geezer cinema: no sudden move (steven soderbergh, 2021)

We're up to 104 films in our weekly Geezer Cinema, going back to July of 2019, and Steven Soderbergh becomes the first director to get four movies on the list. (Earlier choices were Contagion, Logan Lucky, and Haywire.)

I've seen nine of his movies, now, and I guess you could say I like him. Toss in his TV series, The Knick, and count me impressed, even if I've never found any of his pictures superb. (In my recently-updated ranking of directors, he finished #52.)

I know more informed people than I who can recognize a Soderbergh film as soon as they start watching. I can't say the same, but only because I sometimes forget to pay attention to directorial style. I will say that I am rarely lost in a Soderbergh movie ... OK, the plot of No Sudden Move is complicated to say the least, but Soderbergh always makes sure you know where people are in a scene, a talent that is more rare than it should be. I've assumed that actors like him, because he always seems to have these amazing casts, the kind you don't get if you have a bad rep. No Sudden Move's cast includes Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke, even an uncredited Matt Damon. It must be said that there is an extreme male tilt to that list. (He did direct Julia Roberts in her Oscar-winning role, and managed to get a decent performance out of Gina Carano, a former mixed-martial artist in her first leading role.)

I watched a few interviews with the cast of No Sudden Move, and I was taken with how often they would mention the experience of having a director right there as you acted. (Soderbergh famously does his own camerawork and editing, using pseudonyms.) They all felt this helped them ... that's not something I would have thought of on my own.

There isn't anything new about No Sudden Move, but what's there is well-done. It's easy to recommend to anyone who likes noirish movies with great casts.

Finally, I have to mention this. I'm going to quote Jeffrey Wells, since he raises this issue while adding something I also found odd: few to no critics even mentioned this (link also includes images):

Soderbergh apparently used some kind of spherical wide-angled lens that occasionally delivers what looks like a 2.2:1 aspect ratio, and which compresses images on the sides.

In other words, Soderbergh doesn’t seem to be delivering a standard 2.39:1 (or 2.4:1) Scope aspect ratio but something closer to the slightly distorted cinematography seen in portions of Around The World in 80 Days — i.e., portions that used a spherical bug-eye lens.

The No Sudden Move visuals also struck me as similar to the distinctive framings that were seen in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s The Current War, which was shot by Chung Chung-hoon. Lots of headroom and elbow room. Objects squeezed on the sides.

And yet very few critics have even mentioned this curious (or certainly noteworthy) visual approach.

I noticed this. I didn't think it mattered, and I wouldn't avoid the film just because some of it looks slightly off. I don't know why Soderbergh did it.


what i watched

The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015). This fine film deserves its own post, and originally, it had one, but my computer crashed, and now I'm just working from memory. Suffice to say that this was my first film by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and I'm ready to see more. The cinematography is gorgeous (by Ping Bin Lee), and while there are very few closeups and plenty of long takes, The Assassin is never static. I had seen this film called "Kubrickian", which isn't necessarily a point in its favor for me, but I can see why people make the comparison. Kubrick movies are always beautiful to look at, as well, and he's not afraid of a "slow" movie. The primary reason I found Hou's film superior to anything Kubrick gave us in his last 30 years is that Hou cared about actors. In the case of The Assassin, we are rewarded with many award-winning performances, especially from Shu Qi, who plays the title character with heartbreaking subtlety. She also conveys confidence in the fighting scenes, even though she came to the film untrained in fighting. #87 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

Geezer Cinema: The Little Things (John Lee Hancock, 2021). Denzel Washington plays a cop with a past, and if you've seen any other films with that description, you've already seen The Little Things. There are a couple of reasons the movie is a bit better than the others. The cast is full of interesting actors (Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Chris Bauer, Terry Kinney, Natalie Morales, Glenn Morshower, Maya Kazan). And while The Little Things deals with a serial killer, Hancock does not turn the killings into something enjoyable for voyeurs. It's not enough to turn this into a great movie, but it helps. Here are the first ten minutes:

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942). Watched this again ... earlier review is linked in the title.


geezer cinema/film fatales #116: black widow (cate shortland, 2021)

I have now seen 15 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My response to those films is so predictable that I wonder if I'm human or just a cyborg who likes movies. I have given 12 of those movies a rating of 7/10. (Black Panther is a 9/10, and I didn't care for the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.) This is thrown off a bit because my favorite Marvel properties of the last couple of decades include the TV series Agent Carter and Agents of Shield, and I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and apparently none of them are part of the MCU.

Black Widow was just as good as the other Marvel movies. I liked it partly because it was very un-superheroish. It was more like an action/spy movie, with car chases instead of battles between Iron Man and Thor or whatever. Scarlett Johansson was great, as usual, and Florence Pugh was good, as well, which made me glad, because we watched her in a movie last month that stunk (Midsommar), although she was the best thing about that one. It was clearly time for Natasha Romanoff to get her own movie ... well past time, given that even Ant-Man has already gotten two features. With the possible exception of Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson is the biggest star in the Marvel universe, but as often as not she's treated as eye candy more than anything else. So just the fact that she and Florence Pugh are at the center of Black Widow is progress, much as Brie Larson's box-office bonanza performance in Captain Marvel mattered beyond the billion-dollar-plus box office for that movie.

None of this would matter if the movies were bad, but, as noted, both of those films are as good as their Marvel counterparts. Johansson has two Oscar nominations, Pugh has one, and Larson actually won an Oscar ... these are accomplished actors. But they are also believable in the ass-kicking mode required of them in the Marvel films.

The plot isn't as important as the back story of Natasha and her sister ... something about an evil villain trying to take over the world ... like I say, Black Widow would fit into the James Bond universe as easily as it does the MCU. Johansson and Pugh make their story worth our attention.

One note about the special effects. We saw the movie in IMAX, partly because there are 22 minutes in the film designed specifically for that format. It was impressive, but I was working at a disadvantage: I'd had surgery for a detached retina only two weeks earlier, and so I was watching with only one good eye. Honestly, I think the giant IMAX screen helped, but it will be fun to see Black Widow again sometime when both of my eyes work.

[Letterboxd lists: Geezer Cinema, Film Fatales, Marvel Cinematic Universe]


times change (geezer preview)

Times change. We are going to see Black Widow later today as this week's Geezer Cinema movie. Not to show my age, but when I was a kid, there was one movie theater in town (not a multiplex, it had one screen) and one drive-in. When a movie came out, first you waited for it to come to your town, then you could watch it, or you could wait a few years and see it, edited, on TV.
 
Today, there are five different options for seeing Black Widow. We will go to an AMC theater, where they are showing the movie in standard "Digital", "Real 3D", "Dolby Cinema", and "IMAX with Laser". You can also cough up $30 and watch at home on Disney+. I think of 3D being less popular today, but in fact, that's the one that is sold out at AMC. (We are opting for the IMAX, where, a little less than 3 hours before showtime, only 23 advance tickets have been sold.)
 
How do we decide which version to watch? Mostly, it's my choice ... my wife doesn't care one way or the other. In this case, the movie seemed big enough to warrant our second trip to a theater since our being vaccinated. My vision is still very blurry from my recent eye surgery to fix a detached retina, which would eliminate 3D, I guess, but that's never my first choice, anyway. IMAX is my first choice, if the movie intended for such. Black Widow features 22 minutes of "expanded aspect ratio" that can only be seen in IMAX, so that made my decision easy.
IMAX Black Widow

geezer cinema: the tomorrow war (chris mckay, 2021)

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the version of time travel in The Tomorrow War. Spoiler alert, I guess: If they save the day in the end, the future won't have that Big Problem, which means the people in the future won't have to go back to the present to warn everyone, which means that World Cup Final won't be interrupted and we can find out if Brazil won in Qatar in 2022.

The Tomorrow War is a big-budget sci-fi action film that ended up on Amazon (who apparently paid $200 million for the opportunity). It features time travel, and I understand it's always hard to work on the logistics. Each book or movie has its own rules, and I'm fine with that. The explanation doesn't even have to make sense, but it should be relatively consistent with the world of story. Philip K. Dick often has parallel universes going, and they are often confusing, but he'll take the time to explain things (I'm thinking of Now Wait for Last Year, when the elected leader of Earth is always sick and always surviving at the last minute ... eventually we find he uses a powerful drug to move through time, with alternate versions of himself stepping in to ... heck, it really is impossible to get, it doesn't really matter, we just know "drugs" and "parallel universes" and that's good enough).

The Tomorrow War basically punts on all of this. There is a brief explanation of how draftees from the present are chosen to fight aliens in the future (they all die in "real life" before that future date, so they'll never be in the same time as themselves, which is a standard paradox of these stories). And that's it. Chris Pratt's hero goes into the future, he fights aliens, he eventually returns to his own time, and anything he and others accomplish in the future which change things in the present are basically ignored.

Here is the trailer that explains the concept:

That Big Problem we find out about in the trailer (and early in the movie as well)? Return to my opening paragraph after you've seen this movie, and tell me who won that World Cup match.

The Tomorrow War isn't junk, but it's not very good, either. You'll find yourself ticking off homages/steals: Aliens, Starship Troopers, 1951's The Thing, any time travel movie you've ever seen (Looper). It lacks the lunacy of Arnold's Total Recall, which did a good job of capturing the unsettling feeling of people in a Philip K. Dick story. They pile on the action scenes, and they're OK, nothing special. The cast is nice ... Pratt makes a good hero, and there's Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin (wasted), Sam Richardson, Edwin Hodge, even Mary Lynn Rajskub. It's too long for the pleasures it offers, but if you have 140 minutes to spare, you will probably be satisfied. Don't expect anything more, however.


geezer cinema/film fatales #115: saint maud (rose glass, 2019)

On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, my recently-retired wife and I (who had been retired for a long while) decided to take in a weekly movie. We had the time, we could stand to leave the house, and we were "seniors" who get bargains at movie theaters. We chose Tuesday because we know many theaters have bargains on that day, not realizing the price for seniors is pretty much the same every day. We take turns choosing the movie, and my wife went first, which is why on that long-ago Tuesday, we saw John Wick 3. We chose the name "Geezer Cinema" for our weekly outings.

Writing about that first geezer, I said, "Who knows how long it will last". Well, I often say if you do something once, it's an event, but if you do it twice, it's a tradition. On the next Tuesday, I chose Booksmart, and a tradition was begun. In early March of last year, we saw Emma., which turned out to be our last trip to a theater for a long time. It seemed the pandemic would put an end to Geezer Cinema, but nope ... the next week, my wife chose to re-watch Contagion, for obvious reasons, and Geezer Cinema continued in its new, stay-at-home mode. We returned to the theater a few weeks ago to watch A Quiet Place Part II, and while we haven't been back to the theater since, it's only a matter of time.

Saint Maud marks the 100th film in the Geezer Cinema saga. I chose it because ... oh, who knows why I pick movies, it was a critical favorite (Metascore: 83), and was directed by Rose Glass, making her feature debut. No less an expert than Bong Joon Ho chose Glass as one of the "upcoming directors for the 2020s". The only cast member I recognized was Jennifer Ehle (her second Geezer appearance ... she was also in Contagion). I hoped for the best, even though my previous Geezer pick, Midsommar (also directed by one of Bong's up-and-comers), wasn't to my liking.

So, shut up and tell us about Saint Maud. It stars Morfydd Clark, who has only been in feature films since 2014, as the titular character, a private care nurse who has recently become a hardcore Roman Catholic. Glass, who also wrote the film, does an excellent job taking Saint Maud from horror to religious movie and back again ... sometimes they stand alone, sometimes they blend together, but Glass has a firm hand throughout. We are never confused in an arbitrary manner. At times, we experience the confusion of Maud, or the confusion of those around her, but we always know where we are.

Clark is a wonder. She looks like a bland young lady, but she lets us see the fanatic behind the mask, a fanatic that over the course of the film emerges for us to see more clearly. For a while, it seems like Glass is giving us a religious take on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but that goes away as we realize what we are watching is the existential traumas of one individual. Ultimately, Saint Maud is less a horror story, or even a religious movie, than it is a character study of a lonely woman whose need to communicate with God leads down a dark path. Oddly, it's almost like Taxi Driver, or rather, Maud is like Travis Bickle. Already #725 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]


geezer cinema: supernova (harry macqueen, 2020)

How many movies have been made about an aging couple where one of them has dementia? It feels like there are a lot of them ... I was rather taken with Away from You, and of course there's The Notebook, which was a big hit although it didn't do much for me. Those were both some time ago, so maybe these don't pop up as often as I think.

Anyway, Supernova tells the story of an aging couple where one of them has dementia, and with that, I've told you pretty much the entire plot. Writer/director Harry Macqueen isn't really concerned with plot ... this is a character study, and while you wouldn't say a movie about dementia is a feel-good picture, Macqueen doesn't stray too far from the basics, which means Supernova is as comforting as it is anything else. The couple in this case are two gay men, which is a slight twist, although nowadays it's not exactly shocking. In any event, Macqueen gets out of the way and lets his two stars take care of the movie.

And they do a great job. Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth feel so right in their parts; they are recognizable as a long-term couple, and it's a surprise that they were originally cast in the opposite part. I'm sure that would have worked, too ... Firth and Tucci are always good. But the switch is so obvious in retrospect that it's hard now to imagine what the original idea would have been like.

Macqueen deserves credit for creating a movie with no real flaws, one that can be enjoyed by anyone, with a couple of excellent star turns to raise things up a notch. There are too many movies that aren't even good at this basic level for me to complain. If ultimately, Supernova isn't much more than two actors at their best, well, that's OK.


what i watched

Geezer Cinema: Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019). Something like Geezer Cinema, where my wife and I take turns picking a weekly movie, is great partly because every other week, I'm exposed to a movie I might not have found on my own. Unfortunately, Midsommar was my pick, and I can't say I liked it. I enjoyed director Ari Aster's earlier movie, Hereditary (which it happens was my sister-in-law's pick from another movie group I'm in), and while I originally thought Midsommar was a Swedish-language art film, once I realized it was a horror film I picked it for Geezer Cinema. Midsommar is 20 minutes longer than Hereditary, and it felt even longer than that, bordering at times on Slow Cinema. I thought it could have been half an hour shorter, and was surprised to find out there is a 171-minute Director's Cut out there. I assume Aster wanted to build suspense slowly, but I never felt it ... perhaps it was too slow for me. Florence Pugh is the best thing about the movie, which is ultimately too muddled for me to care. Bonus points, though, for a mallet that serves as Chekhov's gun.

21 Bridges (Brian Kirk, 2019). Before the pandemic, our Geezer Cinemas took place in theaters, and we must have seen trailers for 21 Bridges a dozen times. We knew it wasn't Chadwick Boseman's best movie, but it was still hard to pass up when I remembered I had recorded it on the DVR some time ago. Boseman is fine ... when wasn't he? ... but he is given little to do. 21 Bridges in a paint-by-numbers thriller, with Boseman as a cop who closes down all the bridges connected to Manhattan so he can find some bad guys. There's nothing wrong with the premise, and there's a nice cast (besides Boseman, you've got Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, and Stephan James). But it devolves into shootouts that are mostly uninteresting, and the twists in the story aren't too hard to guess in advance. It's not the worst way to spend an afternoon when you are bored, but you can do better if you're in the mood for some Chadwick Boseman.


geezer cinema: the dry (robert connolly, 2020)

I hadn't heard of this one, which was a box office hit in Australia, proving once again that it's a good idea to let someone else pick the movie on occasion. The Dry is a who-done-it that tells two connected stories with local color and a quiet intelligence. It doesn't beat you over the head, but it's far from boring. Eric Bana stars, and he carries the film by sliding into the overall feel, mostly quiet but with an uncertain past and the ability to take action. The rest of the cast was unknown to me, other than the immortal Bruce Spence, who almost 40 years earlier played the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2. It's fun ... his voice is the same, even if he looks 40 years older.

The cinematography from Director of Photography Stefan Duscio makes full use of the dryness of the environment (they are in the middle of a drought, hence the title). I wish I could say more about The Dry. It's a perfectly good film for an afternoon, and I have no complaints. But I feel like I'll have forgotten it in a month. Nice use of "Under the Milky Way" by The Church, sung by BeBe Bettencourt, who also has a part in the flashback segments.


geezer cinema: a quiet place part ii (john krasinski, 2020)

It felt odd, returning to a movie theater after almost 15 months of quarantine. But once the movie started, all was forgotten.

A Quiet Place Part II was a fine way to begin theater-going again. It's made for a big sound system, and the IMAX screen didn't hurt, either, if you like looking at Emily Blunt's pores. On the one hand, it wasn't as scary as the first one because the original had the luxury of surprise ... it seemed to come out of nowhere, and the sequel obviously couldn't pull that off. On the other hand, it was twice as scary as the first one because thanks to the original, we knew there was no time to breathe. I wrote about A Quiet Place:

A Quiet Place is very good at what it tries to do: scare the shit out of you. Oddly, though, this is not only what makes the movie good, it's what makes the movie almost unbearable to watch.

I suppose the same could be said of any good horror movie. It's almost a definition of horror that works. If it didn't scare us, we would laugh at it. But something different is happening with A Quiet Place. There is none of the anticipatory glee when you know another scare is right around the corner. In this film, there is no around the corner ... you are always already there.

The same goes for Part II. It's great fun, but it's hard to watch.

We should be happy that Part II is as good as it is. Krasinski and company gave it their all, and it shows. Millicent Simmonds is even better, and she is given more to do ... she is basically the central character this time. Cillian Murphy is a nice addition. Emily Blunt is strong once again. The monsters are cheesy in a low-budget way, but Krasinski knows how to use them. The basic problem, though, is that Part II doesn't improve on the original. I'm not saying there's no reason for it to exist ... it'll scare the shit out of you once again. But if you only watched one Quiet Place movie, it wouldn't be this one. Some people complained that Mad Max: Fury Road was too derivative of Mad Max 2, which might be true if you ignore the presence of Furiosa. But Fury Road was a better movie than even the earlier classic. The same can't be said for A Quiet Place Part II.