December 2019 Viewing Diary

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019; d. Marielle Heller)
This is a really good film. Thoughtful and deep. I love Marielle Heller’s work so much and so psyched to see whatever it is she chooses to do next.

The Farewell (2019; d. Lulu Wang)
A phenomenal film. Awkwafina gives one of my favorite performances of the year, and Zhao Shuzhen is equally excellent. They’re all good though. This is my kind of movie. A family ensemble. I was incredibly moved by this film.

Little Women (2019; d. Greta Gerwig)
I think it’s very strong. And I’m a Little Women snob. Katharine Hepburn is still the ultimate Jo, and Cukor’s vision of Jo is still the most subversive (as subversive as the book), but Gerwig has structured her version in a very interesting way, and it really really works. Best of all is the re-thinking of Amy March. Florence Pugh steals the film. Gerwig’s from California, and none of the actresses playing the March sisters are American, so … I miss the staunch upright New England feeling, so important to the book – the New England THING is very specific. Puritan roots. If this makes me sound provincial, then I’ll just throw this Thomas Hardy quote out there, which comes in handy: “A certain provincialism is invaluable. It is the essence of individuality, and is largely made up of that crude enthusiasm without which no great thoughts are thought, no great deeds done.” Katharine Hepburn had New England coursing through her veins. These things matter. Still. I thought the film was lovely and I loved Gerwig’s innovations! Her adaptation deserves all the praise it’s getting.

Supernatural, Season 15, episode 7 “Last Call” episode 7 (2019; d. Amyn Kaderali)
People were very upset about this one on Twitter. But I liked a lot of this. Yes, Dean suddenly singing is whatevs, very silly … but once upon a time in Hollywood, actors who could sing were given the chance to show their stuff in whatever vehicle they were in. (See: all of Elvis’ movies. See: Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo). So I didn’t mind him bursting into song. The main thing I enjoyed in this episode was its sense of roominess. Lots of conversations. But … there’s always something “off” now. The “Eye of the Tiger” reference made me see RED. The way John is talked about. It’s lacking in ambiguity. They’ve let the power out of the father figure symbol. This team has no idea how to deal with symbols, how to mine them for drama, context, thematic significance. Also: Castiel bringing the Russian oligarch into the bunker. Castiel: STOP HELPING. That whole thing shows how lazy everyone is over there. Rowena’s gone. So now Castiel – an angel – can’t figure anything out on his own, and has to call in a skeezy Russian oligarch who has already proven himself untrustworthy. Like … do they think we’re stupid? Do they think Castiel fans are stupid? If I were a Castiel fan, I would be so pissed off. That whole plotline also showed the devastating effect Rowena has had on the show. As long as they had her on speed dial, they had a built in deus-ex-machina. Without her, they don’t know what to do. It’s also annoying that Sam is a damsel in distress. Here would be my fix: If they are going to develop this Eileen-Sam thing, which it seems like they are … then why not have Castiel “go find help” (in other words: leave the episode) … and have EILEEN be the one who has to try to save Sam, all on her own, using her own smarts and knowledge, but also deepening her connection to Sam? What if she made a “bad deal” to save Sam? Just like Dean once did? This would loop Eillen into the Winchester Belljar, and give the whole Arc some Oomph. I realize there are people who don’t want Eileen there at all, who resent her presence, but these tend to be the “the brothers always choose each other” people … people who hated Season 8 in other words (lol), whereas I see a lot of value in those moments where the brothers choose otherwise. It’s in those conflicts where we get some really rich relationship stuff. Anyway, if they’re trying to develop Eileen-Sam, then why not have HER be the one to try to save Sam? This would invest us in the two of them more, as opposed to having them say “we had too many margaritas last night” – and then not show us that scene?? Like … what the hell, amateur hour. They take WAY too much for granted.

Bombshell (2019; d. Jay Roach)
I don’t understand the choice to use such extreme prosthetics on Charlize Theron’s face. It’s so distracting. She has Megyn Kelly’s voice DOWN. There are things here I liked (Kate McKinnon is one) and things I didn’t. Like: these women were complicit in a system that abused them. This is a thing. This is what happens. The interrogation of the system itself isn’t really present, and it’s a strange choice. It’s a strange movie.

Knives Out (2019; d. Rian Johnson)
This is such a blast. See it!

Black Christmas (1974; d. Bob Clark)
The 1974 version is a classic. There’s a review out there of the new adaptation, which seems to miss how political the original is. Typical. The writer – a young woman – needs to pump up the new one as a “political” movie, a commentary on “how we live right now”, and so she needs to downgrade the original in order to make her case. Lazy. She somehow misses entirely that it came out in 1974, and one of its main plots has to do with abortion. Roe v. Wade was in 1973. The whole damn THING is political. What is going to happen to us if we don’t do our due diligence to understand even our most RECENT history? I love this movie. Margot Kidder! Andrea Martin!

Dark Waters (2019; d. Todd Haynes)
This is really good. I love “individual goes after a corrupt corporation” movies. And this is the SECOND movie Mark Ruffalo has made about the evil of Du Pont.

Black Christmas (2019; d. Sophia Takal)
I’m not crazy about the remake, although Sophia Takal’s visual style is always fascinating, beautiful and ominous simultaneously. I’ve been a fan of Takal’s for years. I wrote about her for Film Comment.

Green (2011; d. Sophia Takal)
Sophia Takal’s first film. It’s amazing. You should see it.

The Irishman (2019; d. Martin Scorsese)
My second time. I think it’s a masterpiece.

Supernatural, Season 15, episode 8 “Our Father, Who Aren’t in Heaven” (2019; d. Richard Speight Jr.)
I was blown away by Jake Abel’s work here. There are fans who are like “we don’t care about Adam, we hate Adam” … what’s this WE you’re talking about? I have always thought Adam had huge potential, and always thought the show should loop back around to deal with it. I was super happy with how they did it, and thrilled at the strength of Jake Abel’s work (not surprised, though: he’s been doing amazing work in the DECADE since he first appeared on Supernatural). This is (or was) a show about family, about the nightmare that is family, so I really loved the space given for this unfinished business. Abel acted Misha Collins off the damn screen.

Always Shine (2016; d. Sophia Takal)
God, I love this film. I originally reviewed it for Ebert, which started me on my Takal fascination. I wrote about the film at length in my column at Film Comment (link above).

The Great Escape (1962; d. John Sturges)
What a classic.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999; d. Stanley Kubrick)
Such a strange eerie movie. Like a dream. Kim Morgan’s piece on it is the one to read.

Reversal of Fortune (1990; d. Barbet Schroeder)
I haven’t seen this in years. I saw it during its original release with a group of friends, all of whom are Rhode Islanders, and we saw it IN Rhode Island. We knew this case inside and out. We were sick of our state being associated with it. There’s a line in the film – “Everyone knows Rhode Island is the most corrupt state in America” … and the audience burst into laughter and applause. These are my people. It was very weird, because the von Bulows weren’t “one of us” … they were “Newport people.” A whole different world. They brought infamy down upon us. It’s a hell of a film, really. As Mitchell says: “Stylized realism.” A bit of hagiography there with Alan Dershowitz, though, which is kind of gross in retrospect. He’s the man of the people, playing basketball with his students, even having an affair with one of them. Watching this movie makes me so ANGRY on Annabella Sciorra’s behalf. She’s so GOOD.

Cats (2019; d. Tom Hooper)
Oh dear. Listen, it’s ridiculous, but so was the source material. My review at Ebert.

Klute (1971; d. Alan Pakula)
Everyone is working at such a high and intuitive level here, it’s dazzling. A perfect movie. I took an acting workshop with Vivian Nathan, who plays the psychiatrist. Just FYI.

Christopher Strong (1933; d. Dorothy Arzner)
This helped cement Hepburn’s stardom. There was nothing else like her out there. She was a unique figure in cinema. Still is. She’s so …. strange. And Christopher Strong lets her be strange, even down to her costume as a moth. This makes me think of Camille Paglia’s thoughts on Hepburn as a “Diana” figure, an “Artemis” figure. It helps “place” her, but also helps show why she is so un-placeable, in general.

The Magnificent Seven (1960; d. John Sturges)
Poor Yul Brynner, having to endure Steve McQueen’s shameless scene-stealing! But Brynner is compelling all on his own. There’s something fascinating about watching all this unabashed peacocking male ego up onscreen!

Bullitt (1968; d. Peter Yates)
Interesting thing. I mentioned this at Christmas dinner. Ben, who saw the film in its initial release, and probably never once since then, said, “There’s that moment before the car chase where the guy puts on his seat belt …” It’s been 50 years since he saw the movie and he remembers a moment that specifically. THAT’S a good movie.

Used Cars (1980; d. Robert Zemeckis)
God, I love this heartless movie.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1947; d. Frank Capra)
This is a movie about a suicidal man. It’s amazing it has become a family holiday classic.

Cluny Brown (1946; d. Ernst Lubitsch)
Finally got around to watching the Criterion release of this classic Lubitsch film. Jennifer Jones! Turned on by plumbing! So wonderful! One of the “extras” on the DVD is a fascinating and fun conversation between Farran Nehme and Molly Haskell about Lubitsch’s films.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941; d. Preston Sturges)
Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake together … you kind of can’t beat it. It’s a perfect pairing. She’s so wonderful. Her look is so specific, but if you only saw what she LOOKED like, you might not guess the earthy quality of her acting. She’s very very real.

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940; d. Dorothy Arzner)
Wonderful. Lucille Ball kills it.

The Bride Wore Red (1937; d. Dorothy Arzner)
Joan Crawford is Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Even down to the waiter giving her tips on which silverware to use. This is classic Joan Crawford: girl from wrong side of the tracks, making her way up into another level. And I love the relationship between her and the hotel maid. It’s very real. Complex.

Get Your Man (1927; d. Dorothy Arzner)
There’s a very funny scene at the end where Clara Bow kicks up a total racket, tossing furniture around, jumping on the bed, pulling down lamps, all to cause a scene on purpose, to draw people to the room, to create a scandal. It’s such a funny sequence. She’s a MANIAC! People talk about a ‘generation gap’ now … I don’t think anything can compare to the break in tradition that was the 1920s flapper girl. There’s a reason the rise of the flapper coincided with the rise of the Snooty Dowager Archetype. The horror must have been unbelievable. No way to bridge that gap.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968; d. Norman Jewison)
This is a very weird movie. It can only be seen in the context of its time, which is: Steve McQueen is the biggest star in the world, let’s create a movie where we revel in him, in his parts, his eyes, his mouth, his chest, let’s isolate those parts, and then freeze-frame those parts, so everyone gets the point that that IS the point. Listen. I’m not complaining.

Craig’s Wife (1936; d. Dorothy Arzner)
This is apparently based on a novel – and it was re-made again the 1950s, with Joan Crawford (it’s terrific). Although one could look at this and see it as misogynistic … I actually think it’s a fairly biting critique on what happens when women have limited options. They can become tyrants of domesticity. Listen, I’ve seen it in real life, and you probably have too. Women who treat their husbands like children, and then are shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – when he strays. Rosalind Russell plays the role here and it’s a fearlessly unlikable performance. John Boles plays “Craig” and he’s a willing dupe, a completely emasculated man, pussy-whipped, if you will. This is the only power she can wield. It’s psychotic, yes, in a Sleeping with the Enemy kind of way, where “cleanliness” becomes a weapon, a symbol of madness. Anyway, I think it’s all very interesting.

The Mindy Project Season 2 binge-watch
Siobhan and I have been continuing our binge-watch! It’s so much fun! I love the writing, the characters, the madcap-screwball vibe. It’s really really good. Season 2 brings Adam Pally to the fold. I love him!

Last Train from Gun Hill (1959; d. John Sturges)
I had never seen this before. It’s really REALLY good.

Never So Few (1959; d. John Sturges)
Notable because it’s Steve McQueen’s first big moment in the sun. He plays a small-ish role so he can’t really steal it – but the film misses him whenever he’s not onscreen. The love story here stinks.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965; d. Norman Jewison)
Co-stars include Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margaret and Joan Blondell, all of whom appeared opposite Elvis at one point. This is a really fun movie. And there’s something really moving about seeing Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson acting together … old Warner Brothers colleagues, together again.

The Blob (1958; d. Irvin Yeaworth)
It’s so good. The theme song! The gleam of those cars. The inky-black backgrounds. All those bright colors and shadows.

The End of the World Cult (2007; d. Ben Anthony)
I feel so bad for these people, especially the children. They are so unbelievably brainwashed. There’s a closeup of the face of one of his “witnesses” … this comes early on, and she looks completely insane, as she stares up at him. She looks, like, Sandra Good insane. She believes totally. When the end of the world doesn’t come, the whole cult walks around at midnight calling out, “Liberty!” and it’s such a crock of shit, but they buy it because they have to. It’s textbook. I’ve been trying to figure out what happened to some of those kids. They haunt me. It’s amazing the access the filmmaker was given!

Junior Bonner (1972; d. Sam Peckinpah)
A weird movie, but not in a bad way. Nothing really happens. There’s some rodeo scenes. There’s a romance, but barely. There’s an extended fight scene in a bar which is very funny. Peckinpah slows things down, intercuts the action, freeze-frames, etc., for no discernible reason – it’s a pretty straightforward story. It’s filled with great actors – McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino – and it’s amazing to watch Steve McQueen – that most isolated of men – appear in a family drama. Like, he has parents. A brother. Most of his characters seem like they’re foundlings. McQueen and Lupino are completely believable as mother and son, if you can believe that. She’s got the same steely toughness.

Gun Fight at the OK Corral (1957; d. John Sturges)
It’s a story told over and over and over again. Who knows why these legends sink into the collective psyche, why a gunfight over a little unimportant feud takes on such enormous significance – especially when said gunfight lasted only 30 seconds! It has to do with the outsized characters involved, I’m sure. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, etc. Here, in John Sturges’ version, the myth is de-mythologized. Burt Lancaster as Earp and Kirk Douglas as Holliday. Two men teaming up, men different from one another. There’s a hard edge here that I really like. We’re moving into the era of de-mythologization in Westerns, with the Spaghetti Western and everything else … Sturges’ films are important precursors.

The Source Family (2012; d. Jodi Wille, Maria Demopoulos)
I would not have fit in in the 1960s and 70s. I like my individuality too much. This “let’s all be one” thing is a recipe for mind-control, predators, grifters. Many of these people are still true believers. Fascinating. Weirdly – with all my Steve McQueen viewing this month – McQueen and Jim Baker were buddies.

Leaving Bountiful (2002; CBC’s The Fifth Estate)
A documentary about the polygamous sect in Canada, and Debbie Palmer’s escape and advocacy for other victims. I feel so bad for everyone involved. Well, not the perpetrators. This doc was years ago, and the chickens are coming home to roost now. There have been some convictions for child trafficking, etc. Sick disgusting people.

Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019; d. Mark Lewis)
This is unbelievably messed up. The only part I remember is body parts being delivered to members of Canadian political parties. Then I stopped paying attention. Looking at the year involved – 2012-13, I know why I stopped paying attention. My life was falling apart. So here’s a documentary telling the full story. It blew my mind. I almost didn’t get past the first episode. I stopped watching multiple times. Cruelty to animals is involved. And although they don’t SHOW it, they show enough, and I wish I had not seen it. Glad that motherfucker was caught. Sick weirdo.

Hunting Luka Magnotta (2014; CBC’s The Fifth Estate)
After binging the Netflix doc, of course I went down the rabbit hole with this awful awful person. There’s so much footage of him!! Came across this documentary from, again, The Fifth Estate. What a cheery way to close out this dumpster fire of a year.

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21 Responses to December 2019 Viewing Diary

  1. Andy McLenon says:

    My sister went to see Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood on a whim and just loved it and really wants me to see it too. When I saw the trailer for Knives Out I immediately wanted to see it. It just looks like a good old fashion entertaining film like they don’t make enough of these days.
    The Irishman really is a modern classic. I’ve watched twice too. Better the second time because I was relaxed.
    My father took me to see The Great Escape when I was very young and it’s impact replaced The Guns Of Navarone in my early “greatest movie ever list” and I think it’s cool that both had the same life altering effects on many of my male friends in my age group.
    Eyes Wide Shut knocked me out in the theater. I don’t really understand why it’s so polarizing to many of my fellow Kubrick fanatics. I’m a Nicole fan and she love her most of the time and I’ve seen her many times around town and she was a regular customer where I used to work. Anytime I helped her find a cool shirt or something for Keith she was so thankful and sweet it made me an even bigger fan. I know it shouldn’t matter but those things effect my judgment when watching her work. It’s the same with Reece Witherspoon. I was a long time fan then when she was nice to me in similar circumstance I became an apologist for her lesser work haha.

    I rediscovered Klute several years ago. I saw in theater and liked but at the time I thought it was overrated but I was wrong. I really got into it last year after a TCM airing.
    I’m a big Fonda fan and been in love with her since I was a kid. I think it was Cat Ballou that sent me over the edge. But I sometimes get on big Donald Sutherland jags which is dangerous because his catalog is so huge and he’s such an original screen presence. A few nights ago I watched The Split which I don’t recall ever seeing it’s from the 60’s and not great for sure but great for people like us for many reasons. It was Jim Browns first lead role and has an incredible cast. Julie Harris, Diahann Carroll, Gene Hackman, Warren Oates, Ernest Borgnine, James Whitmore, Jack Klugman yelling his way through scene after scene as usual, and a pre fame Donald Sutherland who even back then he just has a way of dominating scenes when he’s just standing there.

    Magnificent Seven and Bullitt are both also big with guys my age. Seeing Bullitt in theater in its day was a mind blower. Now I appreciate the set up before the car scenes a lot. Cracked me up what you said about Thomas Crown. I’d add that it introduced us to one of my favorite one of a kind songs from the 60’s that I still love Windmills Of Your Mind. I saw Faye Dunaways film debut The Happening last week and as an odd artifact it’s riveting but it’s really ridiculous. TCM had a Michael Parks marathon that I watched and he had bleached blonde hair in it. Part of the series was Bus Riley’s Back In Town which I saw with my sister as a kid and and Wild Seed which I’d never seen but thought it was great. Do you know that one?

    Cincinnati Kid is just old Hollywood greatness. I saw when it came out but was knocked out seeing it on TCM the other night.

    I can’t remember seeing Sullivan’s Travels for the first time but I think it was when I was a teenager or in my 20’s and it was on The Late Show or something. I must have seen it 10 times in the last 10 years and just can’t get enough of it.

    I have friends trying to get me to watch Don’t F With Cats but I can’t watch for reasons you said. That kind you thing haunts me in a way I find impossible to shake. I can’t even take the commercials for good charities which try and stop such cruelty.


    • sheila says:

      Andy – you always leave such great rich comments. I love hearing your thoughts about everything.

      Knives Out is totally old-school – like Murder on the Orient Express or something – and everyone gives very broad performances that are very funny. Jamie Lee Curtis! Toni Colette! Daniel Craig smoldering. I really enjoyed it.

      I truly don’t understand the response to Eyes Wide Shut either. I think it’s a truly spooky movie, with this otherworldly weirdo view of New York – like you can never get your bearings. If you live here, then you try to get the geography right – drive out to Long Island for the orgy – back down to the West Village – up to the Upper East Side – but it just doesn’t FEEL right. and of course that’s perfect. I think it’s really good. I love to hear that about Kidman! She’s really good here (“I’m maaaaaaarieed….” weirdest line reading ever) – it’s like everyone is underwater with their line readings – which, again, is perfect – everyone seems exhausted and frayed nerves and not really “on point”. and Sidney Pollack! Watching it again makes me miss him – I love him as an actor.

      // But I sometimes get on big Donald Sutherland jags which is dangerous because his catalog is so huge and he’s such an original screen presence. //

      Ha! I know what you mean! I haven’t seen The Split – amazing cast! That whole Hollywood time is so interesting – when the studios were collapsing – and you’ve got the old guard, but then this new guard coming up – and the work gets very uneven sometimes because of it – but you also get this sense of wildness too. People like Warren Oates, Hackman, Sutherland … it provided great space for these character actors.

      Windmills! Yes! Faye Dunaway also is so fabulous looking. The two of them together … it’s like … how on earth are either of you STANDING it? It’s too much! They’re unreal! It’s fun seeing him play a tycoon – who robs banks for no real reason – he has some line like “I’m against the system” – lol – okay – It looks like Jewison had a ball putting it together – I think Hal Ashby edited? I’d have to check. It’s just all so over-done – the split screens, and all the fancy schmancy effects, etc. – but I like it. It’s fun to look at!

      Hmm I do not know Wild Seed – I’ll have to check it out.

      and yeah, Don’t F with Cats. It’s awful. I do sort of wish I hadn’t seen it, honestly. There’s one shot of a kitten that haunts me. It’s looking up at him in such a trusting way. Infuriating. I gave my cat tons of pats after watching that shitshow. That guy is truly a psycho. At least he’s behind bars. shivers …

      Happy New Year, Andy!

  2. Larry Aydlette says:

    Did you ever read Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle? Or Frederic Raphael’s book on Eyes Wide Shut? You probably have…
    And I love Christopher Strong. You’re right, Hepburn is unclassifiable. Like Garbo. The movies they’re in are almost superfluous to how they move through them…

    • sheila says:

      Larry – I actually haven’t read either of those books. Have you? the Raphael sounds intriguing.

      and yes – superfluous! so right. and … it’s so funny how the movie is called Christopher Strong. When she is all you can think about or see. There’s something amoral about her character here – or … above morality, maybe – like she’s a Greek Goddess, literally – she can’t be expected to play by silly little human’s roles.

      And then dressing her up as a moth – for just one scene – out of nowhere – it’s such a crazy choice, that silver, the bobbing antennae on her head – she’s just so startling looking!!

  3. Carolyn Clarke says:

    Happy New Year, Sheila. I’ll so glad to see 2019 behind me, having lost two close friends between Christmas and New Year’s, but time matches on.

    I’m so glad you like Knives Out. I’m planning to see it along with this new version of Little Women. I’ve seen all of them like you. Winona Ryder and the great Hepburn are still my favorites but I am very curious about the actors in this version. Little Women to me is so geographically specific and so American that the idea of Europeans playing the roles seems odd some how. But I just saw a documentary about Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind so I know it’s possible.

    I also plan to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but probably not in the theater. I enjoy Tom Banks so much better when I can stop or rewind the movie to see how he does something because he is so easy in his acting that you don’t catch him at it. I watched The Post one afternoon, followed by Captain Phillips. Ben Bradley was an arrogant editor of relatively small town newspaper when the Pentagon Papers came out and subsequently Watergate. What I liked about Banks portrayal over Jason Roberts is that Hanks’ Ben Bradley was stepping into unknown territory. He’s not positive but he knows what’s right. Hanks is totally different in Captain Phillips especially the last 30 minutes of that movie. The scenes after he’s rescued get me every time. I wonder, though, if he will ever play a bad guy. I can only think of one movie where he shot someone in anger (Road to Perdition.

    I LOVE John Sturges. He is the epitome of the unapologetic male director. The Great Escape is fantastic but I think Bad Day at Black Rock is even better. McQueen is cool but he has nothing on Spencer Tracy in that movie. Plus the rest of the cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, not a loser in the bunch.

    Supernatural, Season 15 – it’s getting better and most of the episodes are not totally unwatchable. I enjoyed the singing parts and I even sort of enjoyed that episode. A little action, some emotion. It wasn’t bad but you are so right about the laziness of the writers. J2 and the rest of the cast do their best but they can only act what’s written on the page. Have any of the writers actually watched all the episodes of Supernatural like the fans have, repeatedly? You are dead on about Jake Abel. Misha should be embarrassed but there are a lot of Castiel fans out there. I’m just not one of them. I’m glad that Rowena is back and I’m assuming that she will be part of the new and revised Team Free Will along with Jack, Death and Eileen. They also mentioned Bobby albeit briefly.

    One side comment re J2 and Supernatural. I’m curious about how Ackles and Padalecki are doing, personally. For them, it must be like getting an amicable divorce after 15 years of marriage. It’s got to be very, very hard and I give them oodles of credit for being relatively open and professional about it.

    • sheila says:

      Carolyn – I am so so sorry to hear about the deaths of your friends. My deepest condolences.

      I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on both Knives Out and Little Women. Laura Dern was a revelation as Marmee – I never would have thought of her in the role, and yet – it’s perfect. I think the daughters are all very well cast – although there was something about Claire Danes as Beth that completely shattered me – Beth has a smaller role here, and the devotion Jo has to Beth is not as highlighted. I mean, it’s present, but just not as strongly. Gerwig’s adaptation is the real star. It really works and is very bold, in a way. There’s a “meta” aspect to it eventually – merging the story of Jo with the story of Jo’s author – and I really loved it.

      Love to hear your thoughts on Tom Hanks! The Post was great. And the final half hour of Captain Phillips – hoo boy!! The scene where he’s in shock, post-rescue, and being examined by the nurse – is some of the greatest acting I’ve ever seen. I’ve read comments from ER doctors/nurses saying that that is so exactly what shock looks like. He’s really quite brilliant.

      I saw an interview with the cast of Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – where Marielle Heller told Hanks to pause longer than he thought he needed to – to never rush – Fred Rogers really listened and felt no compunction to fill up silence. He allowed silence to spread. Hanks is really wonderful here – and the final moment is KEY. Without it, the film would not be what it is. Finally we see Fred Rogers in a private moment. By himself. I really loved it.

      John Sturges // is the epitome of the unapologetic male director. // YES. So right on! Bad Day at Black Rock is amazing – just the way he uses the landscape and these figures – towering up into the sky. He was so good, so good at putting together these really complex ensembles – and keeping it all in track. You never lose the thread. The Great Escape has, what, 25 main characters?? lol. But you’re WITH each one of them. I just read a book about Sturges’ career – he doesn’t have as much “brand name” recognition as, say, Hitchcock – but he’s directed films that are still beloved 60 something years later – and very few directors can say that. It’s been a lot of fun re-watching a lot of them (and discovering new ones).

      // I’m curious about how Ackles and Padalecki are doing, personally. For them, it must be like getting an amicable divorce after 15 years of marriage. It’s got to be very, very hard and I give them oodles of credit for being relatively open and professional about it. //

      I’ve been curious about the same thing. It’s got to be so weird. It’s like a death. You’re walking away from something that has made up the majority of your life – and practically all of your professional career – they were KIDS when they started it! It’s got to be very intense. There’s going to be a kind of grieving process in letting it go – I think everyone’s feeling it, but they’ve got to be feeling it on a whole new level.

  4. Natalie says:

    So, I really wanted to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood until I read this article ( and was…. perturbed… by how much I related to it. There’s been a lot happening on the home front, and a lot of it is… not good. I’ve been trying to stay above it as much as I can, but I’m not actually sure seeing that movie would be in my best interests right now.

    I’m also not sure my blood pressure can handle Bombshell right now. That said – the clip of Kate McKinnon explaining what makes a Fox story is amazing. I love her so much.

    Same with Dark Waters. I’m sure it’s extremely well done and important – and watching it will dial up my rage to 11. I’ve come to really love Mark Ruffalo, though. Both his acting and what I know about him as a person. He just seems like a truly good guy.

    • sheila says:

      Natalie – I’m sorry to hear about things on the home front. Staying above it – or at least trying to be somewhat detached from it – sounds like a good plan. You know best what you need!

      I read that piece and I guess I don’t agree with it – although telling other people how to deal with their trauma and toxic families is, of course, not cool. Everyone needs to manage what they think they can handle. For what it’s worth (and that may not be worth much – and please don’t read this as me trying to convince you you need to see it!! just throwing my thoughts out there) – The way I saw it was – this reporter’s anger at his father was literally poisoning his whole life (Rhys plays it amazingly) – and at a certain point, you need to somehow deal with what happened so that you can then be a better husband and a better father (he can barely deal with being a father in the film – he avoids his newborn). He’s not in therapy, he’s not managing his pain, he’s not managing anything! He’s not setting boundaries – the past is running the show, and his wife is completely shut out of it. he was not dealing with his feelings at ALL, the only feeling he was really clear about was rage. and so this was holding him back from being … not happy, that’s not the right word, but able to be intimate, not with his dad, but with his wife, his son, his life. And it was that trapped feeling Mr. Rogers sensed – that he was in the presence of a man who was incomplete, in pain, and not dealing with ANY of it. That was what I took from it, at any rate! This is not me saying I think you should see it, of course – you know what you need!

      and yeah, Bombshell – one of the most interesting things it does is show the total fucked up belljar that is Fox News – how the people there have their own language and shorthand – and how it’s almost like Hotel California – you can never leave. McKinnon’s character says something like “I keep looking for other jobs – but now that I’ve worked here no one will hire me.” I wish the film had been more hard-hitting about the organization itself – about the propaganda machine and the damage its done – and about Megyn Kelly’s HUGE role there.

      I feel the same way about Mark Ruffalo. He’s so good. I love him in Dark Waters because it’s not a flashy role. The guy is a corporate lawyer, kind of nerdy and shy, not at all someone you’d pick as a heroic figure. He’s not “an extraordinary man” – but he has ended up devoting his life to doing this extraordinary thing. Ruffalo has a couple of moments similar to his moment in Spotlight, when he flips out in the office – when he is face to face with the evil that has been done, and he MUST do something about it. It’s really good.

      Take care of yourself, Natalie!! Sending you all the best.

  5. Barb says:

    So glad you enjoyed Knives Out, too! It’s one of the few movies I got to see in a theater last year, and I agree, it had an old-school feeling to it, like the star-studded murder mysteries/almost spoofs that were popular in the 70’s. It was so much fun seeing Chris Evans in that part. I think the only other time I saw him play this type of character was in the equally fun “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, where he plays the skateboarding action star/evil ex-boyfriend. All of the actors were great in this–I was pleasantly surprised to see Don Johnson, of all people.

    • sheila says:

      Barb – yes, Chris Evans was so great!! His demeanor in that first scene … just sitting back being gorgeous and rich and amused … and then the slow reveal of his character in all that followed … it looked like he was having a blast.

      and yes – Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis? Together? I mean, it was so perfect, although who would have ever thought of it before?

  6. Donna says:

    I saw many of the same movies and shows as you this month. Fred Rogers is a long time idol of mine and I enjoyed this movie as well as the documentary last year. I was disappointed it was not nominated for an Oscar in best documentary.
    The wife and grown up son and I enjoyed Knives Out on Christmas afternoon. Light and funny and good with popcorn.
    Thanks for the tips. I watched the Hunting Luca video which was a good follow up to the disturbing but well made Don’t Fuck with Cats.
    I have at least a 40 year obsession with cults. As a teen in the 70’s I watched a made for TV movie with Kristy McNichols and I have never stopped learning about cults. Fundie Mormons, Scientology, JW’s, and so many more.
    I don’t post often,but I read you a lot. Thanks for your amazing writing. Happy New Year.

    • sheila says:

      Donna – hi! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. And happy new year to you too – although it’s hard to say that right now with Australia in flames and everything else. :(

      I really loved the documentary about Mr. Rogers too – really special.

      // As a teen in the 70’s I watched a made for TV movie with Kristy McNichols and I have never stopped learning about cults. Fundie Mormons, Scientology, JW’s, and so many more. //

      wow, I don’t think I saw that TV movie – I’ll have to see if I can track it down – I love Kristy McNichol! what is it about cults that so holds my fascination?? I’m with you. I’m obsessed.

  7. mutecypher says:

    I enjoyed Little Women, though it took me maybe the first 30-40 minutes to really get into it. I’m not sure why. I had never seen Florence Pugh before. I just loved Amy! So I’ve watched Midsommar and Lady MacBeth in the last week. It’s fascinating to watch her feelings and thoughts and her presence in the moment. I can understand why she’s getting all the praise coming her way. I need to watch Fighting With My Family now.

    I’m intrigued by your “there were no New Englanders cast” observation. I think that was true of Gillian Armstrong’s version as well. I haven’t seen the Katharine Hepburn version, so I’ll need to check that out too.

    My impression going into The Farewell was that it was more overtly comedic – I think I was expecting something jokier. Not sure where I got that expectation. It really was a wonderful movie. Awkwafina was great, so angry and confused and loving. And the grandma was excellent. Very touching.

    We were about half way through Knives Out when ushers came into the theater to tell us to evacuate, that there was a fire in the mall. So I don’t know whodunit yet – but we were enjoying it. That’s the third time in the last 18 months that we’ve had an incident at that mall: once we weren’t allowed to leave the mall because there had been a shooting in the parking lot. And once we were asked to leave just as we walked out of a movie because a shooting in the mall had been reported. No wonder my car insurance premiums went down when I moved out of that town, the place is crazy. Now I just need to remember to see Knives Out somewhere else.

    • sheila says:

      Mutecypher – there was a very good piece too – and now I’m not remembering where I saw it – about the explicit Christian underpinnings of Little Women – which is also missing in this one. And yet it was those Christian underpinnings that made the Alcotts abolitionists, among other things. So … I somehow don’t FEEL the Civil War in this recent one – in the way you FEEL it so strongly in the book. A couple comments – feeling very 21st century in nature – about white complicity – doesn’t really “cut it” for me. This was an agonizing battle – and the absent father is so felt – I mean, he’s basically just GONE. For years. and it’s agony for everyone. In this movie, GG seems to have forgotten about him entirely. I get she’s up to something different, and that’s fine.

      I agree about Pugh – she’s wonderful, and the “redemption” of Amy – for me – is Gerwig’s greatest accomplishment.

      and yeah, Katharine Hepburn IS Jo. It’s interesting that a 1930s film is more radical, gender-wise, than a 21st century film – although not all that surprising, honestly.

      I’m a little bit shocked at some of the praise Little Women is getting – “maybe the greatest film directed by an American woman” – like, are you kidding me? Everyone just calm DOWN. But still, I did really like it.

      and yeah, The Farewell is a serious film about grief and family. Heartbreaking! Maybe, coming so close on the heels of Crazy Rich Asians – which is a comedy – or Always Be My Maybe – the Netflix rom-com – you associated The Farewell with those films.

      I found The Farewell to be incredibly poignant and personal. I loved how human it was – and I loved all the family members. The uncle breaking down during his speech at the wedding?? It’s both funny and sad, at the same time. And the poor Japanese bride to be who doesn’t understand the language and is watching this family melodrama erupt around her.

      So many good small moments!

      and oh my God about your cinema-in-a-mall experiences! that’s very scary!! Bad mall!

      • mutecypher says:

        // And the poor Japanese bride to be who doesn’t understand the language and is watching this family melodrama erupt around her.//

        I wanted to learn a bit more about her – how she got roped into this. But it would have taken us out of the family drama. And the family drama was wonderful.

        //I’m a little bit shocked at some of the praise Little Women is getting//

        Agreed. I liked it, and I expect GG to write and direct first rate movies in the future. But.. It’s like the twitter thing about “I can’t believe men aren’t lining up to see this. What a bad sex!” Makes as much sense as saying “I can’t believe women didn’t line up for Rush concerts, what a bad sex!” I don’t think what’s up on the screen is the thing being addressed.

        • sheila says:

          Meanwhile – many many men have seen it and adored it. So … it’s a bad and lazy argument. It’s also like “let us do our own thing and yet also PLEASE PRAISE US.” I’m simplifying but it’s had that feel to me.

          It’s a good movie. It’s gotten PLENTY of praise. It hasn’t been ignored.

          It is ridiculous when a movie gets all of these nominations and then the director isn’t nominated. The same thing happened to Barbra Streisand – with both Yentl and Prince of Tides. To quote Steven Spielberg: “I guess Prince of Tides directed itself”

          When this happens – Hollywood really “tells on itself”.

          Kim Morgan interviewed Greta Gerwig – and it’s a fascinating read:

  8. I don’t know if you had a chance to watch the DVD extras for The Magnificent Seven, Sheila, but just in case:

    Horst Bucholz was evidently badly treated by the American cast. The only one nice to him was Yul Brynner. So he enjoyed telling the story of the day Brynner tired of McQueen’s mugging. He leaned over to him and said, “Just remember Steve. All I have to do to make you disappear is take off my hat.”

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