October 2022 Viewing Diary

Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation (2020; d. Lisa Immordino Vreeland)
Fascinating dual portraits. No “talking heads”. The entire thing is made up of their own voices, told in talk shows, or interviews. Amazing footage I’ve never seen before.

Christine (2016; d. Antonio Campos)
Such a powerful movie with such a great central performance by Rebecca Hall, as the TV reporter in Florida who killed herself on air. Tracy Letts, excellent. David Michael Hall, excellent. It is a fantastic portrait of undiagnosed depression. The sense of persecution, the delusional hopes (hon, you’re never gonna be picked up by a New York network), the childlike attitude – still living at home with her mother, the loneliness, the burst of desire she can’t handle, the self-knowledge that she is “too much” for everybody … and then the prospect of losing an ovary and what that might mean … all of it is too much without being properly taken care of through medicine, and therapy. It’s painful. Very good.

Elvis (or: The 1968 comeback special) (1968; d. Steve Binder)
This will never not be riveting. The stakes are as high as they can be for him. Like Gillian Welch sings: he goes out onstage “with his soul at stake”. That’s how much this meant to him.

Missing (1982; d. Costa-Gavras)
This is horrifying in an almost quiet way. The violence is casual, and Costa-Gavras captures it in a way where it’s almost on the periphery – a panning shot, an empty street, and suddenly – a corpse lying sprawled on the curb – the camera moves on. It’s also a great portrait of American incomprehension that their own government could be up to no good (represented in Jack Lemmon’s character), and the naive American caught up in events who has a more realistic knowledge of what is actually going on (represented by Sissy Spacek’s character). The soccer stadium filled with waiting prisoners (no CGI crowds: Costa-Gavras actually put them all there). Very good. I’ve seen it before, but it’s been years.

Stay the Night (2022; d. Renuka Jeyapalan)
I went into this not knowing much about it – not familiar with the two leads – and unexpectedly fell in love with it. I’ve seen it three times already, one time showing it to Allison. It’s special. I wanted to highlight it so I reviewed it very positively for Ebert. It’s a romance. We don’t have much of that anymore.

Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes (2022; d. Joe Berlinger)
Well, you know I had to watch this one. I know someone who knew someone who went on a couple of dates with Jeffrey Dahmer. She said he was a nothing really, a blank, she attributed it to shyness, but he basically made zero impression. Rather chilling when you think about it. Joe Berlinger knows what he is doing. These tapes are extraordinary. He’s so articulate about his motivations. Psychopath.

The Loneliest Boy in the World (2022; d. Martin Owen)
This zombie movie is a little bit confused! I reviewed for Ebert.

Three Minutes – A Lengthening (2022; d. Bianca Stigter)
What an amazing – and unique – documentary. I’m not sure I can describe it. A man found three minutes of movie footage his grandfather shot while visiting a town in Poland in 1938. Look at the date. The town had a huge Jewish population, and, of course, almost none of them survived. But there’s three minutes of footage and that’s a pretty rare thing in 1938. And so then began the journey of investigation into these three minutes. Who are all these people? What is that store in the background? People start getting involved. People saw the footage and reached out: “I think that’s my grandfather in the group of kids.” Or “That was me in the footage.” And so the interviews begin about this particular day. Taking three minutes to rebuild a whole world. I highly recommend this. It’s quietly devastating.

The Inspection (2022; d. Elegance Bratton)
This first film closed out the New York Film Festival, a very rare thing for a first film. I was blown away by it, and by Elegance Bratton’s confidence as a filmmaker. Gabrielle Union has a small but important role, and her presence was crucial in getting the film made at all. Jeremy Pope is the lead. Raul Castillo – whom I’ve long admired – is incredible. Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for this one. It’s based on Elegance Bratton’s real story, of being a homeless teen – thrown out of the house by his mother for being gay – until he finally – in dire circumstances – decides to become a Marine. The entire movie is his boot camp experience. Elegance Bratton served from 2005-2010. Incredible. Highly HIGHLY recommend.

Aftersun (2022; d. Charlotte Wells)
Another amazing first feature. It’s so exciting. We now have new films from Elegance Bratton and Charlotte Wells to look forward to. This is a rare look at the relationship between a father and a young daughter. We get a lot of father-son movies, and mother-daughter movies, but father-daughter … not so much. This is just one of the reasons why Aftersun is so exciting. Please see this film!

The Watcher (2022; d. Ryan Murphy, Paris Barclay, Jennifer Lynch, Max Winkler)
I was looking forward to this. I read the VERY WEIRD New York magazine article about this situation. Allison and I watched it – all freakin’ SEVEN EPISODES and thought it was terrible. We kept hoping it would get better. It’s like everybody involved forgot that tension and suspense cannot be stretched out into 7 loooooong episodes. It wore out its welcome super early. The thing feels endless. It is an example of the dangers of stretching EVERYTHING out into a mini-series as opposed to a 2-hour movie. Have you learned nothing from Hitchcock, the master of suspense? His movies aren’t endless. You can’t sustain suspense that long. I felt sorry for the very talented actors who were forced to play things at a high-pitch for 7 long episodes. The only good thing was Jennifer Coolidge, who elevates every single thing she’s in. Ugh. The whole thing was depressing. AND the liberties they took to this very real story, which traumatized very real people … just to PROLONG the suspense and confusion … felt unethical, and I don’t normally say things like that.

The Vow, Part 2; Season 2, episode 1 (2022; d. Jehane Noujaim)
I had no idea a second season was coming, and I’m kind of blown away that it’s focused on Nancy Salzman, who – up until now – has been a figure cloaked in mystery, looming behind the gross volley-ball playing cult-leader Keith Raneire or whatever his name is. Allison and I just watched the first episode and had a lot to discuss.

Tuesday (2015; d. Charlotte Wells)
An early short film by Charlotte Wells, a precursor to Aftersun. It feels like a rough draft for Aftersun, another father-daughter story, clearly an important subject for Wells. Very effective. I couldn’t find a screengrab of it. If you want to watch, here it is.

Laps (2017; d. Charlotte Wells)
Another of Wells’ short films. This one nearly wordless. Again, very effective.

Laps from Charlotte Wells on Vimeo.

A Civil Action (1998; d. Steven Zaillian)
Zaillian is primarily a screenwriter but the couple of films he’s directed shows his chops (Searching for Bobby Fischer the main one. I read A Civil Action back in the day, and it’s excellent. The movie is a bit broad-strokes, but the story is the same: a corrupt ambulance-chaser (John Travolta) is almost pushed into activism by a case involving a small town with poisoned water. I have a soft spot about movies involving corrupt corporations doing bad things and lonely figures who go up against it. Erin Brockovich, Dark Waters – which should have gotten much more chatter.

Dark Waters (2019; d. Todd Haynes)
Inspired by A Civil Action, I went right to Dark Waters, which I think I’ve seen three times by now. It’s basically the same story. A corporate lawyer is inspired into activism when he learns that the water is poisoned in a small town (where his grandmother happens to live). Todd Haynes films it in an aura of deep gloom, dark colors. It’s very intense.

Caught (1949; d. Max Ophüls)
I had never seen this! I am so saddened by this, but now at least I’m “in” on the secret of how GOOD this film is. The ACTING. Robert Ryan, Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason: all superb. It’s as upsetting as Gaslight, it’s one of those stories of a woman caught in the web of a manipulative sociopath. The film works on a visceral level: you FEEL the woman as so CAUGHT, so TRAPPED. It’s psychological in nature. Amazing film. I wrote about it here.

Cure (1997; d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
TERRIFYING. But hypnotic, a slow burn, with a phenomenal central performance by Takabe (Koji Yakusho) as the detective with a mentally ill wife, and a growing obsession with a series of unsolved brutal murders. Nobody can figure out who is doing it and why. In the meantime, an amnesiac (Masato Hagiwara) strolls out of nowhere, an amnesiac who appears to have hypnotic – literally – powers. Takabe starts to go off the deep end, wondering if the amnesiac – a disturbing subversive character, a blank slate – is somehow behind all of this. Takabe’s life deteriorates. Yakusho is unbelievable: the whole film and its implications is on his extremely open face.

The More the Merrier (1943; d. George Stevens)
One of my all-time favorites. Sexy as hell. Funny. Charming. Smart. Great performances. And did I mention sexy? I’ve written about it twice for Film Comment, first in a column about that elusive thing known as “chemistry”, and second in a column devoted to Jean Arthur.

Crash (1996; d. David Cronenberg)
It’s been a while. May be my favorite Cronenberg.

For All Mankind (1989; d. Al Reinert)
The incredible documentary about the space program. It’s barely over an hour long. But it draws you into its voices and images. Interviews with everyone, but no “talking heads”, everything supported by the actual footage, taken in Mission Control, or taken by the astronauts themselves.

Call Jane (2022; d. Phyllis Nagy)
An important and timely film, by a talented first-timer (who also wrote the extraordinary adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, which became Carol). Wonderful central performances by Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, and Chris Messina. I reviewed for Ebert.

Touch of Evil (1958; d. Orson Welles)
Boy is this movie bleak, with a hopeless outlook on things like justice and mercy. With one of the most famous first shots in cinema (and rightly so), and the final shot isn’t chopped liver either. Orson Welles having so much fun throughout, with emotional and thematic camera angles, shadows, light, the darkness of those streets, the eeriness of empty landscapes. Amazing performance by Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston (at the height of his pure gorgeousness), with a wonderful cameo by Marlene Dietrich – playing a character filled with painful knowledge – and a final monologue expressing some uncomfortable and yet necessary truths. And huge lumbering Orson, chewing it all playing a drunken grotesque purely evil (not just a “touch of evil”) character. Always enjoyable, but a dark watch.

Love & Mercy (2014; d. Bill Pohlad)
Inspired by Call Jane, I went back to this. I’ve seen it 5 or 6 times. I do need to write about Banks in this (although I touched on it in my Call Jane review). What she is doing looks so easy, but it is not easy, and so many contemporary actresses cannot do it.

I’m Totally Fine (2022; d. Brandon Dermer)
I’ll be reviewing this one. It opens this week.

This entry was posted in Monthly Viewing Diary, Movies, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to October 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. I teach A Civil Action when I teach my Lawyers in Movies course. Legal dramas don’t typically feature tort cases, and when they do they mostly get it wrong. A Civil Action gets it right- one of the serious challenges of taking on these sorts of defendants are the disproportionate resources at play. The long tracking shot with Travolta’s voiceover at the start is terrifically done. Travolta is outstanding in this, showing a dimension that I don’t think gets showcased anywhere else. I could go on. Love this movie

    • sheila says:

      Bill – wow! I love to hear examples like this – movies that get something right in terms of an actual profession – so often you hear the opposite!! I also love John Travolta’s voiceover throughout where he explains what he’s doing, why, and the kind of law he practices. It helps me – who doesn’t know anything – to understand.

      // disproportionate resources at play // I can only imagine!!

      Have you seen Dark Waters yet? It’s a very similar story – except that Mark Ruffalo’s character is actually a corporate lawyer, who works for gigantic corporations helping them get RID of such cases … but he can’t let this one go, and his law firm allows him to get obsessed – without firing him … It’s kind of an interesting flip-flop. He starts working for “the other side”.

  2. Mike Molloy says:

    Hi Sheila, wondering where you found “Missing”, I was looking around for it a few months back & was not able to find it, neither streaming nor on dvd/blu-ray. Would like to see it if it’s reasonably accessible.

    (And as always, thanks for these viewing/reading diaries, they are always a lot of fun.)

    • sheila says:

      Mike – I had exactly the same issue as you did. I wanted to watch Costa-Gavras’ work in chronological order (because I’m not busy enough apparently) and was frustrated in my quest to see Missing! It’s nowheresville. I bought a used DVD off of Amazon. It was definitely reasonably priced or I wouldn’t have bought it I don’t think. It was a perfectly good copy and I was happy to see it again. So see if there are some used copies for sale on there!

      • Mike Molloy says:

        Ah, okay, thanks for the heads up that used DVDs can be found. I will take a keep my eyes peeld.

        On the chance you don’t know it & might be interested, I was looking for it after hearing a discussion of some of Costa-Gavras’ work on Jesse Hawken’s Junk Filter podcast; Jacob Bacharach was the guest. Mostly they discussed Missing and State of Siege (which was easier to find streaming), a worthwhile discussion!

  3. Jim Reding says:

    Had a similar reaction to The Watcher, but it did give me one of the best ‘ lapse in narrative logic’ laughs I’ve had in a long time.
    “Thank you, white yuppie couple I’m meeting for the first time, for coming to my mother’s funeral. Yes, I understand one of her dying wishes was to give you some closure. Here’s some information to guarantee that wish won’t come true.”

    • sheila says:

      // Thank you, white yuppie couple I’m meeting for the first time, for coming to my mother’s funeral. //
      hahahaha that scene was nuts.

      “Hi, so sorry for your loss. Did your mom leave any word for us? Thank you.”

  4. mutecypher says:

    Caught is crazy! I watched it after your post. Robert Ryan’s character, Barbara Bel Geddes’ character – both were almost incomprehensible in some of their lapses in judgement, in actions that one would expect from them. That made me lean in closer to see what I was missing.

    When they first meet and RR takes BBG back to his mansion and invites her in… what a contemptuous man! “Didn’t your finishing school prepare you for situations like this?” And then he decides to marry her just to spite his psychoanalyst! Why would a guy like that be going to a psychoanalyst in the first place? Oh yeah, because he wanted to control his anger. A spark of self-awareness that is then completely extinguished. And then he pretends to want her back, but only as an arm piece when he visited his factories! But why would he care about what his employees think? Dude was the embodiment of “it’s not enough that I succeed, others must fail.” Were his actions closer to the description of Iago you quoted in the Jerry Lee Lewis piece – motiveless malignity? It’s a testament to Ryan and Ophüls and the screenwriter Arthur Laurents (and the novelist Libbie Block I imagine) that this is both astonishing and believable.

    BBG’s character was also a wonderful and baffling mix. She wanted a millionaire who loved her, and prioritized the love. How in the world did RR’s character convince her that he loved her? How did he get her on the plane to Yuma? She had enough judgement not to go into his mansion on that first night. Maybe the lacuna of his proposal is like not showing the monster in a horror movie, the audience gets to imagine it and make it even more. We got a hint of his seductive skills when he convinced her to come back to him. Maybe an example of both narrative economy and trusting the audience to not show how he got her on the plane, but do show how he got her back.

    Having James Mason’s character scold her for telling the little girl what she needs to do (done off camera) to marry a rich man – another great choice for both showing character and economizing the narrative. This was just an expertly done movie!

    I read that this was James Mason’s first Hollywood picture and he wanted to play a good guy after lots of heavies in British cinema. An interesting choice of good guy – one who gets to marry the girl after what happens to her. That ending was an insane twist! I’m not sure how to describe my reaction.

    Thanks for pointing the film out. On top of all the narrative craziness it was as gorgeous as you said.

    • sheila says:

      So glad you saw it!!

      // Why would a guy like that be going to a psychoanalyst in the first place? //

      lol. I totally thought the same thing. Maybe he just liked to hear himself speak. He seems totally un-coachable to me. And also actively malevolent!

      //t’s a testament to Ryan and Ophüls and the screenwriter Arthur Laurents (and the novelist Libbie Block I imagine) that this is both astonishing and believable.//

      absolutely. I think the word “gaslit” is used WAY too much currently. People say they were “gaslit” when … they have a disagreement with their boyfriend. “He tried to gaslight me.” “Uhm, no, he disagreed with you.” BUT – this movie is a classic case of gaslighting. Environment control – she had no access to the outside world with him – and then suddenly she meets these two nice very humane doctors and … starts to break away. Plus: maybe he spoke to her own shame – like, on a certain level she WAS looking to be taken care of – I mean, she was living in a dump with her friend! she wanted out! even if she wasn’t a golddigger that was definitely present for her. and so Robert Ryan clocked that in her – and used it against her – he basically spoke to her SHAME at something that was really there for her. Ugh. It’s so ugly. Just leave her alone -you are CLEARLY meant to a bitter old bachelor, sir.

      And how about his sidekick? the little guy hanging around with Barbara Bel Geddes? Kind of Robert Ryans right hand guy – but also spy – but he was trapped too. To me, he “read” as gay – not in mannerisms, just in the way the relationship was presented – there were certain “codes” they used in old movies to suggest such things. so maybe he and BBG BOTH were in love with this horrible man, and both were entrapped by him. He did have some sympathy with her – and … kept her company. He was kept up all night too waiting for this guy!

      • mutecypher says:

        //And how about his sidekick?//

        I thought Franzi was pathetic and awful, until the end. Perhaps the movie needed someone to tell RR’s character off at some point. That was the closest thing to a hurray moment. And it was a mystery to me what hold RR had over him. Hard to believe that he was there for the money. Maybe it was love, until it wasn’t. He read as gay to me as well.

        I also like seeing Mrs. Howell and Mrs. Cleaver in the first 15 minutes of the film. A nice reminder that those actresses were working well before their more famous TV roles.

        Your comment below about the fellow doctor… yes, I liked his character a lot.

        I’m not familiar with Arthur Laurents beyond West Side Story. I see that he wrote the screenplay for Bonjour Tristesse and Anastasia. I haven’t seen either, so I’ll put those in the queue. As well as more Ophüls.

      • mutecypher says:

        I got a kick out of RR’s character’s correction “don’t say yacht, say boat” before we know his name. I have a friend with a 64 foot seagoing vessel. All his friends are told to refer to it as a trawler rather than a yacht.

        Gotcha, buddy. Will do.

        Must be a thing for people who can afford yachts.

    • sheila says:

      //How in the world did RR’s character convince her that he loved her? //

      I know, this is fascinating. I think you can see how tired she’s getting – how she’s circulating in kind of a brutal meat market where she doesn’t fit in – she’s not willing to sleep with these guys – and you can tell she’s paid a price for it. I think she’s desperate. she’s not getting any younger. she wants a partner, she wants safety.

      what’s so fascinating HERE though is that it’s not like he came on strong and romanced her – thereby fooling her. he was straight up who he was from the jump. He drove her right to his house and expected sex. Like … she’s CLEARLY not that type of person (no judgment on the women who are – but SHE is not).

      Maybe she just got overwhelmed that someone was actually interested in her. AND – when he lures her back to the house after her time at the doctor’s office – you see her completely collapsed fully clothed in bed. This is code for: He just f***ed her brains out. Narcotized by hot hot sex. That’s what I got anyway. A woman like this never felt this before – and she’s all messed up by it – and he KNOWS he can do that to her.

    • sheila says:

      You know what I also loved? was the very chilled-out non-judgmental attitude of the other doctor – who examined her and confirmed she was pregnant – had no idea she was married and just ASSUMED it was his friend and colleague James Mason – and yes, he assumed wrongly, but he had zero judgment about it. No shock, like “wait … you’re not married?” not even a WHIFF of that. So compassionate – but he didn’t wear the compassion on his sleeve. He was quite laconic. He had seen it all.

  5. Desirae says:

    Rebecca Hall has become one of my very favourite actors and with the release of Passing seems likely to become a favourite actor as well. I watched The Night House over the weekend and found myself thinking that she reminds me of Gena Rowlands. There is something similarly fearless about her, a willingness to be the one making everyone else uncomfortable.

    • Desirae says:

      Favourite director I meant, obviously.

    • sheila says:

      She really is just so good – she’s kind of a stealth player. In the past 8 or 9 years she’s given performances that (imo) blow away many of the Oscar winner -type performances. Like you said – she’s so un-ingratiating and so does not care about winning audience sympathy – that … her films often aren’t commercial. She literally does not care about whether or not we like her characters. lol I mean … Resurrection! That was just a couple months ago and I’m still not over it!

      I totally agree – she’s become one of my favorites too.

  6. Jessie says:

    this is the third time in like two months that a friend has recommended Cure, a movie from 1997 that I had previously never heard of! Something’s in the water….I must find it to watch.

    Love the diary as always!

    • sheila says:

      Interesting! There’s something in the air! Same for me – I had never seen it – and I think it was earlier this year (time blends together) that Criterion brought out an edition so suddenly everyone was talking about it again – and they were promoting it on their main channel. I watched it that way.

      It’s super twisty and dark … it’s a “thriller” yes – and some truly eerie moments – the whole thing is creepy – but it works in such a slow inevitable way – with these really amazing performances, particularly the lead guy. A detective literally driven mad by not being able to solve this crime.

      It’s so so good. I think you will dig it!

  7. Shawn says:

    I highly recommend K Kurosawa’s “Pulse”. Completely different than Cure, but it brings an intangible terror to the genre like Cure. Make sure you have surround sound with rear speakers. This is the ONLY film I have ever experienced which uses them in the way it does. I would never give it away, but when it happens…oh my. I think I’ve said too much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.