August 2023 Viewing Diary

Oppenheimer (2023; d. Christopher Nolan)
In general, I am not a Nolan fan (the only one of his I liked was Dunkirk), and I went into this hesitantly because I read an interview with him where he said the whole movie was inspired by the line “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” from Sting’s song “Russians”. There are not enough eyerolls in the world!! I have THOUGHTS about that song – dating back YEARS – it just made me laugh to hear him talk about it like it was this deep thought-provoking thing. But whatever, I’m an asshole, and of course I had to see Oppenheimer! I think Nolan is better when whatever he’s making is grounded in a real story – in history – not coming from his imagination. He’s obligated to a story that has already occurred: this is good for him. Some of the criticisms of the film I’ve seen have been indicative of the problem when you are only able to see something through a single lens. It’s like your actual critical faculties atrophy when you frame everything the same way, and want every story to “comment on” the same things – even if it doesn’t fit with the story. Different pieces of art say different things in different ways. Trying to shoehorn every single story into the same framework is … like the writers in Communist Russia suddenly having to toe the line with Socialist realism, in a literal Publish or Die scenario. Every single story had to be written in the “approved” style, and all of the stories had to show the “correct” historical interpretation. Like … this is what these “critics” sound like to me. Oppenheimer is pretty straightforward. In other words, it’s fine. It ain’t that deep.

Between Two Worlds (2023; d. Emmanuel Carrère)
There’s something rather The Help-ish about this story, although it’s worse, because it’s based on a true story. It means well, but, whatever, so do a lot of things. I reviewed for Ebert.

Birth/rebirth (2023; d. Laura Moss)
I really liked this. I reviewed for Ebert.

King Creole (1958; d. Michael Curtiz)
Elvis has stepped into his own here, holding up the starring role admirably, sensitively, and understanding of the complexities. He takes Nellie to that seedy hotel room! What a scene! He’s captivating, charismatic, but he doesn’t ONLY rely on that. He’s actually giving a real performance here – the two films before this one (Jailhouse Rock and Loving You) were designed expressly to “comment on” or at least try to RESPOND to the phenomenon of his fame. This, though, was a “regular” movie. He had to “show up” in a different way, and he does, particularly in scenes with these really skilled actors, like Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, and Dolores Hart. I don’t mean any of this in a condescending way. It’s quite the opposite. You have to know what to look for, when you look at Elvis’ career. You have to recognize and acknowledge its singularity. Not a lot was asked of him. Beyond his draconian contract, that is. Eventually, his movies shied away from complexity, from grown-up stuff. But King Creole is ALL grown-up stuff. He’s dark and soulful and quiet. He doesn’t push. Ever. He’s very good. I love this movie.

Thief (1981; d. Michael Mann)
It’s so damn good. And you know I love my heist movies.

Flaming Star (1960; d. Don Siegel)
Criterion just added this one to their Elvis lineup and I’m so pleased. It’s so good! 2023 standards can’t apply: it was 1960. It’s of its time. That out of the way: the message here is so strong, so bold. South Africa banned the film – not because of violence, but because it portrayed an interracial relationship. The whole film is about racism, and scapegoating someone because they belong to an identity group. The film is clearly on the side of the indigenous people. The white people who are good and open-minded are the exception. The action here – the fighting, the horse riding, everything – is so strong (I mean, look at the director), and it makes me wish Elvis had done more stuff with Siegel. Elvis plays Pacer, the half-white half-Native son, torn between two groups: he’s never been made to feel welcome in the white world, but he loves his father and brother. He also doesn’t feel at home with his tribe: he’s outside. But finally things go too far: he has to fight the whites with his tribe. Elvis is all action here: everything has an objective behind it, an engine running underneath it. He doesn’t talk much. He’s too BUSY. This is different than anything else Elvis was ever asked to do. It really suits him. There’s some wild horse back riding where it’s obvious he’s actually doing it. Very impressive. And powerful uncompromising ending.

Scrapper (2023; d. Charlotte Regan)
I loved this so much! Everyone should see it, lol. It’s a first film too – so we have so much to look forward to from this young filmmaker. I reviewed for Ebert.

The Trouble with Girls (1969; d. Peter Tewksbury)
This is probably one of the most forgotten of Elvis’ mostly forgotten filmography. There’s no reason it should be forgotten. Maybe something like Girls Girls Girls is an acquired taste – you have to get into the spirit of it, you have to play by its rules – but Trouble with Girls isn’t like that. It’s not even really an “Elvis movie”. There are long stretches where he’s not even in it. Unheard of! It’s a big ensemble cast, lots of great character actors – Sheree North, Vincent Price, Dabney Coleman – and everyone has their own story. There’s also a murder-mystery. Elvis strolls through it, in head to toe white, with sideburns to die for, and he’s so present and easy and uncaring. I’m sure by this point he just did not give a fuck anymore: he had one more movie to go in his contract. But this “not giving a fuck” takes any pressure off. The Trouble with Girls takes place in 1929, and Elvis is the center – he even gets to sign gospel! – but he’s not running the show. He still justifies the film’s existence – it’s a movie star role. But another movie star – Burt Reynolds – Robert Redford – Paul Newman – those guys could have played the role too. (Maybe not the gospel part.) Not every actor could just stroll through a cast of hundreds and draw every eye to him. The film is charming, it’s funny, it has some wacky unmotivated camera moves – like, whose POV is the movie from? – and I love the whole thing. There’s no reason this film shouldn’t be more well-known. The title has nothing to do with the film itself.

Bad Fever (2011; d. Dustin Guy Defa)
Caught this on the Criterion Channel, along with the rest of Defa’s work. I fell in love with it. Wow. I’m working on a piece about it. I highly recommend checking it out. It stars Kentucker Audley, an actor (and director) I really admire. I’ve written a lot about him but somehow I never caught this one.

Prince of the City (1981; d. Sidney Lumet)
A re-watch in the wake of Treat Williams’ death. This movie was huge for me as a kid, and one of the ways I discovered films – as a conscious thing, as opposed to a passive receiver of stories. Dog Day Afternoon introduced me to … so much. I was 12, 13 years old when I first saw it. When I was a little older – in college – I rented Prince of the City from my local video store. I still remember this huge VHS tape, it just seemed so substantial, so important! It was so different from Dog Day Afternoon, and the story was so complicated, so layered, and he is SO good in it. But they’re all good. God, this film.

Past Lives (2023; d. Celine Song)
So far, one of my faves of 2023. I became familiar with Greta Lee because of Russian Doll, and Teo Yoo from Decision to Leave. Here they play adults who had been childhood friends, separated for two decades, and then reunited through social media. John Magaro (whom I first “met” in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow) is also excellent – and kind of heartbreaking in a really quiet subtle way. I’m hungry for films like this. Starving, really. A film about human relationships, about a man and a woman – connecting (or not) – nothing huge “happening”, but everything happens. Our relationships to each other is the real stuff of life, the stuff we all know and care about. I was not just moved by this. I was actually overwhelmed. The final 20, 30 minutes were super intense. I wonder what I would have felt about this film if I had seen it when I was 26, 27. I am sure it would have looked very different. I don’t know. It seems like this is the kind of film you could revisit multiple times through your life and it would seem like a different film each time. The acting is so good. The film is very difficult, in its way. Before Sunset comes to mind as an appropriate comparison, but Past Lives is its own thing. It broke my heart a little bit. I loved it.

Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia (2023; d. Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger)
Charming, tender, and deep! I reviewed Ernest & Celestine for Ebert.

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30 Responses to August 2023 Viewing Diary

  1. James says:

    I also loved King Creole – you recommended it on another thread per my question “what Elvis movie should I start with if I’ve never seen one?” Thanks! It’s currently at #3 on my list of “films I saw for the first time in 2023 that didn’t come out in 2023.”

    • sheila says:

      Oh yes I remember – so glad you saw it!! It’s def a good one to start with – very well made, good songs, good story! Beautiful b&w cinematography. So glad you liked it!! curious now – what are #1 and #2 on your list?

      • James says:

        So far – with three months left in the year – my top 3 would be:
        1. 20th Century Women
        2. Slow West
        3. King Kreole

        Slow West is an underseen and underdiscussed A24 gem that I just stumbled upon. Beautiful and beguiling.

        20th Century Women was so obviously going to be a masterpiece that I’m surprised it topped my lofty expectations.

        • sheila says:

          Oh God, 20th Century Women!!!

          I LOVE that movie. I think about it all the time. I reviewed that one for Ebert. I loved Mills’ Beginners, but I think 20th Century Women is a huge leap forward.

        • sheila says:

          and thank you for the rec of Slow West – I remember hearing about that one but I somehow missed it.

        • sheila says:

          Inspired to watch 20th Century Women again last night! God, it’s so good. I had forgotten about the crazy dinner where Greta Gerwig makes all the guests say “menstruation” and poor Annette Bening loses control of the event, lol.

          Billy Crudup is great too – I love the two old-sters trying to understand what the kids are on about in re: Black Flag. they truly are trying to hear it – “this isn’t good, right?” “what is this?” “what do YOU think it is?”

          at least they try!!

  2. mutecypher says:

    I was reluctant to see Oppenheimer. I had read a biography of him (from the 80’s, not the one Nolan used), and a book of his letters, and Richard Rhodes great books on the Manhattan project and the Super. I had my own definite ideas about the guy: fascinating and charming and self-centered and guilt-haunted and foolishly thinking that he could outsmart everyone. A wonderful person to meet and not trust. Thankfully, Leslie Groves trusted him to do the necessary work.

    I’m glad I saw it. I think Nolan did a good job. As someone who studied physics a long time ago, it was a thrill to me to see so many of those early twentieth century demigods on the screen. And it was fun to see Edward Teller as the colossal dick he was. I had my quibbles about what Nolan emphasized (or invented/exaggerated) but that will be the case with any topic one is familiar with.

    Your comment about the movie not being deep got me thinking. Honestly I think it would be a real challenge to make a deep movie about Oppenheimer. He is so much surface and so unknowable in his depth. He was called one of the few physicists with taste – knowing who to recommend to work on what would become important problems. Not just in the Manhattan Project. I would liken him to Oscar Wilde (forgive me) in some ways with so much surface to see, so many bon mots, and with exquisite tastes in their particular realms. And bafflingly the opposite of self serving in their actions. I use that as a set up to ask if one could make a deep movie about Oscar without leaving the known. I’m not suggesting that his works are not deep, but really getting deep into him seems possible only with lots of artistic license on the part of a film maker.

    I liked this movie enough to watch Interstellar. What a vile movie. So I’m glad Nolan did not take much artistic license with J. Robert.

    • sheila says:

      mutecypher – thank you for your thoughts! Interesting!

      I think I mean “deep” differently than you’re meaning it. I’m responding to a lot of the over-thinking criticisms I’ve seen, criticisms coming through a single lens of ideology or intellectual framework. These criticisms are so rigid and narrow, they are unable to respond to – or even perceive – what is a not very complex pretty standard issue biopic/historical drama. Like, the movie is not some deep abstract thing. It doesn’t have a hidden message. It’s not metaphorical – even though it could be. Like, what’s not to “get”? This reminds me a little bit about the absolutely ridiculous “discourse” around A Star is Born – people were taking issue with it for all kinds of what I considered to be bizarre reasons. I was like “my God it’s a love story and it’s a REMAKE. IT AIN’T THAT DEEP”. Nolan is not a deep filmmaker. His fans think otherwise, but I disagree pretty strongly. Mucking around with chronology is not “deep”. Quentin Tarantino does it and he does it much better.

      I think I liked Dunkirk better than this – since the individual is not really Nolan’s forte – and, as you say, Oppenheimer might not be the easiest of main characters, since so much was surface. Dunkirk the movie was a collective event, and having to honor the historical reality grounded Nolan – although he couldn’t resist using his whole chronology-timeline thing – but I felt in that case it served the overall project. Dunkirk wasn’t one person’s story: it was a GROUP’s story, and so telling the story of three separate events – two collective, one individual – seemed to be a good way to express the SCOPE of Dunkirk evacuation. Nolan isn’t interested in people, ultimately. which is fine – he doesn’t have to be!

      Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince is a wonderfully deep exploration of Wilde’s tragic final years.

      I did find Oppenheimer interesting – particularly in conjunction with a couple of other atomic-themed films this year – is something in the air?? There’s Wes Anderson’s Atomic City – and then there’s Steve James’ new doc A Compassionate Spy – about Ted Hall, recruited into the Manhattan Project when he was 19 – I’m sure you know about him already!! Have you seen it? Would be interested to hear your thoughts on it. I was wondering if Ted Hall would be wandering around in the background of Oppenheimer, taking surreptitious notes lol. But I don’t think he was there.

      • mutecypher says:

        Yeah, I definitely went in the wrong direction. :-)

        To your point, what a rotten intellectual climate we are in, with so much outrage-seeking behavior. Such an ugly addiction. I’m a fundamentally hopeful person and I like to believe that given some time we as a culture will find ways to immunize ourselves against the viciousness brought on by all the media that feed our desire to take umbrage at what other people are doing. That’s one of my biases, even though I don’t think there’s any moral arc to the universe bending in some particular direction. Why do I believe that “I don’t know, it’s a mystery.” But I’m worried that our culture won’t get much of a chance to evolve immunity as government bureaucracies, both parties, and major corporations seem Hell-bent on limiting what we see and say.

        There isn’t a metaphorical depth in Oppenheimer, it’s a classic tragedy with the roots of the protagonist’s downfall proceeding from his character. I shook my head at the ending when it was implied that maybe Oppenheimer was playing some long game to get back at Strauss and the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community. Let the tragedy sit there, rather than hinting that the guy was secretly triumphant. I like your notion of purchasing DVDs, you can’t memorize a movie in the same Fahrenheit 451 sense as you can memorize a book.

        I’ll check out The Happy Prince.

        I haven’t seen the Ted Hall documentary. And I’m with you, I don’t recall him in the movie. It might just be a coincidence that atomic-themed movies are in the air, given the time it takes to develop and make them. Or concerns about things escalating with Russia may be giving the theme a bit of juice.

        And apropos the thread above, I’ll third the love for 20th Century Women.

        • sheila says:

          // the viciousness brought on by all the media that feed our desire to take umbrage at what other people are doing. //

          Yes – and everyone plays into it. I include myself. It’s almost impossible to resist – this is how these algorithms are designed. And if we’re all busy screaming at each other about why Barbie is anti-feminist OR feminist or why “centering Ken” is so distressing (oh God that Atlantic piece was exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about) … well, if we’re all busy doing THAT, then the creepy grotesque billionaires can just pocket the change and blast themselves into outer space and let the planet burn and we’re too busy picking apart whether or not Bradley Cooper is “predatory” in A Star is Born. Predatory because ……. he falls for her.

          It’s come to that. A man interested in a woman – clearly responsive to his interest in her – is a “predator”. Like, there is such a thing as an incorrect opinion, there is such a thing as mis-reading something so totally that you’re not “getting” it at all. Not EVERY interpretation works. Clearly, I have PTSD from the Star is Born discourse. There’s a reason I’m not on Twitter anymore. It actually is possible to ignore these conversations! and life is much better!

          // Let the tragedy sit there, rather than hinting that the guy was secretly triumphant. //

          Interesting. Yeah. I see your point.

  3. luke says:

    Hi Sheila, Always enjoy your blog – and your Viewing Diaries especially!

    Funny that you describe first “meeting” John Magaro in First Cow. There are certain actors where it really feels that way: I see them in something and it leaves such a memorable first impression that I always recall to that performance when I see them in subsequent roles.
    Magaro is absolutely one of those for me – but for his role in ‘Not Fade Away’ (David Chase’s non-Sopranos feature), which he starred in when he was still a teenager. If you haven’t seen it, I absolutely recommend, it explores a lot of the themes you return to on this blog: the nature of performance, the experience of feeling young but getting older, trying to find your way in the world

    • sheila says:

      Luke – hi! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      John Magaro! wow! yes, it took me a second to clock him – he was instantly familiar – I was like, “Oh!! I know you!” I like to resist Googling immediately when this happens – keep the brain cells occupied like I used to do back in the day. And finally I realized where I had seen him. It was great because he was so different in First Cow – I mean, it was a whole period piece and he seemed so OF that period. and in Past Lives, he’s so *right now*. and just a perfect portrayal of a gentle kind man – a writer living in Brooklyn – whose first book is called ……. Boner. lol

      Like, I know this guy!

      I haven’t seen Not Fade Away – I’m not sure how I missed it. I just looked it up and it sounds fantastic – aside from the David Chase factor! Thank you!

  4. When I heard “Russians” on that Sting album, I thought, “Whoa, that’s some profound shit!” And the fact that he included the actual notation for the theme of Prokofiev’s that he used for the song, in the liner notes? That’s some deep stuff!

    Then I didn’t hear it for years, and when I listened again, I was less impressed. Quite a lot less, actually. Oh well!

    • sheila says:

      Kelly – lollllll. Your experience is exactly mine. As a tail-end-of-Cold-War child, I heard it when I was young and thought “My God, I resonate with this.”

      Cut to 5 years later and there I am roasting it. I could go through it line by line, making sarcastic retorts on every line. lol and I HAVE done that.

      Yes, Sting, the Russians love their children too.

      So to hear Nolan sing the praises of the song, and in particular the line “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” – I’m not gonna lie, I started cackling. I was like “of COURSE that’s your inspiration, Nolan. Makes perfect SENSE.”

    • sheila says:

      Sometimes I’m mean and it feels good!

  5. Lyrie says:

    I have nothing meaningful to contribute, but I am THERE for the whole Nolan ain’t that deep thing. I have nothing against the guy, I’m glad people enjoy his stuff, but it’s the CONSENSUS that baffles me. I thought I was the only one who found his stuff pretentious? All I remember from Interstellar is McConaughey crying a lot, a very messy library, and being super bored. I’m not even trying to be mean, it’s just my experience. Kinda like the Ghost Story movie that came out a few years ago and everyone was raving about and I just thought it was… not that deep, not that beautiful, super boring?

    I’ll probably watch Oppenheimer eventually anyway, I’m told there are boobs (just kidding! But the discourse around that was HILARIOUS. Scary boobies! Oh no! ha ha ha what is even HAPPENING to us, as a society?)

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – ha!! I don’t know what is happening! Oh God the whole boobs discourse. And the whole “is the sex scene necessary” discourse? It’s kinda scary when “I don’t like sex scenes” comes from the young. It’s not really their fault – they’ve grown up in a world where films for grownups actually don’t exist. Their “discourse” around sex comes from very little real experience and just being Extremely Online. So I try to take their prudery with a grain of salt. But …

      Nolan is an un-sexy filmmaker – and of course that’s fine – you don’t have to be interested in sex, as a person or as an artist – but … I mean, leave it to him to make a movie about dreams where there’s no sex in it. Dreams with no sex? Only Christopher Nolan!!

      Because Nolan doesn’t really ‘get” sex I did find myself feeling protective of Florence Pugh – since she was the only one who had to be naked in this whole thing – and nudity/sex is not really his “thing” as a filmmaker. Did he make sure she felt safe and comfortable? Is this necessary? I agonized to myself – which normally I do not do. and, tbh, I don’t think the sex scene was necessary in Oppenheimer.

      I had similar thoughts about Ghost Story – I mean, I thought it was fine – but really not all that deep. I went into it post-buzz – and I was expecting a stone-cold masterpiece based on the commentary. I was like, “…. really?” I like David Lowery – I’m working a piece about Bad Fever – mentioned above – and Lowery edited that film! – so I like his indie bonafides and his belief in collaboration – and Ghost Story definitely felt like a singular vision – which I am all for – but again … I just wasn’t seeing what everyone else was seeing. And Rooney Mara gobbling the pie … male film critics went CRAZY for that scene, and I have yet to hear a plausible well-written explanation as to why they thought that scene was good, beyond omigod she ate the whole pie in one long take – SHE REALLY HAD TO DO THAT.. Yes. It’s called acting. I don’t get it. she sat there and ate the pie. Is it because she’s a hot super thin actress and it’s so “brave” to see her shovel food in her mouth? I bet that’s part of it – which is gross. And dumb. It’s like people going so ga-ga over the fact that the sets in Barbie were REAL and not green screened in later. like, okay. yes, the sets were great. But as we praise the sets, let’s also bemoan the fact that we are in a place where actually built sets are a rare thing. It’s tragic, is what it is.

      We’re over-praising the bare minimum. The rickety sets on the Warner Brothers lot had more atmosphere and mood than all the green-screened “reality” put together. Again, though, I get why. We’re basically starving: give us something real, give us something tangible. When something real/tangible shows up, we grasp onto it. I don’t usually use “we” like this but here I’ll make an exception!

      • Lyrie says:

        //It’s kinda scary when “I don’t like sex scenes” comes from the young. //

        Yes! And I was going to say exactly what you said below in the conversation with Barb: sometimes sex IS plot. Sex is not only something that drives people, but it’s also a thing that two or more people share that reveals or changes dynamics, like a fight, or an emotional conversation.

        Also, plot is just one part of storytelling. I read “sex only if it advances the plot” from some young aspiring screenwriters and it made me really sad. But maybe that will change?

        It’s also really weird because the whole thing makes me feel like a horndog.

        I haven’t seen the movie but given what you and Barb describe, I understand the worry for the actress. That’s entirely valid and something else, which I often see conflated by anti-sex people when they don’t have any other argument left. And it’s great that that discussion exists, and intimacy coordinators, etc. It’s just dishonest to project your (audience member) own discomfort with sex onto the actors.

        Anyway, it’s really weird and maybe I’m just a dumb contrarian but it makes me want to see and write MORE sex. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        // It’s not really their fault – they’ve grown up in a world where films for grownups actually don’t exist. //

        I think I know what you mean but… would you mind saying more?

        // omigod she ate the whole pie in one long take – SHE REALLY HAD TO DO THAT//
        Right, when *I* do it I have a PROBLEM, but…

      • Lyrie says:

        OK, then I’m done talking about sex, but also, part of the discourse was that nowadays you don’t need sex in movies because with the internet you have easy access to porn. And I think that’s the dumbest shit I’ve heard this year, and there’s been a LOT of dumb shit out there.

        Ok, ok, I’m done. Back to p0r4h*b I go, I guess (that word and D*sti*l are the only two words I censure on your site, ha ha)

        • sheila says:

          // I think I know what you mean but… would you mind saying more? //

          Hollywood has given up on movies for adults in the last … 20 years. If you go back and watch movies in the 90s – not that long ago – you see stuff geared towards adults. Rated R. All those “erotic thrillers” starring Michael Douglas, lol. Or even just straight dramas featuring adult problems. Oridinary People, for example. Hollywood (which I get is not the world – you can still see movies made for grownups coming from European countries and elsewhere) has been franchise-oriented for YEARS – a cash cow – they “play well” in Asia too – a main consideration due to the population – so, something like Oridnary People isn’t going to matter to the average 15-year-old from South korea. so there’s no incentive to present complex stories. and the whole Marvel thing – is not just “part” of the industry – it IS the industry at this point. (although I think the bloom is off the rose. The Flash tanked. And the biggest box office booms in the last two years were: Top Gun – a franchise, granted, but not superhero stuff – the Elvis movie – both of which were in the theatres – in actual movie theatres – for MONTHS. and then Barbie – and Oppenheimer. Not exactly franchise stuff. People like Martin Scorsese – a master – has to make his movies for Netflix – which, thank God. They basically gave him a blank check to make The Irishman – a 3 hour movie about a hired killer – like, nobody WANTS that movie – except for people who love good cinema, and love film that engages with things like ambiguity, moral grey areas, and non-binary thinking (meaning not: good-bad. The irishman is a SEA of complex reactions). The streaming boom is … great but also a problem. Everything has been turned into “content” and stuff that WOULD have played in a theatre for a nice month-long run – little indies, for example – are now BURIED in the algorithms on Amazon, Netflix, etc. Stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Like, the movie I beat the drum for incessantly last year – Dinner in America. It was on my Top 10 for the YEAR. I was determined to point people towards it. Back in the 80s, it would have played in the movie theatre for a month, a month and a half – it would have had a chance. Or the movie about the Boston Strangler – starring Keira Knightley – I can’t remember the title – it’s so good!! And … it just came and went on streaming – you have to know to look for it. Unless it shows up on the main page nobody’s seeing it. and as the strike has shown – people are paid pennies or worse for stuff playing on streaming services. There’s zero incentive for “Hollywood” to make movies geared for adults. Grown-up stories. If you go back and watch films from the 1970s – Five Easy Pieces – An Unmarried Woman – or even something like The Exorcist – and then something like Reds – these movies do not give a shit about what teenagers think about them. It’s not FOR them.

          so that’s my lecture.

          • Lyrie says:

            Thanks for the lecture! It was pretty much what I thought but I really enjoyed you going in detail about what ISN’T Marvel etc. I’m always behind on stuff and there are so many movies everyone has seen but me that I’m not really aware of what’s out there – especially since the beginning of the pandemic, because I haven’t gone back to seeing things in theatres. A few years ago, an acquaintance was complaining that ALL movies are the same, and I told him bro, it’s because YOU only watch movies from the same franchises. I was going to see Rams – remember, the Icelandic movie about two brothers and sheep competition? – so I invited him to come with. He was SHOCKED. It was NOT the same. And he didn’t like it, it was a little too… different? Ha ha

            //Dinner in America//
            Ooooh, I totally missed that, seems like my kind of thing, thanks!

        • sheila says:

          Oh and what I’m talking about doesn’t really have to do with sex scenes. There aren’t any in Five Easy Pieces. There aren’t any in The Irishman. Or in Elvis for that matter. It’s more about the treatment of subject matter allowing for ambiguity and for difficult complicated ethical situations – or, even just people “behaving badly”.

          The response to Noah Baumbach’s A Marriage Story – a fairly typical (but very good) drama about a marriage breaking up – the commentary – not so much from film critics but from just people who had seen it spouting off on Twitter – shows how far we have fallen in being able to even PERCEIVE a work of art, even a very simple one like A Marriage Story. They “blamed” Adam Driver for his “toxic masculinity” – they literally could not see that this was a tragic grownup situation – two people who fell out of love – it had to be He is Bad, She is Good. which means you can’t even really perceive the movie because the movie wasn’t doing that at ALL. Maybe it takes sides a little – Adam Driver is clearly the “standin” for Baumbach – but … not really. I mean, Kramer vs. Kramer – it’s basically the same movie – it’s not like Marriage Story is OBSCURE or ESOTERIC. But people have absorbed this type of language/”analysis” so totally that … no wonder movies about grownups aren’t doing well. People don’t WANT ambiguity or complexity. If people watch A Star is Born and feel like Bradley Cooper was a “predator” because he …. pursued a woman he was interested in? whose talent he admired? … we are lost. Or, it just means we’re really lacking in critical thinking and/or analysis. Not everything fits into little boxes!!

          • Lyrie says:

            //Oh and what I’m talking about doesn’t really have to do with sex scenes.//

            No, I know. I’m focusing on that because that’s what people talked about in relation to Oppenheimer and I think that wave of puritanism is the symptom of something bigger that’s super worrying, but of course, it’s not just about that.

            And yes, it’s also related to black and white thinking and dumbing things down to the point of absurdity (scary boobies!) You know, in itself, I don’t think it’s BAD that people view systemic power dynamics in stories, fictional or real. It’s important. BUT you can’t divorce them from CONTEXT, otherwise not only is it often stupid, it becomes dangerous. You can’t apply just one filter to stories and relationships. For instance, just because someone is a woman and there is sexism at play in something doesn’t mean she’s a victim, or JUST a victim. There are different facets of power. Viewing things that way is a little too close to the notion of purity, and we see it so much lately, it scares the shit out of me.

            In my job lately I’ve been doing a lot of work around social issues and marginalization, and people have started coming to me with questions – and I’m glad they do! But they often want simple answers. They want one size fits all solutions. That’s not real life! I don’t think I’ve ever said “it depends on the context” as much as I have lately. They want to not have to THINK about it – and that’s the whole thing, the only thing you can do right, even if you’re never guaranteed to have the right answer: to be mindful. To THINK about things. Deeply. To accept that often things are complicated, frustrating, baffling, imperfect, not our business, etc.

            OK, that’s my soapbox lol

        • sheila says:

          // there’s been a LOT of dumb shit out there. //

          yeah. a lot of dumb shit. Equating sex with porn, first of all, is a huge red flag. And again, this is usually from people who call themselves progressive. Andrea Dworkin’s heirs. Dworkin was one of the major feminist voices when I was coming up – and … her sex-panic felt identical to the sex-panic coming from the Republicans – it was the same thing. I was 20 and I wanted no part of either of those groups!

          Dworkin’s work is worth delving into – but … much of it came out of her unbelievably unremittingly traumatic life. This gave her a certain perspective which is totally understandable. But as prescriptive for how other people should live? … No. Especially when it comes to something as personal as sexuality. Stop telling me how I should feel about sex. It is the most personal thing ever. Get out of my bedroom, righties and lefties. And emo Tumblr girls who have no idea what they’re talking about.

        • sheila says:

          D*sti*l hahahahahahaha

          Oh God. We don’t want to summon the minions by naming it out loud!

          • Lyrie says:

            For real. I’m sure most of them are lovely people but there’s a bunch of scary individuals, and I’m scared they might have a google alert or something lol — and I’m not in the mood to be called a homophobe by someone who hasn’t been alive as long as I’ve been out as bisexual

  6. Barb says:

    I saw Oppenheimer this weekend, and found it compelling overall (some friends afterward asked us, “was it three hours of your life that you can’t get back?” “Did the bomb go off?” – which reminded me of the jokes I heard about Titanic, “did it sink in the end?”). I like mutecypher’s take on allowing the tragedy to remain rather than pulling back from it to end on a note of personal triumph.

    And yeah, scary sex – that was jarring in the committee room. Not least for the fact that it was a fantasy image that belonged to Kitty, not Oppenheimer, so it didn’t ” fit” the rest of the narrative structure. I also disliked the naked hotel room sequence, not for the naked-ness of it but for its context. Would this character really have this conversation while lounging naked in a chair? Maybe – but she was so detached from any internal meaning in that moment. Was she spiteful, seductive, accepting, breaking down? I have no idea. And this is down to direction, rather than performance, I think.

    But – I found it compelling. I liked the way images and sounds echoed throughout, gaining meaning – the stomping feet, the raindrops, the whirling atoms, the tragic close up, Rami Malek –

    I can’t imagine dealing with the discourse you describe, Sheila! I had enough of that on the old fandom message boards, it would be awful to be constantly bombarded with it.

    • sheila says:

      Oh God, fandom message boards, Barb! It’s exactly like that, except mainstream film criticism, lol. The rhetoric is so heightened – so explosively heightened – it becomes impossible to engage with. If you dare to disagree, you’re a rape apologist or [insert horrifying insult]. The rhetoric is deisgned to be intimidating, to discourage engagement. It’s truly wild – especially when the people doing this are writers, first of all, and also consider themselves tolerant/progressive. Yikes!! [The Destiel wars come to mind. I’m afraid to even say it out loud since it might conjure up the horror all over again!]

      Loving to hear all these thoughts on Oppenheimer. I agree with you about the nudity in it – particularly that one in the committee room – that’s when I got worried for Pugh, that he made her do that. I hope at least he did what was necessary to make her feel safe. Pugh is pretty vocal though – outspoken – maybe we’ll hear something eventually about how she felt – but in general Nolan does not have a reputation for being a bully or a jerk, so at least that’s something. I just feel like sex – nudity – has never been his thing – and it SHOWED in those scenes. The fact that Cillian Murphy was naked too did very little to mitigate the weirdness – it was self-conscious.

      // And this is down to direction, rather than performance, I think. //


      I am not one of those people who only thinks sex has to “advance the plot”. sometimes sex IS plot. In real life and in fiction. sometimes the bond people have in bed IS what motivates things. But … Oppenheimer is NOT that story, you know?

      She was an interesting character – I feel like I’ve met her before, in all of the books I’ve read of the American Communist Left in the 1930s – and I feel like we didn’t need to see her naked in a crowded room to get the tragedy of the character.

      // Not least for the fact that it was a fantasy image that belonged to Kitty, not Oppenheimer, so it didn’t ” fit” the rest of the narrative structure. //

      Really good point! I hadn’t even thought of that. Yeah – sudden switchup POV – unmotivated.

      I’m not a big Rami Malek fan but I REALLY liked hm in this – and the surprise of his character. You think he’s going to be thinking one thing – he’s sort of set up as a certain kind of character – and then you realize something else has been going on all along. I liked that! It surprised me!

      I thought Matt Damon was great too.

      It was such good timing because I had literally watched the doc A Compassionate Spy like 3 days before – so I got familiar with all of these people as real people, in real footage and interviews – right before I saw Oppenheimer.

      • Barb says:

        I’ll have to find that documentary! It would be helpful to know more background. Though on the other hand, I knew very little about Oppenheimer going in to this – just that he headed the Manhattan Project, and then was blackballed
        – and maybe that let me just experience it as a story.

        Absolutely, Matt Damon! He almost always makes the movies he’s in better by his presence. The general could have so easily been mostly expositionary (is that a word?) , but Damon just injected so much life into him. And you’re absolutely right about Malek, I wondered why he was there, in the background, so when his surprising spotlight moment finally happened, it was very satisfying.

        (the shipping wars are still being fought in some dark corners of whatever Twitter is now, or so I hear…. I’ve got my DVDs and my fanfic, I’m happy in my bunker…)

        • sheila says:

          Barb – I just reviewed Compassionate Spy – so it’s out now! It’s about a guy – Ted Hall – who was recruited into the Manhattan Project when he was 18 – ! – a genius – and he became so concerned about what he was building he passed some plans on to the Russians. He thought the information should be shared. (Russia was our ally at the time, of course).

          It’s not a perfect doc – but it has really great. background – and Matt Damon’s character plays a large role, the army liaison for the project – and then of course all the other spies associated with the Manhattan Project. Ted Hall’s spy status wasn’t revealed until docs were declassified years later.

          It gives a really good feel for that makeshift town and the army presence and how intense it all was.

          // The general could have so easily been mostly expositionary (is that a word?) , but Damon just injected so much life into him. //


          // the shipping wars are still being fought in some dark corners of whatever Twitter is now, //

          when I see news items now saying “so and so said on X (formerly known as Twitter” I just roll my eyes. so silly!!

          I do not doubt the shipping wars are still being fought – although it still is rather amazing. the vitriol!! what are people fighting about now? same ol’ same ol’?

          // I’ve got my DVDs and my fanfic, I’m happy in my bunker… //


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