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the peanut butter falcon (tyler nilson and michael schwartz, 2019)

This is the twenty-fourth 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 24 is called "The Disabled Experience Week":

What does it mean to be disabled? The societal definition of disability has changed over the last century, encompassing a wider range of concepts and understanding. These shifts, unsurprisingly, have also found their way into movie-making. Where once films "othered" their subjects via unsympathetic depictions or overly melodramatic characterizations, the cinematic tide is slowly turning. Now, more than ever, we are beginning to see those with disabilities given agency and expression, with filmmakers resisting the tragic or heroic stereotypes towards which they once tended. Yet, achieving greater authenticity is difficult if the people you seek to portray have no involvement on either side of the camera. Greater inclusivity is—as in all other areas of film—fundamentally crucial but still severely lacking.

This week's challenge is to watch a movie about the disabled experience from either Brian Koukol ♿ 's 20 Essential Films Concerning The Disabled Experience list or Rikka's list, good films w good disabled rep. If none of those titles are available to you, take a look at dogunderwater's disabled characters portrayed by disabled actors list.

The casting of Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, to play Zak, a character with Down syndrome, is a welcome sign of inclusive casting. Gottsagen more than justifies the confidence of the film makers ... he is the best thing about The Peanut Butter Falcon. Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz avoid a lot of pitfalls, largely by making Zak a full character, without stereotypes, recognizing the complexities of the character without falling victim to making Zak too lovable or too pitiable or basically too anything. Zak is a person.

Shia LaBeouf is the main character, a marginal-to-society fisherman who takes Zak under his wing. LaBeouf has been in some good movies, and he's solid here, but there's something about him that makes me not like him, so it took me a long time to warm to his character. Dakota Johnson also has an important role, and the directors get some good performances throughout, especially the always-reliable John Hawkes, and even pro rasslers Mick Foley and Jake the Snake Roberts.

So there's a lot to praise about The Peanut Butter Falcon, and it's a heart-warming story for the whole family (among the Letterboxd lists people have placed it on are "Comfort Movies", "warm hug cinematic universe", and "u make me feel better". The problem is that there is nothing particularly special about the story or its presentation ... it references Huckleberry Finn, but doesn't do much with that. There is nothing different about the film, outside of the presence of Gottsagen. Which matters, and he is a welcome presence. You won't be sorry you watched The Peanut Butter Falcon, but I don't know that it's the kind of movie you'd return to time and again.

geezer cinema/film fatales #196: nyad (elizabeth chai vasarhelyi and jimmy chin, 2023)

Nyad is the first fiction film from noted documentary film makers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The transition is made smooth by the fact that Nyad is based on a true story ... the core of the script has written itself. I'm not sure I could actually explain the difference between a biopic and a film "based on a true story". The biopic suggests a focus on one person rather than a situation or event, and Diana Nyad is certainly an interesting subject for a biopic. But the "true" story is actually the best part of the film, especially the relationship between Nyad (Annette Bening) and her coach, Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster). If Nyad were simply a biopic, it would be like so many others, simultaneously slavish to biography and drawn to making reality into more interesting fiction. But whenever the film bogs down, Bening and Foster (and the rest of the cast, notably Rhys Ifans) raise it up again. (Bening and Foster both received Oscar nominations for the film.)

Diana Nyad is similar in some ways to Alex Honnold, the rock climber at the center of Free Solo, which was co-directed by Vasarhelyi, Chin, and others. Honnold has an obsession, and the willpower to do what it takes to accomplish something no one else has ever done. Nyad adds another dimension: she is in her sixties when she decides to swim from Cuba to Key West. Bening's performance is brave ... she's unafraid to show Nyad's harsher side ... and Foster hits the right notes as the friend who can keep Diana on track without taking too much shit.

The technical aspects of Nyad's swim are mindboggling, and the filming techniques are fascinating, as well:

But, as is often the case with this genre, what is left out can be too important to ignore.  I think Nyad's accomplishment is amazing, but it matters than her record has never been ratified "due to the lack of independent observers and incomplete records." It matters equally that nothing about this is shown in the film, as if we would be less amazed by Nyad's remarkable marathon swim if we knew there was some controversy involved.

Still, the story works well, as in most sports stories (a powerful ending is the usual for such movies), and the acting makes up for a lot. I've seen all five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar, and Bening certainly belongs in the same company as the others, although I imagine Lily Gladstone will win, Emma Stone was more outrageous, and Carey Mulligan is as good as always. I've seen all of the Supporting Actress nominees except for Danielle Brooks in The Color Purple, and again, Foster is a viable candidate, but I'm guessing Da'Vine Joy Randolph will win that one.

creature features: son of frankenstein (rowland v. lee, 1939)

Universal's third Frankenstein movie is the last with Boris Karloff. Director Rowland V. Lee does a solid job, supposedly reworking the script as he shot the film to give more emphasis to Bela Lugosi's Ygor. The movie has the look of German expressionism, and it's effective. The novelty of the monster has worn off, but this is still a decent picture, arguably the last time the Frankenstein story is played mostly straight by Universal.

The absence of James Whale reduces the amount of obvious queer subtext, but the acting lends a definite feel of camp to the proceedings. Basil Rathbone as the titular son, Lionel Atwill as a one-armed police inspector, and Bela Lugosi as Ygor all overact outrageously ... Lugosi, who is used to such things, comes off best, and some consider this his finest performance. Meanwhile, Boris Karloff once again imbues the monster with pathos, but he isn't as central to the picture (and he has lost the ability to speak that he showed in Bride of Frankenstein). He is the best thing about the movie, avoiding the camp stylings of his co-stars.

Son of Frankenstein goes on too long ... it's more than 20 minutes longer than its predecessors ... it's good compared to what followed, but it is clearly the least of the three Karloff Frankenstein films.

music friday: 1980

Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)". I have a vague memory of someone back in the day questioning the benefits of a pop song telling kids they didn't need no education.

Barbra Streisand, "Woman in Love". From her 22nd album ... she was prolific.

Lipps Inc., "Funkytown". I guess Lipps Inc. were one-hit wonders. The singer's name is Cynthia Johnson.

What was I doing in 1980? Well, in October, we saw Bruce Springsteen five times in seven nights in two states and three cities.

geezer cinema/african-american directors series: bob marley: one love (reinaldo marcus green, 2024)

Biopics. I don't hate 'em, I see a lot of them, but I rarely look forward to them. My expectations are always low. I have never thought too hard about why that is. Biopics about musicians are especially problematic, because if they don't include the artist's music, there's a big hole in the center of the film, but if they do include the music, it's often in an attempt to tie events in the artist's life to specific songs, and I've always found that to be nonsense. Rocketman was an exceptionally awful example of this, since the lyrics which supposedly reflected things in Elton John's life were written by Bernie Taupin.

Another problem with biopics comes with the participation of people close to the figure in question. The Marley family was involved with the making of One Love, and the film has access to elements of Marley's life and music that might be missing from an "unauthorized" film. But as in most such cases, the result borders on hagiography: Marley is presented in a positive light, which might seem appropriate given his status as an almost godlike figure to his many fans, but it prevents the film from giving a more all-encompassing picture of Marley.

Also, while it's understandable to limit the film to a specific period in Marley's life (1976-1978), this means the musical focus is entirely on Bob Marley and the Wailers, with only rare considerations of the years when The Wailers included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. OK, it's not a movie about those two, and however good their music was (as Wailers and as solo artists), their cultural impact is nothing like Marley's. But I missed Tosh and Bunny.

Biopics rise or fall in large part on the performances, and here, One Love succeeds. Kingsley Ben-Adir is excellent as Marley ... he makes the movie worth seeing. (He was also great as Malcolm X in One Night in Miami, a film that works in part because it's not a biopic but a fictionalized representation of a moment when four icons were together for a night.) Lashana Lynch, still only in her mid-30s, has offered a wide variety of roles as disparate as a 00-agent in a Bond movie, a warrior in The Woman King, and Maria Rambeau from the Marvel world. Now we can add her portrayal of Rita Marley to the list. The music sounds great in One Love, as well it might. It's a movie you'll enjoy while you're watching it. But down the road, you're more likely to listen to the music than you are to return to One Love, which is merely passable.

film fatales #195: saint omer (alice diop, 2022)

This is the twenty-third 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 23 is called "New Black Film Canon Week":

In 2006 Slate published a list of the 50 best movies by Black filmmakers, curated by Black critics, scholars, and filmmakers themselves. Since then, culturally significant and seminal films like Moonlight and Get Out have been released so this year they have updated and expanded the list to 75 movies. These movies span over a hundred years, several countries, a variety of genres and styles, and encompass different sizes of production budgets.

This week let’s celebrate Black filmmakers and watch one of these artistic treasures from Slate’s The New Black Canon.

Saint Omer has already been established as one of the best films in recent years (it is currently #291 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century). Alice Diop was a director of documentaries who attended the real-life trial of a woman who left her one-year-old child on the beach to die. Taken by the story, Diop decided to make her first fiction feature, basing it on the real trial. There is a character, Rama (Kayije Kagame), a writer attending the trial in order to write a book about it, who is a stand-in for Diop at the real trial. There's a certain meta quality to all of this, but Diop doesn't just rely on a documentary style to tell this story, and the acting, which is powerful throughout, is a constant reminder that we watching fiction. Rama identifies with the defendant (played by Guslagie Malanda) to some degree, which further complicates the meta aspect (since Rama is also a version of Diop).

Saint Omer is easy to follow, but the emotional and philosophical angles are complex. As the mother says, when asked why she abandoned her daughter, "I hope this trial can give me the answer". She tries to understand what she has done, the court and the spectators also look for understanding, and we in the audience look to Diop to explain everything. But she isn't trying to simply explain. It's a mystery without a solution, but it's not frustrating. Rather, Diop convinces us that we often can't understand what others do, or even what we ourselves have done.

creature features: dracula's daughter (lambert hillyer, 1936)

Although it came 5 years later, this was the actual sequel to Dracula, starting off with the deaths of Dracula and Renfield. It's slow moving, and not particularly interesting, but the subtext has fascinated analysts to this day. There were suggestions of lesbianism in the script, but by the time the film made the screen, the Code had taken care of that. So you have to look pretty hard to see it. But once you've seen it, you can't shake it. Dracula's daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), wants to be freed from the curse of being a vampire, but her impulses get the best of her time and time again. A couple of her victims are women, and the element of seduction which underlies so many vampire stories is here as well. It has also been argued that the isolation from society the Countess feels reflects the status of lesbians at the time.

All of this is enough to get us through the short running time, but don't exaggerate its greatness. Eventually, movies got more explicit, and subtext often moved to context. I saw 1970's The Vampire Lovers at a drive-in, and it was filled with nudity and horseplay among the women. But in fairness, it wasn't any better than Dracula's Daughter ... nudity didn't guarantee quality.

Here is a scene from Dracula's Daughter, where the Countess takes a woman off the street to pose for a painting:

And something from The Vampire Lovers:

high sierra (raoul walsh, 1941)

High Sierra was Humphrey Bogart's breakthrough role. He was considered a supporting player before this ... in fact, the credits have Ida Lupino's name atop Bogart's. His Roy Earle established what future generations think of as Bogie: hard-boiled with a soft center, caring about others while trying to hide it, commanding his scenes. It was also a breakthrough for John Huston, who parlayed his work as screenwriter here into his first directorial effort, The Maltese Falcon.

Bogart makes his gangster real ... we care about his fate. Lupino is perhaps best known today as one of the earliest female directors, but she's good here as Roy's moll. High Sierra is a solid gangster picture, with an unusual setting for the genre (much of it shot on location in the Sierras). It carries historical importance, and is well worth watching, although for some reason I never really felt I was watching a classic.

music friday: 1979

Blondie, "Heart of Glass". At the time, categorization mattered ... I mean, it always does, but the years provide perspective. In the late 70s, there was still a perception that New Wave was different than Punk (and hardcore punks could claim to dislike New Wave because it was more "accessible") and that Disco was different from both ("Disco Sucks" being the operative slander). Disco was absorbed into the mainstream, and New Wave band Blondie did their part to smash barriers with this song.

Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive". This was released in late 1978, but got serious airplay in '79. This is unapologetically disco ... in fact, it won a Grammy for Best Disco Recording, the only year that award was given. (The other nominated artists: Earth, Wind & Fire, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, and Michael Jackson.)

M, "Pop Musik". "M" was more a concept than a band, created by Robin Scott. If you're trying to categorize this one ... well, the title wants to claim Pop, I guess, I think of it as Synth-Pop, and really, who cares by this point.

geezer cinema: the good, the bad and the ugly (sergio leone, 1966)

Watched this one for the billionth time. You run out of things to say. My opinion of this movie has risen over the years, and it might be favorite by Leone. But this viewing was remarkably like one I wrote about in 2009. Then, I talked about the new "Blu-ray" technology and high-definition TV. Substitute "4k Blu-ray" for "Blu-ray" and you'd have pretty much what I was thinking as I watched this new disc:

It’s a sign that a particular technology has become established when you notice its absence more than its presence. When Blu-ray first came along, I marveled at the look of every movie I watched … it was new and beautiful. The same was true for Hi-Def TV, which doesn’t quite match the exquisiteness of Blu-ray, but is enough of an improvement over standard definition that every show was a joy. As some point, though, that look became ordinary in a good way. Good, because I take it for granted. The only time I notice the picture now is when it’s not in HD. The Blu-ray of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly looks great. The movie itself is also quite something.

One other change from 2009: back then, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was #187 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. As I write this, it's up to #156.

My wife, who can at times be a bit of a spoilsport (a crime I am guilty of far more often than she is) said that the climactic shootout between the titular trio is lacking logic. Clint Eastwood is the one of the three who already knows where the money is, and he has already emptied Eli Wallach's gun without Tuco knowing about it. When the men finally shoot, Clint goes straight to Lee Van Cleef. My wife pointed out that Blondie could have shot Angel Eyes at any point. I said we were talking about one of the most iconic scenes in movie history, and when that's the topic, logic isn't the first thing that should come to mind.

One final thought. Clint Eastwood has developed a recognizable style as a director over the years, and when he makes westerns, someone will always say the Leone influence is clear. But you can't find two less similar directors. Eastwood is a minimalist, Leone is extravagant.