February 2017 Viewing Diary

Silence (2016; d. Martin Scorsese)
I was completely flattened by this gorgeous and overwhelming movie. Most of the Oscar winners pale in comparison to what was going on in this film, directed by an absolute master. Passionate, reflective, powerful.

50 Shades Darker (2017; d. James Foley)
Silly, but not without some entertaining bits. In particular, Dakota. No last name necessary. My review.

Supernatural Season 12, Episode 11, “Regarding Dean” (2017; d. John Badham)
This felt more like the show that I know. It’s not that I only want what’s familiar, or what is expected. That’s not me at all. But the show has lost something essential … its ESSENCE, this season, and that’s what has disturbed me and made it such a disheartening watch. Here, it seems to remember who it is. Mainly: that it’s interested in the two main characters, Jeez Louise, for God’s SAKE. I also found it interesting though – and it was inadvertent, of that I’m sure – that it was an episode about amnesia, where one of the main beloved characters slowly forgets who he is, bit by bit. It feels like a metaphor for what has happened to the entire show in Season 12. Do they realize it? Do they look in the mirror like Dean did, wondering who the hell they are now? Because they SHOULD. But credit where credit is due: this was a good episode. Very unsatisfying all-too-brief brothers-talking scene at the end of the episode. The writers don’t know how to write Sam and Dean anymore, and have no interest in inner life anymore, and so those tete-a-tetes have vanished from the landscape of the show. They used to be a regular feature. Member the joke about it in “French Mistake” and the hate mail they’d get if they cut those final scenes of the brothers talking about their feelings? Well, we’re there now. It was good to see Ackles and Padalecki allowed to act again.

American Fable (2017; d. Anne Hamilton)
Really good first feature from writer-director Anne Hamilton. Impressed. My review.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962; d. Robert Aldrich)
A re-watch for probably pretty obvious reasons. The film is a classic. A camp classic, sure, but it’s funny to re-watch and realize how REAL the two of them play it. The imitated line “But-cha ARE Blanche, YA ARE” has been imitated so much that it now no longer resembles the original. In the movie, Bette plays that moment in a very straightforward way, a way that makes it all the more frightening. And Crawford, man. Lady had chops.

Supernatural Season 12, Episode 12, “Stuck In the Middle With You” (2017; d. Richard Speight Jr.)
It had its moments. The Tarantino nods were fun. Speight is a very good director, at least judging from the two he’s done so far! I’m just disappointed in the FOCUS of this season, which is everywhere BUT on Sam and Dean. They barely have feelings about what is happening. This is different. There has never been a season like this. There have been seasons that were more successful than others but what is happening now is unique and different. Probably due to the exodus of all the old-timers who actually understood the show. I am glad to hear some of you are enjoying this season. I truly am. I wish I could join you, and I mean that sincerely. Good to see Mark Pellegrino again.

The Salesman (2016; d. Asghar Farhadi)
My second time seeing this now-Oscar-winning film. Screw Best Foreign Film. The Salesman was one of the best films of the year, period. Farhadi is one of my favorite filmmakers. He is a modern-day Ibsen. About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday, A Separation … I’ve written a lot about all of these movies. And The Salesman is equally powerful, equally rigorous in its examinations of class and relationships. He’s forensic in his moral and ethical interests. The final scene is the best scene in any film this year. The first time I watched, I could barely breathe. Farhadi – like Ibsen – leaves you no way out. You scrabble around, looking for loopholes, some way to turn back the clock, start again, to avoid the awfulness. But you can’t. He’s a MASTER. Brilliant film. It was great seeing it for a second time. I picked up on so much more. Please see this beautiful film. See all his work.

American Horror Story Season 1, Episode 1 (2011; d. Ryan Murphy)
I wanted a little shot of the Jessica Lange-Ryan Murphy team-up. This show is out of its mind.

The Star (1952; d. Stuart Heisler)
An amazing film starring Bette Davis as a middle-aged actress – a big Oscar-winning star – trying desperately to get her career going again. But nobody wants her. She’s old. A very bold choice for Davis (and as far as I can tell, it’s the 3rd time she played a famous actress – and there would be one more in 1962 with Baby Jane. The first being Dangerous, where she played a famous actress who descended into alcoholism and destitution – for which she won her first Oscar. The second, of course, being All About Eve, certainly one of the best films ever made about show business. Bette at her very best.) The Star is very smart about show business, and how lonely it is at the top (in the most famous scene, Davis grabs her Oscar and a bottle of Scotch and goes out for a drunk drive through Beverly Hills, where she sobs and TALKS to the Oscar, her only friend, as she weaves her car through the streets.) Supposedly based on Joan Crawford, it was written by two friends of Crawford’s – well, the friendship ended when The Star came out. Sterling Hayden is super sexy and has the sexiest voice in Hollywood. In any generation.

Possessed (1947; d. Curtis Bernhardt)
One of Joan Crawford’s best performances. She was nominated for Best Actress.

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964; d. Robert Aldrich)
This movie is legendary among my group of friends. Mitchell does an imitation of Agnes Moorehead’s INSANE performance that echoes in my ears when I see the film. “Who TOLD her to play it like that??” Mitchell guffaws. “But that’s what’s so amazing – NOBODY told her – she didn’t need permission!” Some of her line readings! The way she juts her ass out. WHAT. is happening, Agnes.

Supernatural Season 12, Episode 13, “Family Feud” (2017; d. P.J. Pesce)

Dangerous (1935; d. Alfred E. Green)
Bette Davis’ 1st Oscar win. She had been nominated the year before for her unforgettable performance in Of Human Bondage. Davis would go on to win another Best Actress Oscar with 1939’s Jezebel and be nominated an astonishing 8 more times. In Dangerous, she plays a once-famous actress who has become such an alcoholic no one will work with her anymore. Based loosely on the story of Jeanne Eagels – only in Eagels’ case it was heroin addiction. Bette Davis was fearless from the start. Starlets did not speak up for themselves. Starlets did not demand better roles or turn DOWN roles they thought were not worthy of them. Starlets did not SUE their own STUDIOS. But Davis did.

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950; d. Vincent Sherman)
Another wonderful performance from Joan Crawford. She gave so many. The story of a downtrodden woman who eventually becomes a mobster’s gun moll. It’s classic Joan: the poor girl made good by any means necessary. But what precious things has she given up along the way? Her soul? Her heart? Is it too late to get out? Are fur coats that important? Well, to someone who grew up in squalor – as Joan did – as many of her characters did – YES, fur coats are VERY important. (I am reminded of my couple of posts on “Bling” and what it signifies.) When Elvis first got to Hollywood, he was asked by a (probably middle-class) interviewer why he had signed the contract. Elvis said to the guy, “‘Spect you’ve never been poor.” Joan Crawford understood that in her bone marrow, which is why her best roles were of women who started with nothing, who did what they had to do – prostitution, stealing, whatever it took – to get a comfortable life for themselves where they didn’t have to worry about money. Prissy morals are for the privileged and protected. To those in the junk heap, getting OUT is paramount. The Damned Don’t Cry is loosely based on the gangsters who created Las Vegas, and her character is loosely based on Virginia Hill. Very good movie.

All About Eve (1950; d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Bette Davis also gave a great performance in 1950. This movie never ever gets old. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen it. “You’re too short for that gesture.”

Kiki (2016; d. Sara Jordenö)
A documentary about the underground Harlem ballroom scene (a generation after Paris is Burning). Harlem ballroom is where “Voguing” came from, and then Madonna took it to the mainstream. I’m reviewing for Ebert. My review will go up today.

American Horror Story Season 4, Episode 1 (2014; d. Ryan Murphy)
I needed to see Jessica Lange sing “Life on Mars” again. Because I can’t get enough.

Mommie Dearest (1981; d. Frank Perry)
The whole thing is a travesty.

Mr. Skeffington (1944; d. Vincent Sherman)
Vincent Sherman was one of those excellent “journeymen” directors the studio system specialized in. This is one of Davis’ most disturbing performances (and one of Claude Rains’ most touching). I had actually forgotten that “Mr. Skeffington” is Jewish, and that he has a conversation with his daughter about it, how he and her mother are of different faiths. Pretty radical for Hollywood, 1944. As Mitchell says, “Bette Davis gives a performance that is ABOUT vanity with NO vanity.” I still don’t know how she did it. She was fearless. She didn’t give a rat’s ass whether you liked or understood her characters or not. That was so besides the point for Ms. Davis.

The Staircase, Episodes 1 – 4 (2004; d. Jean-Xavier de Lestrade)
Allison turned me onto this documentary series. Michael Peterson, a novelist with some skeletons in the closet, was sitting out by the pool drinking wine with his wife. She went into bed. He came in later and found that she had bled to death after, apparently, a fall down the stairs. How a fall down the stairs would result in multiple deep lacerations on the back and top of her head is a mystery. There are more mysteries, too. I have read a little bit about the case before, I can’t remember where. The French filmmaker followed Peterson around, and the documentary is very biased in his direction. But it’s a great look at the justice system, and how lawyers work, jury selection, witness coaching, etc. I haven’t finished it yet.

Moonlight (2016; d. Barry Jenkins)
It just came out on video so I just re-watched. I’m picking up on so much more. And Trevante Rhodes is even better than I remembered, if that’s possible. The vulnerability! And the specificity with which he plays that vulnerability. For instance, how he has a hard time even LOOKING at Kevin (Andre Holland). He avoids making eye contact until the very last minute, and then when his eyes do rest upon Kevin’s face, what you can see in Rhodes’ face is need, openness, fragility, hurt, SO MUCH. It’s the kind of acting I most love, filled with a very specific need, a need that can’t be spoken, but that the actor is present to – far more than the text he has to say. And that final scene. What a catharsis.

Women He’s Undressed (2015; d. Gillian Anderson)
A very entertaining and informative documentary about famed costume designer Orry-Kelly. By Gillian Anderson! He was from Australia. He was a genius.

Catfight (2016; d. Onur Tukel)
It opens this week. I am reviewing for Ebert.

Apollo 13 (1995; d. Ron Howard)
A re-watch in honor of the recently departed Bill Paxton. I have seen this movie so many times I know the shot sequences by heart. And yet it still gets to me!

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6 Responses to February 2017 Viewing Diary

  1. I was 18 and a freshman in college in La La Land when Baby Jane debuted. Loved Bette and Joan and Victor Buono. Have you ever seen the TV remake, far inferior, yet elevated to interesting because of the Redgrave gals, Lynn as Jane and Vanessa as Blanche?

    • sheila says:

      Victor Buono! So good!!

      It’s an amazing movie. I’m always slightly annoyed when it is described as “camp” – although the “camp” crowd has done so much to keep the legend of this film alive. To me, the acting is wrenching – brilliant – and quite realistic, all things considered. a portrait of madness.

      I did see the remake – it’s been ages though!

  2. carolyn clarke says:

    Morning, Sheila,

    Are we on a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis binge lately? Just curious. Dangerous, All About Eve, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, etc. I love that your selection focusses on drama but not “over the top” drama, although some people may disagree with that statement when we get to the original “…Sweet Charlotte/Baby Jane”. My personal favorite is a toss-up between The Little Foxes and Now Voyager.

    I’m not watching SPN like I used to. I record and then fast forward to the best parts which are usually conversations between Sam and Dean. My theory is that this the beginning of the end. We all know that this couldn’t go on forever, so they are trying to move attention to Cas/Crowley perhaps for a spin-off. Whatever. I don’t care. I watch reruns of seasons 1 -5, season 8 and season 10 to enjoy what I loved about SPN and personal highlights from other seasons and let it go at that. It’s better for my disposition.

    • sheila says:

      Carolyn – I was hoping you’d comment, since I know you love these dames! Sorry it took me a while to get back to you.

      I have definitely been on a binge. I’m gearing up for Ryan Murphy’s new series Feud, which premieres tonight. I’ve been hired to do re-caps, so I figured I’d re-familiarize myself, just so I had these performances fresh in my mind.

      Davis in Little Foxes/Now Voyager cannot be beat. That whole stretch of her career is one of the most extraordinary runs of any actress ever. I think my current favorite is The Letter – which may possibly be her best performance? It blows me away every time. She is so unbelievably different in it. Coiled up and repressed, clutching handkerchiefs in her hand the whole time, the hand that shot the gun in the opening sequence.

      And it annoys me when Crawford doesn’t get her due! She gave some SERIOUS performances – and yes she was a glamorous movie star and cared about her looks in a way that Davis didn’t (although I think Davis was gorgeous too) – but she had immense talent, and an intuitive understanding of who she was as an actress, and how to act for the camera.

      It was REALLY fun to re-watch Harriet Craig (I did that yesterday) – not sure if you’ve seen that one. It’s “later” Joan – 1950s Joan – but I honestly think it’s one of her best.

      I know what you mean about SPN. I’m right there with you.

  3. Wren Collins says:

    I’m burying my head in the sand with SPN- don’t have the mental energy to deal with season twelve right now and I want to enjoy one to eleven. So I’m marathoning Justified instead. (Just finished season three. My GOD.)

    Sad about s12- but whatever- the show’s an immense achievement all the same.

    • sheila says:

      So happy you’re on the Justified train. What a brilliant show! Is Season 3 the one with my cousin in it? I need to re-watch. I binge-watched the whole thing so quickly that I really need to go back and linger over it. It’s so RICH.

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