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geezer cinema: haywire (steven soderbergh, 2011)

Steven Soderbergh seems to be a Geezer mainstay lately ... this is his third movie to be featured in Geezer Cinema, after Contagion and Logan Lucky (all picked by my wife, which is interesting because she doesn't usually pick a movie based on the director). It's the first one starring Gina Carano, and that makes a big difference, because Haywire is as entertaining as those other movies, and Carano is a big reason why that is true.

Soderbergh interests me because he combines two things I find to be rare: he knows what he is doing, and he can please an audience. Some great filmmakers out there know what they are doing, and how to get their vision on the screen, but I don't usually like their movies. And there are crowd-pleasing directors who are workmanlike at best. Soderbergh can do the art film thing as well as anyone, but he's never been afraid of genre pieces, and you would never say he was workmanlike. So films like Logan Lucky and Haywire work on many levels. Haywire admittedly isn't trying for profundity, but you appreciate pretty much everything he does here.

I often write about my pet peeve with modern action films, that they don't bother orienting the viewing. Soderbergh doesn't make that mistake ... all the action scenes are clear (the plot is not so clear, but really, does it matter?). He also plays to the value in his star ... there isn't much gun play, not a lot of car chases, just Carano kicking a lot of ass. Her background (she was once called "the face of women's mixed-martial arts") makes her fight scenes a lot more believable than when, say, little Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy steps aside and lets her stunt person do the fighting. Her co-stars (of which more in a minute) all testify to her ability to kick their asses in real life. I haven't seen her in anything else, but she has worked steadily since Haywire. Reading some of her fans, it would appear that some of her later directors didn't understand her appeal ... there's no reason to give her a gun, that's a waste, like giving Jackie Chan a magic tuxedo. Carano is also easy on the eyes, and her acting is good enough (apparently some of her dialogue was dubbed by Laura San Giacomo).

Another plus when Steven Soderbergh is involved is that actors seem to climb over themselves to be in his movies. Despite Haywire being a genre piece with a budget of only $23 million, the cast is amazing: Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton. A good portion of those stars get their asses kicked by Carano in the movie.

You go into Haywire expecting an OK trifle, and yeah, it is a trifle, but it's more than OK, and a welcome surprise.

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)


50 favorite movies revisited

It's been nine years since I took part in a Facebook project where three of us chose our 5o Favorite Movies. (Here's a Letterboxd list of my choices.) Of course, I'd do a lot of different things now ... Tomorrow Never Dies didn't belong (I chose it because of Michelle Yeoh, but then she was in another of my choices later, so the 007 movie was unnecessary). And I was too devoted to older movies ... the most recent movie in my Top 20 was The Godfather Part II from 1974, and there were only 4 movies from the 21st century on the entire list.

So here are my favorite movies (as of this moment) for the years 2012-2020, the years after I made that 50 Favorites list. I'm have to think a few of these would make the list if I made it now.

2012: Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

2013: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

2014: Boyhood (Richard Linklater) (a pattern emerges!)

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

2016: Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

2017: Faces Places (Agnès Varda and JR)

2018: Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

2019: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma)

2020: Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)


creature feature: the curse of the werewolf (terence fisher, 1961)

Decent Hammer film, but no more than that. Oliver Reed plays the title character ... he only got second billing, though, and was paid only £90 a week. Of course, he doesn't even turn up until halfway through the movie, so maybe the billing and the paychecks were appropriate. Probably the most interesting other person in the cast was Anthony Dawson, who was a bad guy in 3 of the first 4 Bonds, twice as Blofeld.

This is the only werewolf film made by Hammer Studios. It was also the first werewolf film to be shot in color. It looks OK, as most Hammer films did. As I said about The Brides of Dracula, "the Hammer films were a step above the usual" for late-night Creature Feature TV shows. But this fact, plus the presence of Oliver Reed (who admittedly makes a good werewolf), don't make The Curse of the Werewolf into a good movie. It drags, especially during the first half, and characters that seem important disappear later in the film. Worst of all, the film takes place in "Spain", so while everyone speaks with a British accent, their names are Don Alfredo and Leon and Christina Fernando. Once in a while, someone calls someone "Señor," and it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.


comments are a mess

Just a note that the comments section is fucked right now. First, a friend said they couldn't access the comments. Now I can't, either. The comments are there, it's just that no one can see them. And I tried to add a comment just now, and couldn't, so if you feel like leaving a comment, that's not working, either. Updates as they become available.


brother john (james goldstone, 1971)

This is the 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 3 is called "Classic Performers: Sidney Poitier Week":

Famously known as the first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor, Sidney Poitier's career is filled with rich tapestries of social disparities and intense moments. Though his early roles in racially charged films left him a tad pigeon holed in terms of characters, he always put his all into his roles, with a lot of them becoming nothing less than iconic. There are plenty of picks within his filmography for all of us to enjoy, so let's take a look back at one of the greatest to ever play the game of cinema.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film starring Sidney Poitier.

My original choice here was The Mark of the Hawk, but the print on Amazon was crap, so I switched to Brother John. Besides Poitier, the cast included the formerly-blacklisted Will Geer, and future Oscar-nominee Paul Winfield. Quincy Jones, who already had two Grammys to his name, did the music.

I mention all these details in the name of procrastination, because Brother John is hard to talk about. It depends on a secret, and while some people were spoiled in advance and said it didn't affect their enjoyment, I wasn't spoiled, and the big secret isn't revealed until the end (if it's revealed at all ... this is a pretty vague movie). Waiting an hour-and-a-half for a Big Secret in a movie that is a bit mundane isn't the best way to spend your afternoon or evening. Poitier is fine, but subdued. There is an attempt to shoehorn social consciousness into the film, but it all feels artificial.

Here's an example of the hard-hitting, exciting character development in Brother John:


democrats have no plan

Sophia Tesfaye in Salon:

Trump is bulldozing democracy — and nobody's ready to stop him

Democrats in Congress have done little more than pay lip service to bipartisanship in the week since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even as the high court's ideological balance is up for grabs for the third time in four years — and as the president of the United States refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power — prominent Senate Democrats have rushed to tamp down talk of retaliatory action. This leaves little doubt that the opposition party is unequipped to handle the threat posed to democracy by Donald Trump and the Republicans....

It's been a near-universal show of surrender from Democrats — even as their voters have sent more $200 million in donations to Democratic candidates and causes since Ginsburg's passing. If they want to rally and sustain public support, Democrats might want to fight as if they believed they could win.

Republicans lie, cheat and steal. Democrats pretend to "resist" with weak appeals to the nonexistent conscience of Republicans who long ago sold their supposed principles down the river.


music friday: rolling stone's 500 best albums of all time

So Rolling Stone updated its list of top albums ... I think this is version 3. Here are a few selections.

Prince, Purple Rain (#8):

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (#21):

Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (#189):

Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (#480):


breonna taylor

Indictment doesn't even begin to bring justice for Breonna Taylor

The mere phrase "collateral damage" evokes a visceral reaction. But so does the realization that they decided to prosecute an officer for prospective loss of life, but none of the officers for the actual loss of life. It confounds the mind as much as the soul.
 
But until there is a judicial reassessment of how we evaluate the reasonableness of an officer's use of lethal force, it is justice that will end up being collateral damage.
 
Thursday will be 196 days since Breonna Taylor was killed inside of her home.
 
And still, no officer has been charged for her death.
-- Laura Coates

geezer cinema/film fatales #94: babyteeth (shannon murphy, 2019)

I'm a sucker for tales of teenage girls, so this combination of coming-of-age story and possibly fatal disease worked for me, even though the latter isn't my favorite genre.

The team behind Babyteeth have worked under the radar. This is director Shannon Murphy's first feature, and I didn't know her, but she's been directing series television since 2013, so she's no amateur. This was also the first writing credit for Rita Kalnejais, although again, she's no amateur ... Babyteeth is based on her stage play. Not sure it means anything, but as of this writing, Kalnejais doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, which can also be said for Toby Wallace, who plays "the boyfriend", and Eugene Gilfedder, playing a music teacher. And once more, these aren't amateurs ... Gilfedder has acting credits, mostly in TV, going back to 1993, and young Wallace also has plenty of TV credits. So, unknown to me, sure, but they weren't hired to give the "authentic" feel an amateur offers.

The female leads, though, are people I know, although in both cases, they snuck up on me. Eliza Scanlen was Milla, the teenager with the terminal illness; she looked familiar, and at first, I thought it was because she kind of resembles Alison Pill. But actually, she's been in a couple of recent things, the HBO mini-series Sharp Objects, and Greta Gerwig's Little Women (she was Beth). As for Essie Davis, who played Milla's mom, all I knew about her was that she was in The Babadook that I love so much, and I commented early on that I didn't remember her in that movie, that in fact, all I could remember from The Babadook was the mother and the son. Imagine my embarrassment when I finally realized Davis was the mom in Babadook! (Hey, her hair was a different color.)

Just about everything works in Babyteeth. Scanlen impressively goes through a lot of different emotions. Toby Wallace is believable as the "dangerous" boyfriend (someone mentioned that they were reminded of Valley Girl). Davis has a stereotypical role (middle-aged mom with a drug problem) ... actually, much of what happens in Babyteeth reminds us of standard weepies, but it feels fresh just the same ... anyway, like Wallace, Davis is believable as a character you don't usually see outside of movies (and she gets the movie's best line: "This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine"). Toss in Ben Mendelsohn as the dad, and you've got a very capable cast. Murphy is unafraid to step slightly outside the lines in her direction, and whatever Kalnejais did in the transfer from stage to screen is seamless ... not once did I think, "this is based on a play". As many critics have noted, Babyteeth is familiar enough to trick us into thinking we know what is coming, and quirky enough to frustrate our expectations just the same.

And it's funnier than the above might suggest.

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)

(Letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)