July 2017 Viewing Diary

Six Figures Getting Sick (1966; d. David Lynch)
Natalie reminded me of this short film from David Lynch when we were discussing all of the vomit on Twin Peaks: The Return. I went back and watched it – it’s on YouTube – and it’s … hilarious? He definitely has some obsession with what comes OUT of us.

The Hero (2017; d. Brett Haley)
Sam Elliott has always been good and always a welcome presence. He is sometimes too easily type-cast. The voice! The stache! The old-school Western cowboy gangliness! But BOY is he having a time right now. He’s old. And he’s doing some REALLY interesting stuff. If you haven’t seen Grandma with Lily Tomlin (very good), he’s in only one scene but he nearly takes away the whole thing. He OBLITERATES the mood set up in the film, and it takes a while for the film to even recover. And that’s exactly right, that’s exactly what the scene was designed to do. I can’t recommend that film enough. In The Hero, director Brett Haley uses all of Elliott’s strengths, as well as using audience identification with his persona. He plays a voiceover actor, who once upon a time starred in a famous Western, a Western still fondly remembered. That was decades ago. Now he smokes weed and tries to connect with his estranged daughter and … drifts. Not much happens. And it’s not operatically self-important (like “Oh, ‘lo, how a great man has fallen”) … it’s quiet. A character study.

Blue Velvet (1986; d. David Lynch)
It had been a long time since I’ve seen it. It’s good to re-visit. I saw it in its first release in the movie theatre. Will never forget it. I’ll leave to to David Foster Wallace to really describe what that experience was like for him, how it released him, opened him up. It was an extremely upsetting film, and it’s seared into my brain, as I know it is for many. Also: DEAN STOCKWELL.

The Big Sick (2017; d. Michael Showalter)
I thought it was just wonderful. Clearly a very personal story. It shows a demographic we haven’t seen in American cinema, at least not in this way. In this way, it’s a very important film. It’s also funny and tender and real with wonderful performances all around.

Wizard of Lies (2017; d Barry Levinson)
Robert De Niro as Bernie Madoff. I thought it was fantastic. Great acting.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 1, Episode 10
I need to re-read the book. I’m not remembering a lot of this. I have spoken before about how they have opened up the narration, moving it away from Offred’s point of view, showing events she is not privy to. I understand the attempt. I think it weakens the story. But the whole thing has been fascinating to watch.

The Keepers (2017; d. Ryan White)
What an incredible documentary. Nominated for an Emmy. I’m so happy. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor. All 6 episodes are streaming on Netflix. Beautifully constructed. Holds its cards close to its chest. But the old-lady Nancy Drews who have taken on this investigation? I love them so much. True heroes.

Casting JonBenet (2017; d. Kitty Green)
I’m just not sure what I feel about this. Mainly because I can’t figure out – in watching it – what the attempt is, what the director is going for. And so I can’t really judge whether it succeeds or fails in that respect. There were interesting aspects to it. But it felt exploitive and I’m not sure why.

The Road (2009; d. John Hillcoat)
I agree with Roger Ebert’s review. If you’ve read the book, then something is missing in presenting it visually. What is missing is THE thing that makes that book so harrowing. Cinema is a visual medium, blah blah … but the visuals here are superb. Amazing world-creation. But the ESSENCE isn’t there, because the ESSENCE is NOT visual and can’t be shown visually. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s WORDS that are the essence.

Austin Found (2017; d. Will Raee)
Reviewed for Ebert. Has some good things – Craig Robinson – but it doesn’t really work.

The Outsiders (1983; d. Francis Ford Coppola)
I just re-read the book after having a conversation about it with my sister (she teaches it every year to her middle schoolers). I don’t think I’ve read it since I was 15 or something, although I remember it vividly. Stay gold, Ponyboy! Dally! Sodapop! Darry! Two-Bits! The pure homoeroticism of it. The operatic emotionalism of it. And DAMMIT if that book doesn’t hold up. And DAMMIT I freakin’ cried when Darry hugged Ponyboy at the hospital. You got me, Hinton! You wrote this book when you were 15! I hate you!! So after I re-read the book, I watched the movie. Again, I haven’t seen it probably since it first came out. It is shot so gorgeously by Coppola: he understands the epic quality of the story (to teenagers), and that the strong intense emotions had to be felt in the visuals. I mean look at this.

Stunning! And then there’s Pony and Johnny stand against a pink sunset and Pony quotes Robert Frost, and their silhouettes are black against the pink and it’s all so overblown and romantic that you’d think you were watching a Douglas Sirk movie. The FORM fits the CONTENT. He does not condescend to the core audience, which were teenage girls and gay boys. He gives them what they want, and then some. Coppola at his very auteurist best. Okay, maybe “Rumble Fish” is his auteurist best, but this is pretty close.

The Wave (2008; d. Dennis Gansel)
There’s an American version of this story which I saw a million years ago, I think even when I was a teenager and it played on television. It haunted me, an image of Fascist propaganda and how it works and how it took over a high school because a teacher wanted to teach the students a lesson. His experiment worked better than he could have hoped and he watches in horror at the results. This German version is interesting. It was streaming on Netflix. Because it’s a German film, there are some interesting connections made that wasn’t there in the American, where the vibe is like Sinclair Lewis’ sarcastically titled book It Can’t Happen Here. Well, the Germans KNOW it can happen. The struggle the teacher faces with his students is their complacency: “We already went through that. It’s over. It couldn’t ever happen again.”

Twin Peaks: The Return, episodes 8 – 12
I continue to be in heaven that this thing even exists. And that it’s unfolding as it is. It’s major. I can’t get my mind around it yet because I’m too in it, but even when it’s frustrating … I LOVE it. I LOVE it beCAUSE it’s frustrating. Stop giving me exactly what I need, culture. Start challenging me. Start making me work. Start making me think. It’s just been a great experience and as Natalie said in the comments section … I’m already feeling anxious about it being over. I’ve been so into it. I’ve NEEDED it. I think we all have.

The Sopranos, Season 1 – 5
Yes. A re-watch. I haven’t watched the series since it was appointment-TV in its original airing. My roommate and I cleared our schedules for Sunday night. It’s an amazingly consistent series. Honestly, not too many bumps in the road. The biggest bump is “Christopher,” and that’s one episode. A total anomaly. But the great episodes (“Pine Barrens,” especially) are just as great as they seemed on first viewing. Re-watching I’m actually amazed that people were pissed about the ending. To me, the ending – its ambiguity, its quick and ambivalent blackout, its sense that the 4 characters at that table have compromised themselves so totally that they are completely lost (or, that’s the sense I got) – is there in the pilot. The show was not about its plot. It was about its MOOD, and its ethical and moral contemplations. A man struggling with his conscience. A man struggling to CREATE a conscience. I don’t pity Tony Soprano. I think he’s a monster. It is Gandolfini’s GENIUS that makes it not only tolerable to spend time in his company, but … morally edifying? At the risk of sounding like a Victorian spinster? Tony Soprano – and Carmela especially, in his entourage – make me think about things, question complicity, morality, etc. It’s very tough stuff. The boobs and guns and gangsters are totally peripheral to those main concerns.

Birthright: A War Story (2017; d. Civia Tamarkin)
Reviewed for Ebert. Abortion documentary. Eh. It’s okay.

The Girl Without Hands (2017; d. Sébastien Laudenbach)
Reviewed for Ebert. Such stunning animation. Beautiful film.

To the Bone (2017; d. Marti Noxon)
Reviewed for Ebert. I didn’t really care for a lot of it, although Keanu Reeves is in it, and that’s always a good thing.

Shane (1953; d. George Stevens)
Mitchell was here with me and we watched Shane. Neither of us had seen it in a long time. We had some amazing conversations about it, which maybe I’ll discuss here eventually when I have time. Our conversations had to do with masculinity, the tropes thereof, Stevens’ commentary on it. For example, Stevens doesn’t put music underneath the big fight scene in the bar: it unfolds in all its stupid pointless brutality with nothing “pumping it up”. And so the fight instead of heroic looks gross. Men being stupid. Men being gross and territorial. Big BORES. Which is part of the point of the movie: these men sniff out something “different” in “Shane” and want it gone. What do they smell? Is he not … masculine enough? But boy he’s quick with his guns. Men have clumped up and behave in the most limited and conventional way possible and Shane does not play by those rules. And they want it GONE. (It’s Billy-Buddy-ish.) Everyone picks up on the different-ness of Shane. The kid. The wife. (Jean Arthur in her final role.) The husband. (Van Heflin). All three have a crush on Shane. Shane is sexually ambiguous. He is filmed that way. He is completely mysterious, a projection screen for others. It’s a great entry in the queer canon. The next film Mitchell and I watched together is the film below, and we realized that the two would make a PERFECT double bill.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016; d. Richard Linklater)
God, I loved this movie. Reviewed for Ebert. Mitchell had never seen it. I own it. It was 900 degrees outside and my study is air-conditioned. It was a perfect day. And again, the film has a lot to say about masculinity, although Linklater doesn’t find it as gross or unappealing as Stevens does. Linklater is gentler. BUT. BUT. During the fight at the disco bar, Mitchell noticed immediately that the song Linklater had playing underneath was Donna Summers’ “Bad Girls.” COME ON. We were ROARING. I think Mitchell’s favorite line might have been, “This shirt makes me fuckin’ sad.” We also guffawed at the line: “From disco snatch to country poon!” I HIGHLY recommend watching Shane and Everybody Wants Some!! back to back.

Supernatural Season 3, Episode 4 “Sin City” (2007; d. Charles Beeson)
In preparation for my next re-cap! The show goes all Western-Tombstone-Virginia City. Major Briggs from Twin Peaks and Scully’s dad from X-Files (Don S. Davis) shows up as the big-wig in the town. Pretty small role. The episode has a lot of problems, mood, tone, plot … but the center scene – Dean and the demon – is extraordinarily written and performed (and filmed). Two actors in a confined space having to create this thing together, this scene. Many dips and sways and swerves. It’s gorgeous.

The Incredible Jessica James (2017; d. Jim Strouse)
Really enjoyed this. Reviewed for Ebert.

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25 Responses to July 2017 Viewing Diary

  1. Melissa Sutherland says:

    DIE WELLE (The Wave) can be ordered on Netflix but is NOT streaming at the moment.

    • sheila says:

      Huh. That was quick. I streamed it about a week and a half ago.

      anyway: highly recommended. Honestly, the TV movie I saw a million years ago was better. But this is good.

      • Melissa Sutherland says:

        I KNOW!!! I wanted to watch it, and they removed Aug. 1. My timing as usual ………

        • sheila says:

          I still order DVDs from them for this very reason. Maybe take that route.

          I believe the old one is on Youtube – horrible quality though!

  2. Stevie says:

    I thought Casting JonBenet Ramsey could have been interesting if they had managed to find thoughtful, articulate actors to audition for the roles, and therefore bring something to the concept, which I thought was that actors would have insights into what each of the people were thinking and feeling. I mean, if you have been one of the actors auditioning for the role of Mrs. Ramsey, for example, you would have insights worth sharing. But that was not the case with most of the auditioners. So yes, it ended up being exploitive. Did you see the show featuring a London criminologist and her cohorts re-examining the evidence? That was quite fascinating.

    • sheila says:

      Stevie – yes, I did see that second show you mentioned. Incredible!

      I agree with you about the quality of the actors chosen – I was just not sure what they were going for??

      There was one great scene where you see the “set” of the Ramsey house, and it’s filled with like 10 Patsys and 10 Johns, all learning their lines or running lines.

      It was a cool shot but … what does it mean? That we all have our own version of these people?

      There’s another similar movie that came out last year called “Kate Plays Christine” and I missed it – it sounds self-indulgent to me, but I am curious to check it out.

  3. Natalie says:

    //Natalie reminded me of this short film//

    You’re welcome?

    His mind is such a puzzle. I would love to have a conversation with him. I don’t know that it would generate any more insight into his psyche and what he’s trying to convey, but I’m sure it would be the most interesting conversation I would ever have.

    I’m really glad to see your review of The Big Sick. I haven’t seen it yet, but I do plan to, because I love Kumail Nanjiani in Portlandia. I’ve seen reviews basically dismissing it as just another rom com, and dismissing the cultural significance of it. So disappointing.

    • sheila says:

      // I’ve seen reviews basically dismissing it as just another rom com, and dismissing the cultural significance of it. //

      I know! I’m baffled by that.

      A completely assimilated Pakistani-American STAND UP COMIC – wait, what? – this is total pioneer territory. and since it’s his own story it has an eccentricity that feels very real. His more traditional parents and brother … how he has to split himself in two – who he is out in the world and who he is at weekly family dinners.

      And then HER, the girlfriend – Zoe Kazan is wonderful. and HER parents.

      It’s really unique. True story, of course – so it has that weird “what the hell, where did THAT come from” feeling that is very much like real life.

      I loved it!

  4. Sarah says:

    The Outsiders! Did you know that S.E. (Susie) Hinton is a huge Supernatural fan? She travels to Vancouver for an extended set visit at least once a year, and she was actually an extra in the diner shoot-em-up scene in season 7’s “Slash Fiction” (the one where Sam and Dean are copied by Leviathans and massacre many innocent civilians.)

    All roads lead back to Supernatural!

  5. Dan says:

    I love the Outsiders, both book and movie. I think it’s awesome your sister teaches it. It seems like kind of book, what with kids smoking king and carrying knives, that could get pushed out of the classroom.

    • sheila says:

      Dan – Re-reading it this year I felt the same way. The “rumbles,” the COMPLETE lack of parents – no parents ANYwhere – for this younger generation with helicopter parents, I wonder what this book seems like?

      Apparently, though, the themes – of being an “outsider,” of finding your tribe, of being yourself … the kids LOVE it.

      My favorite story from my sister in re: teaching The Outsiders: she had a kid in her class that she loved. A gangly shy boy – 13 years old – who was not a good student. He was mechanically minded – could already fix cars, could fix anything – but his grades were awful, he had a bad home life, and he had never read a book. At least willingly. You can probably see where this is going.

      Jean always reads some of it out loud, stopping to talk about it – helping the kids get into the symbolism, the Frost poem, how it operates. So she read the first chapter to them. Because of budgetary issues at the school – she had to order 30 copies of the book on Amazon herself and the books hadn’t arrived yet. She told them they’d all get their own copies later in the week, but to think about the symbolism for later discussions.

      Class dismissed.

      When she went to pack up her stuff at the end of the day, she noticed her copy of The Outsiders, which had been lying on her desk, was missing. She figured she just put it somewhere she couldn’t remember and didn’t think anything more of it.

      Next day, that gangly kid came in, shy and apologetic and assuming he’d be in trouble – he held out the copy of The Outsiders and confessed he had stolen it off her desk. He had read the whole thing in one night.

    • Aslan'sOwn says:

      Sheila, it’s one of my favorite things about teaching — seeing a student connect with a particular work of literature. When I was student teaching, I had a tenth grade student who had zero interest in class (he already called himself a mechanic). But when we started reading Antigone, he connected to it: he volunteered to read the part of King Creon every class and wrote something insightful about the doomed and prideful king. When we were done, he closed off again, but I’ll never forget how that one play, that particular character, touched something inside him.

      BTW, with the mention of the smoking and violence in The Outsiders, I thought I’d mention that in the Ramona Quimby books, Ramona walks to school on her own in kindergarten. How times have changed.

  6. Todd Restler says:

    Rob Lowe’s stuff on the filming of The Outsiders was the best chapter of his amazing book. There was something special to me about Matt Dillon in that movie, just a certain level of coolness that is not often reached. I tried to walk and talk like Dally after seeing that movie when it first came out.

    • sheila says:

      Matt Dillon is so charismatic. Sarah Bunting over on Tomato Nation wrote a review of The Outsiders and I can’t find it in the archives – I’ve looked – and her words on his death scene were hilarious. In a good way. Something like, “He acts the SHIT out of that death scene.”

      it’s operatic. He literally has to whisper “Pony …” as he crawls across the street.

      This is epic Greek drama and he does it unapologetically.

      • Todd Restler says:

        I love his death scene! There is a natural, unaffected feel to his performance, remarkable since he apparently had no formal acting training (or maybe because of it)? Dillon to me is what people mean when they say “natural acting talent”. Tex is another where he seems like a person in a movie as opposed to an actor in a movie.

        • sheila says:

          It took a bit of Searching – I thought it was on Tomato Nation but it wasn’t – here’s Sarah’s essay on The Outsiders:


          • Todd Restler says:

            Thanks for sharing, it was worth the effort! I love this about the corniness of the dialogue being lifted from the novel:

            “The blame for lines like the oft (and correctly) pilloried “Stay gold, Ponyboy” lies squarely with S.E. Hinton’s original. “Let’s do it for Johnny, maaaaan,” “Sure, little buddy, we ain’t gonna fight no more”—they land like balloons filled with ricotta.”

            I will have nightmares about a plague of raining balloons filled with ricotta!

            I love the observation about how by being over the top and chewing scenery, the actors somehow elevated the material, making it more realistic, not less. It fit with the direction and music. I think there is a timelessness to the characters and visuals that transcends those specific people in that specific story, and makes it more universal.

            She mentions the deleted Lowe scene which appears in the directors cut, which I must see now, since it didn’t make the theatrical version, and Rob was not exactly thrilled about that.

  7. mutecypher says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve watched Shane, but it’s a beloved film in my family. My dad loved the movie so much that he gave his middle son (not me) the middle name “Shane.” And he loved actors, so that same son got “Marlon” as the first name. And Dad loved the movie Mondo Cane so much that he gave the youngest son (again, not me) the first name “Mondo.” Mom won the naming battle on the first/oldest (me). I got the second most popular boy’s name of 1960. I know my dad loved The Maltese Falcon as well as Shane. I’m glad he didn’t name me “Elisha.” Dude’s characters never got a break in a movie. Dad also liked Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue. . So I guess I should be grateful…

    And The Outsiders, I agree with Todd R. about Matt Dillon. And in pretty much everything he’s in (it’s impressive that someone can be special in everything they’re in). I wish Francis was making movies as often as Woody Allen. Heck, as often as Spielberg. Can you believe all the wonderful actors in The Outsiders? I don’t know how much credit for that goes to FFC and how much to the casting director, Janet Hirshenson. I know his movies, so I’m guessing a lot goes to him. But I see that (among others) she’s casting director on Frances and the first Harry Potter and Apollo 13. She’s clearly in the majors for her craft.

    • sheila says:

      Shane is wonderful – like I said, highly recommend as a double bill with Everybody Wants Some.

      In re: Outsiders; this last viewing I was just blown away by FFC’s style. It’s pure 1950s emotional high-melodrama. Every single shot!

  8. Bethany says:

    I loved reading your thoughts on The Outsiders and the stories from your sister. I also teach it every year to my 7th grade students, and they adore it, boys and girls alike. My students are all on free/reduced lunch, and many of them are all too familiar with the World Without Parents that the Curtis boys inhabit. The emotion of that story and the family bonds are so resonant for them, “ricotta balloon” dialogue or no. (Thank you for digging up that review; what a hilarious, perfect description!) They always beg to watch the movie as soon as we’re done with the book. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching a 13-year-old girl have to come to terms with Patrick Swayze’s death after instantly falling in love with him. And they all gasp and wince in sympathy at the hair cutting scene; they get that!

    I saw that you put up Bad Day at Black Rock, and I have been slowly working my way through it, with immense happiness. :) It’s really special that you’re still writing those, in spite of all the other projects you have to do. Thanks for that. Looking forward to Sin City.

  9. sheila says:

    Dear Todd: You will be happy to know that I have finally – FINALLY – started Rob Lowe’s memoir. I read 100 pages yesterday. It has made me laugh out loud on occasion and almost really moved me. :)

  10. Todd Restler says:


    That makes me so happy because I know how much you will love it. It’s pure Hollywood.

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