geezer cinema: my spy (peter segal, 2020)

It was my wife's turn to pick our weekly Geezer movie, and when I asked her what was her choice, she said it had "that guy you like". I was surprised to learn she was talking about Dave Bautista. Honestly, I didn't realize I was a fan. It's just that I'm not fond of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and find his character to be the most enjoyable thing about them.

Well, now I've seen one his starring vehicles. He's OK, just as the film is OK. But I wouldn't go any further with my praise, and in fact, I didn't much like My Spy. It's an unoriginal story (big tough guy teams up with cute little kid) done without any attempt to break out of the norm. There's not as much action as you'd think (it came in at $18 million, which is pretty paltry these days), it's rated PG-13 (for "action/violence and language"), which is probably appropriate, the movie isn't really for kids.

In fairness, Bautista is decent, the cute little kid (played by Chloe Coleman) keeps her cuteness on the right side of too-much, and Kristen Schaal has a reasonable-sized part. I laughed a couple of times. It's entirely possible My Spy is in the YMMV category, but really, it's nothing special.


geezer cinema: bad education (cory finley, 2019)

Bad Education is one of those based-on-a-true-story movies that are often hampered by the need to stick to the story. Of course, I usually complain when the story is fundamentally changed in these pictures, so I can't really hold it against Bad Education that it seems to be reasonably close to what actually happened. What lifts the film above the norm are the performances of Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney in the leads, and Geraldine Viswanathan as an intrepid high-school reporter.

Viswanathan's character is enjoyable partly because the part of a reporter who digs up the truth seems particularly precocious when that reporter is a junior in high school. Jackman and Janney are excellent in their own roles, but Jackman really stands out because he delivers on the potential of the role as written. He plays a popular school superintendent, Frank Tassone, with the kind of charisma Jackman is capable of. The story takes its first turn when it turns out Janney's assistant superintendent has been embezzling money from the school district. Tassone saves the day, but the story has only just begun. Over time, we realize there is a lot more to Tassone than meets the eye. And it is here that Jackman shines, for we in the audience are as susceptible to his charm as the townspeople are to Tassone's. Jackman gives us a complicated man who seems only partly aware of his complications, even as he compartmentalizes his life.

It is perhaps a sign of how good Jackman is that the real-life Frank Tassone is said to have found Jackman's portrayal on target (OK, who wouldn't like having Hugh Jackman playing him in a movie), even as Tassone found some elements of the script to be false. It's as if Jackman was even able to charm the man he was playing.

There isn't anything special going on in Bad Education, but it works, and that's good enough.


geezer cinema: da 5 bloods (spike lee, 2020)

Martin Scorsese is probably considered America's greatest living filmmaker. He's been around forever, he's made some great movies, he is a valuable contributor to film preservation and to the history of world cinema.

Spike Lee, even now, is arguably America's most underrated living filmmaker. Do the Right Thing is his greatest, but there's also Inside Man, and both parts of his documentary on Katrina are exemplary. 25th Hour, Summer of Sam, Clockers ... it's an impressive filmography.

According to Zach Sharf, "Netflix was willing to give Martin Scorsese over $150 million on 'The Irishman' in order to de-age actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, but the streaming giant was reportedly more apprehensive when it came to allowing Spike Lee to shoot on 16mm film for 'Da 5 Bloods.'"

The idea to shoot the flashback scenes on 16mm was [cinematographer Newton Thomas] Sigel’s. Those sequences were originally intended to be shot on a different format before Sigel pitched to Lee an idea to shoot the Vietnam sequences using the kind of camera and film stock that would have been available during the Vietnam era. It was a winning pitch, as Sigel explained, “I think what really sold Spike on it was that this is what would have been used if a crew was there in Vietnam shooting during the war.”

It's the kind of care that helps give Da 5 Bloods a unique look, but also a smart and appropriate look.

Da 5 Bloods is Spike Lee at his best. Some of the dialogue is a bit too on the mark, but for the most part, the extended social context for what we see is effectively blended with the heist film. There are obvious homages to movies like Apocalypse Now and Three Kings, and I loved the stinkin' badges making an appearance. All of the actors are at the top of their game, which is worth mentioning because Delroy Lindo is on another level entirely and I fear the others will be lost in the deserved acclaim for Lindo. And, of course, Isiah Whitlock Jr. works in the catchphrase that he first spoke in an earlier Spike Lee movie:

But it's Lindo's show, and he makes the most of it. Da 5 Bloods is the best movie from 2020 that I have seen so far.

[Letterboxd list of the 2020 movies I've seen.]


geezer cinema: revisiting princess mononoke (hayao miyazaki, 1997)

It was my wife's turn to pick a Geezer movie, and she had never seen Princess Mononoke, so she chose it. It is the best of the 45 movies we've watched so far in Geezer Cinema. I wrote about it way back in 2005:

It's an oddball epic, weird and beautiful and brutal by turns, sometimes weird and beautiful and brutal at the same time.

I often get a bit lost in the plots of these Ghibli movies, and Princess Mononoke was no exception, but they are so loony in their pretty aesthetic that it hardly matters. Hollywood is capable of creating special effects that cause your jaw to drop, but Miyazaki creates special effects out of his brain ... he's always got some little character that's unlike anything you've ever seen before (this time it's the white thingies whose heads crack sideways), and there's wild boars that transform into squiggly monster things (Miyazaki always manages to include beings that would fit comfortably into a futuristic Philip K. Dick book ... Dick would give them names like greebs), and stunning landscapes, and heroic young women, and complex characters with complex motivations ... this isn't just a good cartoon, this is a great movie.

And the thing is, even the plot got to me this time, for as the film nears its end, I was caught up in the narrative, gasping and moaning and, of course, dropping my jaw in amazement.

I should add that the version I watched was in Japanese with subtitles ... there's an American Disney DVD with Claire Danes doing the voice-over for the title character, and I have no idea if it's any good ... in general, I don't mind dubbing when it comes to animation, I'm just saying, caveat emptor and all that if you watch the American version.

I agree with all of the above, although this time, we watched the English dub on Blu-ray. I'd bought that Blu-ray to watch with our grandson, but his mom did a little research and found that this movie is not suited for a sensitive 7-year-old. I have to say she's right ... there's a reason it's rated PG-13. The English dub was fine ... it's been a long time since I watched the original, so I can't make much of a comparison. None of the voices seemed awful. The Blu-ray picture was gorgeous, which matters a lot for this movie (my previous time I was watching a DVD from a quasi-legal box set). I also noticed the score by Joe Hisaishi, which was truly fitted to the epic nature of the movie. Fifteen years later, Princess Mononoke remains my favorite Ghibli movie.

Here is a Letterboxd list of the Studio Ghibli films I have seen:

https://letterboxd.com/masoo/list/studio-ghibli-ranked/


geezer cinema: the vast of night (andrew patterson, 2019)

I know how inconsequential this blog is. Nonetheless, I had a lot to say about The Vast of Night, a fine directorial debut for Andrew Patterson. Then the TypePad compose page crashed when I went to save the post. Now I've got to remember what I wanted to say. This will likely be shorter than the movie deserves.

I seem to have spent a lot of time lately talking about films where it is clear the people behind the movie knew what they were doing, and how comforting that can be. Well, Andrew Patterson knew what he was doing when he made The Vast of Night, and he did it for under a million dollars (reportedly of his own money). He didn't just direct it ... he also co-wrote it, produced it, and edited it, all under pseudonyms. Patterson shows his influences without making the movie a "look what I know" preening session. He works everything together quite smoothly. It has been described as Close Encounters directed by Richard Linklater, and it's easy to see why ... the movie begins with the two main characters walking around chatting, and eventually there's an alien ship. There are also references to old TV (it takes place in 1958, and uses a framing device that suggests we're watching an anthology series that looks a lot like The Twilight Zone). The Vast of Night is also reminiscent of old-time radio, especially in one scene where a caller to a radio show tells a long story and we hear him but don't see him.

The two leads are excellent (Sierra McCormick as a small-town switchboard operator, Jake Horowitz as the local DJ). They help establish the concrete, "real" setting within which the alien story can be told. And special attention should be paid to cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz, who creates atmosphere on that small budget, while also giving us a fancy long-take through the town that will leave you wondering how they did it. There is also a ten-minute take of the switchboard operator at work ... McCormick is so good you don't think about how hard such a long take must have been for her, and Patterson uses the scene to gradually up the tension.

I was reminded of another first-time director, Gareth Edwards. In 2010, Edwards released Monsters, like The Vast of Night a cheapie that made the most of what it had.  Someone noticed ... his next film was Godzilla, the next after that Rogue One,  which cleared more than a billion-with-a-b dollars worldwide. There's no telling what's next from Andrew Patterson, but the anticipation will be delicious.


geezer cinema: red joan (trevor nunn, 2018)

Red Joan is a spy thriller that mostly lacks thrills. It takes the not unusual trick of building the story around flashbacks, but in this case, the structure doesn't really do anything for the movie.

Judi Dench is an elderly woman arrested for being a spy. During interrogations, we get her story, with Sophie Cookson playing the young "Red Joan". The scenes of the past are engaging enough, and the arc whereby Joan becomes "Red" is fairly engrossing. But whenever the movie returns to Dench, all the momentum dissipates. At some point, I realized the entire movie could have been made without Dench, without the scenes in the present, and been just as good, just as intelligible. Better, in fact.

This is not to say that the flashback structure is never a good idea. But Cookson has an engaging flair, and while it's not Dench's fault, the old Joan is miserable and depressed. It makes sense for the characters, but the depressed Joan is never compelling enough that I don't wish to return to Cookson.

Red Joan is competent, and it will satisfy those looking to pass a couple of hours. But that's about all it is.


geezer cinema: baby driver (edgar wright, 2017)

It's nice when you watch a movie and realize the people making the movie know what they are doing. For instance, Baby Driver was nominated for three Oscars: Editing (Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos), Sound Mixing (Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis, and Julian Slater), and Sound Editing (Slater again). Once you see it, you understand why. It grabs you from the start ... here is the second scene in the movie, after which I had that "they know what they're doing" feel:

Edgar Wright doesn't use his style to beat you over the head like Michael Bay, and he doesn't use his style to make things unintelligible (like Michael Bay). He gives us a heightened reality, where everything seems to fit together. Baby (yes, that's the name of Ansel Elgort's character) is locked into the music ... he walks to its beat. Everything that happens as he walks is part of that beat. The lyrics to the song turn up in the background. The movie is so connected to its music that Baby Driver plays like a musical as much as it does an action picture.

And it delivers on the action. For that matter, it does a decent job with the romance, too. It doesn't feel like a jumble ... all of the parts fit smoothly.

The casting is on target, and the actors seem to be enjoying themselves without preening. Baby Driver couldn't be more different than our Geezer movie from last week, The Gentlemen, which is far too proud of itself (without reason). #759 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


geezer cinema: the gentlemen (guy ritchie, 2019)

This will be short. I am not a fan of Guy Ritchie. That's not fair ... this is only the third movie of his I've seen, and I liked Sherlock Holmes a bit. But I really didn't like Snatch. The Gentlemen falls somewhere between the two.

The Gentlemen has a nice cast, although none of them are seen at their best. I laughed a couple of times, and I think I was even supposed to. The movie jumps around, there's always something happening, so you probably won't get bored. But seriously, so fucking what. The Gentlemen is the kind of movie where one character (played by Hugh Grant) narrates most of the goings-on. Apparently, Ritchie doesn't believe in show-don't-tell. When you need a character to explain everything as it happens, you haven't done a proper job of setting up those happenings. I don't watch movies to listen to someone read me the script.

Someone put together a YouTube video (it stinks, no reason to link to it) titled "The Gentlemen 2019 - All Best Scenes". It runs 12 minutes and 12 seconds. The actual movie runs for 113 minutes. If that seems like an enjoyable ratio to you, by all means, check out The Gentlemen.


geezer cinema: scarface (brian de palma, 1983)

Well, it's iconic, I had a DVD lying around that I haven't watched in forever, and my wife had never seen it, so I went with Scarface for this week's Geezer movie.

After it was over, my wife said, "Well, now I can say I've seen it", and with that, she went back to her knitting. (In fairness, she generally isn't much for movie post-mortems.)

Scarface is memorable, which is one reason it's highly regarded. You can praise Al Pacino's Cuban accent, or you can ridicule it, but you can't forget it once you've heard it. (For what it's worth, it wasn't as bad as I remembered.) If you long ago tired of Al's overblown acting, preferring his more interior roles, nonetheless Tony Montana demands an over-the-top performance. There's the endlessly quotable dialogue, including the 200+ times we hear some variant of "fuck".

And there are the iconic scenes. I count three: the chainsaw scene, the "say good night to the bad guy" scene, and the "say hello to my little friend" scene. The chainsaw comes about 25 minutes into the movie, and it's a real wake-up call. But the Bad Guy doesn't arrive until the movie is more than 2 hours long, and the Little Friend comes with less than 10 minutes to go in the 170-minute-long film. That's a lot of breathing space between iconic scenes, and especially in the long middle section, you find yourself doing a lot of breathing. As Kael wrote, "its dramatic arc is faulty." The early sections, detailing the rise of Tony Montana, take their time, and that's appropriate for an epic. But after Tony wipes out most of his enemies, the movie still has an hour to go. It's as if the baptism/assassination scene in The Godfather popped up in the middle of the movie instead of the end.

There's always something to see or hear in that last hour, even if it's kinda boring, and two of the iconic scenes are in the latter half. The movie was a huge influence on hip-hop (co-star Steven Bauer claims "'Scarface’ was dead and buried until hip-hop rediscovered it"), and it is currently #628 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. A lot of people love Scarface ... Sean "Diddy" Combs is said to have seen it 63 times. But about all I can say in conclusion is, "Well, now I can say I've seen it more than once."


geezer cinema: extraction (sam hargrave, 2020)

Geezer Cinema lives, even though movie theaters have yet to open. Extraction is the seventh movie we've seen in our weekly Geezer series ... I'm almost getting used to it, although I always need to remember we got the idea for this as a reason to get out of the house once both of us were retired.

Extraction would have played well on the big screen with Dolby Cinema turned up to the max. It's a loud movie filled with a gazillion rounds of ammunition from a variety of guns. There are also grenades that make a lot of noise, car crashes that make a lot of noise, explosions that make a lot of noise, and for variety, there is the occasional blood letting by knife. Sam Hargrave doesn't seem interested in any deep meanings ... he's an award-winning stunt coordinator directing his first movie. He is competent, but the movie cranks up to another level when Hargrave can focus on stunts.

A lot of technical skill is on display during the stunt fests. It looks very efficient and relatively seamless. The selling point is a "oner", an 11 1/2-minute single-take action scene. It works not only as "look what we can do", but also as an effective action sequence.

The movie comes to a halt whenever the action does the same. There are the usual attempts to make us care about the characters, none of which worked on me. The actors are good. Chris Hemsworth is believable, and some of the supporting cast are quite good at trying to turn clichéd material into something more. Special shoutout to Golshifteh Farahani (About Lily), who doesn't get nearly enough screen time but who is clearly part of the setup for any possible sequels. Rudhraksh Jaiswal does well as a kidnapped kid ... I'd like to see him in something else down the road.

Extraction does what it sets out to do, and occasionally adds some panache. In a world with Fury Road and the Raid movies, Extraction doesn't really stand out. But it does get our attention during a period when few pictures are being released (our local newspaper ran a review from their #1 movie critic), and fills that role well. Don't expect more, and you'll be satisfied.