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what i watched

Quite a mix of things over the last few days, so I'm stuffing them all into one post.

Julius Caesar. We've enjoyed watching our friend Arthur over the years in various plays, but since he moved down south (more jobs!) we only get to see him when he gets a spot on a TV series. So it was fun to watch a production of Julius Caesar by the Evergreen Theatre Collective, which was shown live on Facebook, with Arthur as Marc Antony. The production was quite inventive in using the quarantine effectively, with the cast showing up on the mosaic screen we've all gotten used to in the Zoom-meets-COVID era. Caesar was cut to fit a running time of about 90 minutes, but continuity was always clear. Arthur kicked ass on Antony's famous orations ... as I said, he is the first person I know who played a role previously done by Brando. Caesar was played by an African-American woman, which gave a different spin, more because it was a woman than because she was black. We knew we would like seeing our friend, but the entire production was quite good. [edited to add YouTube video of performance]

Ivan the Terrible, Part II (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1958). I had watched Part I ten years ago (Ivan the Terrible, Part I), which is to say, I didn't remember much of what happened in that earlier film. I read up a bit and then jumped into Part II. Eisenstein had planned a Part III, but it never happened. He finished Part II in 1946, but the Party didn't like it and it wasn't released. Eisenstein died in 1950, Stalin in 1953, and the film was finally released in 1958. Part II is magnificent to look at, and Prokofiev's score was great, but for me, everything was static. Eisenstein loved his close-ups and his montage, but in this case, I was unimpressed. #228 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

One section of the film is in color, and this dance vibrates with movement. (When you click on the video, you'll be asked to watch on YouTube.)

Creature Feature: The Little Shop of Horrors (Roger Corman, 1960). Has there ever been a more apt example of sublime-to-ridiculous? From Shakespeare and Eisenstein to Roger Corman. This is the original quickie that later spawned the musical. The making of the film has become legendary over time, and who knows what is true and what is exaggeration? The budget was $30,000, give or take a few grand. They shot it in 2 1/2 days, give or take a day. Corman saved money by making full use of Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the screenplay ... Griffith also appeared on screen in two different roles, did the voice for Audrey Jr., and managed to get his grandmother, his father, and other relatives in the picture. Jack Nicholson has a brief role as a pain-loving dental patient. Is it any good? For as cheap as it was to make, sure, it was good. It has become a cult classic, certainly worth a view if you've never seen it and have 72 minutes to spare. But I wouldn't go overboard.

once more with feeling

I have an entire category on this blog devoted to musicals. Including this post, I've only written about 20 musicals ... 20 in more than 18 years. It's been more than 10 months since the last one (Swing Time). It makes me wonder why I have a musical category (I think someone requested it).

It's not that I don't like musicals. I placed three of them in my Facebook Fave Fifty list some years ago, with a few others that could be called musicals if we're speaking broadly. But the most recent of those three musicals was 1972. And I haven't watched more than a handful of 21st-century musicals. I watch concert movies, but I'm not sure those count. In my wannabe hippie days in the early 70s, I watched lots of 30s musicals ... was a bit obsessed by them, to be honest. But nowadays? Nope.

But I did watch a musical on November 6, 2001. Liked it a lot. Have watched it since, even going to a theater for an audience-participation midnight showing. You might not call it a musical, but I do. It was an episode from Season 6 of Buffy called "Once More with Feeling".

If you have Hulu, you can watch the episode there. In the meantime, here's the soundtrack, courtesy of Spotify:

possession (andrzej zulawski, 1981)


That first word isn't meant to imply that Possession is a great movie, or even a good one. But see it once, and you won't forget it.

It's so hard to pigeonhole the movie that the best description I've seen has J. Hoberman of the Village Voice essentially throwing up his hands:

Made with an international cast in still-divided Berlin, the movie starts as an unusually violent breakup film, takes an extremely yucky turn toward Repulsion-style psychological breakdown, escalates into the avant-garde splatterific body horror of the ’70s (Eraserhead or The Brood), and ends in the realm of pulp metaphysics as in I Married a Monster From Outer Space.

The violent breakup all by itself is so intense it is often hard to sit through. Isabelle Adjani plays Anna, an unhappy wife married to Sam Neill's Mark. "Unhappy" doesn't really get it, though ... "possessed" is a better word for what Anna is going through, although it takes a long time for Zulawski to get to what that might actually mean. Adjani is one of France's most honored actresses ... she has won five César Best Actress awards, a record (the Césars are the French equivalent of the Oscars ... she has two Oscar nominations as well). She got her first César for Possession, and it's easy to see why. The part is over the top, and she plays it to the hilt ... you can't take your eyes off of her, for better or worse. She's extreme, which isn't necessarily excessive ... Anna is extreme. Next to Adjani, Sam Neill can only look astonished, which is also appropriate for the part.

I expected an incoherent film, which wasn't the case. Zulawski starts in the middle, and doesn't concern himself much with hand-holding, even when the plot turns fantastical. But mostly he runs right past any notion of coherence, just making sure there is never a dull moment, even if it is occasionally incoherent.

Adjani really is amazing, but at a price ... she has said that playing Anna took a long time to get over, and there are rumors that she tried suicide (rumors encouraged by Zulawski, who almost seems proud of the fact). Your opinion of her performance in Possession will depend in large part on how much you appreciate this kind of acting.

The U.S. release was botched ... it's hard to pin down the facts, but about 40 minutes of the 124-minute film were cut, and other changes were made. This made a film which was already complicated into something incomprehensible, and it was pounded by critics. Time has been kinder ... it is now #611 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Here is the most famous scene from the film. I'd give a Spoiler Alert, but I'm not sure a movie like this can be hurt by spoilers. (Directing the scene, Zulawski helped told Adjani to "fuck the air".)

music friday: 35 years ago today

September 18, 1985 was a big night for Bay Area concerts. David Lindley played a club date at the Old Waldorf:

The Manhattan Transfer played a somewhat bigger venue at De Anza College in Cupertino:

The legendary Harry Belafonte was at the 12,500 seat Concord Pavilion:

We missed all of those shows, because we were here, with 50,000+ fans, in a baseball stadium near the end of the Born in the USA tour:

geezer cinema: logan lucky (steven soderbergh, 2017)

Letterboxd member "Katie" said of Logan Lucky, "this movie is the only good thing left in this godforsaken planet and we took it for granted. 5 stars out of 5". That put me in a good mood prior to watching it. It has been compared to Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean" movies ... I only saw the first one and wasn't overwhelmed enough to watch the next two. But I like Soderbergh's films in general, and have a soft spot in my heart for Out of Sight. I also liked his television series The Knick.

Soderbergh had taken a hiatus prior to Logan Lucky ... he did a lot of other things (like The Knick) but did not direct any features. So Logan Lucky was anticipated by his fans. He was able to put together a great cast, including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, and Katie Holmes. The film takes place in the South, and the various actors' various accents are variable, to be kind ... only Tatum actually grew up in the South (I would have thought Riley Keough was a Southerner ... she's Elvis' granddaughter, after all ... but nope). The writing is so entertaining, and the acting (outside of the accents) so fun, that the movie scoots along, and those accents don't really matter.

On one level, there's nothing here ... as one character says of the robbery that is the central plot line of the film, "I heard that they're calling it 'Ocean's 7-Eleven', 'cos they found that truck with the money behind a convenience store." Yet Soderbergh pulls it off. The robbery is intricately plotted (they are going to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600), and it often seems like things are getting away from Soderbergh. But it all comes together, and there is real pleasure in seeing that happen.

There are a lot of pseudonyms in the credits. Soderbergh's wife Jules Asner apparently wrote the screenplay ("Rebecca Blunt", an unknown, gets the credit), and Soderbergh, as is often the case, is the Director of Photography (as "Peter Andrews") and Editor (as "Mary Ann Bernard"). None of this matters as you are watching Logan Lucky, of course. I was having such a good time I didn't think about any of it until the movie was over.

I'd say "Katie" went a bit overboard with "5 stars out of 5", but Logan Lucky definitely hit the spot.

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)

the fourth karen sisco award

This is kind of embarrassing.

In 2010, I invented something called ... well, let me just cut-and-paste from the standard opening I've always used:

In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.

When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.

Last month, I gave the Sixth Karen Sisco Award to High Fidelity, which had just been cancelled after one season.

The problem is, it was actually the seventh Sisco Award.

You see, in 2014, I gave the award to The Bridge, which I said made it the fifth recipient. Check out the post, it's called "The Fifth Annual Karen Sisco Award".

Except it was only the fourth winner, which would have been obvious if I'd read my own post.

Two years later, I gave the award to Agent Carter, which was the real fifth recipient. Except somewhere along the way I'd forgotten all about The Bridge, so I said Agent Carter was the fourth winner.

In 2017, I gave the award to Sweet/Vicious, which was the actual sixth recipient. What was that post called? You guessed it, "The Fifth Karen Sisco Award: Sweet/Vicious".

So, to recap, here are the various Karen Sisco Award winners, correctly listed for a change:

1. Terriers (2010)
2. Lights Out (2011)
3. Luck (2012)
4. The Bridge (2014)
5. Agent Carter (2016)
6. Sweet/Vicious (2017)
7. High Fidelity (2020)

Part of me thinks this makes The Bridge the ultimate Karen Sisco show ... forgetting about it is as Sisco as it gets.

I'd like to be able to suggest you go out and stream The Bridge, but it isn't currently on any of the platforms (you can buy it on disc). Of course it's not available ... if I can't even remember it existed, I can't very well complain about its inaccessibility. Sweet/Vicious is also only available on disc.

Of the others, Hulu has Terriers and High Fidelity, Lights Out is on Amazon Prime, Luck was on HBO so you can find it on one of their outlets, and Agent Carter is hanging out on Disney+. Enjoy your binge watching.

sócrates (alexandre moratto, 2018)

This is the second 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 2 is called "Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award Week":

From Wikipedia:

"The Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award is presented to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000 by the Film Independent, a non-profit organization dedicated to independent film and independent filmmakers. It is named after actor/screenwriter/director John Cassavetes, a pioneer of American independent film.

Created for the 15th Independent Spirit Awards, it was originally called the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature (Under $500,000). After that, the rules changed so that any feature film budgeted under $500,000 could be eligible (regardless of how many films the director has made), hence the new name."

We're going low budget this week. Let's see what can be done with limited funding and unlimited passion.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film that has been nominated for the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award.

"Going low budget" is an understatement. Sócrates had a budget of $20,000, with which was produced a feature film of great skill. Alexandre Moratto was making his debut as a director, as was Christian Malheiros as the title character (Malheiros was not an amateur, having been in theater since he was 9). Moratto worked with Instituto Querô, a UNICEF program for at-risk youths. He was helped by another first-timer, writer Thayná Mantesso. The entire group worked closely together, and the resulting film is tight.

Malheiros isn't quite the whole story, but he is in every scene ... hell, he's in pretty much every shot. He plays Sócrates with internal strength ... he doesn't over-act, using his eyes to tell us what he is feeling. Moratto relies on a lot of close-ups that intensify the emotions of the characters. At the beginning of the film, Sócrates discovers his mother has died. Sócrates is 15, he seems to have no other family, and he lives in poverty. Everything works against him, but Sócrates makes every effort to improve his position. Throughout, he tries to make peace with his grief. The film, though, is not always peaceful. He becomes the lover of Maicon, played by yet another newcomer, Tales Ordakji, and their budding relationship is realistic but doomed, and the homophobia the two encounter is doubled down when Sócrates, having nowhere else to go, finally approaches his father, who beats him for being gay.

Somehow, with all of this, Moratto hasn't made a completely depressing movie. Malheiros gives us hope for Sócrates, even if events and society don't offer much help. Sócrates isn't just a good-for-you movie; it's a good movie, period.

(Among the films others chose for this week's challenge were Pieces of April and Old Joy. My brother Geoff, who is taking on the Challenge this year as well, has chosen Museum Hours.)

creature feature: curse of the demon (jacques tourneur, 1957)

I'll let the IMDB explain the variations in the versions of this film:

This film exists in three English language versions: (1) The original British release under the title "Night of the Demon," (2) Columbia's edited version for release in the U.S. under the title "Curse of the Demon" and, (3) over 20 years later, Columbia replaced their edited U.S. version with the original British version but with the title also changed to "Curse of the Demon."

I watched the TCM version, and their explanation is more detailed, but ultimately ironic:

One last comment about Curse of the Demon: the film has existed in two versions ever since its release in 1957. The British release, entitled Night of the Demon, had a running time of approximately 95 minutes. The U.S. version, released as Curse of the Demon, was trimmed by some thirteen minutes, reducing its length to 82 minutes, and placed on a double bill with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), a Hammer horror production.... The trim 82 version is certainly an entertaining funhouse ride but the "fat" that [American producer Hal E.] Chester pared away makes the original British release a much richer and satisfying experience.

I call this "ironic" because TCM seems to be arguing in favor of the British original, but the version they showed was the U.S. one.

This was nonetheless probably appropriate for the nostalgia angle of watching Curse of the Demon in 2020. I'm sure I saw it more than once as a kid, and the version I saw was certainly the American edit, so TCM did me a favor.

Curse of the Demon is a decent picture with some pedigree. Director Jacques Tourneur had done such pictures as Out of the Past and I Walked with a Zombie. Dana Andrews had appeared in Oscar winners like The Best Years of Our Lives and Laura. Peggy Cummins was great in Gun Crazy. The production design was by Ken Adam, at the beginning of a career that included two films with Kubrick, seven Bond movies, and two Oscars.

All of which helps lift the movie above the usual Creature Feature. It's on a par with The Revenge of Frankenstein. But it is nowhere near the level of an Out of the Past. The demon looks silly, and Tourneur didn't want to show it anyway (he was overruled by the studio). It's a low-key thriller, better than some but not really a classic. #753 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, which is nonsense.

film fatales #93: you were never really here (lynne ramsay, 2017)

Another Lynne Ramsay movie. She is one of those consistent directors where I can often cut-and-paste from other reviews and it will make sense. About her debut, Ratcatcher, I wrote, "Ramsay is an uncompromising filmmaker ... she isn’t necessarily looking to narrative ... it is images that tell her story." Morvern Callar: "Samantha Morton has to carry a film that doesn't seem to care much about narrative." We Need to Talk About Kevin: "The film is often confusing ... again, this is intentional ... Ramsay isn’t interested in a clear narrative". I added, "Ramsay has very specific ideas about what she wants to put on the screen, and she has all the tools to accomplish her goals."

While this isn't my cup of tea ... I'm too stuck on narrative ... the truth is, I liked all of those movies. There is something intriguing about what Ramsay is up to, and if she falls short of perfection, well, I don't know that she cares.

You Were Never Really Here is the first time where the negatives overshadowed the positives for me. Joaquin Phoenix is on the screen for virtually the entire movie, and I'm not sure I understood his character any more at the end of the film than I did when it began. It's not that Phoenix is bad ... on the contrary, he is excellent. But his character is so internalized, we never really figure out why he is traumatized, or why he takes a job (a hitman) that seems to disturb him so deeply. You Were Never Really Here was successful with critics who didn't seem bothered by the things that threw me off, so YMMV.

Ramsay takes an interesting approach to the brutal violence in the film. We don't usually see the acts themselves, but instead the effects of that violence on the hitman. We are distanced from the violence, which works into the distance we feel from the character. It's hard to think of a film where we got so much into the head of a character without ever understanding him. But again, that may be inherent in Ramsay's approach.

She also effectively uses sounds and music to produce a soundtrack that is almost like a horror film, with startling moments and a generally ominous feel (Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood did the music). If I sound undecided, that's because I am ... Ramsay is capable of some great moments, but I'm still waiting for that "perfection".

#236 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)