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geezer cinema/film fatales #123: worth (sara colangelo, 2020)

(This will be the last Geezer Cinema for a while ... we'll get back to it in November.)

Worth tells the based-on-a-true-story of the attempt to assign dollar figures to compensation payouts for victims of 9/11. The head of the compensation fund, Kenneth Feinberg, (Michael Keaton), takes a big picture approach, but the film doesn't just buy into this. Over the course of the film we learn about several of the individuals due compensation ... not a lot, but enough to remind us we're talking lots of people, not just one big group of people. One or two victims are singled out for more extensive examination. It's a well-structured film, starting with the view from the top and then showing the effects on those who aren't there.

The cast is impressive. Besides Keaton, there's Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci, and plenty of "hey, it's that guys". And they do more than show up ... each delivers a solid performance.

There are a couple of flaws, though. First, the legal situation is never clearly explained. We know that the airlines want to cut a deal. We know there are concerns about the effect of everything on the economy. We know that some people feel they are being screwed over. But most of it whooshed over my head. I fell back on rooting for the victims, and that was good enough, but I still can't really tell you about the inner workings of the Victims Compensation Fund.

Also, Feinberg was a consultant on the film, which may explain why Worth is about him far more than it is about the victims. It's not that Feinberg's character is whitewashed ... he comes across as a decent guy who doesn't always get "It". But the central theme of Worth is how damaging the process is to people like Feinberg, not to the victims. Given that theme, Worth is fine, but I wanted more.

Worth is the first film I have seen directed by Sara Colangelo, and she does OK. I wouldn't be surprised if I never heard from her again, but it's just as likely she's got some great movies in her future.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales]

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema]

eye and nose update

For better or worse, I am off to Europe in a few days and so won't be seeing any doctors until we return.

My left eye (which had the emergency operation for a detached retina three months ago) is good enough. I'd like to say it was good as new, or rather, that it was as good as it was after cataract surgery a couple of years ago, since that made it better than new. The vision has improved greatly since the operation. I can drive, and I can see without covering the eye. But compared to the right eye, when I look out of just the left eye, everything is a bit smaller. Also, things have a kind of wavy edge to them. It's not very noticeable most of the time, but it is clear if I cover my right eye. The doctor says it will likely not improve much further, so I will see an optometrist after our trip to see about glasses or contacts for the problem.

My nose (which had surgery for the ever-popular inverted papilloma last month) is also slowly improving. I had a doctor visit on Monday that went well. I have been doing a twice-daily nasal rinse w/antibiotic that will continue for awhile, and there is still some minor irritation, plus it's still numb around the area near the left nostril (I think because nerves got chopped up a bit during surgery). The doctor will see me again when we return, and he says those visits will continue for the near future just to keep an eye on things. In previous post-op visits, he got a lot of crud out of my sinuses, enough so I figured it was all gone, but nope. I posted this picture on Instagram ... it wasn't a particularly popular post (one person commented "TMI"), but here it is, for posterity purposes, junk that came out of me a full month after the operation:

Nose crud

almost holiday time

On Sunday the 3rd, we fly to London. On Friday the 9th, we fly to Nerja, where we will stay for three weeks, followed by one more night in London and then a flight home on Sunday the 31st. The only specific event planned is to see Patti Smith at the Royal Albert Hall during our first stay in London. I'm posting this now, before I forget, so you'll know what's coming on this blog during October. I have already written four Letterboxd Challenge movie posts that will run in my absence, along with four Music Friday posts. And I'll be posting this week when the urge arises. Anyway, even if I don't post a single thing during our trip, I've got eight posts just waiting for their various timers to run down, so my vast readership is guaranteed some stuff while we're gone. I will also try to remember to post another eye-and-nose update ... I'd do it now, but I'm seeing the nose doctor later today, so I'll wait until I hear from him.

Meanwhile, here is where we are staying in London:


And here is a picture of Nerja, where we will be staying for the seventh time:

View from the balcony

film fatales #122: fast color (julia hart, 2018)

Julia Hart has had an interesting beginning to her career. Fast Color was her second movie as writer/director, working with her husband Jordan Horowitz, a writer/producer. She was already in her mid-30s when she started. They released two more films in 2020, and they are supposedly working on turning Fast Color into a television series, which makes sense, since it plays a bit like a series pilot.

Fast Color is a superhero movie, although a very low-key one that can be approached as just a mysterious fantasy. It features three women (Ruth, her mother Boo, and her daughter Lila) who have special powers. The powers aren't really explained, and they are used mostly to demonstrate how the family of women are outsiders. It takes place in a near-future where climate change is running rampant. We gradually come to know the three characters and learn something of their powers (which differ from each other's), before and ending that sets up future stories (hence the feel of a TV pilot). It's a low-budget affair, and the special effects are more arty than they are action-packed, but that works well here, and when the "fast color" effects turn up near the end, they are impressive and emotional. (I was reminded of the final scenes of Gareth Edwards' Monsters, which were also moving.)

The film is helped immensely by the lead actors, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney, who plays Lila with a believable expertise that belies her age. David Strathairn, who seems to be in half the movies made in the last 40 years, is also good.

Fast Color isn't really a movie for fans of superheroes, although they might benefit from a viewing. And non-fans shouldn't be scared away by the premise. But in its own way, Fast Color really is about superheroes. The TV series should be engaging, if it ever happens.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales]

terms of endearment (james l. brooks, 1983)

This is the third 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 3 is called "Two Old Queens Week":

With the Season Challenge, not only should we expand our horizons through watching new films, but viewing them in a whole new light. And the podcast Two Old Queens does just that with their search for the "Gayest Movie Ever Made". Though the way they determine this can get quite silly, comedians Mark Rennie and John Flynn always offer great insight and hilarious quips on how gay (or not) each film is. Definitely give the podcast a try once this week's film has been watched, you won't be disappointed.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film discussed on the podcast Two Old Queens.

Terms of Endearment won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay from Another Medium. This isn't one of those oddities where it's hard to imagine why a movie won Best Picture (think The Greatest Show on Earth or Driving Miss Daisy). Terms of Endearment is a good movie ... I'd probably call Under Fire the best picture of the year, but I know that's a quirky choice. Maybe The Right Stuff of the other Best Picture nominees. But I wouldn't watch Terms of Endearment thinking I was about to take in an all-time classic ... it's good-not-great. It's a bit too long, and your tolerance for heart-tugging moments might affect your appreciation of the film. Roger Ebert wrote that it "feels as much like life as any movie I can think of....This is a movie with bold emotional scenes and big laughs, and at the same time it's so firmly in control of its tone that we believe we are seeing real people," while Pauline Kael said "What's infuriating about it is its calculated humanity." I'm with Kael, as usual, but really, it's not that bad.

Brooks bounces back and forth between the stories of a mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger), and it's not always the best way to tell their tales. The movie improves in the later stages, when the two narratives come together. The acting is excellent ... MacLaine and Jack Nicholson won Oscars, but Winger and John Lithgow also got nominations. The film's emotions may be calculated, but the actors make it feel real.

I'm not sure what made Terms of Endearment a topic for the Two Old Queens. I tried to listen to the podcast episode but couldn't get it to work. The description on the website says that "Its got the power of Shirley MacLaine and undeniable lesbian energy from Debra Winger, but is that enough to place TERMS OF ENDEARMENT amongst the top five of gayest movies ever?"

Other Challenge choices included Beau Travail and Point Break.

geezer cinema: film fatales #121: shiva baby (emma seligman, 2020)

Shiva Baby grew out of a short student film created by Emma Seligman and starring Rachel Sennott. At 78 minutes, it still feels a bit like a short, but it's so packed with eventful scenes you could imagine it running for another half an hour. The film takes place in a 24-hour period, most of which occurs at a shiva. Seligman and cinematographer Maria Rusche do a great job of simultaneously giving the feel of claustrophobia while still finding plenty of space for intimate conversations. People are regularly leaving one crowded room for a less-crowded room where they can talk things out.

The film is steeped in Jewish culture (ironically, Dianna Agron, who plays a shiksa princess, is Jewish, while Rachel Sennott, who plays the lead, Danielle, is not), but it feels universal, a coming of age story with well-meaning but intrusive family and plenty of "experimenting" for Danielle. At times, Seligman inches close to stereotype, but never dives completely in, in part because Danielle is at the center of everything that happens, and we get to know her as an actual person. The cast is good across the board, although for the most part I never figured out exactly who was who (as I say, close to stereotype). Polly Draper and Fred Melamed are on target as Danielle's parents, who want the best for their daughter but don't always know what "the best" might be. Molly Gordon is a standout as Maya, Danielle's ex-lover ... there's a bite to her personality, yet in some ways I found her the most likeable character in the film.

Shiva Baby is relentless in locking Danielle into uncomfortable situations. And there is a baby that cries pretty much every time it turns up on screen, eventually making the soundtrack feel a bit like a horror film. Which Shiva Baby is, in an odd sort of way. At least until what I found to be a semi-happy ending.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales]

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema]

my winnipeg (guy maddin, 2007)

This is the second 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 2 is called "Northern Exposure: Guy Maddin Week":

Canada's own Guy Maddin offers up a unique lens in which to view life throughout all of his films. If nothing else, you're sure to see something wholly unique this week.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by Guy Maddin.

This film is my introduction to Guy Maddin, who is one of the most idiosyncratic of directors. My Winnipeg is an odd movie, hard to describe, and apparently it is very much like many of Maddin's films. Sometimes a filmmaker will create something so insular, its meanings are clear only to the people who made the movie. That's not the case with My Winnipeg. You always know what is going on in an individual scene, it's just that as the film progresses, you begin to doubt what you think you know, gradually realizing that this documentary is in fact an extremely subjective memoir of Maddin's home town.

And then it becomes clear that "subjective" doesn't really get it. Maddin is inventing things out of icicles, and nothing he shows us can be trusted. Which doesn't mean the film is aimless. In fact, you could argue that Maddin's inventions get closer to "his Winnipeg" than would a more straightforward, "realistic" representation of "facts".

Even if the results can be frustrating, Maddin is expert at giving us the movie he has in his head. He frequently uses techniques we think of as belonging to silent cinema, and he mixes authentic-looking recreations with ... well, actually, I'm not sure anything in My Winnipeg is presented as it happened. The film is narrated by Maddin, and Maddin is a character in what we see, but he's played by an actor, Darcy Fehr. His mother is played by the legendary Ann Savage (Detour). We learn that Winnipeg is the sleepwalking capital of the world. We learn about a television series, LedgeMan, with a character who is always threatening to jump off a ledge to his death. We learn about a general strike in 1919. This last actually happened ... I don't think any of the others ever happened except in Maddin's imagination.

It's all very intriguing, forcing us to confront the ways our memories override actual occurrences. #135 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and #603 on the TSPDT users poll of our favorite films.

music friday

With a month-long vacation coming up, I think it's time to finally finish these weekly visits to my concert-going past. Without comment, here are a few of the artists I haven't yet included in these Music Fridays.

Joe Ely

k.d. lang

Gogol Bordello

geezer cinema: the personal history of david copperfield (armando iannucci, 2019)

The word that comes to mind is "whimsical".

The long, stuffed-to-the-brim original novel begs for the kind of multiple-episode series that has room for the kitchen sink, and in fact there are at least five attempts at that kind of serializing. In reducing David Copperfield to a two-hour running time, Armando Iannucci, the director-producer-cowriter, necessarily admits in advance that he intends to truncate. Nonetheless, Iannucci manages to squeeze in a very large cast of characters. Only a few are truly fleshed out, and casting does a lot of the work here. Actors like Tilda Swinton (Betsey Trotwood), Hugh Laurie (Mr. Dick), and Peter Capaldi (Micawber) are able to blend their skills with our perceptions of their past work to make the characters feel welcomed. Opposite to this, Ben Whishaw has been good in a variety of roles over the years, but he climbs into the unctuous Uriah Heep so completely that I forget Whishaw was in the movie until the closing credits. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) is probably always going to be recognized because of her height, but she makes the most of her limited screen time. Finally, Iannucci manages to give us diverse casting that doesn't just feel like pandering (Benedict Wong and Rosalind Eleazer are a perfect father and daughter, and the best example of how this casting works). Of course, Dev Patel as David is the most obviously diverse piece of casting, but what matters is that Patel is a fine actor who gets all of the various aspects of David as the character grows older.

Things do move too quickly at times ... again, it would be nice to see this as a mini-series. But each scene in its moment is solid, and rarely does Iannucci leave us scratching our heads and wondering what we missed. The Personal History of David Copperfield is as good of a two-hour version of Dickens' novel as you are likely to encounter.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]