geezer cinema: the personal history of david copperfield (armando iannucci, 2019)

The word that comes to mind is "whimsical".

The long, stuffed-to-the-brim original novel begs for the kind of multiple-episode series that has room for the kitchen sink, and in fact there are at least five attempts at that kind of serializing. In reducing David Copperfield to a two-hour running time, Armando Iannucci, the director-producer-cowriter, necessarily admits in advance that he intends to truncate. Nonetheless, Iannucci manages to squeeze in a very large cast of characters. Only a few are truly fleshed out, and casting does a lot of the work here. Actors like Tilda Swinton (Betsey Trotwood), Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick), and Peter Capaldi (Micawber) are able to blend their skills with our perceptions of their past work to make the characters feel welcomed. Opposite to this, Ben Whishaw has been good in a variety of roles over the years, but he climbs into the unctuous Uriah Heep so completely that I forget Whishaw was in the movie until the closing credits. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) is probably always going to be recognized because of her height, but she makes the most of her limited screen time. Finally, Iannucci manages to give us diverse casting that doesn't just feel like pandering (Benedict Wong and Rosalind Eleazer are a perfect father and daughter, and the best example of how this casting works). Of course, Dev Patel as David is the most obviously diverse piece of casting, but what matters is that Patel is a fine actor who gets all of the various aspects of David as the character grows older.

Things do move too quickly at times ... again, it would be nice to see this as a mini-series. But each scene in its moment is solid, and rarely does Iannucci leave us scratching our heads and wondering what we missed. The Personal History of David Copperfield is as good of a two-hour version of Dickens' novel as you are likely to encounter.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

film fatales #120: the sit-in: harry belafonte hosts the tonight show (yoruba richen, 2020)

Several times during The Sit-In, we are reminded that the week when Harry Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show was largely buried in the history of television. Yoruba Richen, who directed and co-wrote the documentary, emphasizes this because she believes Belafonte's hosting stint was an important moment in television ... she wants to ensure that it is forgotten no longer. She succeeds ... The Sit-In will be there for anyone who wants to discover (or rediscover) the week that was. It's a noble, even necessary, endeavor.

And Richen does what she can with the existing material. But here she is let down, which is unfortunate for her audience. First, she explains that in the 1960s, networks like NBC regularly recorded over tapes, so that, in the case of Belafonte on The Tonight Show, only segments from two of his five episodes exist today. So a look at the guest lists for his episodes is impressive, but we only get a handful of those guests. The truncated list remains impressive ... The Sit-In features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who tells a joke!), Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nipsey Russell, and others. But a lot of the brief (75 minutes) running time of The Sit-In consists of interviews with people who express surprise that these episodes existed at all. I'm always glad to hear from Questlove and Whoopi Goldberg, but their contributions to The Sit-In are extended beyond usefulness. Understandably, given the absence of much footage from the event, but it becomes a bit repetitious.

Richen does a good job of placing the episodes in the context of 1968, and ultimately, The Sit-In is a helpful, if incomplete, addition to our understanding of our history. It's not a classic, but you take what you can get.