More 2017 Movies For Your Radar

Here’s Part 1.

Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach
U.S. release date: October 13, 2017
U.K. release date: TBD

The film is streaming on Netflix now. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel and Grace Van Patten – it’s a true ensemble film, as the title suggests. Hoffman has his best role in years. Emma Thompson and Candice Bergen show up in smaller roles as the mothers/stepmothers of the family. There are a couple of things Meyerowitz Stories gets so right, the main one being the feeling that you are actually looking at adult siblings. Movies very rarely get adult siblings right. I say this as someone with many adult siblings. The film is heartbreaking, funny, and insightful. It pays attention to things, like the way scared adult siblings latch onto a certain nurse caring for their father, and PANIC when there’s a shift-change. Or how the three of them all exclaim “WHAT?” in horror when the doctor blithely tells them she’s going on a 3-week vacation. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated these details. I’ve seen a bazillion movies about scared families in hospitals but I’ve never seen that particular dynamic portrayed. It was validating. I RECOGNIZED it. Each actor is superb, and both Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller have a couple of career-best moments, but it’s the group dynamic that is the special thing here. Family: messy, painful, funny. I loved this movie.

Director: Dee Rees
Writer: Dee Rees, Vergil Williams, based on the novel by Hillary Jordan
U.S./U.K. release date: November 17, 2017

I was just describing the plot of this extraordinary movie to my sister and she exclaimed, “Is it based on a book? I think I read that book.” Mudbound tells the story of two families, one white, one black, in post-WWII rural Mississippi. It’s a sharecropping world, a muddy dark world. The white family is “above” the black family in status, but their situations are similar: both live in homes with no electricity, running water, both work the land from dawn til dusk, at times side by side. (This is the world of Elvis Presley’s childhood, incidentally.) Men from both families – one brother and one son – went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Upon their return, these men – played by Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell – are drawn to one another. They’re veterans, both of them struggling with what we now have a name for, PTSD. They become unlikely friends. But because this is rural Mississippi in 1946, they have to “sneak away” to be friends. They meet up in an abandoned barn, and drink, and talk about the war, and women, etc. But Mudbound is not just the story of this friendship. There isn’t a “lead” character. It’s such a strong and interwoven ensemble that we on the nominating committee for Best Actor/Actress in the Gotham Awards couldn’t pull one person out specifically and decided to give the ensemble a special Jury Prize. The acting is so good (even Carey Mulligan, and I am not a fan). There are moments when the pain is unbearable, when the stress and tension and unfairness blazes off the screen like an indictment. Dee Rees is a young African-American filmmaker, determined to do things her own way, to not compromise herself by surrendering to “the system.” This is one of the only ways to really get things done. Reject the system itself. I’m a HUGE fan of her work and Mudbound shows her gift in working with a large cast of actors, black/white, seasoned professionals/newbies, big stars/up-and-comers. Not easy. Mary J. Blige!! She’s SO GOOD. This is a rich and textured portrait of two families. It’s a film with six lead characters. Rees keeps that multiple POV attitude afloat in ways that deeply enhance the experience of watching the film. For the last half hour, I thought my heart would explode. This is one you will not want to miss. (Side note: I thought I had my crush on Garrett Hedlund – which began with his nearly wordless performance in Inside Llewyn Davis – under control. After watching Mudbound, I realized I was dead wrong. My crush is not at ALL under control.)

Director: James Franco
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, based on the book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” by Greg Sestero and
Tom Bissell
U.S. release date: December 8, 2017
U.K. release date: December 1, 2017

God, I needed this. In the middle of what has been a particularly brutal month, I went to an afternoon screening of this film. I didn’t know much about it. It’s about the filming of the cult movie The Room. I have not seen The Room although I’ve heard of it, of course. You can look up clips on Youtube and it is agonizingly mind-bogglingly bad. Helmed by a mysterious man with unlimited funds and an indeterminate accent named Tommy Wiseau, The Room is one of those “so bad it’s AWESOME” movies, and Wiseau’s “partner” – Greg Sustero – wrote a pretty great book about the experience. So now comes James Franco, directing The Disaster Artist, and he also plays Wiseau. It’s the role of a lifetime. In a weird way, it feels like this is the role James Franco – a clearly talented man – was BORN to play. Nobody else could do it. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t familiar with The Room. Prior knowledge is not necessary. Franco is so hilarious (his portrayal of Tommy Wiseau playing Stanley Kowalski is one for the books), but also manages to find the pathos in this improbable real-life character. Great support staff from Zac Efron, Seth Rogen, Dave Franco … a great cast in general. It’s a great movie about acting and film-making too. It’s been a long time since a movie has made me laugh as hard as this one did. LOVE it and can’t wait for my actor friends to see it.

Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Steven Rogers
U.S. release date: December 8, 2017
U.K. release date: February 16, 2018

I have some issues with the film (mainly the on-the-nose soundtrack, and some of the fourth-wall-breaking contrivances). HOWEVER, it’s totally engaging and really brings back the whole brou-haha, especially to those of us who were obsessed with the whole thing as it was occurring. (Meaning: most of the planet.) Margot Robbie is a gorgeous willowy blonde. A talented actress, too, but I had some misgivings going in. Tonya Harding was – famously – a lumpy dumpy-looking girl, with frizzy hair, bad teeth, the spectre of the American under-class infiltrating the girlie-princess world of figure skating. Girl could SKATE. Girl was the first American to do a triple in competition. Just by existing, Harding revealed the simpering surface-level elitism of figure skating and it was hard not to root for her. I DID root for her. But anyway: Margot Robbie? What? The fact that Robbie can convince me that this is a girl who has never been thought of as attractive is one of the major accomplishments of the performance. I’m sorry to focus on looks and say mean things but this is reality we’re talking about. The way Robbie walks – the clumpy stomping “unladylike” walk – the way she sits with her legs spread, elbows on her knees – a linebacker on the bench … These things feel organic, and that is totally to Robbie’s credit. Robbie has gotten very good roles, leading lady roles, and she made a huge impression in Wolf of Wall Street. But consider that she was chosen by Adam McKay to give one of the “celebrity monologues” in The Big Short while lying in a bubble bath. That’s the image of Margot Robbie. The beautiful blonde. So to see her here, insecure and yet also FEROCIOUS, a ferocious competitor, beaten by her mother, her husband, an unloved child, an unloved young woman … it’s really fun to watch her get a role she can sink her teeth into. She’s terrific. She’s been ice skating for much of her life, too, so she does a lot (not all, but a lot) of her own skating. This helps enormously. Also terrific is Allison Janney, as Harding’s monstrous mother. I was really impressed. The film is very funny at times, but also tragic in a way. It moved me.

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13 Responses to More 2017 Movies For Your Radar

  1. Brooke AL says:

    I used to figure skate from about ages 3-13, and while I didn’t get close to a triple axel (I could do an axel plus all the jumps but in singles!) I was definitely obsessed with watching figure skating non-stop. Of course I remember the whole Tonya/Nancy thing, but after watching the trailer and some other interviews and what not, I realize that since I was seven years old at the time I didn’t quite get it or remember so much of it, strangely. I definitely recall a lot after rewatching some performances, and I’m 99% sure that I saw them live as a kid – especially her infamous Lillehammer performance and Kerrigan in the aftermath of being assaulted.

    But watching this stuff now felt surreal. I was there like everyone else, but I was also a kid who loved to figure skate and had a Nancy Kerrigan poster at some point (not sure if it was pre or post-bust-up). I’m sure like most I was on the Nancy “side”, but what a weird, weird saga. Tonya was totally the white trash skater of the women, and that’s not to mock her, it’s just what it was. And watching all the skating footage and them chasing after the culprit really brought me back to the 90’s. I think now that I am into my 30’s I am beginning to see the 90’s from a distance, and more so the 20th Century. I know the historian Eric Hobsbawm called it the short 20th century, the century of extremes, and said it truly ended with the collapse of the the Iron Curtain, but NOW I feel like, almost 20 years into the new century (and realizing that my memories basically began in 1990) I can see the end of the previous one. But right NOW. Maybe it’s because we are seeing so many people who really made the 20th century actually dying on us, or because of when I was born, or probably a complex cluster of reasons (technology, postmodernism, “end of” lists, and on and on).

    The point is, I’ve been trying to write this comment for too long because this 20th C death crap is something too big and new AND I’m so glad you wrote about this. So Surreal! I need to go see it.

    Also, apparently you are having a horrible month like me so here’s something kind of hilarious I saw today, actually it’s so dumb:

    Also his honeymoon home is on the market (in case you have 5 mil), and Priscilla may have quit you-know-what! Elvis is everywhere, Sheila.

    • sheila says:

      Brooke – I am laughing out loud at that X-ray link!! Ha! Oh man, Elvis fans be crazy. I have heard the rumors about Priscilla – and am very happy she followed in her daughter’s footsteps (hopefully). Priscilla took Elvis to a meeting of you-know-what in the early 70s. He sat through a lecture or whatever, and on their way out, he said to Priscilla, “Those sonsofbitches just want my money.” hahaha He was not wrong.

      Onto ice skating. Fascinating, all of the associations that come up for you! My friends and I were obsessed with those Winter Olympics in particular. We were also obsessed with haikus and so we all were writing haikus ABOUT the Winter Olympics. I knew I had written about it somewhere!

      and how crazy is it that after all THAT – after the knee-bashing, after Harding’s crying about her skate laces on the ice, after all that – Nancy didn’t get the gold, but someone completely unconnected to the American melodrama swooped in and won. Nancy did NOT look happy on that podium!

      God, it was crazy – it was right before OJ, too. The year before. The world was already gearing up into its 24/7 news cycles. So there’s a lot of similarity to now … but …

      I guess I see the Internet as the great Dividing Line. Not so much in terms of geopolitics or anything – but one of those rare things where you can say “Before the world was one way, afterwards it was another.” And I still don’t have a handle on it. How has it changed us? I had a good 25 years before the Internet, so my most formative years were without the technology … it’s a weird thing.

      I’ll be very interested to hear what you have to say about the movie! It’s not a serious biopic or anything like that – it’s at times too glib for that. But the critiques that Tonya got – about her costumes, her presentation, her nail polish, her heavy-metal music choices for competitions – it was like she was revealing something – inadvertently – at the heart of figure skating and the powers-that-be just wanted her to go away. And her husband and that ridiculous GOON he hired – you can’t even believe it went down like that. my friends and I followed the whole thing, writing Haikus the whole time, because of course that makes total sense.

      As someone who did NOT grow up figure skating, I really appreciated how the film laid out why the triple axel was such a huge deal and so difficult to pull off. They walk you through it.

      Look forward to hearing your take!

      • Brooke A L says:

        I was going to agree that, yes, the internet is the dividing line, and add add a few other things. But that was before I read your “haiku fit” post this morning… and I will never. be. the. same. I think the haiku post is my new Sheila Variations dividing line. I’m speechless. I spent most of the time laughing and in awe of your insanity. It’s insane! IN-SANE!!! Do you understand how envious I am of that ENTIRE story? You need to do something with this story. I can’t even talk about it, I don’t have the words yet.
        I do, however, have a haiku that took, oh, forty seconds:

        Sheila O’Malley
        Haiku queen of ninety-four
        Umbrella still lost

        • sheila says:


          // in awe of your insanity. //

          that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!

          Re-reading that post, I’m kind of in awe of it myself. What was I DOING. Sheila, you are STALKING this man, via HAIKUS. Stop it.

  2. Lyrie says:

    Oh my God, yes, a new story with Window Guy! What a great story! I don’t know many (enough) people who would do that kind of shit.

    I once left a note on the door of a guy I was in love with (that was pre-cell phones, of course). Then realized I had forgotten to tell him something and taped another one. Then, I don’t know what happened, I just couldn’t stop myself, I kept writing and taping. Some of the notes were linked, I’m pretty sure other things were totally random. There were poems, terrible drawing, probably quotes from movies… I don’t remember! I do remember that at some point I was crying with laughter, sitting on the stairs of his building, unable to stop myself. I only stopped once his door was COMPLETELY covered with notes. There might have been a few on the wall as well. What the hell?

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – “many (enough)” hahahaha

      You totally went there into the Nuts when you covered that door! I’m so proud of you and that’s hilarious!!

      The fact that M – oh who cares, his name is Miles – withstood the onslaught without ever responding is one of the funniest parts of the story. He was always really good with the crazy parts of me. Then again, he was as wild as they come. The look on his face when I brought up the haikus … totally exhausted and harassed.

      In any case – I thank Tonya Harding – Brooke’s comment above – for unearthing that old post which I completely forgot I had written.

      “1-800 Haiku, what’s your emergency?”

      Back to the topic at hand:

      I Tonya is really worth seeing. I especially loved that Margot Robbie did much of her own skating – so you don’t have that weird “oh that’s a body double” disconnect in sports movies about athletic geniuses. I don’t know if she actually did the triple axel but much of it was really her. It was great!

  3. Jessie says:

    I can’t usually click into Baumbach so even with that (amazing) cast I was prepared to give it a miss until your recommendation, and wow — thank you. I was really affected — had to struggle to keep a lid on it at the end. The hospital stuff, yes, absolutely — and dealing with a changed parent — and god, some of the rhythms of those Hoffman conversations. That continual shifting between anger, resentment, kindness and love in Stiller and Sandler in every interaction with him. The way their lips keep tightening. They keep having to make CHOICES about how to react. Marvel was fascinating, I really wanted more of her.

    This stuff about adult regret in parent-child relationships really gets to me these days. Like, there’s a moment at the end of season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where Lisa Kudrow says “sometimes you just want to scream, and a roller coaster is the only place you can do it where people don’t look at you funny” and blows a kiss and gives a thumbs up and the whole sequence is delivered with such a raw, awkward, funny truthfulness, just, all those years of tragedy surfacing and she’s so in control it’s just there, so present and then it passes. I mean, we all know Kudrow is one of the greats, but god, the clarity and precision of that emotional experience. She breaks my heart. Anyway, tangent, thank you for plugging this one, it’s gonna stay with me a long time!

    • sheila says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Jessie! I find Baumbach hit or miss – I think he’s gotten MUCH better under the influence of Madame Gerwig.

      // Marvel was fascinating, I really wanted more of her. //

      For me, it’s one of the performances of the year. The Gothams don’t have “Best Supporting Actress” categories – so a lot of smaller roles get looped into the “Best Actor” categories. I voted for her as Best Actress – she ended up not making the cut – but that’s how good I think she is. There have been some complaints that she gets short shrift next to the brothers. etc. I don’t think so. Or, I liked that the brothers were so caught up in their own melodrama that they barely noticed what was going on with her. They take her for granted.

      But she was so good that I wanted to jump up and CHEER when she
      1. got a haircut
      2. appeared in her niece’s gonzo films.

      Like: WHAT?? The fact that Marvel created a character so believably that her getting a haircut felt like an Olympic victory is such a testament to her acting.

      I have been meaning to catch up with Kimmy Schmidt. Lisa Kudrow is definitely one of the greats.

  4. Todd Restler says:

    I Tonya was terrific. I thought the 4th wall breaking was okay in that it’s trying to create a Rashomon like impact of showing that there is no “single truth” to the story. The movie was a true American story, and it definitely marked a turning point in the 24 hour reality TV news cycle. It also managed to be a realistic view of competitive ice-skating, and was also a well-defined look at domestic violence. All while being funny. It bit off a lot to chew, and managed to choke it down. There have been many Goodfellas imitations, but this is a GOOD Goodfellas imitation, which is fine by me.

    The acting was great, I loved Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn, eyes 3/4 closed, stuffing his face with mozzarella sticks. Allison Janney was great.

    But man, Margot Robbie. I was blown away like everyone else by Wolf of Wall Street, but I always assume someone is a one-hit wonder until they prove otherwise, Believe it or not Suicide Squad convinced me she was a star. It’s not a great movie, but she is great in it, really rising above and out of the material to create a unique character out of thin air.

    I was also skeptical about her in this role. She’s just TOO good looking. But she was incredible. She convincingly played an insecure 15 year old. Those braces looked so awkward. The hair. The walk. The gum. The language. “She looked like she stepped in poo!” I know the actors had video interviews to base the work on, but still, this was something to watch. The scene near the end where she was trying to “get into character ” for her performance was something else.

    I also don’t know how they did the figure skating scenes, if it was all CGI or a body double or what, but the movie convinced me Margot Robbie was an Olympic ice skater. What a performance. What an actress.

    • sheila says:

      Margot Robbie has been figure skating since she was a kid – so she did most of the skating. Not the triple axel probably! But I think that was a HUGE plus in the film’s favor – it was clearly her out there doing most of it. No body doubles.

      More to say later … but yes, I thought it was wonderful. and she was great!

  5. Todd Restler says:

    Wow, good for her! That’s a critical part of any sports movie – you have to be able to sell that the actors are really doing what they are supposed to be doing.

    • sheila says:

      Totally agree.

      One of the great things about “Miracle”! Gavin O’Connor decided to cast hockey players who could act a little – rather than the other way around – and it was so the right choice. The boys are obviously a little “green” in their acting – but not too bad. They get the job done, with an earnestness that is right for the story – and they can SKATE.

  6. Todd Restler says:

    Yeah, it’s really important. I’ve complained about Leo in The Basketball Diaries, because even though he acts the shit out of that part, it’s clear he’s not nearly as good at basketball as his character was supposed to be.

    Good point on the kids in Miracle. The same strategy was applied to Hoosiers. It’s the right way to go if you’re planning on having extended game action. (Did Jimmy Chitwood miss more than twice in the movie?)

    On the flip side, when an actor can play, it’s great too. Kevin Costner was realistic in Tin Cup and Bull Durham. And if you get to Long Gone, William Peterson looks like a real hitter.

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