Previous month:
November 2019
Next month:
January 2020

geezer cinema/film fatales #70: little women (greta gerwig, 2019)

Greta Gerwig's followup to Lady Bird shows that Gerwig hasn't lost her touch when it comes to critics. They loved Lady Bird, and now they love Little Women. (Little Women has a Metacritic score of 91/100, while Lady Bird's was 94.) Those scores are well-deserved ... Gerwig directs with a confidence that belies the fact that she is relatively new to directing.

Lady Bird was strongly autobiographical, and part of what Gerwig (who also wrote the screenplay) does with Little Women is turn a well-known, classic story into a backdoor version of autobiography. Jo, the central character, a writer, is played by Saoirse Ronan, who was also the lead in the earlier movie, and in this version of the story, Jo's attempt to make art out of the lives of her and her sisters results in a novel, Little Women, written by Jo. To a certain extent, Gerwig sidesteps Louisa May Alcott.

Ronan is excellent, as are all of the actors playing sisters: Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. The grown ups are played by a fine who's who of venerable actors: Laura Dern, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper. Meryl Streep is even tolerable as Aunt March. And Gerwig does a beautiful job of showing the closeness of the sisters without being too sappy.

What is missing in all of these performances, though, is the quirkiness that Gerwig brings to her own acting. (Richard Brody brings up a lot of these points in his piece, "The Compromises of Greta Gerwig’s 'Little Women'".) Both Lady Bird and Little Women are intelligent and stylish films, but neither shows the goofy freedom of Gerwig in my favorite scene of hers, from Frances Ha:

As a director, Gerwig hints at this freedom, and these movies are both quite good as is. But if Gerwig ever writes/directs an entire movie like that dance in Frances Ha, it will be magnificent. It might look something like this:

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


movies 2019

The Letterboxd website makes it easy to compile lists like this, which I have done by hand in the past.

For instance, there is this list: "Movies I've watched in 2019".

And this list, "2019 ranked", movies from 2019 I've seen this year.

I saw 8 movies in 2019 that I gave my highest, 10-out-of-10 rating. Here they are, in alphabetical order, with links to the reviews on the blog:

I tend to hold off on giving a 10/10 to new movies ... guess I think they need to marinate for awhile. But I gave a 9/10 to one 2019 movie, and 8/10 to six more:

Lastly, here is the ongoing project my wife and I began when she retired. We see a movie a week, taking turns picking (she picked first, so you can figure out for yourself who chose what ... her first pick was John Wick 3, mine was Booksmart). We're up to 22 movies:

Geezer Cinema


quatermass and the pit (roy ward baker, 1967)

A Hammer film from the mid-60s that has always fascinated me. I know little about Quatermass, who first turned up on TV on the BBC in the 50s and has since featured on television, radio, and movies. Quatermass and the Pit (released in the U.S. as Five Million Years to Earth) is the only one that grabbed my attention.

Much of the film is low-key, and might surprise those who associate Hammer with blood and sex and vampires. The budget was low, the special effects pretty simple by today's standards. But the central idea is so imaginative that many have dismissed it as nonsense. Long ago, Martians came to Earth and affected human evolution. This is a problem, because Martians ... well, let's just say the devil is involved. Kubrick never dared go so far in 2001.

In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus compared the film to seeing the Sex Pistols in concert in 1978:

By the twentieth century, some people are coded for destruction; some carry only a few broken alien messages. Some respond to the Martian image; some do not. For those who do, the ancient codes become language, and memories of the original Martian genocide course to the surface. For those who do not respond, language dissolves. Humanity is split into two species; there is anarchy in London. Men and women surge through the streets smashing all those they recognize as alien: all who carry less of the Martian essence than they do. The Martian image turns red. Hobbes’s state of nature was “the war of all against all”; this is it, and it is lurid beyond belief.

Marcus notes how unsettling the end of the film is. Unsettling, because while the credits roll, the movie continues, as two dazed characters try to figure out what has happened and what is to come. It's as if the movie never ends.

The poor quality of this clip somehow adds to the effect:


tv in the 2010s: binge these in the 2020s, part three

(Cut-and-pasted from an earlier post.) I don't write as much about TV these days. One reason is that there is indeed too much good stuff ... it's hard enough to keep up with the watching, much less the writing. But I've found a catch-all way to inject TV into the blog, AV Club's "The 100 best TV shows of the 2010s". It's an obvious way to make my point about too much good stuff ... the list has 100 shows, and I haven't watched many of them (about a third). (Not to mention the thing about all such lists: each of us wonders why our favorite show didn't make the cut? Shout out to The 100Lights OutAgent CarterSweet/ViciousOutlander, and Hot Ones.) What follows is a few comments about some shows I did watch. This will be a multiple-post thread.

These are shows you may have watched. You have all the time in the world now to catch up with them (they have all finished their run). Numbers are their place in the AV Club poll.

The Leftovers (7). I wrote a long post after the series finale, and it's best I just direct you to that, because it was a good one: "The Leftovers Series Finale".

The Americans (5). Another time where I wrote something that works here, so I'll cut and paste.

The Americans had its series finale ... it isn't on anymore. Except, of course, hardly anyone watches TV when it's "on", so The Americans sits out there, waiting to be discovered by bingers. On its face, it's a story about cold war Russian undercover spies. But more than anything, it's about family. The family on The Americans is on the wrong side of history, and we know that (it takes place during the Reagan years, and the spies, as true believers, don't know that they are going to lose). We care about them ... they are the center of the show. They are the "bad guys", yet we root for them. And they do despicable things in the name of Mother Russia. It is one of the handful of best TV series of all time. You should watch it.

It also makes great use of music. Every show nowadays has a montage set to music. Usually the music is crap, and the montage is a cliche. The Americans does it right.

Mad Men (2). Finally, a show everyone watched. Or at least talked about. Is it a better show than The Americans, or The Leftovers? At this level, comparisons are pointless. It will take you longer to binge ... there are 28 episodes of The Leftovers, 75 of The Americans, 92 of Mad Men. Mad Men is the one show of these three most likely to appear on college syllabi in the future, the most likely to be talked about when the history of television of the early 21st century comes up. I probably preferred The Leftovers, I think my wife preferred The Americans, both of us loved all three. Watch 'em all, then you decide.


tv in the 2010s: binge these in the 2020s, part two

(Cut-and-pasted from an earlier post.) I don't write as much about TV these days. One reason is that there is indeed too much good stuff ... it's hard enough to keep up with the watching, much less the writing. But I've found a catch-all way to inject TV into the blog, AV Club's "The 100 best TV shows of the 2010s". It's an obvious way to make my point about too much good stuff ... the list has 100 shows, and I haven't watched many of them (about a third). (Not to mention the thing about all such lists: each of us wonders why our favorite show didn't make the cut? Shout out to The 100Lights OutAgent CarterSweet/ViciousOutlander, and Hot Ones.) What follows is a few comments about some shows I did watch. This will be a multiple-post thread.

These are shows you may not have watched. You have all the time in the world now to catch up with them (they have all finished their run). Numbers are their place in the AV Club poll.

Mr. Robot (56). I read on more than one occasion that Mr. Robot lost its buzz after the first season. As far as I can tell, this is based on a reveal about the nature of the title character, as if once you know who Mr. Robot is, there is nothing left to watch. That's just silly. Yes, it matters than Elliot, the lead character played by Rami Malek, has dissociative identity disorder ... in fact, at the end of four seasons, you realize Elliot and his relations with others is the core of the entire series. (Malek received an Emmy for his performance, three years before he won an Oscar playing Freddie Mercury.) But Mr. Robot was also a complicated, if fictional, study of the possibilities of anti-capitalism, and the stylistic quirks of creator Sam Esmail were usually fascinating and rarely self-indulgent. (This clip, from late in the final season, needs a spoiler alert if you're into that.)

Rectify (26). One of the great TV shows of all time, Rectify somehow ran for four seasons even though no one watched. It's impossible to sell ... Death Row prisoner is released on DNA evidence and tries to make his way back into society, in one of the slowest-moving shows I've ever seen. Rectify was created by actor Ray McKinnon, known for Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy, and most recently Ford v. Ferrari. It was truly remarkable, and the only way you'll ever find out is if you set aside the time to watch it. It would be a star-making performance for Aden Young, if anyone had seen it.

Justified (21). The best-ever representation of Elmore Leonard on television. It ran for six seasons and featured a terrific extended cast, including Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies, who both won Emmys for their work here. But even with all the talent on screen, the essence of the show was the relationship between Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. And don't forget the shout out to Karen Sisco.


what i rewatched

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 1938). It was perhaps the shortest movie review I ever wrote. It read, "A perfect movie." I watched The Adventures of Robin Hood again, this time with a seven-year-old, and I really don't have a lot to add ... it's still perfect. It's #864 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. It won 3 Oscars, although it lost Best Picture to You Can't Take It With You (a good movie, but come on ... Grand Illusion was better than all of them, of course). Why do I think it was perfect? The casting was completely on target, with Errol Flynn (29 years old) never better, Olivia de Havilland (22) a beautiful Maid Marion, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains different versions of The Bad Guy, and an assortment of That Guys, many as Merry Men (Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Ian Hunter, Una O'Connor). (Flynn and de Havilland appeared in nine movies together.) The score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold won one of the film's Oscars. It's the best film of 1938.

The main difference for me this time around was that seven-year-old grandson. He knew the story, at least the part where Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor. I'm not sure how much he followed, and he never got particularly excited, but he watched with full attention for all 102 minutes. I'll be interested in hearing from his mom and dad, what he tells them about it.

Here is the Bugs Bunny version of the story, with a clever conclusion (another cartoon follows automatically ... I can't figure out how to stop that):

John Wick (David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, 2014). It's a tradition here that Santa leaves a movie in my wife's stocking. Used to be a James Bond movie, but she's got all the ones she likes, so I, er, Santa gave her the first two John Wicks, which are favorites of hers. The idea of a gift disc is a bit silly for her ... she's become a firm believer in streaming. But tradition requires a little extra something. I wrote about this when it came out (right here), and I can't say I changed my mind in 2019. I compared it unfavorably to the Raid movies, which I had recently seen. John Wick is passable, and I enjoyed watching it in the company of my wife. But that's about it.

The kinds of scenes John Wick only wishes it could pull off:


adventures in dishwasher maintenance

Five years ago, we watched this video, which proved to be a lifesaver when we were able to follow its instructions to clean our dishwasher, which was no longer cleaning dishes.

After five years, it was time for another cleaning. But this time, we had our seven-year-old grandson to "help". The little fart knows what he's doing. He kept wanting to jump ahead, since he often knew in advance what the video would suggest for the next step. He's a pint-sized marvel.

Félix dishwasher


music friday: delaney bramlett

Just a quickie ... the holidays are taking up all of my time.

On this date in 2008, Delaney Bramlett died. He is best known for the work he did with his then-wife Bonnie Bramlett. Here is a show from 1969. A list of the musicians should whet your appetite:

Bonnie Bramlett vocals
Delaney Bramlett vocals, guitar
Eric Clapton guitar, vocals
George Harrison guitar
Carl Radle bass
Jim Gordon drums
Bobby Whitlock keyboards, vocals
Billy Preston organ
Jim Price trumpet
Bobby Keys tenor sax
Rita Coolidge vocals
Tex Johnson percussion

Here's a nice clip from 2010. Arguably Delaney's best composition was "Never Ending Song of Love". Here, Bonnie, along with Bekka Bramlett (daughter of Delaney and Bonnie) are joined in the backyard by Spooner Oldham and others for a casually lovely rendition:

And I'll toss in one more that's not Delaney-related. It's another backyard session, from the series Roseanne. The family and friends are singing in the backyard, and out comes one of Roseanne's co-workers, who was played by Bonnie Bramlett. She belts out a brief segment of "You Really Got a Hold on Me", and she is great.


tv in the 2010s: binge these in the 2020s, part one

(Cut-and-pasted from an earlier post.) I don't write as much about TV these days. One reason is that there is indeed too much good stuff ... it's hard enough to keep up with the watching, much less the writing. But I've found a catch-all way to inject TV into the blog, AV Club's "The 100 best TV shows of the 2010s". It's an obvious way to make my point about too much good stuff ... the list has 100 shows, and I haven't watched many of them (about a third). (Not to mention the thing about all such lists: each of us wonders why our favorite show didn't make the cut? Shout out to The 100Lights OutAgent CarterSweet/ViciousOutlander, and Hot Ones.) What follows is a few comments about some shows I did watch. This will be a multiple-post thread.

These are shows I don't think you watched. You have all the time in the world now to catch up with them (all but one have finished their run). Numbers are their place in the AV Club poll.

Penny Dreadful (76). Three seasons, 27 episodes. Interesting, off-the-wall premise: bring together figures from classic Gothic fiction, like Dorian Gray, characters from Dracula and Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and the like. Nominated for a handful of Emmys in categories like makeup and hairstyling, which missed the point entirely. Despite the often ludicrous plots, Penny Dreadful was made more than watchable by its actors. Rory Kinnear was the best Frankenstein's monster since Bela Lugosi, but the show was carried by its star, Eva Green, whose fearless performance was both grounded and over the top. Green was a highlight of TV in the 2010s. Apparently a sequel is coming, but without Green, it is unlikely to match the original.

Terriers (54). The winner of my first-ever Karen Sisco Award for series that were cancelled too soon. Terriers only lasted one season, and no one watched (I wrote about the series finale, "Seriously, how many of you have even heard of this show?"). I wrote, "The acting was strong across the board, and the chemistry between leads Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James was perfect. Though it was a buddy show, the female characters had depth … they were more than just time-killers, and the show didn’t just take the guy’s side, the buddies were flawed and the show didn’t try to apologize for their behaviors. The ending was very satisfying, and worked whether or not the show is renewed."

GLOW (45). There is a running theme with these shows, which all sound like they might suck. GLOW is the fond tale of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, an actual series from the 80s. It's funny, it's heartbreaking, and it is a complex study of women's empowerment. It's the one show here that is still running (there's one more season to come). A great ensemble of characters and acting, with special mention to Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, who play former best friends who are enemies in the ring (Brie's wrestling character is the Russian "Zoya the Destroyer" while Gilpin's is the American "Liberty Belle"). I love this scene, and wish there was a better video that didn't include people at home watching. Brie describes a match between Zoya and Belle by acting out the wrestling by herself.

Halt and Catch Fire (29). Good enough to deserve a separate post. Since I wrote one in September, I'll just link to it here. A show that got better every season, especially once they figured out the main focus needed to be on the female leads.


xmas 2019

I'm supposed to say something nice here.

My sister-in-law died in 2019. People say someone "died too young", but as far as I am concerned, all of us die too young. She brought love and pleasure to my sister and our family for such a long time. Here is a picture of some of my siblings and their partners, with Karen in the middle, from Spain in 2013.

Seven at la pulguilla

Our son and his wife lost one of their doggies this year. No one loves their dogs more than they do ... like I said above, we all die too young, including our pets.

Soon after that, our own cat, Six, died, just before turning 13. There are still two more cats around the house to pick up the slack, but Six was unique. There's not really any replacing her. And yes, she died too young. Like all of our cats, she loved Robin's knitting:

IMG_0807

A long time ago, I began a running joke about our dog, Spot. Doesn't seem all that funny anymore, but it wouldn't be xmas without the damn thing:

Spot

Over the years, I've tried to improve my attitude about xmas, which I mostly hate. It's not fair that I've dumped that on my family, and I really do try to do better. But what a fucking year.

Still, there's this:

The guys 6-30-19

And William Maranci gives us a xmas mashup: