a fistful of dollars (sergio leone, 1964)

The first of the so-called Dollars Trilogy ... Sergio Leone didn't intend them to be a trilogy, and perhaps nowadays we'd call it a franchise, with Leone directing Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. Many of the trademarks of Leone's style are here ... it's hard to miss the close-ups. It's easily the shortest ... the films got progressively longer, and A Fistful of Dollars is more than half-an-hour shorter than the next in the series, For a Few Dollars More. It's a decent movie, if not up to the standards of the real classic of the three, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The plot of A Fistful of Dollars is reminiscent of that for Kurosawa's Yojimbo, and Kurosawa successfully sued Leone's company. (The irony is that Yojimbo's plot is very similar to Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest.) A settlement was eventually achieved, but the release of A Fistful of Dollars in the United States was delayed for three years. Perhaps this is one reason a trilogy is assumed, for by the time the dust cleared in the lawsuit, Leone had finished the other two films, which were all released in the States in the same year (1967).

While Leone had an interesting career, more than anything, this film began the establishment of Clint Eastwood as an iconic actor in film history. Of course, he later became an Oscar-winning director, using much the same style of directing that he did in his acting: minimalist.


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.


revisiting pan's labyrinth (guillermo del toro, 2006)

Fifteen years ago, I wrote about Pan's Labyrinth:

I'm not sure I can recommend a movie as being for the whole family when it's not in English and there is a lot of violence, but this is my idea of the kind of movie that kids should be watching, rather than the usual tripe kids are offered. To point out an obvious example, Pan's Labyrinth was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay ... it lost to trite Little Miss Sunshine, which I'm sure was more "appropriate" for youngsters but wasn't half the movie that Pan's Labyrinth was....

Watching it again, I'm not sure what I was on about. This is absolutely not a movie for kids. I guess my only excuse was that I was pissed off at the middling Little Miss Sunshine beat it out for Best Screenplay.

Meanwhile, Pan's Labyrinth remains an enthralling experience. Currently #46 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and #531 on the all-time list.


film fatales #159: take this waltz (sarah polley, 2011)

Thought I'd check out the only Sarah Polley movie I'd missed, ahead of hopefully seeing Women Talking tomorrow. It's my least favorite of the three I've seen, which is not an insult ... I think Stories We Tell is an outright classic, and Away from Her was also very good. Take This Waltz has a lot going for it, starting with Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman. Polley paints a loving picture of Toronto (Luc Montpellier is the cinematographer) ... Polley idealizes Toronto, and the summer setting gives us a different Canada than we're used to (people have fans on in their homes because it's hot). The film is an effective rom-com (or better, rom-drama).

But there's one big problem, at least for me. Take This Waltz is about a married couple, Margot and Lou, still in love, but together just long enough to reveal a few empty spaces. The wife cute-meets a man who lives across the street, and much of the movie is in the will-they/won't they vein. The problem is that man, played by Luke Kirby, struck me as a creepy stalker more than a possible love partner. Williams does a great job of expressing the yearnings of her character ... I want her to find happiness. But I never wanted her to connect with this creepy guy.

I don't know who to blame. Polley, for creating the character? Kirby, for portraying the character? Me, for disliking the character? All I know is, while I understood why Margot was drifting away from Lou, she could do a lot better than Mr. Stalker Guy. (Not to mention, he works as a pedicab driver in Toronto, an excess of cute that never worked.)


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]


transsiberian (brad anderson, 2008)

This is the eighth 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 8 is called "Road Movies Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen road movie.

TransSiberian is reminiscent of other movies, purposely. First-time director Brad Anderson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) has cited several influences, including Strangers on a Train and Runaway Train. There's nothing wrong with this ... Anderson shows good taste if nothing else ... while the general thrust of the picture is generic, Anderson tosses in enough twists to maintain interest. What matters more is that Anderson gradually builds tension, until it's nearly unbearable (in a good way). I found myself gritting my teeth as the movie progressed.

The cast helps. Emily Mortimer plays a been-around-the-block American who gets caught, Hitchcock style, in something big to which she isn't to blame, and Anderson gives her character perhaps the biggest plot twist, which cranks the film into another gear. Woody Harrelson has said that he based his character on an autistic version of his character on Cheers. "I kind of thought, what if he were 'Woody,' but a version of Woody that's really into trains?" It's a perfect description of what he gives us here. Kate Mara is touching, and if Ben Kingsley and Eduardo Noriega are a bit too easy to figure out in advance, they are nonetheless effective.

TransSiberian doesn't necessarily raise itself above the standards for its genre, but it's good enough that you don't care.


sweet hours (carlos saura, 1982)

It seemed appropriate that I watch a Spanish film while I'm in Spain, so I chose this one. It's hard to believe I'd never seen a Carlos Saura movie before, but apparently it's true. It seems that Sweet Hours is a lesser-known work ... the IMDB only lists two critics reviews, although Kael wrote about it ("Another graceful, measured Freudian-fantasy game").

I found the film hard to follow until about halfway through, when the structure became more apparent. There are essentially three different situations. A writer is making an autobiographical play, which is in rehearsals; flashbacks show us how he experienced his childhood; and the writer falls in love with one of the actors in his play. Part of my initial confusion comes from the fact that the same actress (Assumpta Serna) plays both the mother in flashback and the actress playing the mother in the play. The similaries are intentional ... it's suggested that she is cast in the play because she reminds the writer of his mother. And they fall in love, which relates to what Kael called the "Freudian-fantasy game", for the writer's relationship when he was a young boy to his mother is always just short of sexual.

The incest angle could be creepy, but Saura doesn't play it that way, and no matter how obvious it seems to the viewer, the sexual nature of the mother/son relationship is always suggested, never explicit. The cinematography by Teo Escamilla is always elegant; the film looks lovely. Sweet Hours is insightful in a gentle kind of way, with implications that return to you after you've seen the movie. Not a classic, but a worthy movie that encourages me to finally check out more Saura.


october 12

October 12 in Spain is called the Fiesta Nacional de España. Cut-and-pasting from Wikipedia:

The National Day of Spain is the day of celebration on which the Spanish people commemorate the country's history, recognize and appreciate achievements, reconfirm their commitment to the nation's future. The day celebrates unity and fraternity, and also shows Spain's ties with the international community....
National Day of Spain commemorates the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus for Spain on October 12, 1492. The date is a key point for Spain's overseas influence and legacy to the world and to the Americas in particular. It symbolizes Spain's vast, common heritage with today's American countries, which made up the Spanish Empire, the first global power in world history.

I am from Berkeley, where, in 1992, Indigenous People's Day was instituted as a counter to the celebration of Columbus. So today, I am in a country that still celebrates Columbus every year, and in a couple of weeks, I'll be back in a city that has a different celebration. I don't know what any of this means.


travel notes

A couple of notes I posted on Facebook.

Mask wearing in Spain. We are pretty paranoid in general. We both have gotten five total vaccines... I think that means three boosters but I can't keep track. We wear masks at the movie theater. We wore masks on the flight over. But in Spain, they cancelled the must-wear mask law several months ago. So no one wears masks. 

And neither do we. Not sure why, but it is definitely liberating. I'm sure we'll go back to masks when we get on the plane home. But until then...

Unrelated: When we were kids, our dad would get up in the middle of the night, head for the kitchen, get a slice of bread and a piece of lunch meat, and eat it plain. It always seemed odd. Then I came to Spain and learned about bocadillos. Which are just sandwiches, but the basics are just a baquette sliced in half, with jamón, and nothing else other than some olive oil or tomato. And I realized that's what our dad was making all those years.