April 2024 Viewing Diary

To Be or Not to Be (1942; d. Ernst Lubitsch)
It’s 82 years later. 82 years. And it’s still a little bit shocking this film even exists. The film lampoons Nazis, and Hitler, and tyranny, which – in 1942 – was a clear-and-present danger. I’ve watched it so many times and I still can’t believe what Lubitsch and his amazing cast – Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, a young gorgeous Robert Stack, and everyone else – get away with here. Dazzling.

The Breaking Point (1950; d. Michael Curtiz)
Another film adaptation of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, the most famous adaptation of course being the one with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall. (“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”) John Garfield, a brittle and somewhat miscast Patricia Neal, and the wonderful Juano Hernandez (an improvement on Wallace Beery) star. Seeing Garfield here, sturdy and sexy and healthy … it’s just shocking to know he would be dead in 2 years. Fuck you, Joe McCarthy. Seriously. Burn in hell.

Made for Each Other (1939; d. John Cromwell)
It’s nice to see James Stewart and Lombard together. And Charles Coburn! There’s a sweet romance, with Lombard and Stewart totally charming, and it’s a pretty realistic portrayal of marriage and financial realities and struggles, exacerbated by a baby. They love the baby! But it’s hard! Things get even harder, and the final third of the film tilts into cliff-hanger territory, with a daredevil pilot, a blizzard, a life-saving vial of serum … so that’s a little weird but I enjoyed this.

White Woman (1933; d. Stuart Walker)
This is not only a sweaty drenched CROCK, it’s very racist! But Charles Laughton is deliciously corrupt as the sex trafficker, holed up on his boat in the jungle, with all these trapped people, women and men. It’s terrible, though!

No More Orchids (1932; d. Walter Lang)
A pre-Code, with Lombard as a wild spoiled heiress, who falls in love with a dude (Lyle Talbot), even though he has no money, and she’s already engaged. But her engagement was arranged by her grandfather, I think, for purely financial reasons, or maybe status reasons. So it is a pickle! Lombard’s clothes are absolutely RAVISHING in this.

Ripley (2024; d. Steven Zaillian)
What a fascinating experience. I know these books so well, and I have deep affection for all of the film adaptations, and the different approaches. I’ve seen a lot of commentary like “Delon is the definitive Ripley and that’s final.” People can be so boring. It’s not a competition. These books are rich source material, fantastically evocative, and of course filmmakers will want to take a crack at it. There are so many different ways in, and the narratives themselves are gripping, tense, suspenseful, and the characters are excellent. Highsmith also doesn’t over-describe the interiority of anybody. Ripley HAS no interior. And this is really good for adaptation because you can project all kinds of things onto him. My favorite Ripley is still Delon, but I love Dennis Hopper too, I love John Malkovich, I love Andrew Scott, I love Matt Damon: they’re all so different. Each actor brings a different shading, based on their own essences or tendencies. This, to me, seems good and right. Like, really good material shouldn’t be untouchable, or done only once, and that’s IT. We nailed it for all time! No. That would mean Hamlet would never have been done after Richard Burton. Or whatever. So. Delon has the eerie blankness I adore so much in cinema, and what I consider to be closest to Ripley, although I wonder if Delon’s outrageous beauty is actually NOT Ripley-ish, a man who lives under cover, basically. Delon couldn’t be undercover if he tried. Malkovich was also an excellent Ripley, cold and warm simultaneously, watchful, brutal, calm calm calm. So this mini-series was just a TREAT. There are a few caveats: Scott and Johnny Flynn, as much as I love them both as actors, are really just too old for these roles. Maybe if it was one of the later books it could work, but this first one they’re supposed to be 20somethings bumming around Europe. This was made even stranger by the casting of Freddie with the much MUCH younger Eliot Sumner. You could justify it, I suppose, and it was interesting, but … because Scott and Flynn are in their 40s, with Scott pushing 50 … it didn’t really fit. Sumner, though, in the dead scenes: wow. Freddie is dead for so long, as Ripley tries to deal with it, and there’s Sumner, being dragged around, propped up, etc. Really good physical work. The whole thing was very Weekend at Bernie’s, which is really what it was like in the book. Gruesome! But funny!) I thought Dakota Fanning was great, very real. The cinematography and use of real life locations was world-class. What a gorgeous-looking piece of work. A feast. I want to watch it again for the visuals alone. I loved the cat. lol The cat stole the show. I loved seeing Scott do something other than the sort of devastatingly handsome boyish thing. It was still present, but it had that sinister nothingness underneath it, making it even more compelling. Also, you’re notice his eyes were dead. Black holes. Chilling. You did believe he was capable of anything. Lots of great mirror moments too, continuing the tradition of Ripley-movies-with-mirror-moments. I was really into it. Many people I respect didn’t care for it, many people I respect loved it. I had some issues, a few of which I mentioned here, but overall I really dug it. Ripley is such a horrible clumsy killer. The rocks in the boat. What were you THINKING, guy?

It’s Only Life After All (2024; d. Alexandria Bombach)
I reviewed for Ebert. I thought it was pretty shoddily done, and I learned (after writing the review) that the director didn’t do her due diligence to secure the rights to all of the Indigo Girls’ music. Some is included, but they weren’t able to use all because of this, sorry, incompetence. There were other issues though, and most of it is directorial. So. It’s a bummer because I love the Indigo Girls so much. I was very pleased however to see what Amy’s office looks like. I’m sure you can clock what pleased me.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941; d. Alfred Hitchcock)
Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard in a kind of limp marriage comedy. With its charming moments, and great visuals: her skirt busting out the sides. All the OBJECTS: the notes, the bottle of gin, the skis, the name label at the door. Hitchcock’s meticulous telling of the story through the objects. It’s amazing how many times he does that. The story isn’t in the dialogue, he just follows the objects.

The Tourist. Season 1 (2022; d. Chris Sweeney)
Allison made me watch this, and it was a blast. We tore through Season 1 in one day. We never got out of bed. Or, we meandered to the kitchen to make sandwiches, and then crawled back into bed, as the rain poured down on the pavement outside. My favorite kind of day. Great to see Jamie Dornan, out from under the shadow of 50 Shades, where he was, frankly, terrible. He burst out of prison with Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – HILARIOUS. The Tourist is such a cool concept! Waiting to watch Season 2 with Allison, where apparently the action moves to Ireland.

Ripley’s Game (2002; d. Liliana Cavani)
Inspired by watching Ripley … I saw this years ago and really loved it. Liliana Cavani is an incredible filmmaker – The Night Porter! – she’s very comfortable with dark dark shit. The settings, again, are brilliant: that manor, the tapestries, the vistas. Dougray Scott was heart-wrenching. This particular “entry” in the series is very upsetting, because Jonathan did not deserve – at all – what was done to him, what was taken from him. Ripley just does it to fuck around, really. He’s a little bored. The guy insulted him. Let’s have a little fun.

Ramona at Midlife (2024; d. Brooke Berman)
I was a juror in the Florida Film Festival this month. I was in the Narrative Feature category. We saw 10 films in 4 days, 2 on 2 days, 3 on 2 days. It was intense and fabulous! The slate was really strong. We were impressed. First-timer narrative features can often be iffy but there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. I do want to do a write-up of the festival, but … I just can’t this week. But I’ll hold off on commentary – except for brief exclamations – until I can find the time to write up all these fine films

Booger (2023; d. Mary Dauterman)
Florida Film Festival. Wild. Great visuals and excellent central performance by Grace Glowicki.

Virtue (1932; d. Edward Buzzell)
Carole Lombard in a very bleak and frank Pre-Code, where she plays a prostitute, working out of a brothel, arrested and told to leave New York and never return. Do you think she obeys? Of course not. Pat O’Brien plays a virulent woman-hating cab driver, he thinks they’re all whores and liars and more trouble than they’re worth. But then his heart softens. Look out though. Once a misogynist always a misogynist. Very honest film about prostitution, very human performances of the Madame, the other sex workers in the house – there is shame attached to the profession here, nobody WANTS to be doing this, but they aren’t treated narratively like victims or horrible people. What’s unfair and horrible is not being given a chance by so-called “upright’ citizens who insist on JUDGING.

Riley (2023; d. Benjamin Howard)
Another Florida Film Festival entry. We really liked this one about a very competitive high school football player, being recruited by multiple Division 1 schools, struggling with his sexuality, and the impossibility of “coming out” (or, he thinks it’s impossible). Clearly a very personal story. Howard, who is gay, spoke afterwards about his own experience being a very good high school football player. I liked how the film was really from the inside of high school football: it’s not the cliche, with mean homophobic football coaches, and asshole jocks. Yes, they are jocks. And yes, it’s a very macho environment. But they all feel like real people. There was a football coach in the audience who commented that he very much appreciated the portrayal of football, and the coaches, who ran the kids hard, yes, but cared about them. “Yeah,” said Howard, “I mean, I never had a football coach make me cry.”

Lady Parts (2023; d. Nancy Boyd)
We gave the Lady Parts screenplay a special jury award. I interviewed the screenwriter, Bonnie Gross, on my Substack. I really hope this finds distribution so more people can see it.

New Life (2024; d. John Rosman)
A young woman is on the run, being chased by a clearly well-organized group, with walkie-talkies and a control room. What has she done? She lives in the woods, trying to get to Canada. There is one HELL of a twist. The twist was awesome. I totally did not see it coming. Artfully done.

Hellbent on Boogie (2023; d. Vito Trupiano)
The story of an autistic teenager (played effectively by Alyx Ruibal, who also has autism. She was in attendance, along with the director) . Shiloh Fernandez was very good as the troubled homeless older brother, who comes home because he needs a place to stay, and is a little dismayed at the social isolation of his kid sister. Very moving.

The Way We Speak (2024; d. Ian Ebright)
Patrick Fabian was really good in this story about an ambitious man, who basically yearns to be “important” in his field, and just can’t quite get there. It’s about a man who’s missing his whole life, being jealous and impotent and angry. Things come to a head when he and his dying wife attend a conference where he will be speaking, engaging in a debate with a real big-wig. Things don’t go according to plan. Very good performances. They were all there!

Paradise (2023; d. Max Isaacson)
Florida Film Festival film. A story about a bunch of gun-crazy people, and a daughter wanting to avenge her dad’s death. Tia Carrere cameo, which was a hoot. She wears a jeweled eyepatch.

All I’ve Got and Then Some (2024; d. Tehben Dean, Rasheed Stephens)
We gave this film Best Narrative Feature. So well deserved. Like I said, this was a really strong group of films, and this was the second to last film we saw, and it was instantly apparent – to all of us, thankfully – that something really special was going on with this one. We were just blown away by it, and what they accomplished – in just 7 days, with basically no money. Wow.

Peak Season (2023; d. Steven Kanter, Henry Loevner)
The final film we saw at Florida Film Festival. We really loved this one too. Gorgeous Tetons scenery, interesting characters in an interesting Jackson-Hole sub-culture. A romance, sort of, but … there’s more going on than just that. I was really impressed with these two male writers writing such a well-rounded woman character. She wasn’t perfect, or a manic pixie dream girl. She was a woman dealing with her life. Really good.

CTRL+ALT+DESIRE (2024; d. Colin Archdeacon)
Grant Amato has a dark weird pull on me. What a weirdo. What a depressing story. I’ve watched all the YouTube footage, but this is a documentary, and the director has been in contact with Amato in prison. Amato somehow smuggled in a phone. What a shock. He has learned nothing. He is a creep. The director even travels to Bulgaria, trying to find the famous cam girl who didn’t CAUSE this, but she was the unwitting catalyst. Poor woman.

Masques (1987; d. Claude Chabrol)
I love Claude Chabrol but I’ve never seen this one.

Baby Reindeer (2024; created by Richard Gadd)
Tore through this. It’s very effective, horrifying, really. The stalking is extreme. Gadd has had real trouble since the launching of the series (based on his autobiographical one-man show), with so-called “fans” harassing people whom they deduce are the real-life counterparts. He’s had to come out and say, “Please. Stop.” What is wrong with people? I need to think about this one more.

Primrose Path (1940; d. Gregory La Cava)
Joel McCrea and Ginger Rogers competing in under-playing. Rogers underplays so much at first you can barely hear her. Not “actressy” at all. Very evocative atmosphere, this little seaside town, the shanty town on the outskirts, some location shoots on a real beach. McCrea is to die for. My God.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021; d. Radu Jude)
God, this film. It makes you look at almost all other films and think, “Can’t you see there are more possibilities, more ways to tell a story?” It makes other films look uptight, and not just because of the porn.

Jeanne du Barry (2024; d. Maïwenn)
The film opens this week. I reviewed.

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