April/May 2023 Viewing Diary

River of Grass (1994; d. Kelly Reichardt)
Reichardt’s first film.

Wendy and Lucy (2008; d. Kelly Reichardt)
The start of Reichardt’s collaboration with Michelle Williams.

Showing Up (2023; d. Kelly Reichardt)
Reichardt’s latest. I reviewed for Ebert. It’s fine. Her best, as far as I’m concerned, is Certain Women and I am STOKED for Lily Gladstone. Headlining opposite Leo in Scorsese’s latest. YES. We all saw her here FIRST.

The Wrecking Crew (2008; d. Denny Tedesco)
So exciting. I’ve seen this before. Always fun to re-visit. What an amazing group of people.

Boston Strangler (2023; d. Matt Ruskin)
In the time before streaming, this would have been in the theatre for a couple of weeks, generating buzz, maybe even getting some awards attention. Now it’s lost in the shuffle of “content” pouring onto streaming platforms, on the front page for a week, before getting lost in the fucking algorithims.. Stephanie Zacharek’s review in Time made me check it out. I was riveted start to finish. The color scheme is a bit MUCH. it makes Boston look like an underwater sea-world, but I really dug the down-home grittiness of its approach: not too much melodrama, not too much leaning in to the feminist aspect of the story. They PRESENT the issue as opposed to commenting on it with girlboss monologues to make sure we get it. I’m so sick of girlboss monologues. This is an incredible story, in and of itself, of two women maneuvering in a world where they are the only women, and how they basically barge through the sexist bullshit they face. I loved the relationship between the two women, who are forced to be colleagues. They don’t become BFFs, they don’t go out and get drunk and dance around to show they’re bonding, although they do meet up in a bar after a tough day to have a drink, just like their male colleagues. They don’t bond “as women” – they bond as colleagues who happen to be women, who happen to share similar challenges. One is a veteran reporter, the other a rookie. There’s a subtle mentoring that happens, but again, it’s subtle. They’re both workaholic obsessives with an eye on the prize. Even their conversation about “how on earth do you manage raising kids while doing this job” is on a practical level, the way women actually speak to each other when men aren’t around. The story is wild and I’m not all that familiar with it, which is amazing considering my serial killer knowledge. Lots of red herrings and false starts. Boston Strangler is very controlled: it stays close to the investigation AND – Memories of Murder-style, Zodiac-style – highlights how cases like this infect the people working it, cops, reporters – the mystery cannot be compartmentalized. At a certain point the investigative spirit turns into an obsessive monomania. You can’t let it go. You must know what happened, you NEED to know what happened. I feel like Boston Strangler shows the progression of that admirably. It almost happens by stealth. For years I was not on the Keira Knightley train, and believe me, it was an unpopular opinion I mostly kept to myself. For years I thought her best role was in Bend it Like Beckham. The sexy tomboy jock. Then she became a superstar, she did period films, wearing corsets in every role, a romantic “leading lady”, and it never fit. I found her mannered and unconvincing in sweeping romantic leads. She did not seem “at home” at all in those films. I thought her performance in A Dangerous Method was just plain bad. A minority viewpoint, again, but I stand by it. In the last 5 or 6 years, her career has changed and taken on a more human-sized aspect. She’s down-shifted and this new level suits her. She is choosing projects REALLY well. I’ve been impressed with her performances in the last 3 or 4 films she’s done, films that haven’t gotten a lot of chatter. She’s very VERY good here.

Unbelievable (2019; d. Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant)
I’ve probably watched this series about 4 times.

Everything Went Fine (2023; François Ozon)
This film made me VERY emotional. I reviewed for Ebert.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023; d. Lisa Cortés)
I reviewed for Ebert.

Nine Days (2021; d. Edson Oda)
Seen at Ebertfest. I interviewed the director onstage after the screening. I reviewed for Ebert.

Tokyo Story (1953; d. Yasujirō Ozu)
A 9 am screening at Ebertfest. I’ve never seen it in such a massive theatre, and I’ve never seen it surrounded by 1200 people. It’s an overwhelming film, seen by myself alone in my apartment, and it’s even MORE so in a theatre. Mitchell had never seen it, I don’t think, so we had just an incredible time, soaking it up, early in the morning in Illinois. Tokyo Story changes every time I see it. I think I saw it for the first time in college or my early ’20s. I sought it out because of Roger Ebert. Of course. I thrilled to it, the specificity of Ozu’s style – as strong a fingerprint as any filmmaker ever had. But now that I’m older (i.e. old), and have an elderly mother, and lost my father … Tokyo Story actually infuriates me. It makes me want to do better. Don’t be like those wretched adult kids in Tokyo Story. Be like Noriko (Setsuko Hara).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921; d. Robert Wiene)
We saw this after Tokyo Story. Live orchestra! It was a blast.

American Folk (2018; d. David Heinz)
This played at Ebertfest. I hadn’t seen it. To be honest, I had some issues with it. Maybe because I was in New York “on that day”. Or, right across the river. Watching the towers fall. Knowing my sister worked in the building next door. The horrors. New York had a different experience than everyone else, I get that, and it’s fine to show the impact on everyone else. I can’t distance myself from my experiences that day. I’m not saying it’s all about me. But I am very picky/choosy in re: films ABOUT “that day”. And a gentle meet-cute road-trip movie, filled with communal folk songs … it’s just so out of tune with what was going on in New York I don’t even know what to say. I’m glad you all had a nice road trip and bonded along the way? I mean, you know? Happy for you.

Remember This (2022; d. Derek Goldman, Jeff Hutchens)
Derek Goldman is an old OLD friend of mine. I was in a number of plays directed by him back in Chicago, and was part of his traveling Anne Frank project. I was in his award-winning production of James Agee’s Death in the Family, one of my favorite theatre experiences ever. It’s how I met Kate, now one of my best friends. I went to his wedding. He’s gone on to great success, and I am not surprised at ALL. We were all around 24, 25 years old way back then, and he knew what he was about back then. A go-getter, yes, but also so smart, so thoughtful, an amazing adapter of material. Remember This, about Polish Resistance hero Jan Karski, started as a stage production, a one-man show starring David Strathairn. It played regionally and then moved to New York. Finally, they put it to film (they didn’t just film the play). Strathairn is a marvel, and Derek’s script is incredible.

David Strathairn in “Remember This”. Directed by Jeff Hutchens and Derek Goldman, produced by Eva Anisko. (Photo by Jeff Hutchens)

Myra Breckenridge (1970; d. Mike Sarne)
Watched with Mitchell and Christopher. I saw it years ago. Unfairly maligned.

The Year Between (2022; d. Alex Heller)
Heller wrote and directed. It’s about “the year between” when she got diagnosed with bipolar. 2012 was my “year between”. I really liked this, and not sure why I missed it.

The Artifice Girl (2023; d. Franklin Ritch)
I reviewed for Ebert.

Saint X (2023; d. Dee Rees, Darren Grant)
Watched a couple episodes of this with Allison. It’s really interesting. Not crazy about the lead performance and the “coincidental” nature of her run-in with the dude she’s been looking for all these years … but the flashback sections are good, particularly in the cross-section of cultures colliding in this one Caribbean resort. I loved Dee Rees’ Mudbound and she’s exec-producing this so that was another plus.

Eight Mountains (2023; d. Felix Van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch)
I love this film even more than I did when I first saw it. I think about it often. I reviewed for Ebert.

Viva Las Vegas (1964; d. George Sidney)
Presented this at the Paris Theatre last month. Such a nice turnout, such a good time. My introductory comments went over well. A happy day. I mean, what’s not to like about this movie.

It Ain’t Over (2023; d. Sean Mullin)
I loved this documentary about Yogi Berra. I reviewed for Ebert.

Facing Nolan (2022; d. Bradley Jackson)
The Yogi Berra doc sent me on a baseball-documentary jag. Loved Facing Nolan.

Fastball (2016; d. Jonathan Hock)
I reviewed the doc Fastball back in 2015 – I think it was on HBO – and it’s my kind of thing.

Beef (2023; d. Hikari, Jake Schreier, Lee Sung Jin)
Allison and I watched the whole thing in one day. It’s fantastic. What a great premise, what a great “device” to explore all of these different very complicated issues, personal, cultural, etc. I wrote a thing on Instagram about Steven Yeun’s acting, particularly in the scene where he first goes to church and becomes overwhelmed.

I’ve seen Steven Yeun in 4 or 5 things now and he is totally different in each one so much so it sometimes takes me a second to even realize it’s him. It’s like he swaps out his soul or something so the look in his eyes is different. Sometimes it helps to state the obvious. Transformation is of course part of acting but lots of people can’t do it – and leading men (like Yeun) often can’t do it (and, to be fair, are not required to do it). But Yeun – who is super handsome but able to sometimes cloak the handsomeness – (again not everyone can do this) – transforms depending on context and he does so with no sense of strain, i.e. “look at me transform!” From the first scene in Beef you are aware of Danny’s impotent free-flowing rage, and through the course of the series you get to know what the rage is covering, or, what the rage is HANDLING. Danny’s life is unbearable to him. And yet he has a grifter-hustler side, where he “acts” like he’s competent and got it together. People find him off-putting because he’s so obviously not authentic. It’s a lot to juggle for an actor. I kept thinking of Burning (which I reviewed) and Minari (Yeun’s Oscar-nominated performance, which I wrote about here) and it seems like a different actor entirely. The scene in the church in Beef was overwhelming because tough hustling Danny is completely undone by the music and environment. The character walks into this scene with grifter-hustle motivation powering him – he’s “working an angle” – he wants something, he always wants something – and over the course of the next 5 minutes he shatters. He has no control over it. He had no idea he had so much sadness. He never allows himself to feel what’s underneath. He’s not even aware what is going on down there beneath the surface. We watch this shattering happen in real time, not too many cuts. This requires skill on the part of the actor. Yeun has to really experience it. Everyone is good in Beef but he is so good and this performance is so visceral and upsetting – with enough episodes for him to dig into the layers – I wanted to call it out.

The Night of the 12th (2023; d. Dominik Moll)
French crime procedural? Sign me up. I’m not picky. I reviewed for Ebert.

Stranger Things, season 1, episodes 1-5 (2016; d. Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy)
Binge-watched with my niece Lucy. We just lay on our respective couches and kept going. It was a dark day, nothing else was going on, she loves the show, I’ve never seen it, so we had so much fun! I knew I’d like it, I had a feeling, I just … you know, there’s always so much shit to watch it’s hard to keep up. Winona Ryder is crushing it. I mainly loved doing this because it was so fun to watch Lucy be so excited about something, and how much fun she had “showing it to me”.

The Secrets of Hillsong (2023; d. Stacey Lee)
I’ve actually been following this story for years. If you lived in New York during the time in question you could not avoid Hillsong. They were everywhere. I watch these mega church services and … I’m no fundamentalist but I listen to these guys talk and I’m like … is this CHURCH or a motivational-speaker-weekend-retreat? Like it’s all self-improvement and strive strive strive – prosperity gospel, I guess, although I’m not hearing much “gospel”. It’s so BRAZEN, so OBVIOUS … but of course it’s not obvious when you are in it. Anyway, this all went down just as you would imagine it went down but each story has its own quirks and personality. What’s interesting here is he is interviewed for the doc. I don’t believe a word he says. But he seems LESS egregious than, say, Mark Driscoll. But … I could be wrong.

Reality (2023; d. Tina Satter)
It’s really really good. I reviewed for Ebert.

Close to Vermeer (2023; d. Suzanne Raes)
I learned a lot from this documentary. I got to review it for Ebert.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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14 Responses to April/May 2023 Viewing Diary

  1. Mike Molloy says:

    Hi Sheila, I love the month’s-watching lists, so much fun to read.

    Yourself said: “you know, there’s always so much shit to watch it’s hard to keep up.”

    I really feel this sentiment. Your own posts are these amazing sources of recommendations for what to read and what to watch, so for me, a lot of the problem is, I value your writing so much, and I just get further behind on the watch/read lists.

    Incidentally, I recently read Hangsaman, partly on your recommendation, and good lord that one is something else. Very good, obviously, also deeply unsettling.

    And I second your Winona Ryder love, it’s always great to see her. Man, that whole cast though.

    Yourself: “Steven Yeun….It’s like he swaps out his soul or something so the look in his eyes is different”

    Gene Hackman has this quality for me. Sometime in the 90s or 00s I was rewatching both Get Shorty and Unforgiven on loops, and at some point it struck me that vicious Little Bill and ridiculous Harry Zimm were both the same actor and it was startling. I mean obviously I knew that already but, hard to know it while you’re watching either of those performances.

    • sheila says:

      Mike – thanks so much for the kind words!! I really do like “publishing” these diaries – basically for myself, so I have a record of what I saw – mostly for end of year lists – I forget sometimes. Like, OH, wow, I LOVED such and such movie that’s not “in the conversation” at the end of year … But I’m glad that other people like yourself like these too.

      Hangsaman is WILD, isn’t it? so disturbing – one of her best, and that’s saying something!!

      The whole cast of Stranger Things is amazing – the kids are great, Eleven is so superb I worry about her mental health – she’s a child, is she okay playing this heavy material?? I love it but I can’t even imagine how much more I would love it if I were 12 or 13 like my niece. This is CAT NIP. (particularly the girl who looks like a boy – which was my “thing” as a child. I shaved my head in my 20s, lol my favorite haircut ever). And the adults are amazing, I love the teen actors too. I’m so into it – Lucy and I just finished season 1. I am determined to ONLY watch it with her – so that limits my time with it – but it’s been such a fun thing to do with my 8th-grader niece, especially since it has really tapped into something powerful for her. we have great conversations as we watch. so it’s been really special.

      I miss Gene Hackman. I hate it when my faves retire.

  2. Barb says:

    Yay, Stranger Things! I hope you are able to watch it all. There are some rough spots, but I love this show. Season 4 kept me up nights.

    • sheila says:

      I will for sure watch it all – it’ll take me a while because I won’t watch it without my niece. It’s “our thing” – and so that limits our time to binge. :).

      It’s SO good.

  3. Barb says:

    I just read your review for Brooklyn 45, which looks fascinating
    as well. It something of a truism now, but I do feel that one of the unsung strengths of genre works is their ability to couch metaphorical material inside their tropes, dealing with weighty topics with the sort of light touch that more “serious” literary forms can’t always manage. SPN is “about” PTSD. Pan’s Labyrinth is about fascism. Stranger Things is about trauma and finding your identity. Any number of gothic works might be about repression of the psyche or the past. And so on.

    • sheila says:

      // one of the unsung strengths of genre works is their ability to couch metaphorical material inside their tropes //


      I think that’s true of the best sci-fi too. without explicitly addressing whatever real-world issue – they go right to the center of it. there are all these AI movies coming out now – or, in the last 10 years or so – and AI has obviously always been a thing, and feared by people who pay attention – I still think Blade Runner (so far) has done it best. it’s all so morally ambiguous.

      Brooklyn 45 is really good – I recommend it! you don’t think of soldiers coming back from the glorious D-Day and being furious and stuck in time and unable to move on – that’s not the propaganda (to this day) of WWII vets. and of course that’s not true – the shit they saw – I mean, even the soldiers who liberated the camps were forever changed by what they saw. How do you even TELL a civilian how it felt? particularly when the entire country is just cheering your return and feeling good about themselves and patriotic? You don’t want to rain on that parade.

  4. I adore Stranger Things. The storytelling is just so good…people who like plot-driven stories AND people who like character-driven stories are both well-served by that show, and the cast is just fantastic. I can’t wait for the concluding season.

    • sheila says:

      I also just have zero idea of how it will develop in seasons 2, 3, 4. I have successfully avoided all buzz which is rather remarkable if you think about how huge the show is.

  5. TraceyK says:

    May I recommend a film? “Army of Shadows” by director Jean Pierre Melville. Came out in 70, I think. A bleak (fictional ) look at a group of French Resistance members during World War II. Eric Demarsans soundtrack is gorgeous and the performances broke my heart. I’ve followed your writing for years and would love to know your thoughts.

    • sheila says:

      Army of Shadows is amazing! It’s been years since I’ve seen it though – ut I bought the DVD from Criterion, just so I have it on hand.

  6. TraceyK says:

    I found via Criterion,too. I want Kurosawas “Ran” next.

    • sheila says:

      I actually saw Ran in the movie theatre back in the day! I was in high school and had no idea about anything, but it turned me on to Kurosawa.

  7. João Carlos Carlos Goncalves says:

    Who said all Elvis films in the 60’s were bad? Viva Las Vegas proves the opposite, as you have kindly shown to all of us Elvis fans. Thank you one more time!

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