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geezer cinema: bloodshot (david s.f. wilson, 2020)

Stories from the Pandemic: Bloodshot is the first movie in our weekly Geezer Cinema date that we paid to stream (well, also to own, whatever). It's been 20 days since we actually went to a movie theater. Since then, Geezer Cinema has been Contagion (free streaming) and Us (recorded on the DVR). Bloodshot is part of the new trend ... is it a trend if it's temporary? Is it temporary? ... of studios releasing movies almost immediately after their theater opening, because no one is going to the movies right now.

Bloodshot is a superhero origin story based on a comic, but it's different enough to keep our attention. For one thing, Vin Diesel's character, Ray Garrison, isn't quite a superhero, although he gets to act like one. For another thing, while Bloodshot has enough going on to qualify as an action movie, it's really science-fiction. And the plot has just enough twists to keep you on your toes, although it's not too hard to figure out how it will all end (for one thing, it is clearly intended as the first in a franchise).

It's nothing special. Might have made a bigger impression in IMAX, which is how we originally intended to watch it before we couldn't go outside any more. But it's serviceable, and Vin Diesel is always good. Eiza González is almost unbelievably gorgeous, which doesn't get in the way of her action chops. Sam Heughan (equally gorgeous, although they do what they can to cancel it out in his case) will satisfy any Outlander fans who decide to watch. Dave Wilson, a Visual Effects guy, makes his directorial debut. If the pandemic prevents Bloodshot from being a huge hit and ruins the chances for a franchise, I suppose I will eventually forget I ever saw it. But I enjoyed it, anyway.

Here are the first nine minutes of the film:

(Here is a letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies.)

opening day 1983

(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 some of 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.)

1983 was my 4th Opening Day, and it was quite eventful. The 1982 season was exciting, although it's often forgotten now. So we felt optimistic for 1983. The Giants opened at home against the Padres, with Mike Krukow (pitching in his first game as a Giant) going against Tim Lollar. Krukow came to the Giants in a trade that saw Joe Morgan sent to Philadelphia, where he went to the World Series.

There were no future Hall-of-Famers in this game, but there were some interesting names. The hated Steve Garvey was making his debut as a Padre. Future Giants legend Tim Flannery, who was only 25, got a couple of at-bats for San Diego. Krukow's debut was inauspicious ... he gave up 4 runs in an inning-and-a-third. The Giants had clawed back to a 5-3 deficit going into the top of the fifth. Jim Barr came in to pitch. Here's how the Padres' half of the fifth went:

Single, single, single, single, single, wild pitch, out, single, new pitcher, out, walk, error, double, out. When the dust had cleared, San Diego had sent 12 men to the plate and scored 8 runs to take a 13-3 lead.

The Giants got 3 of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres weren't done ... they got those 3 runs back in the top of the sixth to make it 16-6. The Giants weren't done, either, scoring 3 in the 6th, 1 in the 7th, and 3 more in the 8th to make it 16-13. Tom O'Malley came up with two on, representing the potential tying run. But he flied out, and the end of the game was anti-climatic. The Giants went in order in the ninth, the game ending when Gary Lucas struck out Duane Kuiper.

So: 29 runs, 33 hits, 3 errors, and 5 home runs. More than 50,000 showed up and got their money's worth, even if the home team lost.

sisters of the gion (kenji mizoguchi, 1936)

Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 27 is called "Kinema Junpo Week".

Kinema Junpo is Japan's oldest and premiere cinema magazine. Once a decade they poll Japanese critics to name the best Japanese films of all time. 2009 was their biggest poll yet, with just short of 200 films listed. Like with the 1,001 Films... list, there may be a new version of this list after the publication of this Season Challenge, and if so, you are free to choose a film from either the 2009 version or the 2019 version.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Kinema Junpo’s Greatest Japanese Films list.

This is my third Mizoguchi film (after Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff), which is not enough for me to have any useful opinions about his work as a whole. I came to Sisters of the Gion cold ... among other things, I didn't know what the title meant. (Gion is a famous geisha district in Kyoto, although I don't know how it might have been different in 1936, when the film was not only made but when it takes place.) The movie is indeed about two geisha sisters. One of the primary themes is generational; the older sister, Umekichi, has more traditional views about the role of the geisha, while the younger, Omocha, resists traditions. Mizoguchi doesn't choose sides, but Omocha does appear to have more control of her life, and her role in the film is the more active of the two. Umekichi is reactive, responding to things as they happen, while Omocha makes those things happen, often to benefit Umekichi (Omocha is always out for herself, as well). I don't know if it's a cultural thing, but I liked Omocha more than I liked her sister. As I say, though, Mizoguchi isn't choosing sides ... neither sister is able to escape their place in society.

If Mizoguchi takes a side, it's against the exploitation of women inherent in the system. Omocha rebels against that system; she also pays a bigger price than her sister in the end.

Isuzu Yamada plays Omocha. She was only 19 when the film was made, but she had already been in movies for six years. She was in several Kurosawa films I have seen, though admittedly I don't remember her. Yôko Umemura (Umekichi) was already in her 30s and had been in movies since the early-20s, although again, I haven't seen them. Both do good jobs here, but it's hard from the perspective of the U.S. in 2020 to ascertain just how good.

It's hard to find clips of Sisters of the Gion ... this video from YouTube claims to be a trailer, but it's actually the beginning of the movie, when a once-thriving businessman sits while his belongings are auctioned off. The clip is a nice example of Mizoguchi's love of long takes.

geezer cinema: 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.

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)

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.

by request: echo in the canyon (andrew slater, 2018)

Fiona Apple. The Beach Boys. Beck. Justine Bennett. Jackson Browne. Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds. Jade Castrinos. Eric Clapton. David Crosby. Jakob Dylan. Norah Jones. The Mamas and the Papas. Roger McGuinn. Graham Nash. Fernando Perdomo. Tom Petty. Michelle Phillips. Cat Power. John Sebastian. Regina Spektor. Ringo Starr. Stephen Stills. Matt Tecu. Brian Wilson.

That's an impressive list of artists. If you knew there was a movie featuring these performers in archival footage, with new material (including Tom Petty's last interview), and some younger artists performing songs from the originals in a special concert, and you like most or all of the above, you'd be right in thinking Echo in the Canyon must be a great movie, or at least, enjoyable for fans of mid-60s folk-rock out of LA. And yes, for an hour-and-a-half, it's enjoyable.

But it is also frustrating. As is too often the case in documentaries like this, too many songs are presented piecemeal. I might have preferred a straightforward documentation of the concert ... at least I could appreciate the performances.

The interview segments are of varying interest. Petty's last interview is great, Michelle Phillips is a delight, and David Crosby is helplessly honest (he admits he was kicked out of The Byrds because he was an asshole). Ringo's dry humor is always welcome. But there is also an odd interview interspersed throughout, where Dylan sits around on a couch with Cat Power, Beck, and Regina Spektor, and they stare at old album covers while saying the equivalent of "wow, groovy". All of those people are interesting artists, but here they are mostly dolts. Meanwhile, Dylan is such a low-key interviewer that he disappears, although in fairness that may be one reason the artists felt comfortable during the interviews.

And, as many have pointed out, there is no mention of The Doors, or Joni Mitchell, or Love (although an Arthur Lee song appears on the soundtrack album).

Oddest of all, there are clips from the Jacques Demy film Model Shop, with many of the old-timers talking about how important the movie was in showing what the Canyon was like in those days. They speak as if the film was contemporaneous with the music featured in the film, but the movie came out in 1969, while the music we see was rather specifically from the mid-60s. Buffalo Springfield broke up in 1968, The Mamas and the Papas were about to disband, Pet Sounds was 1966. They might have liked Model Shop, but that movie had nothing to do with the music we are learning about (and the movie featured the music of Spirit, who are nowhere in the film).

There are some solid performances ... big-voiced singer Jade Castrinos' effervescence is contagious. By all means, see the movie if you are a fan of mid-60s LA folk-rock. But despite its pleasures, Echo in the Canyon feels like a missed opportunity.

music friday: kalie shorr

Christgau gave Shorr's first full album, Open Book, an A, saying "Shorr is yet another smart young woman who might once have been a sharp-tongued folkie but knows Nashville is where that way of music still has a life worth living." I picked up the album ... actually bought it, even though I listen to it on streaming, because new artists need the money. It's as good as Xgau said.

Like all of us, musicians are having a tough time of it during the pandemic, especially since a lot of them live on their tour money. Shorr said on her website, "I had to postpone my tour due to a global pandemic which is not something I ever thought I would say. But, the show must go on...line. I’ll play some new songs, make some mildly inappropriate jokes, and we can forget about the madness for a bit." Last night, she streamed "The Social Distancing Tour - Part 1".

She played for half-an-hour, six songs, four from Open Book, one Alanis Morissette cover, and a new song. My favorite was "F U Forever":

You never bought me anything
Because I paid for everything
But you got me a random ring
With your tax return

You played the victim with all our friends
Then turned around and slept with them
But I know you closed your eyes
And thought about me

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever, oh yeah

How can you be scared of me
When you're the one who put your hands on me
In the bathroom when our friends
Were in the kitchen

You hated when my dreams came true
'Cause they were better as just dreams to you
But what you really hated was yourself

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever, oh yeah

And I believed you whenever you said
That you were older and you always knew best
I was the problem, so narcissistic
I was a child, I was a train wreck
But I'm just a mirror reflecting
And you're just an asshole projecting

Looks like my abandonment issues
Got the best of me again
'Cause we should have never been together
Now I'm wearing your stupid ring
On my pretty little middle finger
So I can say F U forever and ever

Oops, I forgot to listen to my intuition again
But that's the last time I'll ever fake it
Til I'm making myself miserable, yeah I'm so glad
That I don't have to fuck you forever

african-american directors series: fear of a black hat (rusty cundieff, 1993)

Another movie for "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 26 is called "Rock It or Mock It Week".

"Oh yeah, well, I'll make my own documentary, with rock music and comedy! In fact, forget the documentary!"

-Bender Bending Rodriguez, probably.
(That's right, another Futurama reference, I can't be stopped.)

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen rockumentary or mockumentary film.

Fear of a Black Hat has two movie reference points. This Is Spinal Tap established the music mockmentary genre, and CB4 (which came out the same year as Black Hat) applied it to rap music. I've always thought Spinal Tap was funnier in concept than in execution, although it has some iconic scenes. It's been a long time since I saw CB4, and all I remember is that it was weak but had one song I found hilarious:

Fear of a Black Hat has more good parodies, some of them fairly subtle. Because of this, I suspect it plays better to fans of early-90s rap, because that's where their targets come from. Does it matter if you know that "I'm Just a Human Being" is inspired by P.M. Dawn? Does anyone still know P.M. Dawn? Here's the Black Hat Version:

When I doo-doo is my shit not brown
It's a universal thing we all flush it down
And when you wipe do you look at the tissue
Most folks do, it ain't even an issue
Hot stuff makes it burn comin out
I bet everyone knows what I'm talkin about
'Cause we are all one race on this planet
We all burp and fart, and that's the way God planned it
So don't act like you're superior
Eat something bad an just like me you'll get diarrhea
'Cause black, white, yellow, red, brown or gold
Our shit all comes from the same little hole
You are just like me
I'm just a human

Like other modern comedies, Fear of a Black Hat is hilarious at its best, dead on arrival at its worst. Kasi Lemmons is in the cast ... she later directed Eve's Bayou.

Here's P.M. Dawn, for comparison purposes:

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)