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film fatales #169: the sleepwalkers (paula hernández, 2019)

This is the thirty-second 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 32 is called "Voices of Argentina Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following Argentine filmmakers: Paula HernándezLucrecia Martel, or Damian Szifron.

I chose Paula Hernández, a random choice ... I've seen three Lucrecia Martel movies, wanted something new. The Sleepwalkers doesn't seem to have gotten much attention in this country ... only a few reviews are online, and many of those are in Spanish. The film was submitted as Argentina's entry in the International Feature Oscar category (the winner was Another Round, a good movie with one great scene). Paula Hernández has escaped my attention for no apparent reason. The lead actor, Érica Rivas, is known in Argentina but, like so much connected with The Sleepwalkers, not much is known about her in America. Wikipedia shows the absence of information: the pages on the movie, Hernández, and Rivas are short, and Ornella D'Elía, who plays one of the title characters and is the second most important person in the film, has no Wikipedia page at all.

The plot, about a family where sleepwalking is apparently passed on genetically, is OK. Everything leads to a crucial event that you can see coming, but you want to be proven wrong. When it turns out you are right, it's heartbreaking.

It's not a great movie, but it certainly deserving of more attention than it has gotten. It's another good example of the wonders of a Challenge ... you see movies you would have otherwise missed. Based on what I've seen, the person to watch for is Lucrecia Martel ... La Ciénaga is especially good.

geezer cinema: ant-man and the wasp: quantumania (peyton reed, 2023)

I enjoyed the first two Ant-Man movies, which were fun and unpretentious. Both were directed by Peyton Reed. I don't know his other work, but based on those two movies, he definitely seems to have a feel for a certain kind of Marvel movie that even I like.

But the third film in the Ant-Man saga, Quantumania, plays as if Reed forgot what made the first movies fun. The snappy repartee, which I liked but which was admittedly kinda dumb, is mostly gone. The Wasp goes from being at least as important as Ant-Man to being just a sidekick. And the special effects that were so appealing in the first two are unimpressive here. It was entertaining to see the get smaller-get bigger routine in San Francisco. It gets lost in the other, gaudier effects in Quantumania, which takes place almost entirely in the quantum realm, where nothing looks "ordinary" and everything blends together in CGI.

Quantumania is more like a Star Wars movie than a Marvel movie, and I appreciate that might seem like a good thing to some people. The quantum world is no more real than the planets in Star Wars films, and it's populated with the kind of oddball variety that I assume is popular with the Star Wars fans. Me, I wanted to see more actual humans. (I admit the creature with the broccoli head was pretty funny.)

I can't say I was overly disappointed. My hopes weren't all that high. But the drop-off from the first two Ant-Man movies to the third is unfortunate.

film fatales #168: europa europa (agnieszka holland, 1990)

The revelations of the plot of Europa Europa will strike you as too convenient. More than once, when the main character Sally is teetering on the edge of being discovered as a Jew amongst Nazis, something happens, like an Allied bombing, that removes those who might accuse him. But these coincidences are allowed, because Europa Europa is a true story, based on the memoirs of the real Solomon Perel.

There are many ways in which writer/director Agnieszka Holland avoids making "just another Holocaust movie". The primary way is through a subdued humor, rarely laugh-out-loud but inevitably contrasted to the way we tend to think of the Holocaust. In a different context, Sally's story does have its funny moments. Part of what makes the movie successful is that Holland never loses sight of the context that always interrupts those moments. And she never collapses into slapstick ... this isn't an outrageous Holocaust comedy, but rather the story of how one boy managed to survive in the most dreadful of situations.

The overall tone does detract, ultimately ... it's an interesting movie that would be more hard-hitting without the humor, or more shocking without the context. But that tone is also what distinguishes Europa Europa from other films. Even as you experience scenes that remind you of movies from the past, you've never seen anything quite like this one. Bonus points for the presence of a young Julie Delpy, dubbed into German.

geezer cinema: wild rose (tom harper, 2018)

I am a fan of acting. Even a poor movie can feel worthwhile if there is a good performance to be seen. Oddly, though, I don't usually decide to watch a movie because one of my favorite actors is in it (and I have a lot of favorite actors, so many that it's something of a running joke at our house).

I have liked Jessie Buckley in everything I have seen her in. I thought she was a saving grace in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, a movie I didn't like. She was one of the best parts of the fine movie The Lost Daughter, and even better in the even more fine movie Women Talking. She was fun in the TV series Fargo. What I didn't know is that she is also a singer. Not a singer like, say, Gwyneth Paltrow, who is an actor with a fine voice, but a singer who first drew attention at the age of 18 when she was runner-up on a British talent show contest to see who would play Nancy in a revival of Oliver!:

I have watched the following clip on YouTube more times than I can count, and it's the reason why, although I was already a fan of Buckley, I decided to watch a movie she starred in, without knowing anything about the film:

Wild Rose tells the story of a young singer from Glasgow with a love of country music. She's got problems ... two kids before she was 18, a year in jail for a heroin-related crime. Her dream is to go to Nashville to hit it big. The film is a bit of an oddity ... the home life plays like kitchen sink realism at times, but the story is fairly generic. As with most such movies, it rises and falls on the performance of the lead, and Buckley is more than up to it. It's the kind of role that people call star-making, and certainly she's been busy in the subsequent five years, including winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical last year for her work as Sally Bowles in a West End revival of Cabaret. I wouldn't say she's a household name, yet, but hey, she's only 33. Meanwhile, kudos to director Tom Harper, writer Nicole Taylor, and the legendary Julie Walters, among others.

ant-man and the wasp (peyton reed, 2018)

This is the thirty-first 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 31 is called "Ty, Tye, Ti, or T.I. Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film made by or starring Ty BurrellTye SheridanTi West, or T.I..

There always seems to be one of these goofy challenges each year. In this case, I went with T.I..

I liked the first Ant-Man movie, as much as I like the usual Marvel picture. I enjoyed the ways it lived at least partly outside of the Cinematic Universe, since I don't care much about that, and the sequel also falls into that category. There's some plot that revolves around the events of Captain America: Civil War, events I admit I don't remember, but it doesn't matter. Paul Rudd/Scott Lang/Ant-Man hooks up again with Michael Douglas/Dr. Pym, the co-titular Wasp/Evangeline Lilly is an equally important part of the movie as Ant-Man, and a couple of my favorite actors turn up (Walton Goggins, Judy Greer ... did you know Greer wrote an autobiography? I read it, it was fun).

I enjoyed the special effects concerning the shrinking and growing of various items (including, of course, Ant-Man and the Wasp). I never tired of seeing the rapid size changes, and in fact, for some reason I was nearly always surprised when they happened. The "jokes" were corny, lame, and yes, funny. Arguably the most important item, the entire movie comes in under two hours.

Nostalgia clip: here is Paul Rudd appearing on Conan to promote the first Ant-Man movie:

dersu uzala (akira kurosawa, 1975)

Dersu Uzala shows up on countless best-of lists, and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The last time I did a Best Directors list, I had Akira Kurosawa at #3. He has made many all-time classics. Dersu Uzala came late in Kurosawa's career, and to my mind, he still had one great picture to come (Ran). Between that film and Dersu Uzala, he directed one other movie, Kagemusha, which didn't do much for me. I found Dersu Uzala to have many wonderful moments, but they are spread out over almost 2 1/2 hours and the result is too repetitive to maintain its power.

That Dersu Uzala was made at all is impressive. The Japanese film industry had lost confidence in Kurosawa's ability make a profitable film. To the rescue came Mosfilm from the USSR, offering Kurosawa the chance to make a film from a Russian literature source. They were surprised when Kurosawa chose a text little known outside of the USSR, the memoir of a Russian soldier called Dersu Uzala. The film was shot in Russia (it's fascinating to see how Siberia changes with the seasons, defying the popular view that the area is like the Arctic), featuring Russian actors and crew members. (It is said there was only one interpreter on the set.)

There are several themes in the movie. The heart of the film is the relationship between the soldier, leading a surveying expedition, and Dersu, a native of the area whose understanding of nature is priceless to the expedition. There is an underlying theme about the gradual eradication of our roots in nature in the name of "progress", but the friendship of the two men is always foregrounded.

I found Dersu Uzala to be a case of eating my vegetables because they are good for you. I won't soon forget the most memorable moments, but it is not the first movie I will return to when I want a taste of Kurosawa. #468 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.