September 2019 Viewing Diary

Satanic Panic (2019; d. Chelsea Stardust)
Rebecca Romijn is reason enough to see this. My review at Ebert.

A Hidden Life (2019; d. Terrence Malick)
The new Terrence Malick film, about WWII conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, a man from Austria, the only person in his village to vote against the 1938 Anschluss, who refused to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler, was imprisoned and then executed in 1943. An intense film, a very Malick film, spiritual and seeking and pained. Almost three hours long.

Chained for Life (2019; d. Aaron Schimberg)
SUCH a good film. My review for Ebert here.

Mindhunter, Season 2, episode 5
The series is so good. I keep wanting to re-visit it.

The Driver (1978; d. Walter Hill)
Part of my gratifying deep dive into the films of Walter Hill. As you’ve guessed, I’ve been working on something. It was such a fun project. Will probably launch in November. The Driver was a real revelation. Ryan O’Neal, Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Dern, nocturnal, taciturn, O’Neal at his withholding best – a sweet spot for him: calm and unruffled, almost cold, but also starting to freak out that he’s being framed. Plus: unbelievable car chases. Dizzying. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Late Spring/Regrets For Our Youth (2009; d. Aaron Schimberg)
Watched in preparation for Chained for Life review. A short film about (among other things) Schimberg’s operation to fix his cleft palate.

Johnny Handsome (1989; d. Walter Hill)
I’ve re-watched this a bunch this year. First for my piece about “men looking at themselves in the mirror,” a piece that had been percolating for a decade, and I finally wrote it. I put it off for a reason. Halfway through struggling to write it, I realized it was actually a book. Or it could be. There are so many memorable scenes in this sub-category. Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye, and many more. But one of the best – seriously, top of the heap – is the moment in Johnny Handsome where Mickey Rourke peels off the bandages and sees his new face. It is so much deeper than the surrounding movie. There are so many layers to the moment, and it happens in stages. When it finally reaches its nadir – or apex – the walls literally blow back, the roof comes off. I watched with my sister Jean, and she gasped and said, “Can we re-wind that and watch again?” Humorous tangent: Michael, whom I have written about often, primarily here, but also here, the long-time-ago short-term boyfriend, yet lifelong friend, wrote to me a long while back to scold me when I wrote on here that I had never seen Johnny Handsome before. He was pissed, because he had actually showed me the movie. We rented it from Blockbuster because he needed me to see it (loving Mickey Rourke was one of our many bonds). To Michael, it was an extremely special memory. And I had totally forgotten it. Lol.

Tree of Life (2011; d. Terrence Malick)
In preparation for my piece on A Hidden Life, I re-watched all of Malick’s films this month. Which was … yeah, intense. I didn’t re-watch Badlands, because I know it so well, and had just re-watched it for my piece on the use of “Love is Strange” for Criterion. Tree of Life is a film like no other and I love it. I reviewed it for Capital New York (now Politico) when it came out.

Sleeping With Other People (2015; d. Leslye Headland)
I remembered loving this movie and I wasn’t wrong. Allison and I watched it. Written and directed by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne’s co-creator for the great Russian Doll. I’m a huge fan. Sleeping with Other People has one of the most sex-positive and female-empowered scene I’ve ever seen. In its specificity and simplicity, it’s radical. In the middle of a bad hookup, where the sex is not going well, she takes control to show him how she likes it. And he is thrilled and grateful. Men are not mind readers. They’re human beings. And most of them want you to feel good. If he’s not doing it the way you like it, take a chance and show him. Turn that shit around. The good men will love it, because they want you to feel good. She is a ROLE MODEL in that scene. I really like this movie.

Untouchable (2019; d. Ursula Macfarlane)
The story of Harvey Weinstein. Stark contrast to what I just wrote above. There’s a difference between an unsatisfying hookup and an assault from a predator. Listening to all these women’s stories made us (Allison and I watched it together) see red. So proud of all these women for coming forward. The pain is still palpable, even though, in many cases, the assaults happened decades ago. The woman who was assaulted by him back when he was a concert promoter in Buffalo could barely speak at points. Her story shows it wasn’t just power and fame that made Weinstein a monster. He was a predator BEFORE he was famous. What a gross man. Good riddance.

The Thin Red Line (1998; d. Terrence Malick)
The gap in films has always fascinated me. You had to be there to “get” how big a deal it was that Malick was re-emerging. It was an EVENT. It’s so strange sometimes to watch this film: there are all these huge names in it, George Clooney, Jared Leto, Woody Harrelson – relegated to glorified “extras.” Adrian Brodywas cast as the star of the film, he did promotion for it, and he is barely in it. That was also a big deal at the time.

Mindhunter, Season 1
Re-watched the whole thing. It’s so good, so rich! The actors they cast in small roles! The casting director deserves so much credit. Many of the actors are character actors, with barely a “Hey, that’s That Guy” recognition factor. They are new to us, and so we come to them fresh, with no associations. This gives the series an almost documentary-like factor. Fantastic.

Heroin(e) (2017; d Elaine McMillion Sheldon)
Oscar-nominated documentary about the effects the opioid crisis has in one town, and three women fighting – in different ways – to stem the tide. Not optimistic, but heartening to see these women’s actions and devotion (and compassion). This is a human rights crisis, we are in a state of emergency. Fuck the Sackler family.

Unbelievable (2019)
Unbelievable is unbelievable. I have so much to say about it. Toni Collette at her very best. It feels like this was a role she was born to play, and she is an extremely versatile actress. (I was not a fan of Hereditary.) I’ve been a Toni Colette fan since Muriel’s Wedding. She’s in a really great zone here. And I just cannot say enough about Merritt Wever. She was very good in Charlie Says, earlier this year, a movie I have serious reservations about. Honestly, I think her approach should be studied by actors. She does not rush herself, she does not push. She takes her time. She is filled with actual thought. She doesn’t “act like” she’s thinking. I am blown away. It’s great that this isn’t a movie, but a mini-series, because there’s more of her to watch. I’ve watched the whole thing twice now.

The New World (2005; d. Terrence Malick)
This came out right around the time I started writing primarily about film here, and started frequenting various film bloggers. There were many many arguments about The New World. To call those arguments “lively” would be an understatement. The “sides” were clear. People were trying to “win” this argument – which has always seemed silly to me. Art is subjective. I wasn’t a “critic” then, I was still in an actor mindset, and so I watched, agog, as these people argued about this movie for WEEKS ON END. My takeaway was: What are these people going on and on about again? It was totally foreign to me. I had seen it, and admired it, but honestly didn’t really get why people were laying down their lives pro-or-con. To each his own, as my dad always said.

Jawline (2019; d.
I made Allison watch this. We watched it together. I knew she would love it. I was surprised by my response to this movie. I started off judgmental – I disagree quite strongly with this desire for Insta-fame thing … like, how about develop some real skills? But the film made me understand, the film made me get what girls see in these “stars.” My review for Ebert. I thought of the final line in my review when I started following Austyn on Instagram and found out he had just started college.

Rukus (2018; d. Brett Hanover)
I was a juror at Indie Memphis in the “Hometowners” category, along with Leah Giblin and Michael Taylor. When we sat down at our jury breakfast to vote, we found we were unanimous in thinking Rukus was the clear winner for Best Feature. We all fell in love with it. I wrote briefly about it for my roundup at Ebert, and will be publishing something more in-depth in a couple of weeks (it’s about to be released online). I want people to see this movie.

To the Wonder (2013; d. Terrence Malick)
After 20 years of silence, and then a movie, and then another 7 years of silence, Malick suddenly started coming out with a movie every couple of years. It seemed like a miracle (to those of us who are curious about him, that is). I have my beefs with Malick. The twirling woman motif. The waving treetops. But these are not “tics.” They are Malick showing us how he sees things, like any personal director. I was not a fan of To the Wonder when it first came out, and I think it still has problems. Ben Affleck seems lost. So does Rachel McAdams. She does not seem like a woman who owns a ranch and works a ranch at all. The two of them standing broodingly in fields of waving wheat looked like two actors who didn’t know what the hell was going on. And casting a non-actor in the lead female role also caused problems. But I have seen it a couple of times now, and my “way in” has to do with Malick’s view of nature. Which … I ALSO have issues with. Lol. But his responsiveness to beauty is something that helps me see, helps me look and perceive. It is one of his greatest gifts.

Knight of Cups (2016; d. Terrence Malick)
I barely remembered this one. Seeing Malick’s “the dangers of celebrity” take was very bizarre the first time out. It didn’t seem his milieu at all. Now I get it. Much of his work is about fathers and sons, this one too. Tree of Life is his main “statement” (if you can call it that) on fathers and sons. Again: for me, Knight of Cups is best in how it shows Malick’s way of seeing, his seeking searching eye. The parade of crying twirling women does nothing for me. But the waves and the grass and the skies … the parts of his work that annoy so many people … these are the things I most love in him.

Angel Heart (1987; d. Mickey Rourke)
It’s been years. This film radicalized my group of actor friends in college. We saw it and could not get over it, and him. My friend David and I went to Bickford’s, a diner in Rhode Island, and literally talked until the sun came up. Mickey Rourke was a revelation. I have written about him, and it. He is as good as I remember. I love in the extras on the DVD, a current-day Rourke is interviewed (holding a small dog in his hands, because of course), and he keeps saying, almost amused, “I really didn’t think at all about the performance beyond learning the lines.” That’s because you’re a genius. Peak Rourke.

This Is What Love in Action Looks Like (2011; d. Morgan Jon Fox)
Morgan Jon Fox is a filmmaker from Memphis. He shows up in a small “role” in Rukus, playing himself, re-enacting his own life (you must see Rukus). This is a documentary about the protests in Memphis against the “Love in Action” residency program, keeping kids there against their will, not to mention the whole harmful attitude that you can make gay kids straight. An amazing documentary, it’s on Amazon. Morgan Jon Fox was a leader in those protests, tireless in organizing and showing up, but also in documenting what was going on.

The Lighthouse (2019; d. Robert Eggers)
Robert Eggers is major. His debut was The VVitch. The Lighthouse is his follow-up, a film in black-and-white with only two main characters, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, both extraordinary. This film, people. It’s not out yet. You must see it. It’s about two lighthouse keepers.

Hustlers (2019; d. Lorene Scafaria)
I enjoyed it! Great cast.

The Death of Dick Long (2019; d. Daniel Scheinert)
I have no idea if my review will convince people to check this movie out. I hope so. I laughed out loud. I have a huge crush on Michael Abbot, Jr. This is a very very funny movie. A rarity nowadays.

Supernatural, Season 9, episode 23 “Do You Believe in Miracles?” (2014; d. )
I watched for Jensen Ackles dead in the final scene, since I knew I wanted to include him in my column about death scenes for Film Comment. He is so so good at Death.

The Swimmer (1968; d. Frank Perry)
What an extraordinary film, and WHAT a performance. The film really captures the surreal fable-like mood of John Cheever’s story. It’s written in a realistic way – so you think – but what is going on is not realistic at all.

Ash is Purest White (2019; d. Jia Zhangke)
One of the best films of the year, and Zhao Tao gives a tremendous performance.

Casino (1995; d. Martin Scorsese)
It’s been a while. I haven’t seen The Irishman yet. I am missing the entire New York Film Festival. I’m out of town this whole week. Oh well. I’ll catch up.

Adaptation (2002; d. Spike Jonze)
So wildly inventive I can’t believe it exists. I was howling watching it. Meryl Streep’s line reading: “We have to kill him.” So ridiculous! So bold and funny and smart.

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10 Responses to September 2019 Viewing Diary

  1. Jim Reding says:

    I haven’t seen “To the Wonder” since it was new, but Javier Bardem’s character was my entry point. Priests and ministers in American film are generally critical, satirical, or saccharine (I have no issue with the former two, the latter always feel insulting). His was one of the few, maybe the only times, I’ve seen a representation of the toll that job can take on someone who approaches it from a devout, sincere place.
    It hit me in a really personal way, because my dad was a minister for over 40 years, and I know that whatever his faults, he always felt he was called to do that to serve others and remained humble throughout his life.
    I’m not sure I’d be up for a re-watch right now. My dad died about a month ago from complications from a severe car accident he was in back in December (he never made it back home following the wreck). I am interested to see how I’ll feel about it once I’m ready for one.

    • Jim Reding says:

      On a (much) lighter note, whenever I think of that specific line reading in “Adaptation,” I remember discussing it with a couple who’d just seen it. They said the film broke immediately after that line.

    • sheila says:

      Jim – I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t know what else to say. That is heart-wrenching. My condolences to you and your family.

      • Jim Reding says:

        Thank you, Sheila. It was quite an emotional roller coaster. He would have some progress which gave us hope, only to have a major setback, basically putting him back to square one. After months of fighting, he eventually decided he was ready to surrender. It wasn’t what we wanted, but we did our best to accept it and support him.
        Following months of stress and uncertainty, I initially felt a sense of relief that it was finally over. It’s only now starting to set in that he’s gone. It’s not a rite of passage I was ready for, but I doubt anyone truly ever is.

    • sheila says:

      // Javier Bardem’s character was my entry point. // You and me both! He was the whole film for me. I couldn’t “grasp” the love triangle of the other characters – it didn’t seem real to me – but he was real.

      // His was one of the few, maybe the only times, I’ve seen a representation of the toll that job can take on someone who approaches it from a devout, sincere place. //

      I totally agree.

  2. Scotter says:

    From my Hollywood days, there was always a cautionary note among the struggling up-and-comers because of the guy who threw a mega-watch-party for his breakout sitcom role, so found out he was cut out in front of EVERYBODY. But what they did to Adrian Brody was so so so very cruel. It cracks me up every time it’s mentioned.

    • sheila says:

      I know, right?? I mean, he literally is not in the movie at all. Maybe one or two shots?? It must have been so horrifying! and yeah, I remember him being very vocal and “wtf” about it, because he had no idea he had been edited out. but also watching it, you have moments like, woah, John Savage is in this?? George Clooney – but you can barely hear what he’s saying? It’s a very weird movie like that.

  3. Jim Reding says:

    Watched “Sleeping With Other People” last night. It had been on the “I may get around to” list. Your recommendation, plus the fact that I’d someone missed that it was from Leslye Headland (loved “Russian Doll”) bumped it up.
    Favorite moments:
    Alison Brie correcting Adam Brody: “It’s Robert Palmer.”
    Sudeikis smelling his hand after Brie it kissed goodbye.
    And I’ve come to associate Adam Scott so much with Ben Wyatt on “Parks and Recreation” that I tend to forget how well he also plays smarmy (see also “Step Brothers”).

  4. Sarah says:

    “Unbelievable” was the new “Mindhunter” for me. I loved it so much, and particularly that it was the story of a real case. It’s always fascinating when this really happened, and I agree Toni Collette and Merritt Wever were terrific separately and together. I’ve loved Merritt since “Nurse Jackie” on Showtime—she was perfection and won an Emmy, deservedly. And ohhhhhh, “Muriel’s Wedding,” how I love thee. I can quote much of that film to this day. Porpoise Spit!

    I can’t wait for The Lighthouse! I promised myself I’d follow the career of the dude who did The VVitch (what we call it around my house.) The trailer tells you absolutely nothing, yet it is TERRIFYING. It’s terrifying, right? :)

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