March 2018 Viewing Diary

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 14 “Good Intentions” (2018; d. P.J. Pesce)
Probably not a good sign that I can’t remember anything about this episode.

Queer Eye (2018)
My friend Mitchell has been raving about the new version of Queer Eye so I watched about 5 episodes. A couple of them actually made me sob. It’s different than the first one. The first one was a breakthrough, in its way. I understand why gay people (gay men, in particular) have an issue with it: Gay men as Fairy Godmothers, helping straight boys to be better husbands – when they themselves, the actual Queer Eyes, are not allowed to get married. However, it was a huge step in visibility. This new version is different, though. Mitchell’s take is: We need to take better care of men in this society. We have ignored men’s emotional needs, and we have done so from the time they were kids, and now it’s come back to fuck us, with toxic masculinity and men unable to regulate their emotions. This is what the show is about: creating soft spaces for men to actually feel and connect. It’s healing. I’ve read a couple of “think pieces” on it (the funniest ones are the foodies criticizing the “food and wine” guy for not knowing how to cook) and one of the main complaints is about Karamo (the “culture” guy). People are like, “What exactly does he DO?” But he’s the one who’s actually helping these men FEEL shit and be okay with TALKING about their feelings. In a way, he’s doing the most important work. I find the whole thing WILDLY emotional. Haircuts shmaircuts, this is about allowing men a broader space in which to work, a space which includes their hearts, their emotions, their capacity to be gentle – with themselves and others – all the shit that the culture tells men to ignore from the first time a parent says to their 5 year old, “Boys don’t cry.” Enough with that shit.

Broadchurch, Season 2, 3
This series was so good.

Conspiracy (2002; d. Frank Pierson)
Such an excellent and terrifying film, based on the one surviving copy of the minutes of the truly sinister Wannsee Conference.

The Work (2017; d. Jairus McLeary, Gethin Aldous)
One of the best documentaries last year, just catching up with it now. A four-day group therapy session at Folsom Prison, attended also by a group of men from the “outside.” This is an absolutely extraordinary film. I was FLATTENED.

Jonestown: Paradise Lost (2007; d. Tim Wolochatiuk)
The 2006 documentary (“Life and Death of the People’s Temple”) made me angry because there were still people saying “Jim Jones had some good ideas. It started out like a good idea. I still believe in some of his ideas.” Please. The man was a snakeoil salesman from the jump. This 2007 documentary mixes re-enactments with interviews, and it does a good job at showing the horror of those final days.

Sleeping With Other People (2015; d. Leslye Headland)
I have no idea how I missed this film. It’s my kind of romantic comedy. I thought it was terrific. I just looked up the director/writer and saw she was a staff writer for “Terriers,” a series I absolutely loved. I really liked this film. It’s smart. It also has a pretty amazing scene where she takes control of her own sex life (not the scene in this gif, which is also wonderful). It’s radical in a way, especially in light of “Cat Person” and the Aziz Ansari story (those two in particular, since it was basically about having to deal with men who are horrible lays, more than anything else). Basically, she’s having sex with a guy for the first time, and she is NOT feeling it. She’s just dead to the whole thing. And of course he is aware of this, is not sure how to fix it, so he’s going through the motions, but nobody’s really connected. BLEAK. Instead of just suffering in silence (and then, afterwards, feeling used and taken advantage of), she remembers some of the tips her friend passed on and decides to take control, grabbing the guy’s hand and showing him how she likes it. The whole vibe changes. The guy is THRILLED, he’s like “YES, MA’AM. I WILL DO WHATEVER YOU SAY. I WANT TO MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD.” It’s pure triumph. If you WANT to be there, if you consented to be there, then it’s up to YOU to tell him what you like and how you like it. If you are going to sleep around – no judgment – HAVE FUN – but realize that YOU are in charge of it. Like Teri Garr screams in Tootsie, hilariously, “I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN ORGASM.” Men are not mind-readers. And Jeez, woman aren’t either. Early sex is filled with conversations like, “Do you like this? More? Less? Show me how you like it” – because nobody is a mind-reader and everybody’s body is different. Maybe he does watch too much porn. Okay. You are not a porn actress, you are a woman who knows what she likes, so take control of the experience – for yourself – because – presumably – IF you are naked with a man you don’t know, AND you have chosen to be there – you have acknowledged to yourself that you love sex for sex and you want to get off. Right? If you are NOT clear about this, then do not sleep with people you don’t know. Protect yourself. No judgment, either way. But be a grownup about your own needs. It’s up to you to communicate what you like. If he reacts badly? If he thinks you’re a slut for … knowing what you like? Well, that’s good information and you can be confident in knowing you just dodged a major bullet by getting the hell out of there and away from that asshole. Anyway, I loved this movie. Very sex-positive, and these two together are wonderful.

Disorder (2016; d. Alice Winocour)
One of the top films of that year for me. It’s even deeper – and stranger – than I remembered. I highly recommend it. (I reviewed for Ebert.)

Meru (2015; d. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi)
I mean, hats off, if you want to climb a crazy shark’s fin shaped mountain. I have ZERO desire to do such a thing. There are some haunting stories here, one in particular about an avalanche. Incredible footage. Vertigo.

Christine (2016; d. Antonio Campos)
I reviewed for Ebert. I feel it is a much stronger film than I initially perceived in my first watch. This is the peril of being a film critic. You gotta go with your first impression because there’s no time to let stuff percolate. Oh well. This film is one of the most powerful depictions of depression (and other mental health issues, all undiagnosed) I’ve ever seen. It plunges you into her world, but it also helps you see how difficult it is to have such a person in your life. Everyone tiptoes around her. Rebecca Hall is phenomenal.

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 15 “A Most Holy Man” (2018; d. Amanda Tapping)
I enjoyed this episode, a parody-spin on The Maltese Falcon (with some nods to The Godfather). Completely implausible, but funny because of that (not annoying or condescending, like they all think we’re dumb-dumbs.) One of the reasons I loved the episode is that the pressure of the season-wide Arc is “off” enough that they can take the time to do a highly stylized take-off on a famous film and it all still adds to the feeling that things are progressing (but without the obligatory plot-heavy NONSENSE that was Season 12).

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008; Kurt Kuenne)
Why did I put myself through this again? It’s one of the most upsetting documentaries I’ve ever seen. And now I knowingly watched it twice. If you are interested in checking it out, I would say don’t read too much about it beforehand. The case made the news at the time, but if you don’t remember the details, it’s probably best to just plunge on in. But consider yourself warned.

Observe and Report (2009; d. Jody Hill)
One of my favorite films of that year. It holds up. What I love about it is it sticks to its guns. It doesn’t cop out in the end. It’s a “black af comedy,” as my friend Sean says, but it’s also a portrait of a totally delusional cut-off impotent guy, who finds redemption … but it’s “redemption” of the Travis Bickle variety. You know that this man is a danger to himself and others. In the film, though, he is not “revealed.” He triumphs. It is the most disturbing outcome possible. Fantastic film.

Criminal Minds, Season 3, episode 5, “Seven Seconds” (2007; d. John Gallagher)
This show can be so dumb. They stand around explaining to each other their own jobs. “Serial killers often leave signatures or keep trophies” they say. In real life, all the colleagues would be like, “YES. WE KNOW.” And my GOD everyone is so damn good-looking. Like, come on.

E.R., Season 1, episode 19 “Love’s Labor Lost” (1995; d. Mimi Leder)
E.R. is now streaming in its entirety. I was a fan for the first couple of seasons and then drifted on to other things. But I will never ever forget this episode. I only saw it that one time when it first aired. It has haunted me since 1995. So I re-watched. It’s just as harrowing as I remember. (Everyone remembers this episode. It’s so memorable an entire oral history was put together of this episode alone.

About Elly (2009; d. Asghar Farhadi)
Long unavailable in the West, About Elly was finally released theatrically in 2015 (Farhadi had just won the Best Foreign Film Oscar with A Separation). As a Farhadi nut, About Elly was like a Holy Grail. I had heard so much about it, its Antonioni roots, its L’Aventurra styling … poured through the Farhadi filter … but I was literally unable to see it. Finally, it opened here. (I wrote about it here.) A Separation is what I would term a masterpiece. And so is About Elly. Similar to Antonioni, he directed two masterpieces back to back. I’ve seen About Elly four times now, and each time, I feel the dread rising … rising … It’s such a fantastic example of the power of ensemble acting too and Farhadi’s ability to DEAL with seven, eight people in a scene at one time, and picking up on all the subtleties of nonverbal communication. WHAT a film.

Blast from the Past (1999; d. Hugh Wilson)
God, I love this movie. And I loved it before I knew my friend Bill Kelly wrote it! And it’s kind of a funny story. A long time ago, early days here, I wrote a couple of pieces about nostalgia and how Blast from the Past and Pleasantville – two very different films, both very good films – had different views on nostalgia. It was an interesting compare and contrast. “Bill” was a regular reader and commenter. He, too, loved Cary Grant. His comments were always sharp and funny. I enjoyed his presence. So I wrote up this thing on Blast from the Past and Pleasantville, and the next day I get an email from “Bill” saying “This is really embarrassing to even say … but I wrote Blast from the Past.” I was like: WHAT??? We became friends in real life too. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Blast from the Past and it’s so funny and smart. Excellent job, Bill!

The Big Year (2011; d. David Frankel)
Despite my love of Jack Black, Steve Martin AND Owen Wilson, this one slipped by me. On a strong recommendation from my friend Craig, I checked it out. I fell in love. I bought the damn thing. It’s a really fun script about three bird-watchers all competing over “the big year” – who can sight the most different types of birds? They put their lives on hold (to sometimes disastrous results) to go chase down flocks of birds who showed up in the Gulf Coast, or travel to the Yukon to see if they can track down the pink-footed goose purported to be hanging out there. The film is many different things, and there’s an effortlessness in looping them all together. (Seeming effortlessness). But it covers many of my favorite topics, the main one being Obsession. The Big Year is a fantastic movie about obsession. I am not obsessive about birds, but I am obsessive about other things, and so the sight of people running around the country in giant waves, holding binoculars and notebooks … it satisfies me on a very deep level. It also features three fantastic performances from the leads: a lot of the time they are on separate trajectories. The men are not friends. But then a friendship develops between Jack Black and Steven Martin, who all want to beat Owen Wilson’s record-breaking “big year.” And this is where the film is really special. In a gentle non-obtrusive way, The Big Year is about male friendship. Films seem to think male friendship only exists in a war zone or while banging hookers in Thailand. Male bonding in the movies is about gross-out frat-boy binges. I have many male friends, who also have many male friends, and none of the men I know behave like this. They don’t talk about sports to avoid talking about their feelings. They talk about sports AND they talk about their feelings. The Big Year reaches profundity in its exploration of the development of Jack Black and Steve Martin’s friendship, a friendship filled with competition (the whole movie is a competition) – but the two bond together to compete TOGETHER to take down Owen Wilson. Both men have different challenges, there is a decades-wide age gap. But these men connect. They open up. They really listen to each other. It’s tremendously moving, and is the film’s secret ace in the hole. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

Addicted (2014)
Tripped over this series. I think it’s streaming on Amazon Prime. A competitor to Intervention, this interventionist has her own style. Intervention has such a slam-dunk structure that it hasn’t been changed at all in the years since it’s been on. It’s the gold standard. This one is a little bit more psycho-drama-y, and the focus is on the intervention-lady herself: “This is my journey. This is how involved I get.” In Intervention, the interventionists show up in the final sequence alone. They are not the star.

Camille (1936; d. George Cukor)
It’s hard to even describe what it is that Greta Garbo DOES that makes her so amazing, although Dan Callahan has done so in his wonderful book The Art of American Screen Acting, 1912-1960. It was his book that made me go on a small Garbo binge. She definitely reaches a height here of film acting that few people have topped. Nobody quite like her.

Anna Christie (1930; d. Clarence Brown)
Garbo’s first film in English, if I’m not mistaken. She’s not quite fluent yet. But she’s already got that mix of tomboy-glamour-androgyny which was so much a part of her persona.

Joyless Street (1925; d. Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
One of Garbo’s early silent films. I had never seen it before. She’s riveting, even though she doesn’t quite know what she’s doing yet, and Pabst doesn’t seem to quite understand what he’s looking at – even though he sure knows she’s SOMETHING. The camera is obsessed with her. I need to write an essay about Kristen Stewart and Garbo, because I think that’s a more apt comparison than the earlier one I made with Brando/Dean. Stewart is working in a very fluid realm, where emotions swirl around, liquifying before they boil over, and where her face is the canvas. There is one scene here where Garbo – a poverty-struck young woman in post-WWI Vienna – tries on a fur coat and stares at herself in the mirror. It goes on … and on … and on … and reminded me of the scene in Personal Shopper. The whole point of the scene is to give us a chance to stare at her, and when she’s looking at herself in the mirror and considering her reflection, she’s too busy doing that to worry about “acting.” And you can’t look away.

It Happened One Night (1934; d. Frank Capra)
The Birth of the Screwball. All roads lead to It Happened One Night. You’ve got the heiress on the run. You’ve got the freedom of the road, the liberation of “roughing it.” You’ve got the sexy sardonic man. You’ve got insane sexual tension. The movie has it all.

Wild, Wild Country (2018)
New documentary series on Netflix. I binge-watched all 6 episodes like a maniac. The majority of this happened during my lifetime, but I was too young to pay attention. I remember none of this, even though it made national/international news. FASCINATING character study, too.

The Lady Eve (1941; d. Preston Sturges)

Melancholia (2011; d. Lars von Trier)
The film that turned me around on Lars von Trier. I reviewed back in 2011. I’ve seen it so many times since then. I always see something new. I’ve rarely seen a movie where I feel like “This is made specifically for me.” (I also felt that way about his Nymphomaniac movies, which is obviously a very revealing statement. HA. But that’s some DEEP SHIT going on in those movies. Sex for Brainiacs. And I am SO PSYCHED that Uma – who killed in her one scene in Nymphomaniac – is at the center of LVT’s next film. I re-watched so I could discuss it with those who had never seen it before in this absolutely wonderful comments thread. Thank you all.

Dinner at Eight (1933; d. George Cukor)
In the middle of this gin-fizz social comedy, John Barrymore manages to give a truly tragic and extremely revealing performance, as an alcoholic washed-up actor. It’s stunning: he has a moment where he stares at himself in the mirror (you know me and Mirror Moments. Or, you SHOULD), and the wreckage of his life is on his face, and it is a moment of terrible and clear reckoning. He haunts the film for me. Jean Harlow is a blast.

Babylon Berlin (2017; Henk Handloegten, Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries)
I am OBSESSED with this German television series, adapted from a popular book (1st in a series) about a homicide detective working in Weimar Berlin. Within the first couple of minutes, I was hooked. But it was the dance sequence closing out episode 2 where I realized the sheer level of artistry on display here – on every level: performance, music, editing, storytelling. There are only 16 episodes (these tell the story of the first book in the series: so far, there are only two books). I am so hopeful they will go on to do another season. These actors are unbelievable. The story is gripping. The mood is glamorous and seedy, noir but gangster-tough, and through all of it you can feel the frightening power vacuum that existed in Germany at the time, a power vacuum nobody was even really conscious of yet. It feels like it was made for me, because it includes so many of my niche interests: secret porn rings, burlesque nightclubs, unrequited love, and the Trotskyites clustered in Germany at that time, working to overthrow Stalin. Like … have I died and gone to heaven? A porn ring AND Trotskyites? In the same series? Totally obsessed.

Finnegans Wake (1966; d. Mary Ellen Bute)
I finished reading Finnegans Wake this month. I had a MOMENT when I came to that last run-on sentence … which then leads into the first run-on sentence on the first page, the book creating a circle. In 1966, experimental animator Mary Ellen Bute filmed “Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake” and it’s a fascinating exercise – because the book is un-filmable. Also un-translateable. If you are GOING to film it, then you must go for mood ONLY, and that’s what she did.

The X-Files, Season 11, episode 7 “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (2018; d. Glen Morgan)
A fascinating and ultimately very moving exercise in film-making. There’s barely any dialogue. It’s almost a silent movie. Mulder and Scully’s technology revolts. Culminating in this moment. I gasped.

The X-Files, Season 11, episode 8 “Familiar” (2018; d. Holly Dale)
This could be a crossover episode with Supernatural.

The X-Files, Season 11, episode 9 “Nothing Lasts Forever” (2018; d. James Wong)
I’ve got a pretty strong stomach but a lot of this was too gruesome even for me. There are a couple of extraordinary scenes in a church, one in particular. This season has a lot of leg room for moments like this. I may appreciate that the most. When a creator doesn’t feel OBLIGATED to the plot he set in motion, but is more interested in the characters’ responses, and how the plot changes them, transforms the air between them. And her whisper in his ear … where we don’t hear what she said … The series could have (maybe should have? it’s up for debate) ended there.

The X-Files, Season 11, episode 9 “My Struggle IV” (2018; d. James Wong)
A race to the finish. I loved the final scene. I guess people are arguing about it, pros and cons, which is wonderful. Totally improbable, but come on, it’s the X-Files, of course it’s improbable. To my mind, the entire series is about these two people and that’s it. Conspiracy theories and aliens and DNA and pandemics are PERIPHERAL to what matters, and that’s these two people. I mean, they don’t even have any friends! It’s just THEM.

Working Girl (1988; d. Mike Nichols)
Christy, Susan and I discussed Working Girl on its 30th anniversary.

Holy Hell (2016; d. Will Allen)
A really disturbing documentary about a truly bizarre cult, filmed by one of its members (the unofficial cult photographer while he was “in.”) It’s amazing the hold this obvious MADMAN had on his followers.

Annihilation (2018; d. Alex Garland)
I went to see this on a rainy Sunday, and the theatre was packed, and you could have heard a pin drop. It’s a shame the studios aren’t marketing this thing, but the proof is in the pudding: people CAME OUT to see this thing, and they were riveted. I thought it was absolutely fantastic.

Enlighten Us (2016; d. Jenny Carchman)
This documentary about James Arthur Ray attempting a “comeback” after THREE of his clients died in a jank “sweat lodge” he created for one of his retreats was so enraging I could barely finish it. Charming sociopath. He is now trying to “spin” that tragedy as: “I needed to learn humility and this showed me humility.” THREE PEOPLE DIED YA SNAKE OIL SALESMAN. His narcissism is so glaring. He can’t even hear himself. There will always be gullible soft-hearted people who want to “give someone a second chance.” He should not be allowed to do motivational speaking of any kind but unfortunately, these self-help bozos don’t need a license to practice.

The Last Movie Star (2018; d. Adam Rifkin)
All hail Burt Reynolds. This was one of the funner assignments I’ve had in a long time. I reviewed for Ebert.

Deprogrammed (2015; d. Mia Donovan)
A fascinating look at Ted “Black Lightning” Patrick, whose controversial cult deprogramming techniques got him into hot water in the 60s and 70s.

God’s Not Dead 3 (2018; d. Michael Mason)
Contrary to the belief of those sending me hate mail, I did not “hate” this movie. It’s not a pan. Two stars is far from a pan. I took it seriously enough to consider what it was trying to do. And I liked a lot of it too. Here’s my review.

Sucker Punch (2011; d. Zack Snyder)
I watched the director’s cut this time. The movie was butchered for its release, and two of the casualties are unforgivable: a song-dance duet between Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino, and a love scene between Jon Hamm and Emily Browning. Regardless: the movie is a rich and textured indictment of all of the attitudes its critics say the film ENDORSES. This has been a fun month: I finally wrote the essay I’ve been meaning to write for 7 years: Remember My Forgotten Women: The Dire Worlds of “Sucker Punch” and “Gold Diggers of 1933″

Supernatural Season 13, episode 16 “Scoobynatural” (2018; d. Robert Singer)
Pure liquid joy. FINALLY.

Young Adult (2011; d. Jason Reitman)
Like Observe and Report, like Welcome to Me (I always think of these three films together), Young Adult has the courage of its convictions. It goes the distance. It doesn’t cop out. It stays dark. Which is good and right, because pathological narcissists almost never change. Charlize Theron gives the performance of her career.

Synchromy No. 2 (1936; d. Mary Ellen Bute)
I’ve been researching my next project. Only some of Bute’s surreal experimental animated short films are on Youtube, and I watched as many of them as I could. She is far far out on the edge, and some of her stuff feels too modern even for now.

Synchromy No. 4 (1938; d. Mary Ellen Bute)

Tarantella (1940; d. Mary Ellen Bute)

Parabola (1937; d. Mary Ellen Bute)

Spook Sport (1940; d. Mary Ellen Bute)
Ibid. This one is funny!

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25 Responses to March 2018 Viewing Diary

  1. mutecypher says:

    I had never heard of Mary Ellen Bute, those films are excellent. I particularly liked the first two you showed.

    That gif of Garbo in Joyless Street – hello fascination!

    • sheila says:

      Aren’t they so cool? At first it was hard to find info on Mary Ellen Bute but once I started digging – I had to get past a certain top level – where it was just bare-bones stuff (no bio on IMDB, etc.) but then suddenly, boom, she was everywhere. There’s a world of blog-posts about her – she has a “super fan” on Twitter, and just following that person has led me to all kinds of cool pieces. I think there was a retrospetive of her work in Houston last year or the year before that – I only know about this because of this Twitter person, so suddenly there are all these articles and liner notes, etc., that just weren’t reach the first or second page of Google because she’s so (wrongfully) obscure.

      The stuff on Youtube is poor quality, so I’m sure seeing them on a movie screen would be a whole different experience.

      What did you like about them?

      • mutecypher says:

        Synchromy #2 I liked just for the images associated with particular musical figures – the “h” figures with the flutes. And I liked the Starship Enterprise shapes just as the singer began. And I liked the floral shapes when the singer went into a gentler mode. I assumed from the title that it was an attempt to convey synesthesia (and after watching I looked it up on Wikipedia). I thought that was just an interesting attempt at something that must be very personal and idiosyncratic.

        #4 I thought was a bit silly with the trapped triangle, but then when the triangle got free there was something touching and triumphant about it. That’s a subtle thing to pull off.

        I read a bit about her on Wikipedia and watched a BBC video on her. She cast a 14 year old Christopher Walken, and gave Thelma Schoonmaker her first editing job? Wow. Game recognizes game, as you say.

        • mutecypher says:

          I thought I would like the one on parabolas (’cause, math teacher!) but it didn’t do a lot for me. Many of the moving figures in the other films looked like things off of oscilloscopes – especially lissajou figures – which I think were becoming more common in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. I wonder if she was inspired by those. When I’ve taught the physics of musical instruments, students are often fascinated by the shapes on oscilloscopes made by the sounds of guitars, organs, etc. And that’s a great way to connect sound with sight.

          • sheila says:

            She used an oscilloscope!

          • sheila says:

            I like how all the bones in the cemetery become drumsticks in the last one.

          • sheila says:

            and yes – she wanted people to see with their ears and hear with their eyes.

            which is why it is not at all surprising that she was obsessed with Finnegans Wake for the entirety of her life. Published in 1939 – she finally made the film in 1966.

        • sheila says:

          Interesting – thanks for sharing your observations.

          and yes – Thelma!! Amazing!

          If you look at her IMDB page, there’s way more there listed – but none of it is on Youtube. There really needs to be some redress here in terms of her reputation – and it looks like that might be happening (what with the Houston retrospective, etc.) Maybe my essay will be a part of that – I’d be proud if that were true!

  2. Stevie says:

    LOVE Mary Ellen Bule! Thanks for introducing me to her. Wow!

    I didn’t realize Wild, Wild Country was about the Rajneeshis. In 1987, at the age of 72, my dad sold his Seattle condo and bought a five-acre plot of land on Vashon Island, a 15-minute ferry ride from the city, because he always wanted to have a farm – and a medical emergency convinced him it was now or never. When it came time to build the house (from plans we drew up on restaurant napkins over a series of heated discussions), he hired a “family” of ex-Rajneeshis! The ashram in Antelope, Oregon, was just being shut down and there were all these people looking for work. I asked him what he thought about them generally, and he said they were nice, smart, obedient and hard-working. Sounds like a vote for hiring ex-cultists!

    Love you! XOXO Stevie

    • sheila says:

      Stevie –

      Oh my gosh you are connected to the Rajneeshis! That’s fascinating – what a total whirlwind. They basically took over this poor little town, that wanted nothing to do with them. And then, boom, it was all over – and all of these Rajneeshis had nowhere to go.

      And this wasn’t a Jim Jones type thing – although that was the fear, of course – but this head dude had 90 Rolls Royces – and his nutty spokeswoman who was so aggressive on the Phil Donahue show – and others … All of these people are interviewed for the series. It was totally fascinating.

      I found it all a bit too cult-y for my taste – but I was so impressed with how they basically built an entire city in the middle of nowhere.

      Love you! Hope you are well!

      • Stevie says:

        I am finding the series totally fascinating, Sheila. I was a little bit aware of it as it was happening, but I didn’t realize all the weird things going on. Salmonella poisoning?! The spokeswoman/manager person had such a contentious style, I wonder to what extent that doomed them almost more than anything else. Thanks as always for pointing us Variationnettes towards amazing material!

        I’m doing well, thanks; I had to drop off FB because of my current job and the “situation” in DC, and the work itself is challenging but rewarding, so all in all things are good. The dogs and kitty are happy and healthy, and send their love to you and Hope!!

  3. Natalie says:

    I had recommended Broadchurch to my mom ages ago, but she didn’t watch it at the time because I mentioned that parts of it were upsetting. Then she apparently forgot I recommended it and found it on her own recently, and she recommended it to me. She was about halfway through season 2 last time I talked to her, and we spent an entire conversation marveling over what a harrowing, visceral experience the entire series is, how beautifully it’s shot, how amazing the performances are, and basically the wonder that is Olivia Colman. It’s all so, so good.

    I almost didn’t watch the X-Files finale, but I’m glad I did. It didn’t blow me away like some previous episodes have, but I was actually pretty satisfied with the resolution. (That said, Chris Carter and CSM be damned, William is and always will be Mulder’s son as far as I’m concerned.) As far as any improbabilities, I can pretty much forgive most plot holes if a story serves its characters well, and I feel like this one did.

  4. Todd Restler says:

    I saw Annihilation in the theater! Whoa.What a movie. Loved it! It’s a good follow up to the Working Girl discussion!

    I loved that it was an action adventure sci-fi horror movie romance (what was it?) with a virtually all female cast. It’s weird that it hasn’t gotten more attention for that fact alone. The shot of the women walking towards the shimmer with machine guns drawn, looking more like soldiers than the scientists they were, was quite striking and would make an amazing poster.

    I really loved this cast. Jennifer Jason Leigh has always been a favorite and I thought she was great here. Gina Rodriguez stood out to me as well. Loved her in Deepwater Horizon too. Oscar Isaac might be my favorite actor right now (Don’t get me started on Inside Llewyn Davis or I might never stop). And Natalie Portman grounded the whole thing. People need not fear some Star Wars-like childish fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with that). I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a set piece about 3/4 of the way through the movie (I’m sure you know what I mean) that had the theater absolutely freaking out. This movie shook me up and made me think, which is pretty impressive.

    The same could be said for Alex Garland’s other directorial effort, Ex Machina, which I also loved. This guy is somebody to watch. He’s got really interesting ideas on not only what it means to be male or female, but what it means to be human or virtual. Or if there is any difference any more, or if it matters. And his visual style is really unsettling, which perfectly suits his material.

    His influences (George Romero, Alien and Aliens, The Thing, A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, The Twilight Zone & Outer Limits, etc.), are clear, yet his work also seems very timely, original and ambitious. Can’t wait to see more of his stuff.

    • sheila says:

      Ugh, okay – so this past month has been so crazy I have missed a lot of comments. I will try to be better about that. It’s not deliberate!!

      // The shot of the women walking towards the shimmer with machine guns drawn, looking more like soldiers than the scientists they were, was quite striking and would make an amazing poster. //

      Truly iconic moment.

      Totally agree with your thoughts on Alex Garland. I really like him – and I really like what you might call his “world-building.”

      He keeps it really simple. Gritty. Minimal special effects – but the special effects he DOES use? Hoo boy, they’re awesome. The scene in the lighthouse!!

      Just the CONCEPT was fascinating – and it’s a really difficult one, and I’m not sure I could sum it up. But the movie did a wonderful job of laying it all out – what was going on, what they were perceiving, what was happening.

      • Todd Restler says:

        Hey, no worries, you certainly don’t owe me a reply to every comment or something! But some movies I want to talk more about, and this is one.

        “and it’s a really difficult one, and I’m not sure I could sum it up”.

        I tried and couldn’t do it either! “I loved that it was an action adventure sci-fi horror movie romance (what was it?) ”

        But his world building, as you put it, is amazing. Really draws you in. I am more of a “story, acting, structure” guy, and am not usually going to rate a movie’s success on the “look” of the movie. But his visual style, and his AUDIO style, (sound mix, score) is undeniable and really compelling.

        It’s very challenging material, not just the concept but the structure, there are flash forwards, flash backs, I think a dream sequence – yet he never lost me.

        The “mirroring’ – wow. It gets into some of his themes -from Ex Machina too – what make us human? What do we find attractive and repulsive in other humans? What about virtual humans – would we want the real thing if we could have a programmed “perfect” companion? If we can be cloned, what then? Can we all date Scarlett Johansson? (Ding, ding -idea for screenplay ” Dating Scarlett Johansson “).

        I can’t wait to see more of this guy’s stuff.

        • sheila says:

          Well, Scarlett Johansson has been in two movies where she plays roles that question identity, sexuality, that which makes us human … so I’m not sure she’s your best bet. Actually, no, make that three movies, if you include Her. Wait – maybe even four.

          I agree – Garland hasn’t lost me either, even though Ex Machina and Annihilation are quite intricate in structure – with some really in-depth questioning going on. I mean, Oscar Isaac aggressively disco-dancing in Ex Machina?? Like, WHAT? And yet it makes sense. I also am very intrigued by that relationship – he’s support staff in Annihilation – but I love it when actors/directors click like this.

          Alex Garland is a young guy – we have so much to look forward to!

          • Todd Restler says:

            Wow, you’re right about ScarJo! Okay, how about ” Dating Parker Posey”?

            I agree I like this Actor/Director pair too. Isaac was supporting of course in Annihilation, but it was a REALLY tricky role when you think about it, and it was very important to the story working, and he nailed it. Garland is one of those directors like PTA after Boogie Nights where you just KNOW the guys has got something good going on, and it’s exciting.

            Yeah, the “cut some rug” scene in Ex Machina! I really need to watch that one again, I am sure it will be interesting to rewatch now that I know where it’s going.

            Have you seen any of the Black Mirrors on Netflix? (If not, you may want to start with S1 E2, the first episode is, um, a little repulsive?)

            I saw all the UK ones, not the US ones yet. Garland’s movie are sort of like feature length Black Mirrors to me – but even better.

          • sheila says:

            I haven’t seen any Black Mirror! Seems up my alley I just don’t have the time.

            I just started watching Occupied – a Norwegian TV series – which the Kremlin is being all pissy about – and I think it’s fabulous.

  5. Myrtle says:

    Ahhhh *throwing up hands as if keeping out the light* Babylon Berlin sounds so made for me that I’m worried, bc I have things to do. You know that feeling when you see something that looks so good it’s like, ” Oh no. I’m gonna have to clear the deck for this.” (but thank you for bringing it to my attention, thank you).

    I’m curious, have you or will you be seeing Thoroughbreds? I just saw the trailer and it seems like SUCH a Sheila film.

    • sheila says:

      Myrtle – I am so sorry for not responding! The last couple of weeks, I tell you …

      Babylon Berlin is SO GOOD. It’s only 16 episodes (so far – I live in hope they’ll do more) – so it’s not like you have to clear the deck for 2 months to get through it. Ha.

      It’s my favorite thing I’ve seen this year so far – in film or TV, and that’s saying a lot!!

      I need to see Thoroughbreds!!

  6. Todd Restler says:

    We have discussed The Big Year before – what a wonderful movie! I particularly liked Jack Black and his relationship with Brian Dennehey, but the whole movie was really sort of a minor miracle. The characters were very eccentric yet they all seemed incredibly human. And even though this seemed on the surface like a “light” movie, it really had some interesting things to say about obsessions and the toll they can take on people, particularly the families of obsessives. Yet much like the Patton Oswalt movie Big Fan this movie shows that these obsessives would have a hard time functioning in society at all without their passion fueling them. It’s really interesting stuff to think about. I love this film. And I learned a lot about birds!

    • sheila says:

      I love the movie so much. I learned a lot about birds too! (I love the final credits sequence – do you remember it? Where as the credits roll we see photographs of every bird Owen Wilson’s character saw over his “big year.”)

      I loved the relationship between Jack Black and his dad – just wonderful!

      and yes: it’s a great portrait of obsession. I love your point that they would have a hard time functioning without obsessions. People who aren’t obsessive about stuff have a hard time “getting” this.

      I liked how the film allowed for twists and turns in these obsessions.

      Owen Wilson’s character clearly should not be married. No shame in that. You’ll break her heart but you really just need to be single.

      On the flip side – Steve Martin’s character steps out of the “big year” flow because he’s become a grandfather. and that feels good and right too. Also he has clearly married the right kind of woman – someone with her own life, who doesn’t resent his obsession. If you’re an obsessive, you need someone like that.

      and then I loved the fledgling romance between jack Black and the bird-call girl.

      It just had a really nice structure – I didn’t feel like the movie BLAMED people who weren’t into birds. You could totally understand why Owen Wilson’s wife was crushed. She wants a baby, for God’s sake! It’s just that she’s married to the wrong man. She’s not a villain.

      It’s surprisingly deep, Big Year.

  7. Todd Restler says:

    Very deep. And in the best way, because it really sneaks up on you. With that cast I was expecting slapstick comedy with some laughs, and boy did I get more. I remember the end credits, they were wonderful! I love a good credit sequence, it can be underrated.

    Did you see my comments on Annihilation? I was looking forward to hearing more from you on that movie… the more I think about it the more I love it. That Director is really interesting to me.

    • sheila says:

      Wait – I missed the comments on Annihilation. I absolutely loved it! Let me go back and see what you said.

      • sheila says:

        and yeah, Garland is really interesting. I liked Ex Machina too – I think Annihilation steps it up a notch, though.

        Everyone was so good. A movie starring 5 women. 5 scientist women. I was in heaven. And it was so WEIRD. Truly creepy, but more … fascinating than scary. The way the mutations worked, the way that final “confrontation” worked – with the “mirroring” that happened …

        And then also, issues of identity. He’s not the same when he comes back. He looks the same. But he’s not “him.”

        This is definitely a Sheila sweet spot, in terms of story.

        I saw it in a packed theatre on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We sat there in rapt silence. Nobody was on their cell phones. Just total focus and concentration – which was a thrilling experience in and of itself.

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