I liked Venom. It was trashy, it was stupid, critics hated it, but I liked it. Along comes a sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and I'm guessing I'm the audience for it, even if the critics once again hated it.
Well, I'm sad to say I didn't like Let There Be Carnage. I laughed at the first few scenes, because I expected to laugh and so I did. Until I realized it wasn't actually all that funny. Which left the trash and the stupid. By the time the movie ended (after a merciful 97 minutes) I found myself questioning whether I really liked the original all that much.
The key to these movies is the relationship between Eddie and Venom ... it's a buddy movie between a human host and alien symbiote. It doesn't work in this sequel, and I'm afraid to watch the first one again because I don't want to think it sucked, too.
I liked it more than Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle did, but mostly because it would be impossible to like the movie less than did LaSalle. "It’s the worst movie Tom Hardy ever made. It’s the worst movie Woody Harrelson ever made. And it’s the worst movie Michelle Williams ever made.... it’s one of the worst movies of 2021. In fact, in a happier year, it might even be one of the worst things to have happened that year."
Wanna feel like you're getting your money's worth? Just watch an anthology movie! You're usually guaranteed at least three stories within one running time, though it's up to you to decide if it's better than the sum of its parts.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen anthology film.
The choices suggested in the above list stretched the concept of "anthology" a bit. Among the choices were D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, which tells four interlocking stories simultaneously, and Godard's Vivre sa vie, which has episodes but it not what I would call an anthology.
Trilogy of Terror was a TV movie that aired on the ABC Movie of the Week. That series had a few memorable showings ... Spielberg's first feature, Duel, was a Movie of the Week, as was Brian's Song, with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. Trilogy of Terror came near the end of the Movie of the Week run. It teamed Dan Curtis, who created Dark Shadows, writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), who wrote the three stories adapted for the movie, and Karen Black, nominated for an Oscar for Five Easy Pieces, who was a busy actor in 1975, also appearing in The Day of the Locust and Nashville.
A lot of anthology movies are remembered for one episode in particular. Spirits of the Dead, a late-60s anthology of Poe stories directed by Fellini, Malle, and Vadim, is a standout primarily for Fellini's segment, Toby Dammit, starring Terence Stamp. Trilogy of Terror is no different in this regard ... the first two episodes are completely forgettable, but the third has become a cult classic. In it, Black (who stars in all three segments) plays a woman, Amelia, who buys a Zuni fetish doll as a present for her boyfriend. The doll comes to life and terrorizes Amelia. It's a combination of the claustrophobic setting in Amelia's apartment, concise editing, and Black's appropriate over-acting that makes it so memorable. I'm pretty sure I didn't see it at the time, but that little doll seemed to be everywhere, meaning I thought I'd seen it even though I'd likely only seen commercials for the film.
The plot of the Amelia chapter is ludicrous, but that rarely matters in horror, does it? It's reputation is exaggerated, but it's worth seeing, and it is so much better than the other two segments that it would be nice if you could just watch that final third.
I decided to give Raging Bull another chance. It's almost universally admired, one of (if not the) best movies from arguably our greatest living director. I've never understood that. I can think of at least 8 Scorsese movies I like better, and next to classics like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and The Last Waltz, well, it doesn't belong in their company. But I couldn't escape the feeling that I was being unfair to the film, so I watched it this time with something resembling an open mind.
Start with Robert De Niro. He is great, no doubt. The fat transformation does some of the work for him, but in Jake's leaner days (which make up most of the movie), De Niro exudes a barely-contained violence against the world, and his face tells us this man thinks he is misunderstood. So yes, it's a great performance, worthy of the Oscar he won. And it's not really a biopic, which is nice.
But it's not really anything else, either. Why was this movie made? I don't mean why did Scorsese make it, what did it mean to him personally, I mean, as a viewer, do we ever get a feeling for why Scorsese made it, for why it needed to be made? I admit, I don't think so. The real-life Jake LaMotta is peripherally interesting and no more, and the movie Jake doesn't have levels. He's elemental, he just is, kinda like the movie itself. The boxing scenes are impressionistic, and putting the camera inside the ring with the fighters is effective, but you have to suspend disbelief because even though the structure generally follows the actual fights, they are completely unreal as presented.
My favorite trivia item from the IMDB: "Robert De Niro kept a copy of Pauline Kael's scathing review of the film with his penned in retorts such as, 'So?', 'That's the point!'" The funny thing is, it's nowhere near as scathing as Kael can be. Metacritic read it and assigned it rating of 70/100, below the average of critics in general, but 70 for Metacritic is a positive review. Apparently, though, for De Niro and I imagine for the film's many fans, 70/100 for Raging Bull is insulting.
We're going to see Billie Eilish next week, so you know she's going to have to be this week's Music Friday.
Billie often directs her own videos, which is pretty cool, but I'm opting for live songs here.
By the end of the weekend, she and Finneas might have an Oscar. This looks like it's pro-shot. It's from Madison Square Garden on the current tour:
And here is the best song from her most recent album. The video is OK, audio is interesting ... she gets drowned out at times by the crowd, but it feels appropriate.
The setlists are mostly unchanged from night to night. Here's a Spotify playlist of the standard set. The last two songs are ones she has sung at some point on the tour, but not regularly ... the shows end with "Happier Than Ever" and then "Goodbye" over the P.A.
Autobiographical film from Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo) about a young boy in a town, Naples, that loves Diego Maradona. While we only see Diego on television (and some distant shots played by an actor who is pretty good at free kicks), he is a central character in the movie. The primary local soccer team, Napoli, had struggled for some time while teams from Northern Italy were enjoying success. Napoli paid a record fee to bring Maradona to Napoli. He was the greatest player of his era, perhaps the greatest of all time, and with him, Napoli returned to the heights of Italian soccer. The Argentine became an icon to the people of Naples ... late in his life he was named an honorary citizen of the city.
The young boy, Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), decides to become a film director as he becomes a young man. Much of this follows the real life of Sorrentino. The first half of the film draws an insightful panorama of life in Naples through the eyes of Fabietto. Family and community are paramount, and the people are lovely, each in their own way. Also, the importance of Maradona to the community is made clear. But then something tragic happens in the life of Fabietto, and the film loses its flow. While the earlier half of the movie covers a period of a couple of years, it's all of a piece. After that, what we get is more a series of vignettes, many of them interesting (and many of them based on the "real"), but the flow is gone. The first half of the film is a classic; the second half is promising but ultimately unfulfilling.
Scotti is very good as Fabietto, and the rest of the cast fits right into their characters. Special kudos to Luisa Ranieri, who plays Fabietto's aunt ... she exudes an aura of sexuality that burns off of the screen, but she also conveys the troubled psyche of a woman who is troubled, emotionally and mentally.
The Oscars are in a few days, and I may not see any more of the nominated films before then, so here is a quick look at those films. I've seen 9 of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture ... here they are, with links to my posts:
My #1 film of 2021, Summer of Soul, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature.
As for the rest, I think Drive My Car deserves every award for which it is nominated, and I'd like to see Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas win Best Song.
For the acting awards, my only opinions are that Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) is easily the best of the supporting actress nominees, and Andrew Garfield (tick, tick ... BOOM!) is the worst of the best actor nominees. I've seen 17 of the 20 acting nominees.
It's no secret, the vapid pageantry that the Oscars facilitate; but I thought it might be an interesting exercise to see what would've happened had the Letterboxd community been the voting party each year.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Best Picture nominated film considered to be the best by the Letterboxd community.
As is clear from the directions for this week's challenge, The Front Page was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1931 and didn't win. Director Lewis Milestone was also nominated, as was Adolphe Menjou for Best Actor. (Neither of them were winners. The winners were Cimarron, Norman Taurog, and Lionel Barrymore. Milestone could take solace from the fact that he had won directing Oscars the two previous years.)
The Front Page was a successful Broadway play in 1928, written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It was a perfect choice for a movie version, since talkies had just arrived, and the fast-paced dialogue of the play would work well on the screen. Like the play, much of the movie takes place in one setting (a press room populated by reporters), which helped with the newish technology, but Lewis Milestone was also willing to try things that might be lively. (David Thomson refers to Milestone's "inventive, flashy technique that passed for style".) The Front Page is never visually stodgy, and the sound is also exemplary (this is nothing like what we see in Singin' in the Rain). Still, it was the dialogue from Hecht and MacArthur that drove the film.
The film has suffered from a couple of things it had no control over. First, there was another version of the play in 1940, His Girl Friday, that is a cinema classic. Director Howard Hawks had the idea to change the character of Hildy Johnson from a man to a woman, which changed the dynamics of the plot. Hawks also used overlapping dialogue to make his film seem even faster than it already was (Hecht and MacArthur intended for this, but Hawks pushed it to an extreme). There is no shame in being a lesser movie than His Girl Friday, but when that film is a remake of your own, the comparisons are unavoidable.
Another problem for The Front Page is that it fell into the public domain, resulting in a surfeit of versions of low quality. Luckily, the film was restored a few years ago, so we can see it in its best light.
The Front Page is enjoyable ... the stage play may be indestructible. But I admit I spent much of my viewing time wishing I was watching His Girl Friday for the umpteenth time.
Last month, I bitched and moaned about Tick, Tick ... Boom! I added nothing to the discourse about the film. I could have just stopped at "not my cup of tea" and moved on.
I can't fairly judge Encanto, because it's not my cup of tea. I appreciate some of the obvious positives ... the long-due representation of Colombian life, a heroine who doesn't look like a Barbie doll, the brilliant use of color. But Encanto is also praised for its animation ... care has been taken to make each character have their own personality that comes out in their facial expressions and body movements. But those facial expressions drove me crazy. Every character has gigantic eyes, and so what, except when attached to expressions that reflect "reality", those eyes, along with the body movements, give the characters an unreal feel. Hey, it's a cartoon, we don't expect Bugs Bunny to look exactly like a rabbit. But I think we're supposed to react to the characters in Encanto as if they are animated but real, and I was nothing other than distracted.
So this time, I'll keep it short. Encanto is not my cup of tea, your mileage may vary. But if this looks and sounds good to you, then by all means, check it out:
The story goes that Renate Reinsve had decided to give up on acting to become a carpenter. She met with Joachim Trier, and he wrote her the lead part for his new movie, The Worst Person in the World. Reinsve had done some stage work and had appeared in several Norwegian television series, but she wasn't yet a name. Trier saw something, and Reinsve has now won a couple of Best Actress awards (including one at Cannes). The film is nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Oscars, and if Reinsve is absent from the nominations list, she can take pride in being at the center of a film that is highly regarded.
Trier has said that The Worst Person in the World is a rom-com for people who hate rom-coms. Honestly, I could barely tell it was a rom-com. It is an honest look at love and relationships, how difficult they can be, and how a person can struggle in relationships when they are still finding out who they are. Needless to saw, Reinsve's character (Julie) is not the person referred to in the title, but that title does reflect how we don't always see the good things about ourselves that others recognize in us.
There is more to the film than Reinsve ... in particular, Anders Danielsen Lie is excellent. But the reason to see The Worst Person in the World is Reinsve, and the character Trier has created for her.
Been watching more TV lately. The new seasons of Outlander and Better Things have finally arrived, with Atlanta soon to follow. But the primary reason for my expanded viewing is that the great Tim Goodman is back, with a Substack that I love. Goodman was the TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and then for the Hollywood Reporter, before taking a sabbatical of sorts (details here). The fun thing about Tim's Substack is that he doesn't just post his thoughts on various things (TV included, of course), but he leads the virtual equivalent of discussion groups, with "assignments" and everything (his background in teaching comes through strong). The "assignments" are called "Box Sets" (details here), where he selects a show and we all watch, two episodes a week, and then contribute to a commentary thread. Some really brilliant people are involved, and the discussions are illuminating while creating the kind of online community that is still possible today.
The shows we have watched are Station Eleven and Collateral, which we have finished, and Counterpart and The End of the F***ing World, which we are in the middle of. Collateral was a brief British mini-series from David Hare that aired in 2018, starring Carey Mulligan as a Detective Inspector. I'll cheat here and quote from some of my comments:
I feel silly complaining about how solid and good it is. Lots of great casting, intriguing narrative. Reminiscent of so many excellent British crime/police dramas. But ... and I wonder if it felt this way in 2018 ... so much television today has a kind of flash, both visual and narrative. Collateral felt accomplished, but my viewing habits seem to have changed, so I wanted something more. Something like Happy Valley was so remarkably vicious that I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. Carey Mulligan does wonders with a rather minimalist acting style.
You can catch this on Netflix.
Station Eleven was an odd one, a recent series from HBO Max based on a novel about a post-apocalypse world (caused by a pandemic ... yes, it was creepy to watch at times). I'd seen a couple of episodes when it came out. Again, some comments:
I confess that when I first watched, I was completely confused, so much so that I was ready to give up on the series. Then my wife explained things, and I decided to give it another chance, and I'm glad I did. My problem with Station Eleven is that I was too confused to get much intellectually, and perhaps because of that, I didn't often connect on an emotional level.
Chuck Berry died on this date in 2017 at the age of 90. If you want to pick the #1 exemplar of rock and roll, Chuck would be the man. Yes, Elvis was the King. But Chuck Berry wrote the story of Elvis in song ... "Johnny B. Goode" is the greatest rock and roll song, and it tells an important story in that Berry was writing about himself, but it was Elvis who personified the story as America perceived it. Berry's original lyrics were about a "colored boy", although he changed them to "country boy" to get it on the radio. "Johnny B. Goode" was also placed on the Voyager Golden Record that was launched into space in 1977, giving future extraterrestrials a peek at the culture of Earth. As John Lennon said, "If you had tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."
Here is Chuck in the film Rock, Rock, Rock!:
And two versions of "Johnny B. Goode". First, live, from 1958:
And again, in 1995, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Look at Bruce's face ... it speaks multitudes:
Here's a Spotify playlist of some of Berry's best. I included one track from a live album recorded at the Fillmore in 1967, which happened to be my very first rock concert.