I’m keeping up with my ~4 movie average this week but the real get here is everyone’s fave FRAN HOEPFNER on Boogie Nights (1997)! I’m super excited to have Fran’s writing on here, you’re gonna love it, you already do, I know it!
Boogie Nights (1997)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: FRAN HOEPFNER
My introduction to Boogie Nights was — no joke — the oral history published on Grantland in late 2014. This is important because it was what kept me from actually seeing the movie for so long (so long meaning 4 years here, by the way). At this point, my familiarity with the work of Paul Thomas Anderson included only The Master, which severely alienated me, and Inherent Vice, which put me to sleep. It would still be almost a year until I finally watching There Will Be Blood (which I respect more than I like!). The Boogie Nights oral history, in turn, used “bad boy” un-ironically within the first 10 lines and I clicked out of the tab.
If I’ve learned anything about loving art and being older than 20, it’s that everyone is on their own journey (gag me, but seriously) and sometimes people need to come to things you may love on their own time. So for all the years I survived predominantly male comedy writers’ rooms that demanded, begged, pleaded with me to give Boogie Nights a chance, I finally did so of my own volition on a quiet night last week. And of course — of course! — I loved it! Well, a self-correction: I really liked it, and then twenty minutes later, I came to learn that was Alfred Molina? and then I loved it.
My favorite character is Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and my second favorite character is me for the hour after I realized it was Alfred Molina and started spiraling and watched that sequence three times in a row and then one more time later that day, and my third favorite character is Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly). Boogie Nights’ greatest accomplishment, however, is making me love and empathize with Mark Wahlberg who I otherwise dislike and distrust. Really, they’re all great, which is part of Boogie Nights’ winning charm. It’s so ragtag and earnest and can you believe that there was a point in time in which it wasn’t totally hack to put “Best Of My Love” in your movie about the late 1970s. That’s what makes the parts where it’s difficult — is there anything more heartbreaking than Rollergirl asking Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) to be her mother? I don’t think making Boogie Nights makes a person a bad boy un-ironically, but I do think it makes a person who one day makes Phantom Thread. Anyway, I’ve become what I’ve always resented: someone who writes online about Paul Thomas Anderson films. Oh, well. It’s fun to have some company!
Fran Hoepfner is a writer living in New Jersey where she is pursuing a MFA in Fiction at Rutgers. She is an editor at large for Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is best known for being the loudest about Force Majeure (2014) online, and she also writes a cooking tinyletter called chomp chomp.
All in all a just ok movie, but it’s interesting to see Lucille Ball in a dramatic role. She’s wonderful in it as the brassy American in London who’s somehow managed to get caught up in a plot to catch a serial killer. The killer lures lonely women to meet him via the personal ads in the paper, so the police come up with this idea to have Lucille Ball answer every personal ad and hopefully discover who the killer is (seems dangerous!). She’s got perfect timing, she’s funny, she’s cutting, and she does an excellent job of playing Sandra Carpenter as someone who’s smart enough to keep herself alive among the more dangerous aspects of London society life. She does it all, she’s a master! No wonder she had such a long-running classic TV show named after her!
George Sanders is likewise great, doing pretty much the same thing he was doing in Rebecca (1940). He nails playing those high society pricks who think they can get whatever they want with their charm and money, the kind of strong-jawed, pushy lug you immediately suspect the worst about, the perfect red herring. Though it becomes clear later on that there’s no way he’s our guy and that he’s being set up to be the perfect patsy for this serial killer. It’s super satisfying to see that all of those qualities that make his presence so distasteful in the first place have been turned around and used against him to wrongfully make him the prime suspect, but as much as you loathe the guy, Sanders plays his confusion and frustration well enough that you start to feel like even though he’s an insufferable jerk, even he doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him.
Murder On The Orient Express (2017)
Look. I would have loved for a series of Hercule Poirot movies to take off, but that just was never going to happen. Please, let’s be real. The first part of this movie is pretty tight, a light-hearted and breezy introduction to who Hercule Poirot is. We get to see Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, doing peculiar genius detective shit like solving a mystery in no time and being too particular about how he wants his eggs. I liked that stuff. It’s great watching someone do their job well, and it’s also interesting that we as a culture have been able to get so much mileage out of the idea that detectives are all a bunch of weirdos, but then the rest of this movie happens and it’s such a slog. Johnny Depp gets murdered, mercifully letting us know that we don’t need to look at him or hear his grating attempt at an old Brooklyn accent for the next hour and a half, but then once Poirot has to start doing interviews with everyone on the train, that relief for me was replaced with the dread of knowing that he’s going to have to talk to all one hundred of these characters and we’re going to have to watch each and every one of these hams do some intro to acting bullshit where they have a secret and they have to reveal it by pointedly not revealing it oh my god is it over yet no nope it will never be over we’ll spend the rest of our days watching Poirot interview a new special guest suspect each week until we kill ourselves personally I am waiting until he interviews Rihanna so that I can feel a small moment of joy before I kill myself I love her haha maybe Cardi B will be on the train next week though I guess I’ll have to stay tuned to this Too Many Cooks-ass movie. It’s tedious, is what I’m getting at.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie I think, but oh my god this movie rules so fucking hard. Sorry to keep bringing Wild Things (1998) into theconversation, but this was like Wild Things if it were in 1963 (for those keeping score about Wild Things spiritual predecessors showing up in MOVIE DIARY 2018, it’s now: Charade (1963) to Body Heat (1981) to Wild Things (1998)). Lies, deception, intrigue, a plot to take off with a large sum of money, and most importantly TWISTS. There are a lot of twists and much of the fun of the movie is in watching Audrey Hepburn never really knowing who to trust or believe as she and Cary Grant wander through Paris trying to find where her newly deceased husband stashed a quarter of a million dollars.
On top of the reliable plot of trying to find the money before a bunch of other bad guys and scoundrels do, the cast is great at playing off of each other and their banter is actually very fun and keeps things moving. And my god the flirting in this movie! Modern depictions of flirting are across the board so so embarrassing, but I have to say, get two well dressed movie stars in the 60’s to neg each other in a scenic locale and I don’t even care anymore, I’m sold. Maybe it’s just that flirting in life already seems so unreal and trite that trying to present it with the attitude of it as something current and accurate only draws more attention to how unreal and trite it is? Like, maybe I don’t mind flirting in older movies like this because there’s that distance of like fifty years so the unreality and triteness can be written off as a style convention of the time? I don’t know, I’m just so embarrassed by modern flirty banter in movies and TV but I’m not really sure what the actual difference is between that and the flirting in older movies. Maybe it’s that older movie flirting usually feels more heightened and stylized? I don’t know, shoutout to single people these days who have to actually navigate through all of this via apps or whatever.
The building romance between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant is genuinely entertaining to watch, especially as Audrey Hepburn investigates her way through his deceptions. Investigative skills and spying are 100% a flirt in this movie. Having glamorous, confident movie stars onscreen serving intrigue is a great starting point, and Charade keeps that momentum going with a winding, twisting plot that’s designed to keep everyone guessing. There’s also a great rooftop fight where Cary Grant fights a guy with a hook for a hand, an exciting footchase through Paris, and Walter Matthau! Walter Matthau! What a movie!
A real stinker, but in that way where you’re watching it and you realize that all the bad things about it are complementing each other in such a way that it creates this awful, fascinating spectacle. You get the sense that if even just a few of these bad things were done competently, it would still be a bad movie, but the kind of bad movie that’s just a totally uninteresting watching experience. Maybe that’s unfair, but I don’t know, it’s not my job to fix this movie.
Dylan Sprouse (the lesser Sprouse, already a disadvantage right out the gate) plays an unhinged, obsessive, and ambitious student who is working to destroy his English teacher, Mr. Butler’s life after he gives him a B+ on a paper he wrote about Othello. He starts by slashing Mr. Butler’s tires, then he sabotages his application to be a college professor (lol definitely not how becoming a college professor works, as I understand it you don’t just fill out an application with one personal essay question, but look: the filmmakers got into the business of filmmaking not the rigors of academia), then stuff just keeps escalating. He tries to frame him for having an affair with a student by manipulating a classmate into thinking that the feelings she has for Mr. Butler are mutual (the whole thing is very uncomfortable), and then when that doesn’t work he manipulates her into writing a suicide note and then he THROWS HER OFF A BUILDING TO FRAME HIS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER BECAUSE HE WANTS REVENGE FOR THAT B+ PAPER ON OTHELLO. The whole thing is wild and it leads to him murdering Mr. Butler’s wife and kidnapping his newborn baby, but somehow even with all this wild shit the movie just never reaches the level of morbid excitement/titillation that you’d typically expect from a movie about some hot psychopath systematically ruining an unwitting enemy’s life. I don’t know man, it’s supposed to be a thriller, right? It’s got all these wonderful ingredients for a fun thriller, but the movie just kind of struggles to make some kind of artful statement about ambition and the question of how far a good man will go that these actors just can’t handle in a satisfying way. What even is the statement on those themes at the end of this movie? That even a good man is capable of violence when pushed hard enough? *yawns so deeply a cartoon fly zips in and out of my mouth* we get it, just give us the hot psychopaths doing bad things without all these cuts about the fearful symmetry of enemies and the duality of *yawns so hard my skeleton crawls out of my body*
The B+ paper, by the way, was *deep breath* A DEFENSE OF IAGO AS THE ACTUAL HERO OF OTHELLO DO YOU GET IT HE THINKS THE BAD GUY IS THE GOOD GUY BECAUSE HE’S IAGO DO YOU GET IT. Oh wow there’s also this other part where we see bits and pieces of our hapless teacher’s mundane struggles in his everyday life, then there’s a cut to him talking to his class about Crime And Punishment’s Raskolnikov BECAUSE HE’S RASKOLNIKOV FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS STORY I HOPE YOU SEE THAT. Really amazing work from the filmmakers here, aligning this movie with those giants of Literature. Did you know film can be art too?