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film fatales #156: she said (maria schrader, 2022)

She Said is a pretty straightforward "based-on-a-true-story" journalism movie. Two intrepid reporters dig into a story that others seem to have ignored. The deeper they go, the more disturbing the revelations. The object of their investigations becomes increasing villainous, and the reporters start to fear for their own safety. But they never give up, backed by the power of a mega news corporation, The New York Times.

That you might have seen this before (All the President's Men is the obvious comparison) ends up being irrelevant. Part of that is the very ordinary structure of the movie. As Neil Minow wrote, "It is in no way a criticism to say that this is a solid, conventional film, skillfully made." She Said walks us through the investigation, becoming almost too painstaking at times in its desire to get the story right, without a lot of stylistic moves to distract us from that story.

Yet there is something very different in She Said than in the easy genre identifications of something like All the President's Men, and it's a difference so plain to see that you might miss it at first. The reporters who wrote the story (and later the book), Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, are women. The screenwriter, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is a woman. The director, Maria Schrader, is a woman. The cinematographer, Natasha Braier, is a woman. And all of these women, along with everyone involved in the making of the movie, is committed to the story that played a big part in the understanding of the MeToo movement across the larger population. The presence of these artists is crucial, and their ability to present the story without sensationalizing events is a plus ... as Minow said, this is not a criticism.

Thus, some time is spent on the home lives of Kantor and Twohey. It's hard to balance a job and a family, especially for wives/mothers. They both have supportive families, and there is never a sense that they are asked to choose between work and home. But while Woodward and Bernstein were able to break the Watergate story partly because they had the time and energy to take it on, here it's part of the story that the protagonists struggle to find that time. Yet the point isn't beaten over our heads ... it's just there.

Kantor and Twohey rely a lot on their editor, Rebecca Corbett. Yes, Andre Braugher is there as Dean Baquet, executive editor of The Times, and Braugher is at his usual best, but it's Corbett and her writers at the center of the journalism, and again, the point is there, it isn't necessary to beat us over the head.

And women are the core to the story. Yes, the writers are examining the misogynistic power of industries and Harvey Weinstein in particular, but She Said never moves too far away from showing us the women who suffered under this system. In all of these ways, She Said is properly different from many other journalism movies.

The film isn't perfect. The New York Times isn't perfect, and She Said mostly slides past the ways The Times itself was complicit in covering up for Weinstein for many years. But the story we do get is still powerful.

I knew nothing about director Maria Schrader going in. She's from Germany, and has far more credits as an actor than as a director. Her work here is impressive. And I can't say enough about the cast (casting director Francine Maisler). Patricia Clarkson as Corbett, Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton as women abused by Weinstein, Ashley Judd playing herself, and Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as Twohey and Cantor are the names, but the casting is on target throughout. Mulligan and Kazan, in particular, have an easy rapport ... it's no surprise that the two are great friends in real life.

the fabelmans (steven spielberg, 2022)

I am a big fan of Steven Spielberg. The last time I made a list of the best directors of all time, I had Spielberg at #3. Even with a Spielberg movie that I thought fell short, like West Side Story, "it's nice to watch a popular entertainment from a director who knows what they are doing." (My problem with that movie was more about the fact that I don't think it's based on a great play.)

If anyone has earned the right to make a fictionalized movie about his life as a budding film maker, it's Spielberg. I'm glad he is at the point where a movie like The Fabelmans is welcomed by studios, audiences, and award shows. I don't begrudge him this moment. But as I watched all 2 1/2 hours of The Fabelmans, I kept asking myself, why am I supposed to care about Steven Spielberg's childhood? And I never felt that question was answered.

Spielberg has made some of our greatest movies about growing up in suburban America (Close Encounters and E.T. being the most obvious examples), and he is not limited to that subject matter ... he has made great action movies and great historical dramas and great based-on-Philip-K.-Dick movies, and plenty of popular entertainments. Perhaps what is lacking from The Fabelmans is distance. The subject matter is clearly of great importance to Spielberg, understandably so. But I find his work more appealing when he translates his experiences into a larger picture.

The casting is variable. Gabriel LaBelle is a wonderful stand-in for the teenaged Spielberg. But Michelle Williams, one of our finest actors, is not quite believable as a Jewish mother with artistic tendencies. (Of course, she'll probably get her fifth Oscar nomination.) Williams can be a straightforward actor ... she can also transform herself believably, as when she made herself into Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. But, especially when Spielberg offers so many traditional (some would say stereotypical) Jewish characters, Williams stands out in the wrong kind of way. On the other hand, the casting of David Lynch in a cameo as John Ford is inspired.

If it came from anyone else, I'd think The Fabelmans was too long and not think of it again. But it's hard to avoid feeling disappointed when a Spielberg movie misses its mark.

geezer cinema: the banshees of inisherin (martin mcdonagh, 2022)

Up to now, I've run hot and cold on the films of writer/director Martin McDonagh. I've seen them all ... there must be something that appeals to me ... but in only one case did I think I was seeing something special (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). The Banshees of Inisherin lies somewhere in the middle ... it's not great, but it has many strong features.

The acting of the featured characters (played by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan) is top notch. There is a sensitivity to Farrell and Keoghan's characters in particular ... they are not the sharpest tools in the box, but McDonagh manages to get that across without turning either character into stereotypes. The scenery and cinematography are beautiful (Ben Davis is the cinematographer ... he's done all sorts of things, Marvel movies, Kick-Ass, and a couple of other McDonagh films). And the film's take on male friendship is honest, revealing, and different from the usual bromance.

So why am I hesitant to bestow nothing but praise on The Banshees of Inisherin? I'm not sure I trust McDonagh. He's clever, he comes up with interesting scenarios. But he inserts himself into odd places. Here, it's the whole self-mutilation angle. It's kinda cool, to be honest, when Gleeson threatens to remove his fingers, one by one. When he starts doing it, though, my only question was, why is he cutting off his fingers? And the only answer I could come up with was, McDonagh thought it was kinda cool. (He said in an interview that "I thought it was interesting that an artist would threaten the thing that allows him to make art". Interesting, kinda cool, whatever.)

So The Banshees of Inisherin is another quirky film from Martin McDonagh, and I'm sure his fans will love it. It's getting lots of Oscar talk. And I liked it OK. But I remain unconvinced that McDonagh is one of the great film makers.

shutter island (martin scorsese, 2010)

I work pretty hard to enter a movie for the first time with as little foreknowledge as possible. Still, Shutter Island is a 12-year-old Scorsese movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, so you'd think I would have at least a small sense of what it was about. Honestly, I don't know what I thought it was about, but I imagine my thoughts were a bit negative, or why did I wait a dozen years to see it? It's a great movie to see without knowing what's coming, so I got lucky.

It's stylish, but what Scorsese movie isn't? It's got a great cast, because who wouldn't want to work with Scorsese? (For the record, besides Leo, there's Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and more.) It's got a definite aroma of Hitchcock, although the acting is better than in most Hitchcock movies, probably because Scorsese actually cares about actors. It's tricky in that Sixth Sense way where you want to watch it again, with the knowledge you've gained from the first viewing.

I'm not giving any spoilers away ... I don't care if it came out in 2010, someone out there might be like me and they deserve to see it cold. Suffice to say that Scorsese does a great job of slowly revealing the plot. Some things will come as a surprise, some you can see coming a mile away, and I suppose those will be different for each viewer. It's too long, and ultimately I'm not sure it all makes sense ... when people debate the meaning of an ending, it usually means the film wasn't all that clear to begin with. But it's hard to turn away.

This scene is a good example of how things are happening which would make more sense the second time through. There's also a quick moment that is odd enough that you might catch it the first time you see it (I admit I missed it). #953 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

day of wrath (carl theodor dreyer, 1943)

This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 12 is called "Spirituality Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film revolving around spirituality.

Carl Theodor Dreyer occupies a special place in my film heart. I have called his The Passion of Joan of Arc the greatest silent movie of all time, and have included it on such lists as "My 50 Favorite Movies" and, more recently, "My Sight and Sound 2022 List". Day of Wrath marks the fifth Dreyer movie I have seen, and I must admit, none of them come close to Joan of Arc. I once wrote, "We can't ignore what we bring to the table. My admiration for the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer grows from his masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I've looked forward to seeing his other movies, but I've mostly been disappointed. Neither Vampyr, his first movie after Joan of Arc and his first talkie, nor Ordet, his penultimate feature, did much for me."

Day of Wrath is better than those others, the equal of his last movie, Gertrud. I'm glad to be able to say this. Day of Wrath bears some similarities to Joan of Arc ... it's set in the 1600s, and the setting feels authentic. Dreyer makes us believe we are in those times. The characters seem very distant from us, with our 21st-century perspective. He doesn't make the mistake of trying to force his characters into a modern conception of how people live. But where Joan of Arc, in Cocteau's words, seems like "an historical document from an era in which the cinema didn’t exist", Day of Wrath feels like a movie about the era rather than an uncanny reproduction.

While all of the characters are very much of their time and place, each reacts differently to their situation. There's a grandmother who is so pious she spends most of her time trying to find sinners, there's her son, a pastor who believes, who has faith, but fears he is sinning nonetheless, and there is a young woman, Anne, the pastor's wife, who feels trapped in the life until she meets a man (the pastor's son) with whom she falls in love. In the context of the times, a woman of sin is a witch, and eventually, the Anne is accused. We feel for her so much it hurts, and yes, our distance from that period means we feel the injustice towards a woman who just wants to live and love. But by the film's end, Anne is oddly triumphant ... odd, because she seems to claim the label of witch as her own, even as she rejects the notion of sin. Yes, she says, I am a witch, if to love is a sign of my witchery. She confesses, not to set herself straight with God, but to set herself straight with herself. Lisbeth Movin as Anne is brilliant. #266 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

music friday

Another peek at my past courtesy of, here are ten of the songs I listened to on this date in 2016:

The Rolling Stones, "Citadel".

B.B. King, "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother".

The Mamas and the Papas, "I Saw Her Again".

The Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes".

Jimi Hendrix, "Spanish Castle Magic".

Joni Mitchell, "The Fiddle and the Drum".

The Beatles, "Yesterday".

Bonnie Raitt, "Right Down the Line".

Oscar Peterson Trio, "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good".

Donovan, "Josie".

geezer cinema: the menu (mark mylod, 2022)

The Menu is the child of many influences. Nothing new, nothing bad about that. Director Mark Mylod has cited Get Out and The Exterminating Angel, among others. These are excellent influences, almost too excellent, for while The Menu is reminiscent of those films, it isn't nearly as good. Which is no crime ... Get Out and The Exterminating Angel are great movies. But while The Menu works on the level of a horror movie, I got the feeling Mylod was trying for something more, that he wanted to make a statement about, I don't know, capitalism and art? And I think he comes up short.

Like The Menu, Get Out can be seen as "just" a horror story. But, as I wrote, "Get Out plays with the usual tropes of horror movies, but the subtext is practically the text. The essential horror of Get Out lies in the dangers for black Americans trying to maneuver their way through the dominant white culture." In place of Jordan Peele's specific social context targeting the perils for African-Americans within a "liberal" America, Mylod offers a satirical peek at the follies of the rich. And I like movies that poke at the rich. A better comparison might be with The Exterminating Angel, which isn't really a horror movie but which also targets the rich. But Buñuel is better at this than is Mylod (again, not a crime ... Buñuel is a great film maker). Again quoting myself: "Only gradually do we realize that the breakdown of social niceties that occurs when the rich are trapped in the room is, for them, akin to the breakdown of civilization itself." I never get the feeling Mylod extends his satire to civilization ... it's always just rich people with food fetishes.

I'm making The Menu sound worse than it is. It's entertaining, has some top actors, and yeah, rich people come out badly. But I'm left with a repeated theme: The Menu is a good movie that never matches the power of its influences.

the simpsons movie (david silverman, 2007)

This is the eleventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 11 is called "TV Adaptations Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen theatrically released film adapted from a television series. Here's a good list.

I wish there was more to say about this movie. Its built-in audience should be happy, and newcomers to The Simpsons will likely tolerate it. As Glenn Kenny wrote, "If this is in fact merely a longer Simpsons episode, it's a damn good Simpsons episode." There are the endless pop-culture references (many of which refer back to The Simpsons TV show), the characters we know and love, and, perhaps, a bit more moralizing than I, at least, was used to. The plot is good enough to get us through 87 minutes, Tom Hanks and Green Day make celebrity cameos, and Marge says "goddamn".