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le cercle rouge (jean-pierre melville, 1970)

Gradually, I am catching up to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville. Of course, he's been dead for almost 50 years, but better late than never. Le Cercle Rouge is my fourth Melville movie, and it's not just that I liked them all, it's that they are all very good indeed. Bob le Flambeur, Le Samouraï, Army of Shadows ... hard to pick a favorite amongst them. Le Samouraï in particular was a big influence on John Woo.

Le Cercle Rouge is another strong film. It was Melville's penultimate film ... he died in 1973. He wasn't well-served in the U.S. Le Samouraï, made in 1967, didn't make it to the U.S. until 1972, in a poorly-dubbed version titled The Godson (guess what hit movie had recently been released). Army of Shadows won multiple awards on its release in the USA ... almost 40 years after its initial release. Le Cercle Rouge, which runs 140 minutes, was released in America in a truncated version missing more than 40 minutes.

Le Cercle Rouge is a heist movie, and the actual heist is almost half-an-hour long and features no dialogue. (It's very tense, as you can imagine, but I also confess that at one point, what seemed to be a stationary camera focused on ... well, I don't know what. It took me about a minute to realize the Blu-ray was stuck.) I've seen a lot of Alain Delon's movies and they are all good-to-great. As I wrote about Purple Noon, "Alain Delon seems to intuitively know what makes a movie actor. It is rare that you see Delon doing anything ostentatious, and in those rare occasions, he is serving the script. For the most part, he watches others, learning how to become them in the manner of a chameleon, while his physical beauty grabs our attention no matter who or what else is on the screen."

I might start with Le Samouraï or Army of Shadows, but Le Cercle Rouge is equally worth your attention. #580 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

music friday: tom snyder

Tom Snyder had a long career in radio and television, and is best known for his late-night talk shows. His presence was eccentric enough that Dan Ackroyd made it one of his SNL impressions.

During the punk/new wave era, Snyder had a lot of great musical guests. Everyone from John Lennon to John Lydon to KISS. He loved Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics. Ramones, the Clash, Iggy, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, he had them all. He never pretended to be anything other than what he was, a middle-aged media personality. But he treated his guests with respect (as long as they didn't throw shit back at him), and it was pretty refreshing at the time. Here is a show from 1978 that includes Joan Jett and Paul Weller, as well as Kim Fowley, Bill Graham, and Robert Hilburn.

Snyder died on this date in 2007 at the age of 71.

geezer cinema: the princess (lê văn kiệt, 2022)

I first came across Lê Văn Kiệt a couple of years ago, when I watched Furie as part of a Letterboxd challenge. It was a delightful surprise. I wrote, "Everything about Furie is a little better than you expect, and the result knocks your socks off." So I was eager to see The Princess, with a decent cast of lesser-knowns (Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko, along with Veronica Ngô, who was the star of Furie), and good reviews for the action scenes. It's true, though, that overall, The Princess wasn't popular with critics (a Metascore of 43/100), or, for that matter, filmgoers (IMDB rating of 5.5/10). I actually intended to see Nope, but the theaters are still a bit crowded for us in this COVID era.

So, The Princess. Which isn't as good as Furie, but once again, it's a little better than you expect, and at times, at least, it can knock your socks off. The plot is generic (young princess is forced to marry a bad man, she tries to escape her destiny), and there's something kind of cheap about the look (it was shot in Bulgaria ... I don't know why). It reminded me of Kick-Ass, with that great performance by Chloë Grace Moretz as "Hit-Girl". Except here, the ass-kicking woman (Joey King) is a decade older than Hit-Girl, and she is the main character, not a supporting role.

As with Moretz, there is something fun about a little shrimp kicking ass, and Kiệt makes sure the Princess gets a lot of really big men to whoop on. Special kudos to fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh, who performed the same function for Furie. Joey King is clearly having a great time, Veronica Ngô is a welcome presence who has a lot to do in the second half of the film, and Olga Kurylenko combines a cool outfit, a whip, and an attitude to good effect.

This is not a great movie, and it may have benefitted from my lowered expectations. But it was certainly a fun way to spend a couple of hours (I laughed a lot).

revisiting the 9s: dunkirk (christopher nolan, 2017)

[This is the tenth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

When I first saw Dunkirk in 2018, I wrote:

Dunkirk is a success in almost every way.... here, I think [Christopher Nolan] uses his bag of tricks not just to show off, but to help the audience along, which turns out to be an excellent idea.

There are three basic stories in this telling of the Battle of Dunkirk, land, sea, and air. The sea is the most famous part of the story ... the civilian boats coming to rescue the troops are iconic reminders of the event. The troops waited on land ... meanwhile, aircraft provided cover for the boats. Nolan's structure for telling those stories is fascinating and effective.

A second viewing helped me realize that one of the best things about Dunkirk is the way it defines heroism. Too often, even an anti-war film gives us heroes to believe in who are essentially good at war, so we're rooting for people who go against the movie's theme. Nolan mostly bypasses this problem, perhaps because the story of Dunkirk isn't a story of victory, but a story of successful evacuation. The most memorable heroes, exemplified by Mark Rylance as Dawson, one of the civilian sailors called on to save the day, are steadfast, but their job isn't a gung-ho slaughter of the enemy, but rather to pull off a rescue operation.

The tremendous special effects (not CGI) truly bring home the horrors of war. Dunkirk is an amazing technical achievement. I don't know that I'm ready to give it the treasured 10/10, but it wouldn't bother me if someone did so.

Hans Zimmer's score is tremendous. I liked this video so much that I included it in my original post, and I'm going to include it again here.

like someone in love (abbas kiarostami, 2012)

Like Someone in Love was one of the last pictures from the noted Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend's House?, Close-Up, Certified Copy). While I have only seen a small portion of the many films from Kiarostami, I've never seen one I didn't like, and Close-Up was probably the best film of 1990. Kiarostami filmed Like Someone in Love in Japan with a Japanese cast speaking Japanese, and you'd think the result would be a bit distanced from Japanese culture. But it actually has the feel of a Japanese film ... Ozu is often mentioned in discussions of the movie.

Like Someone in Love features three primary characters: Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a college student who also works as a call girl, her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryô Kase), and an elderly client (Tadashi Okuno). According to Kiarostami, Tadashi "had earned his living in film for 50 years, but had never uttered a line. He was a professional extra." It's an interesting piece of casting ... Tadashi Okuno was not an amateur, but he had a self-effacing presence that make his character feel natural in his imperfections. There is something resembling a plot, but you don't come to the movie wondering "what happens next". The forward progression of the film derives from the gradual unfolding of the characters as we learn more about them. However, it's never clear if the characters see themselves as progressing. We are on the outside, watching them, and from that we get the distancing I mentioned earlier.

There is a lot of dialogue in Like Someone in Love, and much of the film takes place indoors, in cramped environs. Nothing seems very private. We are stuck in close quarters with the characters, even as we as an audience are distanced from the people we see on the screen. In one remarkable scene (like many, it takes place inside a car), Akiko listens to a series of voicemails from her grandmother, which we hear, but Kiarostami shoots from outside the car, through the windows.

Like Someone in Love was shot entirely in digital, and the look can be distracting for those of us who still expect movies to look like film. In any event, the cinematography is impressive throughout. #403 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

the lion king (roger allers and rob minkoff, 1994)

Am I the last person on Earth to see The Lion King? We all have blind spots in our viewing histories ... I'm no different from anyone else, we just all have different blind spots. The Lion King never appealed to me, because I knew it was animated Disney with songs, and the songs don't usually appeal to me (this makes it hard for me to enjoy modern musicals in general). And sure enough, I can't think of a single song in The Lion King that I'd need to hear again (outside of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which isn't specific to this film).

So while I finally got around to watching it, I was never going to be its biggest fan. And I admit that every time a new song appeared, I wanted to hit the fast-forward button (since the movie is only 88 minutes long, I'd have ended up with a short subject). But I'm glad I watched it, because when characters weren't singing, I found The Lion King interesting. The music by Hans Zimmer is evocative. The visuals are good to look at. The story is elemental, but what the heck. It seemed a bit emotionally wrenching for kids, despite its "G" rating, with one death that evokes that of Bambi's mom. The Lion King isn't my favorite animated feature, nor is it my least favorite. It's a good movie, outside of what I usually find worth watching, but given that everyone else has already seen it, you don't really need my opinion.

The vocal cast includes just about everyone. Since I tend to disagree with the idea that famous actors are better than professional voice-over actors for animated films, I was distracted by people like James Earl Jones, who sounds like himself even when he is playing a lion. Having said that, Jeremy Irons was wonderfully effective. And I liked the idea of laughing hyenas who were also bad guys, no matter who did the voices.

music friday: illinois jacquet, "flying home"

Illinois Jacquet was a jazz saxophonist who at the age of 19 played a solo on a Lionel Hampton recording of a song Hampton wrote with Benny Goodman called "Flying Home". His solo, planted in the middle of a jazz recording, is generally considered to be the first "R&B sax solo". The saxophone was a crucial ingredient in early rock and roll, moving into the 60s with the likes of King Curtis and Junior Walker and so many more. But somebody had to be first.

Here is Jacquet appearing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1949:

And here, Spike Lee makes great use of the Hampton recording in the movie Malcolm X:

Jacquet died on this date on 2004, at the age of 81.

geezer cinema/film fatales #146: where the crawdads sing (olivia newman, 2022)

Daisy Edgar-Jones, a young British actress I don't know, gives a solid performance in the lead, keeping our interest in ways the narrative doesn't always accomplish. Where the Crawdads Sing feels portentous, but not a whole lot happens, and it's ultimately not very interesting. It would probably look just fine if you were channel surfing and came across it ... it won't ruin your day. The cinematography is great, giving a solid sense of what a North Carolina marsh is like. I'd like to say more about it, but my guess is, five years from now, I'll forget I ever saw it. A few familiar faces turn up in the supporting cast (Michael Hyatt, David Strathairn, Garret Dillahunt, Eric Ladin ... look 'em up), and Taylor Swift contributes a song.

linguica and me

This is a Bad Subjects essay from 1999. I wanted to post it after receiving a wonderful comment on an old post from someone who played a part in what follows.

Linguica and Me

Bad Subjects, Issue #43, April 1999


You hear a lot of talk about "comfort foods" these days, as aging baby-boomers and others attempt to relive the moments of their childhood when Mom made them their favorite meals. These comfort foods take us back to a time when we could count on being mothered, could count on a warm and caring home, could simply count on good things and people being there for us when we needed them. When people talk of comfort foods, they usually mean mashed potatoes and gravy, or hot oatmeal, or maybe a strawberry milkshake.

When I think of comfort foods, I think of linguica.

It's a difficult concept for me to accept, that I might have a comfort food. I have always been ambivalent about my past; the one thing guaranteed to give me comfort is the notion that as a child, I never felt comfortable. And so it makes a certain sense that when I recognize my comfort food, it's a greasy stick of fat and spices.

The great documentarian Frederick Wiseman made a film once about meat processing. One long sequence stands out in my mind: we follow a cow from its being prodded into the processing plant, through its death and dismemberment, and in the details the viewer eventually feels as if they are watching an abstract painter at work. By the end, there seems to be no connection between the animal that entered the plant and the beef that came out. When the workers are done, there is leftover meat lying all over the place, which is collected into large dumpsters using what looks like snow shovels. This leftover meat is used for hamburger.

If there's anything left over after they make the burger meat, I like to imagine they start making sausages.

Linguica is a Portuguese sausage made of pork and other stuff. Exactly what other stuff is for someone else to ascertain; I'm queasy enough just imagining what part of the pig ends up in the linguica. Linguica has been a part of my life since I was a small child, which likely explains why I take expensive cholesterol medicine today.

I worked with a man named Manuel back in my factory days. Manuel was a portly Chicano lift-truck driver who had lots of health problems as he approached his 40s. Finally, he had a small heart attack, after which his doctors insisted that he needed to improve his diet. They wanted him to cut back on his meat consumption, but Manuel confessed to the doctors that while he would try, they were asking a lot of him. Well, the doctors replied, at least eat only the leanest meat, and when you have a steak, eat small portions and cut the fat off the sides before you cook it. I remember Manuel telling me one night that he really wanted to follow the doctors' orders, but it was very hard because ever since he was a kid he'd been taught to eat the fat because "it was the best part." Manuel's dead now; childhood habits are hard to break.

When I was a kid, my Spanish grandmother had linguica delivered to her house. Other families in those days had milkmen, or if they were especially lucky, a bakery truck might deliver breads. But my grandmother was different: a couple of times a month, a truck from the Moniz Sausage Company would stop at Grandma's house, and she would buy a few sticks of linguica.

My grandmother lived to be almost 100 years old, and I'd like to say it was all that linguica which gave her long life, but in fact, she often had stomach troubles late in her life, and she didn't get to eat linguica in those later years. Which didn't stop her from feeding it to her own offspring. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, for decades the Rubios ate linguica. I never knew in those days that it was a Portuguese sausage, always assuming it, like my grandmother, came from Spain.

When my future wife and I started dating in high school, we regularly stopped off at the International Sausage Shop in Antioch, California, where we would pool our meager resources and split the costs of a linguica sandwich and an orange soda. Those were romantic times, let me tell you. Some years later, we discovered a place on the other side of town that made a most remarkable delicacy: linguica sandwich au jus! When the linguica and melted cheese were good and ready, they would be placed on the bottom of a large roll, after which the proprietors would take the top of the roll and dip it in linguica juice. If you've never eaten linguica, a short explanation is appropriate: "linguica juice" is another way of saying "rancid yellow pig grease." Comfort food indeed.

Linguica continued to follow me into adulthood. I spent one year living in Indiana, where linguica was so hard to come by that I returned to California, determined to never again live in a land without linguica. I did what I could to spread the linguica manifesto, although there wasn't much need to educate my fellow factory buddies who, like me, had grown up eating the stuff. When I began graduate school, though, I found a whole new cadre of friends, most of whom either had never heard of linguica or had been afraid to eat it. Early in our graduate careers, we went out for a night of pizza and beer meant to solidify our new-found collective spirit. My contribution to the festivities was to insist on ordering a linguica pizza, after ascertaining that the pub we were attending used real linguica rather than mere spiced-up ground pork. Sure enough, when the pizza arrived, there were dozens of small pieces of linguica. On the top of each piece proudly sat a bubbly glop of hot "linguica juice." I never got asked out to eat pizza with my grad school friends after that. Even the woman who professed undying love for Led Zeppelin drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham was more popular than me.

My grandmother practiced a very strict brand loyalty when it came to linguica. Only Moniz was good enough for a Rubio, she regularly proclaimed. And, in fact, most other brands of linguica had the same relationship to my comfort food as instant potato flakes have to real mashed potatoes. There was one company, though, Saag's, that made excellent sausages of all kinds, and their linguica, while not quite a match for Moniz', was nonetheless more than edible. For some years, Saag's had the sausage concession at the Oakland Coliseum, and I would look forward to eating a linguica sandwich at the baseball game. Little did I know that my small betrayal of Moniz would result in actual physical harm.

For one afternoon, leaving the ballpark after enjoying a home-team victory and a linguica sandwich, I found myself walking next to two old gentlemen, one of whom had a cap on with the word "Moniz" on the front. I asked him if the cap represented the sausage company, and he replied in the affirmative. "We've always loved Moniz linguica in my family," I informed him, asking if he worked for Moniz in some capacity. "I AM Moniz!," was his immortal reply. I couldn't have been more excited if I had just been introduced to Elvis. I started blathering about how Moniz trucks used to deliver linguica to my grandmother's house, and as I jabbered, I worked my way between the Moniz man and his companion. This other old-timer listened to me for a bit and then proclaimed that HE was the Saag's man, and that HE made linguica just as good as Moniz! Talk about heaven, I thought, I'm walking along between two of the greatest sausagemakers of all time! I turned to the Saag Man to congratulate him on all the great sausages he made, but he would have none of it. All he wanted to talk about was his linguica. Well, I said, you make great sausages, and your linguica is very good, but I'm sorry, Moniz makes the best linguica. Saag Man started punching me in my arm, insisting that his linguica was the best, which inspired Moniz Man to pound on my other arm, hoping to distract me from being swept over to the dark side. All the way to my car I walked between these two Titans of Tubesteak, getting my arms pummeled by their septuagenarian fists. I never betrayed Moniz, though.

Linguica isn't much of a choice for a comfort food: it gives you heartburn, it's full of cholesterol and unnamable meat products, it's ugly in its casing, it's ugly cooking in a pan, and it's ugly when it's ready to eat. Which is about how I want to remember my childhood: ugly and full of heartburn. But I know the lie underneath such a fantasy. My childhood was pretty normal, less interesting than the fact that I want to turn that childhood into a paean to greasy hog meat. I want to resist the very possibility that there is real comfort in my past, and so I adopt linguica as My Meat. My old friend Manuel took steak fat to his grave, but I don't eat linguica much anymore. I want to live to a ripe old age, so I can tell my great-great-grandchildren about the olden days when grease made housecalls.

Copyright © 1999, 2022 by Steven Rubio. All rights reserved. Permission to link to this site is granted.


This is from a follow-up post from 2003 ... and yes, the recent comment I mentioned above is from John Correia Jr., the son of the John Correia you read about below.

ohmigod, linguica dept. (rubios, read this one)

I've gotten a couple of emails recently about the article I wrote four years ago about linguica. I hear from people every month or two about that piece, but getting two emails in three days seemed a bit much, so I googled "linguica" and "rubio" and found a link to Moniz.

Imagine my surprise (and pride!). So I decided to call the number in the listing, and next thing you know, I'm talking to a woman at Moniz. Turns out she knows who I am ... she found the article on the web and printed it out for everyone at Moniz, so they all know me, I guess. We talked for awhile, and then she asked if I could hold on a second ... I heard her talking to someone in the background, "I've got the guy on the phone who wrote that article!" ... and then this old guy picks up the phone, John Correia is his name, and his job is ... DELIVERY GUY FOR MONIZ!

He says he's been delivering for a v.long time, and I said well, my grandmother used to get Moniz delivered to her house, and he said yes he'd read that in the article, and I said well, she was all the way in Antioch (Moniz is out of Oakland), and he said oh, I used to deliver out there, and I said her name was Frances Rubio, and he said he didn't remember, it was so long ago, and I said she was an old Spanish lady, and he said YES, HE KNEW WHO I MEANT! and YES, HE USED TO DELIVER TO HER!!!

So here it is, 2003, my grandmother has been dead for almost 20 years, it's been longer than that since I can remember the Moniz truck coming to her house, and ... I'm talking to the Moniz delivery guy and he remembers!

File this one under Small World, I guess ...

eighth grade (bo burnham, 2018)

My only encounter with Bo Burnham prior to this was his stand-up special, What., about which I wrote, "There's a lot of talent here, and I can imagine Eighth Grade could be a good movie. But I've probably seen enough of his stand-up." Turns out Eighth Grade is a good movie, and since Burnham wrote and directed it, he deserves much praise. But the film wouldn't work without the great performance by Elsie Fisher as the lead, Kayla. Fisher, who in real life was finishing 8th grade just as filming started for Eighth Grade, gives a truly realistic performance, filled with the early-teens combination of confidence and social awkwardness. Eighth Grade has as many cringe-inducing moments as comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Comeback, but Fisher roots them in a characterization that is recognizable as both someone we might have known when we were 13, and as ourselves at that age. We always root for her, because there is no meanness in her behavior. Her dad is even more cringey, but always because he is trying too hard to be a good dad. He lacks meanness, as well.

In fact, Burnham does a fine job in general of avoiding meanness in Eighth Grade. The people who are the middle-school equivalent of "Heathers" aren't overt with their scorn, they are just absorbed with their mobile phones. And Burnham allows us to see how Kayla would want acceptance from those pseudo-Heathers, without condescension, even as we can see Kayla deserves better.

Kayla makes self-help YouTube videos that reminded me of Bob and Doug Mackenzie, amateurish, always with a theme. They help us understand Kayla (and Burnham himself got his start making YouTube videos). I find it interesting that Burnham appeals to me more when he is channeling a 13-year-old girl than when he is presenting "himself" in his stand-up. #595 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.