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geezer cinema: e.t. the extra-terrestrial (steven spielberg, 1982)

I consider Steven Spielberg to be one of our greatest living directors, and I've always thought of E.T. as one of his best, along with Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and my personal fave, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. John Williams composed the music for all of those films, as he has done for most of Spielberg's films, from Sugarland Express to The Fabelmans. Williams is perhaps best recognized for his work on Star Wars movies, but he really does it all: he has been nominated for more Oscars than anyone not named Walt Disney, and has won five, including one for E.T. He is ubiquitous, and rightly so.

And yet ... as I settled in to watch E.T. once again, I saw Williams' name in the credits and my heart dropped a bit. Perhaps unfairly, I've grown a little weary over the years of his work, or better said, that ubiquitous quality. I always know he's there, whether I saw his name in the credits or not, and yes, I know that speaks well of him, that he has a recognizable style. You could say he is the Max Steiner of his day.

It's a minor thing, really. E.T. remains a wonderful movie, a wonderful experience. But at that tear-inducing finale, I wondered for a moment how it would play without Williams telling us how to feel. Spielberg is one of the best at evoking emotion from an audience ... at his worst, which isn't often, he can be a bit sappy. And Spielberg is certainly milking that last scene for all it's worth. The combination of the two greats, Spielberg and Williams, almost overpowers that scene.

Or maybe it's just me.

It doesn't really matter. E.T. is still one of the greats. The adult actors do a decent job, but Spielberg isn't concerned with them ... this is a movie about kids from a kid's point of view. Henry Thomas has had a nice career, and what can I say about Drew Barrymore, who steals every scene she is in?

the celebration (thomas vinterberg, 1998)

It would be exaggerating to say that I don't like Dogme movies. It's true that I don't seek them out, but ultimately, that comes from my disliking most of the Lars von Trier movies I've seen (Melancholia excepted). Thomas Vinterberg, who along with von Trier created Dogme, has made a couple of movies I've liked (The Hunt and Another Round). The Celebration was the very first Dogme movie, and it's a good one.

The tone of the film is tricky. At first, you're not sure if it's a comedy, and there are some funny moments in the story of a well-to-do family coming together to celebrate the father's 60th birthday. As is usual in families, everyone has their problems, and it's clear that this family's celebration is likely to be turned on its side. What I wasn't expecting was how that turn would be so serious.

Over the course of the film, we learn of the darker side of the family, but even then, Vinterberg allows himself to indulge in some humor. Some call The Celebration a dark comedy, and I suppose that's accurate, but it downplays just how that darker side plays out. There is nothing funny about it.

The large cast is good throughout, with Ulrich Thomsen having the juiciest role, and he definitely delivers. This is not a family I'd want to be a part of, but in Vinterberg's hands, it's a family worth spending time with. As for the Dogme 95 elements, much of what we expect from movies today is stripped away, leaving handheld cameras and detailed character development with a complete lack of special effects. Honestly, it just looks like an indie film, and you don't need any knowledge of the Dogme Manifesto to appreciate it. #421 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

geezer cinema: guardians of the galaxy vol. 3 (james gunn, 2023)

Well, I've made it through three of them, and I've seen worse movies. The first was the worst, there has been gradual improvement (but not enough), and I'm still at the "meh" level. But if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, and I don't want to be silent, so here are a few of the things I liked about Vol. 3:

Dave Bautista. Or Drax, not sure, probably a combination of the two. He is my favorite character in these movies, in fact he's the only character I like on a consistent basis.

I am a fan of Elizabeth Debicki. I'll confess I don't remember her from Vol. 2 (I don't think she was in the first one), and her part is fairly small in Vol. 3. She is extremely tall, and on occasion you can see a film maker enjoying her presence ... here, it's when the King of All Bad Guys (played by Chukwudi Iwuji) comes up to yell at her about something, and he has to stand on a box to go head-to-head.

Karen Gillan is another very tall actress that I like, which leads to a barely-there trivia I told my wife: Karen Gillan is 5'11", and she's at least 4 inches shorter than Elizabeth Debicki.

James Gunn has a knack for picking timely music from the past in these movies. This time he works in Heart, Radiohead, Faith No More, the Beastie Boys, and the Replacements without going wrong, plus there is the inevitable return of Redbone, who were featured in the opening scene of the very first Guardians movie (it might still be the single best sequence in the trilogy):

On the other hand ... to point out the obvious, these movies keep getting longer (from 121 minutes to 137 to 150) to no purpose. The Raccoon has always been my least-favorite character, and he is featured in Vol. 3, so that's a negative in my book. My wife liked the story, and there is some effort to make us care about the Guardians. For the most part, it's not too sappy. But ultimately, I didn't give a shit, and I admit I resist being forced to care about a mutant raccoon.

So it's simple: you liked the first two Guardians movies, you'll like this one. If you didn't, don't bother with the third. Go watch Gunn's The Suicide Squad, which is actually good.

black orpheus (marcel camus, 1959)

Black Orpheus won an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film, beating among others the excellent German film, The Bridge. It had a big impact internationally, offering the first glimpse for many of the colorful brilliance of Carnaval and the enticing sound of bossa nova.

But since its release there have been criticisms, particular within Brazil, of the stereotypical presentation of Brazilian life. In Black Orpheus, people are dedicated to singing, dancing, and fucking. The favelas are romanticized ... life itself is romanticized. It's appealing, until you think about it too closely.

And the story, which transplants the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice onto Carnaval, is twisted too hard in order for it to make room for the legend. Things happen very quickly ... Orfeu is engaged to Mira, meets Eurydice, they fall in love almost instantly, spend the night together, and then Eurydice dies the next day.

The film might work better without the ties to Greek mythology, but it still remains a colorful but untrustworthy outsider's look at the culture of Brazil at the time.

investigation of a citizen above suspicion (elio petri, 1970)

This is the thirty-third and final film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "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 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 33 is called "LSC Family Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from either Monsieur Flynn's Movies to See Before Your End Credits listkurt k's Personal Cannon listsethenstein's All Time Favorites list, or my own A Hundred or So of My Favorites list.

And so another challenge ends. I'm afraid I can't do the film justice ... it has a confusing structure and I was on the verge of falling asleep (which is on me, not Elio Petri). So I'll have to give it an incomplete and hope to watch it again sometime when I am awake.

From Our Mothers back in September to now, I've seen some good ones and some no-so-good ones. What would a Letterboxd post be without a list:

Best Movie: Earth

Worst Movie: The Killing of Satan

Longest Movie: A Touch of Zen

Shortest Movie: The Smiling Madame Beudet

Most Popular Movie: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Most Obscure Movie: Sign of the Gladiator

Most Highly-Regarded Movie: Apur Sansar

Least Highly-Regarded Movie: Welcome back, The Killing of Satan

I'm already excited about the next Challenge.

geezer cinema: air (ben affleck, 2023)

This is the fourth Ben Affleck-directed movie I have seen (the others being Gone Baby GoneThe Town, Argo), and there isn't a dud among them. They aren't great movies ... well, Argo won a Best Picture Oscar ... but they are always solid. Some of the things I've said about those earlier films: "The movie isn't earthshattering, but it does its work well." (Gone Baby Gone). "He isn’t delivering masterpieces yet, but his movies as director are thus far reliably high-quality." (Argo). And there are comments ... one person said of Argo, "Really good, not great, film", and my son said Air was "good for those kind of movies". There is something to be said for a reliable director, and at this point, I think Ben Affleck qualifies.

Air suffers from one insoluble problem: Michael Jordan is the center of the movie, but he's not there. Affleck has said, "Michael Jordan is so famous that I truly felt if we ever saw an actor playing it would be hard to get the audience to suspend their disbelief, because, in my opinion, there's no convincing anybody that someone who isn't Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan." So we see Jordan from the back a few times, he barely talks, a few times we see real-life footage that reminds us that Michael Jordan was a transcendent basketball player. But he's pushed to the outskirts of his own story. The solution is decent: Air becomes a movie about Nike, about making a shoe. And that's an interesting story, good enough for a two-hour movie. But Nike isn't as interesting as Michael Jordan.

Also, while I'm not overly fond of biopics, a biopic about Michael Jordan could be fun. But Air is a biopic about a guy named Sonny Vaccaro.

It all plays out quite well, in any event. Affleck has a fine ear for the kinds of music people were listening to in 1984. (This led to an odd situation, though ... the film is already available on Prime Video, but we went to the theater for the "experience", only to endure lots of booming sound from the Dolby Cinema elsewhere in the multi-plex.) The movie is well-cast (Jordan himself apparently insisted that Viola Davis play his mother ... nice call, Mike!) Matt Damon delivers yet another fine example of is-he-acting ... Damon can disappear into a role without making a big deal of it. And it's nice to see Chris Tucker return to the screen. You won't be sorry if you see Air ... it's better than a time-waster. Ben Affleck does it again.

revisiting the 9s/film fatales: portrait of a lady on fire (céline sciamma, 2019)

[This is the fifteenth 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.]

I first saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2020. At that time, I wrote, comparing it to Blue Is the Warmest Color:

The films do make for instructive examples of the differences between the male and female gaze. And "gaze" is the proper term for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, for much of the relationship between the two women is shown in how they look at each other. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel as a painter and her reluctant subject are perfectly matched, and both deliver perfect performances.

A second viewing only emphasized how intensely Sciamma and her actors convey so much desire just by looking at each other. Merlant's eyes in particular are dark and deep ... you could fall into them and never return.

I also quoted Mick LaSalle, who wrote, "The last time I wanted two people to kiss this much, I was one of the people."

We watched with friends who hadn't seen it before, and one of them said you always knew they were going to kiss. Yes, I said, but it's like Hitchcock saying that "suspense is when the spectator knows more than the characters in the movie." In his example, the audience knows there's a bomb under the table, and it is suspenseful because we know it will go off, but the characters are clueless to this eventuality. In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the audience knows the women will kiss, but Sciamma draws out the exquisite expectation of that kiss, such that you start to wonder if maybe you were wrong. Spoiler alert: they kiss.

Is it "really" a 10 and not a 9? Probably ... if it was made in the 1960s, I wouldn't have feared rating it too highly because of its newness. Having seen only two of her movies (the other being Petite Maman), I am prepared to accept that Céline Sciamma is one of our finest film makers.

mishima: a life in four chapters (paul schrader, 1985)

Forget what you know about biopics, because Mishima is different. The title character, a real-life Japanese writer, has similarities to Travis Bickle, another Paul Schrader creation, if Travis was a well-known educated author. Both are "God's lonely man", but Mishima was able to transform his celebrity into a cult, which is reflected in this movie.

Schrader has a problem: Mishima embodied many things. Schrader broke this down into Mishima's childhood, his success as an author, and his ritual suicide, and leads us through these various parts of Mishima's life with a fascinating use of color. Childhood scenes are in black-and-white, and the "present time" (when he kills himself) is in straightforward documentary-like color. Schrader also uses excerpts from three of Mishima's novels, and these recreations are treated like stage productions, with gaudy, eye-catching colors. The color scheme ensures that we are never lost, even as the film's timeline bounces around.

Schrader presents Mishima at something approaching face value, much as he did with Travis Bickle. We get a sense of the inner being that was Mishima, but Schrader avoids easy explanations. We are left to wonder at this remarkable man who had delusions of grandeur that were at times actually fulfilled. His suicide came as he hoped to lead a coup by soldiers to restore the Emperor to power.

After watching Mishima, I feel I know more about Paul Schrader ... the movies fits well into Schrader's career. The remarkable methods Schrader uses, though, makes me think I still don't know much about the actual Mishima. With Ken Ogata as the adult Mishima, music by Philip Glass, cinematography by John Bailey, and production design by Eiko Ishioka.