Previous month:
August 2021
Next month:
October 2021

film fatales #120: the sit-in: harry belafonte hosts the tonight show (yoruba richen, 2020)

Several times during The Sit-In, we are reminded that the week when Harry Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show was largely buried in the history of television. Yoruba Richen, who directed and co-wrote the documentary, emphasizes this because she believes Belafonte's hosting stint was an important moment in television ... she wants to ensure that it is forgotten no longer. She succeeds ... The Sit-In will be there for anyone who wants to discover (or rediscover) the week that was. It's a noble, even necessary, endeavor.

And Richen does what she can with the existing material. But here she is let down, which is unfortunate for her audience. First, she explains that in the 1960s, networks like NBC regularly recorded over tapes, so that, in the case of Belafonte on The Tonight Show, only segments from two of his five episodes exist today. So a look at the guest lists for his episodes is impressive, but we only get a handful of those guests. The truncated list remains impressive ... The Sit-In features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who tells a joke!), Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nipsey Russell, and others. But a lot of the brief (75 minutes) running time of The Sit-In consists of interviews with people who express surprise that these episodes existed at all. I'm always glad to hear from Questlove and Whoopi Goldberg, but their contributions to The Sit-In are extended beyond usefulness. Understandably, given the absence of much footage from the event, but it becomes a bit repetitious.

Richen does a good job of placing the episodes in the context of 1968, and ultimately, The Sit-In is a helpful, if incomplete, addition to our understanding of our history. It's not a classic, but you take what you can get.


film fatales #119: in a world (lake bell, 2013)

I've been looking forward to this for a long time, although since it came out eight years ago, I guess I wasn't too insistent on seeing it. In any event, I've seen it now, and it is quite an accomplishment for Lake Bell, who wrote it, starred in it, and directed it. Bell was 34 when she made In a World, her first feature as a director. Since then, she has directed/written/starred in one other feature, and done a lot of TV work. She is perhaps best known for a nude cover she did for New York magazine in 2013, and while it's obvious why she was chosen for that cover, Bell clearly has a lot more going for her than just the kind of body that gets the attention of readers of Maxim. I wanted to love In a World ... we need more female actors-turned-writer/director, and In a World was a critical and a festival success. So it's hardly fair to say it's good-not-great, but that's how it felt to me. Blame my expectations ... I wanted her first film in charge to be a stunner, when it turned out to be a fine film with subtle depth.

There are positives aplenty here. Bell gathers together an excellent cast of big names, "that guys", and should-be stars: Rob Corddry, Eva Longoria, Demetri Martin, Fred Melamed, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Michaela Watkins, Geena Davis, Carly Chaikin, Jason O'Mara, Cameron Diaz, Jeff Garlin, and Bell herself. She has written several solid characters, if perhaps a few too many for a 93-minute movie. Everyone has more depth than you might first expect, which helps make the characters believable. The setting is unusual enough to feel original: woman tries to break into the world of movie-trailer voice overs. Everything is fairly casual, but there is a narrative thrust that moves things forward.

None of the above is particularly mind-blowing, and maybe that's why I was disappointed when there was no cause to feel let down. In a World should appeal to most moviegoers, and not every directorial debut needs to be Citizen Kane.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales]

music friday: hüsker dü, ting tings

Hüsker Dü, The Stone, The Fillmore, 1985, ?. I think I only saw them twice, but I can't be sure there wasn't a third in there somewhere. One of the handful of my favorite bands of the 1980s. They wrote pop songs as good as The Ramones, but they laid a sonic sludge of Bob Mould's guitar atop the pop, meaning they weren't actually pop at all. Sometimes it felt like Mould never turned down his equipment ... even when he wasn't playing for a moment, there'd be sound. They never made a bad album ... I'm partial to New Day Rising, but Zen Arcade fans are welcome to chime in. Here they are in 1985:

The Ting Tings, HP Pavilion, September 2009. Yet another example of a strong opening act at a Pink concert. Here are their two biggest hits:


geezer cinema: lock, stock, and two smoking barrels (guy ritchie, 1998)

This is the first 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 1 is called "Lucky Seven Week":

Looking to score some luck with our first week! Since it's our lucky seventh Season, let's roll the dice on some gambling films and hope not to go bust by the end!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film about gambling. Here's a list to help you get started.

The start of a new Letterboxd Season Challenge. My previous challenges have led to a mixed bunch of films, some very good (most notably The Shape of Water and French Cancan in 19-20), some not so good (The Beast of Yucca Flats from that same challenge). But I love the opportunity to check out new-to-me movies that someone else has decided might be fun. And so, to gambling films and Guy Ritchie.

I've only seen a few of Ritchie's movies, and outside of the first Sherlock Holmes, I'm unimpressed. His movies are hectic, complicated just to be complicated, and showy to no purpose. Tarantino does it all better. Lock Stock, Ritchie's first feature, fits this description, but it did have some positives. Jason Statham got his first role, as did legendary Welsh "hard man" soccer player Vinnie Jones ... he does well here. Sting pops up in a couple of scenes. The soundtrack is fun. There are hardly any women in the cast, which speaks to what matters to Ritchie. You might scratch your head at times trying to figure out what is going on, or which character is which, or what the hell the actors with their thick accents are saying. But you probably won't be bored.

Among the other "gambling movie" choices people selected for the challenge were Casino RoyaleThe Cooler, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]


music friday: billie eilish, happier than ever: a love letter to los angeles

Another concert film from Billie. In this one, she plays the entire Happier Than Ever album in order, accompanied as usual by FINNEAS and that drummer guy. This time she also adds the L.A. Philharmonic, a children's chorus, and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubamdo. The setting is the Hollywood Bowl, with no audience. A few animated sequences of Billie driving around town are included, as well, but mostly it's just Billie and her new songs. It's a nice way to introduce yourself to her new album, or to revisit the album if you've already been loving it. The production isn't the technological marvel that was her show from last October, but that just brought the focus onto the music. (The only song to appear on both concerts was "My Future".

Here she is with "Oxytocin", a song near to my heart after last week's surgery.

Can't take it back once it's been set in motion
You know I need you for the oxytocin
If you find it hard to swallow, I can loosen up your collar
'Cause as long as you're still breathing
Don't you even think of leaving

The film is showing on Disney+, which I suppose explains why the f-word was muffled during "Happier Than Ever". So here's that one, with the fucks left in ... just fucking leave me alone, indeed:


geezer cinema: cruella (craig gillespie, 2021)

I know I'm out of touch when it comes to a movie like Cruella (and it doesn't help that my brain is addled from too much cannabis to deal with too much post-op pain). There's nothing really wrong with Cruella, outside of its ridiculous 134-minute running time. And the two Emmas in the lead roles (Stone and Thompson) ham it up quite properly. But I don't know that there was any reason to make the movie in the first place, which is evidence that I am out of touch.

I mean, the reason Cruella exists is easy to find. 101 Dalmatians, the live-action remake of the 60s animated hit, with Glenn Close as Cruella, returned $320 million on a reported budget of $75 million. The box office for the sequel (102 Dalmations) wasn't as promising: $183 million on an $85 million budget.

Cruella is a prequel to those movies, an origin story if you will. An origin for a villain, which means it's tricky to get the audience on Cruella's side. You have to show that there was something good in the beginning, you have to show the evil Cruella emerging, and you have to do this while retaining the audience's sympathy for the title character. It's something like Joker, but Cruella isn't nearly mean enough. The costume design is in your face, and to the extent I know anything about costumes, I'd say Cruella's best shot at an Oscar would be for costumes. Meanwhile, a sequel is being planned.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]


update

I'm working on it.

These pages have gone quiet for a few days. It's hard to concentrate when I try to write. The pain in my nose/face is getting better, but still far from optimal, so I'm still taking pain meds, supplemented with cannabis edibles that leave me properly fucked up (good news) and mostly stupid (not so good news).