You know how after you watch a movie with a huge twist your impulse is to think back over all the clues and hints you missed and re-evaluate everything based on this new and world shaking information? I’m actually not talking about the movie Your Name (I’m not even talking about Wild Things, the official movie of Movie Diary!), but rather the long game soft-sell Geoff worked on me to get me to watch this movie without giving me any hint that I would be nearly unable to say “I loved it” as the credits rolled because I was so incapacitated by emotion. Imagine several months of Geoff, having seen it with friends while I was at work, being like “I think you might like it” with a nonchalant shrug. This is the same pitch I got for watching Kingsman: The Secret Service (which should be titled either Kingsman or Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and that is truly the least of its problems), a movie so far from being up my alley that it left me feeling spiritually polluted (sorry to put you on blast in your own movie diary, Geoff, but I have to speak my truth, and it’s ok, they can’t all be winners). What I’m trying to say here is I was extremely taken by surprise.
The first half of Your Name was the movie I expected, which was an extremely cute teen body swap comedy, but the second half it ascends to operatic heights of cosmic melodrama. By all rights it should have been shitty and manipulative, except that it was genuinely moving and life-affirming. Is that even allowed? Have you ever been consumed by shoulder-racking sobs while thinking “This reminds me of the premise of The Lake House”?? It’s all in the execution, baby! My default is always imploring movies to be shorter and do less (not in terms of abstract ambition so much as the actual number of things they try to accomplish), but listen — some movies actually have the goods and they can do whatever the hell they want! They can be about teen feelings and small towns and big cities and astronomical events and religion and empathy and tragedy and memory and local politics and the fabric of spacetime. I don’t make the rules (could you imagine if I did, though?!).
Okay, so let’s brainstorm as a team some ways we can keep J.J. Abrams from doing his planned live action remake of this movie:
-Point out that there’s no good role for Greg
-Distract him with a bell and feathers
-Spill out a bunch of Blu-Rays on the table have him sort them into Cloverfields and Not Cloverfields (he must show his work)
-A curse?? Of some kind????? Like, a little one! No big deal!
Tessa Strain is a writer living in Geoff’s apartment. Her work has appeared in Bright Wall/Dark Room and The Comics Journal. She is @tessastrain on Twitter, where she does a pretty good job, and on Instragram, where she does a bad one.
The Pajama Game (1954)
I am going to be honest here and tell you that I don’t remember much of this movie. Doris Day is in it and she’s a union leader at a pajama factory, then for some reason she falls in love with this new guy in management. He is not that hot and he sings the way Russell Crowe does in Les Miserables (2012), just fucking powering through every line, seeming to want to deafen the audience so he doesn’t have to sing any more. Doris Day is advocating for the workers to get a raise, but her dumb boyfriend with giant meat hands is against it. I spent the entire movie wondering what the deal is with this guy because I’m pretty sure there are no real reasons for him and Doris Day together. He looks like the Coney Island Steeplechase Face and he hates unions? No thanks.
The costumes and looks are really colorful and fun and exciting, but the musical numbers are… fine, I guess. I’m no expert at these things, but you know how you can get to a point in drinking coffee where you just know what’s good coffee and what’s bad coffee for you? I think that’s where I’m at with musicals right now. I feel like I can have an opinion about them, but I’m not really at that point where I can really lay out why I like what I like. This one had some good moments — I particularly liked the song where the workers are on strike and singing about how much their lives would improve with a seven and a half cent raise, and there’s also that totally wild number they do during the company picnic where everyone is singing and dancing in the park and it reaches this fever pitch where everyone is dancing so hard and rolling through a bunch of shitty looking dried up grass patches and dirt, I felt like I was descending into madness — but as a whole it didn’t really do much for me.
Creep 2 (2017)
Horror sequels are generally the bigger, louder versions of their originals and sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but Creep 2 is the kind of sequel that finds a new approach for its material. The first Creep (2014) was a fun, tense little movie about Aaron, an overly friendly killer who wanted a victim as much as a best friend. Creep 2 plays off that and gives it a little twist by exploring what happens when a serial killer like Aaron gets in a rut. The power dynamic shifts when Sara, an unflinching yet desperate documentarian answers Aaron’s personal ad and agrees to film his video confession.
You can of course read Aaron’s growing dissatisfaction with his now routine murders as a comment on the filmmaking process, but that’s obvious and kind of boring (sorry, auteurs). It’s definitely there, though, don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere. I think what was more interesting to me was the dynamic between Aaron and Sara and the idea of artistic collaboration and a truly honest relationship being viewed as something that can both uplift you and kill you. Throughout the movie Aaron and Sara are constantly pushing each other past their limits to give each other what they want at their core. Aaron stretches Sara’s self-preservation instincts and trust by being such an odd, persistent person, playing on her ego and ambition to create a meaningful documentary. Sara just has to see where this is all going, despite every red flag being raised because she needs be able to see herself as an artist. Likewise, Sara pushes Aaron to be honest with himself and his past by openly questioning and confronting him and refusing to just accept what he presents on the surface. She draws personal truths out of him by refusing to waver in the face of his mind games and intimidation, and that excites Aaron since this has never happened for him before. Aaron finally is able to participate in a relationship and creative endeavor* (*murder) that challenges him to go beyond his routine, thus rekindling that excitement he felt back when he was at the top of his game* (*luring victims to his cabin and murdering them).
All About Eve (1950)
I did it, I finally watched All About Eve! It’s really wild to realize how many movies are just riffs on All About Eve — Showgirls (1995), Single White Female (1992), <comedic strikethrough>Wild Things (1998)</comedic strikethrough>, etc. All About Eve was good, Bette Davis is so great at being someone standing at the top ready to be pushed over the edge. That scene where she’s drunk and sad at her own party and just cutting everyone down before stumbling upstairs to bed is truly aspirational. She’s also doing a lot of heavy lifting in that scene where she shows up late to Marilyn Monroe’s line reading and she breaks down alone after Bill insists that she’s being paranoid about Eve. Bette Davis, man! Who knew? (Everyone. Everyone knew.)
Anne Baxter is also perfect at BEING TREACHEROUS. Watching Anne Baxter in this made me retroactively dislike Dylan Sprouse’s performance in Dismissed (2017) even more. Like, if you’re playing some sociopathic social climber, just do what Anne Baxter does in this, it’s perfect. One of the most satisfying things about this movie is watching the slow reveal that Eve’s serendipitous rise to prominence was carefully engineered by Eve herself, then watching her settle into the role of being a top billed actress. I know that that’s basically the whole movie, so yeah, no shit, the movie’s great, but it’s cool seeing her go from this doe-eyed, pitiful theater fan to threatening to blackmail Karen in the ladies’ room of the high end restaurant. It’s also pretty interesting how Anne Baxter plays Eve’s ascendence as less a devious plot and more a cunning eye for opportunity and the courage to capitalize on it. It makes it feel like Eve isn’t just some outlier, that this is just how the game is played. It’s the perfect set up for the full circle ending where a young fan of Eve’s begins to worm her way into her life. (Also pretty funny that this classic of cinema basically has an “UH OH HERE WE GO AGAIN” ending, but I don’t know I guess it was a different time).
The Death of Stalin (2018)
***THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS ONE BUT ALSO IT’S BASED ON SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED 65 YEARS AGO AND IT’S A PRETTY BIG EVENT IN WORLD HISTORY SO YOU’VE PROBABLY ALREADY HEARD SOMETHING ABOUT HOW THIS ALL WORKS OUT BUT WHATEVER, YOU CAN’T SAY I DIDN’T DO MY PART TO WARN YOU ABOUT SPOILERS***
It’s Armando Ianucci directing another story about vile and vicious and inept men jockeying for even more power and prestige than they know what to do with and I’m here for it, I’m always here for it. Much like Veep or The Thick of It, the focus is on the bumbling cowards who are somehow in charge of the government, but this one’s about Russia and the violent power struggle that happens after Stalin’s death. It’s a bit different because alongside the typical acerbic Ianucci humor, you’re forced to witness the very real and very violent consequences of the whims of these powerful men trying to out-maneuver each other in their fight for the top. Take the scenes in Beria’s offices, for instance. Beria’s one of those characters that Ianucci loves to use, the highly capable and outstandingly mean man behind the scenes. He’s like Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It but he’s undeniably an evil person. In the scenes in his office/bunker we get some witty Ianucci back and forth and an acutely mean-spirited moment where Beria makes fun of a nervous soldier’s stuttering, but then in the background we also hear gunshots from fast executions, people being hauled off to their cells, a man getting kicked down the stairs, and Beria never bats an eye. This is his machine and his machine is working well.
Even the “good guys” like Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev are not above treating the commoners and the peasants as expendable pawns that they can use against their opponents. There’s a scene where Khrushchev, the self-described “reformer” trying to institute changes that would free the unjustly imprisoned, calls for the trains to Moscow to start up again, allowing Russians to come see the Stalin’s funeral. However, Beria’s NKVD soldiers are standing at the entrances to the city and Khrushchev knows they would fire on these innocent people to keep the peace. He knows many of these ordinary people are going to die and he does it anyway because what’s more important to him than the lives of the people he is governing is embarrassing his enemy Beria. These people are a necessary cost to pay for a chance to take down Beria, Khrushchev’s main obstacle in his path to the top.
If all of that makes this sound bleak, I guess it kind of is, but it’s also so fucking funny. I mean, I think this is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year, and that tension between the humor and the bleak atrocities of reality is a great balancing act that Ianucci can handle in his sleep. The performances consequently are all so funny and nuanced, and in a way I suppose the humor of it lends a humanizing aspect to these figures of history, but Ianucci never lets you lose sight of the fact that these men did some monstrous things to even their own people in an effort to get them more power to do the same thing over and over again to even more people. These are bad people, selfish, vain buffoons and on top of all of that they’re in charge. What else can you do but laugh*?
(*you can vote and protest and organize etc., I know, but this ending was more of a rhetorical thing, sorry)