geezer cinema: napoleon (ridley scott, 2023)

It's a movie about Napoleon, so it's supposed to be big, IMAX big. It's more than 2 1/2 hours, and even that isn't enough ... apparently Ridley Scott has another hour-and-a-half that he'll add when the movie goes to streaming ... the film coast $200 million, it comes from Apple Studios, you could say it's an Apple TV show that got a few showings in theaters (much like Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon). This is a big movie, commensurate with its subject.

It's also a comedy. Honest, Ridley Scott said so. I admit to wondering if Scott saw people laughing in the theaters and only then pronounced that it was meant to be funny.

I don't care much about the historical inaccuracies. But it matters that Joaquin Phoenix is too old for the part of Napoleon. Napoleon was 51 when he died; Phoenix is 49. Not so bad. But at the beginning of the film, Napoleon is 24, and Phoenix is ... 49.

And considering it was more dialogue than action, I'm not sure it was worth the extra bucks to see it in IMAX.

And the action sequences are impressive. But I had recently re-watched Red Cliff 1 & 2, and a few times, I was reminded of a similar scene in Red Cliff that was 100 times better.

On a scale where Ridley Scott at his best is Thelma and Louise, and Ridley Scott at his worst is Black Rain, Napoleon is House of Gucci.

dr. jekyll & sister hyde (roy ward baker, 1971)

This is the seventh 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 7 is called "Hammer Horror Week":

London-based Hammer Film Productions is most famously known for the horror movies they produced in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They often made low-budget movies featuring classic horror monsters like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the Mummy, employed a usual repertoire of actors in many of their films (including David Prowse who would later don the Darth Vader costume), crafted Gothic sets, and shot their movies in actual mansions rather than on studio sets. They capitalized on including more explicit violence and sexual content than was usual at the time, but when American films like Rosemary’s Baby and Bonnie and Clyde came out and offered the same thrills with much higher production values, Hammer Pictures couldn’t keep up and eventually ceased producing movies altogether.

This week dive into some classic Hammer Horror from this list. If you can’t unearth one of the classic gems of Hammer Horror you may look to the films made after Hammer Film Productions was resurrected in 2007 after decades of silence.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a fairly typical late Hammer picture. They make the most of their limited sets, none of the actors are bad, and there's some cleavage. The angle on the classic story this time is that when Jekyll drinks his potion, he doesn't turn into Mr. Hyde, he turns into Mrs. Hyde. The transgender undertones are more obvious nowadays, I imagine. It's the first time I've seen Ralph Bates, who played Jekyll ... he's functional. Former Bond Girl Martine Beswick is better as Mrs. Hyde. The movie works Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare into the story without too much trouble. Roy Ward Baker has made better films ... he directed the excellent 1958 Titanic movie A Night to Remember, and my favorite Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit. (He also directed the disappointing Vampire Lovers.)

geezer cinema/film fatales #183: the royal hotel (kitty green, 2023)

Kitty Green began as a documentary film maker, before releasing her first fiction film, The Assistant, in 2019. The Royal Hotel is also fiction, but its source material is a documentary, Hotel Coolgardie. The Royal Hotel does not have the feel of the usual "based on a true story" movie, though. The film takes place in an isolated part of Australia, and when you're isolated in Australia, you are really isolated. It starts as a story of two young American women (they pose as Canadians because everyone likes Canadians) traveling together for no apparent reason except to expand their horizons and get as far away as possible from what their lives were to that point. Gradually, and I mean very gradually, we realize that the women, who are outnumbered in the small town by men by what appears to be about 100:1, have been placed in a tenuous situation. At this point, the film becomes a thriller ... what will happen to the women?

Some have said The Royal Hotel evolves into a horror movie, but I didn't see that. What does happen is that Green adopts the tropes of horror films, with the townsmen as the monsters on the other side of the door. And the men are indeed monsters ... this is not a subtle film. There are no good men (my wife thought there were no good people of any gender, but I think that's unfair to the women). Despite its short running length (91 minutes), The Royal House moves slowly, and it feels longer.

Ultimately, there's not a lot to the movie. It doesn't take long to establish the basic story: men are bad, women are in danger. But it doesn't push this at first ... as I said, it takes its time going from buddy movie to thriller to horror. There are a few tense moments, but not enough for the movie to really stand out. Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick are fine in the leads, and its fun to figure out that the big drunk bar owner is Hugo Weaving. There's nothing wrong with The Royal Hotel, and it gets things over with quickly. That's about as far as I'd go with the compliments.

revisiting the 9s: good night, and good luck (george clooney, 2005)

[This is the eighteenth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10.]

In 2006, I wrote about Good Night, and Good Luck:

George Clooney has crafted a concise account of a specific moment in time, kept the attention of the audience while dealing with material that could easily have been drab, made several important decisions as a director that greatly enhance the movie (the black and white look, the apparent accuracy of the depiction of newsrooms in the 50s, getting David Strathairn to play Ed Murrow), and brought it all home in less than 100 minutes. The focus of the film is remarkable, in subject matter (it's not about the entire career of Murrow, or of McCarthy for that matter, but only about the period when they crossed swords) and in settings (most of the film takes place in cramped quarters inside a news studio).

And Clooney's underlying argument, that today's press doesn't do its job, that today's Joe McCarthys are not called on their lunacy, that in fact today's Joe McCarthys are as often as not members of the media themselves, is a good one.

And yet (and how many films are there where I don't ever say "and yet"?) ... the precision, the conciseness, the focus, means that the film's vision of Edward R. Murrow is too narrow. There's too much hero worshiping, and Murrow's career was more complicated than what we see in this film. This makes the movie, in retrospect, seem a bit untrustworthy.

And while Clooney mostly makes smart moves as a director, his decision to include musical interludes is a bad one. The interludes are fine in and of themselves, and they might even work in a more surreal film. But here, with Clooney striving for the maximum in authenticity, it's just odd and confusing to see Dianne Reeves singing sultry tunes somewhere in the CBS studios.

The movie is nominated for six Oscars, and they are a mixed bunch. Best Picture? Possibly. Best Director? Also possible. Best Actor? Why not? Best Cinematography and Art Direction? It really shines in these areas, even if I'm not quite sure what "art direction" means. Best Screenplay? Here, I'd have to disagree ... much of the best dialogue in the film is taken directly from transcripts from Murrow's television shows, and I can't see honoring such a process with a Best Screenplay award (maybe if it was in the "previously published" section instead of the "written directly for the screen" section).

I don't have a lot to add, except that I think I was a bit hard on the film, meaning if it had come out in the 1950s, I would have already given it a 10. I complained about the music interludes, but this time, they seemed right. I still think Best Screenplay is a bit of a stretch, except everything in the film, real footage and speeches and "acted" material, is blended perfectly. Good Night, and Good Luck is an exceptional film.

white noise (noah baumbach, 2022)

This is the fifth 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 5 is called "Visual Insanity Week":

Film is a visual medium, and this week celebrates the artists who take full advantage of the screen. Letterboxd user Emma Tolkin asked people what the most visually insane movie they've ever seen was, and compiled the hallucinogenic, meditative, harrowing, dreamy, and chaotic results into one list.

This week's challenge is to watch a film from Emma Tolkin's 🐉🎭✨ 𝕍𝕀𝕊𝕌𝔸𝕃𝕃𝕐 𝙸𝙽𝚂𝙰𝙽𝙴👹🧞‍♀️👁️ list.

I'm not sure I would have noticed at first that the visuals in White Noise were what Emma Tolkin refers to as "insane". They are idiosyncratic, a fascinating blend of realism and the subjective as experienced by the characters, and even that realism tends to be heightened. In retrospect, I have to hand it to Tolkin and the people who responded to her poll, because if I might not use the word "insane", the visuals in this movie do move from meditative to harrowing to dreamy to chaotic, smoothly at times, messily when that is appropriate.

I would call White Noise a good try by writer/director Noah Baumbach to capture what has been called an unfilmable novel. I don't know exactly what Baumbach could have done differently. I have no idea what Don DeLillo thinks of this movie adaptation of his book ... perhaps it primarily matters how much DeLillo got paid ... I'm not sure it matters what DeLillo thinks, any more than it matters what any novelist thinks of the movies that grow out of their books. White Noise stands on its own. You could watch it without knowing the book and you wouldn't get lost. I've read the book, and I don't think Baumbach does any harm. But all of this skirts the only thing that matters: is White Noise a good movie? To which I would say, it's a good try.

It's nice to see Greta Gerwig in front of the cameras again. I am a fan of her work as a director, but her quirky presence on the screen is fun to watch. Adam Driver seems miscast, but that may actually be perfect casting, since his character is often unsettled. The Gladney family is believable without the kids being obnoxious. Don Cheadle is his usual good self as a professor who wants to work in Elvis Studies. The latter matters ... Driver's Professor Gladney made a name for himself in academia for "Hitler Studies", and White Noise reflects its origins in DeLillo's book in casting a humored but jaundiced eye at academia.

Yet in the end (and I'm not saying anything about the literal end, which is a blast and you should see it for yourself), I didn't really care about White Noise. It exists, it doesn't replace the novel but it's a reasonable facsimile, there's nothing particularly wrong with it, but I'd call it disappointing if I had any actual hopes for the film. I prefer Baumbach to Wes Anderson, to whom Baumbach was often attached earlier in his career, and I think his pairing with Gerwig has been fruitful. But I don't think White Noise is Baumbach's best film as a director (that would be Marriage Story), and I don't think it's up to the standards Gerwig herself has set in her work as a director.

secrets & lies (mike leigh, 1996)

This is the fourth 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 4 is called "Palme d'Or Week":

One of the three major film festival top prizes (the other two being the Golden Lion at Venice and the Golden Bear at Berlin, both covered in previous LSCs), the Palme d'Or has been awarded at the Cannes Film Festival since 1946. Originally called the Grand Prize of the International Film Festival, it was changed to a palm in 1955 to represent the city's coat of arms. It's one of the most prestigious awards in cinema, with past winners including Martin Scorsese, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa.

This week's challenge is to watch a Palme d'Or winner.

Secrets & Lies was nominated for 5 Oscars, major ones (Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Director, Screenplay), but 1996 was the year of The English Patient, a mediocre, overrated film that somehow won 9 Oscars. At least Cannes got it right. Secrets & Lies is a masterful picture about people, warts and all, stepping gingerly through family life. No one is perfect, but we feel close to all of them, and we want everything to somehow come out all right.

Oddly, the acting is both showy and realistic. Brenda Blethyn is all over the place in a sloppy sort of way ... of course she won awards for her work here. But the acting matches the character, a middle-aged woman with an "illegitimate" daughter who worries that life has passed her by while she keeps secrets (and lies about them). Blethyn also turns inward on a couple of occasions, which contrast with her general blowsiness in powerful ways. It's an actorly performance, but enormously moving.

It's probably a good thing the acting is so good, because the basic story is just that, basic. And there is nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with a story about families, secrets, and lies. But while the narrative seems a bit formulaic in retrospect, that doesn't matter as you watch the actors at work. Marianne Jean-Baptiste's character is the most internal ... she isn't given as many explosive scenes. But neither is the character entirely reactive to others, and as could be said for so many of the film's characters, the acting elevates the character as "written" (Mike Leigh famously doesn't exactly write his films).

Secrets & Lies is my fifth Mike Leigh movie, and while I've liked them all, I'd put Secrets & Lies at the top. #494 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

geezer cinema: a haunting in venice (kenneth branagh, 2023)

There will always be Agatha Christie adaptations and faux-Christie movies. You know if you like them, and if you do, you know to watch each new permutation. You will never be surprised, but Agatha Christie is like comfort food for fans. If you are a fan, you will enjoy A Haunting in Venice.

One of the ways producers make the latest Christie movie seem different is by filling the cast with a new set of big names. The cast in the first in the Kenneth Branagh series featuring Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express, included Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Olivia Colman ... you get the idea.  I didn't recognize as many names in this third installment, but Michelle Yeoh goes a long way for me, and Tina Fey pulls off a rare dramatic role. There are suggestions of supernatural occurrences, which I guess is a little bit of a change for Poirot. But for the most part, A Haunting in Venice is more of the same. As my wife, who chose the movie, said, "It was fine. Nothing too exciting."

It's not a waste of time, and it comes in at a pleasing 104 minutes. But if you ask me, stick with the Knives Out movies.

geezer cinema: golda (guy nattiv, 2023)

Golda is the latest biopic designed to get an Oscar nomination for its star. Helen Mirren, one of the great actors of our time, has been nominated for an Oscar four times, winning for The Queen, another mediocre biopic. Mirren has made many fine movies over the years (check out 1980's The Long Good Friday). Golda is not one of them.

While I'm sure she'll get her Oscar nom, I don't think the movie serves her well. Her makeup is remarkable, making Mirren look a lot like the real Golda Meir. It is done so well that Helen Mirren disappears, and I know that's supposed to be a good and impressive thing, but it's hard to show off your acting chops when your makeup is already doing all the work for you. Meanwhile, the cinematography is drab, and a decision has been made to present vital scenes of war as people standing over maps talking about what happened. It's not that we need yet another movie that shows the horrors of war by piling on the gore, but as presented here, war is mundane. Her actions affect Golda, and it is there that Mirren shines, but overall, the movie is lifeless.

And then there's Henry Kissinger, war criminal. Hint: he's not a war criminal in this movie.

I don't know if there is a good movie to be made about Golda Meir. I only know that this isn't it.

geezer cinema/african-american directors series/film fatales #179: selma (ava duvernay, 2014)

Selma isn't exactly a biopic, which is made evident by the title, which is not King. It's a representation of a historical moment, with many famous participants, of whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits at the top. But King is shown as a leader amongst equals.

DuVernay effectively tells the story of the Selma to Montgomery march, without moving too far from the actual events. The drama doesn't need much tarting up ... it remains both shocking and inspiring. David Oyelowo makes a memorable King (he is one of several actors from England in key parts ... you don't notice it). Some have questioned the representation of the relationship between King and Lyndon Johnson. I don't think it's a huge flaw, but at times it feels like DuVernay is using LBJ as a plot device to add tension. The film rights to King's actual speeches had already been licensed, so DuVernay wrote versions of those speeches. It works for the most part, although when King is giving a speech you might know by heart, it's a bit jarring.

Selma was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (it also won Best Song). I've seen all but one of the nominees, and I think Selma is better than the winner, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I might have voted for Boyhood, but Selma definitely belonged in the discussion. The absence of DuVernay in the nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay, along with David Oyelowo being ignored for Best Actor, pointed to the lack of diversity among the Academy voters.

Selma is solid, raised by some fine acting and a good script. I'm sorry it took me this long to finally see it. #590 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

geezer cinema: oppenheimer (christopher nolan, 2023)

First, a personal note. This is the 200th movie in our ongoing Geezer Cinema Tuesdays!

You go to see Oppenheimer with great expectations. It's big, it's long, it's IMAX! They are going to set off an atomic bomb without using CGI! It's an event, like Barbie only without the dolls!

Well, Christopher Nolan doesn't hold back when the bomb goes off. But one of the interesting things about Oppenheimer is how talky it is. You think, well, three hours long, but there will be action to keep us awake. But much of the movie consists of people talking to each other. It's not static, and the conversations help make real characters out of those talking heads. It's not boring. If you come in expecting to see a movie about a man, you won't be surprised, and maybe that describes most of the audience. But if you come in expecting to see an atomic bomb go off, you might feel a bit empty.

I mean, the bomb goes off, and it's impressive, and then if you look at your watch, you'll notice there's still an hour to go.

I liked the movie, although I admit I'm surprised that some people have already seen it more than once. But as I thought about it, I realized that sometime down the road, I might want to watch it again, too. I feel like I would be more in tune with what Nolan was after, once I'd reflected on the movie for a few years.

I have seen 11 movies directed by Christopher Nolan, and I have liked every single one. Yet I never think of him as one of my favorite directors. I saw Barbie before I saw Oppenheimer, because I wanted to check out Greta Gerwig's latest. I have more than liked every picture Gerwig has directed ... I do think of her as one of my favorite directors. But she's only directed three films so far. She's got a great track record, but Nolan has that in quantity as well as quality.

Ultimately, there is no reason to compare the two films, other than their being released at the same time. Both are successful, artistically and at the box office. But I scratch my head trying to understand the people who did a Barbenheimer. And I don't know that it helps you appreciate either of the two movies if you watch them on the same day.