us (jordan peele, 2019)

Jordan Peele surprised us all with his first directorial effort, Get Out. It was terrific, it was inventive, and it came from a man best known for sketch comedy. Get Out was so good, Peele lost any chance of ever surprising us in the same way again. Now we expect his movies to be good.

Us makes Peele two-for-two. Apparently Peele set out to make a straight horror film. Of course, Us is not just a straight horror film. And to the extent it is a horror film, it's a kitchen sink of horror. Peele piles it on: zombie apocalypse, home invasion, childhood terrors come back to haunt us. It also has its hilarious moments ... Peele can't seem to resist. (My favorite: when the family under attack tells their Alexa-thing to call the police, and it replied, "OK. Playing "Fuck the Police" by N.W.A.")

Peele doesn't get explicit with his social commentary here, which won't stop people from trying to find it. (This was much easier in Get Out, which was more obvious.) In fact, there is a certain vagueness to Us, and that actually makes it creepier ... the unexplained becomes frightening. In some ways, it is similar to Parasite, which was also a take on home invasions, only there, the invaders were the nominal "good guys". Parasite made its class consciousness unavoidable ... you couldn't miss it if you tried. Peele sneaks it in.

The entire film is uplifted by the incredible performance of Lupita Nyong'o. She is completely believable as both dopplegangers of her character. We see their connection, yet also experience them as separate. #653 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Finally, I had a couple of personal connections to the movie. For one thing, it takes place mostly in and near Santa Cruz. I lived in the area once, and my wife and I go there every year to celebrate our anniversary. (During the prologue, which takes place in 1986, she said, "Just think, we'd only been married 13 years then!") And there's the use of "I Got 5 on It". The song was a pretty big hit in its day, and it was unavoidable in the Bay Area. But we knew it from the "Bay Ballas Remix". Honestly, I didn't know there was an "original" for the longest time.


music friday: ian dury

On this date 20 years ago, Ian Dury died. I was never a hardcore fan, and he was never as popular in the States as he was back home. But his serious Cockney accent, which might have been a factor in his lack of popularity in the U.S., was part of the charm of his music, and he was always an excellent lyricist. A few of his songs were inescapable, even here in California.


throwback thursday: opening day 1980

There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.

My first Opening Day was April 17, 1980. The Giants had stunk in 1979, and in 1980 they kicked off the season on the road by losing 6 of 7 games. I remember a few things about that afternoon. For one, I had a broken foot (which hadn't prevented me from seeing The Ramones a few days earlier). For another, our seats were not only in the nosebleeds, but way up in the nosebleeds. I had to walk up a lot of stairs before I could sit down. I could take it ... I was only 26 years old.

The visitors were the San Diego Padres, who boasted two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. (I find it interesting that seemingly any old box score you look at includes future Hall of Famers, even if we didn't realize it at the time. Ozzie Smith was 25, in his third season, and had yet to win one of those bazillon Gold Gloves. Winfield looked a little better ... 28 years old, 3-time All-Star, Gold Glover, led the NL in RBI in 1979.) The Giants countered with a future Hall-of-Famer of the their own in Willie McCovey, who had established his Hall credentials by 1980, having by Opening Day a total of 520 home runs.

There were only 3 umpires ... someone missed a flight. The Giants sent Vida Blue to the mound; the Padres offered Eric Rasmussen. Rasmussen is best-known today as The Man Formerly Called Harry. He was born with the name Harold Rasmussen, and was called Harry through the 1976 season. Turned out, he hated the name Harry, and hated Harold even more. So he changed his name legally to Eric, and that's the man who started against the Giants on that Opening Day.

The Giants wasted no time making the fans happy. In the bottom of the first, two walks put runners on for the legendary McCovey, who singled home the first run of the game. Willie ended the day with 3 hits and 3 RBI ... he was the best player in the game. He was also 42 years old. He only managed 9 more RBI that season before retiring in early July.

The Giants coasted the rest of the game. Jack Clark and Milt May also had three hits, and the Padres didn't score until Vida gave up a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace in the 9th inning. Final score: Giants 7, Padres 3.

Here is the 1980 Giants Team Highlight Film, "Tradition for Today":


the passenger (michelangelo antonioni, 1975)

What am I to do with Antonioni? L'Avventura remains one of my very favorite films. I liked the rest of the "trilogy" (La Notte and L'Eclisse) without loving them. Same for Blow-Up. Thought Red Desert was a drop-off from the trilogy, and found Zabriskie Point pretty awful. I long ago gave up hoping for another L'Avventura ... I just look for something I could at least like.

Well, I don't know if "like" is the word for The Passenger, for it is one of those movies that aren't exactly begging to be liked. Appreciated, yes. Respected, sure. But Antonioni plays with our expectations. He's got Jack Nicholson in the same year Jack won his first Oscar for Cuckoo's Nest, which featured his vibrant energy, and he forces Nicholson into a quieter character with a different kind of antagonism. Appropriately, it should be mentioned ... Nicholson is one of the best things about the movie.

Nicholson plays a journalist, Locke, who exchanges identities with a dead man, Robertson. Almost gets away with it, too. But you can't get much more existential than a man who escapes from his own skin, who doesn't want to be "himself" any more ... and it's significant that the dead man is almost accidental. Locke might not even have known he wanted out of his own life until the opportunity to change presented itself. Unfortunately, it turns out Robertson is a gun-runner, giving Locke more excitement than he was asking for.

Maria Schneider is around as a woman who takes part in Locke/Robertson's adventures. There's something off about her performance, which might be explained by this note from the IMDB: "Maria Schneider was suffering from excruciating back pain during filming, and would often be in a medicated muddle towards the end of the day when her pain medications kicked in. In one scene, Jack Nicholson had to physically prop her up." One sympathizes, but as I say, her performance is missing something.

It is one of the great mysteries of my movie-going life that I am so willing to rave about L'Avventura, with its ironic title, yet am generally resistant to Antonioni's other movies, in which, like with my favorite, "nothing happens". The Passenger fits right in ... there is the barest sketch of a plot, but I doubt The Maestro cared. (And this is when I trot out my oft-told anecdote about a friend who spent time with Antonioni ... my friend said people addressed the great director as "Maestro". Whether this was true, I can verify that my friend had both Antonioni and Monica Vitti in his address book, and this was long before email.)

I don't know why, but at this moment, I'm thinking more kindly of The Passenger than I am for his other non-Adventure movies.

And there's this famous penultimate shot, which is The Passenger in a nutshell: it's one of the most beautiful shots ever, it's hard to figure out how it was done, but while it's happening, a crucial plot point occurs off screen and we never find out what that plot point was. (The image is poor in this YouTube clip, which is sad. The Director of Photography was Luciano Tovoli.)

A sidenote: much of the film takes place in Andalucía, where my wife and I were going to vacation before the Virus changed everyone's plans. #144 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.