the switch (bobby roth, 1993)

This is the twenty-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 23 is called the "Tangerine Dream Week".

You know how every film nowadays seems to go for that retro synth sound aesthetic? Well these folks are a big reason why that's a thing. As a German electronic band, Tangerine Dream lent their musical style to a number of films that gave the 80s its signature sound.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film with a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

I can't say this was a disappointment. I can blame myself for an uninspired pick. I could have picked Michael Mann's Thief with James Caan, or William Friedkin's Wages of Fear remake Sorcerer. Instead I chose The Switch, directed by Bobby Roth. Roth has had an interesting career, directing countless TV series and movies. He has also done a few independent films, a couple of which I have fond memories of (The Boss' Son and Heartbreakers). Most importantly for my purposes, it turns out The Switch was a TV movie, and it shows. It doesn't look cheap ... Roth is an efficient pro who makes good use of what in retrospect are clearly only a few sets, and the cast is full of underrated actors, many known mostly for their television work (Gary Cole, Craig T. Nelson, and Max Gail, not to mention Kathleen Nolan, who starred on The Real McCoys and was later president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Hinton Battle, who had a memorable appearance in the Buffy musical Once More, With Feeling). Beverly D'Angelo has a fairly substantial part, although for some reason she is uncredited. Put it all together, and there is no reason why The Switch would be a bad movie. And that is true ... it is not a bad movie.

I can't go much further, though. It begins with the dreaded words, "based on a true story", which never bodes well. It's the story of Larry McAfee (Cole), who is quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident. At first, he fights for the right to end his life ... by the movie's end, he has found meaning and wants to live. (Ironically, McAfee died a couple of years after the movie was released.)

Roth and company do what they can, but they are held back by the realities of television in the early 90s. Nowadays, we're used to productions like Game of Thrones, with big budgets and bigger ambitions and big-screen cinematography, but The Switch has the 1.33:1 aspect ratio then standard for TV, and Roth makes extensive use of closeups, I'm guessing because in 1993, with our small TV screens, closeups wouldn't seem oppressive, but in fact be welcomed.

The is nothing wrong with The Switch, and the people involved gave it their best. No one seems to be just cashing a paycheck. Beyond that, there is no particular reason to run out and watch it.

If you can't resist, her is the entire movie on YouTube:

Oh, and Tangerine Dream? I suppose the soundtrack was OK ... I didn't really notice it, to be honest. On the other hand, it was hard not to notice the appearance of Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch" a couple of minutes in.


easy riders, raging bulls: how the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation saved hollywood (kenneth bowser, 2003)

There isn't a lot to say about this movie, which YouTube thought I'd be interested in. They were right, of course ... I read the book by Peter Biskind long ago, and it covers probably my favorite period in film history, America from Bonnie and Clyde to Jaws. Biskind's book was a fun read, as I recall, although my main memory (uncertain as it is) is that he had the knives out for Pauline Kael.

Funny thing is, I watched the movie only a few days ago, and I already barely remember it any better than I do the book, which was published more than 20 years ago. Yes, it includes a few iconic clips from the movies of the era, one of which gave me fond thoughts of the great film editor Dede Allen. Instead of reading the quotes from interviews, in the movie you get to see the interviewees.

Honestly, you're better served watching a few of the movies highlighted in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Bonnie and Clyde, the first two Godfathers, something from the era by directors such as Peckinpah, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman. Listen to the great podcast series on Polly Platt by the extraordinary Karina Longworth. Note the absence of film makers of color in most accounts of the era. And then, if you're still eager for more, read Biskind's book or watch this movie

Here is the entire film:


redes (fred zimmerman & emilio gómez muriel, 1936)

This is the twenty-second 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 22 is called the "Golden Age of Mexican Cinema Week".

From The Austrian Film Museum:

"Beginning in the early 1930s and continuing for a quarter-century, Mexico was home to one of the world’s most colorful and diverse film cultures: not many other countries could claim a comparable range of production, diversity of genres and number of master filmmakers. The excellence of Mexican cinema was founded on its commercial strength – Mexico supplied all of the Spanish-speaking markets in Central and South America, and delivered several box-office successes in the United States as well. During the thirties, the country also became an important refuge for European exiles. Numerous filmmakers and craftsmen had their own (usually semi-secret) Mexican Period, and German-born Alfredo B. Crevenna became Mexico’s most prolific director. In the 1940s, few other film cultures were quite as potent."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Try looking here or here for starters.

Another win for the Challenge. I had only seen one film in either of the suggested links (Los Olvidados), and in fact have been remiss in watching Mexican films in general (my favorite being Y Tu Mamá También from Alfonso Cuarón).

Redes has a complicated history, and is perhaps better called an international picture than simply a Mexican film. On the one hand, the film was commissioned by the left-wing Mexican government. There was Mexican co-director Emilio Gómez Muriel ... he went on to direct close to 80 movies, but Redes was his first. Redes was filmed at a small fishing town in Mexico, using a mostly non-professional cast. The score by Silvestre Revueltas, his first, is considered to be a great success, although I confess I found it overbearing at times. On the other hand, the film began as an idea from left-wing photographer Paul Strand, who was from Brooklyn. Fred Zinnemann, an Austrian who had moved to New York, was brought in to co-direct, although he didn't speak Spanish so Gómez Muriel worked with the actors. Strand and Zinnemann cited influences like Eisenstein and Flaherty, and Redes is often compared to Italian neorealism, which hadn't happened yet. So Redes is unmistakably Mexican, but with influences from many places.

Redes tells the story of fishermen who are exploited by the rich, and it's clear what side the film is on. It never looks amateurish ... there is a lot of talent behind the camera, and the non-professional actors are mostly appealingly natural. It's a small picture, to be sure, but its ambitions are large.


geezer cinema: hamilton (thomas kail, 2020)

Well, I finally found out what all the excitement was about. We actually had a plan to see this in London, but then travel kinda took a back seat to the pandemic. Honestly, I wasn't too sad that we missed it ... I didn't have high expectations, by which I mainly mean no matter how good it was, I doubted I would like it.

I take it back. Hamilton was much better than I expected. One problem is that most Broadway "rock" musicals are far more Broadway than they are Rock, and I thought Hamilton would be the same for rap. But in this case, it felt right. It took me awhile to get used to the rhythms of rapping dialogue, and in the end, I'm not sure this was "authentic" rap or hip hop, anymore than Hair was "authentic" rock. But for whatever reason, I ceased caring somewhere along the way. I can't say I remember any of the songs, although if I spent some time with the soundtrack, that problem would probably solve itself.

It was fun recognizing a few members of the cast, especially Oakland's own Daveed Diggs. I admit I didn't realize Aaron Burr was played by Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke from One Night in Miami), but he was good, too. But ultimately, it's Lin-Manuel Miranda who astonishes. He wrote the music, lyrics, and script for Hamilton, while playing the title role. The play won a Pulitzer Prize and 11 Tonys. Hell, the cast recording spent ten weeks atop the rap charts.

What we watched was a filmed version of the stage play, with the original cast. It was straightforward ... there was no attempt to "open up" the play, it was just a document of an actual performance. Miranda and director Thomas Kail had a few tricks up their sleeves ... they shot three different performances and edited them seamlessly into one. But this was a play as much as it was a film.

I never thought I'd say it, but Hamilton was a highlight of the year.