geezer cinema: the book of eli (the hughes brothers, 2010)

This is the fifth movie I've seen from The Hughes Brothers, but for some reason it's the first one I've written about. Which is too bad, because The Book of Eli is at or near the bottom of the list when it comes to their movies. Menace II Society was a touchstone, with a terrifying performance by Larenz Tate. Dead Presidents (also with Tate) surprised me ... I thought it was even better than Menace. From Menace II Society in 1993 to From Hell in 2001, the brothers (who are twins) directed four movies together. For reasons not completely clear, they have only directed one movie together in the last 20 years, The Book of Eli. I wish I could say it was a return to form.

The brothers (and casting director Mindy Marin) put together a solid cast, with a couple of reliable leads in Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, strong support from Mila Kunis in the female lead, and an intriguing list of players in smaller parts: Ray "Titus Pullo" Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon as an old couple that haven't lost their fire, even Tom Waits and an uncredited Malcolm McDowell. None of them are wasted, but it's really Denzel's show, with Oldman doing a good job of underplaying the villain, something he doesn't always do.

The story, a post-apocalyptic tale that goes mostly unexplained, reminded me of a lot of other movies, most of them better than The Book of Eli. There are a few twists near the end that I won't spoil (at least one of which, I didn't get until I read about the movie afterwards). The fight sequences are well done, with Denzel doing his own martial arts stunts. If you ended up spending two hours watching this movie, you wouldn't hate yourself afterwards. But you might wonder why you bothered. For me, there wasn't much to inspire. If you want to be surprised by a movie you might not know, check out Dead Presidents.


safety last! (fred c. newmeyer and sam taylor, 1923)

This is the thirty-third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 33 is called "Hosts Past and Present Week".

Another Season Challenge has come and gone. As always, we must pay tribute to the hosts of Season's past for creating and maintaining the Challenge before I got my grubby mitts on it. Last year I had this separated into two weeks, but I figured I'd condense them to make room for another challenge. I hope you've enjoyed your time during this Season Challenge, and I look forward to seeing you all next time!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from either Monsieur Flynn's Movies to See Before Your End Credits listkurt k's Personal Cannon list, or my own A Hundred or So of My Favorites list.

This was my very first Harold Lloyd movie, which amazes me, considering how many Keaton and Chaplin silents I've seen. I don't know how typical Safety Last! is of his work, so I hesitate to draw conclusions about Lloyd just yet. But there were a few things that struck me as different compared to the other two silent comedians.

First, I wasn't prepared for the way Lloyd (who plays a character listed as "The Boy", but whose name on his paycheck reads "Harold Lloyd") is a fairly normal guy. Chaplin is the Tramp, milking the sentimentality and always good for some thoughtful visual gags. Keaton, my favorite, is the blank-face existential hero. Lloyd? He's a guy, "The Boy", and no more than that. In Safety Last!, he wants to prove himself to his prospective wife, so he goes to the big city to get an impressive job. Chaplin might have wanted to impress a girl, but he was always going to be The Tramp. Keaton's relationship to women was complicated to say the least ... think of Seven Chances, with Buster, running away from hordes of prospective wives, starting an avalanche in the process. Lloyd is much less neurotic than Keaton. More than the others, he is an Everyman.

His stunts, which are what he remains famous for, are less chaotic than Keaton's. Keaton planned his stunts tightly, but they often looked as if he'd just thrown them together, or like they had happened while the camera was rolling. Lloyd lets us see the planning. It's one of the reasons he is so impressive, but I think he lacks the edge of the others. His most famous gag, which appears in Safety Last!, is amazing, a talking point well past when you've seen the film (that he is still remembered for it almost 100 years later speaks for itself), and it always looks perfectly planned. This takes nothing away from Lloyd's feats, but it does feel different.

I'm glad I finally got around to watching one of Lloyd's movies, and I'd like to see more of them. But I don't think I'll ever have the love for him that I do for Keaton.

This is the final picture in this year's Letterboxd Challenge, and I'm already looking forward to next year's. Among the movies that really came out of nowhere for me, so that I not only loved them, but I was surprised I loved them (let's face it, I hadn't heard of them) were The Lure and Furie. Let's revisit Furie one last time ... here we learn that you should never kidnap a child when Veronica Ngo is her mom:


uncut gems (benny and josh safdie, 2019)

I am not a fan of Adam Sandler comedies. I liked Punch-Drunk Love, although that was mostly Paul Thomas Anderson (as I noted at the time, Punch-Drunk Love was not my favorite PTA movie, but it was my favorite Adam Sandler movie, showing that I had lower standards for Sandler). About Sandler in that movie, I wrote, "I see decent acting chops peeking out of his work when he isn’t being an idiot."

It's arguable whether Sandler is "being an idiot" as Howard Ratner, a jeweler with a gambling problem. Howard's life is a mess, and he made it that way, so on that level, he's an idiot, but he's not a childlike buffoon like Billy Madison. Sandler is quite good in Uncut Gems, but since Howard is such an infuriating character, I can't stand the character, perhaps more so because Sandler is so good at portraying him. Mick LaSalle wrote, "There’s something about Sandler — in general, but especially here — that seems fundamentally decent and vulnerable, so that when we see him taking absurd risks, we wonder what his mother was like." A good line, but it doesn't work if you don't already find Sandler likable. I've never found him fundamentally decent in the few movies I've seen, so unlike LaSalle, when I see Howard taking absurd risks, I wonder why I'm watching a movie about such a dreadful character.

This is my first movie from the Safdies, so I have nothing to compare it to. Uncut Gems is flashy ... the technique consistently draws attention to itself. Added to Howard's tiresome nature, the hectic film making compounds the irritation. At one point, I checked to see if this long (135 minutes) movie was near the end, and there was still an hour to go. I'm not sure why I didn't just quit watching.

The Safdies (and casting directors Francine Maisler and Jennifer Venditti) have put together an interesting and varied cast, including Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, and Judd Hirsch. Julia Fox makes an impressive feature-film debut. Basketball great Kevin Garnett does well playing a version of himself, and the Safdies work Garnett's real-life performance in the 2012 playoffs is nicely integrated into the plot. The Weeknd also appears as himself. It's good to see the names Tilda Swinton and Natasha Lyonne in the credits, but they are only brief unseen voices. Best of all is John Amos, who has a cameo that provides the best laugh of the movie.

Uncut Gems is too long, and it bugged the shit out of me. I hope I never see it again. But remove my taste preferences from the evaluation, and I grudgingly admit that Uncut Gems isn't so bad. Not as good as Punch-Drunk Love, but way better than Billy Madison. #359 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Here's the first ten minutes:


geezer cinema: without remorse (stefano sollima, 2021)

I suppose I should use the official title, Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, but I'm feeling ornery. This was a real disappointment, and that shouldn't be the case. I had no expectations going in, had glanced at the negative reviews, and honestly, outside of The Hunt for Red October, I don't think I've seen any Clancy-related movies because he doesn't interest me. But I got my hopes up nonetheless, because I've been a fan of Michael B. Jordan since The Wire, and I liked all of Jordan's movies I'd seen up to this point.

Well, Jordan doesn't stink in Without Remorse, and I hope for his sake the film is popular and turns into a franchise for him. But it's a waste to take one of the most charismatic actors we have and give him a part that any lunk could have played. Jordan isn't asked to do anything but act badass in action scenes that might have impressed back in the 80s, when people like Arnold and Stallone were cranking out a couple of these a year. But in an age of Fury Road and the Raid movies, something as mundane as this no longer gets it. We've seen a handful of fairly recent action flicks during the Geezer Cinema era, and with few exceptions they all run together in a forgettable way. Letterboxd tags 24 of the 91-and-counting Geezer Movies as fitting into the Action genre, and half of them have been mediocre at best. There have been some pleasant surprises that keep me coming back for more (Underwater and The Old Guard, two 2020 movies starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron respectively, were quite enjoyable movies about which I had no higher expectations going in than I did for Without Remorse). Point being that I am perfectly ready to enjoy a dumb action movie nowadays ... not everything is going to be Fury Road, I know that.

But Without Remorse isn't good or bad enough to win me over. It ticks off a lot of the plot points you know are coming before they happen. I'm often lost in the plots of these international "thrillers", and even I was calling things in advance. (We meet Jordan's wife in an early scene ... I immediately say, "She's going to die". And when it turns out she's pregnant, well that seals things. Yeah, that's a spoiler ... like I say, I'm feeling ornery.) In fairness, not everyone I thought was a bad guy turned out to be bad, but even that's a standard trick, isn't it?

A movie like this, that buries its star, relies on its action scenes, and Sollima doesn't give us even one scene that we remember the next day. I realize I'm spoiled by now ... movies like The Raids 1 and 2 have memorable scenes pretty much non-stop. But Without Remorse never comes close. If you had told me I'd ever see a movie with Michael B. Jordan that I mostly laughed at while watching, I'd have said you were nuts. Now I know better.

(There's an inside joke for fans of the old NYPD Blue show, although it may have been unintentional. Jordan plays a man named John Kelly ... his undercover name becomes John Clark.)

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]