Tag Archives: viewing diary 2017

Viewing Diary December 2017

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

A Cincinnati hospital with tall, white walls lends itself to Steadicam shots. A preoccupation with arbitrary rules and numbers recalls Lanthimos’ earlier, funnier work with co-writer Efthymis Filippou. The first half is enigmatic, enticing, with intimations of iniquity. (Who is the doctor to this boy?) The rest of it dispenses with intimation. Debasement’s not intrinsically amusing or profound, even when it strikes a bourgeois family. A dismal hand job, a bite to the arm? These funny games are glib and gross and only mildly clever.

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Viewing Diary November 2017

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Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), directed by Vincente Minnelli

Edward G. Robinson plays an expat directing an unpromising movie at Cinecittà. Kirk Douglas is his long-time leading man, summoned from rehab to be his proxy in the dubbing studio. Dysfunctional is too mild a word for their relationship, which resembles that of brothers or lovers or a father and son. Lurid is too mild a word for this showbiz melodrama, sour as a basket of lemons, corrosively misogynistic, grotesque in its plush reds and greens. It’s an acknowledgment that Minnelli’s generation was in decline, a new one ascendant. (Fellini, Antonioni, Godard—the latter an admirer of the film.) It’s an autocritique overgrown with style and perversely ahead of its time.

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Viewing Diary October 2017

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WNUF Halloween Special (2013), directed by Chris LaMartina et al

From beginning to end, this larkish pastiche simulates the texture of local TV news recorded to VHS. The “Halloween Special” of the title is an on-air séance that follows a studio preamble. A reporter leads a priest and a couple mediums deep into a haunted house. (Obviously, the scheme goes haywire.) Sprinkled throughout the program are commercial breaks, advertising a carpet warehouse, demolition derby, video store, strip club, etc. A few anti-drug PSAs, too, all of it meticulously chintzy. LaMartina and the other directors mix stock footage with material that’s newly shot. Most of it’s at least plausibly from the ’80s, though the excessive shoddiness can dip into full-on irony. The pacing, more than anything, approximates what it’s like to watch a real broadcast. Its delayed gratification is dead-on.

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Viewing Diary September 2017

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Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), directed by Robert Hamer

This gaslit noir intertwines the stories of a druggist’s family and a barkeep’s wife. They live in a world of shadows and top hats constructed on the Ealing lot. Starring as the wife is actress Googie Withers, whose delicate face is a world of its own. She’s cagey with sharp eyes and pursed lips that nonetheless betray her longing for love. Her beauty aches as she plots her husband’s murder, her womanhood a burden in a society run by men. It’s understated work that tilts the film’s ethical balance in her favor.

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Viewing Diary August 2017

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Night World (1932), directed by Hobart Henley

This sleazy melodrama is tangibly Pre-Code. Its one long night in a speakeasy teems with drunks, showgirls, gangsters, even a gay flirt in the bathroom. Babyfaced Lew Ayres tries to booze away memories of his Orestes-like past. (Dad slain by jealous mom.) Subplots bustle around him. Five people die in the bullet-riddled ending. Though it may break taboos and last a mere hour, this sort of theatrical nihilism can still be wearying to watch.

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Viewing Diary July 2017

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Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919), directed by Mauritz Stiller

She dwells in a cottage on Sweden’s frozen western coast; he, unbeknownst to her, led the Scotsmen who slew her adoptive family. The romantic tragedy they share sops with guilt. He trudges over the blue-tinted ice, breath visible, an apparition of her dead sister superimposed behind him. She wakes from a nightmare haunted by the same translucent specter, then reaches down to confirm the solidity of her pillows and sheets. The camera scans a desolate landscape, past cliffs and shrubs and piles of snow. Other lovers might have fought toward a happy ending, but these two originate in the feel-bad folklore of novelist Selma Lagerlöf. They will not survive the winter.

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Viewing Diary June 2017

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Housekeeping (1987), directed by Bill Forsyth

I recently read Marilynne Robinson’s sad and lovely novel of the same name, and now I’m astonished by how neatly Forsyth’s screen adaptation complements its source. Robinson’s detailed prose and biblical allusions find their analogues in the film’s subdued colors, its period costuming, and the real-life mountains that cradle it like a mother’s arms. Christine Lahti, by turns endearing and mystifying, leads her adolescent co-stars through an ornate cosmos of inverted domesticity. Theirs is a world of jars and newspapers, couches and overcoats, railroads and floodwaters: a house and all that lies beyond it. In this aunt’s unlikely tutelage, Forsyth captures the novel’s sheen of unreality, its sense of deepest tragedy inside volatile joy. He adapts its notions of family, word by word and shot by shot, into a sad and lovely film.

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