film fatales #209: bernice bobs her hair (joan micklin silver, 1976)

Seemed like a good idea to watch something with Shelley Duvall, and I chose this, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was made for American television in the mid 70s. Duvall's quirkiness was always difficult for directors; only Robert Altman seemed to know what to do with her. But Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street) connects well with her star, who is as perfectly cast as she was playing Olive Oyl. The result is a minor gem.

film fatales #208: the souvenir (joanna hogg, 2019)

I feel like I need a spoiler warning before writing about The Souvenir. I'm usually pretty good at avoiding crucial spoilers, but much of what works and doesn't work in The Souvenir comes out of a specific plot point. So, you've been warned.

Joanna Hogg directed Exhibition, which I liked, in part because of the fine job from former Slits member Viv Albertine. The Souvenir has an intriguing cast ... Tilda Swinton in a supporting role (and what actor in our time is more intriguing than Tilda Swinton?); Tom Burke, who recently appeared as Praetorian Jack in Furiosa and who played Orson Welles in Mank; and Swinton's daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in what is effectively her film debut. This is only my second Joanna Hogg movie, but I already feel like she has a recognizable visual style ... she's not afraid of mirrors, for one thing.

The Souvenir is a semi-autobiographical remembrance of Hogg's time in film school. The Hogg stand-in, Julie, begins a relationship with an older man, Anthony, and at first that relationship feels fairly straightforward, although from the start I wanted more time spent on Julie than on Anthony (in fairness, Anthony in the film only exists as part of Julie's world ... there is no question which character is at the center of the movie). The scenes of Julie and her film-school friends are fun, the scenes with her with Anthony less so, and we eventually learn a reason for this: Anthony isn't always a lot of fun because he's a heroin addict.

It's tough, albeit not impossible, to represent addicts in a movie. A greedy, flamboyant portrait risks romanticizing, but a down-in-the-dregs picture can become too dreary to watch. Hogg is closer to the latter approach ... Anthony is not the most interesting character in the movie, and his addiction doesn't really make him more interesting. But The Souvenir never falls too far into dreariness, because the center of the movie lies not in Anthony but in Julie, who is full of youthful life. I suspect I am asking too much of Hogg, for the character of Julie is believable and interesting and she is, after all, the focus of the picture. A movie like Sid and Nancy, where both people in the relationship are junkies, eventually pulls away from romanticizing because both characters falls into the dregs, but the vibrancy of Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb still jumps off of the screen. In The Souvenir, Anthony is a much quieter junkie than Sid or Nancy, and while Byrne gives a strong performance, it doesn't often call for "vibrancy". So The Souvenir is a more low-key film than something like Sid and Nancy, and I'm not sure it makes sense for me to even compare the two.

There is much to respect about The Souvenir, and it's easy to recommend it. I preferred Exhibition, but both of the Hogg films I have seen are encouraging. #148 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

film fatales #207: battle of the sexes (jonathan dayton and valerie faris, 2017)

Battle of the Sexes tells the story of an event that resonated at the time it occurred, but is perhaps not well-known today. Former tennis great and hustler Bobby Riggs challenged top women tennis players (a la Andy Kaufman in pro rassling) to big-stakes matches. His first was against then-champ Margaret Court, who he beat, setting up a 1973 match with Billie Jean King that got tremendous hype, a big Astrodome crowd, and national live television coverage. King had no problem beating Riggs, and her victory was seen, not just as a win for women's tennis, but a win for women (this was at the height of the second-wave feminist movement).

It's a good subject for a movie, and Emma Stone and Steve Carell do well as the two tennis players. The directing team of Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton made a splash with their first feature together, Little Miss Sunshine, which garnered four Oscar nominations, with two wins. I was not in the majority on that one ... I thought its supposed touting of the power of being different was ultimately only a desire to redefine "normal". Battle of the Sexes is an improvement on that, although it didn't get any Oscar love, and lost money while Little Miss Sunshine was a hit. The problem here is that I don't know that Battle of the Sexes is necessary. The story is worth telling, and the stars are good, but in the end, a documentary about the event could be just as useful (there was a 2013 documentary titled The Battle of the Sexes that didn't get a lot of attention). This movie was enjoyable to watch but inessential.

film fatales #206: showing up (kelly reichardt, 2022)

Back in 2008, I saw my first Kelly Reichardt film, Old Joy. I hated it (I should revisit it ... I find that when I have such a big negative response to a movie, there's something going on besides the movie).

It is a sign of the high regard for Reichardt among critics that I have come back for more. Showing Up is the fifth of her films I have seen, and I've liked all of the subsequent movies more than I did Old Joy. But I haven't loved any of them (Wendy and Lucy and First Cow are my favorites). And Showing Up is more of the same, as good as my favorites, but nothing that knocks me out. I appreciate that "knocking me out" isn't necessarily what Reichardt is up to in her films, but there's a connection I seem to be missing.

Some themes emerge. About Wendy and Lucy, I wrote that film had "a good feel for nature (and the beautiful cinematography to go with it), a lack of a narrative thrust, and the willingness to take the time to let the film develop (if “develop” is the right word)." On First Cow: "Kelly Reichardt has a very specific, personal style of film making, and more power to her. It really helps, though, if you know going in that she will force you to slow down to her pace." And about another film: "Meek's Cutoff is the kind of film that does such a good job of presenting the crushing boredom of the situation that the movie itself becomes boring."

I don't think there is an easy solution to this problem, nor do I think a solution is necessary. Reichardt seems to make the films she wants to make, with little interference, and that is a good thing, even if I feel distanced from the results.

This note from the IMDB hit home for me. "According to writer-director Kelly Reichardt, [Showing Up] deconstructs the idea of a genius. For her, it's a pure construct: the movie (and its title) refers to the idea of showing up to work every day, and taking time to hone a skill, until it becomes automatic, like eating." This willful rejection of genius in the mame of showing up is interesting on paper, but perhaps for a movie to grab me, there needs to be a little genius as well. Showing Up is about artists, and only one of them is ever referred to as a genius. He is a delusional conspiracy-minded soul who, when he finally begins work on a piece, begins digging up enormous holes in his backyard.

The acting is strong. Michelle Williams and Kelly Reichardt have worked together in the past, and it's a powerful relationship. The supporting cast includes Hong Chau (good as always, but I disliked her character), André 3000, Amanda Plummer, and Judd Hirsch (less hammy than usual). Kelly Reichardt is a consistent filmmaker, a winner of many awards, with films that are regulars at festivals. I only wish I cared more about her movies. #313 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

geezer cinema/film fatales #205: the hitch-hiker (ida lupino, 1953)

Ida Lupino gets credit for being a woman director in Hollywood when there were no such things. I'm behind the times with Lupino ... this is the first of her directed movies I've seen, and I only saw one movie that she acted in (High Sierra, which I watched recently).

The Hitch-Hiker is compact (71 minutes). Lupino wastes no time, there is no flab, nor is there time to think too hard about what you are seeing. In short, it's effective for what it is attempting. It's a noir without a femme fatale, and ironically the only noir directed by a woman. The best noirs (Double Indemnity and The Night of the Hunter, to name two) are as good as the best films of any genre. It does seem to me that the genre has a reputation that is a bit elevated, though. If you make a spare, inexpensive film with a touch of style, your movie will be highly regarded. A movie like, say, Kansas City Confidential is fine, but that's all it is (and it should go without saying that "fine" is not a pejorative).

So The Hitch-Hiker is a good movie, but its status may be high in part because Lupino directed it, and it's an underexposed noir.

For boomers, the highlight of The Hitch-Hiker is probably William Talman as the title character. This hitch-hiker is a vicious killer, while Talman became best known for his years playing district attorney Hamilton Burger on the old Perry Mason television series. Talman is indeed ferocious here, with a droopy eye that adds menace. Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy are two friends who pick up Talman, to their regret. The movie I was most reminded of was Detour, which is the best of all the cheapie Grade-Z noirs. The Hitch-Hiker is nowhere near as good as Detour, but it's a worthy addition to your noir viewing.

film fatales #204: the blue caftan (maryam touzani, 2022)

Quietly smoldering triangle that takes some different approaches, although the end result isn't too far off from the norm. The main difference is that the triangle consists of a husband and wife and a young man who attracts the closeted husband. The catch is that the wife is dying of cancer. The wife is played by the wonderful Lubna Azabal, who starred in Denis Villeneuve's best film, Incendies.

Director/co-writer Maryam Touzani and cinematographer Virginie Surdej create an intimate environment that invites us into the budding threesome. There is the expected awkwardness ... the husband suppressing his feelings, the wife dying but wanting her husband to feel free when she is gone, the young man who gradually enters the lives of the others (he is an apprentice at the couple's caftan store). Nothing feels false, and we want the best possible outcome for all of the characters ... to the extent it is possible, Touzani rewards our desires.

The film feels long at 122 minutes. It's not that there is anything obvious that could be cut, but the low-key tension walks a fine line between intensity and torpor. But that's a minor complaint for a film that takes just enough liberties with romantic triangle tropes to make The Blue Caftan feel unique.

revisiting the 9s/film fatales: winter's bone (debra granik, 2010)

[This is the twentieth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10.]

In 2012, I wrote about Winter's Bone:

I think it’s the best fiction film I’ve seen from 2010, and I thought Jennifer Lawrence should have won the Best Actress Oscar over Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Lawrence was a revelation when I first saw the film. I knew nothing about her. Things have changed in just two years: as the star of The Hunger Games, Lawrence is poised to become one of the top stars of her day, and she’s only 21 years old. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to have reached such a pinnacle at an early age for the usual reasons (great-looking, panders to young males), but because she is giving excellent performances. It doesn’t hurt that she’s great-looking, of course, but Winter’s Bone buries her traditional good looks in grit and mounds of cold-weather gear, allowing her to be a special kind of beautiful, strong and centered. Perhaps Portman gives us a peek at what Lawrence might have in store: three movies in the Star Wars franchise, lots of indie films, the lead role in an action picture, and ultimately an Oscar.

It's interesting to look back after watching Lawrence's career over the past decade-plus. She did indeed end up in franchise films, playing Mystique in X-Men movies four times, and, of course, starring as Katniss Everdeen in four Hunger Games movies. In 2015 and 2016 she was the highest-paid actress in the world. But she has also featured in non-franchise films, including some indie projects (she formed her own production company ... the first release was the fine Causeway starring Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry). She has been nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. It's a very successful career, and she's still only 33.

But what about "The 9s"? Did I underrate Winter's Bone because it was too new? I've seen it at least three times now ... clearly I like it. I taught it in tandem with the novel on which it was based when I was teaching. Perhaps most important for this purpose, in 2021, for a user poll at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They, I listed Winter's Bone among the 25 best movies of all time. 5, 945 films received votes ... I was the only person who voted for Winter's Bone. I have it at #7 on my list of the top films of the 2010s.

So yeah, I think it's time to give it the cherished 10/10.

film fatales #203: the beguiled (sofia coppola, 2017)

This is the twenty-ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "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 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 29 is called "'We Come to This Place for Magic' Week":

We come to LSC Theaters to laugh, to cry, to care. Because we need that, all of us. That indescribable feeling we get when the lights begin to dim, and we go somewhere we've never been before. Not just entertained, but somehow reborn, together. Dazzling images on a huge silver screen, sound that I can feel. Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this. Our heroes feel like the best parts of us, and stories feel perfect and powerful. Because here, they are. LSC Theaters: We Make Movies Better.

This week's challenge is to watch a film either starring Nicole Kidman or set in a movie theater.

For those of you who don't go to AMC Theaters, here is the inspiration for this week's challenge:

Sofia Coppola makes some interesting decisions when making her version of The Beguiled. She returned to the original novel, stating her movie was not a direct remake of the 1971 version with Clint Eastwood (a movie I apparently saw and didn't like ... according to the IMDB, I rated it 5/10 but I have no memory of this and as far as I can tell I have never written about it). There is a slave in the novel and '71 film that is the only person of color in either ... I'm not certain I understand her reasoning, but Coppola removed this character from the story ("(y)oung girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African American character I would want to show them."). Coppola and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd opted for a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, slightly different from today's standards, to make the movie look claustrophobic. Perhaps most important, Coppola chose to tell this story of a wounded soldier during the Civil War who ends up at a girls school in Virginia from the point of view of the women.

As I say, these are interesting decisions. But in the end, I didn't care for the movie despite those decisions. There's nothing I can put my finger on, but neither could I figure out why this story was being told. It is entirely possible that it's all on me; there is nothing "wrong" with The Beguiled.

film fatales #202: trouble every day (claire denis, 2001)

Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) is a favorite director of mine, and I looked forward to Trouble Every Day, but I was aware that it is not as acclaimed as her other movies (it has the lowest Metascore, 40, of any film she has directed). I think that low Metascore is understandable, and Trouble Every Day isn't up to her best. But it's an interesting attempt to make an arty erotic horror movie ... I'm thinking of Park Chan-wook's Thirst, which is a better movie than Trouble Every Day but has a similar blend of sex and gore shown with arty excellence.

Trouble Every Day seems like it is going to be a vampire movie, but it turns into something different, which allows for subtexts that don't necessarily match those of vampire pictures. Denis shows a connection between erotic attraction and cannibalism that is unexpected. It's thought-provoking, but I'm not convinced it goes deeper than the basic connection. Once you get what Denis is doing, there's not much else to say about that connection, leaving an arty horror movie that isn't all that great.

The acting is variable. Béatrice Dalle (Betty Blue) brings her idiosyncratic presence to her scenes, but Vincent Gallo is too low-key ... he struggles with what he has become, but his struggle isn't moving because Gallo is inert. There is also a big plot hole at the beginning (not that horror doesn't often have plot holes): Gallo plays a recently-married man who, we assume, has become intimate with his new wife, but given what we learn of him in the movie, it's impossible for his wife not to have noticed long before. It's hard to suspend disbelief in this case.

Despite that Metascore, the film is #793 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #103 on the 21st century list.

geezer cinema/film fatales #201: love lies bleeding (rose glass, 2024)

Love Lies Bleeding isn't exactly different ... it happily borrows from several genres. But things get a bit loony ... the genres aren't ones you think will match. The hype promises sex, violence, action, and lesbians, and the movie delivers. Writer/director Rose Glass (Saint Maud, which was the 100th Geezer Movie) and co-writer Weronika Tofilska don't play it safe, and the movie is the better for it.

The movie is a mess ... a likable mess, but a mess. I expected wall-to-wall action, which isn't Glass's fault ... my expectations were based on the trailer and word of mouth. I thought it took its time getting to cranked-up speed, and there's nothing wrong with that, once I adjusted to it. It delivered on the hype from the start, it's just that the lesbians and sex came first. Once the action begins, though ... whoa! The IMDB Parent's Guide puts it all on the table, with notes like "People are shot with bloody detail, grotesque wounds and disturbing sound effects" and "A woman beats a man and slams his head repeatedly against a tabletop". That latter doesn't even get it, but I'm avoiding spoilers. I'll just say that the make-up people and/or the CGI folks did some impressive work.

The relationship between Lou (Kristen Stewart), who works in a gym, and Jackie (Katy O'Brian), a bodybuilder, is intense and honest. Glass and the actors take that relationship in complex directions ... Lou's past stifles her, and Jackie turns into something scary when she begins shooting up steroids. The entire movie plays like a twisted blend of Thelma and Louise and the Wachowskis' Bound . Even when Lou and Jackie hit a rough spot, we root for them. It helps that Stewart and O'Brian have great chemistry. The supporting cast is also eclectic ... Ed Harris is the bad guy with a ridiculous long-hair wig, and there's Jena Malone (who is in everything, it seems) and Baryshnikov's daughter Anna (shoutout again to the make-up crew ... Anna's teeth must be seen to be believed, even though once you see them, you never want to see them again).

I never got the feeling Glass was out of control ... what makes Love Lies Bleeding a mess is partly the ambition Glass shows. She takes us to surprising places, and what happens to Jackie at the end is a perfect visual representation of female empowerment. (And Glass prepares us for that final scenario, even though we aren't aware of it at the time.)

Reading the above, I feel like the person who wrote it loved the movie, while I actually liked-not-loved it. I prefer Saint Maud for people wanting to check out Rose Glass. At the least, my words here tell me I liked it a lot.