borat: cultural learnings of america for make benefit glorious nation of kazakhstan (larry charles, 2006)

Coming at this 14 years after its release, when everyone knows the joke (yes, I meant singular, not plural) and there's even a recent sequel ... my experience will be nothing like that of those who love Borat. And given my lack of feel for modern comedy, it's clear from the start I won't like this as much as its fans.

There are plenty of funny parts, of course. People are constantly exposed as morons, but hey, they are morons, at least as presented in this movie. They fell for the joke, they look bad, and it's no one's fault but there own.

I don't know which of these statements is more telling: that many of the people who participated sued once they saw themselves in the movie, or that their suits were inevitably dismissed. As Sasha Baron Cohen said of one lawsuit, "Some of the letters I get are quite unusual, like the one where the lawyer informed me I'm about to be sued for $100,000 and at the end says, 'P.S. Loved the movie. Can you sign a poster for my son Jeremy?'"

Simply put, Borat is a mean-spirited movie. Nothing wrong with that, and Baron Cohen isn't making any claims to being kind. #117 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


geezer cinema: the night of the hunter (charles laughton, 1955)

Internet was down most of the day, which among other things meant the movie I'd chosen for this week's Geezer Cinema was unavailable. So I fell back on an old favorite, The Night of the Hunter, which way back when was #31 on my Facebook Fifty Faves list. I'm only just now back online, so I'll cut and paste from my original comments.

The Night of the Hunter is a collaborative work; all films are, but I feel like in this case, people tend to focus on the fact that it’s the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, and thus assume the film’s idiosyncrasies are his alone. Recent research has demonstrated the importance of Davis Grubb, who wrote the novel, James Agee, who wrote the screenplay, and Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer. I won’t pretend to know exactly who did what. But I can describe the results. Visually, the movie is a cross of D.W. Griffith and the German Expressionists. These influences come from silent film, and add to the feeling that Night of the Hunter is somehow timeless. (The presence of Lillian Gish doesn’t hurt, either). It has elements of the horror film; at times, Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell is shot so that he resembles the monster in the Karloff versions of Frankenstein. It’s noirish, but noir as told through the eyes of children. It is, at times, pretty funny, which is unexpected. And Robert Mitchum’s performance is one of cinema’s greatest.

The movie also features several set pieces that are remarkable, and in many cases, unique. The children’s long trip down the river is the most obvious example, full of interesting choices by Laughton/Agee/Cortez/whoever. The image of Shelley Winters sitting in a car at the bottom of the river, her hair flowing like it had belonged underwater all along, is unforgettable, and you’d like to congratulate Laughton (or whoever), except the novel’s author, Davis Grubb, submitted some early drawings to Laughton that include one which looks almost exactly like what we see on the screen, so send your congrats to Grubb for that one.

If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat, but the best time to see it for your first time is when you are young. You’ll be scared shitless, but you’ll never forget it. I suppose some parents would think this film to be exactly the kind of thing their kids should be protected from, but those parents are wrong. The Night of the Hunter works at the same elemental level as a good fairy tale. It is certainly better and more memorable than whatever tripe Disney is selling this year.

The Night of the Hunter was a notorious flop; no one went to see it, critical response was tepid, and it was soon forgotten as an inexpensive stylized piece by Laughton, who never directed again. But its status has increased over the years. It regularly appears on best-of lists, and is one of the films honored in the National Film Registry.

(#43 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.)


wrexham and me

Lots of this stuff I've written about on this blog, but time to put it in one place. Don't want to bury the lead, though, so first:

"'Deadpool' star Ryan Reynolds completes Wrexham takeover with Hollywood's Rob McElhenney"

Wrexham A.F.C. are a Welsh soccer club that plays in the English soccer system. They are not a big club ... they currently play in the fifth level of the English system ... but they are an old club, the third-oldest in the world.

In the buildup to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, I read a book called Twenty Two Foreigners in Funny Shorts by Peter Davies. It was written for the American market, a way to introduce us to the world's game. Davies broke his story into three basic parts: a history of the sport, and two ongoing sagas, one of European soccer at the time, and one of his local club. He wanted the reader to get a sense of the scope of soccer, from the top to the bottom, so he included that local club, which was in the fourth tier, telling the events of the 1992-1993 season, which saw the club winning promotion to the third tier. That club was Wrexham.

In those days, there wasn't much soccer on U.S. TV after the World Cup had ended, and the Internet as we now know it was a much smaller affair. So it was hard to keep up ... our own league, MLS, didn't start until 1996. I did my best on the old CompuServe sports forum, and because they were as available to me as the biggest clubs in Europe, all things considered, I adopted Wrexham, feeling I knew the players after reading Davies' book. I asked around, and a man named Rhys Gwynllyw was kind enough to update me on Wrexham (he later founded The Webbed Robin, and I believe he is now a Math Professor). I started an email list with his help. Here is something Gareth Collins wrote about that list in 2018:

Rhys and Steven were the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's of their time. I can still remember being totally overjoyed when I first came across The Webbed Robin, I seem to remember Rhys used to type up (or perhaps OCR?) Wrexham news articles from the Evening Leader and Daily Post that I think his Dad used to mail him. This is in the days before either of those publications had a web site. So if you lived say 100 miles from Wrexham at that time you'd get no detailed news and would have to rely on 2 sentences on Teletext. The Webbed Robin was amazing in its day. Tons of detailed match reports and detailed news stories all lovingly curated. The Webbed Robin and the ISFA e-mail list were like going from the stone age to the electric age in one massive leap for fan-kind.

I have followed Wrexham from afar for more than 25 years now. Saw them on TV a couple of times, and these days, even small clubs have an Internet presence, so I can watch highlights and interviews of them. And that game I mentioned last week, Football Manager? Every year, I try my hand at running Wrexham. (Confession: I have always sucked at FM.)

The most famous match in Wrexham history is probably their FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1992. The previous season, Arsenal had won the championship, while Wrexham finished last in the lowest division. The match was sure to be a blowout. In an amazing example of what you can find online in 2020, here is the entire match from 1992:

If you don't have two hours to spare, here are the highlights:


music friday

Can't stop, won't stop with artists I've seen live.

Arthur Lee and Love, 1974. Opening at Winterland for Lou Reed on the Sally Can't Dance tour. Love, an L.A. band that had released its first albums in 1966, was by 1974 essentially an Arthur Lee solo act. "Be Thankful for What You Got" was a hit for William DeVaughn early in 1974 ... Lee included it on the last album under the Love handle.

Hootie and the Blowfish, 1995. They were artists (there were a few) who I saw only because they appeared on a bill with lots of other acts, in this case the Bridge School Benefit in 1995, which I attended because Bruce Springsteen was there. I know they were popular, I know the singer's name was Darius Rucker who later became a country artist, and that's about it. In 1995, they were still riding the huge success of their first album. "Only Wanna Be with You" was one of several hits from that album ... here, they sing it at Farm Aid in '95:

Daniel Lanois, 1995. Lanois was at that same show, playing with Emmylou Harris. I confess I'm never quite certain what Lanois does in his production work, but that's just me. I've always liked Emmylou. Here they are on Letterman in 1995:

Kid Cut Up, 2018, 2019. We saw him DJ at two Pink concerts, and he was a joy to listen to. I wrote at the time, "He does a great job of bringing the crowd into his sets, even when the people aren't there to see him in the first place. His blend of current and older music appeals to an interesting cross-section ... at least, he knows what Pink fans want, from 8 to 80. My wife (65) isn't much of a fan of opening acts, but she likes KidCutUp, and it's fun to see her as she sings along to things like 'Just a Friend'." Here he is in the studio:


geezer cinema: scott pilgrim vs. the world (edgar wright, 2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a wildly inventive movie derived from a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley. There's never a dull moment, and you don't know what Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) will come up with next. For many people, that's enough.

Michael Cera is the titular hero, who falls for Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona has baggage, in the form of seven "Evil Exes", all of whom Scott must defeat if he is to win Ramona. The exes include Chris Evans as a skateboarder, Brandon Routh as a vegan with super powers, Brie Larson as "Envy", and Jason Schwartzman as a rich record mogul. The cast also features Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, and Aubrey Plaza. There are characters named Stephen Stills and Knives Chau (a 17-year-old girl with a crush on Scott).

It's all a bit much, but we're definitely talking Your Mileage May Vary. Some will look at that great cast and the general lunacy, with the feel of video games and music and youth culture, and jump right in. I looked forward to it, and enjoyed it as it was playing, but I was ultimately disappointed. #429 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, and I suppose that's not completely silly. (Actually, watching this clip, I realized I'm being way too cranky here. It's a fun movie.)

[Letterboxd list of all the Geezer Cinema movies.]


3-iron (kim ki-duk, 2004)

This is the tenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "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 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 10 is called Korean Cinema Homework Week:

Following Parasite's incredible hot streak and the pleasant surprise of it winning Best Picture at the Oscar's, a lot of people were curious as to where start when looking into more South Korean cinema. Thankfully, Katie Rife, senior writer at The A.V. Club, offered up some recommendations for those looking for some guidance. Take a look!

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Katie Rife's Korean Cinema Homework list.

I had seen about half of the movies on the list, and was happy to check out 3-Iron from Kim Ki-duk, who directed Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring, which I watched a few months ago. I said of that movie, "Nothing is 'real' at all on some level, but it doesn't play as fantasy", and that holds to some extent for 3-Iron. 3-Iron seems more 'real' at first, but as the movie goes on, it feels more fantastic. The plot, as established at the beginning, has young Tae-suk (Jae Hee) as someone who breaks into people's houses when they aren't at home, settling in, fixing things, doing laundry, eating, then leaving before they return. It seems rather ingenious, and when he is caught by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), an abused wife, she comes with him and joins on his sprees. This is clever, and if a bit like a tall tale, Kim presents it in a relatively realistic way. But Sun-hwa's husband wants revenge, the police are corrupt, and gradually Tae-suk demonstrates skills that are at least a little magical. None of this is hard to follow, but the magic sneaks up on you, and to be honest, by the end of the film, I wasn't quite sure if I'd actually seen any fantasy at all.

The two main characters never talk, leaving the actors to work via facial expressions ... it's fine, especially since the two are gorgeous to look at. Kim has little interest in the mainstream, and from what I've seen, the mainstream probably has little interest in his work. But at least based on the two films I've seen, he mostly avoids the abstract, even as he walks a line between real and fantasy. #573 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. Among the movies chosen to meet this challenge were Oldboy, Memories of Murder, Mother, The Host, The Handmaiden, Snowpiercer, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Burning.


by request: aparajito (satyajit ray, 1956)

This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "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 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 9 is called Ray, Ray, Ray, or Wray Week:

One of my favorite running bits, this challenge is a superficial as it seems. There's little that ties these films together, except for the inclusion of folks with similar names. If for nothing else, it allows for a nice range of selection, so finding something you're interested in watching shouldn't be too hard.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by and/or starring Nicholas RaySatyajit RayRay Winstone, or Fay Wray.

P.S. I know Satyajit's is technically pronounced like "rye", but just shhhjustgowithitshhh.

Yes, it takes me forever to get to requests. I keep a list ... it's pretty long ... and eventually I'll get to them all. Aparajito wasn't really a request. It dates back to when Phil Dellio, Jeff Pike, and I did a Fifty Favorite Films project on Facebook. At the time, I told myself I was going to watch all of the movies I hadn't seen that were on Phil or Jeff's list. I've done pretty well over the years ... I only have two more to go on each list. In Phil's case, that's really 1 1/3 to go, because one of his 50 was the Apu Trilogy. A few years after the project, I finally saw the first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali, and now, more than four years later, I've seen the second. At this rate, I'll get to the third film in 2024.

I said about Pather Panchali, "It falls into the category of 'admired more than loved'. Maybe the languid pace gave me too much time to think, but I wasn’t as drawn in emotionally as I expected." The first part of Aparajito, which picks up soon after the first film, has a similar feel. After the father dies, there is some new tension, as the mother needs to figure out how to continue the lives of her and her son. When Smaran Ghosal takes over the part of Apu from Pinaki Sen Gupta when Apu reaches adolescence, the film changes more than just the actors. Apu goes to school, which begins a separation from his mother, and later goes to Kolkata to further his studies, leaving his mother to live alone. Karuna Banerjee brings a soulfulness to the mother ... her sad eyes tell an infinite story on their own. And Ray isn't afraid to milk the emotion, which means I was finally drawn in to that side of the tale. Aparajito is a big story about tradition and progress, told on an intimate level as the story of a mother and her son. Ray doesn't exactly pick a side ... you can't stop progress. But we feel the mother's sadness as equal to the pleasures Apu finds in a larger world.

Ray uses long takes, but the scenes are often short, as if we were learning the story of these people in a piecemeal way. In the second half of the movie, I finally started understanding why the films have such a high reputation. #581 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Among the movies people chose to meet the challenge were Johnny Guitar (N. Ray), The Music Room (S. Ray), Sexy Beast (Ray W.), and King Kong (F. Wray).


music friday

Continuing the theme of artists I've seen live over the years, with a slight nod towards the events of the week.

We saw Randy Newman in 1976. To put that in perspective, this was five years before Randy got his first Oscar nomination. The video is from later, but the album it comes from was the most recent for Newman when we saw him, Good Old Boys.

Dana Carvey isn't known as a musician, although his "Choppin' Broccoli" will always be a favorite. When we saw him, he was opening for ... I think Mink DeVille, although I could be wrong about that. He was maybe 22 years old, known in the Bay Area but almost ten years from Saturday Night Live. He didn't go over too well that night ... hard to be an opening act anyway, much less a stand-up comedian when the crowd came to hear music. My wife wrote him a note on a napkin to let him know at least one person appreciated him. Fast forward to 1996, long after SNL made him a star and Wayne's World solidified his stature, when Carvey was given a weekly show on ABC, which featured an enormous array of soon-to-be-famous talents like Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and Robert Smigel. The show was canceled after seven episodes, with one episode not even shown. It was considered controversial at the time. Here is the first skit from the first episode:

We saw the Tom Robinson Band in a club in 1979. I was such a fanboy for guitarist Danny Kustow that I brought a sign gushing over him ... I got to go backstage after the show, where the band signed it.

I also saw the Dead Kennedys in 1979, opening for The Clash, a performance that was noteworthy for Jello Biafra jumping into the crowd and emerging with most of his clothes torn off.