April 2018 Viewing Diary

Elvis Presley: The Searcher (2018; d. Thom Zimny)
New 2-part HBO doc about Elvis. Grateful it exists now. Long overdue artistic redress. I reviewed for Ebert.

Morvern Callar (2002; d. Lynne Ramsay)
Re-watched in preparation for her latest, You Were Never Really Here. Ramsay is my kind of film-maker. I didn’t like We Need To Talk About Kevin (mainly because the book feels almost un-adaptable), but it’s certainly in her wheelhouse of alienation, disaffected characters, gaps in the narrative line. Samantha Morton is so great in this.

You Were Never Really Here (2018; d. Lynne Ramsay)
In love with this film. My review at Ebert.

Elvis (1968; d. Steve Binder)
The 1968 “comeback special.” Still so “out there” you kind of can’t believe it even happened.

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970; d. Denis Sanders)
An excellent backstage-rehearsal-and-concert film about Elvis putting together his Las Vegas show, under enormous pressure. He’s young(ish), lean, funny, and completely professional (you can really see how he was the ultimate producer of all of this. Nobody told Elvis what to do.) As hard as Elvis works, the real truth comes on opening night, when Elvis sits backstage looking through all the cards sent to him, and you can see it hit him: nerves, butterflies, vertigo. He looks up, around, and whistles, like “Hoo boy, I’m nervous.” Then of course he triumphs.

Passages from James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1966; d. Mary Ellen Bute)
There are all of these people on Twitter right now comparing Infinity War to “experimental film” which just makes me think these people can’t have seen many experimental films. At any rate, Mary Ellen Bute was a pioneering and truly experimental animator, whose lifelong obsession was finding a way to make a film based on passages from James Joyce’s nocturnal-dreamstate book Finnegans Wake. In 1966, she finally did so. I’ll have more to say about this.

Aardvark (2018; d. Brian Shoaf)
It just doesn’t work. My review for Ebert.

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 17, “The Thing” (2018; d John Showalter)
Had some good points. Good final scene. But … not sure about where they’re going with Men of Letters. I am so happy the Men of Letters of Season 12 are no more (except for Ketch, which, okay I’ll allow it) – because they were AWFUL – but … I don’t know, is THIS the way to explore the Men of Letters? I think the Men of Letters have outlived their usefulness, and I realize I say that mainly because my mantra for two years now has been The Bunker Has Got to Go.

Magic Trip (2011; d. Alex Gibney, Alison Ellwood)
Having just tore through Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (how on earth had I not read it before?), this documentary is, of course, the next step. The footage is not all that good, but Gibney is to be congratulated for shaping a narrative out of what apparently was thousands of hours of footage. Or, hundreds. Whatever. PILES of random badly-shot footage. But here, we do get a sense of the bus-trip, but maybe not … why? And … again, why are they doing this? Kesey is magnetic onscreen. There’s a fascinating glimpse of Kerouac, who shows up at a party with the Pranksters in New York, and he is sitting on the couch, gulping down a can of beer, not really INTO all the hippie-dippie tambourine-shaking flower-kid speed-freaks all around him. He’s so handsome. And Neal Cassady … the Erotic Muse of two generations of artists? He’s nothing less than fascinating but – judging from his behavior – it is not at all surprising he wouldn’t survive the decade.

Big City Blues (1932; d. Mervyn LeRoy)
A pre-Code story of innocence corrupted in the Big City. Joan Blondell plays what is obviously a prostitute, a kind-hearted one who recognizes the innocence of the young man she’s basically been hired to “grift”, and actually falls for him a little bit. Just a little bit, though. When a party goes spectacularly wrong, she is out the door. I loved this girl, sitting in the middle of the party reading this book. She hesitated before going to the next party, and someone said, “You can bring your book.”

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 4 “The Big Empty” (2017; d. John Badham)
A re-watch. It was a half-hearted attempt to try to align myself with the arc of the season. I keep getting confused. Terrific scene in the grief counselor’s office. I felt excited: WOW, they’re really DEALING with Mary, with her mixed signals, how she ignored Sam, relied on Dean. And yet the rest of the season has not capitalized on this scene. What is going ON over there?

Occupied, Season 1, episode 1 “April” (2015; d. Erik Skjoldbjærg)
A television series from Norway which has pissed off the Kremlin (GOOD.) It’s about Russia’s “soft” invasion of Norway. I only watched the pilot but was very intrigued and do want to get back to it.

The Last Days of Disco (1998; d. Whit Stillman)
Whit Stillman, man … Each one of his films is a classic of its kind. He’s one of the only writer-directors who requires actors who can do his “style.” He would SINK actors who can’t handle his dialogue. It’s almost like Restoration comedy. It requires a style. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. You have to hear it in your head, you have to align yourself with the intentions of the writer. You can’t just “feel” things and do your own thing. It won’t work. Stillman requires that kind of rigor. Kate Beckinsale is “his” kind of actress. (Her performance in Love and Friendship … I cannot even describe how challenging such a role would be for 99.999% of all actresses, but her? It’s like she was born to it.) Stillman is so good on “nostalgia.” He goes at it in different ways. If you’re not familiar with his work (and … how would that be possible?) it may seem “arch” or self-conscious. But that’s the characters, not him. He’s a historian of different eras, what people long for, the hopelessness of longing, the intellectual systems set up by human beings, artificial constructs in which we behave. Stillman is unique. Nobody else like him. I have always loved this movie.

Mercury 13 (2018; d. David Sington and Heather Walsh)
I loved this new documentary about the astronaut-training program for women back in the 1960s. I reviewed for Ebert.

Where Is Robert Fisher? (2011; d. Charlie Minn)
Some true-crime doc I tripped over on Netflix. Guy was clearly a sociopath.

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 5 “Advanced Thanatology” (2017; d. John F. Showalter)
1. So far, the MOTW episodes have been far better than the “season Arc” episodes. Case in point …
2. I liked how the majority of the episode took place on that set. It was a very good set.
3. I also liked Billie’s “office.”
4. Sam trying to cheer Dean up … eh. Didn’t really care for it. It was thin. Shallow. Manufactured “brother melodrama.” I don’t know. It was “off” for me.
5. Jensen’s hangover was masterfully done. Seriously. I could feel how dehydrated he was. I felt dehydrated myself looking at him.
6. Intriguing detail: Dean carries around what is basically a suicide pack? Just in case? Yet another intriguing detail not really explored outside this particular episode. BAH.

The Fugitive (1993; d. Andrew Davis)
What an absolute blast, seeing this at Ebertfest. Total treat to have the director Andrew Davis in attendance for a QA afterwards.

Selena (1997; d. Gregory Nava)
One of the most purely emotional screenings of the entire festival. Mitchell and I made spectacles of ourselves. Gregory Nava stayed for the entire festival. Such a nice man. We ended up having lunch with him, where we learned he truly believes Bette Davis “killed her husband”. He seemed truly convinced. One of those completely random moments Ebertfest is so great at providing.

Belle (2013; d. Amma Asante)
Another great screening at Ebertfest, a film I adored when I first saw it. This time, it packed even more of a punch because I was sitting with Mitchell, and he had never seen it before.

Columbus (2017; d. Kogonada)
One of my favorite films of last year. Here’s my review for Ebert. Since I had only seen it streaming on my laptop, it was a huge thrill to see it on that huge screen. The film is extraordinary, visually. And the visuals add to the intensity of the emotions. Great QA after.

A Page of Madness (1926; d. Teinosuke Kinugasa)
Every year, Ebertfest features a silent film, accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra. This year, it was a silent film from Japan. Wrote about it here.

13th (2016; d. Ava DuVernay)
With Ava present for the QA, the screening of her Netflix documentary 13th (about the 13th Amendment, and its pesky little loophole), was one of the hot tickets of Ebertfest.

Daughters of the Dust (1991; d. Julie Dash)
A high point of Ebertfest for me was getting to interview Julie Dash onstage following the screening of her groundbreaking 1991 film Daughters of the Dust.

Rambling Rose (1991; d. Martha Coolidge)
Mitchell and I saw this in 1991. We drove over to a theatre in Newport, RI, where it was playing and then stayed up half the night talking about it. Mostly Duvall. But about the film as a whole. So it was perfect that Mitchell was there with me at Ebertfest, to see it again. Neither of us had seen it since 1991. It’s just as good as we remembered.

The Big Lebowski (1998; d. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
Not my favorite Coen brothers movie, but still, a lot of fun. It played on Saturday night and the real-life “Dude” – was there. He had been there for the whole festival. He’s … not charming. The theatre was packed with Lebowski fans. Bridges is great. Goodman is great. I love the musical numbers. Although the cult status of this film in particular is baffling to me (well, not really: it’s a validation/celebration of adult male adolescence), it was fun to see it that huge. I miss Ben Gazzara. Mitchell had never seen it before. He liked it. We left before the QA, though, because we had had … just about enough of the real live Dude.

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 18, “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (2018; d. Amyn Kaderali)
A mixed bag. Ketch saying “Good lad, good lad” to Dean was the most unexpected moment, and I liked it a lot. (This is a meaningful statement from me since I want Ketch to go away, in general.) This episode does one of those rare things I like (and has happened a couple of times this season): Start out with one mission, that mission gets derailed by something totally random, and the episode closes out with the initial mission put off, thwarted. It’s a chaotic approach to narrative but boy do I appreciate that after so many plot-driven episodes. For me, the takeaway, is the white winter light shining on Jensen’s face. How startling an image it was. It was good to see Charlie, although the Alternate Universe is … problematic, for me. Not into it. And what is great about Charlie is not that she’s some badass warrior (soooooo over this, and soooooo over “bad-ass” being the Best Compliment you can give a female character. It’s just as limiting as any other kind of label.) What is great about Charlie is her BRAIN, her humor, her ingenuity, her HUMANITY. This felt “pandering” to me.

Make Way For Tomorrow (1937; d. Leo McCarey)
One of the saddest movies ever made. As per Orson Welles. I agree. I was a wreck. Wrote about it here.

Kodachrome (2018; d. Mark Raso)
This just premiered on Netflix. It’s the kind of small movie – imperfect, but engaging, with good acting from the basically STARS who are the leads – that used to get a theatrical release. Now Netflix scoops it up. And Netflix barely advertises, outside of the stuff THEY produce. So something like this small movie gets lost in the shuffle. Nobody’s even heard of it. Critics have reviewed it, but other than that, Netflix does not advertise for the movies it’s scooping up. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem, especially as superhero Marvel movies take up more and more space in the culture – movies that barely NEED advertising. And so small movies take up even less space. At any rate, I watched this, and it’s cliched in some respects, but unique in others. I enjoyed it. And I love the three leads, Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis and Elizabeth Olsen.

Disobedience (2018; d. Sebastián Lelio)
There’s a lot that’s good here. It didn’t quite reach the level of devastating romance for me – as many audience members seem to be feeling (and that’s fine. Different people have different opinions, jeez Louise), but I liked a lot of it. I love Lelio’s interest in women. This is basically the third movie in a row dealing with women. All different kinds of women. So I’ll always be interested in what he has to say. I reviewed for Ebert.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 2, episode 1 “June” (2018; d. Mike Barker)
Now that we’re beyond the scope of Atwood’s book … how can I say this? We’ve moved into something akin to torture porn. A little bit too in love with the horror. A drawn-out execution sequence (with Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” as accompaniment … like: Could you be more self-indulgent?) Sorry. I know people were flipping out about that sequence. And I’m happy for them for responding to it. But my heart is dead and I’m a bitch. I wasn’t totally unmoved – the entire series LOOKS good. And I loved the use of a tumbleweed-y Fenway Park as the execution site. Very effective. But … stuff is getting draaaaaawn out now. Margaret Atwood’s book is as tight and perfectly constructed as a diamond. It could cut glass. It’s compact, its flat tone accentuates the horror. At any rate, I’ll keep watching. Everyone’s really good in it. There’s a great scene at the hospital, where “June” is questioned about her home life. It’s chilling. An effective invented scene. But I’m already kind of chagrined at the shift in tone.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 2, episode 2 “The Unwomen” (2018; d. Mike Barker)
Alexis Bledel is very VERY good. But there’s a simplistic vibe here, especially in its treatment of Marisa Tomei’s character. (I love her so much.) Or perhaps it’s just me being cranky. I will cop to that. In such a world, all women are victims, even the ones at the top. Her hanging on to her religious adulation is just as tragic as anything else, especially since her religious beliefs have not protected her at all. Patriarchy hurts everyone, not just the “outlaws”. Even saying that will bring on howls of outrage. But … Atwood’s book makes it very clear the double-bind women are put in, even the Commander’s Wives. (Okay, maybe not the “Aunts” who finally are given some power – which they promptly abuse.) However: once again, the imaginative creation of this world – the “colonies”, the crowded airport … all very very good. And let’s hear it for Clea Duvall. I’m not sure she’ll show up any more (although I hope she will). I was very moved by their relationship, by the confusion, the horror, the goodbyes. Much of this works. But unquestioning raves aren’t my thing. I like to examine what works, what doesn’t. I am perfectly fine with people disagreeing with me.

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 19 “Funeralia” (2018; d. Nina Lopez-Corrado)
What the hell with Rowena? What are they doing with this character? Is this because fans love her? Maybe because she’s a big draw at the conventions? I do not get it. And I do not get what is happening. There isn’t a thru-line, that I can see anyway. Sam’s willingness to believe in her hasn’t been made clear – the scene in the car? Okay. But … I’m still not feeling it. Much will probably be revealed on a re-watch. I’ll hold my judgment. I’m almost as sick of Rowena as I am the bunker.

Investigation Discovery documentary on Golden State Killer (2017)
Okay, so, I had a long layover in O’Hare on my way home from Ebertfest. I had finished The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test on my flight OUT to Illinois so I was book-less. I splurged and bought Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which I’ve been dying to read. I read the entire thing in 24 hours. My friend Allison is so obsessed with the case, she’s printing out maps from Google Earth, and cross-checking police reports, etc. It’s a pure fluke that the murderer/rapist was arrested just one day after I finished the book. Crazy!

RBG (2018; d. Betsy West, Julie Cohen)
New documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’m reviewing for Ebert.

Barcelona (1994; d. Whit Stillman)
So wonderful. So thoughtful. So itself. Stillman is one of those rare directors who really has something to say. But the WAY he says it … it’s not a “message movie.”

Supernatural, Season 13, episode 20 “Unfinished Business” (2018; d. Richard Speight Jr.)
Gabriel’s desire for revenge was talked about too much. I lost the plot. Too much talking. (For Speight too, who had clearly lost his voice, playing a double role AND directing, which requires constant talking.) Good final scene, although a re-hash of issues I felt had been sufficiently covered in Season 9. Isn’t there some OTHER internal conflict between the brothers? Off the top of my head I can think of 4, maybe 5. NEW conflicts. To show character development, progression. In general, I’m happier with this season than last season, but that’s not really saying much. I’m still feeling a lack of interest in our main guys. Mary’s return has done nothing for the show, and I can’t believe I’m even saying that! When they say “Mom” now it has no meaning. It’s so upsetting.

48 Hours, “The Golden State Killer” (2017; d. Rob Klug)
Continuing on with my interest in this case. It’ll be very interesting to see what else has turned up, how they put it together. Also, what the hell this monster has been doing for the last 30 years.

The Confession (1970; d. Costa-Gavras)
Beautifully paranoid. Excruciating to watch. Wonderful performances from Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, and Gabriele Ferzetti. There’s one moment when all of the accused, after receiving the death penalty, start crying out for their interrogators. “Where’s my interrogator?” “Where’s my interrogator?” They look like children. These interrogators have tortured them for months. But there’s a bond there. A Stockholm Syndrome bond. It’s so ugly. Great film.

The Twilight Zone, Season 4, episode 8 “Miniature” (1963; d. Walter Grauman)
Such a good performance by a young-ish Robert Duvall, as a lonely strange man, living at home with his mother, who becomes convinced a wooden doll in a Victorian-era dollhouse at a local museum is alive. He falls in love with her. Terrific all around. Creepy and haunting and sad.

This entry was posted in James Joyce, Monthly Viewing Diary, Movies, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to April 2018 Viewing Diary

  1. Since Make Way For Tomorrow boasts Beulah Bondi as a participant (I would be at least refreshment committee chairman of her fan club [Street Scene!!]), the movie is killer good. Victor Moore’s whine shtick irritates me in every other movie I’ve seen him in, but not here.
    Looking forward to hearing more about that Finnegans Wake thing.

    • sheila says:

      Rewatching it … I had almost forgotten the details of their “disobedience” – when they ignore their children and go on a trip through memory lane to the hotel where they had their honeymoon, etc.

      And in every place they go – they are treated with respect and appreciation.

      The conductor changes the swing song to a waltz because he sees them struggle to keep up.

      The hotel manager comes over to them at the bar to hear their stories.

      The maitre d’ gives them a great table.

      It’s how the world should be and after an entire movie of seeing them shuffled aside because they’re old and frail – it explodes your heart.

      And I’m still amazed at the final shot, with Beulah Bondi watching the train pull out of the station. She looks haunted. She knows she will never see him again. And that’s the end. No comforting little smile where we know she will enjoy her memories. Nope. McCarey is brave enough to really go the distance with his story.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with you about Handmaid– I wonder if it is more than the sum of its overall look + Moss’ performance in close-up. Makes me think a little about the way the camera changed acting, a bit like the way the microphone changed singing.

    • sheila says:

      // I wonder if it is more than the sum of its overall look + Moss’ performance in close-up. //

      Interesting. Can you elaborate?

      I think the style – how closely it stays to her face – does have a way of draaaaagging out the action, when in the book everything is stark and clear and unfussy.

      I have no idea where they are going in Season 2, but I have a feeling the women are going to rise up and defeat Gilead, and that will be a bummer. Maybe it’s “what we need now” but I’m not on board with that. Atwood knows Gilead isn’t the problem. It’s way bigger than Gilead.

      We shall see.

  3. Sorry to learn that the Dude was not charming. When I was a kid, I thought James Thurber, whose work I idolized, must be the greatest guy in the world. Turned out he wasn’t. There’s the work, and there’s the person. (Which is why I get so annoyed when people say, I’ll never watch another of this creep’s movies/read another of his books/totally missing the point that the best of us, if there is a best of us, is in the work.) Anyway, what a letdown. (Loved Rambling Rose! When it came out, I watched it with my grandmother, who was scandalized.)

    • sheila says:

      // Which is why I get so annoyed when people say, I’ll never watch another of this creep’s movies/read another of his books/totally missing the point that the best of us, if there is a best of us, is in the work //

      This is so true. Not a popular attitude right now but I’m standing strong.

      The Dude was pretty out of control (not surprising, since he is The Dude) but I had seen him talk over a couple of women – including the artists whose films were being shown – not letting them finish their sentences – and so I was pretty much done with him. He was a bore.

  4. Desirae says:

    The funniest part about that screencap is that she’s reading the incredibly gloomy The Well of Loneliness by the incredibly gloomy Radclyffe Hall, which is party material for sure. Also probably a fun bit of coding, given that it was the best known lesbian novel in English for the longest time.

    Even at the time fellow writers in Hall’s circle were all, “this a BIT much” regarding the novel’s parade of misery and when Virginia Woolf tried to circulate a petition defending it from suppression by the gov’t, Radclyffe Hall took great offence that they had not mentioned the “genius” of her book, flounced off and didn’t get her petition anyway.

    • sheila says:

      Desirae – ha!! This is so great! I knew it was a lesbian novel – which makes her agog expression – as well as her refusal to let the book go – funny and subversive – but I didn’t know the history of the book. This is so great.

      I also love the assumption that the audience would “get it.” Pretty radical!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.