August 2022 Viewing Diary

It took me a while to get this up. Shit’s BUSY. Here’s what I watched and saw in August.

What Josiah Saw (2022; d. Vincent Grashaw)
Pretty grim watch. I reviewed for Ebert.

Married at First Sight, Seasons 10 and 11 and 5
Early August was wild. I watched one season of this back in 2020 when my concentration was so shot I could only deal with binge-watching (I was weirdly relieved when I learned I was not alone in this very specific situation). My sister Siobhan also got really into it and through conversing about it with her recently I decided to check out some other seasons. And so …. I did. I get so invested.

Emily the Criminal (2022; d. John Patton Ford)
God, this was great. Exhilarating. I reviewed for Ebert.

Elvis (2022; d. Baz Luhrmann)

Follow That Dream (1962; d. Gordon Douglas)
I love this movie. My pal Larry called it “Elvis’ Occupy Wall Street movie” and I co-sign. This is a really wonderful Elvis movie and it is currently not streaming.

Kid Galahad (1962; d. Phil Karlson)
I will never not be fascinated by how this movie career coalesced – and calcified – in such a specific way. Never to be repeated again. They cannot be analyzed with the same rubric you use for other movies. They require their own criteria. He’s adorable here, gleaming and beautiful, with lots of shots like this one.

I Just Killed My Dad (2022; d. Skye Borgman)
What a terrible story. I can’t even believe it. I watched with a sense of AWE that shit could go this wrong. It makes you question things, big things, like … “why do such things happen? How can God allow such things?” You know. The big questions. Terrible story.

Spin Me Round (2022; d. Jeff Baena)
I reviewed for Ebert. More Aubrey Plaza! Plus Molly Shannon and Alison Brie.

Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962; d. Norman Taurog)
This movie is so weird and so entertaining. But if you think about it for more than five seconds you’re like …. wait. What? See above my comments about Kid Galahad. The way this all turned out and shook down is just so fascinating and BIZARRE. Plus; he looks so fucking great in this.

Funny Pages (2022; d. Owen Kline)
I get excited when a movie today allows itself to be grim, unexpected, and uningratiating. Funny Pages is grim as hell. There’s something missing, maybe, but in general this really works. I reviewed for Ebert.

Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell? (2022; d. Erica Gornall)
I honestly learned more about her in this than I ever wanted to, and I am – admittedly – pretty heavily (and mortifyingly) up to date on the Epstein story. But this doc features interviews with people who knew Ghislaine when – many of whom have never spoken up before. Some are interviewed while maintaining anonymity. That’s how threatened they feel. But some are more than happy to come out and express how weird this broad was, even way back in the day. Christina Oxenberg is the STAR of this documentary. (The Oxenbergs don’t mess around. Catherine and her daughter India have become the stars of the NXIUM story. Very impressed). Oxenberg’s comments are so insightful and she speaks as someone who was friends with Ghislaine and spent a lot of time with Ghislaine and Epstein. She is mercilessly articulate.

It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963; d. Norman Taurog)
There’s a lot to say about this one. Little Kurt Russell kicking Elvis’ shin. The relationship Elvis forms with the little girl, who’s somehow lost her grandfather in the crowd. She is a very natural child, just like Kurt Russell is a natural child – she doesn’t seem like a precocious little child-actor. She’s funny and keeps up with Elvis and he seems to have had fun. One of my favorite acting moments in Elvis’ whole career is in It Happened at the World’s Fair.

Fun in Acapulco (1963; d. Richard Thorpe)
This is the one where Elvis suffers from PTSD due to a tragic trapeze accident. Thankfully, he has not one, not two, but three women chasing after him to help him come to terms. One of whom is Ursula Andress.

Viva Las Vegas (1964; d. George Sidney)
This movie is pure entertainment, start to finish.

Double Wedding (1937; d. Richard Thorpe)
How had I not seen this? It stars William Powell – as a bohemian wannabe movie director – and Myrna Loy – as a snooty woman trying to stop her sister from getting mixed up in the bohemian crowd. But that’s just the premise. This is a screwball, and the final sequence – the “double wedding” sequence – which isn’t sorted out until the very last moment, Shakespeare-style – is absolute lunacy. I fell over laughing a couple of times. The visual gags, the callbacks, and how Myrna Loy – so imperious at the start – literally falls apart (see below). She can no longer maintain her dignity. I also just want to point something out: Check out the name of the director and then slowly scroll up this list, checking out the directors. You won’t have to look for long. Life is interesting.

Kissin Cousins (1964; d. Gene Nelson)
Why ya gotta do Elvis like this: 1. make fun of hillbillies and 2. make him play an identical twin. Okay not a brother, but still an identical twin. Elvis lost his twin brother. I mean, I know nobody cared about this shit, and maybe it wasn’t common knowledge then? I’d have to look into it. There’s something really chilling going on in this movie beyond putting Elvis in it: it’s PRO nuclear-armament, and the triumph in the end is the United States governments’, who have convinced these mountain people that it will be okay to build a missile silo on the top of their mountain. That’s literally a WIN in this movie. It starts out like Ruby Ridge, with isolated people under siege by their own military, with Elvis as go-between, and finally … the mountain people cave, but only because Elvis brokers a deal where these mountain people will no longer be harassed to pay taxes. This is some wild shit – and goes towards proving what my friend Charlie wrote about in his book Opening Wednesday at a Drive-In Near You: that critically-ignored B-movies, or genre movies, often “say more” about the world we live in than the more serious (self-serious) message movies do. Of course … those B-movies often employ irony, whereas Kissin Cousins decidedly does NOT. This movie is propaganda for the Cold War – at the same time that every single Army person in this movie is shown to be idiotic, horny, incompetent. This is just two years after Elvis’ Occupy Wall Street movie. The ’60s were a trip. Nobody knew what the fuck was going on.

The Cathedral (2022; d. Ricky D’Ambrose)
This is such a unique film. The story isn’t unique, but the way it is told really held my interest. I reviewed for Ebert.

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8 Responses to August 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. James says:

    Somehow I’ve never seen an Elvis film — apart from “Elvis,” the 2022 biopic, just last night. What are the top 3 movies you’d recommend for a newcomer?

    • sheila says:

      James – hi~ King Creole, for sure – his 4th movie. In terms of aesthetics and look and feel and cast – it’s the clear best. Michael Curtiz directed.

      Then I’d say Viva Las Vegas and Flaming Star, both excellent movies although very different.

      I also love Jailhouse Rock, Wild in the Country, Follow That Dream – these are early-ish. once you get into the Elvis “formula” movies starting with Blue Hawaii – that’s when it becomes important to judge them only on the terms THEY set. If you go into them expecting them to be in any way a normal movie, playing by normal rules, they just will not come across. And you may think they are bad – when really they are just doing what they are supposed to be doing. I maintain that Elvis formula movies (anything post Blue Hawaii) are best seen in a drive-in on a hot summer night. They make perfect sense in that context. Watching them home alone by yourself is very weird and you have to adjust for it.

      Also, LATE Elvis movies – in the late 60s – are fascinating because nobody gave a shit anymore and so things started to get really loose and interesting. One of my favorite Elvis movies is one almost no one has seen outside of Elvis fans – and that’s Live a Little Love a Little from 1968. It’s a screwball. It’s funny and sexy and hip and smart. (That’s the one that features “A Little Less Conversation”, a monster hit for EP. They recreated a small scene from it for the Baz movie.)

      A couple links to things I’ve written:

      I wrote about him as an actor for Film Comment and focused on a couple different movies, including Jailhouse Rock and Live a Little Love a Little.

      I went into all of this in depth in the 2018 talk I gave in Memphis – at the movie theatre Elvis used to go to all the time! – on Elvis’ acting career. I walk you through the career.

      You really must adjust yourself to Elvis Land when you watch these movies – if you find it irritating, you’ll just never make it through. Say to yourself: “these are unique cultural artifacts and so let me get onto their wavelength so I can see what’s going on.”

      But if you start off with King Creole – that’s a legitimately good movie playing by recognizable Hollywood rules, directed by a legend, great cast, great photography, shot on location in New Orleans, great songs by Lieber and Stoller, etc. Great source material. You know, a normal movie.

      I wouldn’t dream of starting you off with one of my personal favorites – Tickle Me – you really need to be deep into Elvis to even GET that the movie is a spoof of the “Elvis formula” – they are spoofing themselves. and having a blast. If you took it seriously you would think “this is the dumbest shit ever” – and it is – but it’s supposed to be. Plus, it’s got excellent songs. I love Tickle Me. I also love It Happened at the World’s Fair. with little Kurt Russell kicking Elvis’ shins! and Roustabout with Barbara Stanwyck. and Girl Happy is so fun!! Speedway is a hoot, too, and a major influence on Tarantino. HOWEVER, I would never toss you into Elvis movies with Tickle Me. That’s for advanced students, lol.

      Just teasing. Hope this helps! He was a very entertaining and very charismatic movie star and his career as an actor should be way more well known and I have been doing my part for the last ten years to sound the call.

    • sheila says:

      and just to add: I don’t think anyone can argue with King Creole being the objective best. It’s a real MOVIE movie. Elvis is still pretty green, in terms of acting, and it shows – but he’s also thoughtful and relaxed – I go into that in the Film Comment piece.

      But I think overall I prefer the Elvis “formula movies” – Blue Hawaii, Viva Las Vegas, It Happened at the World’s Fair, Roustabout – for one very specific reason: Any actor could do King Creole. You could remove Elvis and put in someone else – any other young greasy juvenile delinquent type actor – and it’d be the same good movie. But you literally cannot remove Elvis from Blue Hawaii or Viva Las Vegas or Tickle Me – the movies literally do not make any sense without him. They barely make sense WITH him, but without him? He is literally the reason for those movies’ existence.

      This is very very very rare. You could maybe say this about John Wayne – but even there, Wayne was a star of a genre of film that existed before him and would exist after him. The Elvis Movie died with Elvis.

      And so … because of this: I love the Elvis formula movies the most, especially when they are at their most strange. They are so weird. there are so MANY of them. Elvis as race car driver, Elvis as pilot, Elvis as wandering troubadour – I only clock him being bored in two of the movies – the two worst movies he made – he looks pudgy and bloated, he’s coasting through them, they’re so clearly just a cash grab and it’s super depressing. But the “myth” is that all the movies were like that. They are NOT.

  2. Shawn says:

    I listened to the early Elvis recordings that were released a few years ago. A compilation called A Boy from Tupelo. His voice was so beautiful and pure, almost feminine. I’m not an Elvis expert, but the gifts he had, the beauty of his voice was mostly ditched in favor of the machismo. He was great at that too. If he hadn’t been such a an explosive talent, and had more individual control of his career, maybe that might have surfaced more? I don’t know. There is an outtake of Mary in the Morning I heard and in it was some of that vulnerability, that beauty. The version they put in the record was more heroic, stately. Btw, your enthusiasm is so infecting. I am definitely going to see King Kreole. I’ve never seen one of his films. :)

    • sheila says:

      King Creole is definitely a good place to start.

      Boy from Tupelo is wonderful!!

      // the beauty of his voice was mostly ditched in favor of the machismo. //

      this really isn’t true – and I wouldn’t call it “machismo” anyway. I would say sexually open and free, which is not at all the same thing. A man being sexually open and free – with a light touch, a sense of humor and fun about it – is still rare – and was unheard of then. A revolution. He was definitely rough and raw and sexy – in the earliest period – say, 1955-1956 – but even there – there are so many tracks of beautiful soft falsetto singing – some of the Christmas carols he put out – or something like Peace in the Valley – there are ballads on all of those early albums. The rest of his career post-Army featured a vast diversity of styles and sounds – one album Elvis is Back – released in 1960 – is probably his best single album – “It’s Now or Never” (basically O Sole Mio) is practically opera – then there’s all the gospel he put out – two full albums – still going platinum and diamond to this day, much of that is soft and whispery and beautiful – plus the big ballads of the 1970s.

      Elvis was in charge of what music he wanted to sing (except when it came to the soundtrack era). Nobody was imposing on him what kind of music to do. He also doesn’t get credit at ALL for his talents in producing. He basically PRODUCED “hound dog”, I don’t care what the credits say. And he was only 21 years old then. The only thing that got in his way later on was the revolution in song publishing in the 60s concurrent with the rise of the singer-songwriter in the same era- This fucked him – and fucked a lot of vocalists who didn’t write their own stuff. Suddenly nobody was selling their songs anymore – the songwriters just picked up a guitar and became vocalists themselves. Almost overnight, material dried up. If there was a decline in song quality in the 70s – then that’s why. But nobody was picking what songs Elvis was going to sing. The Colonel only picked one song for Elvis to sing – and that ended up being the massive hit (to this day) Are You Lonesome Tonight – which is also a sweet and beautiful performance – glorious vocals – not at all “machismo”. Maybe it’s a problem of semantics – because that’s not the right term for him at all. Confident and aggressive isn’t “machismo”. In fact, he hilariously spoofed “machismo” when he covered Jerry Reed’s “US Male” – (with Jerry Reed on guitar – great track).

      Elvis’ catalog is admittedly difficult to get a handle on – so much wasn’t released – the 60s were just a mess – he was doing all kinds of fascinating things musically – there were a lot of unreleased singles, unreleased because they would take attention away from the often abysmal soundtrack albums. Terrible. In the era of the British invasion, he was mostly invisible. In general, though, his material is incredibly diverse. Listen to something like “The Fair’s Moving On” or “Without Love” – from 1970. Two of his best vocal performances imo and barely known outside of Elvis fans. Hard-core rock n roll Elvis fans really do not like tracks like this – they’re too overblown according to them – too “bombastic” or whatever – but I ADORE them. It really shows the power of his pipes, and what he could do vocally .

  3. Larry Aydlette says:

    I’ve always had a fondness for Change of Habit, too.

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