Last Post

This is the last post of Follow The Thread. 

I say that with a mixture of sadness and relief.  Over the course of three years, Elma and I have researched, curated and written 152 posts, covering nearly 900 films, documentaries and TV shows.

We did it because we loved it.  Each week we’d unearth a complex web of threads connecting current titles to the massive online library that we are all blessed to have at our fingertips.  Some of the connections were obvious, some were obscure.  Some resonant, some just fun.  

The process was always delightful.  And, it was a tremendous amount of work.    

But what I’ll especially miss are all the juicy and culty titles we would discover – or, in some cases, re-discover – in the course of our detective work. 

So for this last post, I’ve pulled together a fast, long and extremely biased list of some of discoveries Elma and I have made over the last three years, stretching back to August 2014. 

Thanks for reading.  Arrivaderci!                                                                                                               *Each title is followed by the date of the post*

Afternoon Delight (2013)
Jill Soloway’s 2013 first film.  Kathryn Hahn is a frustrated LA Mom who opens up her home to a homeless young exotic dancer (Juno Temple).    

A Field in England (2013)
Hot UK team Ben Wheatley and wife Amy Jump’s low-budget, anti-romantic account of the 17th Century civil wars, complete with psychedelic mushrooms.

Belle du Jour (1967)
Luis Bunuel’s amoral anti-bourgeois meditation on erotic fulfilment starring 23-year-old Catherine Deneuve.

Welcome to The Rileys (2010)
Kristen Stewart and James Gandolfini in an unexpected fable of a bereaved father.

Orange Sunshine (2016)
Acclaimed doc maker William Kirkley tells the story of Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a mystical/altruistic band of surfer hippies out of Laguna Beach who manufactured and sold 100 million hits of LSD.  

The Jackie Show – Televised Tour of the White House (1962)
80 million people watched as the breathy, beautiful and slightly distant young First Lady showed off her White House restoration on live TV.   

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009)
Damien Chazelle’s Harvard Thesis film is a jazz musical warm-up for La La Land, scored by his  collaborator Justin Hurwitz. 

Margaret (2007/10)
Kenneth Lonergan’s uneasy maybe-masterpiece starring Anna Paquin (pre-True Blood) as a magnetically unlikeable New York teen trying to work out her place in the universe. 

Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus (2013)
Sebastian Silva’s story of a feckless American (Michael Cera) who sets off in search of psychedelic cactus.  He and Chilean friends are joined by spacey, free-spirited Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman).  The trip becomes the trip.   

400 Blows (1959)
Autobiographical childhood film from 27-year-old critic Francois Truffaut that exploded him into the front ranks of the New Wave.  We’d never seen it before! 

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
Scary black men with rifles on the steps of the California State House.  The amazing story told definitively in this PBS doc from Stanley Nelson. 

Open Your Eyes (1997)
Alejandro Amenabar’s mindbending Spanish language parable about a young man whose lust captures him in an endless loop of subjective reality was the basis for Vanilla Sky. 

Summer with Monika (1953)
This remarkable early Bergman film about adolescent lovers who escape on a summer idyll has been cited as an influence by both John Waters and Woody Allen.  

A Woman Named Golda (1982)
You wouldn’t know that Ingrid Bergman was dying of cancer when she made this surprising portrait of the grandmotherly and iron-willed Israeli Prime Minister.  Leonard Nimoy plays her husband, Judy Davis is the young Golda.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)
A stark, chilling spy movie from Dutch directory Anton Corbijn, with Seymour Phillip Hoffman starring in his last leading role. 

The Source (1999)
Chuck Workman’s definitive documentary on The Beats.  Focuses on Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, with Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp and John Turturro reading their works.

The Blue Room (2014)
A distinctively French and exceptionally erotic thriller from director Mathieu Amalric, based on a novel by Georges Simenon. 

Black Death (2010)
From horror director Chris Smith, “Dark Ages Pulp” — a horror/fable about the evils of religion and belief, with plenty of gore and a liberal dash of the supernatural.  With Sean Bean, aka Edard Stark, and Carice von Houten (GOT’s Melisandre).

I Am Love (2009)
In the third of Tilda Swinton’s ongoing string of collaborations with Italian director Luca Guadigno (Biggest Splash), she plays the Russian-born matriarch of a haute bourgeois Italian family that has fallen on rocky times.

Better Off Ted (2009-2010)
A “brilliant but cancelled” ABC office sitcom that is a more-accurate-than-most mirror of contemporary corporate life.

L’Atalante (1932)
This was the last of seminal French director Jean Viggo’s four films.  He died in his wife’s arms a few days after the film’s disastrous release.  Now it’s beloved, the exceptionally simple story of a girl from a river town who impulsively marries a barge captain.  

Labyrinthe (1986)
15-year-old Jennifer Connelly is a girl on the brink of womanhood whose fantasies come alive.  David Bowie is Jareth, the Ogre King, tempter and torturer in a glam rock wig and notoriously form-fitting tights. Cult fantasy collaboration from George Lucas and Jim (Muppet) Henson.   

99 Homes (2015)
Michael Shannon is a real estate shark who teaches Andrew Garfield how to save his family home – by preying on others.  The start of our obsession with chameleon Shannon. 

The Great Beauty (2013)
Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar winner about a famous journalist who blithely charms his way through the upper echelons of Roman culture – until, on his 65th birthday, his true love unexpectedly dies. 

What If (2014)
A frustratingly cliched romcom worth seeing for the singularly charming performance by post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe.  Also with Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis.    

Purple Noon (1960)
René Clément directs Alain Delon in this superior French version of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Recently remastered by Criterion, spoiled only by a wimped-out ending.

Animal Kingdom (2011)
Ben Mendelsohn plays a borerline psychopath in this Down Under reinvigoration of American gangster conventions.  Oscar nom for Jacki Weaver, career rebirth for Mendelsohn. 

Werner Von Braun: Missile to the Moon (2012)
Biography of the charismatic and photogenic ex-Nazi who led Germany’s V2 missile program, was forgiven, and became the face of the American lunar project in the 60’s.

The Maid (2009)
In this Chilean Sundance Grand Jury winner, a family retainer turns the tables when it looks like she’s going to be replaced by a younger woman.  Delicious evil star turn by famous actress Catalina Saavedra.

Mother (2009)
From Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) – a devoted and deceptively innocuous mother stops at nothing to get her murderous son out of prison.

Freedom on My Mind (1994)
Oscar-nominated doc traces the violent, courageous and ultimately triumphant struggle for voter rights in 60’s Mississippi.  

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)
Mark Ruffalo is in top form as a crazy but caring dad in this honest and winning first film by veteran producer Maya Forbes.

Dogtooth (2009)
A typically idiosyncratic festival favorite from Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster).  A father protects his teenage children from the world by confining them to the family estate. 

Control (2007)
This atypically moody rock n roll biopic about Ian Curtis, lead singer for Joy Division paints him as a doomed poet.  Impeccable performances by Sam Riley and Samantha Morton as his wife.  Black and white, directed by Joy Division photographer Anton Corbijn.   

Maggie (2015)
Arnold Schwarzenegger gives an surprisingly excellent, dialed-back performance as a father whose daughter is infected with a zombie virus and faces unbearable.  Post-apocalyptic, but not an action film.  

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Life of Aaron Schwartz (2014)
Digital-focused doc maker Brian Knappenberger hones on in programming prodigy Schwartz, who was instrumental in developing RSS, Creative Commons and Reddit, but was hounded to death after he successfully defeated the corporation-backed Stop Online Piracy Act.

Hustle & Flow (2004)
This Sundance breakout stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as a pimp and his girlfriend trying to rap their way out of the ghetto, showing a lot of chemistry and foreshadowing Empire.

Claudine (1974)
In the heyday of Blaxploitation, Diahann Carroll got an Oscar nomination for this story of a single welfare mother who falls in love with a garbage man, played by James Earl Jones.  Music by Curtis Mayfield.

The Music of Chance (1993)
James Spader donned a black wig and moustache to play a hustling gambler.  But it’s not what you think.  The director is Peter Haas who went on to do Angels and Insects.  Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, Joel Grey. 

The Babadook (2014)
Mind-twisting Freudian study cloaked in a meticulously crafted horror film about a widowed mother and her troubled/troublesome 7-year-old, from first-time Aussie director Jennifer Kent.

Red Riding (2009)
A pre-breakout Andrew Garfield is outstanding in this unique UK TV project based on David Pearce’s serial killer novels.  Three novels, three films, three great directors, three years, three different looks (16mm; 35mm; digital) – all pulled together by screenwriter Tony Grisoni.  

Headhunters (1991)
From director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) highest grossing Norwegian film ever.  A short and pathologically ambitious headhunter moonlights as an art thief to support his trophy wife.  Things go wrong.

Following (1998)
Great time to revisit Christopher Nolan’s first film.  A black and white low-budget creeper that interweaves three stories from three different time frames. 

Brothers of the Head (2006)
Remarkably authentic and intentionally unfunny mockumentary by the makers of LOST IN LA MANCHA follows a pair of conjoined twins who become punk rockers in 1970’s England.  

Ace in the Hole (1951)
Neglected and prescient film from Billy Wilder.  Kirk Douglas plays a corrupt, disgraced reporter who seizes an opportunity to go big when a smalltown man is trapped in a cave.  First time Wilder was writer, producer and director.

Stuck on You (2003)
Farrelly brothers cast Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins who go to Hollywood.  Loaded with cameos – Cher, Nicholson, Leno, Streep.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Early Guillermo de Toro evolving his signature mix of tenderness and phantasm.  Gothic horror set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War.    

Dark City (1998)
A man struggles with memories of his past, including a wife he cannot remember. Brilliant gothic labyrinth from Alex Proyas (The Crow; I, Robot).


For years now we’ve been suckers for costume drama (cue 1729 trumpet “Fanfare-Rondeau” by Moret –the Masterpiece Classic theme).  P&P, Sense & Sensibility, and yes, the endlessly foamy Downton.

But when somebody comes along with a wicked new twist on period drama, we love it even more.


Lady Macbeth 2

Not Shakespeare – this is based on “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk” a novella by Dostoevsky contemporary Andrei Leskov.

Boris, a nasty but rich old man, buys young Katherine as a wife for his equally nasty son, Alexander, who lives at home.  On their wedding night Alexander reveals that he is both kinky and impotent.  Plus, they won’t let her leave the house.

But when father and son both leave town on business (bad idea) Katherine gets out and falls into passion with a stable hand named Sebastian.  The affair opens up depths of  passion and dark resolve in the heretofore meek Katherine; before long she has disposed of both the father and the son.    The film is reportedly a breakout for Florence Pugh (Catherine).  It’s also notable for breaking with costume drama conventions and casting of black actors in both the roles of Sebastian and Katherine’s maid.




Wuthering Heights Arnold

Casting an unknown black actor in the “Caribbean” role once occupied by Laurence Olivier and Ralph Fiennes is only one of the breaks with convention that make Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights worth watching.  There are also the Heath, which is both less inviting and more

Arnold has won the Cannes Jury Award three times for pointedly contemporary stories.  Here she worked to strip away the buffer of literary awe and invent a sort of proto-Wuthering Heights.  Her Heath is a brutal place, but teeming with life – we see a microscopic child’s eye view of the bugs and undergrowth.  The connection between the young Cathy and Heathcliffe is primal and childlike too — it knows no other way and no other world.

Very exciting and freshening.  Maybe the movie begins to take its mission to re-invent too seriously, throwing in a few too many “fucks”, “cunts” and off-kilter angles.  You still come away with the feeling that you’ve seen a vision of the book that makes you want to read it again.

If you loved the 1939 classic, you may hate this.  But we do and didn’t.

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 In many ways the opposite of Arnold’s film, Greenaway’s first feature imposes a surreal formalism and arch eroticism on a period that happens to be ideally suited to such an approach.

Set in 1694, the contract of the title is a commission from a rich wife to draw her absent husband’s country estate in meticulous detail – the specialty of the handsome and cocky draughtsman.

But there’s a rider to the contract.  In addition to room, board, and a small payment, the draughtsman gets to enjoy the lady’s favors whenever he desires.  After a token protestation the lady says yes.

The film is as methodical and meticulous as the draughtsman – but peppered with tiny anachronisms and incongruities.   After a while the stilted dialogue and measured pace begin to wear you down.

But then the (also married) daughter points out that tiny clues are creeping into the rigidly composed scene, and suggests that the draughtsman may be being set up as a patsy for the absent father’s murder.  She blackmails the draughtsman – by demanding the same intimate favors that he requires from her mother.



 Angels and Insects 2

This baroque delight was directed by sculptor Philip Haas and based on an A.S. Byatt novel. It seemed wonderfully perverse when it came out, but we just watched the trailer again and it comes off as so comically overwrought that now we need to revisit the film itself.

Roger Ebert (who liked it a lot) said it was the “dark underbelly of a Merchant-Ivory film”.

Yes, but — in an odd way, not really that dark.  What’s delightful about the film is that it takes the insect behaviors that entomologist William (Mark Rylance) has spent years studying in the Amazon, and overlays them on the hothouse manners of the aristocratic Victorian family of his patron.  Everything is brilliantly colored yet emotionally detached – until it’s punctuated by frenzied passion.

Which is exactly how blindingly blonde Eugenia Alabaster (Patsy Kensit) behaves toward William after she has astonished him by accepting his proposal.

But like Wuthering Heights it’s the brother you have to watch out for.  Douglas Henshall is Edgar Alabaster, as blond as his sister and enraged that a brunette Scotsman – penniless to boot – should lay fingers on her.  Kristen Scott Thomas is wonderful as the mousy maid whose drawings of ants eventually catch William’s eye.

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Young Doctors Notebook

We’re still waiting for an English-language version of Mikhail Bulgakov’s posthumous delight Master and Margarita (it’s been optioned!) but in the meantime there’s this semi-autobiographical series based on the author’s short stories.

It’s a dark, dark comedy, with Daniel Radcliffe playing a young doctor graduates from med school in 1917.  It’s the middle of the Russian Revolution and he lands in one of the most backward parts of Siberia, where superstition is more credible than science and practice of the medical arts require a strong arm and an even stronger stomach.

John Hamm plays the older, wiser doctor who is not just looking back on his youth, but actually interacting with his younger self – even as he’s desperately clinging to his profession despite a rampaging addiction to  morphine.

It’s a short series, two seasons of 4 episodes each, shot on a shoestring by UK’s Sky Arts.  It’s uneven, but the draw here is the stars, especially Hamm, and a chance to get another glimpse inside Bulgakov’s mind.




As you would expect from Guillermo del Torro, this spooky romance out-gothics the gothics.

The movie starts in Buffalo, New York with Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowski) receiving a visit from her dead mother, with a warning “Beware Crimson Peak”.

Fourteen years later, Edith falls for British baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and despite warnings from her father goes to England to live with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in the family home, which is perched above a red clay mine.

When Edith’s father and childhood friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam) discover that Sharpe has been married and widowed three times before, Alan travels to England to save her.  By this time, Edith is seeing red ghosts and coughing up blood.  It’s then that Sharpe tells her the mansion is sometimes called Crimson Peak.

The movie is good, dark fun, brimming with dark symbolism, horror movie tropes, doomed romance, and allusions to previous gothic novelists and filmmakers.

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