milkcow Blues Boogie,” “You’re a Heartbreaker”, and, most of all, “Mystery Train”), sounds casual, the kind of music you could hear any day or every day, the kind of sound that has always been familiar but is still surprising. These men are reaching that elusive noise and once they have it in their grasp, they simply toy with it, flipping the thing back and forth among them as if they have been playing with it all their lives.

They listened to the song afterwards. Bill Black said, “Damn. Get that on the radio and they’ll run us out of town.”

Let’s listen to Arthur Crudup’s version, the version Elvis had listened to and absorbed.

The take Sam Phillips, Elvis, Scotty and Bill got was the take that went out. It’s a live take, all three guys playing at the same time,nothing added. What we hear is what happened in that moment. There is one alternate take in existence. But this, what you hear, is not engineered, manufactured, planned, or edited. That’s how it came out, when they were “fooling around”.

Let’s back into it. Because, of course, there was a preamble.


Elvis Presley, September 1954, 19 years old

On July 18, 1953, 18-year-old Elvis Presley walked into the Memphis Recording Service on 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, a recording outfit that had been created by Sam Phillips in 1950 to record new artists and find new (mostly African-American) sounds, something that obsessed Phillips. For a small fee, you could record a song at Memphis Recording Service, and you would be given a two-sided acetate disc upon completion, with a little label on it, just like you were a real recording artist.

There are varying theories as to why Elvis Presley, who had just graduated from high school, would choose to do this.

He himself said in interviews later that he wanted to give a present to his mother. He also said that he just wanted to hear what he sounded like. But more likely, he had ambition. More likely, he wanted to throw his hat into the ring. He had moved to Memphis with his family when he was 14, and he found himself swept away by the Beale Street scene as well as the rocking music from black churches. He had sung in a talent show in high school and did very well. He was painfully shy and dated a girl he met at church. It’s all a bit of a mystery what was going on with him, although there are numerous stories about how, when he was 16, 17, he started bringing a guitar to school, he started dressing in a distinctive manner to set himself apart, but in general his dreams remained private. Who knows why he walked into that studio.


Marion Keisker’s desk, the foyer of Sun Records

Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips’ devoted business partner, remembers vividly the teenager walking into the office for the first time, and how he asked her if they needed any singers for anything on the fledgling Sun label. He was holding a child’s guitar, and he stood in the doorway, looking ready to flee at any moment. At the time, he had a job at a machinists’ shop. Keisker knew why he was there, she could see the look of hunger in his eyes, but she interviewed him a bit to try to find out more.

She asked him, “What kind of singer are you?”

He replied, “I sing all kinds.”

She asked, trying to draw him out, “Who do you sound like?”

And Elvis replied, in a now famous statement, “I don’t sound like nobody.”

Marion was skeptical (wouldn’t you be?) She asked if he sang hillbilly music (he certainly looked the part) and he said that he did.

Then she asked again who he sounded like, in hillbilly? Elvis replied again, “I don’t sound like nobody.”

On the face of it, they may seem like arrogant remarks, but Keisker’s memory of the moment is that he was sincere, shy, and could barely speak above a whisper. There was something about him she found intriguing, so he recorded two songs on that day: “My Happiness” and “That’s Where the Heartache Begins”. She typed out a little label, put it on the record, and sent the pimply teenager on his way. Sam Phillips, in the control booth, had said to Elvis, “You’re an interesting singer”, an ambiguous statement, and he didn’t seem compelled to leap right up and record more with the boy. (I also would like to point out that it is no surprise that it was a WOMAN who first saw the potential in Elvis.)

And that was that. For some time. Elvis joked that his “overnight sensation” actually took a year.

Nobody was blown away by that first acetate. It was a conventional sound, a pop sound, and Sam Phillips was not interested in pop music. However, Elvis’ claim that he “don’t sound like nobody” is actually borne out a bit, if you listen to those two tracks. There’s clearly something there. But he still is trying to fit into a mold. You can hear it. He’s so young, a virgin, no experience in life except his vast love of music, and the eclectic nature of his musical interests (country, bluegrass, gospel, he loved it all).

Compare “My Happiness” (recording below) and “That’s Where the Heartache Begins” (recording also somewhere below) in 1953 to the songs he cut just a year later with a two-man band put together by Sam Phillips, the songs that would make Presley famous, and it’s like a different person. It’s actually unbelievable that it’s the same guy, and you wonder: Wow, Elvis, what did you DO during that year?

“My Happiness” was a hit song from 1948, which already made it an “oldie”, and Presley plays it straight, in a quavering tenor that sounds very very young. He also shows no hint of the “Is he black or white” confusion that would come just a year later, when he suddenly found a raw rough energy in his voice. You can just imagine Sam Phillips in the booth listening to this, thinking, “Well, at least recording shit like this pays my bills for the time being, but honest to GOD.”

Then he recorded a very pretty ballad the Ink Spots had made famous, “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” (sound clip below). It has one of those long bridges for a narration in it (similar to what Presley would do later in “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”). The narration part is obviously meant for a deep and manly voice, as per the style of the day. Presley sings the song and you can tell his guitar playing is rudimentary at best. He also does the narration during the bridge. I find it hysterical, because he is so completely out of his depth. He’s a teenager, and there he is pontificating on heartache in a phony deep speaking voice, totally making fun of himself (you can actually hear it in his voice), pretending he’s some grizzled middle-aged dude holding a cocktail looking back on the vagaries of youth. It’s quite funny. But you can also understand why Sam Phillips didn’t immediately leap from the booth and proclaim the kid his next big star. Elvis doesn’t seem to complete the song, either. He doesn’t go back to the song after the narration. Instead, he, maybe feeling foolish, it’s hard to tell, says, “That’s the end” and that’s that. The song has a strange intensity (I like it better than “My Happiness”) and he sings it with an ache to it, cut up by his goofing-off Sam Elliott narrator voice. It’s a bizarre recording.

After cutting those tracks, nothing much happened for a year.

He got a job driving a truck. He went to church. He started dating a girl named Dixie Locke from his church, and they hung out all the time. They would go to gospel revival meetings together, and Elvis would tell her how much he enjoyed this musical group, or that one, and how the quartet format of religious music was something he loved. Maybe he could get into that. Maybe he could join a group or something. And he kept stopping by the Sun Studio. Like clockwork. He would chat with Marion, she came to look forward to his visits. He would hang around, check out who was there, talk to people. He was a pest, although always polite. This also tells me that “I wanted to record something to give to my mother” was certainly not the whole truth. Sam Phillips was making a name for himself by recording black artists. Presley chose to hang out there. Unfortunately, later in his life, Presley never really gave interviews, or wrote anything, or wrote a memoir, so we don’t know what was going on with him, but he just kept stopping by. It eventually paid off. But for that long year, he coasted. He dated Dixie, mainly, and they shared a love of gospel music, it was one of their bonds.

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Elvis and Dixie Locke

The whole Dixie thing is actually quite fascinating, because it is the relationship that straddles the not-famous/famous divide. She knew him as deeply religious, they pledged to one another to “remain pure” until marriage, and I suppose she may have had some expectation that should he become a singer he would go the gospel route. She was still dating him when all hell broke loose a year later, and she would go to see his shows with Elvis’ parents – who loved her – and she felt nervous about what was going on in those stands with the screaming girls. Not that what he was doing was bad, but it seemed to be taking him far away from her, from his roots, from who she thought he was. She was shocked by it. He began touring, he was away for long periods of time, Dixie found herself hanging out at the Presley’s house all the time, as she reminisced with Elvis’ mother about how awesome Elvis was and how much they both loved him. He went as her date to her junior prom. Out on the road, girls were ripping his clothes off backstage, and he had most probably abandoned the promise to remain pure until marriage, and yet there he is in the prom photo, in a tux, holding Dixie’s arm. They were good friends.

For a while, he had feet in both worlds – he still could do that – but finally, it just got to be too big and he left Dixie behind.

Listening to his plaintive delicate voice on those tracks in 1953 (Elvis? Delicate? Yes.), it is unfathomable that he would explode the proprieties of the day a year later, sending teenage girls into orgasmic public frenzies, and upending the traditional classification of music genres in one fell swoop.

Elvis Presley wasn’t some mythical God, he wasn’t a legend or something artificially put together like Frankenstein. The Image of Presley may have won the war, but individual battles for his artistry and his journey are still being fought along the way.

When Presley told Marion Keisker in 1953, “I don’t sing like nobody” – how did he know that? Because he doesn’t come roaring out of the gate with those first two tracks. So, alone in his room, was he messing around in the way he started messing around one night during his first real recording session at Sun on July 5, 1954, the moment when Sam Phillips said, “YES. That’s IT!” Did he feel in his bones that vast VOID that was in American culture at that time, a void that needed someone to come along and fill it up? Or … was he working on instinct?

It was probably a blending of both, conscious and unconscious. Sam Phillips was very interesting on his own yearning at that time, saying that he didn’t even know what sound he was looking for, he didn’t know how to describe it because it didn’t exist yet – but the search for it was what drove him on so tirelessly. However, in 1953, Sam Phillips didn’t hear it in Presley. A year later, he did. And then, almost by accident. It was Presley goofing off on this fateful day that made Sam Phillips shout, A HA.

And once that track went out on the local air-waves not too much long after, all hell broke loose. Elvis hadn’t even played a live show at that point. He was completely green. But you wouldn’t know that from “That’s All Right.” The fans in Memphis crowded around the radio station clamoring for more. Elvis’ first time in front of a live audience of any significant size was on July 30, 1954, at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. He and Scotty and Bill only had two songs in their repertoire at that point. Elvis was so nervous that night that he actually shed tears on the back steps of the Shell before the show. Sam Phillips found him there, pacing and stuttering and panicking. Sam had to talk him off the ledge. And Elvis performed that night and the crowd went wild.


Where Elvis stood when he recorded “That’s All Right” on July 5, 1954

And here it is. The “Rosetta Stone”. The track that started it all.

July 5, 1954, during a moment of letting off steam during a frustrating and seemingly unproductive recording session, Elvis busted loose. As a joke really. As a way to relax himself. But also as a way to say, “Here is who I really am.” And Sam was there to record it.

That’s the explanation of what happened. There is still so much more that cannot be explained. It could have been a fluke. It could have been a one-shot deal. It wasn’t. They had tapped into the Mother Lode.

Posted in Music, On This Day | Tagged | 17 Comments

Happy 4th of July

Marvin Gaye Sings Star Spangled Banner – 1983 All Star Game – Los Angeles, CA from Neil Gronowetter on Vimeo.

Posted in Music, On This Day | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

June 2016 Viewing Diary

Homeland Season 3, Episode 4 “Game On” (2013; d. David Nutter)
Hey, Nutter, what’s up? Thanks for the Supernatural pilot. Going on 12 seasons now, you set it up real good. I have now watched up until Season 5 of Homeland. Honestly, I was so sick of the Brody family that I was ready for them to GO. It was such a relief when they exited the stage because the soap opera in that house – romances and psych wards and sex in laundry rooms – like, come on, who is this show for, and what is it about. Lots of bipolar drama, too, which, frankly, I am surprised I can sit through.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 5 “Yoga Play” (2013; d. Clark Johnson)
I loved the “yoga play.” You know why? Because anything to do with tradecraft taps into my black Special Ops heart. Also: QUINN. Who is now my favorite character and basically why I am still watching.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 6 “Still Positive” (2013; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
Pretty horrifying murder in this one. I am amazed that this man was able to enter the country. I know a couple of people who work border patrol and those folks do not mess around. Sometimes the “cliffhanger race against the clock” nature of Homeland gets on my nerves.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 7 “Gerontion” (2013; d. Carl Franklin)
Shaun Toub is perfect in his role: a complex and yet also very simple man. Demons. Lots of fear. Trying to save his ass. It makes any scene he appears in a powder keg. OH QUINN I LOVE YOU SO.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 8 “A Red Wheelbarrow” (2013; d. Seith Mann)
I loved this episode for its title alone. Also this whole thing seemed a little far-fetched and quite a gamble: Let’s lock Carrie up in a psych ward, “out” her as bipolar, in the hopes that her vulnerability will make the enemy come forward to recruit her so she can get Intel. Whaddya know, it worked!

Homeland Season 3, Episode 9 “One Last Thing” (2013; d. Jeffrey Reiner)
God, now Brody is hooked on heroin. This poor man. But I’m ready for him to leave.

Appropriate Adult, Part 1 (2011; d. Julian Jerrold)
I heard this mentioned in conversation somewhere, can’t remember where, and everyone was raving about it. It sounded right up my alley, so I watched. It’s incredible. Emily Watson, a brand new social worker, is hired as an “appropriate adult” to assist in criminal proceedings against a husband-wife serial-killing team. It’s a notorious real-life case, and the killings themselves haunt me: that house, that couple, the back yard … it’s horrifying. Dominic West, nearly unrecognizable with his short curly hair, is disgusting and yet emotional and charming, just like the real-life guy apparently was. And Emily Watson gets sucked into the web.

Appropriate Adult, Part 2 (2011; d. Julian Jerrold)
It was a mini-series so it was wrapped up in two episodes. I started getting very uncomfortable when she started visiting him in prison, and they started corresponding. Lines blurred. Plus, the bipolar husband. Bipolar is a theme in television/movies right now. Well, good for them. It’s my LIFE.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 10 “Good Night” (2013; d. Keith Gordon)
I’m alllllllll about Quinn.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 11 “Big Man in Tehran” (2013; d. Daniel Monacan)
Craziness in Tehran. Again, seems like a far-fetched plan. To embed Brody to … why not Special Forces? That’s their gig. But Brody does the job. Messily with an ashtray. In the dude’s office. How to extract him? Well, of COURSE he won’t be extracted. Quinn would have snuck out like a cat burglar because he is, in general, invisible, like all snipers are.

July and Half of August (2015; d. Brandeaux Tourville)
My own movie, screened in Brooklyn!

They Drive By Night (1940; d. Raoul Walsh)
George Raft and Humphrey Bogart (pre-Casablanca Bogart, when Raft was the much bigger star) play truck-driving brothers, on the circuit, doing dangerous night-time routes with truck-loads of fruit, in desperate times that makes them push themselves to the limit. Driving with no sleep, etc. Gritty and realistic. And then enter Ida Lupino. The following year she would co-star (again with Bogart) in High Sierra and she became a star. And it was her performance in They Drive By Night that got everyone’s attention. And it still is an attention-getter, particularly the final scene when she takes the stand in the courtroom. Listen, you’ve probably heard about that scene. It’s very famous. And if you haven’t heard about it, now perhaps you will, because it’s talked about all the time. It is a great GREAT piece of acting, completely wiping out all of the stuff that came before. She is on another level with what she is doing in that scene. It’s still terrifying.

Homeland Season 3, Episode 12 “The Star” (2013; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
Pretty awful execution scene. But why she loves Brody is still a mystery to me.

The Conjuring 2 (2016; d. James Wan)
Jen and I saw the first one together (she’s my go-to friend for terrifying movies. We have a blast) so I took her to the press screening. I loved the first one, mainly because of the depth of the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. In general, not a fan of the latter, but this feels like a role she has really embraced, down to the rings, the body language, the hair, everything. Great character. And Elvis Presley (or at least his music) is featured in not one, not two, but THREE scenes!!

Homeland Season 4, Episode 1 “The Drone Queen” (2014; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
The entire season should be titled “Clusterfuck.” With a major MAJOR “Inappropriate Sexual Relationship Is a Massive UNDERSTATEMENT” arc. I couldn’t wait until that one was over because I CRINGED.

Homeland Season 4, Episode 2 “Trylon and Perisphere” (2014; d. Keith Gordon)
Fascinating episode split up in two parallel stories: Carrie being unable to deal with her daughter. Her sister is a fucking SAINT. And then Quinn, holed up in a motel, bonding with his landlady, getting drunk, and having sex. He’s looking for a way out. The landlady is very overweight, and I loved that the show didn’t make a big deal out of it and – more crucial – did not make it look like Quinn was “slumming.” She was a person. With an adorable haircut, nobody’s fool, and kind of blown away that this was happening to her. It’s like she fears if she blinks he’ll vanish. And of course he will. But not for one second did I get the feeling that Quinn needed drunk-goggles to fuck her – even though theirs is a drinking relationship. What he really saw in her was a sympathetic listener, a way station, an emissary from the normal world, a fun drinking partner, and someone to fantasize about who had nothing to do with Pakistan/Intelligence/Death.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 3 “Shalwar and Kameez” (2014; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
Now begins the Sexually Inappropriate Arc and please tell me when it’s over.

Puerto Ricans in Paris (2016; d. Ian Edelman)
Someone Tweeted hatefully and contemptuously at me for liking this movie. Whatever. Any movie that STARS Luis Guzman is okay by me.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 4 “Iron in the Fire” (2014; d. Michael Offer)
I am so uncomfortable with what is happening that I can barely watch anymore. But one of the things I love about Season 4 is the soapy sub-plot of the Ambassador (the fantastic Laila Robins) and her pathetic husband (who was “Duck Phillips” on Mad Men: guy seems to be making a career of playing weak pathetic guys. But I love the Arc. He’s so AWFUL and SELFISH. I love the detail, too, about how he plagiarized a book and ruined his career. Following his successful wife around. The whole thing is very entertaining.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 5 “About a Boy” (2014; d. Charlotte Sieling)
CARRIE. STOP IT.

The Bachelorette, Season 12, Episode 2
Okay, so I have been out of touch with this show for years. But reading the excellent and HILARIOUS Vulture re-caps (someone Tweeted one of them and I read one) made me think, “Let me check this out again.” Now I am hooked. “The Chad” dominated the opening episodes and it was so fascinating. Why it was fascinating was how the GUYS reacted, not her. JoJo, to get you up to speed. It was how the guys sort of organized themselves in loathing to this one guy … and watching it go down was like watching an anthropological documentary. Many many funny moments. Of course I realize the editing is manipulative. But there’s enough real behavior that it’s all been fascinating. My favorites so far? The boxing club owner whom she inexplicably sent home. Chase. James. I like Jordan but I think he seems a little immature. My sister and I text throughout the entire day after any given episode, sharing our thoughts and reactions. It’s a blast.

The Bachelorette, Season 12, Episode 3
Oh my God, Chad. He literally appears to be having a psychotic break.

The Bachelorette, Season 12, Episode 4
I’m not sure I get the appeal of Luke. Yes, he was a war veteran, and that has the potential of being attractive. Yes, they canoodled in a hot tub but you can do that with anyone. When he opens his mouth, platitudes come out, interspersed with “like”, so he is basically a war veteran Valley Girl. Cool hair, though. I still like Chase the best. I like Wells, too, but he doesn’t stand a chance. He’s too real, too regular. And not sure the appeal of Alex at all. He feels like he’s about 15 years old to me and I’m not saying that because he’s short.

All Is Lost (2013; d. J. C. Chandor)
I was sitting having breakfast with Chrisanne out in Long Beach. Alex was gone for the day. Chrisanne and I started talking about survival tactics and techniques, and how we think we would fare faced with life or death situations. The Revenant came up. Other similar stories. I mentioned All Is Lost. She had never seen it. She got so excited she said, “Let’s get the check and go home immediately to watch it.” Which is what we did. At one point, she got so tense that she moved from the couch up to the ottoman closer to the television and I didn’t even notice her doing it. It was like she teleported. Then, as his boat was sinking slowly, and he kept going back on it to retrieve more possessions – she had finally had it and screamed: “NO MORE FIXING. NO MORE FIXING.” Great afternoon.

The Path, Season 1, Episode 1, “What the Fire Throws” (2016; d. Mike Cahill)
Chrisanne is obsessed with The Path and I had never seen it so she sent me home with the screeners SAG/AFTRA sends out in Emmy season. It’s about cults, so naturally I’m into it. Very creepy, and I love all of these actors: Michelle Monaghan, Hugh Dancy, Aaron Paul. It’s a cult reminiscent of a few I could mention, with its own quirks. I watched the first 6 episodes. It’s a bit circular, and the movement is repetitive – although interesting – so I’m not sure if I’ll keep watching. I like its examination of black-and-white thinking and just how threatening doubt can be. Like: no doubt allowed. (Side note: I love that this was created by a woman. It was her story, her idea. Every little bit counts.)

The Path, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Era of the Ladder” (2016; d. Mike Cahill)
Okay, these people are already driving me crazy. Wonderful cast though. I love the kids. I love the teenage boy. I love the relationships and how they are unfolding to us: it’s mysterious and they all speak cult-language but it’s becoming clear. Hugh Dancy is great. So manipulative. So hollow. You get the sense he doesn’t even believe. He just wants the power.

The American Friend (1977; d. Wim Wenders)
Yet another fascinating attempt at bringing Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley to the screen. This is the best movie of the bunch, although Dennis Hopper – as wonderful as he always is – doesn’t really resonate with the off-putting otherness of Ripley (in the way that Alain Delon – the best Ripley yet – does.) But the whole art forgery thing in the Ripley books (and the made-up Derwatt paintings and the sheer scope of the pretense) is fascinating so you get all of these great cameos, including director giants such as eyepatched Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller. And Bruno Ganz is extraordinary. It’s really his movie. How an “ordinary” man finds himself doing the most extraordinary things, things he never would have thought possible.

The Path, Season 1, Episode 3, “A Homecoming” (2016; d. Michael Weaver)
It took me a second to realize that that was Kathleen Turner, although her smoky-sexy voice will always be the giveaway. An extraordinary performance, out of left field, truly disturbing, a drunk on her way to dementia. I saw her in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway and it was one of the greatest pieces of live-acting I’ve ever seen.

The Killing (1956; d. Stanley Kubrick)
An extraordinary film, both acting-wise and visually. Another “heist” movie – I’ve been watching a lot of those lately. Sterling Hayden (whom I love, and the Criterion release has a GREAT interview with him where he says “I started at the top and then moved on down …”) is terrific (one of the best voices ever, makes my toes curl) – everyone is. Each guy is essential to the heist coming off, and it has to go like clockwork. Of course … things go wrong. And then it starts to unravel. Very REAL-looking cast, tough-guys and regular-looking people, plus Elijah Cook Jr.

Wiener-Dog (2016; d. Todd Solondz)
I can’t get this one out of my head. Someone said to me on Twitter that he hated it because it didn’t provide catharsis or emotional release. Well, it DID provide an emotional release for me … although it’s a hopeless and angry film. The “release” had to do with futility and the impossibility of finding long-lasting joy. But this person seemed to feel that a film was not successful if it didn’t provide a catharsis. (He’s young.) I disagree STRONGLY. To the Greeks, “catharsis” did not mean “finding SOME hope,” “fellow felling,” or whatever. “Catharsis” involved PITY and TERROR. There by the grace of God … Or: My God, how HORRIBLE. Whatever. Wiener-Dog is not unsuccessful because it refuses to provide a catharsis or release. Not every film is meant to be hopeful and cathartic. It may be your PREFERENCE that they are – but that’s a different question. I reviewed for Rogerebert.com.

The Path, Season 1, Episode 4, “The Future” (2016; d. Michael Weaver)
So far so good. Lots of plot-lines and intrigue. Everything holding together. The rules of this cult starting to become clear. The delusion of it. The glimpses of doubt, and groupthink, and what punishment looks like, the desire human beings have to “follow.” I like its patience, even though there doesn’t seem to be much progress. The acting is really really good.

The Path, Season 1, Episode 5, “The Hole” (2016; d. Patrick R. Norris)
I like the tentative fraught-with-nerves budding romance between the teenage son and his classmate. It seems like sending kids to school would be a pretty risky thing. I also like how Michelle Monaghan – True Believer as she is – seems to struggle with memories, wondering about the outside world, her lost sister, etc. But boy, she is a ferocious believer.

The Path, Season 1, Episode 6, “Breaking and Entering” (2016; d. Patrick R. Norris)
Teenage son brings home his evicted girlfriend and mother and siblings. He asks his family to tone down the proselytizing. But of course they don’t. From the second they enter that house, a love-bombing recruitment process begins. I LOVE how teenage son races out to the truck after girlfriend leaves the “church” and then they basically leap into one another’s arms, tearing at one another’s clothes. This should get interesting.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 6 “From A to B and Back Again” (2014; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
It’s getting worse in the safehouse. I can barely watch. It’s horrible. Quinn reads Carrie the riot act. I love it. Quinn could probably slaughter a bunch of innocent animals at this point and I’d forgive him.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 7 “Redux” (2014; d. Carl Franklin)
Tracy Letts is kicking ass recently. Well he always has. As a playwright (we were in Chicago at the same time and I remember the first production of Killer Joe – starring Michael Shannon – and it was like a bomb going off. I ended up being in the first production done outside of Chicago, which is where I met Michael. No, it’s not all about me. But it kind of is.) Tracy Letts was great in Wiener-Dog (see above) and he’s great here too.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 8 “Halfway to a Donut” (2014; d. Alex Graves)
Oh, Duck Phillips, you are pathetic as a man and even more pathetic as a spy. Really enjoy this arc. Saul being abducted is okay, although Mandy Patinkin’s acting is often very self-serving. He’s excellent, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a soloist, not a team player.

Le Cercle Rouge (1970; d. Jean-Pierre Melville)
I love this movie so much, I own it on Criterion, and it features Alain Delon and Yves Montand, seedy and wordless and COMPETENT in mostly silent roles. Another heist movie, clearly inspired by Rafifi: the heist here is equally elaborate and also takes place mostly in silence. Brilliant. I always have to close my eyes in the Yves Montand “delirium tremens” scene which ambushed me the first time I saw it and I have goosebumps of horror just remembering it. Not only are the “beasts” terrible … that WALLPAPER.

Love & Friendship (2016; d. Whit Stillman)
One of my favorite movies of the year so far. One of the most – if not THE most – Austen-ish of any Austen film adaptation. Fantastic. I love Whit Stillman so much.

Shoah: Part One (1985; Claude Lanzmann)
We had to watch some of this in a college history class on the Holocaust. I had never seen it before. It’s fascinating and extremely depressing, of course, but not exactly in the way I expected. Lanzmann is obsessed with the HOW of it all. Who drove the trains? Who lived across the railroad tracks? Who worked in the camps? What were your duties? Tell me exactly how it went? It’s not that there isn’t judgment in his questions. Obviously there is because this entire thing is a moral issue. But he doesn’t approach his subjects with open outrage. He wants them to talk to him. To tell him everything. How often did the trains run? Did you know what was happening in that church? Who owned this house before you did? Oh, it was a Jewish family? Did you ever ask yourself what happened to them? All of this done with the help of the most dogged translator in the world. I felt the need to re-visit it in such dangerous terrible times. To remember.

5 Easy Pieces (1970; d. Bob Rafelson)
The movie that ushered in the 70s. It could never ever be made now. It’s a brilliant and bleak treatise on loneliness, and total dissociation from meaning. And the final shot is a masterpiece. Amazing performances from Nicholson, Karen Black, Sally Struthers, and the two other “easy pieces.” That’s all they are. Pieces. They don’t add up to much. And so he’s off again.

OJ Made in America, Part 1 (2016; d. Ezra Edelman)
You might think we’d all be OJ-d out. There was the initial event which PLEASE STOP IT NEWS MEDIA that exhausted the nation. Then there was the mini-series this year. And now this 5-part documentary on ESPN. I know Edelman was a little bummed out that the mini-series beat him to the punch but the timing actually couldn’t have been more perfect. This documentary is extremely well done and examines all of the issues – racial, class, gender – that that case brought up. It’s also still infuriating. Because the man got away with murder. At least he’s in jail now. Again.

Nuts! (2016; d. Penny Lane)
Wonderful! Everything you wanted to know about the 1920s/30s quackery of goat-gland specialist “Doctor” John Brinkley. Loved it. Reviewed for Ebert.

OJ Made in America, Part 2 (2016; d. Ezra Edelman)
This whole thing stresses me out. I get too pissed off. But still: it enthralls. Flashbacks to the whole sordid horrible thing. Fuhrman. FUHRMAN. Oh, prosecution, you all were morons. There was literally a trail of blood leading from the bodies TO O.J.’S HOUSE. How do you fuck that up? You put Fuhrman on the stand.

OJ Made in America, Part 3 (2016; d. Ezra Edelman)
I wish Chris Darden had consented to be interviewed but I understand why he didn’t want to dredge it up again. But everyone else is there: OJ’s friends, policemen, courtroom people, bystanders, two jurors, Jeffrey Toobin, everyone.

OJ Made in America, Part 4 (2016; d. Ezra Edelman)
The defense team was shameless. But the prosecution was incompetent.

Millennium, Season 2, Episode 22 “The Fourth Horseman” (1998; d. Dwight Little)
Keith and I picked up where we left off. I love the Biblical stuff and I love how philosophical Season 2 is. It’s like a longer version of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

Millennium, Season 2, Episode 23 “The Time Is Now” (1998; d. Dwight Little)
Very Supernatural Season 3/4-ish: Pestilence spreading. And it gets bad. And the final shot of Season 2 is quietly terrifying. Loved it.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 1 “The Innocents” (1998; d. Thomas J. Wright)
Chris Carter back in charge as show-runner and Keith had warned me that some of the themes introduced in Season 2 would take a back seat. I’m fine with anything this show decides to do. I’m loving it. I love his new partner, Emma Hollis (Klea Scott). I like Lance Henriksen in scenes with women. Some very interesting things come out. He’s an intelligent man, drawn to intelligent challenging women.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 2 “Exegesis” (1998; d. Ralph Hemecker)
There’s a really interesting twist to this one and a throwback of an Arc that goes back to Season 1 (I think? The seasons are so long). Emma Hollis rising in importance. She’s not afraid to be pushy, to get what she wants. She’s ambitious. She’s super-smart. I like her.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 3 “TEOTWAWKI” (1998; d. Thomas J. Wright)
A little bit prophetic for my taste. Columbine was a year away. But here is the anxiety of that event beforehand. And now, of course, episodes like this are tragically rote, and Sandy Hook? Forget about it.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 4 “Closure” (1998; d. Daniel Sackheim)
Interesting backstory provided for Emma, which shows that a lot of people get into that line of work in order to find revenge/justice for their loved ones. Another similarity to Supernatural.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 5 “”…Thirteen Years Later”” (1998; d. Thomas J. Wright)
It’s so nice to see Supernatural favorite Thomas J. Wright all over the place in Millennium. KISS is involved in this episode, making a cameo appearance. How is that possible? Well, it is. When Frank gets his visions in this one, he sees flash-cards of each KISS member, leering at the camera. Keith and I were roaring.

Millennium, Season 3, Episode 6 “There’s Something Else Going On” (1998; d. Thomas J. Wright)
You bet your ass there is.

Life Animated (2016; d. Roger Ross Williams)
A beautiful and really emotional documentary about an autistic boy who figures out a way to communicate through the Disney animated movies he loves so much. Opens today. My review at Rogerebert.com.

All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1 (2007; d. Robert Singer)
For my latest re-cap, of which the number of comments has almost reached 200. Not bragging. Just saying that the amount of work these take is worth it when you see the conversations they ignite.

The Bachelorette, Season 12, Episode 5
I told you I was hooked. Robbie seems like a nonentity to me. WHY do you love JoJo, Robbie? Not that she’s not lovable – I love her – but … why do YOU love her? Or do you just want to “say it” first? When he said it to her, what was her response? “Thank you.” Ouch.

Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 16, “Safe House” (2016; d. Stefan Pleszczynski)
“It’s Shabbat!” I hadn’t watched this one since it aired. I’m still really impressed with it, and the time and the care they put into that creepy space, and how eerie it was. Plus killer fight-scene between JA and JP, something that always pleases me.

Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 17, “Red Meat” (2016; d. Nina Lopez-Conrado)
I hadn’t watched this one since it aired either. Or I don’t think I did. Either way, this may be one of the best episodes of the season, just in terms of how it deals with the ultimate question: the death of one of these guys. It’s hard to believe it could have any resonance or any finality – but Nina pulled it off. Bold use of slo-mo. Phenomenal acting. My favorite moment currently is the look on Dean’s face when he says “This is gonna hurt like hell …” You know what that’s called? That is called an actor being IN THE MOMENT.

Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 19, “The Chitters” (2016; d. Eduardo Sánchez)
Maybe not quite as good on a re-watch, and boy does it have a long LONG monologue 3/4s of the way through – I had forgotten just how long it was (actor plays the hell out of it though.) I still love Jesse and Cesar, and what they brought to the table, to the series in general. It has always bothered me that there weren’t gay hunters. Not once, guys? Ever? What the hell. There’s every OTHER kind of hunter. Also, maybe if there were LGBT hunters, Dean wouldn’t be so gaga-taken-aback when he meets “one”? Still a funny moment. AND, Dean said the words “settle down.” Please let’s take a moment to acknowledge it and how it shows growth, change, a weird sense of adulthood, asking the important question, acknowledging a RELATIONSHIP that CAN exist. And he ends up protecting that relationship. I imagine that Sam and Dean would have flip-flopped on what to do in that situation throughout the series. Sam would have been a softie, except for … well, when he’s not. ANYWAY. Also: how hilarious that that actress is supposed to be the sheriff of a small town? I’ve lived in small towns. Never seen a sheriff look like THAT. She’s so gorgeous that I am sure if you saw her in real-life you might walk into a mailbox, craning your neck to look at her. Also, the “orgy-ish” comment and the tired “Really??” look she gives Dean. No matter where he goes, SOMEBODY gives him that look.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 10, “13 Hours in Islamabad” (2014; d. Dan Attias)
Yes, let’s just show our enemies how easy it is to break into our Embassies, shall we? Pretty tense episode, though, with Tracy Letts again killing it, as well as Laila Robins. Carrie is beyond the pale. She’s pretty much a shitty person at this point and should probably be fired. Claire Danes is fearless in playing these unattractive elements.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 11, “Krieg Nicht Lieb” (2014; d. Clark Johnson)
Holy shitballs, I had no idea NINA HOSS appeared in this series!! One of the best actresses on the planet today? Not an exaggeration. If you haven’t seen Phoenix, then I just don’t know what you are waiting for. (See her in all of her collaborations with Christian Petzold: my favorite collaboration going on right now. Nina Hoss can do ANYTHING.) AND, even better: she suddenly shows up as Quinn’s lover – i.e. long-term friends with benefits – even better – AND she looks at Carrie with this cool almost amused stare, knowing she can handle this frantic American. She’s world class at tradecraft and beats Carrie at her own game.

Homeland, Season 4, Episode 12, “Long Time Coming” (2014; d. Lesli Linka Glatter)
I found this to be an extremely touching episode and very good on all of the details: what a wake can feel like, that there can be joy at such gatherings, a togetherness. Carrie starting to open up to the fact that she’s a mother. Beautiful scene in the park with one of her father’s friends. Quinn suddenly appearing in the distance. (Oh QUINN I HEART YOU.) The two finally kiss and it’s just as sloppy and passionate as I could have hoped for. But alas, not meant to be. Felt that the “Call me with your answer” bit was contrived, and not at all Quinn-like. It was manipulative, a race to the finish. If she says “No” then off I will go to war again. I think it was still effective but I felt them turn up the heat under that thing and you didn’t need it.

Rope (1948; d. Alfred Hitchcock)
It works better as a stage play. The one-take thing is impressive, all of the dialogue and blocking, but somehow … there’s something not quite right about this. Jimmy Stewart is great. Farley Granger wears his guilt on his sleeve. I’m working on something pretty huge right now, so had to re-watch this one.

Shoah: Part Two (1985; Claude Lanzmann)
I will force myself to continue. It’s important. Very very important.

You Can’t Take It With You (1938; d. Frank Capra)
I don’t care how many times I see it, it still makes me laugh, and then it makes me cry when Edward Arnold takes out his harmonica at the end.

Supernatural, Season 2, Episode “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part II” (2007; d. Kim Manners)
Superb. You know, I live in hope and I’m preparing for the next re-cap. Whenever that will launch.

OJ Made in America: Part 5 (2016; d. Ezra Edelman)
Had to force myself it finish it. It’s that good. That upsetting.

Captain Fantastic (2016; d. Matt Ross)
Opens next week. Will be reviewing for Ebert.

Carnage Park (2016; d. Mickey Keating)
Opens today. My review at Rogerebert.com.

The Shallows (2016; d. Jaume Collet-Serra)
It just opened. Jen and I (I told you we like to go see tense movies together) went to see it a couple of days ago. HOLY SHIT Y’ALL. It’s amazing. The main comparison I can think of is not Jaws or Castaway but Aliens. SEE IT.

The Last Tycoon Season 1, Episode 1, The Pilot (2016; d. Billy Ray)
The pilot just launched on Amazon. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, of course. With Matt Bomer (Magic Mike XXL!!) as Monroe Stahr. Incredible production and costume design. Amazing cast. I know two people who appear in it – well, one is my cousin so of course I know her – we grew up together – and – coincidentally – BOTH of them played the lead female role in my script, one in the big New York staged reading, and one in the short film. Worlds collide. Two “Neve”s in this thing? I felt like I was THERE. Kerry O’Malley as one of the hard-working stable of screenwriters at the fictional studio. Annika Marks as the wife of one of the screenwriters. It’s excellent. We all hope it will get picked up, so go watch it on Amazon (you don’t even need an account), and then VOTE FOR IT.

The Bachelorette, Season 12, Episode 6
Oh, JoJo, no. You just said you believe passion should last forever. You just said you are looking for a “unicorn.” Now I suddenly am doubting your judgment. (My sister and I have been texting about this episode for 24 hours now.)
1. Luke’s monologue: “I just like feel strongly for you and I like just want more of you and like sitting here in like Argentina with all this like culture is the best thing ever.” Meanwhile her hand is resting in his crotch. Listen, it’s okay to have a hookup. Go for it. Maybe you’re not ready to settle down, JoJo? That’s totally okay. I wasn’t in my 20s either.
2. Derek is so sure he will win that he now seems to be losing touch with reality. SPOILER ALERT: Which means he was then blind-sided when JoJo picked Chase. He could not believe it. And then my heart broke watching him in his car ride away from the show. He was so upset he began to speak of himself in the third person. It was … I couldn’t believe it was happening, I guess is what I’m trying to say? At one point he said, tearing up, staring out the window. “I guess it’s not my turn to be happy.” He will CRINGE when he sees this … but it was actually kind of tragic.
3. I love Chase. For me, Chase is the Dark Horse. When she asked him to open up, he did in a way that was recognizably human, awkward, and … charming, as a result. He’s not a “playa.” He seemed genuinely shocked when she said, “Maybe I like you more than you like me.” He had no idea the signals he was giving out. Fascinating. I told you, it’s like watching creatures in a zoo. And I’m dating now, because I’m sick of having a dead cold heart, and this whole thing is actually extremely enlightening. I used to know all this shit because once upon a time I was a floozy. I never believed in a “unicorn” don’t get me wrong, but I was out and about and used to this kind of engagement. So now I’m basically starting to exercise those muscles again. I have some extremely funny stories. I’m like the stereotypical guy in every scenario. The guy gets mushy, I put the brakes on. The guy wants to talk deeply, I wonder if I will get laid that night, AS he’s talking deeply to me. Clearly I might not be ready for this kind of quest right now, and I never said I wasn’t difficult. But the men in my past – the big ones – Michael and the man who shall be known as M. (or Window-Boy, for old-timers – there’s a worlds-collide thing happening with him right now that is so hilarious it borders on the totally surreal but I’ll share it when it becomes a reality) – anyway – neither of them sweated any of this, or found me difficult, or if they did it was just “Oh, that’s Sheila, and I like her.” And both of THEM were difficult too and it didn’t matter to me because I liked/loved them. Neither Michael nor M. were in any way/shape/form unicorns, just regular people who liked me as I was. You see? The Bachelorette is sneaky in that it is rather deep, or at least it makes me ponder all of these things. Bonus point for Chase: he effortlessly went to pull JoJo’s chair out for her – he did it automatically – and Crybaby Derek looked like he thought he should have thought of that – but Chase didn’t have to think of it. He just did it. Chase and James are my current favorites. But then there’s JoJo’s hand in Luke’s crotch to consider. As well as her adoration of Jordan, who is nice, but seems like a college student to me in terms of his development.
4. Dear James, it is never a good look to gossip about the other men when you have a “one on one” with JoJo. But when he says, “I really am the best man for her here” – I kinda believe him.
5. I fear that James may have a permanent scar on his eyelid from that football-playing challenge.
6. What exactly does Alex bring to the table? He also has glimmers of a real anger problem and he’s not even aware of it.

I have spoken more about The Bachelorette here than I have about Shoah. I’m sorry.

To Each His Own (1946; d. Mitchell Leisen)
I watched this last night (it’s on Youtube in its entirety) to celebrate the 100th birthday (today) of Olivia de Havilland who is still alive and with us. Olivia de Havilland is one of the greatest actresses in cinema history and if all you know of her is Gone With the Wind (for which she was nominated for Best Supporting), then I beg of you to branch out. See The Snake Pit (another Oscar nom, this time for Lead), Hold Back the Dawn, another nom, her tour de force in The Heiress, for which she won an Oscar (it is one of the all-time great performances by an actress ever), and then this one – To Each His Own, another Oscar win. I watch this film and I swear, I can barely breathe. It’s a “woman’s picture”, the money-making juggernaut that used to be an accepted part of Hollywood, as opposed to now, when an all-female Ghostbusters brings out the raging virgins of outrage. (If a female Ghostbusters “ruins your childhood,” then you should get down on bended knee and thank the Lord above that he has spared you any REAL pain in your childhood.) This is one of the popular stories of female martyrdom (which Molly Haskell analyzes so brilliantly in her essential volume, From Reverence to Rape) which was a way for the somewhat-disenfranchised female audience to let off a little steam, weep for what they have given up, weep because someone understands the difficulty of the choices. Career or motherhood? Love or practicality? And etc. But the two final scenes … the two final scenes … If they do not destroy you and reduce you to a puddle, get your heart checked! And finally: Olivia de Havilland’s mousy spinster-before-her-time character sleeps with a pilot who breezes his way through town – she’s clearly never slept with anyone before but she falls for him. Their one night results in a pregnancy. He’s long gone by that time. Then word comes that he’s been shot down over France (WWI). There is a frank discussion with a doctor about a possible illness that needs surgery – but if she does it, she needs to make a choice: her own life or the baby’s: it’s either/or. She says, “Well, the choice is clear” (meaning: I’ll get the surgery.) Nobody blinks an eye. In 1946, that seemed like a reasonable choice. We have gone backward. But then something happens and she ends up having the baby. She breaks the news to her elderly father, who is shocked. She’s never even had a boyfriend. How did this happen? She huddles in the corner, away from him, sobbing, “You’ve always been proud of me … I am sorry to have shamed you” and he approaches her saying, “Josie.” She won’t turn around. He says, “Turn around, Josie.” She does. He puts his hands on her shoulders and says, “We don’t judge each other here. We love each other, we don’t judge each other.” SOBBING. Having a baby out of wedlock is still a big BIG deal … but on an interpersonal level, it’s quite a different story. An INCREDIBLE performance from de Havilland, who goes from age 18 to 40 … with a total personality change, due to her hardships and loneliness, a hardening of the heart … and then: those two final scenes. Breathtaking.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISS OLIVIA.

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Life, Animated (2016)

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I wept openly during this beautiful emotional documentary about Owen Suskind, a kid who developed autism at age 3, retreated from the world, until he discovered that he could communicate to the outside world – as well as express his emotions – through the Disney animated movies he loved so much. Incredible film. Highly recommend it.

My review of Life, Animated is now up at Rogerebert.com.

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Carnage Park (2016)

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Dumb. Derivative. Empty.

My review of Carnage Park is now up at Rogerebert.com.

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Happy 100th, Olivia de Havilland

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She’s still with us, physically and mentally. Her birthday is tomorrow. One of the greatest actresses in the world.

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