geezer cinema: the good, the bad and the ugly (sergio leone, 1966)

Watched this one for the billionth time. You run out of things to say. My opinion of this movie has risen over the years, and it might be favorite by Leone. But this viewing was remarkably like one I wrote about in 2009. Then, I talked about the new "Blu-ray" technology and high-definition TV. Substitute "4k Blu-ray" for "Blu-ray" and you'd have pretty much what I was thinking as I watched this new disc:

It’s a sign that a particular technology has become established when you notice its absence more than its presence. When Blu-ray first came along, I marveled at the look of every movie I watched … it was new and beautiful. The same was true for Hi-Def TV, which doesn’t quite match the exquisiteness of Blu-ray, but is enough of an improvement over standard definition that every show was a joy. As some point, though, that look became ordinary in a good way. Good, because I take it for granted. The only time I notice the picture now is when it’s not in HD. The Blu-ray of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly looks great. The movie itself is also quite something.

One other change from 2009: back then, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was #187 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. As I write this, it's up to #156.

My wife, who can at times be a bit of a spoilsport (a crime I am guilty of far more often than she is) said that the climactic shootout between the titular trio is lacking logic. Clint Eastwood is the one of the three who already knows where the money is, and he has already emptied Eli Wallach's gun without Tuco knowing about it. When the men finally shoot, Clint goes straight to Lee Van Cleef. My wife pointed out that Blondie could have shot Angel Eyes at any point. I said we were talking about one of the most iconic scenes in movie history, and when that's the topic, logic isn't the first thing that should come to mind.

One final thought. Clint Eastwood has developed a recognizable style as a director over the years, and when he makes westerns, someone will always say the Leone influence is clear. But you can't find two less similar directors. Eastwood is a minimalist, Leone is extravagant.


call me by your name (luca guadagnino, 2017)

This is the twenty-second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 22 is called "Time Out for Romance Week":

It can be easy to balk at watching a romance movie since they all-too-often offer nothing beyond the trite paint-by-number genre trappings common to the Hallmark Channel. Sometimes they can also veer into sickeningly saccharine territory or can unrealistically portray love as a simple, lasting feeling between two impossibly witty and beautiful people that sets real-life people up for unrealistic expectations. However, since love is actually an enormously complex and powerful force that is different for every single person, it is a theme that drives many fantastic movies. The key is not to oversimplify it, but explore it for how much it can stir the soul in so many different directions.

This Valentine’s season watch one of these fantastic movies all about that complicated emotion from Time Out’s The 100 Most Romantic Films of All Time.

Call me a romantic: I've seen 79 of the 100 Most Romantic Films of All Time. It's clear why Call Me by Your Name is on the list. (It's 15th on the list, and the 4th-most recent.) It's subtle approach to love between two men may be a bit too safe, but the emotions displayed by actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as the two are touching and real. Some have complained about the age difference between the two characters (one is 24, the other 17), but Chalamet is both believably 17 (he was 20 when the film was shot) and believably mature enough to make his own decisions. It's a coming-of-age story, but I didn't find it creepy.

But there's another reason that Call Me by Your Name feels differently now than it must have in 2017. In 2021, charges emerged accusing Hammer of cases of sexual abuse. Other accusations arose. Hammer was never charged, although the cases were opened for a fair amount of time. Hammer's acting career hit a wall ... he hasn't acted in a film since the accusations appeared. It's not my place here to figure out what did and didn't happen in those cases. But it definitely affects how I watched a movie about a 24-year-old man beginning an affair with a 17-year-old. That's not fair, but I can't just pretend it doesn't exist. So there's a creepiness to the film that I don't think I would have felt had I seen it in 2017.

Call Me by Your Name is #157 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


downfall (oliver hirschbiegel, 2004)

It's always an odd feeling to come to a classic film long after everyone else has already seen it. It's especially weird in this case, because Downfall has become famous in the nearly 20 years since its release as the source for endless parodies of one particular scene. If you haven't seen Downfall, you might think you know nothing about it, but chances are you've seen at least one of these:

There's nothing wrong with these parodies, and sure, we know when we watch them that they aren't meant to represent the actual movie. But while I didn't expect to see 2 1/2 hours of Hitler rants, I realized as I watched that the endless parodies did give me a warped sense of what went on in Downfall. I assumed the entire movie would take place in Hitler's bunker, but actually much of the film takes place outside the bunker, as Berlin falls to the Russians. The isolation of Hitler in his bunker is contrasted with the realities of what the German people are experiencing at that moment.

Some have criticized Downfall for showing "the human side" of Hitler and his Nazis, and the presentation of scenes in the bunker do engender a certain uncomfortable connection with the bunker's inhabitants. As Charlie Bertsch wrote, "Even though Hitler is clearly mad and his associates mostly venal and inept, their dire predicament and the time viewers spend with them in the claustrophobically close quarters of the bunker elicit a kind of structural identification, a sympathy in spite of itself à la the famous 'Stockholm Syndrome', that threatens to conceal the magnitude of their crimes." This makes the scenes outside the bunker crucial: once we lose the claustrophobic connection, once we see the horrors in Berlin, we awake from our Stockholm Syndrome.

Perhaps lost in all of this is that Downfall is a great movie. Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler is uncanny. Ulrich Matthes' Goebbels looks like a zombie, which is somehow scarily appropriate. And Alexandra Maria Lara perfectly captures the complications of her character, Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, who survived and later in life wrote a memoir that is one of the sources for the film.

Here is the actual scene that inspired a thousand parodies:

Personal addendum: on our honeymoon 50 years ago, my wife and I went to a movie. That became a tradition ... every year on our anniversary, we see a movie together. That honeymoon movie was Hitler: The Last Ten Days, with Alec Guinness. Here is the "Steiner" scene from that movie ... it's startling how much it resembles Downfall, which came out more than 30 years later:


investigation of a citizen above suspicion (elio petri, 1970)

I tried to watch this last month, as the final film in my 2022-2023 Letterboxd Challenge. I didn't give it a proper review at the time:

I'm afraid I can't do the film justice ... it has a confusing structure and I was on the verge of falling asleep (which is on me, not Elio Petri). So I'll have to give it an incomplete and hope to watch it again sometime when I am awake.

This will be brief. I made it through this time without getting too sleepy. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Tristana, which I much preferred. The structure is still confusing. I'm not prepared to take that confusion totally on myself ... I may not have noticed when I was falling asleep, but Petri knew his film was confusing when he made it. I will accept that I don't always appreciate confusion in movies, and that, at least, is on me. Wikipedia tells me that most of the ending scenes are part of a dream sequence, which is news to me. I guess this is a Your Mileage May Vary movie. I'll finish by quoting Kael:

Elio Petri's indirect way of telling a story - which gradually takes the form of a paranoid fantasy - makes the viewer apprehensive. His purpose is ostensibly political, but sometimes he becomes so sophisticated and nasty and perverse that you don't trust his purposes.... The queasy, tense atmosphere derives not from the horror of the proposition itself but from the kinkiness of the details, such as Ennio Morricone's jangly music when the cop slits the throat of his mistress (Florinda Bolkan). The film is extremely dislikable. Petri is a highly skilled director but he doesn't use suspense pleasurably; he doesn't resolve the tensions, and so you're left in a rather foul mood.


black orpheus (marcel camus, 1959)

Black Orpheus won an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film, beating among others the excellent German film, The Bridge. It had a big impact internationally, offering the first glimpse for many of the colorful brilliance of Carnaval and the enticing sound of bossa nova.

But since its release there have been criticisms, particular within Brazil, of the stereotypical presentation of Brazilian life. In Black Orpheus, people are dedicated to singing, dancing, and fucking. The favelas are romanticized ... life itself is romanticized. It's appealing, until you think about it too closely.

And the story, which transplants the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice onto Carnaval, is twisted too hard in order for it to make room for the legend. Things happen very quickly ... Orfeu is engaged to Mira, meets Eurydice, they fall in love almost instantly, spend the night together, and then Eurydice dies the next day.

The film might work better without the ties to Greek mythology, but it still remains a colorful but untrustworthy outsider's look at the culture of Brazil at the time.


investigation of a citizen above suspicion (elio petri, 1970)

This is the thirty-third and final film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 33 is called "LSC Family Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from either Monsieur Flynn's Movies to See Before Your End Credits listkurt k's Personal Cannon listsethenstein's All Time Favorites list, or my own A Hundred or So of My Favorites list.

And so another challenge ends. I'm afraid I can't do the film justice ... it has a confusing structure and I was on the verge of falling asleep (which is on me, not Elio Petri). So I'll have to give it an incomplete and hope to watch it again sometime when I am awake.

From Our Mothers back in September to now, I've seen some good ones and some no-so-good ones. What would a Letterboxd post be without a list:

Best Movie: Earth

Worst Movie: The Killing of Satan

Longest Movie: A Touch of Zen

Shortest Movie: The Smiling Madame Beudet

Most Popular Movie: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Most Obscure Movie: Sign of the Gladiator

Most Highly-Regarded Movie: Apur Sansar

Least Highly-Regarded Movie: Welcome back, The Killing of Satan

I'm already excited about the next Challenge.


this is not a burial, it's a resurrection (lemohang jeremiah mosese, 2019)

This is the twenty-third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 23 is called "African Movie Academy Awards Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film nominated for an African Movie Academy Awards. Thank you to Adam Graff for this handy list, found here.

Another great challenge category, as I had seen none of the movies on Adam Graff's list, an empty spot in my lifetime of watching that needed to be filled. The theme is timeless, progress and its implications, as a small village is forced to resettle when a new dam will flood the land they have lived on for as long as anyone can remember.

There are several elements that raise This Is Not a Burial above the average. The soundtrack by Yu Miyashita is uncanny, sounding modern yet also connecting to the land and the past. The cinematography of Pierre De Villiers, which won an African Academy Award, is good at showing the expanses of the land, but also inventive in smaller, tighter places indoors. Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese is always in command (he, too, won an Academy Award).

Best of all is 80-year-old Mary Twala Mhlongo as a woman near death who is more willing to accept that death than she is to accept the "progress" that will destroy her homeland. Her performance was so authentic, I thought Mosese had gotten an amateur village woman to play the part ... Twala's work isn't the least bit hesitant or amateur, but she is so believable I could barely believe she was acting. Her character is the heart of the village, and her acting is the heart of this film.


eo (jerzy skolimowski, 2022)

The "Kuloshov effect" is described on Wikipedia as follows:
Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the bowl of soup, the girl in the coffin, or the woman on the divan, showing an expression of hunger, grief, or desire, respectively. The footage of Mosjoukine was actually the same shot each time.
I thought about Kuloshov while watching EO, a rather picaresque film about the life of a donkey named Eo.
 
In Rolling Stone, K. Austin Collins wrote that EO "inarguably qualifies as an animal’s-eye view of all that’s warm and cruel, comical and arbitrary about human nature." He says that "The movie is always subjective," adding "the expressive, open, alert face that we encounter throughout the film feels singular. We get to know this animal, or feel like we do. We start to feel that we understand its emotions". I'd argue that the key phrase here is "feel like we do", for Jerzy Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska artfully convince us that we understand Eo's point of view. It's a slight of hand worthy of a superhero movie, except where those films use CGI to make marvelous things happen, Skolimowski uses Eo like Kuleshov used Mosjoukine. Full of close ups of Eo's eyes, deep and (as presented) meaningful, the film is edited (Agnieszka Glińska is the editor) to maximum effect to make us believe that, just as Superman can fly, Eo communicates to us in some fantastic, nearly indescribable way.
 
But, of course, EO is not seen through the eyes of the donkey, it's seen through the eyes of the film makers. Soulful as Eo's eyes are, his expression is unchanging. Skolimowski convinces us otherwise, and that is key to what makes his movie so affecting to so many people.

There is more to EO than those donkey eyes. The soundtrack is unique ... at times, aided by unusual work by cinematographer Michal Dymek, EO turns almost avant-garde in its presentation. And even if I am skeptical of the way we are supposed to read Eo's thoughts, the events that happen around the donkey are varied, at times funny, at times tragic, and always interesting. I think it's a better movie than its clear inspiration, Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar.


sign of the gladiator (guido brignone, 1959)

This is the eighteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 18 is called "Sword and Sandals Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Peplum film.

As I have said many times, when it comes to bad movies, the most interesting things are usually the ones that aren't actually on the screen. Sign of the Gladiator (I've seen multiple titles for this one ... Nel segno di Roma is the original title, and in the U.S. it's also known as Sheba and the Gladiator ... did I mention there are no gladiators in this movie?) has Sergio Leone's name among many listed as writers. Director Guido Brignone got sick during the making of the film, and Michelangelo Antonioni did some uncredited work while Brignone was unable to be on set. I stumbled onto the film by accident ... the challenge was to watch a Peplum film, but the one I originally chose turned out to only be available in a Spanish dub, which seemed wrong considering the genre. So, Sign of the Gladiator.

"Peplum" is another way of saying "sword-and-sandal", and you know the genre even if you've never seen one. Hercules is the main character in many, and in others, Hercules has a different name because the film makers didn't own the rights to "Hercules". In truth, Sign of the Gladiator is a bit of an anomaly ... the only big battle scene comes at the end, and most of the movie consists of backroom skullduggery between Rome and Palmrya. And there's romance, which leads to the female lead, who played Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. She was Anita Ekberg, and I guess the studio decided if Anita Ekberg was in their movie, there better be some romance. Ekberg is an interesting person on her own, famous for splashing in a fountain in La Dolce Vita. As much as anything, she is the reason to watch the movie. But don't take that as a recommendation. If you are dying to see Ekberg, watch La Dolce Vita or Boccaccio '70.

Here's a brief clip from the English dub:


a few 2022 movie lists

I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:

Best movies I re-watched this year (all 10/10):

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Last Waltz (1978)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The ongoing Geezer Cinema list. We watched 48 Geezer movies this year, beginning with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse back on January 4:

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

And this list of everything I watched this year:

[Letterboxd list of movies I watched in 2022]