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geezer cinema: the killer (david fincher, 2023)

I forget where I saw it, but someone suggested John Woo make a movie called Fight Club as payback for this one.

It might matter that I'm not a big fan of Fight Club. Not really a big fan of David Fincher, truth be known. My favorite is probably The Social Network, I detested Se7en, most of the others fall into the mid-range "well, I saw them" (The Killer is the 9th Fincher movie I've seen). Mostly, I found The Killer pointless and too slow. I didn't feel I learned anything about the title character, at least not enough that he seemed different at the end than he did at the beginning. Much of the movie is low-key, in keeping with the philosophy of the assassin, who tries to keep himself under control at all times. (It doesn't work.)

It doesn't help that I kept being reminded of other, better, films. Obviously, there's Woo's The Killer, one of the all-time greats, although in fairness Fincher's film isn't really like Woo's, other than the title. The movie that really comes to mind is Melville's Le Samouraï with Alain Delon. (An interesting side note: while I didn't find the Woo and Fincher films to be much alike, Woo was highly influenced by Le Samouraï when he made his The Killer.) I'm willing to accept that Michael Fassbender is a "better" actor than Alain Delon, and up until The Killer I had never seen anything with Fassbender that wasn't at least good (and, of course, he is brilliant in Hunger). I wrote, of Le Samouraï:

The "hero" is a loner ... there is no friend who understands. And Delon is perfect for this. Delon's acting, such as it is, depends on detachment. This makes Le Samouraï abstract, with little connection to real life. Ultimately, we do not want to become assassins after seeing Le Samouraï. We want to become Alain Delon.

Fassbender's assassin tries to be detached, but he can't quite pull it off, and for all his acting skills, Fassbender can't achieve what Delon manages just by being on the screen. So where I couldn't keep my eyes of the screen during Le Samouraï, I was bored a lot of the time in The Killer. (And was it too on target that the assassin's favorite music was The Smiths?)

christine (antonio campos, 2016)

This is the thirteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "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 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 13 is called "Breaking News Week":

The organizations of people who have wielded the power to decide what information should be disseminated to the mass public has had profound effects on societies throughout history for both good and evil. How events and people are depicted can influence and shape a whole generation, especially as global means of mass-communication, from the television to the Internet, has extended the news’ reach to more and more people. Even if you don’t watch or read the news yourself, you can’t escape the role it plays in shaping politics and the people in your communities, or in just hearing people discuss the latest headlines around you.

This week we honor, fear, and/or respect the power journalism has had on us by watching a movie about journalism. Here is a list to get you started.

Christine is about a reporter, but it's not really about journalism. Christine the reporter has serious personal problems, which exhibit in her work life and all other aspects of her life. She has opinions about what journalism should be about, and the film shows us life in the news department at a small-market television station, but what director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich are pushing here is the story of Christine the person, more than just using Christine to examine television news.

Thanks largely to Rebecca Hall's performance in the title role, Christine is an intense and realistic look at the life of someone struggling with life. Hall has had a fascinating career. She was acting on a TV series when she was 10. She began her stage career working with her father, Peter Hall. On film she has worked with everyone from Christopher Nolan to Woody Allen to Ron Howard. In 2021 alone, she starred in Godzilla vs. Kong and made her directorial debut with Passing. She has a unique screen presence, and she fits well in the part of Christine, so well it's almost scary.

[Spoiler alert] There is another important issue I haven't mentioned yet. Christine is bsaed on a true story ... there really was a Christine Chubbuck who worked as a television news reporter in Florida in the early 1970s. If you don't know her story coming to the film ... well, I can't speak to that because I knew how the story ended. And while Campos and Shilowich and Hall are very sympathetic to what Chubbuck was going through, knowing what is coming affects how the film plays. Because Christine Chubbuck was the first person to commit suicide on a live television broadcast. And knowing that, you can't help but think throughout the movie that it's all leading up to that suicide. It's not exactly exploitative, but we want the release that is coming, terrible as it is, like knowing in a movie about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that the quake is going to be the big scene. But the suicide of a real person is not the same as a depiction of a real earthquake. Christine leaves an unsettling residue that isn't solely because we feel for the tortured life of the main character. It's that we know if Chubbuck hadn't gone out in such a public, even historic way, there would be no movie about her. The suicide becomes the rationale for the film.

white dog (samuel fuller, 1982)

This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "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 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 12 is called "Career Killers Week":

The flop. The bomb. We know them well. They are legendary. Those films that, whether misguided, ill-advised, cursed, or just plain crap, live on in infamy as cautionary tales. Often, they come after a commercial (and critical) success, when money falls like rain, and sound decision-making takes shelter so as not to get wet. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad feature to poison a career or even put a studio out of business. The big question is: are all career killers deserving of their label?

This week, we'll resurrect (if only for a couple of hours) a career or studio by watching a film from Babalugats' Career Killers list. It's up to you to decide if these films deserve their ignominious place in cinema history.

I'll let the IMDB tell the story, or at least part of it:

The major reason the release of this film was buried by Paramount was due to the criticism by the NAACP, stating the film was trying to push a racist message across in its depictions of the dog's actions while the film was in pre-production. Once a release date was set, the NAACP then threatened Paramount with boycotts, which soon scared off executives largely due to the film's subject matter. The film was then limited to a series of limited screenings throughout 1982 in cities such as Seattle, Denver and Detroit, after which Paramount finally aborted its release in the U.S. and shelved the film soon afterward. Paramount then tried to bury it and denied its existence for over 25 years.

Samuel Fuller had been directing movies for more than 30 years. After White Dog, he moved to France and didn't make any more American films.

The source for the film was an autobiographical novel by Romain Gary that told the true story of he and his wife Jean Seberg adopt a dog, only to gradually learn that it had been trained to attack black people. The film version is slightly different from the novel, but the essence remains: an attack dog that has been trained to be racist. It's more believable than it sounds (and it is based on fact), but unfortunately given the nature of the film, it seems kind of silly. Paul Winfield tries mightily to bring life to a dog trainer intent to removing the racism from the dog, and Fuller is himself quite serious about all of this, but it's not a very good movie. I suspect if it weren't for the controversy, it would be little remembered today. That Fuller became a cult figure for the entire body of his work means everything he did has been reconsidered, and rightly so, although I think he has gone from being underrated to overrated. I'm partial to his Pickup on South Street and Shock Corridor. Bonus points for the cast of White Dog, including Kristy McNichol as the young actress who adopts the dog, and immortal greats like Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, and Parley Baer in cameos.

jungle cruise (jaume collet-serra, 2021)

The grandson was visiting, so after a brief discussion, we decided to watch Jungle Cruise, based on a Disneyland ride, with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. It seemed safe enough, and unfortunately, it was.

Still, it was better than expected, mostly because I had low expectations. Johnson and Blunt worked well together, making the movie enjoyable enough. It's the third movie I've seen that is helmed by Jaume Collet-Serra, and I can't say I've liked any of them very much. (The Shallows had Blake Lively, Black Adam was another movie with The Rock ... it was a disaster.) Jungle Cruise is just over two hours, which is too long for what it offers, and everything comes to a complete stop about 2/3 of the way in for an extensive bit of plot exposition that is the only truly boring part of the movie. If your grandson is visiting, feel free to watch this one, but if you're home alone, find something better.

music friday: 11/24/67

The bill at Winterland, 56 years ago today:

Opening, H.P. Lovecraft. Their debut album had just been released.

Next, Mother Earth. The big draw there was vocalist Tracy Nelson. Mother Earth was one of three bands on the soundtrack to the movie Revolution, which got a lot of FM radio play:

Headlining was Donovan. He'd been releasing music for a few years. A recent single was "There Is a Mountain":

Which became a part of the classic Allman Brothers song, "Mountain Jam":

geezer cinema/african-american directors series/film fatales #187: the marvels (nia dacosta, 2023)

The Marvels is the 25th movie I've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of those came because my wife chose them to watch, and I find them largely interchangeable ... the two Black Panther movies are the best, Shang-Chi comes close, I'm not a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was the bottom of the barrel. The other 18, they are OK but I can mostly take them or leave them. I like Brie Larson, so the Captain Marvel movies are a tad more appealing to me, but I wouldn't overstate that difference. If I really hated them, my wife would have to watch them on her own, but if it's possible to accept a superhero franchise without either loving it or hating it, that's me and the MCU.

The Marvels has a few things going for it, besides Brie Larson. The other two Marvels, Teyonah Parris as Monica and Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, are just as good.  Zawe Ashton is a good villain. The movie is a bit sillier than the usual, which is a nice surprise, and at 105 minutes, it is the shortest film in the Universe, for which I say, thank you.

I'd like to say more good things ... it's a woman-based movie, on the screen and behind the scenes (besides writer/director Nia DaCosta, there are co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik). But saying I liked it a bit more than the usual MCU movie doesn't mean I think it's great. Black Panther was great. The Marvels is better than Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

film fatales #186: loving couples (mai zetterling, 1964)

Mai Zetterling was an interesting person in Swedish film history. She worked at roughly the same time as Ingmar Bergman, who wrote the screenplay for Zetterling's debut as an actor, in Torment (1944). She appeared in films as an actor for another 20+ years, until she moved to writing and directing. Loving Couples is her first feature as a director. It was controversial in its time for its sexual themes (including homosexuality) and nudity. The film is reminiscent of other, better, movies, but it stands on its own as well. Much of the film takes place at a celebration at an estate that brings to mind Renoir's Rules of the Game and Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. There is a framing device with three women delivery babies in a maternity hospital that recalls Bergman's Brink of Life. If you're gonna have influences, it's good to choose the best movies. If in the end, Loving Couples will stick with me mainly because it made me want to watch those other movies, well, there are worse things for a movie to accomplish.

revisiting the 9s: red cliff (john woo, 2008)

[This is the nineteenth 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 2008, I wrote about Red Cliff, "John Woo returns to China, makes two-part historical epic, regains his Mojo. I haven't had time to really think about this movie yet ... what it 'means.' But it's a marvelous thing to watch, with some fascinating battle scenes." More to the point, I wrote the following about Red Cliff II the next year:

There are two essential items going on here, the strategy preparing for battle, and the battle itself (as I recall, it was much the same in Part One). I’m not a fan of “war strategy” movies, but this stuff is fascinating. It takes place in the early 3rd century, so the weapons aren’t very advanced. But they are put to ingenious uses, and the overall strategies on both sides are interesting mostly because of the point/counterpoint feel. The leaders on both sides know how war is “supposed” to be fought, and there’s a bit of game theory going on, as first one side and then another attempts to figure out how the other will vary from the norm, so that they can themselves vary in a useful manner. The result would please the A-Team’s Hannibal … as you watch in admiration, you think “I love it when a plan comes together.” The final battle sequence is as good as any you’ve seen. The only problem is that we’re getting aesthetic pleasure from the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and while there are brief moments when we’re reminded of the deceased, for the most part our reaction is more “Wow!” than “poor fellow.” This was true in Woo’s HK action films, of course, but the scale here is far beyond that of a movie like Hard Boiled. Still, watching Woo put all the pieces together in such a way that the audience can clearly follow the action mirrors the way the warlords put the pieces of their plans together.

I did indeed rate Red Cliff 9/10, which is why it's in this series. I gave the second film a 10/10, and I'm not sure why I thought it was the better of the two films ... they are equals. In fact, in some ways they are exactly equals: in America, the films were combined into a shorter version (also called Red Cliff), and I'm pretty sure Woo thought of them as two parts of the same movie. I have never seen the shorter version. This time around, I was taken by the acting. I've seen Tony Leung in 12 movies ... I've never given one of his pictures less than 7/10, and I've given my top 10/10 rating to four of them. Chow Yun-Fat was the HK actor who first got my attention, but over the years, I think Tony Leung Chiu-wai may have overtaken him. Heck, he might be my favorite actor of all time from any country. (I re-watched both movies back-to-back over the past two days.)

geezer cinema/african-american directors series: the inspection (elegance bratton, 2022)

This is the eleventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "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 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 11 is called "Hidden Indies: levelFilm Week":

These days, indie distributors are a dime a dozen. Some manage to make their names widely known, as in A24 or Neon, but most are content to operate under the radar, releasing lesser-known films that typically don't find their way in front of wider audiences or generate large amounts of buzz. Our focus this week is on one of them. levelFILM (founded in Toronto in 2013) focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on Canadian films, and a quick look at the over 300 titles in the company's filmography reveals a full range of genres and a notable surfeit of quality.

This week, let's avail ourselves of an offering from one of the hidden indies and seek out a film distributed by levelFILM.

The Inspection is the debut feature for writer/director Elegance Bratton, who had previous worked on documentaries. The story, about a gay black man who enlists in the Marine Corps, is "inspired" by Bratton's own life. Bratton's experiences were much like the movie character "Ellis French" ... thrown out of his home as a teenager by a homophobic mother, Bratton/French was homeless for many years before joining the Marines. It's assumed that what we see in the movie is true to life, if not in exact details, then in general. Bratton is successful at letting the audience understand what French is going through, helped immensely by the performance of Jeremy Pope (Jackie Wilson in One Night in Miami).

The movie is heartfelt, with a story that begged to be told. But it's presented in a fairly standard way. Bokeem Woodbine is the Drill Instructor, and he's excellent, but mostly he'll remind you of all the other movie D.I.s you've seen. Bratton gives us something like a happy ending ... French makes it through boot camp and begins work as a cameraman. But French never reconciles with his mother, and that gives the happy ending an edge that bites. The Inspection is a solid debut, suggesting we will be seeing more from Elegance Bratton.