December 2018 Viewing Diary

Swimming with Men (2018; d. Oliver Parker)
A rather slight little comedy about men forming a synchronized swimming team. I reviewed for Ebert.

Zama (2018; d. Lucrecia Martel)
One of the best films of the year (I saw it after I submitted my Top 10s. I got behind in viewing, I couldn’t help it. Too much to see!) It was in Film Comment’s Top 10, which was very exciting.

Don’t Look Now (1074; d. Nicolas Roeg)
Roeg died in December, and Film Comment asked me to write a tribute (which is in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue, as well as online). This is the movie of his I know best, and its creepiness never fails to get under my skin. It’s an extremely unnerving film. That opening sequence! The way Roeg put it together. It’s so bold. It breaks SO MANY RULES. Roeg’s like “Rules shmules.”

Vox Lux (2018; d. Brady Corbet)
I can’t stop thinking about this movie. I reviewed for Ebert. I read some article where the writer talked about how the movie showed pop music’s healing properties, how in the final scene it shows how pop music brings a community together, how the movie’s attitude was the antithesis of the “anti-pop-music” attitude of A Star is Born. I read the article and thought, like the black-hearted bitch that I am, “You have got to be kidding me.”

Performance (1970; d. Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell)
After years as a cinematographer, Roeg became a director with this. And what a debut. There is nothing else like this movie. How could there be? Very much looking forward to participating in a discussion about this movie following its screening on January 10th and the IFC Center.

The Witches (1990; d. Nicolas Roeg)
I hadn’t watched this movie since it came out. It is so disturbing.

Happy as Lazarro (2018; d. Alice Rohrwacher)
My God, this movie. One of the movies of the year. I don’t even know how Rohrwacher pulled this off. Wrote about it briefly here.

Shirkers (2018; d. Sandi Tan)
In my Top 10. Wrote about it here.

Documenting Hate: New American Nazis (2018)
A Frontline episode on PBS. I’m so angry at what has been happening, what continues to happen.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976; d. Nicolas Roeg)
A haunting film. And Elvis is involved. Because of course. If you are an alien who falls to earth, if you don’t watch Elvis movies, there’s no hope for you. You want to understand our planet? You have to understand Elvis. (Also, there is the fact that 1. David Bowie and Elvis share a birthday. 2. David Bowie and Elvis were both the #1 singers on RCA, except in different generations.

Hale County, This Morning This Evening (2018; d. RaMell Ross)
This also made the Film Comment Top 10, which is thrilling. One of the documentaries of the year (and it was an extremely strong year for documentaries.) I wrote a little bit about the film here.

Intervention, a couple of Season 16 episodes
They haven’t changed the format since it started. It works. One of the strengths of the show is its sense of realism about addiction, and those final sometimes devastating credit lines: “so and so relapsed.” or “so and so has been sober since …” or “so and so is now living with [terrible drug addict boyfriend” … No easy fix. Getting clean is hard.

Roma (2018; d. Alfonso Cuaron)
Jen and I went to go see this at the IFC Center. It was my second time seeing it. It’s overwhelming. It was also great to feel Jen responding to it next to me. She dissolved into sobs during one scene. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll probably know what scene.

Walkabout (1971; d. Nicolas Roeg)
An international sensation. It’s been years since I saw it. Wonderful to revisit.

Sweet Bird of Youth (1989; d. Nicolas Roeg)
What a treat this was. I saw it on TV when it first aired. I knew the script by heart, practically, as well as the original movie starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Elizabeth Taylor is fantastic as “The Princess.” Page made her name playing the role, and it could be seen as definitive, I suppose. But there are many ways to approach things. Taylor used her own “way in” and it all made perfect sense. She was funny and sad and sexually desperate and occasionally biting in her wit and self-awareness.

Bad Timing (1980; d. Nicolas Roeg)
Theresa Russell’s performance … Good Lord in heaven is it good. She was only 23 years old. If Nicolas Roeg hadn’t come along, and saw something else in her besides “hot blonde” … who knows what would have happened. This is an unbelievable performance. Very upsetting movie.

Track 29 (1988; d. Nicolas Roeg)
This movie is WACKO. I don’t think I had seen it before. I tracked it down in preparation for my Nicolas Roeg tribute in Film Comment. With Theresa Russell again, as a bored housewife with a Southern accent, who sleeps in a bedroom surrounded by her dolls. There’s a kind of 29 Wagons Full of Cotton thing going on here. She’s married to none other than Christopher Lloyd, who is obsessed with his model train set, and can’t be bothered to pay attention to her. Into this mix comes Gary Oldman, a mysterious stranger who materializes – literally – by the side of the road, and seeks out Russell, claiming to be the child she gave up for adoption years before. She and Oldman are almost the same age, though, so you wonder what else might be going on here. The movie goes off the rails. Just like Christopher Lloyd’s beloved train set. It’s INSANE. Young actresses today, for the most part, are not willing to go where Theresa Russell went in her work. Or maybe they’re not able to. Or maybe the roles just aren’t being written, and therefore the actresses don’t develop those skills. Women now are supposed to be empowering role models or “badasses” or walk around with “agency”. What about humanity? What about the ugliness of life and love? What about pain and sorrow and desperation and making HUGE mistakes and behaving badly? This is where Russell LIVES and I DIG IT.

Supernatural, Season 14, episode 8 “Byzantium” (2018; d. Eduardo Sánchez)
This moment below … I was like, “What the hell are those people smoking over there? Castiel laughing like this? In what freakin’ world? Stop reading fan forums and fan fic. This is fan fic, not the show. Jesus GOD just understand the damn characters you’re writing. Keep some consistency.” That being said: Veronica Cartwright was fantastic.

Minding the Gap (2018; d. Bing Liu)
Wonderful documentary. I wrote a little bit about it here.

Mindhunter, Season 1 (2018; d. David Fincher, and others)
I re-watched the whole thing. I am looking forward to Season 2. It’s deeper than I first perceived. It’s not just about setting up the Behavioral Science Unit. It’s really about men. The certainty of men. The entitlement of men. But the WAY it’s about these things is really subtle. There’s a cloud of plausible deniability around it (just like there is in the book). I can’t wait for Season 2.

Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (Season 3 episodes, so far)
This woman. THIS WOMAN. HERO. HERO. I can’t even believe where she’s going in Season 3. I mean, I believe it, but I still – as a long-time critic – have moments of disconnect where I think, “She’s actually daring to go HERE?” I admire her so much.

Deadwood, Season 2, episodes 1 – 6
Okay, okay, so now I know what the fuss was all about. The kidney stone episode was unbearable. Even now, I think about it, and shiver with revulsion. I was screaming, “NO. NO. NO.” However, it did make me think: we human beings are tough motherfuckers. Look at all we have endured for MILLENNIA before modern meds came around. We are stronger than we know.

Supernatural, Season 14, episode 9 “The Spear” (2018; d. Amyn Kaderali)
It’s weird. It’s almost like the Uncanny Valley Effect. Even in moments that sorta work, you still know somewhere … “Something is really really off.” I’m so bummed. I coulda used the escape of this show over the last wretched two years. They let me down.

Last Tango in Paris (1973; d. Bernardo Bertolucci)
Charley and I went to go see it at The Quad. After all the chatter around the film, especially in the wake of Bertolucci’s death, it was good to engage with the actual thing. When things become too abstract, I lose interest. I want to engage with the thing, whatever it is. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. I wish people would return the favor. I’ve seen this movie so many times, the first time when I was a teenager and in the first flush of my Brando phase. Even then, as a 14, 15 year old, I felt its mournfulness. For me, it was all about the grief and the sadness, the wellspring from which every single thing happens in the film. It’s still that way for me. And she is a survivor. He goes down with the ship. She knows enough to get out when she’s had enough. Brando gives one of the great all-time performances. Maybe even the greatest. Nobody else could do it. It’s all him.

The Innocent Man (2018)
A true crime mini-series on Netflix, based on a John Grisham book (a non-fiction book). I thought it was really good.

The Destroyer (2018; d. Karyn Kusama)
I reviewed for Ebert. The whole movie was basically about Nicole Kidman’s makeup job.

Girl (2018; d. Lukas Dhont)
I am reviewing this one for Ebert.

What Happened Was… (1994; d. Tom Noonan)
I’ve been wanting to write about this GREAT movie for years. I actually did write something already, but it was a million eons ago and it’s time to re-visit.

McQueen (2018; d. Ian Bonhôte)
A devastating (and informative) documentary about fashion designer Alexander McQueen. I was so upset by this film.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942; d. Orson Welles)
Everyone knows the story about Ambersons, how the studio took it away from Welles, and re-cut it, ruining it (in Welles’ opinion). The original Welles-cut is the Holy Grail of cinema. HOWEVER. The re-cut version is also, in my opinion, something of a masterpiece. It’s heartbreaking, detailed, character-driven and yet also … its themes are enormous: progress, America, technology, ethical concerns, ambition … It’s gigantic. I love this film. It’s been a very Welles-heavy year and I’m so happy about it.

The House That Jack Built (2018; d. Lars Von Trier)
After all THAT, after all the controversy and outrage (from many who had not even seen the film yet) … I absolutely loved it. Matt Dillon is great, his best in years. And LVT is his typical provoking self. Sometimes you’re like, “Oh, come ON, Lars, REALLY??” but that’s part of what you get if you get into him. The movie is funny, too. Someone on Facebook expressed surprise that I had liked it. Well, I’m on record loving LVT, and with taking him seriously as an artist, even as he drives me crazy, which he often does. Don’t make assumptions about me, please. Or at least read more of my work before you assume I will or will not like something. I think Melancholia is one of the best movies of the last 30 years. I loved the Nymphomaniac series. I’m still not on board with Breaking the Waves. He’s very difficult. Sometimes enraging. But I think he’s major, and I think his work is worth grappling with. There’s much to grapple. It’s even fun to argue with him. This is a nutty movie. Footage of Glenn Gould playing the piano is involved, for example.

Out of the Blue (1980; d. Dennis Hopper)
This movie is streaming on Amazon. It’s such an important movie. Linda Manz as a punk-rock and Elvis-obsessed teenager, trying to deal with her life, her ex-con dad (Hopper), her floozy junkie mom (Sharon Ferrell). There’s a bleak nihilistic atmosphere and the film has the courage of its convictions. That final scene! There are many “Elvis haunted” movies. Out of the Blue is #1 on that list.

Murder By Numbers (2002; d. Barbet Schroeder)
Prompted by a conversation on Twitter. In my opinion, this is Sandra Bullock’s best performance. (I referenced it in my review for Destroyer. Bullock is playing a similar character, and yet she doesn’t try to over-play it with a zombie-like makeup job. It’s all in her acting.) This was the first moment I noticed Ryan Gosling. My reaction was: “Holy shit, who is THAT.”

North Dallas Forty (1979; d. Ted Kotcheff)
Such a good film. With such a good performance from Nick Nolte at its center. It’s launched a Nick Nolte retrospective at Chez Sheila. I wrote about one of Nick Nolte’s acting moments – and Nick Nolte, in general.

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7 Responses to December 2018 Viewing Diary

  1. Saw Don’t Look Now at the Loew’s on Weybosset after it had become a 99-cent house. (And what a long time ago that was.) Fantastic movie. What I remember best is when we were leaving this furious guy was yelling at his girlfriend, “Are you happy now? Are you happy now?”

  2. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, I’m home recouping from knee replacement and then five days in the hospital from a bleed out, and needed something to watch to get my mind going. So I watched the two Frontlines, the one you mentioned about American Nazis and also Charlottesville. I’ve been fascinated by this shit for years. How did we get here, how did these young men get here? What feeds them? Where do we go from here? Same with cults and other forms of tyranny and extremism. But this, so far, is no Jim Jones or Moon, or Hubbard or fill in the blank. This takes us back to one of the most devastating times in our recent history. I’ve been watching this play out, over and over again. Enough. I have no more words. Except that I wish I were as brave as AC — the reporter. He is amazing. I should honor him with his full name, but can’t remember it. I’m on drugs. hahaha

  3. Hillary says:

    Ms. Sheila- You’d be right to think this a stupid question, but HOW are you so productive with your writing? You must be always either writing or reading or watching something. It’s inspiring, truly, to see how much you put out. And it’s always prime content no matter the subject. I think I’m just in awe as I’ve been rather stuck lately. What’s your secret, if you have one!?

    • sheila says:

      Hillary – Thank you! // You must be always either writing or reading or watching something. // Bingo.

      Honestly, it’s a bit much, sometimes but it’s hard to balance it when you’re freelance. It’s like you have to be all in all the time!!

      I am sometimes stuck, and in those cases – maybe this will help? – that’s when I’ll suddenly write up some gigantic recap of a Supernatural episode 10 years old. Something so long that I could never sell it anywhere. Something purely for me and for the Supernatural people who show up here. When I write purely for myself, sometimes it helps me get un-stuck. But then there are times, on deadline, where I just have to power through. It doesn’t matter how much I don’t want to review such-and-such – I’ve got a deadline, and I’m getting paid, so I have to get it done! It’s like constantly being in college during mid-terms. :)

      Another thing that helps is the birthday posts I do. Many I just recycle from year to year – but I’ll tweak them, add new things, etc. What I like about doing these birthday posts is that it forces me to write about something- I’ll see it’s ee cummings’ birthday or whatever and realize: Hey. I can write about him. I’ve got some stuff to say and some quotes, etc. I don’t over-think those posts, I jsut gather my forces, and put it all out there. People really love those posts too and find them in Google searches like years later. It’s a good writing exercise.

      Good luck! Keep writing!! Even if it’s just a paragraph!

      • hillary says:

        I needed to come back in and thank you!! It’s been a few weeks and I took what you said and ran with it. Instead of focusing on the one big project on my plate, (which was sucking the air out of my lungs,) I’ve started various other projects just to get some writing done, and found that by doing so, I am better led by my inspiration and it’s super freakin’ productive! I’ve also found that – I quite enjoy writing for my SELF!!! So thanks for saying that. I’ve got traction now where I need it and can feel the momentum building. Reading, writing, & watching. Staying focused and inspired. Thanks for your kind words, Ms. Sheila, I’ll always come back to them!

        • sheila says:

          Hillary – thank you so much for checking back in. I’m so happy for you and I’m happy my words helped in some small way. Good luck with everything you’re working on!

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