“First Cow” — great new film!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you don’t yet know the films of Kelly Reichardt, you’re in for a treat.

Her latest, First Cow, is set in the muddy woods of 1820s Oregon, where a weary cook working for a whiny band of trappers meets an on-the-lam Chinese man who murdered a Russian after they killed one of his friends.

It’s not the elegant Jane Austen 1820s of England, with lush green lawns and sprawling estates — but the messy, struggling, brawling world of men trying to establish some sort of life in still-new-to-them America. There are native characters and even un-subtitled dialogue in a native tongue. You feel absolutely in the era.

The contrast between most residents’ mud-floored shacks and the beautifully painted house of the area’s wealthiest man are something — he holds a tea party, yammering on about the latest fashions in Paris and London — while everyone else slips and slides in filthy, ragged clothes.

It’s full of quirky and unexpected moments, like when the wealthy man’s wife, in ruffled burgundy silk, speaks in native tongue and admires the ornate wampum necklace of a visiting chief’s wife.

The film centers on the friendship of the two men, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz and King-Lu, who both really need a break. They have no family or education or money but King-Lu, who has already traveled the world, is filled with ambition. So when the area’s first dairy cow arrives, by boat, their scheme is hatched — they’ll milk her at night and hope no one sees them.

The cow belongs to the wealthy man, the Chief Factor, so their secrecy is paramount.

Then they start making good money selling delicious fried bread made using the stolen milk — and the Chief Factor loves it….

The ending links back to the beginning in a powerful and unforgettable image.

I loved this film!

Reichardt is known for making quiet and powerful movies about marginalized people.

She also (!) writes, edits and directs, extremely rare to have all three skills.

Here’s the film’s trailer.

And here’s a 52 minute video of Reichardt discussing it.

Oh la la! New must-see: “Call My Agent!”

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the best!

You can find three seasons of this terrific French series on Netflix, its original name “Ten Per Cent” — the amount each agent recoups from their clients at the Paris-based ASK talent agency.

 

Formidable!

 

I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.

 

The agency, owned by a man named Samuel who dies unexpectedly while away on holiday, thereby tossing the agency into chaos, infighting and intrigue:

 

Who’s Camille and why does she keep stealing glances at Mathias?

Will Mathias be able to buy out the owners’ widow’s shares?

Will his team agree?

Will shark/agent Andréa ever find true love — and does she even want it?

Will Sofia, the ambitious receptionist, finally launch her acting career?

 

The characters are fantastic — Gabriel, Andréa, Arlette and Mathias as agents, Noémie, Camille and Hervé as their loyal assistants, Sofia the receptionist. And Jean Gabin, a feisty little white terrier who manages to steal many scenes, always with Arlette.

Recurring characters include Mathias’ wife, his former mistress and a parade of gay women whose hearts Andréa keeps so carelessly and selfishly breaking.

And — so cool! — major French actors and actresses who simply play themselves, with a new one in every episode, Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Huppert, Guy Marchand, Jean duJardin and many more.

The drama and laughs are never-ending as the agents try to out-scheme one another, as Mathias is wooed by a competing agency, as Camille, new to Paris at 23, finds her professional footing — and so many screw-ups!

My father made films for a living and I love movies, so I really enjoy this funny/serious inside look at all the many many things that can go wrong trying to find the right actor or script or director, wrangling a set, how to manage a sex scene between two actors who loathe one another…

It’s also a poignant look at actors’ fragile egos and their very real need for steady, career-building projects, even when they actually don’t already know how to ride a horse or speak French Canadian French or swim or dance hip-hop (all of these are real plot-lines!)

You realize how many skills some have to learn, fast, to win a coveted role or work with a great director.

And see the personal heartbreak of an extra whose only two lines of the whole film get cut.

It really shows the work and hustle and negotiation that makes entertainment even possible.

Plus — Paris!

 

“Fame” — 40 years later

 

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Lincoln Center, New York City

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never seen this movie, you’ve missed a classic!

New York City practically vibrates with ambition — and schools thousands of super-talented teens at places like Juilliard, the School of American Ballet, and The High School for the Performing Arts.

In May 1980, a film about the latter (not shot in the actual school) was released, and its ebullient soundtrack still makes me smile — the title song won the Oscar for Best Song and the soundtrack won the Oscar as well.

It follows a handful of teens from their first year — as Americans call it, freshman year — through to graduation. One, Doris, has a frighteningly pushy stage mother. Another lives alone in an empty apartment, paid for by his absent mother. A third has a father who drives a classic yellow cab (long gone!) who bursts with pride at his son’s talent.

Friendships form. Teachers push them hard, one cautioning them how very difficult it will be to make a living at their art.

What struck me most, watching it again last week, was not the aching, yearning YES! I felt about it all in my early 20s…I had graduated university in 1979 and was just starting my journalism career — but the film’s  darkness and sadness as well.

The characters’ adolescence is filled with the angst and self-doubt we all experience, but often prefer to forget.

From Wikipedia:

In 1976, talent manager David De Silva attended a stage production of A Chorus Line and noticed that one of the musical numbers, “Nothing“, had made a reference to the New York High School of Performing Arts.[3] The musical inspired him to create a story detailing how ambition and rejection influence the lives of adolescent students.[5] In 1977, De Silva travelled to Florida, where he met playwright Christopher Gore. He paid Gore $5,000 to draft a script titled Hot Lunch, and provided story ideas involving the plot and characters.[5] De Silva took the project to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which acquired the script for $400,000.[1]

Director Alan Parker received the script after the release of his previous film Midnight Express (1978).[1][3] He met with De Silva in Manhattan, New York, where the two agreed that Parker would draft his own script,[3] with Gore receiving sole screenwriting credit.[5] Parker also enlisted his colleague Alan Marshall as a producer.[3] Gore travelled to London, England, where he and Parker began work on a second draft,[1] which was significantly darker than what De Silva had intended. De Silva explained, “I was really motivated and interested in the joy of what the school represented for these kids, and [Parker] was really much more interested in where the pain was in going to the school, and so we had our little conflicts based on that area.”[5]

 

What’s most striking to me, now, is how sheepish and scared the characters are about their racial and sexual identities — one finally pronounces himself, with barely disguised disgust, as “homosexual.” Another mocks his Puerto Rican roots. And AIDS was just on the horizon, and would soon decimate so much talent just like these youngsters.

Love the dance scenes.

Love Anne Meara as the tough-love teacher.

Love the honesty about the brutal competitiveness and insecurity that’s a part of life for every artist, no matter how talented or ambitious.

This song, I Sing the Body Electric, is just gorgeous…

 

 

 

 

 

Really missing movies!

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved and totally identified with this piece by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis:

For those who came of age with home video it can be hard to grasp why anyone still bothers to go out to see movies. This bafflement has become part of a steady drumbeat of complaints about watching movies in theaters: the pricey tickets, bad projection, overpriced junk food, the creeps, potential maniacs and selfish people texting or talking on their phones. Just stay home, kick back and binge on another suboptimal Netflix show. But moviegoing helped make me who I am, shaped my world and my sense of self, beginning in childhood.

It started with my film-crazed parents, young East Village bohemians who couldn’t afford babysitters and so brought me everywhere, including to the movies. This was in New York in the mid-1960s, a heroic age of cinephilia before home video. When I was 3, they took me to see Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust for Life,” a glorious, overheated drama with Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh.

 

 

The first movie I remember vividly was Dr. Zhivago, directed by legendary director David Lean, starring Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya and Julie Christie as Lara. It’s more than three hours, and even has (!) an intermission.

It has everything: great characters, costumes, landscapes, music, history, romance, broken hearts, revolution. Watch the costume colors change as characters change their behaviors, especially young Lara.

 

DrZhivago_Asheet

 

 

I was eight when it was released and have watched it many, many times since, never tiring of it.

My father made films for a living and thought nothing of showing up halfway through any commercially-shown movie. We’d waltz in and just wait in our seats (as you could then) for it to start again.

At 18, I tried, with my late stepmother, to watch The Exorcist, and fled back quickly into afternoon daylight, terrified. I’ve never tried since.

More of Dargis:

So many of my memories are connected with moviegoing; some are of being alone in a theater full of people, which is a metaphor for my life, though also a metaphor for being alive. I love laughing and crying and shrieking with an enthusiastic audience. And while I now go to the movies for work, I also go to the movies for pleasure and for the love of the art. I go because I’m curious, because I like the director or star. I go because I’m happy, anxious or depressed. I go because films have provided comfort throughout my life, offering me an escape from my own reality but also a way of making sense of it, giving me glossy and gritty worlds to discover and reassuringly disappear in.

I spent most of my childhood at boarding school, but Christmas break meant fleeing school to watch multiple movies in a theater with my mother, two or three in a day, popcorn for meals.

She had a firm rule — if we saw a movie that day, no TV. I get it. You really need some time to process and remember what you’ve seen, not chase it all away too quickly with more images and content.

Her favorite, which we saw together, was Gone With the Wind.

With my maternal grandmother, it was the movie musical Paint Your Wagon, whose songs I still remember even though she died in 1975.

One of my favorite things about where we now live is the independent art film house a 15-minute drive north, The Jacob Burns Film Center, housed in a 20’s vaudeville house beautifully restored. I’m a member and sometimes go two or three times a week. Directors visit to discuss their work. Just before the coronavirus sent us all into isolation, I’d taken a terrific three-week class there on documentary films.

 

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A classic!

 

One great movie that really shows how a movie theater, especially in a small town, can create community is 1988’s Cinema Paradiso, which won best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars that year. Plus its gorgeous score by Ennio Morricone; (if you’ve never seen another of my faves, The Mission, you must listen to its haunting soundtrack, also by him.)

Yes, I’m obsessed!

So, while we’re forbidden now to go to the theater, I’ll keep watching movies greedily at home, eagerly awaiting the next time we can all once more sit, mesmerized, in the dark together.

The Devil Wears Prada: 11 life lessons

 

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Having now seen it so many times that I can recite its dialogue by heart, I still stan for this movie, made in 2006 for a relatively small $35 million— it’s since grossed $327 million — no doubt aided by the fact it’s shown so often on various cable channels and fangirls like me keep tuning in again.

I love seeing two of my favorite cities featured — New York (mostly the towers of midtown) and Paris.

The final scene grabs my heart every time as, in the background of that final shot, are the offices of Simon & Schuster, which publishes Pocket Books, which published my first book. I will never ever forget the joy and pride I felt crossing that same intersection  clutching the galley, (unpublished final version.)

And, now that so many magazines are gone or have shuttered their print versions and slashed their budgets, it’s also a nostalgic vision of how glitzy and glamorous life often was (and still is for a few) at a Big Name fashion magazine.

The soundtrack is fantastic as well, pushing Scottish songwriter and singer K.T. Tunstall into much wider prominence with her songs, like Suddenly I See, absolutely the perfect fit for this film.

Starring Anne Hathaway as Andrea Sachs, an initially gormless-but-ambitious young journalist, (and based on the true-life story of Vogue assistant to its editor Anna Wintour) and Meryl Streep as her voracious boss, Miranda Priestley, it’s a fun film that also offers some helpful lessons:

Never show up to a job interview with no idea who you’re talking to

Never show up to a job interview looking like an unmade bed

Your friends can be a terrific support group — or whiny and negative. Choose wisely

Ditto for your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse

Yes, your first job out of college may feel “beneath you” but it’s meant to sharpen all sorts of skills, from time management to EQ to how to read a room

Yes, for a while, your personal life may suffer. You shouldn’t do it forever, but some jobs and industries offer a weeding-out: only the truly determined survive.

If your boss is extremely demanding, what else did you expect?

Alliances matter — the only way Andy gets her hands on an unpublished manuscript quickly is knowing someone with access, and being willing to make the ask

If you want to make it in New York City journalism, you’d better bring your A-game!

Empathy matters, whether for your boss, your coworkers, your friends, your sweetie

Know your priorities and your values

 

 

How journalism happens

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Written by a documentary film-maker, daughter of the late, great NYT journalist David Carr

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s ironic — we each have more access now, thanks to the Internet, to thousands of media sources from across the globe than ever before.

Yet I see such tremendous ignorance of what journalism is.

What we do. Why we do it. What we earn. Our many constraints and challenges.

So, as we close out this decade, this is my stake in the ground, a sort of Media 101. (If this is all overly familiar, sorry!)

 

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Where does a “news” story come from?

The textbook definition of news means it’s new (something we haven’t seen or heard before); it affects the outlet’s audience (whether local, regional, national or global); it affects someone wealthy or powerful (a sad metric, but often used); it marks a significant change from prior experience; a natural disaster; a major crime.

It also, ideally, covers all levels of government. Ideally, also we cover major issues like income inequality/poverty, health, education, environment, etc.

Do journalists pay their sources?

No. This is common in some British tabloids, but not in North America, where it’s taboo. It demands cooperation from sources, yes, but it means (ideally!) that money doesn’t buy access or coverage.

Do sources pay to be in a story?

No! There is now the absurd belief — based on “journalism” like Forbes’ blogs — that you just pay to play. I’ve been offered payment many times by sources to write about them. Unscrupulous journalists accept, creating the fantasy this is normal. It is not.

 

 

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How do I know who or what to trust?

This is now a huge and troubling issue — I recently attended a powerful and sobering event at the New York HQ for Reuters, with terrific panelists addressing this very question.

The first speaker, who flew in from London, showed the audience five videos and asked us to vote on whether they were fake or real. Some were fake, and so carefully created it was really difficult to tell.

In an era of such deceptive deepfakes, question carefully!

 

Who writes the headlines?

Not the reporters! Every outlet has a series of editors above the reporters and they will oversee the headlines and write them. No reporter writes their own headlines; freelancers can and do suggest one when pitching, and some will be kept.

Same for book titles; I named my first book and my editor (thankfully!) named my second.

Who writes the captions for photos?

Editors. Sometimes the photographer.

 

How much do reporters make?

Hah! So much less than people imagine. In 2019, the American average was $40,081. To put this into context, I earned $45,000 as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette  — in the 1980s. If you’re fortunate enough to get hired by a major national outlet, like Reuters wire service or The New York Times, you might get $90,000 or more.

How much do TV reporters make?

A lot more, depending if regional or national. Those working at the national level — sometimes more experienced and skilled — will make more. Locally, $56,455.

 

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How much do authors make?

Some, millions. Some, pennies!

There are many, many tiers of book publishing, from academic houses to small indies to the mega’s like Simon & Schuster or Harper Collins, able to offer enormous advances to those they think worth the investment — like Michelle and Barack Obama, who got (reportedly) $65 million.

An “advance” may be divided into three or four parts: one on signing the deal, one on acceptance of the manuscript; one on publication and one (!) a year or more after publication. Hardly “advance”!

Every payment will likely lose 15 percent off the top to the agent who sold it.

Every book sold means more money, right?

Nope.

If your advance is $100,000, you must “earn out” that sum before getting another dime from the publisher.

And the game is rigged, since every book sold does not give the author the cover price!

We get eight percent of the retail price.

So this belief that a TV or radio or podcast appearance means a huge boost to our income from our books is wishful fantasy.

What exactly do TV and radio producers do?

There are “bookers” and producers who find and pre-interview people they think will be good on-air. You may have noticed a predominance of white men. People with no discernible accent.

 

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How do people actually end up getting interviewed by the media?

A variety of ways. Some have in-house communications departments or PIOs (public information officers) to handle requests formally. Some have a public relations firm pumping out press releases all the time! Some know a journalist or producer personally.

If it’s a major news event, like a shooting or natural disaster, we speak to as many people there as possible — traumatic for them, often.

 

How do you get access to documents?

Some use a Freedom of Information Act — FOIA — to get at them. It’s been in American law since 1967, the legal right to access any document from any federal agency.

Sometimes we get them offered to us by an internal whistle-blower.

 

How are freelance writers paid?

Bizarrely, by the word. Sometimes a flat fee. These range from $150 to $10,000 or more. No rules. No guidelines. It’s every-man-for-himself. So a story of 500 words at .50 cents per word will pay less than a magazine piece at $2/word for 3,000 words.

We are not paid until the story is accepted — and that can take months. It’s a huge problem.

Stories also get “killed” — not used and maybe not even paid for, maybe 25 percent of the original fee.

 

A glossary:

 

Hed

The headline.

Sub-hed

A sub-heading within the body of a story, often used to break up copy and keep the reader moving.

Pull-quote or call-out

A phrase or quote that’s memorable, meant to entice the reader into the story.

Dek

A brief description of the story.

Lede

The first sentence or paragraph. Crucial!

Kicker

The final sentence or paragraph. Crucial!

Graf

A paragraph.

The 5 W’s and H

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How….every story should answer these.

B-roll

Images to illustrate a TV story or video that aren’t the main event. Sometimes shot in advance.

Nut graf

High up in a story, the graf that explains why the story is even worth reading.

Explainer

A detailed story to explain a complicated issue.

Presser

A press conference.

On the record

Everything you say is now for permanent, public consumption. (Off the record means it’s not — but only if you preface your remarks with this phrase, not afterward.)

Movies, movies, movies

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Three in a day.

No big deal!

Yesterday, another gray, rainy day here, meant movie day. We are incredibly lucky to have an art house theater — a former vaudeville theater from the 1920s — renovated and a 15-minute drive north of us, offering an amazing array of documentaries, series, events and features. Annual membership is $85 and tickets are $10 (only $8 two years ago.)

Some weeks I’m there several times.

I also watch on TV and streaming.

I don’t watch horror or kids’ films. Not much into animation — but recently re-watched the 2003 animated stunner Triplets of Belleville — which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (and lost to Finding Nemo.)

I enjoy foreign films — and have raved here before about some of them, like Capernaum.

 

I love movies!

 

My father made documentaries and feature films for a living so this is a world I grew up in and knew and respected. I didn’t want to make them myself, too in awe of the tremendous skills and the huge teams needed: greensman, Foley artist, ADR, grips, gaffers, make-up and hair and costumes.

Not to mention the cinematographers and directors.

 

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LOVE!

 

I find film utterly immersive, a dream state, and when I write, try to use similar ideas — tight close-ups, establishing shots, scenes and dialogue.

I love being in a theater (a quiet one!) with some popcorn, ready to disappear once more.

Here are the three films I saw yesterday:

 

63Up

In 1964, a Canadian film-maker named Paul Almond made a film about 14 British children, meant to show how class affects them. It became a series,with fresh interviews every seven years, and offers a sometimes sad, sometimes moving look at how we age and change — or don’t. The 14, typical of Britain then perhaps, includes only one black boy and all the rest are white.

One man suffers mental illness and homelessness. Several marry and divorce. Almost all have children and grand-children. I hope it continues and is well worth a look.

 

Knives Out

A who-dun-it filmed in an astonishing mansion, with a rapacious family fighting over their inheritance from their mystery-author father, played by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer. Daniel Craig, best known for playing James Bond, here plays a southern detective, with a weird drawl. It’s an amusing film, but too long and not one I would see again.

 

The Favourite

 

This really is one of my favo(u)rite films so I watched it on TV for maybe the third or fourth time.

Set during the reign of Queen Anne, who suffered the unimaginable loss of 17 children, it’s the devilish tale of a scheming fallen aristocrat, Abigail Masham, up against brilliant, witty Sarah, Lady Marlborough. As the Queen, Olivia Colman is stunning — and won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2018 for it.

Set in early 18th-century England, it’s a feast of gorgeous cinematography (with a lot of fish-eye lenses, adding visual distortion to the emotional weirdness), music, costume, sets and make-up. Nicholas Hoult is Lord Harley, and deliciously awful.

It’s a moving, sad, gorgeous tale of power and attraction, of love and flattery, of how easily a weak, ill Queen rejected her best ally and friend for a sneaky underminer.

And based on historical fact!

A must-see film: Capernaum

By Caitlin Kelly

Sometimes you watch a film that feels like a punch to the solar plexus.

In a good way.

I was bored and channel-surfing this week on yet another stiflingly hot evening when, at 10:00 pm, I found a film I had really wanted to see in 2018 when it came out. It received rapturous reviews, including a 15 minute standing ovation when screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Capernaum — also named Chaos — was filmed in a dusty, crowded Beirut for $4 million, starring a 12 year old Syrian refugee named Zain who’d already survived eight years in that city’s slums. The stars of the film include the most gorgeous baby — not more than a year old — and an Ethiopian woman, his mother, living and working there in menial jobs illegally.

If there is a film that more powerfully shows what it’s like to scrape every single day for food, water, income and dignity, I don’t know what it is.

The child who plays Zain is also named Zain, and was 12 at the time of filming, then illiterate. He is so tiny he looks like he might be eight or ten. (He now lives in Norway.)

Every element of this film is searing: the fate of his sister Sahar, a child bride; his abusive parents unable to care for him in any way; his resilience; the empathy and compassion Rahil shows for him (the mother of the baby) and his, in turn, for her toddler.

There’s a kind of intimacy and immediacy to this film that renders everything more slick and produced meaningless in comparison. It is in Arabic and Amharic with subtitles.

Slumdog Millionaire made in 2008 for $15 million — and which made $377.89 million — is the only other film that comes to mind like this, and Capernaum is much better.

Like Slumdog, it was made on  a small budget of $4 million (thanks to a producer who mortgaged his home), and has so far earned $68.6 million becoming a huge and unexpected hit in China.

Ironic that two films about desperately impoverished street children have proven so popular and lucrative.

I sure hope these child actors have also enjoyed some of that wealth!

Here’s the film’s trailer.

Find it. 

Watch it.

Extraordinary.

“Gloria”: Critics raved! Hated it

By Caitlin Kelly

Whew.

It’s rare I actually hate a film, but this one is added to my short list. Starring Julianne Moore — who does her best with a sad-sack role — “Gloria” is a re-make of a 2013 film of the same name and theme.

I hadn’t seen the previous one, but thought — OK, Julianne Moore (who usually makes good films) and who is also executive producer here — I’m in.

I came home and read a bunch of reviews to see who else thought…uggggggh.  Every major media outlet loved it.

I just don’t get this film’s appeal.

Gloria, divorced, with two adult children (one with an infant whose wife has wandered off), the other pregnant by a Swedish pro surfer, lives alone in an apartment endlessly visited by a very ugly cat — maybe a metaphor I didn’t grasp? She lives in L.A., works as an insurance agent and has a noisy and aggressive upstairs neighbor.

Yes, her life is limited. But she’s also choosing to let it, which immediately lost some of my sympathy.

She’s 50-ish, and her one great joy is dancing to disco; at a club she meets Arnold (John Turturro) and (why???) falls in love with him — despite a bunch of his backstories that felt so false to me. (He’d lost a huge amount of weight, he was a former Marine, his endlessly demanding adult daughters.)

His character is just so weird and opaque and needy and creepy — yet she keeps ripping off their clothes for lots of sex and nude scenes.

Hey, I’m all for lots of great sex at any age. But with that guy?

I also get the appeal of a regular woman in her 50s living a life that’s just OK, not really happy in any meaningful way. But I found her resolute cheerfulness and passivity extremely depressing.

Maybe that’s just me. From the very first scenes, Arnold struck me as someone to flee.

I won’t reveal the film’s final milquetoast “revenge” scene, but it felt so cliche and so pathetic — this is midlife “empowerment”?! —  I could barely wait to leave the theater, where a long line of people eagerly waited to enter.

Is there a film you loathe?

Why?

Your favorite films? Some of mine

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A scene from Kubrick’s film 2001; Inside the spaceship — filmed in a British studio

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent list of the top 100 foreign language films, according to critics, reported by the BBC; I admit to only having seen nine (!) of them. I loved Children of Paradise, and hope you’ve also seen it. Another of my faves is on the list below.

My father made films for a living, mostly documentaries, and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for one; here’s his Wikipedia entry. So maybe my addiction to film comes honestly! In a typical week, I watch probably two or three films, whether a classic on TCM,  something on HBO or go to a theater to happily sit in the dark.

My tastes don’t include horror or a lot of comedies. For reasons I can’t explain, I love films about spies and spycraft.

 

Syriana (2005)

An amazing cast — George Clooney and Matt Damon, two favorites — and a twisted tale of government malfeasance in the MidEast. Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Filmed in Iran, Texas, Switzerland, Lebanon, Spain and D.C. (this kind of multi-national location shooting seems to be a theme of my favorites!) They used 200 locations on four continents. It also feels, right now, terribly timely in light of terrible Saudi behavior — and American complicity in it.

 

Michael Clayton (2007)

Clooney again! This time, corporate malfeasance. (Hmm, I see a theme.) Also in the cast is the phenomenal British actor Tom Wilkinson , playing a corporate executive whose conscience over a highly dangerous and profitable agro-chemical lands him in the wrong hands.  The fantastic British actress Tilda Swinton plays the firm’s smarmy lawyer — the final scene, shot in a midtown Manhattan hotel — is one of my favorites. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and it’s well deserved. Clooney, badly shaven and hollow-eyed, plays a “fixer”, a lawyer assigned to clean up the firm’s messy cases.  It made many critics’ list of the year’s top ten films.

 

 

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Casablanca (1942)

Of course! If you’ve never seen this classic, a gorgeous black-and-white film with some of the all-time great lines — you must! Ingmar Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star; she as a European refugee fleeing war-torn Europe and he as a tough-talking American bar owner in that Moroccan city.

 

2001 (1968)

I must have watched this Stanley Kubrick film 20 times since I first saw it as a young girl. To my eyes, it hasn’t dated at all — even the subtlest details of what space travel might look and sound like having come to fruition now or some variation of same. The soundtrack, the special effects, the costumes and the ending which still puzzles so many. Its esthetic deeply affected many later films.

 

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Jason Bourne

The Jason Bourne series

OK, OK. Schlocky, I know. But ohhhh, so much action and so many crazy chase and fight scenes from Berlin to Tangier to Paris and such a lonely hero, played in every version but one by Matt Damon (later Jeremy Renner.) I’ve seen every one of these so many times I know them off by heart but still enjoy them. I also love how he never does anything vaguely normal — like laundry or groceries. There are five in the series.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

If you love magazines and fashion as much as I do — let alone a film (based on a true story about being the assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour), about an ambitious New York City female journalist — this is the one for you. I know the dialogue by heart but still enjoy it: the designer clothes, her insanely demanding boss, Miranda Priestly, and a great scene with Stanley Tucci that sums up what it really takes. Made for $35 million, it’s since grossed 10 times that in revenues.

Spotlight (2015)

Another film about journalism,  this one winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Also based on a true story, this recreates the teamwork it took at the Boston Globe to expose horrific sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic church. I love Rachel McAdams, a fellow Canadian, as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer — it’s one of the few films ever made that really shows what shoe-leather reporting is: all those interviews, all that door-knocking, all those documents to read.

All The President’s Men (1976)

It’s a boys’ club at the Washington Post — but what a club! This re-creation of the reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S. President Richard Nixon, stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, a dream team in itself. This film, too, shows the persistence and guts it can take to sniff out a major story and get people to share enough to make it publishable.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Klaus Kinski as a crazed expedition leader in 16th century Peru. The final scene is extraordinary — a raft floating helplessly downriver, with Aguirre raging, the lone survivor. I love all of Werner Herzog’s films, but this one most of all and it’s considered one of both Herzog’s best films and one of the best films ever made.

The Mission (1986)

An 18th century story about a Jesuit mission deep in the Argentine jungle, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. The soundtrack is astoundingly beautiful, by the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The opening image is unforgettable — it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (and was nominated in six other categories.)

Blade Runner (1982)

Few films have had as much an impact on later work as the esthetic of this one, directed by Ridley Scott, later better known for the Alien films. Everything drips with rain, streets are crowded and gleam with neon. Harrison Ford plays the Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, whose job it is to seek out and destroy replicants, robots who appear human. The eerie soundtrack is by Vangelis, best known for his score of the film Chariots of Fire. I also love the 2017 sequel, Bladerunner 2049, again starring Harrison Ford.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Another (!) film I love starring Matt Damon, and another focused on spycraft, specifically the beginnings of the CIA. Damon stars, as does Angelina Jolie in a film focused on themes of family loyalty versus that to one’s craft. I’m also partial to this movie since a scene was filmed in the town we live in, Tarrytown, New York.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

To my mind, admittedly as someone who’s loved this one for decades, one of the most visually compelling films I’ve ever seen, directed by the late great David Lean (who also did Lawrence of Arabia.) Julie Christie is Lara, Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, set at the time of the Russian Revolution. It was filmed in Finland, Spain and Canada.

 

What are some of yours?

 

 

What do you love about them?