Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Michaela Owens, editor | The House of the Seven Gables (1940)
I kicked off March with a Vincent Price marathon, which not only increased my love for the actor but also reminded me what a great and underrated talent he was. (Luckily, many of his films are readily available online, so there’s no excuse not to have your own Price marathon!) I saw a lot of good films that have been sadly forgotten, like Champagne for Caesar and The Invisible Man Returns, but my favorite discovery was The House of the Seven Gables, an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel.
This movie was not at all what I expected. When I heard that it was about a cursed house and how greed drove a man to frame his brother for murder, I figured I was in for some signature Price villainy. Um, no. Diabolical George Sanders is the baddie, while Price is the poor brother sent to prison, tearing him away from the woman he loves, played by Margaret Lindsay. Devastated and alone, Lindsay becomes a recluse, while Price spends his time concocting the perfect revenge.
This all sounds pretty straightforward — trust me, it’s much more nuanced. There are so many things I would love to say, but I think it’s better if you go into the film as clueless about it as I was. I will say this, though: the eventual reunion between Lindsay and Price has to be one of the most frustrating, heartbreaking, and tender scenes I’ve seen in a long time.
Note: trailer not available.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Thoroughbreds (2018)
Thoroughbreds reminded me a lot of one of my favorite films, Rian Johnson’s 2005 cult classic Brick. They’re both the first films of talented writer-directors (though Corey Finley was a playwright before he directed Thoroughbreds, while Rian Johnson was an editor). They are both neo-noirs that follow young people who use their quick wits to hide their anxieties and sadness. They both have great casts — Thoroughbreds boasts a great duo in Olivia Cooke and Anya-Taylor Joy as two teenage girls who plot to kill one of the girls’ stepfather.
More importantly, I get the same feeling of excitement when I watch Thoroughbreds that I did when I watched Brick. I feel like I’m seeing the emergence of a brilliant new talent behind the camera, one that understands how to use film form to tell a story most effectively (there’s a scene near the end in a living room that is one of the most inventively shot scenes I have seen in a while). I don’t know what Finley will do next, but all I know is that I’ll be in the audience on opening night.
Laura Ivins, contributor | To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
With its charming characters, quick quips, and undeniable style, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (Beeban Kidron, 1995) is an immensely enjoyable film. I always marvel at how well Patrick Swayze pulls off that old-Hollywood poise as Vida Boheme and love the scene where Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) bonds with the non-speaking local, Clara (Alice Drummond), over the filmographies of classical starlets. However, the film also has its problems. Others have written about how we never see the drag queens out of drag, presenting as gay men and that their sexuality is largely suppressed (particularly Vida and Noxeema, though Chi-Chi is still forced to give up her man).
The thing that struck me when I recently watched it was how badly the filmmakers lit Wesley Snipes’ face. In most scenes, his skin tone is either underlit and flat or has too much hot light thrown on him to compensate for the exposure difference between Snipes and his fair-complected co-stars. As in much of western film history, naturalistic lighting for the fair-skinned actors was prioritized over the dark-skinned actor. Luckily, we’re seeing the tide shift with vocal filmmakers like director Ava DuVernay, Insecure’s D.P. Ava Berkofksy, and D.P. Cybel Martin insisting that black actors should be lit respectfully and artfully.
Despite this, Wesley Snipes’ character, Noxeema, is a delight onscreen, exuding style and seriously rocking some fringe.
Katherine Johnson, contributor | Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)
Certain Hollywood stars have always held more appeal to me than others, like they’d seen something or they knew something that no one else had. Usually there’s something in their eyes that shines through any character they play. Hedy Lamarr has always been one of these actresses for me, and Bombshell proved to satisfy my curiosity about the star. It also taught me some new and interesting stuff about Hollywood, World War II, and wireless communication (the technological advancement that now seems so entangled with our lives). If you didn’t get a chance to see this film when it played at the IU Cinema on Tuesday, March 27 you should make it a point to do so.
Nathaniel Sexton, contributor | Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
IU Cinema’s current five-part retrospective on Robert Altman has inspired me to go back, on my own, to the filmmaker’s work and begin digging up less critically celebrated or underwatched titles, and I have been slowly making my way through much of the filmmaker’s career. My favorite discovery in this process so far has been Altman’s film adaptation of Ed Graczyk’s 1976 stage play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which first premiered at the Players’ Theatre in Columbus, Ohio. The play, as well as the film, tells the story of a reunion of the all-female fan club “The Disciples of James Dean.” Twenty-years after James Dean’s death, the club returns to the five-and-dime store where they originally met, each one of them a different woman.
Altman, an admirer of the play, sought to direct it in New York, and, in 1982, after acquiring its rights, did so on Broadway, subsequently pursuing a small-budget screen adaptation, with a modified script by Graczyk. Although the critical response to its Broadway run was not at all positive, Altman loved the material and was sure he knew how he wanted to realize it for the screen. Going against the advisement of producers, Altman hired the actresses he most wanted for the project, previous collaborator Sandy Dennis, Cher, Five Easy Pieces star Karen Black, Sudie Bond, and Kathy Bates. He repurposed the Broadway set for the film and built an identical and parallel set, separated by a two-way mirror, and rigged with specialized lights, in order to produce a series of flashback effects and ghost-like images, where the characters or audience could peer into the full-wall mirror of the film’s five-and-dime shop and see, “reflected back,” images of the store’s past.
The film, about the complicated and socially managed identities of women, the facades and the magic of the movies, the sad and strange passage of time, the endurance of female bonds, and the cruelty of intolerance, is funny, tragic, beautiful, and unkempt. As a representation of time in the movies, it’s perhaps one of the most bold narrative statements in American film; Altman so freely intermingles the “flashbacks” of the film with its present timeline, it’s at first difficult to track—the actors wear the same clothes between “timelines” (which could take place simultaneously, utilizing the two-way-mirror effect), or the camera may not cut between scenes, instead just gliding through the set. At one moment it’s 1955, and in the same shot, in the same take, the camera turns to the back of the store and we’ve traveled twenty-years into the future.
David Carter, contributor | The Ocean’s Trilogy (2001, 2004, 2007)
I have to ashamedly admit that I kinda missed the Steven Soderbergh train when it came through the first time. Which isn’t the same as saying I hadn’t seen any of his movies. I caught his entire pre-retirement run from Contagion to Behind the Candelabra in the theaters (well, HBO for the latter), and had seen and loved Sex, Lies, and Videotape in a film class. Everything else was either unseen (not really, I’ll get to that) and maybe half-watched (I’m still not positive if I’ve ever seen Erin Brockovich).
Well, Spring Break rolled around and gave me some time off from work to sit and binge movies like a crazy person and my one big project I had in mind was to finally watch the Ocean’s Trilogy sitting on Netflix for me to unwind with. I’m a big fan of Soderbergh’s other two heist films Out of Sight (one of the sexiest films I’ve ever seen) and Logan Lucky (super underrated gem of 2017), so it only made sense for me to go back and see the meat of this crime sandwich. And folks, watching those films has sent me on a Soderbergh tear as of late. I had vague memories of seeing Ocean’s 11 on cable as a young teen, but I wasn’t prepared for the top-to-bottom masterpiece of style, pacing, music and structure that the film is through my more film literate eyes. It’s a perfect film that not only has the slickest score of the ’00s but perhaps the most insane gathering of an ensemble cast of the 21st century.
I’d heard mixed things about Ocean’s 12 for years but when I sat down and watched it the movie delivered a pitch-perfect deconstruction of the first film along with one of the (intentionally) zaniest plots I’d ever seen (Vincent Cassel as a playboy super thief and the bit with Julia Roberts as the character Tess posing as Julia Roberts the actress are just *chef kiss-y fingers*). While Ocean’s 13 feels like a studio apology for Ocean’s 12‘s experimental streak (it’s a more conventional sequel to the first movie), it still manages to deliver some memorable set pieces and fully cranks up Soderbergh’s anti-capitalist sensibilities that he has running through these movies. Do yourself a favor. Go to Netflix and sit down and revisit or freshly watch these movies that now seem like golden artifacts of a type of popcorn movie we rarely see anymore. At least until Ocean’s 8. 😉