geezer cinema: napoleon (ridley scott, 2023)

It's a movie about Napoleon, so it's supposed to be big, IMAX big. It's more than 2 1/2 hours, and even that isn't enough ... apparently Ridley Scott has another hour-and-a-half that he'll add when the movie goes to streaming ... the film coast $200 million, it comes from Apple Studios, you could say it's an Apple TV show that got a few showings in theaters (much like Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon). This is a big movie, commensurate with its subject.

It's also a comedy. Honest, Ridley Scott said so. I admit to wondering if Scott saw people laughing in the theaters and only then pronounced that it was meant to be funny.

I don't care much about the historical inaccuracies. But it matters that Joaquin Phoenix is too old for the part of Napoleon. Napoleon was 51 when he died; Phoenix is 49. Not so bad. But at the beginning of the film, Napoleon is 24, and Phoenix is ... 49.

And considering it was more dialogue than action, I'm not sure it was worth the extra bucks to see it in IMAX.

And the action sequences are impressive. But I had recently re-watched Red Cliff 1 & 2, and a few times, I was reminded of a similar scene in Red Cliff that was 100 times better.

On a scale where Ridley Scott at his best is Thelma and Louise, and Ridley Scott at his worst is Black Rain, Napoleon is House of Gucci.

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?)

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.

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.

geezer cinema/film fatales #185: anatomy of a fall (justine triet, 2023)

It's not really accurate to call Anatomy of a Fall a procedural. A good portion of the film takes place in a courtroom, and over the course of the film, we learn more and more about what might have happened. The gradual unveiling is something like an episode of the old Perry Mason show, except the courtroom and the rules of the courtroom are French, and we aren't sure of the defendant's innocence, because while writer/director Justine Triet and co-writer Arthur Harari have made a film reminiscent of past courtroom dramas, the innocence of the nominal heroine isn't guaranteed. Apparently Triet didn't tell Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann), who played the defendant Sandra, if the character was innocent or guilty, only telling her to act innocent.

While there is a mystery to be solved, at its core, Anatomy of a Fall is a family drama. It's not what you'd call a good date movie ... the couple at the center of the story have their problems, and the emotions get quite raw at times. The acting is stellar throughout ... Hüller will get most of the attention, deservedly so, but young Milo Machado-Graner as her son is realistically secretive, and Swann Arlaud is very appealing as her lawyer friend. The intricacies of French courtrooms were puzzling to me, but there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the representation.

There is a fascinating subtext involving language. While almost all of the characters are French (and, obviously, the courtroom proceedings are in French), Sandra is German. She speaks French, but there is a hesitancy when she does. With her husband, and with her attorney, she speaks English ... it seems that when one speaks German and the other speaks French, they meet in the middle and talk English. Giving testimony during the trial, she is required to speak French, but eventually she doesn't feel she can get the meaning of her words across, and she receives permission to speak English. (When she talks to her son, she speaks English to him and he replies in French.)

Anatomy of a Fall is engrossing despite its long length (152 minutes), getting its intensity not from wild action scenes but from interpersonal relationships.

geezer cinema: the great escape (john sturges, 1963)

My wife watched this together some years ago ... it's a particular favorite of hers. This time, we enjoyed a 4K Blu-ray ... it looked great. I haven't changed my mind about the movie, so here's a mostly cut-and-paste from what I wrote in 2016:

A perfect title for a movie that excels as escapist entertainment without offering anything more.

I feel like The Great Escape is remembered fondly by those who saw it on its release. It did well at the box office, and we watched it again mostly because both my wife and I recalled liking it long ago. It is very straightforward, constructed in an easy-to-understand manner, with an effective slow build until the actual escape (the film is too long at almost three hours, but once it gets there, it delivers). Whatever liberties are taken with the actual events, the downbeat ending is very much in tune with those events, and perhaps give The Great Escape slightly more resonance than other blockbusters. But it is a stretch to make too much of that resonance.

Bruce Eder thinks highly of The Great Escape:

John Sturges' The Great Escape could easily be the most under-appreciated movie of its genre and decade ... Beneath the fact-based heroics, the humor of many of the portrayals and Elmer Bernstein's rich, rousing score lay the elements of a classic tragedy. While ordinary viewers responded to the driving dramatic forces among the characters ... critics and scholars viewed the movie as an artless, empty blockbuster. They were looking for self-conscious subtlety and obvious artistic touches in a story that required only a straightforward, unpretentious telling. The Great Escape expresses its depth and drama through action rather than ponderous dialogue, and in that sense, was probably too true to its subject for its own good, at least in terms of achieving critical respect.

Eder’s description of the film is accurate, but he concocts a straw-man critic that I don’t think exists. The Great Escape is far from artless, but who exactly needed “self-conscious subtlety and obvious artistic touches”? Movies that emphasize action are not rejected by critics, who, as far as I know, hate “ponderous dialogue” as much as the next person. The Great Escape is what it wants and needs to be, and audiences respond to that. There is no need to “elevate” it beyond its clear virtues.

The “based on a true story” angle is about as close to real as it ever is. There was an escape. Americans were not an important part of that escape, but for box-office purposes, Steve McQueen and James Garner were signed up and given big parts. The most iconic scene in the film, McQueen’s chase on a motorcycle, never happened. McQueen asked for a motorcycle scene because he liked to ride. That no American tried to escape on a motorcycle is irrelevant ... it’s the best scene in the movie, the one people remember fifty years later.

The Great Escape is a fine adventure that holds your attention for nearly three hours. That is good enough. #866 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

geezer cinema: killers of the flower moon (martin scorsese, 2023)

I have seen 26 movies directed by Martin Scorsese, which I believe is more than I've seen of any other director. (Admittedly, there are a couple I barely remember, and I'm counting The Big Shave, which is only 6 minutes long). Scorsese is in his 80s, and it's quite a feat that he's still making such strong, demanding movies. There's always a chance that he'll get extra praise just because he's old, which in this case would be unfair ... Killers of the Flower Moon is not flawless, but it's very good. I'm someone who thinks Scorsese did his best work in the 1970s (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz), but other than Casino and Gangs of New York, which really didn't work for me, I'm glad he's been making movies since the 70s.

So, Killers of the Flower Moon. The theater we saw it in stuck a brief "hello" by Scorsese himself at the beginning, thanking us for coming to see his movie at the theater. Of course, Apple was involved in the production, and they'll be streaming the movie sooner rather than later, I'd guess. In any event, it certainly does benefit from the big screen. And Scorsese is after bigness in more ways than just "production values" ... the damn movie runs 3 hours and 26 minutes, and Scorsese is proud of that fact. (It is the longest movie in the history of Geezer Cinema.) I was prepared to be upset by this, but the truth is, I don't know what should be cut, and the movie is never boring. I'm just glad I had my RunPee app to tell me an advantageous time to take a leak (I may not be as old as Scorsese, but I'm old enough to know I'm not watching a 3 1/2 hour movie without peeing at least once). Killers of the Flower Moon is actually 3 minutes shorter than The Irishman, the last feature Scorsese made. (My faves from the 70s all managed to get in under 2 hours.)

Apparently, the film was originally going to focus on the budding "Bureau of Investigation", with Leonardo DiCaprio as the agent who comes to town and solves the mystery of the murders of Osage people. DiCaprio seems to have had something to do with a shift in focus from the agent to the character he eventually played, Ernest Burkhart. It's a movie "about" the Osage, but it's really about Ernest, his uncle, and his Osage wife Mollie. This is always evident ... Scorsese worked with the Osage Nation, made a movie that is sympathetic to the plight of the Osage, but the Osage in Killers of the Flower Moon are there to create a background for the story of Ernest, his uncle, and the white man's attempt to steal the Osage riches. The characters played by DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are the most complex in the film. Lily Gladstone, who plays Ernest's wife, is rightly receiving praise for her performance in the film ... she gives the movie its soul. But hers is a secondary character.

What's left is a 3 1/2 hour movie about a messed-up guy who does terrible things but occasionally demonstrates that he's not all bad. Scorsese gives his film an epic feel, and it looks like an epic, but it falls short, as an epic. It's a fine film, better than some real epics, but it's a bit sneaky in how it presents itself.

geezer cinema/film fatales #183: the royal hotel (kitty green, 2023)

Kitty Green began as a documentary film maker, before releasing her first fiction film, The Assistant, in 2019. The Royal Hotel is also fiction, but its source material is a documentary, Hotel Coolgardie. The Royal Hotel does not have the feel of the usual "based on a true story" movie, though. The film takes place in an isolated part of Australia, and when you're isolated in Australia, you are really isolated. It starts as a story of two young American women (they pose as Canadians because everyone likes Canadians) traveling together for no apparent reason except to expand their horizons and get as far away as possible from what their lives were to that point. Gradually, and I mean very gradually, we realize that the women, who are outnumbered in the small town by men by what appears to be about 100:1, have been placed in a tenuous situation. At this point, the film becomes a thriller ... what will happen to the women?

Some have said The Royal Hotel evolves into a horror movie, but I didn't see that. What does happen is that Green adopts the tropes of horror films, with the townsmen as the monsters on the other side of the door. And the men are indeed monsters ... this is not a subtle film. There are no good men (my wife thought there were no good people of any gender, but I think that's unfair to the women). Despite its short running length (91 minutes), The Royal House moves slowly, and it feels longer.

Ultimately, there's not a lot to the movie. It doesn't take long to establish the basic story: men are bad, women are in danger. But it doesn't push this at first ... as I said, it takes its time going from buddy movie to thriller to horror. There are a few tense moments, but not enough for the movie to really stand out. Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick are fine in the leads, and its fun to figure out that the big drunk bar owner is Hugo Weaving. There's nothing wrong with The Royal Hotel, and it gets things over with quickly. That's about as far as I'd go with the compliments.

geezer cinema: the creator (gareth edwards, 2023)

Not much to say about this one. I was disappointed, in that Gareth Edwards has done well so far. His first feature, the cheapie Monsters, was a revelation, his Godzilla was even better, and Rogue One was good for a Star Wars movie. The Creator isn't a total failure ... many people have noted how much Edwards got out of his low-for-blockbuster $80 million budget, but he'd shown his skills in that area when he made Monsters for under $1 million, doing FX on his computer. John David Washington has shown that he can be a solid lead in a big movie ... I just wish those movies were better. The real find is Madeleine Yuna Voyles in her first movie ... she was 7 years old during filming, she is possibly the best thing about The Creator.

The biggest problem is that the plot of The Creator lacks the kind of internal logic that allows us suspend disbelief. I don't always like videos like the one that follows ... sometimes I think it's too easy to just pick at things. But I can't really argue with this one (spoilers galore):

geezer cinema: mildred pierce (michael curtiz, 1945)

Mostly just a cut-and-paste of a movie I didn't realize I'd written about before. It really is a fine movie. Oddly enough, I may have underrated it, since I’m not a big fan of Joan Crawford. Many of the differences between this and the HBO mini-series can be attributed to the way HBO was able to return to the original novel, while Warner Brothers had to deal with the “unfilmable” nature of James M. Cain’s book in the context of the early 40s. What is interesting is that Warners removed some of the sleaziest aspects of the book, but then added a murder (killing someone was more acceptable than sleeping with your stepdaughter). Ann Blyth’s Veda is more believable than what HBO gave us, and Crawford won an Oscar, although she’s no match for Kate Winslet. Michael Curtiz filmed it like a noir, and it works on that level.