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geezer cinema: golda (guy nattiv, 2023)

Golda is the latest biopic designed to get an Oscar nomination for its star. Helen Mirren, one of the great actors of our time, has been nominated for an Oscar four times, winning for The Queen, another mediocre biopic. Mirren has made many fine movies over the years (check out 1980's The Long Good Friday). Golda is not one of them.

While I'm sure she'll get her Oscar nom, I don't think the movie serves her well. Her makeup is remarkable, making Mirren look a lot like the real Golda Meir. It is done so well that Helen Mirren disappears, and I know that's supposed to be a good and impressive thing, but it's hard to show off your acting chops when your makeup is already doing all the work for you. Meanwhile, the cinematography is drab, and a decision has been made to present vital scenes of war as people standing over maps talking about what happened. It's not that we need yet another movie that shows the horrors of war by piling on the gore, but as presented here, war is mundane. Her actions affect Golda, and it is there that Mirren shines, but overall, the movie is lifeless.

And then there's Henry Kissinger, war criminal. Hint: he's not a war criminal in this movie.

I don't know if there is a good movie to be made about Golda Meir. I only know that this isn't it.

the 9th annual letterboxd season challenge: 2023-24

The 9th Annual Letterboxd Season Challenge: 2023-24 begins next Monday. I'll be taking part for the fifth straight year. From the explanation to the Challenge: "The challenge takes place over 33 weeks, and each week features a different theme. Your task is to choose one previously unseen feature-length film that meets the weekly criteria and watch it! The Letterboxd Season Challenge is about breaking out of our movie-watching comfort zones to discover something new, unexpected, or unfamiliar and to push us to catch up with titles we may have neglected, put off, or outright dismissed. We're here to expand our cinematic horizons and mix in some fun along the way."

Here is my list:

Steven's 9th Annual Letterboxd Season Challenge

I've got everything from Death Race 2000 and Mars Needs Moms to Black Girl and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Previous highlights have included Earth, My Winnipeg, La Haine, and The Shape of Water. Lowlights have included The Killing of Satan, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Where Have All the People Gone, and The Beast of Yucca Flats.

This will be my movie for Week One:

children of heaven (majid majidi, 1997)

After watching this movie, I was able to cross it off of several lists I refer to as "Blind Spots", films of some acclaim that I have missed over the years. Among the IMDB lists on which Children of Heaven appears are Sport Top 50 (3rd), Family Top 50 (16th), 1990s Top 50 (31st), and Top 250 (176th). It was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (it lost to Life Is Beautiful, which I haven't seen ... that one is on a lot of my Blind Spot lists, as well) ... it was the first Iranian film to have received an Oscar nomination.

I knew little about the film going in, which is usually how I like it. I admit I was surprised to see it on a Top Sports Movie list ... the IMDB description reads "After a boy loses his sister's pair of shoes, he goes on a series of adventures in order to find them." Which is accurate, but I should have read the next sentence, "When he can't, he tries a new way to 'win' a new pair."

Children of Heaven is a simple story, and writer/director Majid Majidi does an excellent job of showing the world as a child might see it. The latter part of the story, when the boy tries to win the new shoes, is a bit of a stretch, but hey, that's how it goes with sports movies ... the end is always the big race/game/bout. Majidi elicits fine performances from the pair of siblings, and the slice-of-life vision of Iranian life is also illuminating.

All of the above is true, and I can certainly recommend Children of Heaven to fans of family movies. But I confess I wasn't as moved as I thought I should be, which may just be me. It's a fine film.

promise at dawn (eric barbier, 2017)

Whenever anyone recommends a movie to me, I put it on a list and tell the person that it might take a while, but I will get to it. I knew I was going to see an old friend today, and according to my list, she had recommended Promise at Dawn a few years ago. I finally watched it, and when I brought this up to her, not only could she not remember making the recommendation, she didn't think she knew the movie at all.

I didn't know the director, nor did I know most of the cast, although Catherine McCormack turns up, and Charlotte Gainsbourg is the female lead. The film is based on an autobiographical novel by Romain Gary, and it follows the "true" story for all I know (I kept waiting for Jean Seberg to show up, but no luck on that front). It's a decent look at the early years of a man who went on to some success, and it's worth a watch for most people. Sadly, I am not most people when it comes to portrayals of over-the-top moms, and Gainsbourg as Romain's mother was unbearable for me. This isn't on Gainsbourg, who is fine ... it's all on me, because I can't stand these kinds of mom (hits too close to home, I'm sure), and every time Gainsbourg turned up on the screen, I wanted to walk away from the film. I didn't care if her ministrations helped make Romain into the man he became ... I just wanted to strangle her. So don't trust me on this one. I didn't like it, but YMMV.

revisiting the godfathers again

It's not that I have anything new to say after all these years. But last xmas my wife got me the latest box set, which this time is a 4k remaster with the latest revision to the third film, and I finally got around to watching them. Here comes a bit of cut-and-paste, with perhaps some added thoughts if I have any.

The first two:

The Godfather is superior entertainment; Part II takes things to another level. Without the sequel, The Godfather would not reach beyond its own basic excellence (which is no small thing in itself). The sequel gives the original a depth it doesn’t necessarily have on its own. If the first film begins with the lines, “I believe in America,” Part II shows us why Vito dismisses such sentiments by giving us the roots of the character. And the fate of Michael shows us beyond a shadow of a doubt just how corrosive the Corleone’s Sicilian heritage can be.

Part I is the story of a family, and it is understandable that some viewers saw in Vito the kind of benevolent lover of family that we wish was part of our own family. Part II gives the lie to such beliefs. It is unlikely that anyone, watching both movies, would wish they could be a Corleone.


III plays like a pretty good movie in the godfather genre ... if it had a different title and different names for the characters, it would have a better reputation. But it doesn't have a different title, it doesn't use different character names. In fact, it relies on the audience's fond memories of the better predecessors.

Some of the plot turns are a bit unbelievable ... Vincent doesn't really demonstrate anything to Michael that suggests he'd make a useful future Don, and Connie's transformation into a hardcore member of the inner circle comes out of nowhere (although Talia Shire does well with what she's given). The main problem, though, is that the film as presented is unnecessary. There's a good story to be told about the post-Michael generation of Corleones, but Godfather III is nothing more than a 165-minute prelude to that story. The bulk of the film is about Michael Corleone ... and his story has already been told in the first two movies. When Godfather Part II ends, we know everything about Michael. Nothing in Part III adds to our understanding of his character, nor is there any reason for us to expect otherwise: the first two films are the greatest movies ever in part because their depiction of Michael Corleone is complete.

The Godfather Part II is the greatest sequel ever because it expanded on our understanding from the first film, by showing both the roots (the "flashback" segments) and results (Michael) of Vito's life. The Godfather Part III is merely a very long coda to Part II, a coda that didn't need to be told. It's nice to be able to revisit the milieu, but unnecessary.

I guess here is where I take credit for the idea that III is a coda, because, of course, a couple of years ago, Coppola did some editing on the third movie and called the result The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. I thought I might have something new to say about the characters of Vincent and Connie in the third film, but I see I already thought those things 20 years ago. And hard as I continue to try, I still don't see Sofia Coppola's performance as anything but subpar.

The changes to this version are less impactful than Coppola desires, I think. He moves a discussion between Michael and the Archbishop to the beginning, and this does clarify the whole Immobiliare plotline. For me, this was the most useful change.

revisiting the 9s/geezer cinema: oldboy (park chan-wook, 2003)

[This is the seventeenth 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.]

In 2009, I wrote about Oldboy:

The violence, implied and actual, remains excruciating... it’s not cool at all … I’d call it gruesome and funny, which I understand is an odd combination. Oldboy’s narrative grabs the viewer from the start and never lets up. And the themes, of love and taboos, and the allusions, to Kafka and Memento, make Oldboy into a full experience.

I agree with the above. A second viewing made me feel like it was funnier than I remembered, and the gruesome scenes, while outrageous, do take place mostly just off the screen. The plot unfolds in a gradual fashion, with the key revelations being spaced apart just the right amount. Oldboy remains my favorite Park movie, but I still think it falls just short of classic status.

spring in a small town (mu fei, 1948)

In 1945, Brief Encounter was released. Directed by David Lean, from a play by Noel Coward, it told the story of an affair between two married people, an affair that is never consummated. It's been a long time since I've seen it, and I don't remember thinking much of it, but it's considered a classic of English cinema, and the feel of suppressed emotion is overwhelming. People, including me, have often noted the similarities between this basic story and that of Wong Kar-wai's 2000 film from Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies. There would seem to be something that grabs audiences in these stories of love that can't be fulfilled.

Spring in a Small Town is a 1948 Chinese film about an unhappy marriage and the introduction of a third person who is an old friend of the husband and, unbeknownst to the husband, an old lover of the wife. Much of the movie is taken up with the same kind of will they/won't they plot from the aforementioned films. Perhaps the biggest difference is the setting. The small town of the title is ravaged from the Sino-Japanese war that had ended only a few years earlier. The Chinese Civil War was nearing its end, with the Communist Party eventually triumphant. The Civil War isn't part of the story of Spring in a Small Town in the way the destruction of the Sino-Japanese war is a constant reminder. One result of this apparently is that once the Communists were in power, they found Mu Fei's film to be insufficiently political. It was buried for decades.

In more recent times, the film has had a renaissance, and is considered a classic of Chinese cinema (it's #184 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time". In 2005, the Hong Kong Film Awards called Spring in a Small Town the greatest Chinese film of all time.

I found the film atmospheric and touching, with subtle acting and interesting artistic touches under a small budget. I wouldn't call it the greatest Chinese film of all time, although I haven't exactly seen them all. But I'd put it about in the middle between the greatness of In the Mood for Love and the disappointment I got from Brief Encounters.

music friday: patti smith and bob mould

Last weekend we attended an afternoon, outdoor concert featuring Patti Smith and Bob Mould. It was my first time seeing Mould as a solo act (literally ... it was just him and his electric guitar), but I saw Hüsker Dü a few times in the 80s. Here he is on Tiny Desk some years ago ... he opened and closed with the same songs as he did for us ("The War" and "Makes No Sense at All").

I've lost track of how many times we've seen Patti Smith ... I think this was our sixth, going back to 1976. Here is the audio from that 1976 show:

Here she is from the last time we saw her before this weekend, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2021:

And here she is last Sunday:

It amazes me not only that we've seen her over a period of 47 years, but that her guitar player (Lenny Kaye) and drummer (Jay Dee Daugherty) have been with Patti since the beginning.