March 2023 in media
Everything I've read & watched this month. Highlights mark the really good stuff. Now with commentary!
C = cinema, W = watched for work, R = rewatch. More here.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001, dir Alfonso Cuarón) (R)
I always underrate this until I’m actually watching it and then I immediately remember that it’s a near-perfect object. A couple of tossed-off character beats here that are expanded in Roma made me wonder if this is also partly autobiographical — if so, Alfonso, you should give that boy a call.
Spider (2002, dir David Cronenberg)
A pretty boring movie about how English people are all mentally ill and in love with their mothers (true) featuring a very fine performance from Ralph Fiennes despite the fact that — and this is not an exaggeration — you cannot hear a single word he says.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, dir William Friedkin) (R)
Massively underrated movie. Mean and cynical and desperate, the hazy California sun beating down on a city rotten to its core. I bet Michael Mann loves it (honorific).
The Lost Boys (1987, dir Joel Schumacher)
I definitely enjoyed watching this but now I can remember almost nothing about it except that the boys are cute. That’s the Schumacher guarantee!
A Good Person (2023, dir Zach Braff) (C, W)
Braff and Pugh sat in the back of the screening and watched this with us and for two hours the only laughter in the entire room came from that row. One woman behind me was crying so hard at the end I could hear it. Absolutely excruciating experience.
Matinee (1993, dir Joe Dante)
John Goodman invents 4DX during the Cuban Missile crisis and it frightens the audience so much they think the bomb has been dropped. Feels like it was made for me.
School of Rock (2003, dir Richard Linklater) (R)
Natural Born Killers (1994, dir Oliver Stone)
If you watched this movie on psychedelics you would never be sane again. Oliver Stone is such a sick freak <3
Mississippi Masala (1991, dir Mira Nair)
Absolutely gorgeous — plays with memory and belonging so successfully you feel yourself longing for countries you’ve never been to. Also features possibly the all-time sexiest non-sex scene ever committed to film.
Fast Company (1979, dir David Cronenberg)
Couple of bad entries from Dave this month for completionism purposes — Spider is at least moderately diverting but this has nothing to recommend it other than a 10-second scene involving motor oil on bare skin, which seems to be the only concession he made to his actual point of view as a filmmaker. I love Crash.
Deja Vu (2006, dir Tony Scott)
Two reasons why populist Hollywood cinema is now in its lowest ebb ever: 1) they’ve forgotten about romance, 2) Tony Scott is dead. Most versions of Vertigo made by other filmmakers are better than the original and I think this is the best of them all — echoes and remnants, remembering and forgetting, an infinite oscillation through time.
Sunshine (2007, dir Danny Boyle) (R)
Simply one of the greatest space movies ever made — elemental, horrific, perfectly restrained.
Days of Heaven (1978, dir Terrence Malick)
Nothing lonelier than the infinite horizon of the American West. I long to ride the rails.
Footloose (1984, dir Herbert Ross)
Blair Witch Project (1999, dir Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez) (R)
To this day one of the only horror movies that genuinely frightens me, both because of its wonderful use of darkness and because of how naturalistic the dialogue is — feels like hanging out with your annoying high school friends, shooting the shit in the woods, until it really, really doesn't. It plays now like a missive from another time, a snapshot of a pre-iPhone world, but it also manages to deliver a more successful commentary on the impact of readily-available hand-held recording devices than most attempts in the decades since.
Training Day (2001, dir Antoine Fuqua)
A middling Heat/Serpico rip-off with an utterly electric Denzel performance — Satan himself tearing through hell with a recently fallen angel in tow. Had me daydreaming about a Washington/Mann collab.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S3 (R)
Next in Fashion, S2
Lost for people whose Reddit is Tumblr. Really fun! Great needle drops! I hope they’ve planned out the full narrative better than Lindelof & Co did!
The Wire, S1
Sort of a rewatch since I saw the first ten episodes about a decade ago but boy am I glad I dropped it then and waited until now to pick it back up. Great to be older and wiser and completely drawn in by this show's complex contemporary relationship to personal computing, surveillance, and post-9/11 policing.
The Great North, S2
Perfect background noise, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Every so often there's a joke about a movie so obscure and silly I have to imagine the writers and I listen to the same podcasts.
Boxcar Love: Scarecrow’s Not-So-Modern Bromance by Duncan Birmingham for Bright Wall/Dark Room
Riding the Goddamn Elephant by A. S. Hamrah for The Baffler
Yes, sacks of fat, for he is the Whale, puking on his shirt, sobbing alone in his apartment in the green-brown murk of contemporary cinematography. And the whale is also Moby-Dick, and the whale is Herman Melville, too, who was using the metaphor of the whale to hide his own whaleness. Are we all the whale? I don’t think so. Yet Darren Aronofsky’s film of this joyless play was a hit, so I guess it touched something in the moviegoing public. It had to use a bodega claw to do it because it couldn’t get off the couch, but it touched them.
So much puking in 2022 big-screen quality drama. Riseborough vomits when she’s cleaning motel rooms and trying to lay off the sauce, and in Causeway an equally de-glamorized Jennifer Lawrence, as a shell-shocked veteran of the war in Afghanistan, throws up in a wastebasket while living in transitional homecare in Nebraska. Back in her real home in New Orleans, she gets a job cleaning pools, showing us what successful movie actresses think they need to do to win Oscars in 2023: portray the immiserated working class puking and cleaning.
If this is Baz Luhrmann’s best film, it’s because Elvis Presley forced him to become a better director. To tell Elvis’s story it is necessary to show the full figure in the frame, head to toe, since Elvis’s leg and hip moves on early television made him a star. That precluded Moulin Rouge-style seizure-inducing cuts. And Austin Butler’s Tarantino-fied performance as the King demanded a full view. Butler here is a co-auteur in a way usually closed to biopics in which the lead actors are more famous than Butler is, and so we never lose them in their roles as other famous people.
Silver Screen by Carlos Valladares for n+1
I’m more fascinated to learn that she was terribly shaken by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), his first film set in a US milieu, when she saw it at age 8 in her hometown of Omaha. It seems that the plight of Teresa Wright’s Charlie, at the mercy of her serial-killer uncle (Joseph Cotton), stuck in the young Silver’s brain. “Evil exists for her,” Silver explains in a 2005 interview with the Directors Guild of America. “Not out there, but within the bosom of the family, and that was a very potent theme for me.” That’s not to say that any of Silver’s subsequent characters can be tagged as evil. Even smug-jawed John Heard in Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979)—an unsparing study of male narcissism that cuts deeper than your average Manhattan marriage story—is, at film’s end, more pitiable than anything else; to hate him is wasteful, exhausting. Rather, a person’s capability to be brutal in a Silver film is often cloaked in gooey intent, in the name of some nobler imagined future, and, above all, in proximity.
“I’ve always felt there’s two kinds of immigrants,” Silver said in 2005. “One, they’re a bit ashamed of [when they first arrived to the US], and the experience was traumatic, and they want to put it behind them. Well, my family wasn’t like that. My family was the other kind, who enjoyed talking about it, and remembering, and reveling.”
A limited definition of what constitutes aesthetic experimentation would see Silver’s early collaboration with Barbara Loden, The Frontier Experience (1975), as a simplistic afterschool special made to placate middle-schoolers as they return from recess. Take it for what it is: a Late Rossellini-ish oddity of the Kansas plains, unsettling and trance-like, a soft intro to the omnipresent American impulse for domination that gets a full-length expansion in both Chilly Scenes of Winter and Loden’s Wanda (1970). So many good filmmakers, then and now, have to go into TV to say anything with their singular voices or to receive funding—and this, they recognize, is a non-choice.
Not Much like Consent by Daniel Trilling for London Review of Books
Had to stop myself from highlighting this entire piece but this is particularly telling I think
‘Traditionally the police enforced the law against the working classes and were seen as servants of the middle and upper class,’ a former senior Met officer said to Harper. ‘Bad enough that the police were no longer deferential to the middle and upper class, but to turn on a Conservative Party politician was seen as the Met getting above their station.’
Ben Affleck on ‘Air’, New CEO Gig and Those Memes: “I Am Who I Am” by Rebecca Keegan for The Hollywood Reporter
Affleck has been quietly building a new production company, Artists Equity, with Damon, founded on the premise of profit-sharing among not only directors, producers and actors but also crewmembers such as cinematographers, editors and costume designers.
And one day of shooting with me and him. He was like, “Do you want to come shoot in my backyard?” I was like, “I think there are unions, Zack. I think we have to make a deal.” But I went and did it. And now [Zack Snyder’s Justice League] is my highest-rated movie on IMDb.
I look at golf like meth. They have better teeth, but it doesn’t seem like people ever come out of that. Once they start golfing, you just don’t ever see them again.
Stronger Together by Shonni Enelow for Film Comment
When I asked Silver about her early film career, what came across most strongly to me was her will to work: not to express something in particular, not even to make art, but to work—to get the chance to be competent, to succeed, to do a job well. She cast her frustration with the dearth of female directors in terms of labor equity: “It’s a job women can do.”
everything I've watched in however long it's been since the last one of these, part one by Helena Fitzgerald for griefbacon
Tom Cruise isn’t a dad. Tom Cruise is a credit card. Tom Cruise is test-driving a car that’s too fast and too expensive for you; Tom Cruise is when the car rental place sells out of normal cars and gives you a red Mustang convertible because it’s the only thing that’s left and then you realize that a Mustang convertible is a terrible car to actually drive. Tom Cruise is an instagram filter; Tom Cruise is when somebody brought coke to the party. Tom Cruise is that feeling I would sometimes get last summer when I would go out early in the morning and play basketball and then walk across the park to do a whole different workout and afterwards I’d walk back home with my giant water bottle and feel like I’d done it, I’d finally passed the Presidential Physical Fitness test. Tom Cruise is the President Physical Fitness test.
Watching this scene, though, the music felt sweat-drenched and sticky-bodied, like all the lights coming on in a room. It was flesh insisting its way out of clothes and the neighbors across the street leaving the shades up and the lights on while they fuck. For once I could understand more than academically that Elvis changed culture in a way more comparable to the advent of free porn on the internet than to Dylan plugging in his guitar at Newport. For one minute and fifty-one seconds, I could reach out my hand to join an unbroken line back down nearly a hundred years, and get a jolt of the same electric current that my grandparents might have felt when they were young, before my parents were born, before the rest of the twentieth century happened to them.
My parents and I moved west across the country around the time I started kindergarten. It was the 1990s, and California was still Hollywood. The company town was still Los Angeles, but the long arm of the magic of the movies spread all the way up Highway One into the green foggy hills along the Bay. People who had made their millions in the company town bought fuck-off homes high among the redwoods, and stained the movies all over the rest of the coast, while down in the foothills, former flower children were quietly inventing the internet and the end of this version of the world.
The Making of Tom Wambsgans by Alan Siegel for The Ringer
As the drama’s fourth and final season begins, Tom has transformed himself from a puffy-vest-wearing patsy into a power player. At the end of Season 1, his wife was pushing him into an open marriage on his wedding night, but at the end of Season 3, he’s the one ruthlessly playing both sides and shivving her—a shocking twist that wouldn’t feel believable without Macfadyen’s chameleonic performance. “He has a wonderful way, as an actor, of keeping secrets,” Mylod says. “The genius thing about what he holds back is it’s there, and you are reaching for it behind his eyes, so you can’t take your eyes off him because of that. That’s what always pulled me to the character. There’s this clown on the outside, but what are you hiding?”
“His shoes are highly polished, whereas Roman would never look down. For Tom, there’s a lot of posturing going on.”
To Let an Author Die: Remembering Sylvia Plath, 60 Years On by Jimin Kang for Los Angeles Review of Books
There is a journal entry from Plath’s time as a freshman at Smith in which she mulls the idea of life after death. She is unconvinced that her spirit “is unique and important enough” to continue into a heaven that is beautiful and blissful and pink. Yet she recalls Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer behind The Little Prince (1943), and his mourning of all lost lives, “the secret treasures” that these lives hold. “I loved Exupery,” Plath goes on to write, newly inspired by the mental wanderings that journaling enables. “I will read him again, and he will talk to me, not being dead, or gone. Is that life after death—mind living on paper and flesh living in offspring? Maybe. I do not know.”
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Far from my favourite Vonnegut — conceptually sort of interesting but not enough to sustain an entire book. It’s also quite egregiously racist and misogynist, which is not something I've noticed in his work before, although perhaps it runs through his entire oeuvre and I simply didn't pay attention to it as a teenager. Sucks to age out of artists you once loved!
“I don’t know whether I agree or not. I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person.”
My second wife had left me on the grounds that I was too pessimistic for an optimist to live with.
“I got him fired,” said his wife. “The only piece of real evidence produced against him was a letter I wrote to the New York Times from Pakistan.”
“What did it say?”
“It said a lot of things,” she said, “because I was very upset about how Americans couldn’t imagine what it was like to be something else, to be something else and proud of it.”
“But there was one sentence they kept coming back to again and again in the loyalty hearing,” sighed Minton. “‘Americans,’” he said, quoting his wife’s letter to the Times, “‘are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.’”
In the Cut by Susanna Moore
Markedly improved by Campion in the film version, which is one of my all-time favourites, but this is still a dirty, sexy, frightening piece of work. A wonderful evocation of a lost New York, before the towers fell and prices rose, when real people could still live in Manhattan and you might stumble upon a murderer getting a blowjob in a downtown bar.
They make these confessions to me in a shyly flirtatious way, as if they were trying to seduce me. Which, of course, they are. Not sexually, but almost sexually. It would be sexual if they knew any better. And someday they will. Know better.
Despite my interest in idiomatic language, however, I do not want them to use phonetic spelling. I do not want to see motherfucker spelled mothafucka. Not yet. Get it right first, I said, then you can do whatever you like. It’s like jazz. First learn to play the instrument.
He smiled, and I realized something that he already knew. I was nervous.
It was near morning, really. There was faint light behind the wooden shutters. It was that time when I am finally able to sleep the sweetest, the deepest. My skin feels smooth against the sheets and I wonder why it takes until dawn to feel so smooth. It is the same leg, the same sheet, as it was eight hours earlier.
“How do you know I’m a writer?” I asked.
“I can tell,” he said. “You’re making shit up in your head all the time.”
A decision, any decision, tends to bring flirtation to an end. Marriage, a quintessential decision, being a good example.
The story made me smile and I wondered if it made me smile because I wanted him to like me. I was a little worried when I realized that it was more than wanting him to like me. I realized that I wanted to be like him. “Yes,” I said. “It is a good reason to kill your wife. I mean, of all the reasons I can think of.” Wondering if I meant it. Worried that I meant it.
I reminded myself that Pauline says they have to despise us in order to come near us, in order to overcome their terrible fear of us. She has some very romantic ideas. I tried hard, but there must have been something a little pinched in my face, a momentary faltering, because Rodriguez said to me, “You’re one of those broads, right? You know, man, one of those feminist broads.” Working a lot of gender into one sentence.
There are some people, Pauline says, usually women, whom you can fuck only if you have permission to kill them immediately afterward.
I have many more words for the dictionary, a lot of them cop words now. (I find myself looking at cops on the street, in their cars, on horseback in the park. I walked past two young officers at the corner of Waverly and MacDougal where the men play chess, never any women playing, and I heard one cop ask the other, Do you use butter or margarine?) I never paid much attention to cops before, and if I did, I saw them as adversaries. Not unlike the way Detective Malloy sees women.
Pauline, who claims completely disingenuously to fuck only married men because she prefers to be alone on the holidays, began scolding me the moment our drinks arrived. It upsets her that I wear clothes that she considers so loose-fitting as to be like clown suits, and it upsets her that I do not have a boyfriend. She claims to understand why she does not have one, but she thinks it is preposterous that I don’t.
“I was corrupted in other ways. I was led to believe that intelligence made a difference.”
Unlike my students, Detective Malloy was all technique. Maybe too much technique. He had my permission to spell motherfucker any way he wanted.
My belated recognition of his desire actually served the purpose of provoking me to consider him, if only for a moment. It was like high school when just to hear that a boy liked you was sufficient encouragement to agree to go steady with him by the end of the day. Now that I think of it, it is just like life. Not high school.
One of the things that interests me about sex is that it is a conspiracy of improvised myths. Very effective in evoking forbidden or hidden wishes. I hadn’t realized I had so many of them until I met Jimmy Malloy. I still hold to the adolescent belief that one must surrender to the soul’s transformation, however terrifying it may be. However difficult it may be. But I am not a masochist. I know that.
“My childhood is like a dream,” I said. “I’m not sure it’s possible to look at it with too much expectation of meaning. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to. Expect too much from memory.”
“And you don’t mind?”
“No. In some ways it is a relief not to have to understand everything.”
“Killing is a very personal thing. Not like sex at all. It’s only the methodical killer who makes it a personal act. It’s not some drug dealer in Harlem blowing a hole in someone’s head because he happens to be on his block. This was premeditated. He watched her. He watched your friend. He followed her on the street. He knew her routine. Maybe he even spoke to her, spoke to the two of you, got into the same elevator, asked for directions in the subway. Maybe he bought her a drink in a bar and told the bartender not to tell her it was from him. Your friend gets her tequila and looks up and six different guys are staring at her down the bar.”
When I was fourteen and having a little trouble holding the attention of the son of the German ambassador to the Philippines, a mute boy (metaphorically mute) named Gunter, Augustina had said harshly, put yourself in his way, girl. If he’s coming down the boulevard, you got to lay there on the pavement in front of him so he is forced to step on you, so he will say, what are you doing there, girl?
What am I doing there? I'd asked her. I still don't know.
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