What a magnificent movie! It's totally insane, it's three hours long but never boring, it is an action extravaganza as well as a musical, it's everything all at once, to refer to the only other 2022 movie I've seen that is this good.
Rajamouli tells the entirely fictional story of two historical revolutionaries who never met in real life. It's hard to say RRR came out of nowhere ... it is Rajamouli's 12th feature, co-stars N. T. Rama Rao Jr. (NTR) and Ram Charan are huge, award-winning stars, as is fellow cast member Alia Bhatt. It's the most expensive Indian film of all time. It's a box-office smash, and now it's a hit on Netflix. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was supposed to be good. That turned out to be an understatement.
The stars bring great charisma to their roles. Rajamouli's plot is always engrossing, even when it makes little sense. The special effects are remarkable. The essential conflict of the two men at the center of the picture is told with great feeling. And it's often extremely funny, with a handful of expansive musical numbers we expect from Indian cinema. And there are a couple of "Hey, it's that guys!", like Ray Stevenson (always Titus Pullo at our house) and former Bond Girl Alison Doody.
RRR has some violent scenes, which may prevent some from wanting to see it. Everyone else, though, should check it out whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.
The grandson was over and wanted to watch one of his favorite movies, which is how I ended up watching Spaceballs for the first time.
Many caveats are necessary. First, when I searched to find a streaming choice, one was free while the others cost money, so I chose the free one, which turned out was a BBC America version that was slightly edited for profanity. So I didn't see the actual movie. (Kudos to the grandson, who actually noticed stuff was missing!). Second, it's not really my kind of movie, and I'm exhausted from watching 4 World Cup matches a day, so I fear I fell asleep in the middle of the movie. So I'll hold back on criticizing what I didn't really see.
On the BBC America version, this segment was edited to remove one of the most famous lines in the film, one my grandson had been looking forward to. On the BBC version, everything referring to assholes is removed ... it jumps from seeing the cross-eyed men to the Darth Vader stand-in closing his helmet:
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen black and white film made between 2012-2022.
The casting of Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth delighted us, as we had seen her in the role on stage a few years ago. At the time, I wrote:
I couldn’t help but reflect on the ways I’ve experienced Macbeth over the years. Polanski’s version came out about the time I became a film major, and given my lack of knowledge about Shakespeare, my sense of the play was a bit warped. (Another Macbeth I saw and loved was Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.) Twenty years later, I was an English graduate student taking a course taught by the noted Shakespeare scholar Janet Adelman. I was way out of my league ... the best I could offer in terms of my past connection to Shakespeare was to say I’d seen Forbidden Planet many times. Still, when I want to learn more about Macbeth, as often as not I turn to Adelman. Now, of course, I’m just an old fart with a blog.
I don't think my knowledge of Shakespeare and Macbeth has grown any since then. So I don't have any great insights into this production, which was the first solo directorial work by Joel Coen, who worked with his brother in the past. Denzel Washington and McDormand were fine ... their line readings were intelligent ... but for me, Macbeth shouldn't be played by a 67-year-old man (that's what Lear is for). Mick LaSalle wrote:
It’s interesting, in the abstract, to have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth in their 60s. But the age at which people are most likely to kill someone for a promotion is generally a bit younger, as in the 30s or 40s. A Macbeth who has made it into his mid-60s without sticking a knife into the king’s neck is probably never going to do it. He’s more likely to want to kick back on a nice bearskin and have a few tankards of mead.
The black and white film looks tremendous, effectively odd ... I think Orson Welles would have approved. Kudos to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designers Stefan Dechant and Nancy Haigh (all three received Oscar nominations). Macbeth is a bit foolproof ... people always like it, even if it isn't considered to be at the level of the classics like Hamlet and King Lear. I still prefer the Roman Polanski version, but this one is an honorable attempt.
On this date in 1986, the television series Moonlighting broadcast the episode "Atomic Shakespeare". It featured the regular cast in a version of The Taming of the Shrew. Here, David Addison/Petruchio (Bruce Willis) sings a Rascals' song while Maddie Hayes/Kate (Cybill Shepherd) is tied up.
The problem for every sequel not named The Godfather: Part II is that the excellence of the original leads to negative comparisons with what comes after. Wakanda Forever is not as good as Black Panther. That does not mean it's a bad movie. In fact, Wakanda Forever is a fine film that is an honorable continuation of the story. To return (for the last time, I promise) to my earlier statement, Wakanda Forever may not be as good as The Godfather: Part II, but it's better than The Godfather: Part III, and any attempts to claim otherwise are nonsense.
Much has been made of the absence of Chadwick Boseman, rightfully so. His loss is deeply felt, and Wakanda Forever suffers from that loss. But a lot of people return for the sequel, including most of the great cast, and, importantly, Ryan Coogler. Coogler has now directed four features, and there isn't a dud among them. He has become one of our finest film makers. And the diversity we see on the screen is extended behind the camera with Coogler: he has used women as cinematographers and editors in all his features (in this case, Autumn Durald as cinematographer, and Jennifer Lame and Kelley Dixon as editors). And Michael B. Jordan has been in all of Coogler's films ... as I have said before, their pairing compares to the icons like Scorsese/De Niro.
I could say some negative things about Wakanda Forever. It's too long (you could watch Fruitvale Station twice in about the time it would take to watch Wakanda Forever once). What made Black Panther the best-ever Marvel movie was partly that it wasn't just a Marvel movie, and while Wakanda Forever is OK in this regard, there are some action scenes in the middle of the film that are more Marvel than anything else, and not that good besides. (In fairness, the climactic battle is excellent.)
And then there's what Coogler and company do about Chadwick Boseman. At the beginning of the film, I thought they were tugging our heartstrings excessively, demanding that we play silent tribute to Boseman as we watched (I resisted, but of course, the tears came to me like they did to everyone). Overall, I think Wakanda Forever more than overcomes that opening. The loss of Boseman/T'Challa is deep, but by the end of the film, that loss is integrated into the movie as a whole, and it's the right call.
The cast? I won't single anyone out, but if you look at the cast list, take my word for it, they are all at the top of their games. (OK, I wasn't gonna single anyone out, but in the tradition of "Hey, it's that guy!", give it up for Lake Bell.) Newcomer Tenoch Huerta makes a good, complex villain, although I liked one comment that said he's 41 years old and now he's signed on to act in a Speedo for the next ten years. (His trainer told him, "Okay, man, now you can rest, you can chill and take your time. But not too much, because if you have to play Namor one more time, you need to go through the same process all over again. So it’s better you take care of yourself and don’t get crazy with tacos.")
Wakanda Forever isn't just a tolerable sequel to a great movie. It's good in its own right, even as it owes so much to the original.
Wild Flag was one of the bands that arose during Sleater-Kinney's "hiatus", which lasted roughly from 2006-2014. Wild Flag was short-lived ... their only album and their four singles all came out in the same year, 2011. Somehow, I managed to see them three times during that short stint: in 2010, before they had released an album, 2011, and 2012 when the played The Fillmore. The band included two members of Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss), along with Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole. Thanks largely to Carrie, they were a potent live act (of course, Janet's drums helped, and Timony is a talent in her own right, as well as a good guitarist with a more traditional approach than Brownstein's).
Here is their network TV debut on Letterman:
Here is the video for the single "Electric Band":
And live, they cover Television and Patti Smith (the latter especially is on fire):
Aftersun is the feature debut for writer/director Charlotte Wells, and it is remarkably assured. Wells has a vision and is not afraid to put it on the screen, meaning Aftersun works at its own pace, and Wells only reveals the minimum needed to understand the characters.
There isn't much of a plot. A young woman looks back on a vacation she took with her father when she was 11. It isn't always clear that we are looking at the past, nor is it clear that the young woman is remembering that vacation. Wells lets us figure out the details for ourselves, and the details are in the picture ... it would probably benefit from a second viewing. But that's not really necessary, thanks largely to the acting of Paul Mescal as the father and Frankie Corio as his 11-year-old daughter.
I always say, when a film features a good performance from a young actor, it's important to credit the director for eliciting that performance. Directing youngsters isn't easy. Here, Wells is aided by Mescal, who has a great rapport with Corio. In young Sophie, Wells has created a character that seems the right age, not too precocious, not too childlike. Corio is perfect in the role. She and Mescal are completely believable as a daughter and father.
You have to settle into the pace Wells provides. Not only do events occur at a leisurely pace, there are few "shocking" scenes to startle the audience. Sophie's transgression are minor, and the father's emotional difficulties are buried deep. This fits with what Wells is trying, but it is true that after 102 minutes, I was ready for the end. Aftersun is neither too long nor too short.
The film's pleasures are low-key, but they do exist. It helps, though, if you approach it in the spirit in which it was made. Aftersun is the antithesis of a blockbuster, and it suggests Charlotte Wells has a strong future ahead of her.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen animated film from central or eastern Europe. Here is a list to get you started.
This movie was a challenge, indeed, for I had to struggle to find a movie that fit the category. The suggested list did not have anything I could stream, other than a few shorts. I stretched out, did a little research, and opted for something by Karel Zeman, an influential Czech director and animator. Journey to the Beginning of Time was Zeman's first recognized classic, combining live action and stop-motion animation. It is perhaps more of a hybrid than the challenge asked for, but I did my best.
Four young boys embark in a row boat on a trip that takes them progressively back in time through various prehistoric eras. Zeman follows the science as it was known at the time, and his representation of the various creatures was influenced by Zdeněk Burian, a Czech artist known for his "palaeo-art". The blending of the live actors and the animated creatures is fairly sophisticated for its time. While the boys are on an adventure, the film works more as an instructive display on prehistory. As such, it is a clever movie that, during its running time, distracts us from the nonsensical setup.
A few years after its release, an American version was created, with a new introduction and dubbing. The core of the film was the same, but the framing device was silly, and there is no reason to see this version (I watched ten minutes or so just to see what it was like).
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen road movie.
TransSiberian is reminiscent of other movies, purposely. First-time director Brad Anderson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) has cited several influences, including Strangers on a Train and Runaway Train. There's nothing wrong with this ... Anderson shows good taste if nothing else ... while the general thrust of the picture is generic, Anderson tosses in enough twists to maintain interest. What matters more is that Anderson gradually builds tension, until it's nearly unbearable (in a good way). I found myself gritting my teeth as the movie progressed.
The cast helps. Emily Mortimer plays a been-around-the-block American who gets caught, Hitchcock style, in something big to which she isn't to blame, and Anderson gives her character perhaps the biggest plot twist, which cranks the film into another gear. Woody Harrelson has said that he based his character on an autistic version of his character on Cheers. "I kind of thought, what if he were 'Woody,' but a version of Woody that's really into trains?" It's a perfect description of what he gives us here. Kate Mara is touching, and if Ben Kingsley and Eduardo Noriega are a bit too easy to figure out in advance, they are nonetheless effective.
TransSiberian doesn't necessarily raise itself above the standards for its genre, but it's good enough that you don't care.