sweet country (warwick thornton, 2017)

This is the thirteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "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 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 13 is called "Meat Pie Western Week":

You've heard of the spaghetti Western, now get ready for its Australian cousin: the meat pie Western. Essentially just Western films made in Australia, typically set within the Australian Outback, the meat pie Western offers up some similar themes of isolation and colonialism as your standard American made fare. Dig in!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Meat Pie Western film.

Meat Pie Westerns. Can't say I'd heard of the genre before. Turns out, including Sweet Country, I've seen seven Meat Pie Westerns. That's misleading ... four of them are Mad Max movies, which I don't think of as Westerns, Meat Pie or anything else. (The Nightingale was a popular choice for this challenge, and it's a very good movie.) Sweet Country feels like a Western, with its vast landscapes and people riding horses. The presence of Aboriginal characters offers a different subtext than we usually get in American Westerns, adding race and class to the mix. I imagine it plays much differently in Australia.

I recognized two actors. Sam Neill is like the quintessential Australian, except he was born in Northern Ireland and moved to New Zealand as a kid. Bryan Brown is that Australian. The two are apparently good friends ... both are in their 70s now, and still looking good. I forget what movie it was, but there was a film with Brown where he seemed to have his shirt off all of the time, which led to my wife and I calling him Bryan "Beefcake" Brown ever since. He was 70 when he made Sweet Country, and sure enough, he's still taking his shirt off ... he's still got the beef. Hamilton Morris is the lead, an Aboriginal farm worker who kills a white man in self-defense. He lends gravitas to a movie that is pretty full of that kind of seriousness, and it's amazing that this was his only acting job beyond a couple of episodes of a TV series. Natassia Gorey Furber, who plays the farm worker's wife, was also making her debut, and she is heartbreaking.

Director Warwick Thornton is new to me. He has worked as a cinematographer (he fills that function here, as well), and the movie is gorgeous. Sweet Country is solid and easy to recommend, although Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale remains my favorite Meat Pie (I'm not counting Mad Max movies).


music friday: spotify wrapped

It's that time of year, when Spotify tells me what I already know, that I listen to a lot of music from the 1960s.

OK, that's not quite true. For instance, my #1 song for 2021 is "I've Got a Feeling" by The Beatles, which is from 1970. #2 is "Ooh La La" by The Faces, from 1973. #3? "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" by Wings, also from '73. #4 is "Nature's Way" by Spirit, 1970. And #5 is actually from this century ("Someone Like You" by Adele). But #6-15 are all from the 60s.

My list of Top Artists is only slightly better: The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Pink, Billie Eilish.

The song I've listened to most lately doesn't necessarily turn up on the Spotify Wrapped, because I tend to watch videos of it on YouTube. And I never know which version to watch. The official version currently has 114,000,000 views. Live on Jimmy Fallon, 14 million. Live from the concert that aired on Disney+, 13 million. You get the idea. I'll choose this one here (3.1 million), since it has an audience:

The lyrics are endlessly quotable ("I could talk about every time that you showed up on time, But I'd have an empty line, 'cause you never did").

I'm never quite certain how "real" reaction videos are, but this is fun, in any event: people hearing "Happier Than Ever" for the first time. As "Plantation D" said in the comments, "i'd do ANYTHING to listen to this song for the first time again".

In the More Things Change department, a look at my Spotify Top Songs of 2020 isn't any better. The first three songs are by The Youngbloods, The Steve Miller Band, and Procol Harum. That list doesn't get interesting until #13:


geezer cinema: c'mon c'mon (mike mills, 2021)

I had liked the two Mike Mills movies I had seen (Beginners and 20th Century Women), so I was looking forward to this. I'm also a bigger fan of Joaquin Phoenix than I realized. He was in Hotel Rwanda, which I liked a lot. He starred in Her, was in the only M. Night Shyamalan I enjoyed without reservation ... I even liked Two Lovers, which also starred Gwyneth Paltrow and was a romantic drama. He has worked with interesting directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Lynne Ramsay (and Mike Mills). If you asked me for a list of favorite actors, Phoenix would not come immediately to mind, but clearly I mostly like his work.

Phoenix does not give the only good performance in C'mon C'mon. He doesn't even give the best performance. That comes from the remarkable youngster Woody Norman. His role as a boy whose parents are struggling is central, and a poor performance could have made the movie unbearable. But Norman pulls it off and then some. (He is English, but you wouldn't know it from C'mon C'mon ... I can't easily recall another example of a young English actor doing such a great job with an American accent.) His rapport with Phoenix, who plays his umcle, is cranky, realistic, and both emotional and entertaining (even funny at times).

There are some other acting favorites of mine in C'mon C'mon. Gaby Hoffman's career has been strong, and at some point I need to forget that she is Viva's daughter. I always enjoy Scoot McNairy, and (spoiler alert) I was glad that it was Scoot and not Phoenix who played the bipolar character.

Phoenix plays a radio journalist, and Mills makes good use of a series of interviews with young people; these are real, and Molly Webster of Radiolab plays one of the interviewers. She and Phoenix and the kids add a touch of vérité to the proceedings.

C'mon C'mon is subdued and involving. It's another success for Mike Mills.

[Letterboxd list of my favorite Joaquin Phoenix movies]


get back some more

I finished Get Back on Sunday, when the final episode turned up. It's a treasure trove for Beatles fans. I'm not sure how much it would appeal to non-fans ... it's better than the average "behind the scenes" documentary, but I'm still not a big fan of the genre (I've always thought Don't Look Back was overrated). If I were to introduce someone to The Beatles today, I'd play the music and show A Hard Day's Night. Then I'd get to Peter Jackson's project. I don't mean this as a knock ... I am a Beatles fan, I gobbled up the entire thing and wouldn't mind doing it again.

Jackson deserves our thanks for showing the joy that was always part of the Let It Be sessions, along with the downsides. I've always thought the rooftop concert was odd, because they were having such a good time, and that didn't match the reputation of the sessions. Jackson shows us that it all made sense.

Rob Sheffield is the best at whatever topic he decides to write about. His book Dreaming the Beatles is essential. He wrote two pieces for Rolling Stone about Get Back. First was "‘Get Back’: Meet the Beatles Once Again, Courtesy of the Most Emotional Fab Four Doc Ever". Then, after we'd had the chance to watch all 8 hours, he gave us "24 Reasons We’ll Keep Watching the Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ Forever". Between the two, you'll get the perfect reading companion to the series. And there's this, from "24 Reasons":

The highlight of the rooftop concert: the joy of seeing Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife, bop her head to “Get Back.” Nobody on the roof is a bigger fan than Mo. She was a screaming girl back at the Cavern Club — she’s the only person here who ever stood in line and paid money to hear this band. (The first time she met Ringo, she was asking for his autograph.) She’s waited years for this gig. At the end, Paul looks over and says, “Thanks, Mo” — a beautiful moment that sums up what the Beatles were all about, but also sums up what they are about, even now, which is why this story refuses to fade into the past.

I also enjoyed the comments from my friend Tomás Summers Sandoval, not only because I enjoy his writing, but also because he watched with his kid. Since I wonder how the Beatles continue to be relevant to later generations, I found his family-based viewings particularly interesting.