February 2022 Viewing Diary

Working really really hard on a couple of big things right now. This takes up so much brain space. It’s mentally exhausting. Not complaining, just stating facts. During times like this, I lean towards true crime docuseries, or re-watches. Or comfort food. Hard to absorb anything new.

King Creole (1958; d. Michael Curtiz)
One Elvis’ best films, in an objective structural sense. He’s given a real character to play, it was adapted from a best-selling book – the material suited to him – and he is surrounded by a superb cast, people like Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, and Dolores Hart. He’s amazing in it. Oh, and a director who seemed fascinated by Elvis in an aesthetic way – which wasn’t the case so much with all the rest of his movies, as bizarre as that may seem – he’s Elvis, how can you not be fascinated by who he was aesthetically? Anyway, always fun to revisit this one.

Family Reunion Season 1, episodes 1 and 2 (2019; d. Eric Dean Seaton)
My nieces are in love with this television series and showed me the first two episodes. I so love that they get excited about things and can’t wait to show it to me. And this was very witty and amusing. Plus it has the great Loretta Devine.

G.I. Blues (1960; d. Norman Taurog)
The first film post-Army. It’s …….. bizarre. That’s all I can say. It’s the first stab at what would become “the Elvis formula”, and there’s a meta level going on, a sort of “Elvis in the Army” type deal, and the whole thing was made with the cooperation of the US Army – so it’s propaganda for what they were doing in Germany (leching on women, apparently). There really isn’t a plot here. It does provide some humor when Elvis is forced to take care of a sobbing baby. This is a weird one.

Flaming Star (1960; d. Don Siegel)
Also top tier Elvis movie, mainly because it’s not “an Elvis movie”. It’s a Western, and Elvis is part of the ensemble, and he’s absolutely fantastic: all action, completely unselfconscious. If you think back on Love Me Tender and compare to this …. well, there’s no comparison. He doesn’t sing in this, except for the title song.

Wild In the Country (1961; d. Philip Dunne)
A fascinating curio, not very well-known, which is strange considering the talent involved – Elvis and Hope Lange and Millie Perkins and Tuesday Weld. With script by none other than Clifford Odets! You can hear the Odetsian spark in the dialogue – that mix of rough-housing Freudian overly-self-aware personalities. This is a very good movie, with one scene that doesn’t really fit – where Elvis bursts into song – as though suddenly this movie is going to be a musical, even though it’s NOT a musical. Look past that, though, and this is very good. He and Tuesday Weld have insane chemistry.

Blue Hawaii (1961; d. Norman Taurog)
This is the film that changed everything. This film was an enormous hit. The soundtrack was a best-seller, dominating the charts for almost a year. It was a phenomenon. And so every film that followed, the team behind Elvis was chasing Blue Hawaii levels of success.

Reprise (2008; d. Joachim Trier)
Trier’s first film. It’s a “typical” first film, a young man’s film, about a group of friends in Oslo, two of whom are novelists – young ambitious men – and what happens when one becomes successful, while the other struggles to make headway. But it’s really about what it feels like to be a twentysomething man. So well observed, and it’s amazing how confident Trier’s vision and tone is, right out of the gate.

Oslo August 31st (2011; d. Joachim Trier)
This got the world’s attention in re: Trier (and his lead actor and muse Anders Danielsen Lie – who was also in Reprise, and is in Trier’s current film, out now, racking up awards around the world, Worst Person in the World. Oslo August 31st screened at Ebertfest in 2013, the first Ebertfest I attended, with Mum, and Trier was there, so we got to meet him. Lovely man. Open and friendly and smart. Oslo August 31st could be seen as a “sequel” of sorts, to Reprise, with the lead character a little further down the path than the guys in Reprise. He’s also a writer. It is not a pretty picture. A harrowing portrait of a recently clean heroin addict, trying to make amends, but failing every step of the way. The damage his addiction has done is so total.

Thelma (2017; d. Joachim Trier)
Trier’s foray into the horror-supernatural genre: a young woman, raised in a repressed religious household, goes to college, and starts having what appear to be epileptic seizures, seizures which alter reality around her. Her first experience of love and sexual arousal just ups the ante, the seizures become more violent, and she quickly loses control of events. A very tense thriller.

Worst Person in the World (2021; d. Joachim Trier)
See this film. It’s so excellent. I haven’t written about it but I am obviously working on something in re: Trier’s small but impressive body of work. Renate Reinsve is as good as everyone says (she won Best Actress at Cannes), and this is even more amazing since it’s her first lead role. She was on the verge of giving up acting altogether when Trier contacted her. She had been a glorified extra in Oslo August 31st – literally 10 years ago, and she made an impression on Trier. In the intervening years, Trier wondered why her career wasn’t advancing. She should be getting much better roles. And so he did the only thing possible for him to do. He wrote Worst Person in the World for her.

Cold Weather (2010; d. Aaron Katz)
So I was re-building my vanished archive and came across all these reviews I had written in 2010-11 of films I remember loving, but hadn’t seen since. I reviewed Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather at Tribeca and fell in love with it (here’s the review, re-built on my site), but honestly hadn’t thought of it in years. It’s on Amazon Prime so I re-watched it and was captivated all over again. You can check out my review to see what it’s about, but it’s really HOW it’s “about” what it’s about that matters. It’s moody beautiful melancholy tone-poem … mixed with a Sherlock-Holmes style old-fashioned mystery. Please see it! It’s special.

Curfew (2012; d. Shawn Christensen)
Another film I saw at Tribeca. I flipped over all 19 minutes of it. First of all, I reviewed it. Second of all, I interviewed the writer/director/star Shawn Christensen. Because short films don’t normally get this kind of attention, my review was the only one listed on IMDB for a long time. There still aren’t a lot of reviews listed there (see above comment: short films aren’t given this kind of attention). And WHADDYA KNOW it went on to win the Oscar for short film. I was at an Oscar gathering at my friend Jen’s, and I am slightly ashamed to admit I shouted, “I CALLED IT.” Watching Shawn – whom I had had such a nice conversation with – up there on that huge stage, accepting his award … I felt thrilled and excited for him. A well-deserved win. If you want to watch the whole thing, I found it online.

Catch the Fair One (2022; d. Josef Kubota Wladyka)
Reviewed this excellent film for Ebert.

Snowtown Murders (2011; d. Justin Kurzel)
Daniel Henshall was in Catch the Fair One, and I was intrigued by him so I looked him up. His portrayal of serial killer John Bunting in Snowtown Murders was the role most mentioned in the blurbs I found. So I watched it. This is one of the bleakest most despairing films I’ve ever seen. John Bunting’s evil is so all-encompassing it’s hard to even get your mind around it – but Henshall did. It’s an unbelievable performance, detailed, insightful – it’s one of those performances that actually exposes how these people think, how they react to things, their interpersonal relationships, etc. It’s very subtle what he’s doing. I will never watch this film again.

Strawberry Mansion (2022; d. Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney)
I really loved this. Very big fan of Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney’s work. Strawberry Mansion is out now. You should see it. I reviewed for Ebert.

2020 “My Mother’s Sins: Diane Downs”
Allison and I went on a binge-watch of fucked-up-ness. As always, it took us hours to get through this because we kept pausing to discuss. It was a freezing bone-cold New York day, and we hid inside, cozy and warm, watching television episodes about crazy sociopaths.

48 Hours “The Final Hours of Amie Harwick”
After Diane Downs, we moved onto this. A terrible story. That poor woman. She knew what was coming.

Inventing Anna (2022; d. David Frankel, Tom Verica, Daisy von Scherler Mayer, Nzingha Stewart, Ellen Kuras)
This was fine and it’s an interesting story – which I got caught up in at the time, like so many people did – and Julia Garner is great but did it need to be nine hours long? Really? NINE episodes? What, a 2-hour movie isn’t good enough? You need to stretch it out and pad it within an inch of its life? This is current trend, probably to keep people glued to their screens, but it’s extremely irritating. Inventing Anna is one of many – it’s the new thing, primarily in documentary – where you could tell the story in two hours, but instead it is drawwwwwwn out into 5 episodes, 6. Allison and I watched Inventing Anna together and we were like, “We have FIVE episodes to go??” It went on forever. Anna Delvey was a minor event, all things considered, and I don’t think the series makes the case in re: what Anna Delvey has to say about “How We Live Now”. There was just no need for this to be longer than freakin’ Roots.

Tinder Swindler (2022; d. Felicity Morris)
At first Allison and I did not care for the style of this series. There was a breathless romanticism about it, like all women are looking for a Prince, and “isn’t that the way it is”, and etc. I guess if you buy into that crap, you’d nod in agreement and sympathy. But we almost immediately got totally sucked into this story.

The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman (2022; d. Sam Benstead, Gareth Johnson)
This was part of our inadvertent binge-watch having to do with “conmen and grifters”. This is what Allison and I do. We scroll around. We watch the first five minutes of whatever it is. We make a decision. We are always in sync with whether or not to continue. It’s hilarious. “Okay I don’t like this.” “Me neither.” The Puppet Master is almost too outrageous to be believed. An INCREDIBLE long con pulled by this guy pretending to be MI5, roping people into his spy shenanigans – to insane lengths. He has ruined multiple peoples’ lives. The “case” is unresolved. He’s still out there.

The Ripper (2020; d. Jesse Vile and Ellena Wood)
Four-part investigative series about the Yorkshire Ripper. At least it wasn’t nine or ten episodes! I’ve read books on this one, also read David Peace’s WILD book series. It was well-done, particularly in the portrayal of how preconceived notions and assumptions and rushing-to-judgment can impact an investigation. They were looking in the wrong places, they discounted victims who didn’t fit their profile, and etc.

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4 Responses to February 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. Jessie says:

    Snowtown! Holy hell Sheila. Saw it at the festival on its release and the whole audience was silent and grey after the lights came up. A lot of people hated it – only a decade out from the discovery of the bodies, and it was a local crime, and a local film, and so relentless and oppressive. It gives you absolutely zero outs. Henshall is INCREDIBLE. I am glad you liked his performance. He scared the pants off me.

    Like three-quarters of the way through the movie, once you are fully trapped by it, there’s an excruciating close-up of a python doing absolutely nothing for so long that I literally squirmed in agony in my seat. Unforgettable. Between that and the visual masterpiece Macbeth I believe that Kurzel is a magician (and his musician brother too, the Macbeth soundtrack is a favourite). I only caught up with Assassin’s Creed recently and found it sadly lacking. I hear that his most recent film, Nitram, about the perpetrator of the Port Arthur Massacre, is excellent, but as yet I’m too scared to seek it out!

    • sheila says:

      // Saw it at the festival on its release and the whole audience was silent and grey after the lights came up. //


      // A lot of people hated it //

      I can absolutely understand why, especially for locals. Way “too soon”!

      // He scared the pants off me. //

      Me too! It’s hard to describe just how good this is – Roger Ebert’s review is good. He talks about how he eats – he’s eating in almost every scene. I hadn’t even noticed. and the way he hands the plates over – it’s like, he’s smiling, but you really don’t have an option to pass on whatever it is he’s cooked. But he’s always smiling! The way he keeps saying “You all right?” it’s his way of saying “Hello”. But … there’s something really OFF about that, and how he does it. He’s not really saying “Hi there” – he’s … demanding a certain answer? and expecting you to provide it?

      I don’t know – it was SO subtle what he was doing. Henshall really really understood this guy – it was such detailed subtle work. Truly evil man.

      and oh GOD that python scene! I have the heebie jeebies in my scalp just thinking about it. It was so upsetting, because that poor lonely kid was so excited to tell someone about his snake. He and his crew were such predators, God.

      I also thought it was very insightful in how it showed the “grooming” process.

      The whole thing was almost unwatchable and I had to force myself to finish it. He’s very good in Catch the Fair One – he also plays a “bad” guy – I was just about to say “not as much of a monster as Snowtown” – but, honestly, the character in Catch the Fair One IS just as bad, and in some ways even worse, because he’s got a respectable surface, way more polished than John Bunting.

      He really impresses me and I am glad to have him on my radar now.

      Nitram. Hm. Have not seen it and I admit I am curious, although also frightened.

  2. Clary says:

    I was watching the horrific news in Ukraine, then opened your site and saw “With that Hitler Youth haircut?” Oh, my God, how funny!!! Sarcasm is exactly what I need.

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