The Things You Find on Netflix: Christine (dir by Antonio Campos)


I really regret that I didn’t get a chance to see Christine when it played here last year.  I wanted to but the movie was only in theaters for a week and then it vanished.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Christine didn’t become a blockbuster.  I imagine that most potential viewers were turned off by the fact that 1) it wasn’t a remake of the movie about the killer car and 2) it was based on the true story of a reporter who, in 1974, committed suicide on live television.  I imagine that, to many people, the film sounded like it would be indescribably sad.  It certainly sounded that way to me.  That’s why, when the movie opened at the Dallas Angelika, I said, “I’ll see it next week.”  Of course, by the time “next week” rolled around, the movie was gone.

And that’s a shame.  I just watched Christine on Netflix and I discovered that it was one of the best films of 2016.  Yes, it is a sad film but it’s also a frequently fascinating one.  The movie may tell the story of a tragedy but it’s anchored and enlivened by a brilliant performance from Rebecca Hall.  People who love movies, of course, already know that Rebecca Hall is a brilliant actress but, unfortunately, she rarely gets the roles in the films that she deserves.  As of this writing, her most financially successful film was probably The Town and, in that film, she was pretty much wasted in a nothing role.  She is perfectly cast in Christine, perhaps as perfectly cast as any performer could ever hope to be.

Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who was based in Sarasota, Florida.  In 1974, she started a newscast by announcing, “”In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.”  She then drew a gun from a shopping bag that was sitting behind the anchor desk.  As thousands watched, she shot herself in the back of the head.

Along with the gun, the shopping bag had contained the homemade puppets that Christine used whenever she volunteered at the local children’s hospital.  On the anchor desk, among her papers, was a news report that she had written the previous night, announcing that “Local news personality Christine Chubbuck” had shot herself on live television and had been taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Christine, who was reportedly frustrated both personally and professionally, was briefly the number one story in the nation.

One of the more interesting things about the suicide of Christine Chubbuck is that it happened in 1974, long before YouTube, Facebook Live, or Twitter.  Chubbuck’s suicide was only aired once and the footage has subsequently vanished.  If Christine Chubbuck, or anyone else, committed suicide on television today, it would immediately be all over the internet.  We would end up seeing, at the very least, clips of it on an almost daily basis.  Sadly, we would see it so much that we would probably become desensitized to it.  Since Christine Chubbuck’s death was recorded but remains unseen, both she and her suicide have achieved an almost mythical quality.  One can look at the details of Christine Chubbuck’s death and see almost anything that they want.

Christine follows the last few months of Chubbuck’s life.  As played by Rebecca Hall, Christine is confident enough that she can imagine interviewing Richard Nixon but insecure enough to obsess over whether she was nodding too much while the imaginary President gave his imaginary answer.  She lives with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), a self-described hippie who keeps making references to a breakdown that Christine had in Boston.  When she complains about the pressure that she’s under to sensationalize the news, her boss dismisses her with “You’re a feminist!”  (He says it like an accusation.)  When she gives in and purchases a police scanner so that she can find the stories that the boss is demanding, she ends up spending most of her night listening to two cops brag about “how far” they got with their girlfriends the night before. When she goes to the doctor to complain about chronic stomach pain, she’s told that she has to have an ovary removed and she’ll probably never be able to conceive.  When she thinks that she finally has a date with the man who she’s been crushing on, she is instead dragged to an empty-headed encounter group.  Her group partner has a slick answer for every problem that Christine has until Christine says that she’s thirty and she’s still a virgin.

“Oh,” her partner replies, flummoxed.

In the film, Christine struggles with both depression and, in my opinion, bipolar disorder as well.  Unfortunately, for her mental well-being, she’s a woman in 1974.  The only thing that the world has to offer her are vapid self-affirmation (“I’m okay, you’re okay!  I’m okay, you’re okay!” one co-worker chants at a particularly dramatic moment) and sexist bosses who dismiss what is clearly a manic episode as either “being moody” or “being difficult.”  Speaking as someone who is very sensitive as to how mental health issues are portrayed onscreen, all I can say is that Christine gets it right.

I’m probably making this film sound like the most depressing movie ever made and it’s definitely not a happy film.  I had tears in my eyes by the end of it.  At the same time, it’s also a compulsively watchable character study.  Rebecca Hall gives such a good and brave performance as Christine that you can’t look away, even when you feel like you should.  Rebecca Hall is also ably supported by Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Morgan Spector, Timothy Simons, and Maria Dizzia, who all play her sometimes sympathetic, sometimes annoyed co-workers.

Now, I do think that I should warn anyone from thinking that Christine is a 100% accurate look at Christine Chubbuck’s life and death.  The film left me so moved that I actually did some research and I came across this article from the Washington Post — Christine Chubbuck: 29, Good-Looking, Educated, A Television Personality. Dead. Live and in Color.  After reading the profile, it was easy to see that the film did take some dramatic license.  However, it was also easy to see that Christine gets the essence of the story right.

If, like me, you missed Christine in the theaters, you can now see it on Netflix.  And you should!

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

300_Rise_of_an_Empire

1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

About_Last_Night_One_Sheet

2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

Adult_World

3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

Jersey_Boys_Poster

4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

Ride_Along_poster

5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

Trust Me

6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.