Time for an update on Geezer Cinema. We've seen ten movies now, one a week, taking turns picking the movies, starting with my wife Robin.
One thing I hadn't anticipated is that in general, these movies are bit below the standard I try to set. While I no longer include my ratings in movie posts, I still track them, and on a scale of ten, I usually average a bit over 7. But the Geezer movies so far are a bit under 7. I think I know why. All ten movies so far are recent, since we're going to the theater. I tend to give higher ratings to older movies. Plus, there are only so many current movies to pick from, whereas the rest of the time, I can pick from the entire history of film. In any event, each of us has picked five movies so far, with identical average ratings of 6.6. This is a sign that my wife knows how to pick them ... since I am the one giving the ratings, you'd think I'd rate my choices higher than hers, but that's not the case.
I have to admit, I was hoping for more. Hustlers is perfectly acceptable, but I thought it would be really good, based on the reviews. Jennifer Lopez is fine ... like the movie, there's nothing wrong with her performance, but I was expecting something Oscar-worthy, and I didn't see it. (She's not even the main actress ... she's got a shot at Best Supporting Actress, but Constance Wu is the lead.) She has a star power the rest of the actors lack ... when she makes her first appearance at the strip club, wearing a thong, and men start throwing money at her, it's believable, and there is more to her in Hustlers than her ass. But again, not earthshaking.
I thought I would be watching a movie about women's friendships with each other, and it's there, but it's more toxic than I expected. They take care of each other when things are good, and when the financial crisis hits, they band together to support each other. Banding together means getting back at men, and the men deserve it, but there's less of a revenge angle than you might think. I don't know, it all felt a bit by the numbers.
Looking at the above, I see that I wanted one kind of movie and I got another. Ultimately, that's on me. Hustlers is OK, and you might think it is better than OK. I was disappointed, though. Shout out to Cardi B, who made the most of her brief appearances ... I wanted to see more from her.
Official Secrets is a based-on-fact story that, as far as I can tell, is reasonably close to what actually happened. Catherine Gun, a translator who works for British Intelligence, leaks a top secret memo that suggests the upcoming 2003 invasion of Iraq is illegal. Gun gave the memo to an activist friend who gave it to a journalist. Once the story became front page news, Gun confessed, and she was charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act.
Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky) wrote the screenplay with Gregory and Sara Bernstein, and they manage to keep things from getting too confusing. The script is clearly on Gun's side, which will bother you or not, depending on your own take. Keira Knightley is in serious mode ... the film itself is pretty serious ... her presence makes us care about what happens to Catherine. There is a level of tension throughout, although the conclusion is almost a shaggy dog story (not that Hood could do anything about it ... it's what actually happened). The movie is solid, no more, no less, a decent outing if nothing else.
The cast includes Ralph Fiennes and a variety of "That Guys": Indira Varma, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Tamsin Greig, Conleth Hill.
When I was a kid, I used to love to play with windup toys. I'd crank them up and watch them perform. Didn't matter what they did ... clap cymbals together, whatever. It wasn't what they did that interested me. No, what I liked was when they started to run down. They'd get slower and slower, and I'd imagine them begging me to wind them up again before they quit, but I never did. I wanted to watch them die. And in my little kid mind, that's what was happening, not that they were toys who ran down, but that they were things I knew that died. I'd even feel something resembling sadness when they quit moving. And then, if I wasn't too bored, I'd wind it up and start all over again. It wasn't about me ... it was about the toy, about the fading away.
The Toy Story franchise is not about kids, other than as objects of toys' affection. The movies assume that kids will grow up, that they will find new toys to play with, that they will eventually outgrow toys completely. The Toy Story movies tell the tale from the point of view of the toys. Andy is a young boy in Toy Story, by Toy Story 3 he is going off to college. We barely ever see Andy, or any other humans. Andy exists to illuminate the lives of his toys.
And the biggest fear of a toy is that they will be abandoned, that their person won't play with them anymore, that they'll get stuffed into the corner of a closet. Or worse ... the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3 is one of the most terrifying things you'll ever see in a "cartoon".
Toy Story 4 suggests that there can more things to aspire to than being some kid's toy. The need to belong is intense. It's pretty much the emotional basis of a toy's life. And you are always at the mercy of your boy or girl. This feeling doesn't disappear in Toy Story 4 ... much of the plot revolves around attempts to pair toys with kids. But alternatives also present themselves. Woody, the exemplar of the toy who does everything for his owner, decides to join his love, Bo Peep, to find new owners for stray toys. He finds meaning not through a human, but through a fellow toy.
This is perhaps too much to dump on a cartoon designed to make billions. It's more important to note how good Toy Story 4 is, how efficient the animation remains, how the voice actors have created full-blooded characters over the four movies. It's also important to note that Toy Story 4 is often funny, which you might not get from all my blathering. (My wife laughed out loud when the cat barfed up a hair ball.) You can just sit back and enjoy the movie ... deep analysis isn't required. But it's worth appreciating that they have now gotten through three sequels and still haven't let the audience down. That's quite an achievement.
In 2013, having watched the first movie in the "Has Fallen" franchise, Olympus Has Fallen, I wrote, "Worth watching five years from now when you’re sitting at home, bored, and it shows up on TNT." Make that six years. OK, I wasn't at home, but I figure seeing Angel Has Fallen means I've fulfilled the promise I made in 2013, and I won't have to watch the first one again in five/six years.
There is nothing in these movies you haven't seen before. That was true of the first one, which was reminiscent of Die Hard, and it's true of Angel Has Fallen, which is reminiscent of the first one. You could binge the three movies and not really know when one ended and another began. Oh, there are little things, like Piper Perabo taking over the role of Mrs. Mike Banning from Radha Mitchell, and Morgan Freeman going from Speaker of the House in the first one to Vice-President in the second one to President in this one. If you like car chases and things blowing up, you'll enjoy the two hours you spend watching Angel Has Fallen. But five years from now, you won't remember which one this was.
There is one addition that helps. Nick Nolte turns up as Mike Banning's dad, and he has fun overacting and keeping the audience awake between explosions. Actually, he gets in on the exploding, as well, and has fun doing it. Nolte also appears in the post-credits scene, which for once is entertaining. (And it comes right away, so you don't have to stick around for all the credits.
The latest movie in the weekly trip to the theater that my wife and I have started since she retired. This was my choice, although I was really just making good on a plan we hatched with a friend back when Blinded by the Light was first announced, that we would go see it ASAP.
On seeing the film, Springsteen reportedly said, "I don't want you to change a thing. It's perfect." Which reminded me of an anecdote Pauline Kael told about the 1940s musical Night and Day, a biopic about Cole Porter.
"William Bowers, one of the three scenarists, said later that he was so ashamed of this picture that about a year after it came out he called Cole Porter, whose biography it purported to be, and told him how sorry he was, and Porter said, "Love it. Just loved it. Oh, I thought it was marvelous." Bowers says that he told Oscar Hammerstein how puzzled he was by this, and Hammerstein said, "How many of his songs did you have in it?" Bowers answered "Twenty-seven," and Hammerstein said, "Well of course he loved it. They only turned out to be twenty-seven of the greatest songs of all time. You don't think he heard that stuff that went on between his songs, do you?"
It's hard to imagine a subject for a film that would be more appealing to me than the story of a person transformed by a love of Bruce Springsteen. Oh, I had read enough advance reviews to know that Blinded by the Light would probably be kinda sappy, which isn't my favorite thing, but c'mon, it's Bruce! It has lots of his songs! He liked the movie!
And there was even an added attraction I had somehow missed: among the cast is Hayley Atwell!
It started out OK, although it takes awhile to get to Bruce. We learn about the hardships of growing up Pakistani in the England of Maggie Thatcher. We learn about how Luton appears to Javed (Viveik Kalra), a teenage resident (it sucks). We learn about the struggles of Javed and his hard-nosed father. It's a good setup for the scene where Javed is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Most people tell him he can't relate to Bruce, a white American who sings about girls and cars. But the setup makes it all obvious ... it's not just that Bruce is universal, it's that he speaks to Javed in ways that are quite on target.
It's when Javed's life is changed by Bruce that the film goes downhill. Granted, this is a good example of Your Mileage May Vary, because most of what I didn't like about the movie related to the style of the film. It's almost as if Chadha and writer Sarfraz Manzoor took this Made for Steven concept and used every trick in the Steven Hates This book.
I like that Bruce's songs inspire Javed, and the movie does a good job of showing that. But for some reason, it didn't occur to me that at times, Blinded by the Light would turn into the kind of musical I hate. It's one thing for Bruce's music to play while Kalra's face shows us the connection, and I even liked the way the lyrics sometimes turned up on the screen. But I really didn't need characters inserting Bruce lyrics into their conversations. It was enough to hear the music and see the actors working with the concept. It was over the top when those characters said things like "tramps like us, baby we were born to run".
Some of the joy Bruce brings to Javed is contagious, and effectively presented. But I didn't need to see "Born to Run" turned into a song-and-dance for Javed and his friends.
So figure it's just me and my taste preferences, and go see Blinded by the Light for yourself, because you'll probably think it's harmless fun. I'd watch a movie with nothing but Bruce Springsteen singing songs. But the last thing I want to see is a musical with other people singing his songs.
The latest movie in the weekly trip to the theater that my wife and I have started since she retired. This was her choice. (Just to get the obvious out of the way: I'll be referring to this movie as Hobbs & Shaw.)
I've only seen one Fast & Furious movie (the first), so I can't speak to the relationship between this spin-off and the series. I enjoyed the trailers, and didn't mind that my wife chose this for our weekly outing. (She gave me a choice between this and Men in Black: International, and I'm glad she gave me the chance to avoid that one ... I didn't even care for the first two, after which I quit watching them.) The Rock has such great charisma that he can get you through some pretty bad movies (although I've only seen half-a-dozen, none of which were classics). I also appreciate Jason Statham, whose martial arts work sets him apart from the usual blow-'em-up destructo pictures (although again, I haven't seen all that many of his movies, and none of them were classics, either). It will come as no surprise, then, that Hobbs & Shaw is no classic. But it's fun in a goofy way, and Vanessa Kirby, who is an actual actress, was believable as the ass-kicking women. Idris Elba rounds out the main cast ... he's a good villain, although unlike with Johnson or Statham, I feel like Elba is wasted in movies like this.
Hobbs & Shaw isn't The Raid or Fury Road, but that's a high standard. It's good enough.
I should say a word about how we saw the movie: it was our first time experiencing Dolby Cinema. We give it two thumbs up ... picture great, sound great, rumbling seats great. I recommend trying it out if you are seeing the kind of movie that might benefit from it, if you can find a theater (this is AMC's product).
The latest movie in the weekly trip to the theater that my wife and I have started since she retired. This was my choice. I only recognized two names from the cast, Awkwafina and Tzi Ma, and knew nothing about writer/director Lulu Wang. What I did know is that the film has gotten excellent reviews, which is usually good enough for me. Having now seen The Farewell, I can say those accolades were well-deserved.
The Farewell is the kind of movie I often describe as being known for what it is not. While it is sentimental, it is not overly so, and that emotion does not overwhelm the film. It is touching but not smarmy. You might think a movie about a grandmother dying will be predictable, but The Farewell is surprising without seeming random. Events occur in a natural way, without ever falling into cliché. In essence, The Farewell is a movie that will be appreciated by most people, even if the premise doesn't sound like your cup of tea.
The acting has a lot to do with the film's successes. Awkwafina rises to the challenge of carrying a movie, although the supporting cast is very strong and she is never carrying things on her own. Even better is Zhao Shuzhen as the grandmother. While she is apparently a fairly big star in China, the 75-year-old actor is making what is, to the best of my knowledge, her feature film debut (at the least, it's her first American movie). Everything I say about the film's positive qualities is demonstrated in her performance: emotional, but also funny, touching, but also knowing, unpredictable in the way a character and an actor can make believable. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Diana Lin, another actor I'd never heard of, who is excellent as a woman who holds her emotions in check.
There's no telling what went on during the making of the movie, but when an entire cast shines, I assume the director had a lot to do with it. Since Wang also wrote the dialogue, I'd say she is the number one reason The Farewell is so good.
Various things have had me occupied away from the blog, so this is a bit late ... we watched it more than a week ago. It's the third in a series I've decided to call Geezer Cinema, a planned once-weekly trip to the movies for my wife and I now that we are both retired. (The first two were John Wick: Chapter 3 and Booksmart, chosen by my wife and I respectively.) Spider-Man: Far from Home was my wife's choice. I'll be brief, since it's been so long since I saw it.
I wrote about the first film in this Spider-Man series:
Homecoming has a few things that distinguish it. Tom Holland is the youngest actor of the century to play Peter Parker. Parker/Spidey is a fairly enjoyable character. I don't know ... I liked it more than I did the Raimis, although that may just be my lowered expectations. Bonus points for the supporting cast, which includes Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Bokeem Woodbine, Tyne Daly, Hannibal Buress, Martin Starr, and the voice of Jennifer Connelly.
Far from Home continues the winning streak. Holland and his character remain appealing. Tomei, Zendaya, and Starr return, and are joined by Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and Jon Favreau from earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mysterio, and J.B. Smoove turns up as well. Zendaya is becoming a favorite of mine due to her performance on HBO's Euphoria, and it was fun to see her once again in the "Kirsten Dunst" role.
I'm not too concerned with how this fits into the MCU ... I mostly judge these movies on their own merit. Far from Home is one of the better ones. At first, I thought too much time was spent on the Lives of High Schoolers angle, but it had some solid emotional payoffs at the end. If, like me, you aren't a big Marvel guy, you might like this one nonetheless.
I wanted to like Booksmart a lot more than I eventually did. It's stylishly directed by a woman, it centers on two female characters, it has a few good jokes, and has a couple of favorites of mine in Kaitlyn Dever and Jessica Williams. But it's not much of a movie. I wish it were better. (Especially since it was my first pick in our new "Geezer Cinema" series.)
Part of the problem is that, as I've noted many times, I am not a fan of modern comedies. And there's my obsession with not knowing anything about a movie before I see it. In this case, I knew it had gotten good reviews, and I knew Olivia Wilde had encouraged people to see it as part of an effort to get more attention/funding/audiences for "movies made by and about women." What I didn't know is that it was a comedy. Which is another way of saying, your mileage may vary, but Booksmart is way out of my zone, not because it is about women, but because it's a comedy. You can take my words with a grain of salt. I did laugh a few times, and I found the film amiable ... I'm not sorry I saw it. But ...
I keep track of my movie ratings on MovieLens. There, I find that I have given 27 comedies my highest 10/10 rating. Here is the breakdown, by decade:
I can quibble with MovieLens' definition of "Comedy" ... if it were me, I don't think I'd include The Rules of the Game, for instance. And this little chart is not meant to establish a method for assigning greatness. It is completely subjective. But since A Hard Day's Night and Dr. Strangelove in 1964, I have given my highest rating to a grand total of two comedies: Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, and American Splendor. Booksmart was up against this ... I was never going to like it as much as I wanted to like it.
I liked it about as much as I liked Bridesmaids and Moonrise Kingdom and The Interview and The Favourite. I liked it more than I liked Tusk. If you liked those movies, you will probably like Booksmart. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.