geezer cinema: guardians of the galaxy vol. 3 (james gunn, 2023)

Well, I've made it through three of them, and I've seen worse movies. The first was the worst, there has been gradual improvement (but not enough), and I'm still at the "meh" level. But if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, and I don't want to be silent, so here are a few of the things I liked about Vol. 3:

Dave Bautista. Or Drax, not sure, probably a combination of the two. He is my favorite character in these movies, in fact he's the only character I like on a consistent basis.

I am a fan of Elizabeth Debicki. I'll confess I don't remember her from Vol. 2 (I don't think she was in the first one), and her part is fairly small in Vol. 3. She is extremely tall, and on occasion you can see a film maker enjoying her presence ... here, it's when the King of All Bad Guys (played by Chukwudi Iwuji) comes up to yell at her about something, and he has to stand on a box to go head-to-head.

Karen Gillan is another very tall actress that I like, which leads to a barely-there trivia I told my wife: Karen Gillan is 5'11", and she's at least 4 inches shorter than Elizabeth Debicki.

James Gunn has a knack for picking timely music from the past in these movies. This time he works in Heart, Radiohead, Faith No More, the Beastie Boys, and the Replacements without going wrong, plus there is the inevitable return of Redbone, who were featured in the opening scene of the very first Guardians movie (it might still be the single best sequence in the trilogy):

On the other hand ... to point out the obvious, these movies keep getting longer (from 121 minutes to 137 to 150) to no purpose. The Raccoon has always been my least-favorite character, and he is featured in Vol. 3, so that's a negative in my book. My wife liked the story, and there is some effort to make us care about the Guardians. For the most part, it's not too sappy. But ultimately, I didn't give a shit, and I admit I resist being forced to care about a mutant raccoon.

So it's simple: you liked the first two Guardians movies, you'll like this one. If you didn't, don't bother with the third. Go watch Gunn's The Suicide Squad, which is actually good.

geezer cinema: air (ben affleck, 2023)

This is the fourth Ben Affleck-directed movie I have seen (the others being Gone Baby GoneThe Town, Argo), and there isn't a dud among them. They aren't great movies ... well, Argo won a Best Picture Oscar ... but they are always solid. Some of the things I've said about those earlier films: "The movie isn't earthshattering, but it does its work well." (Gone Baby Gone). "He isn’t delivering masterpieces yet, but his movies as director are thus far reliably high-quality." (Argo). And there are comments ... one person said of Argo, "Really good, not great, film", and my son said Air was "good for those kind of movies". There is something to be said for a reliable director, and at this point, I think Ben Affleck qualifies.

Air suffers from one insoluble problem: Michael Jordan is the center of the movie, but he's not there. Affleck has said, "Michael Jordan is so famous that I truly felt if we ever saw an actor playing it would be hard to get the audience to suspend their disbelief, because, in my opinion, there's no convincing anybody that someone who isn't Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan." So we see Jordan from the back a few times, he barely talks, a few times we see real-life footage that reminds us that Michael Jordan was a transcendent basketball player. But he's pushed to the outskirts of his own story. The solution is decent: Air becomes a movie about Nike, about making a shoe. And that's an interesting story, good enough for a two-hour movie. But Nike isn't as interesting as Michael Jordan.

Also, while I'm not overly fond of biopics, a biopic about Michael Jordan could be fun. But Air is a biopic about a guy named Sonny Vaccaro.

It all plays out quite well, in any event. Affleck has a fine ear for the kinds of music people were listening to in 1984. (This led to an odd situation, though ... the film is already available on Prime Video, but we went to the theater for the "experience", only to endure lots of booming sound from the Dolby Cinema elsewhere in the multi-plex.) The movie is well-cast (Jordan himself apparently insisted that Viola Davis play his mother ... nice call, Mike!) Matt Damon delivers yet another fine example of is-he-acting ... Damon can disappear into a role without making a big deal of it. And it's nice to see Chris Tucker return to the screen. You won't be sorry if you see Air ... it's better than a time-waster. Ben Affleck does it again.

geezer cinema: ant-man and the wasp: quantumania (peyton reed, 2023)

I enjoyed the first two Ant-Man movies, which were fun and unpretentious. Both were directed by Peyton Reed. I don't know his other work, but based on those two movies, he definitely seems to have a feel for a certain kind of Marvel movie that even I like.

But the third film in the Ant-Man saga, Quantumania, plays as if Reed forgot what made the first movies fun. The snappy repartee, which I liked but which was admittedly kinda dumb, is mostly gone. The Wasp goes from being at least as important as Ant-Man to being just a sidekick. And the special effects that were so appealing in the first two are unimpressive here. It was entertaining to see the get smaller-get bigger routine in San Francisco. It gets lost in the other, gaudier effects in Quantumania, which takes place almost entirely in the quantum realm, where nothing looks "ordinary" and everything blends together in CGI.

Quantumania is more like a Star Wars movie than a Marvel movie, and I appreciate that might seem like a good thing to some people. The quantum world is no more real than the planets in Star Wars films, and it's populated with the kind of oddball variety that I assume is popular with the Star Wars fans. Me, I wanted to see more actual humans. (I admit the creature with the broccoli head was pretty funny.)

I can't say I was overly disappointed. My hopes weren't all that high. But the drop-off from the first two Ant-Man movies to the third is unfortunate.

geezer cinema: wild rose (tom harper, 2018)

I am a fan of acting. Even a poor movie can feel worthwhile if there is a good performance to be seen. Oddly, though, I don't usually decide to watch a movie because one of my favorite actors is in it (and I have a lot of favorite actors, so many that it's something of a running joke at our house).

I have liked Jessie Buckley in everything I have seen her in. I thought she was a saving grace in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, a movie I didn't like. She was one of the best parts of the fine movie The Lost Daughter, and even better in the even more fine movie Women Talking. She was fun in the TV series Fargo. What I didn't know is that she is also a singer. Not a singer like, say, Gwyneth Paltrow, who is an actor with a fine voice, but a singer who first drew attention at the age of 18 when she was runner-up on a British talent show contest to see who would play Nancy in a revival of Oliver!:

I have watched the following clip on YouTube more times than I can count, and it's the reason why, although I was already a fan of Buckley, I decided to watch a movie she starred in, without knowing anything about the film:

Wild Rose tells the story of a young singer from Glasgow with a love of country music. She's got problems ... two kids before she was 18, a year in jail for a heroin-related crime. Her dream is to go to Nashville to hit it big. The film is a bit of an oddity ... the home life plays like kitchen sink realism at times, but the story is fairly generic. As with most such movies, it rises and falls on the performance of the lead, and Buckley is more than up to it. It's the kind of role that people call star-making, and certainly she's been busy in the subsequent five years, including winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical last year for her work as Sally Bowles in a West End revival of Cabaret. I wouldn't say she's a household name, yet, but hey, she's only 33. Meanwhile, kudos to director Tom Harper, writer Nicole Taylor, and the legendary Julie Walters, among others.

geezer cinema: the villainess (jung byung-gil, 2017)

One of those cases where it pays to read the IMDB Parents Guide in advance:


Violence & Gore: Severe

There are several fight scenes throughout the movie. We see bullet wounds, stabbing etc and blood gushing continuously.
Copious amounts of blood sprays from wounds during seamless and prolonged scenes of combat. Impalement is common along with creative ways to strangle, smash, hack and bleed people from innumerable angles.
A Man lies in a pool of blood and smiles at his daughter before being hit with a sledgehammer in the side of his head. Blood sprays on the girl's face.
A man's hand is severed with a hatchet, spraying blood around the inside of a bus while screaming in pain.

Which I suppose is another way of reminding us that this is a Korean movie. There are plenty of good things about The Villainess. Director Jung Byung-gil has a real flair for action, and he used new, tiny cameras to achieve some mind-bending cinematography (Park Jung-hun is the cinematographer). Kim Ok-vin (Thirst), who I think plays the title character (the plot is, shall we say, confusing), is terrific in the action scenes (she is a legit martial artist as well as an actor).

But outside of the action set pieces, The Villainess drags. The basic plot is simple enough ... think the various permutations of Nikita ... but the explanation(s) for the behavior of The Villainess are so messy, the movie ends up relying too much on flashbacks that are supposed to clarify things. It's a two-hour movie that could be even better at an hour-and-a-half.

Still, it's hard to argue with those action scenes ... well, they are so indiscriminately brutal you either get desensitized or you quit watching (if you started in the first place). Your mileage may vary, is what I'm trying to say.

geezer cinema: personality crisis: one night only (martin scorsese and david tedeschi, 2022)

My wife and I have a bit of history with David Johansen, having seen him a few times during the late-70s/early-80s, when he was fronting his first band as a solo artist. We were fans, and one enjoyable aspect of Personality Crisis is remembering those years and how much he meant to us then. It was like visiting an old friend to see him here, when we all have grown old (at least, older). The film reminds us that it's good to still be around ... Johansen is the only New York Doll who is still with us.

"Personality Crisis" is the perfect title for the movie. Johansen was a New York Doll, then he was a solo artist under his own name, then he was Buster Poindexter, then he headed a band named after the legendary Harry Smith, and then he rejoined the Dolls who were still around (remarkably, it was a successful reunion ... they cut three albums together under the Dolls' name). As Johansen says during one interview, he was a one-hit wonder twice (under two names, of course). One Night Only is a concert film with interviews, the concert being in a small New York cabaret on the occasion of Johansen's 70th birthday (COVID was about to rear its ugly head, unbeknownst to us). The concert has a theme, beyond the star's birthday ... he notes, it's Buster Poindexter (who is him) singing the songs of David Johansen (who is him). As I say, "Personality Crisis" is a fine title.

Of course, that title first appeared as the opening track of the first New York Dolls album, and thus was our introduction to that great band, and by extension, to Johansen.

It was the first of many great opening album tracks/statements from seminal New York bands (think "Blitzkrieg Bop" by Ramones, and Patti Smith's "Gloria" ... Jesus died for somebody' sins, but not hers). The Dolls were compared at times to the Rolling Stones, with Johansen the obvious Mick Jagger guy and Johnny Thunders as Keith Richards, if Keef had died of drugs instead of defying the odds. Thunders was a fascinating guitar playing presence ... he always sounded like he was one step away from spinning off into the gutter with his guitar wailing loudly. Johansen's later bands would feature more traditional guitarists playing cleaner solos, but he was never able to match the sound he got playing with Thunders.

Anyway, I'm not talking much about the movie, which is a bit unfair. Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi and a lot of great assistants (not the least being Johansen's wife Mara Hennessey) do a good job of integrating interviews and archival footage into the film, while still allowing Johansen to perform his songs complete during the concert itself (thank goodness). Something of a character study emerges, but for all his chameleon performances, Johansen is ultimately a bit too private for Scorsese and company to really get inside the artist. And their love of his work teeters too closely to hagiography. But it's a loving portrait of a man who is perhaps less known today than he deserves.

geezer cinema: black adam (jaume collet-serra, 2022)

Should I be embarrassed if I found Black Adam disappointing? That implies that I was looking forward to it, which I was (and which isn't the same as thinking it would be a good movie). And I was looking forward to it, because while The Rock's movies aren't always good, he is fun to watch.

Well, Black Adam sucked. And one reason is that Dwayne Johnson was wasted. He doesn't smile until the final scene. He buries himself in a one-note performance ... not sure who to blame, not sure who had the idea to take one of our most charismatic actors and turn him into an all-powerful blank. He kicks ass, sure, although I was unimpressed in general with the big action scenes, which were mostly just The Rock throwing people a mile away so they could smash against something and die.

And then there's the problem of the DC Comics universe. I'm not the audience for this stuff ... I barely care about most of the Marvel characters, and I'm even less interested in DC. But if you asked, I could name some DC characters. They are not in this movie. Instead, we get Hawkman and Atom Smasher and Cyclone and Dr. Fate, and I'm sorry, but who are these characters again? Aficionados know them, but if you want the rest of us to lock into your series, you need to toss us a little Batman or Superman once in a while. Maybe this contributed to the fact that Black Adam made almost $400 million at the box office but was considered a flop. I've seen 8 Dwayne Johnson movies, liked about half of them. Black Adam is the worst of the bunch.

geezer cinema: night of the living dead (george a. romero, 1968)

It has been 9 years since I re-watched Night of the Living Dead. At that time, I wrote:

I think I underestimated this in its early years. It was so cheap-looking, especially on the crappy versions shown on crappy TVs during the Creature Feature days, that I assumed the amateurish quality overcame the intentions of George A. Romero. When Dawn of the Dead came out in 1978, I thought the real classic had arrived: in color, lots more gore, much funnier than the original. And course, since those times, Romero’s films have become a franchise full of sequels and remakes, while an entire industry of movies influenced by Night keeps on coming. Compared to the rush of 28 Days LaterNight of the Living Dead is almost tame, not because of the different level of gore, but because of the amphetamine rush of Danny Boyle’s film. Finally, it is impossible in 2014 to watch Night of the Living Dead without carrying the baggage of the past 45 years. So I’ll never really know if I think this movie is the classic everyone else sees. I’ve grown more appreciative of the acting over the years, and it’s impressive how much Romero and team are in control, considering how little experience they had.

The occasion this time was a 4k Blu-ray from Criterion. You wouldn't think there was much you can do to improve the picture of a 55-year-old black-and-white movie made for $114,000, but in fact, the movie looks great. Sounds great, too. If I was feeling more appreciative back in 2014, I'm even more inclined now to call this a classic.

geezer cinema: john wick: chapter 4 (chad stahelski, 2023)

It comes full circle. Almost four years ago, my wife and I, both retired, inaugurated our "Geezer Cinema" series, a weekly date at the movies where we take turns picking the week's choice. The first movie in the Geezer Cinema Era was John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum. We watched 32 movies at the theater before the pandemic hit, after which we watched from home. That lasted more than a year. Now, we usually watch at home, but we have gone to the theater on occasion when the advance ticket sales suggest it will be largely empty. Because this all started as a movie date, we were seeing then-current films, and we've mostly maintained that, even at home. Of the 182 Geezer Movies, 151 are from the 2019 or later. (The oldest movie was the 1931 version of The Front Page.) According to Letterboxd, our top 5 genres are Drama, Thriller, Action, Crime, and Comedy.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the fourth installment in the John Wick franchise. I am not a big fan of these movies. I can barely tell them apart, as is evidenced by the fact that I have quoted myself three times now about the movies:

John Wick ratchets up the action, to be sure, but not to the extent the Raid movies manage. Also, most of Keanu’s work involves shooting people, and while the body count is impressive, and Keanu’s got the moves, eventually it gets kinda boring watching yet another gun battle/slaughter. Martial arts movies like the Raids offer much more variety, and thus, much less boredom.

There are a LOT of guns in Chapter 4. Chad Stahelski tries to come up with innovative ways to use them, but his solution is always to just shoot more guns. There is none of the elegance of John Woo, and it occurs to me maybe that's a good thing ... maybe guns shouldn't be artistic. The martial arts here are better than I remember from the other movies. Part of this is the presence of the great Donnie Yen. It was nice to see Donnie Yen getting to be Donnie Yen without being wasted like he was in that Star Wars movie. On the other hand, given his stance re: China and Hong Kong, it's hard to like him anymore. And there's martial arts cult fave Scott Adkins, who for some reason wears a fat suit for his scenes. It makes one wish Sammo Hung were still active ... he never needed a fat suit, but the rotund legend is 71 years old now.

Where Chapter 4 shines is in the stunt work, which makes sense considering Stahelski's background as a stuntman. The final hour includes an amazing scene at the Arc de Triomphe where I finally gave in (after four movies) and said OK, this is pretty darn good. What follows is worthy of Buster Keaton, as John Wick climbs more than 200 steps only to be kicked back to the bottom.

So OK ... Chapter 4 is better than the other three. It's way too long, and it's not great, but it's time I tipped my cap at last to Stahelski and Reeves.

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

geezer cinema: the quiet girl (colm bairéad, 2022)

I wanted to like The Quiet Girl. I expected to like The Quiet Girl. And now that I've seen it, I don't have any real complaints. Yet somehow, I was disappointed

Disappointed might not even be the right word, because that implies a committed reaction, whereas I'm more at the point of "that was OK, now what?" First-time director Colm Bairéad shows a good command of the medium. Young Catherine Clinch, who plays the title character, is excellent. The title is appropriate ... she is indeed a quiet girl, and Bairéad gives us a largely quiet movie. I don't know what I would do differently. But the subtleties didn't connect for me. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't affected enough by the quiet plight of the girl.

Perhaps the problem is with me, and The Quiet Girl is just another Not for Steven movie. Certainly it was a success with critics, and it picked up an Oscar nomination. Maybe I'll watch it again sometime and finally see what I'm missing. I wouldn't be surprised if Bairéad makes some good movies in the future, and it's easy to imagine Clinch becoming one of our finer actors. But it mostly left me empty.