March 2024 Viewing Diary

Conspiracy (2001; d. Frank Pierson)
I went down a little Wannsee Conference rabbit hole so figured I’d re-watch this chilling nasty little movie.

Lured (1947; d. Douglas Sirk)
I had never seen this. I love discovering new Douglas Sirks! This one stars Lucille Ball as a “dancer” (quotation marks since it’s really a “ten cents a dance” situation), who goes to work undercover for the police to hunt down a serial killer. Boris Karloff shows up at one point. George Sanders is in it.

Bless Their Little Hearts (1983; d. Billy Woodberry)
Billy Woodberry directed and produced, and the film was shot by the great Charles Burnett (whom I met at Ebertfest, when his To Sleep with Anger screened). The cast is made up of mostly non-professional actors, and is very honest and raw in its approach. Shot in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, on an obvious shoe-string, it tells the story of a family, a man who should be looking for a job – and is, kind of – but he still finds time to mess around with his friends, as his increasingly distressed wife tries to keep things going at home.

Cane River (1982; d. Horace B. Jenkins)
I had never seen this one either. Horace B. Jenkins wrote, directed, produced. Everyone behind the camera, the entire crew – and everyone acting FOR the camera – was Black, something unheard of in the mainstream industry, especially in 1982. It’s a fascinating story about Black land ownership, and the community of Natchitoches, which has an interesting history. The lead character – Peter (a hunky Richard Romain) – comes home to fight for his family land, which has slowly been taken away from him. He meets a local girl (Tommye Myrick), who’s feisty and smart and about to go off to college. The two of them hit it off. There’s a clear power-differential: he’s from a well-known family, she’s struggling to get the hell out of there. The script contains layers, the intersections of class and race, the tensions of family history and generational trauma (and unfairness). The film has a sad history. There was one screening of it down in New Orleans, where it was shot, but before it could got any kind of distribution deal, Jenkins died. It was a real passion project for him. The film was actually considered lost – until it was eventually “re-discovered” 30 years later. Cane River was re-released in 2013, and just a couple years ago it played on the Criterion Channel, where it got everybody talking – like it should have back in 1982. Very happy I saw it.

Glitter and Doom (2024; d. Tom Gustafson)
A jukebox musical featuring the music of the Indigo Girls. I reviewed for Ebert.

The Program: Cons, Cults, and Kidnapping (2024; d. Katherine Kubler)
Kubler has done something rather extraordinary with this docu-series. I watched another series recently about one of those tough-love desert schools for “bad kids” – the school Paris Hilton went to – but it was conventionally done. This one is different. Kubler found herself at Ivy Ridge Academy, a “behavior modification” school run by a bunch of lunatics and predators. The school is now an abandoned cluster of buildings and Kubler and many of her class-mates return there, talking about what they went through in this eerie setting. They find all of their personal files in the moldering dust. It’s a very bold approach and … possibly illegal? Like, who owns that land now? Kubler is a film-maker. She doesn’t just say she is a film-maker. This docu-series proves she IS a film-maker. This is a personal and painful story and she has taken a very bold approach.

Club Zero (2024; d. Jessica Hausner)
Creepy and gross. Fascinating. I reviewed for Ebert.

A Question of Silence (1982; d. Marleen Gorris)
When I hear people calling Barbie “subversive” – including the film’s director – I wonder if words have meaning anymore. A Question of Silence is subversive in the truest sense of the word, as all of Gorris’ films are. This one is probably the most well-known.

You’ll Never Find Me (2024; d. Josiah Allen, Indianna Bell)
What a strong directorial debut! Mood so thick you can barely move. The sound design, the lighting, the performances, just every single detail was so on point. It wasn’t just style for the sake of style. Every choice had meaning, every choice was there for a reason. I was super impressed. I reviewed for Ebert.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2024; d. Radu Jude)
Radu Jude is one of the most exciting – and relevant (horrible word: but I mean it specifically) – filmmakers working today. I’ve seen as much of his stuff as I can get my hands on, including his shorts. I was introduced to him, like a lot of people were, with his 2021 film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. It was in my Top 10 for that year. It’s an exhilarating break-neck chatter-box film, a lampoon of every single thing that is stupid and/or absurd going on in our world right now. It was filmed during the pandemic. A lot of Right Now movies take a self-serious or “here is the trouble we are facing” solemnity, which … ages like milk. Those movies will date by next week. Bad Lucky Banging or Loony Porn may as well date too: I’m reading a collection of George Orwell’s weekly “As I Please” columns, which he maintained for 4 or 5 years, during WWII and after. In them, he talks about all of the big issues of the day (including the bombs raining down on London, where he actually was), but he also talks about things that were relevant in the moment but lost to history: the tempests in a teapot, the off-the-cuff comment of an MP, the letters to the editor expressing annoyance – etc. But they are all fascinating as snapshots of a time. Bad Luck Banging is that, as is his 2018 film I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians. His films are often about confronting the more unsavory and/or evil aspects of Romania’s past. Barbarians is explicitly about that. Bad Luck Banging is a bit more universal, because of the pandemic and social media: things we all had to deal with. I have been waiting to see his latest for half a year now, since I missed it at NYFF. His films are almost like Dispatches from the Front of Sanity. Sanity in an insane world. Sometimes all you can do – the only appropriate response – is lampoon and caricature. I hear his stuff called “satire” all the time, but I don’t think that’s quite right. His style is one of exaggeration: he exaggerates a truth into absurdity, so we can all SEE it as absurd. Perhaps some people would say that is “satire” but I think there’s a subtle difference here. I went to go see this at IFC in New York. It’s three hours long – as most of his movies are – and you never feel it. The propulsive motion never stops, more so here than in his others, since it takes place in one day, and follows a woman around from morning to night, as she drives through Bucharest traffic to go from appointment to appointment. I can’t wait to see it again.

Scoop (2024; d. Philip Martin)
So this is a very interesting film about how BBC Newsnight, and one doggedly determined junior producer, got Prince Andrew to agree to sit down for an interview. And we all know how THAT went. It’s such a recent event, I wondered if it could be effective, we don’t have any distance yet. But it was really good! I didn’t know the backstage story. I reviewed for Ebert.

Wicked Little Letters (2024; d. Thea Sharrock)
This was a hoot. I adored it. I reviewed for Ebert.

My Man Godfrey (1936; d. Gregory La Cava)
I love it so much. I zoom in on different people in different viewings. This time I couldn’t get over the dad (the hilarious Eugene Pallette). He is completely overrun by in the insane females in his family. He just walks into the room, looks around, and can’t believe what he is seeing, and what he – a nice responsible man – has done to deserve this.

Man of the World (1931; d. Richard Wallace)
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first film Lombard did with her future first husband, William Powell. The chemistry is apparent. I had never seen this one. I was surprised by how tender/heart-breaking the ending was. This is the pre-Code vibe. You expect at the last minute for every wrong to be righted, and everything is going to be okay. But here, that doesn’t happen. And it’s not a TRAGEDY, it’s just very realistic and adult. We aren’t in screwball territory yet.

Hands Across the Table (1935; d. Mitchell Leisen)
Just adorable and pleasing. Maybe the first pairing of Lombard and Fred MacMurray (writing without notes). Great energy. Mitchell Leisen is a lovely director.

Love Before Breakfast (1936; d. Walter Lang)
I’ve written about this one before. This is the one where Carole Lombard gets a black eye (the image of which is the poster, one of the most striking posters in Hollywood history. It’s been my avatar on Twitter since I first signed up).

The Princess Comes Across (1936; d. William K. Howard)
Hilarious. Carole Lombard plays a con artist, really, pretending to be a Swedish princess, and she is clearly aping Garbo. Fred MacMurray again!

True Confession (1937; d. Wesley Ruggles)
Lombard and MacMurray are married – seemingly happily – but there’s one little problem. She is a compulsive liar.

Nothing Sacred (1937; d. William A. Wellman)
This was Lombard’s only outing with Wellman and it’s a very fortunate pairing. Now THIS is a satire. It’s about the public’s hunger for “tragic yet inspiring” news stories, where the public gets to display how good they feel about themselves when they care about others – even if it’s fake. Emotion like this is the essence of performative. Nothing Sacred shows that very familiar situation – we all know it, we all participate in it – on steroids. Beware the inspiring story! Interrogate your responses, just so you know you’re keeping yourself honest.

Twentieth Century (1934; d. Howard Hawks)
Insane. Start to finish.

Ladies Man (1931; d. Lothar Mendes)
Early stuff, fairly rough, sound-wise, but fascinating. A gigolo (William Powell) “dates” a mother and a daughter, simultaneously. It’s pretty wild. Kay Francis and Carole Lombard in stunning gowns. What more can you want?

One Day (2024; d. Created by Nicole Taylor)
I am so busy right now but I got sucked in and watched the whole thing in a 48-hour period. I am so impressed with these two young actors.

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12 Responses to March 2024 Viewing Diary

  1. Biff Dorsey says:

    If you are looking for amusing anecdotes about Carole Lombard, track down a copy of Garson Kanin’s “Hollywood”. Kanin’s veracity is dubious, but his portrait of Lombard is loving. Certainly she rivalled Sally Eilers as being the most foul mouthed starlet in Tinsel Town.

    • Sheila says:

      Oh yes I am very familiar! I think I first read it in high school. I almost never use it as a reference because I don’t trust GK lol but it is very entertaining!

  2. Jay G says:

    One of my favorites. Totally engrossing even though it’s set in one room for the majority of the film. I don’t know what Heydrich was was actually like so not sure if Branagh portrayed him accurately, but I can’t think of anyone else able to capture the ease of evil (honestly just trying not to say the banality of evil) that had to be present for any persons to be involved in to planning the Final Solution.
    I can’t say enough good things about Conspiracy. The problem comes in recommending it to others. When I explain the premise, people give the blank look, like “What’s wrong with you?” I had the same problem when I used to tell people about The Believer and what an outstandingly intense film it is. Could probably get away with recommending it today since, Gosling.
    People might be on to something with “What’s wrong with you?”, though. I mean, another of my favorite films is United 93. I appreciate intensity.

    • sheila says:

      // When I explain the premise, people give the blank look, like “What’s wrong with you?” //

      I get this kind of thing too and it’s very weird to me since I love intensity and I love films that attempt to look at complicated historical moments. I’m not here to have FUN after all lol

      Have you seen the German version? It’s on YouTube and it’s fascinating to see the different interpretations of these monstrous characters.

  3. Jay G says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the German version! Definitely gonna check that out.
    Yeah, our versions of fun are probably way different than most. Sure, I can watch Wedding Crashers or tThe Holy Grail and laugh my ass off or enjoy the whimsy of Forest Gump (I know you hate it!), but I most enjoy intense or difficult movies. Same with books. Non-fiction all the way for me. Real life is so damn interesting.

    • sheila says:

      I really appreciate films that include difficult concepts or political/historical commentary. Radu Jude’s films (my new fave) all do that. all of his films in some way grapple with Romania’s past (particularly I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians – what a title. an actual quote from director of Foreign Affairs who made a speech in 1941 I think before the massacre of 30,000 Jews. His film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn also includes – with all of the lampooning of every stupidity on the face of the planet right now – and also some hardcore porn, just a warning! – addressing political realities in Romania (and the world – but mostly Romania). american films really just don’t do that. Radu Judeliterally interrupts the action of the plot to ruminate on history – and somehow it all pours into this ridiculous and yet plausible story of a teacher’s leaked sex tape (having sex with her husband, shocking) – and how the parents are up in arms. Incorporating Romania’s history of revolution and Ceasceau tyranny – in the middle of a farce – is rare and almost unheard of here. instead we get broad-stroke biopics or careful historical dramas. we just don’t excel in political IDEAS.

    • sheila says:

      Oh and here’s a link to the German version, called The Wannsee Conference – it was a TV movie and I think it’s excellent:

  4. Jay G says:

    A likely difficult question to answer narrowly, but what is (are) your favorite historical or history adjacent movie(s)? I know you are tremendously well read and a history nerd, so I look forward to your opinion.

    • sheila says:

      I just inadvertently answered that in part in the comment above – radu jude’s films. His short The Potemkenists is on Amazon – and it’s basically a farce, a sketch, but it’s addressing the revolutionary far past of Romania – and also the Communist interlude of 60 years or whatever.

      The Death of Stalin is terrific, if you haven’t seen it.

      Reds, which you have probably seen – one of the few American films actually interested not just in what happened – but how people TALKED about what was happening, the fights they had, the ideological wrestling on the ground in the 20s and 30s.

      I’ll think of more!

  5. Jay G says:

    What do you think of Mr Jones? I enjoyed it but it didn’t haunt me as perhaps I was hoping it would. Probably knowing about the Holodomor and the western apologists ahead of time takes away the sting. Plus, how do you capture the the inhuman nature of the Holodomor and Soviet Communism in the larger sense?
    As an aside, Daryl Cooper’s Martyr Made Podcast episode “Anti-Humans” visits the horrors of the Soviets. You’ve probably read much about that, but the verbal telling of it in a compelling way is something different. His 3 part series on Epstein is a masterpiece of weaving so many recognizable names together in a narrative.
    As far as movies that succeed in capturing the horrors of totalitarianism, obviously Schindler’s List and The Killing Fields are standouts. Knowing that Haing S Ngor possibly lost his life to Khmer Rouge sympathizers makes The Killing Fields that much more impactful.

    • sheila says:

      I liked Mr. Jones. I like Agnieszka Holland’s work.

      Honestly, Come and See is one of the best war movies ever made – and it tells the story that has almost never been told – the Nazi invasion of Belarus seen from the shell-shocked perspective of a young Russian boy who joins the partisans and is tossed into the action with no preparation. It’s a masterpiece and so horrifying I never need to see it again.

      and then Andrzej Wajda’s entire career has been about Poland’s 20th century experience. He made films during Communist rule and then after. it was a major career. Man of Marble is fascinating – I think I wrote about it here – Man of Iron, Katyn (about the massacre of the entire Polish officer class behind enemy lines). He worked up until the end.

      I’d also recommend The Lives of Others, if you haven’t seen it – told from the perspective of a Stasi agent in East Germany.

  6. Jay G says:

    Alright, I’ve got some viewing choices!
    Thank you for taking the time to think about it.

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