geezer cinema/film fatales #144: petite maman (céline sciamma, 2021)

About Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I wrote, "Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel as a painter and her reluctant subject are perfectly matched, and both deliver perfect performances." I also noted cinematographer Claire Mathon's excellent contribution to that movie. Sciamma and Mathon are working together again, and the result is a charming, gently magical film that once again shows Sciamma's talent with actors. The added factor here is that the main characters are eight-year-old friends, played by real-life twins Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz. I can find very little about these sisters, but it appears this is their first film, which is a credit both to Sciamma's ability to bring out their best and their own natural ways of getting into an audience.

A spoiler-free recap of Petite Maman is not easy, although there is a vague quality to the plot that might seem to be spoiler-free. But I think the film benefits from the gradual revealing of the story ... I am sure I would get a lot out of a second viewing, knowing what I do now (and at just 72 minutes, you could easily watch it twice in succession if you were so inclined). While the film is indeed magical in all meanings of that term, it isn't a film with a trick, like, say, The Sixth Sense, which grabs you the first time, and allows you to see how it was done on a second viewing, but after that leaves no reason to keep watching. No, Petite Maman is a lovely movie about grief and friendship and family and, most of all, childhood, beautiful to behold even if you don't connect with the magic. But you will.

There is a viral program making the rounds, Craiyon (formerly DALL-E mini), that features an "AI model drawing images from any prompt". I gave the prompt "portrait of petite maman on fire" and got this:

Portrait of petite maman on fire single frame

what i watched

Geezer Cinema: Kimi (Steven Soderbergh, 2022). I found the choices at the local theater to be uninspiring, so I opted for an in-home Geezer movie this week. Kimi has the feel of a pandemic movie, for good reason ... it was made during the pandemic, and it takes place during the pandemic. The character played by Zoë Kravitz suffers from agoraphobia, and you get the feeling the quarantine, while making it easier for her to just stay at home, nonetheless didn't exactly help her condition. Kravitz is great in the role, emotionally stunted in some ways and yet she believable rises to the occasion in the climax. There are a lot of That Guys (Jaime Camil and Jacob Vargas, Rita Wilson, and Robin Givens, who even though I knew she was in it I forgot to notice her). As he often does, Soderbergh does his own cinematography and editing using pseudonyms. Soderbergh is the King of Geezer Cinema for some reason. We watched Contagion back when we first started staying at home during the pandemic, and since then we've seen Logan Lucky, Haywire, and No Sudden Move, so Kimi makes #5. I usually like his movies (he is #51 on my most recent list of top directors), and my wife seems to share my enjoyment ... she has picked three of the five Geezer movies we've watched.

(Letterboxd list of our Geezer Cinema movies.)

Revisiting the 9s: Murderball (Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, 2005). [This is the ninth 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. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

When Murderball came out, I wrote:

The film makers don't always seem to trust their material (wheelchair rugby played by macho quadriplegics) ... the movie gives off a feeling of manufactured drama at times. But the stories of the athletes, and the (infrequent for a sports film) action-packed scenes of what is best described as bumper cars played by Mad Max refugees, tip the scales towards excellence. It's also interesting that real-life events conspire to prevent some of the more predictable drama ... I'm trying to avoid spoilers here ... perhaps that's why the film makers try to hype up other dramatic aspects of the narrative. But it works ... when things don't always turn out "right," the film feels far more "real" than when the hype takes over.

I don't have much to add after a second viewing 15 or so years after the fact. The main characters in the film capture our attention, and the film is engrossing to the extent that we care what happens to these people. But one thing about my reluctance to give the highest rating to more recent films is that this doesn't seem to hold for documentaries. If I am taken with a documentary, I'll go all the way with a rating (to cite a recent example, Summer of Soul). I think I may have rated Murderball a bit too highly at the time, and even then, I only handed out a 9/10. Now? I'm feeling an 8/10 coming up.

geezer cinema: doctor strange in the multiverse of madness (sam raimi, 2022)

I liked the first Doctor Strange movie, although I don't seem to have written about it anywhere. Strange was one of the few Marvel characters I actually read in comics, we having bought the entire first series in the hippie days when the Doctor fit with our mental proclivities. I can't really remember any more why I liked that first movie ... and I only liked it enough to have fond memories, not enough to actually watch it again.

Anyway, I didn't much like this new one. I was excited ... I'm a fan of Sam Raimi, at least the Sam Raimi of the Evil Dead movies, along with the return-to-form Drag Me to Hell (has it really been 13 years?). Sure enough, the occasional Raimi touch breaks through. But mostly, In the Multiverse of Madness is a CGI extravaganza, impressive in its way, but not my favorite genre. Elizabeth Olsen makes a great Big Bad, and I'm always glad to see Hayley Atwell. But Xochitl Gomez didn't do much for me. I liked the goofiness of the Multiverse, but I think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did it much better.

My favorite Sam Raimi moment, and thus my favorite moment in the film, is the inevitable Bruce Campbell cameo, with its homage to Evil Dead Ash. He even (spoiler alert) shows up at the very end of the credits, one of the few times it's worth sitting around for ten minutes.

And for old times sake:

geezer cinema: montana story (scott mcgehee and david siegel, 2021)

A quiet tale about grief and family that never oversells its emotional moments. A sister and brother must come to turns with their pasts as their father lies near death in a coma. The characters are mostly well-drawn, and the two leads, Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague, are sensitive and believable as siblings. The Montana landscape is inescapable ... as viewers, it's overwhelming in a good way, but it's easy to see why it might turn into a less-appealing overwhelming if you had to live there all the time. The family saga has nothing new, but McGehee and Siegel do a good job of revealing the full story gradually. Gilbert Owuor is fine as the father's live-in nurse, but the character is drawn as the kind of all-knowing minority (the nurse is from Kenya) that reduces the nurse to something less than a person and more as a stand-in for the things the siblings are struggling to accept. Ultimately, the blend of setting and character make Montana Story a solid, if minor, film.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

what i watched

The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan, 2020). Someone recommended this to me, although I admit I have no idea who that person was. I doubt I would have seen it if the mystery person hadn't suggested it. It's written and directed by Evan Morgan, who is new to me, and stars Adam Brody, who I know little about. There were a couple of That Guys in the cast (Tzi Ma, Peter MacNeill), and Sophie Nélisse, who impressed me as the younger version of Melanie Lynskey's character in Yellowjackets. Morgan plays around a bit with the detective genre, and things move along nicely. It's a good enough way to spend 100 minutes, but I suspect in six months, I'll have forgotten I saw it. Here are the first nine minutes:

Geezer Cinema: Downton Abbey: A New Era (Simon Curtis, 2022). This one is easy to summarize: if you loved the show, you'll love the movie (and you've likely already seen it). If you know nothing about Downton Abbey, you don't need to watch this movie. Curtis and creator/writer Julian Fellowes take care of the fan base from the start. If you are a fan, you'll enjoy seeing all of the characters get their moments, and of the new cast members, there's Dominic West and Nathalie Baye to enjoy. I've been with Downton Abbey since the beginning, and while I have my problems with its representation of the class structure, it does suck you in.

geezer cinema: rush (ron howard, 2013)

At this point, reviews of Ron Howard movies write themselves, i.e. I can just cut and paste from earlier reviews and it will make perfect sense. He has made movies I liked OK (Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon) and movies I really didn't like (Apollo 13), but I've never loved any of them. I once wrote of Howard, "Ron Howard is the great disappearing director of our times. He doesn't make bad movies, he doesn't make great movies. He makes movies that get 6 out of 10 and he makes movies that get 7 out of 10. In other words, I don't have the slightest idea what Ron Howard brings to a movie." And about Cinderella Man, the story of boxer James Braddock, I wrote, "When asked why he fights, Braddock says it's to keep milk on the family table, and there's Ron Howard in a nutshell ... while this movie has tiny pretensions towards statements about poverty, they are overwhelmed by sappiness, and the sap is never, ever balanced with even a bit of knowing irony ... Ron Howard believes in that glass of milk."

Not all Ron Howard movies are sappy, and as I say, once in a while he makes a good movie. But there is no way to tell in advance, because Ron Howard's directing is anonymous.

Rush is about the rivalry between two Formula One drivers in the 1970s, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I admit I knew nothing about either driver, or about Formula One racing in general, which actually helped in a way ... I didn't know how the rivalry would turn out, so that aspect of the film had suspense for me. The movie centers on their relationship more than it does on the racing ... the racing is the background for the relationship, rather than the other way around. Hunt and Lauda are different kinds of people striving towards the same goal, and those differences drive the film (no pun intended) in good ways. The racing scenes seem realistic, although we're constantly being told by a track announcer what is happening, because it isn't always clear the way it is during a horse race. There are some women characters, but they are very secondary ... this isn't about them, except as they fit into the lives of the racers. Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth give appropriate performances as not-too-perfect heroes. The editing of Dan Hanley and Mike Hill is effective, as is the score by Hans Zimmer.

There is no reason not to see Rush. It's appealing, it's not boring, it's got Thor. It's just that I've about given up hope that a Ron Howard movie will ever be better than "no reason not to see it".

what i watched

A cold has kept me out of commission for most of the week, and turned my brain into mush. Here are some brief notes about two movies I watched.

Film Fatales #140: The Second Mother (Anna Muylaert, 2015). An effective combination of comedy and drama, with a performance from Regina Casé that is perfection, perhaps especially when her character is irritating. A film about class that sneaks up on its subject.

Geezer Cinema: The Adam Project (Shawn Levy, 2022). I have a fixation on Ryan Reynolds that has nothing to do with his movies. In fact, this is the first time I saw a movie where he was the star. Nonetheless, I'm aware that he has fans, that he is appealing, and he tends to play the same character a lot. I can't say this is a typical Ryan Reynolds movie, given I haven't seen most of them, but I get the feeling that is exactly what The Adam Project is. Reynolds slides right into his character, Walker Scobell is a solid teen actor, and a few of my favorites also turn up (including Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener). It doesn't amount to much, and the sappy ending is definitely not up my alley. Also, it's a time travel movie, and as is usually the case with such films, if you think about it at all the entire thing falls apart. (If a future You kills a present You, and future You dies because you were never born, how did future You exist to come back into the past to kill themselves?)

geezer cinema/african-american directors series: inside man (spike lee, 2006)

[This is the seventh 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. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

In 2007, I wrote:

Denzel Washington is the perfect combination of movie star and actor (the two don't have to go together), Jodie Foster nails her few scenes, the supporting cast is fascinating … there's a lot to like here. It's also an intelligent movie, or perhaps more accurately, it assumes an intelligent audience....

Inside Man is ... smart and stylish, but with characters who break free of the stereotypes that informed their creation.... The characters in Inside Man are ... closer to real human beings, with all of the quirky randomness that implies.

I also went on a rather lengthy discussion of Clive Owen in the movie that I suspect is more interesting to me than to anyone else. Suffice to say that Owen is also strong here. To some extent, I think critics liked Inside Man in part because it wasn't a typical Spike Lee movie ... he didn't write the script, and he doesn't usually do this kind of genre piece. It's as if Spike decided to show people that yes, he is that good, he can crank these out with the best of them. Inside Man is a terrific heist movie with great characterizations. Yet I can't see myself raising its rating to the Big 10. Maybe I can't go the extra step for a genre picture that is for the most part only a genre picture. (On the other hand, my dissertation was on hard-boiled detectives ... it's not like I don't appreciate genre work.)

geezer cinema: wind river (taylor sheridan, 2017)

A bit of a cheat in the Geezer Cinema tradition. It was my wife's turn to pick, but she had hip replacement surgery, so she told me to pick for her, i.e. not what I wanted to see necessarily, but something she might have picked if she wasn't on pain meds. As it happened, I'd been intending to watch Wind River for some time, after it was recommended to us by our nephew. So it was an easy choice, and he was glad we finally got around to it ("it's about time!").

I knew nothing about this one coming in, which makes for a nice surprise when the movie is as good as Wind River. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen co-star in roles completely different from their Marvel appearances. Renner is a game tracker in Wyoming and Olsen is a young FBI agent who comes to Wyoming to help with a homicide that took place on a Native American reservation. The refreshing thing about Wind River lies in how it sidesteps clichés so common you expect them without thinking. The tracker and the agent appreciate the skills each brings, and they become closer over the course of the film, but they don't get romantic. There's none of that first they fight, then they come together routine. There is an awareness of the conflicts between the Native Americans and the whites, but it's not simple, and there is crossover respect in some cases.

I haven't seen other movies directed by Taylor Sheridan, but he is familiar to me, not least for his time on the series Sons of Anarchy. He wrote the scripts for Sicario (a good film), Hell or High Water (a better film that won him an Oscar nomination), and Without Remorse (which wasn't very good). He gets good performances from his cast in Wind River, and the whole film is a success on the level of Hell or High Water.

geezer cinema: i, tonya (craig gillespie, 2017)

Margot Robbie is an interesting actress. She's been in some excellent movies (as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and she's been in some stinkers (Birds of Prey). Her roles aren't always predictable .... as bad as Birds of Prey was, she played the same character in The Suicide Squad, which was a good movie. She worked hard for I, Tonya, becoming a decent enough skater to make CGI less necessary (although was they did use was remarkably seamless ... shout out also to editor Tatiana S. Riegel, who got an Oscar nomination). She doesn't really look like Tonya Harding (among other things, she's nearly half-a-foot taller). But she does right by Harding, and she is the best thing about the movie.

One nice thing about I, Tonya is that it never feels like a standard biopic. Also, while the film is sympathetic towards Tonya Harding, it doesn't sugarcoat the character. Harding blames everything on others, and is frequently annoying. Of course, she looks good next to The Worst Mother in the World (played by Alison Janney, who won an Oscar) and The Worst Husband in the World. But I, Tonya is a warts-and-all portrait.

The multiple points of view, a la Rashomon, is effective, as is the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. Combined with the strong acting and compelling story, I was surprised to find, just as I thought the film was ending, that there was still half-an-hour to go. I, Tonya is not an extremely long movie (two hours), but I wonder if the pacing was off, since I was so thrown by the time remaining. The movie was never boring, so perhaps it's all meaningless.

Robbie was nominated for an Oscar, and while several of the other nominees were at least as good as Robbie (including winner Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) I hope she isn't overlooked in the future, especially since Janney did win but the film is Robbie's.