geezer cinema/film fatales #155: aftersun (charlotte wells, 2022)

Aftersun is the feature debut for writer/director Charlotte Wells, and it is remarkably assured. Wells has a vision and is not afraid to put it on the screen, meaning Aftersun works at its own pace, and Wells only reveals the minimum needed to understand the characters.

There isn't much of a plot. A young woman looks back on a vacation she took with her father when she was 11. It isn't always clear that we are looking at the past, nor is it clear that the young woman is remembering that vacation. Wells lets us figure out the details for ourselves, and the details are in the picture ... it would probably benefit from a second viewing. But that's not really necessary, thanks largely to the acting of Paul Mescal as the father and Frankie Corio as his 11-year-old daughter.

I always say, when a film features a good performance from a young actor, it's important to credit the director for eliciting that performance. Directing youngsters isn't easy. Here, Wells is aided by Mescal, who has a great rapport with Corio. In young Sophie, Wells has created a character that seems the right age, not too precocious, not too childlike. Corio is perfect in the role. She and Mescal are completely believable as a daughter and father.

You have to settle into the pace Wells provides. Not only do events occur at a leisurely pace, there are few "shocking" scenes to startle the audience. Sophie's transgression are minor, and the father's emotional difficulties are buried deep. This fits with what Wells is trying, but it is true that after 102 minutes, I was ready for the end. Aftersun is neither too long nor too short.

The film's pleasures are low-key, but they do exist. It helps, though, if you approach it in the spirit in which it was made. Aftersun is the antithesis of a blockbuster, and it suggests Charlotte Wells has a strong future ahead of her.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies]


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.


what i watched

Been watching a lot of movies, but various things have kept me away from the keyboard, so here is a catching-up post, with a few movies getting less attention than they deserve.

African-American Directors Series: Soul Food (George Tillman, Jr., 1997). I watched the first season of the television series based on this film, and then lost track of it, as often happens. So perhaps I was affected a bit by this, since for me, the movie Soul Food plays like a TV series. The film features a fine cast (Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, Irma P. Hall), anchored by young Brandon Hammond, playing Ahmad, the kid through whose eyes we see the story of a family unfolding. It's only the second movie from writer/director George Tillman, Jr., and it has a winning honesty, but there are few surprises.

Film Fatales #154: "The Murmuring" (Jennifer Kent, 2022). Not exactly a movie, this is an episode of the television series Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities. But hey, it's a bit longer than an hour, and it's directed by the great Jennifer Kent (The Babadook, The Nightingale). This one is closer to The Babadook ... it deals with grief, it has horror elements, it even stars Essie Davis. Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead co-stars, and Kent and her stars make no missteps. It's a welcome addition to Kent's resume.

Geezer Cinema/Film Fatales #155: Causeway (Lila Neugebauer, 2022.). All of these movies are carried by their actors. Causeway is a well-told tale about a soldier with PTSD who connects with another person with a backstory. But there isn't much new in the story or the telling. What raises Causeway above the norm is the acting by Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry (who is apparently incapable of anything but great performances). The odd-couple pairing of the two is both obvious and terrific. Lawrence and Henry make us believe in their characters, who don't know that we've seen similar stories before. Their stories are personal and fresh to them, and the stars convey this in many touching ways.

Dr. No (Teremce Young, 1962). I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I fell back on comfort food, watching this and From Russia with Love on successive nights. My memory often fails me, but I think this was the last movie I saw in a theater with my mother (I also remember it being a drive-in). I read all of the novels, and had quite the 007 obsession in my youth. At this point, Dr. No works mainly as an historical artifact. The movie is OK, we get to meet Sean Connery's Bond, Ursula Andress sets the standard for Bond Girls, but it needs hindsight to imagine that the Bond movies would still be going strong 60 years later. Things definitely took a step up with the next one, From Russia with Love.


geezer cinema/film fatales #150: breaking (abi damaris corbin, 2022)

Breaking, like so many movies, is based on a true story of a Marine war veteran named Brian Brown-Easley who is ready to go over the edge. He has a grievance with the VA about back pay, and he wants the world to know about it, so he goes into a bank and says he has a bomb. That's a setup for a fairly standard movie, but there are a few things that raise Breaking above the norm.

Most important is the performance by John Boyega as the veteran. I've been a fan of Boyega's ever since Attack the Block, made when he was just 19. He has since proven himself as a reliable addition to any cast. He is the center of Breaking, and he is the main reason it is not just another standard film.

Director Abi Damaris Corbin also delivers, in her feature debut as a director (she also co-wrote, with Kwame Kwei-Armah, based on a story by Aaron Gell). She's not a total mystery, although as I write this she doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. From what I gather, she's a bit of a prodigy, graduating from high school at 13 and from college at 17. Breaking is a confident film, showing no sign of inexperience (her 2017 short The Suitcase won several awards ... she's not an amateur). She has received comparisons to Kathryn Bigelow, which is mostly just lazy, but Breaking does make me want to see what Corbin does next.

Finally, the film features the last performance by the great Michael K. Williams. His work here is not revelatory ... it's more that he delivers just as we always know he will. It's always good to see Williams, and it's painful to know that we won't see anything new from him now.


kes (ken loach, 1969)

Well, that's depressing. I had finished up writing a few words about Kes, and when I went to save, Typepad freaked out and I lost what I had written. So this is a quickie version.

Kes is an important film that has been on my radar pretty much ever since it came out, yet I hadn't seen it until now. Same with director Ken Loach, highly regarded but I'd never seen any of his movies. Kes is about a young boy, an outsider, who trains a falcon and blossoms in the process. The movie is very clear about the hard life of the lower classes, and Loach uses an almost documentary style in his presentation. This is deepened by his use of mostly non-professional actors. Loach deserves credit for getting natural performances from most of them ... they seem real, but not amateurish. This goes especially for David Bradley, the young boy ... he is excellent, and I like to credit directors when child actors do well.

One interesting point was the accents of the characters, from Barnsley, with a Yorkshire dialect. It's not just me, who often struggles with English accents ... apparently, Loach had a hard time getting the film shown in London because theater owners feared the audience wouldn't understand the dialogue. For the U.S. market, a few scenes were dubbed over with accents more understandable to Americans. I watched the original version, but I admit I had the subtitles turned on throughout. #183 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


revisiting the 9s: hotel rwanda (terry george, 2004)

[This is the eleventh 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. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

I saw Hotel Rwanda back in 2006, liked it so much I gave it a rating of 9, but never wrote about it for some reason. Watching it again after all these years, it's clear why I was impressed. The based-on-fact heart wrenching story of the Rwandan genocide is effectively presented ... we hate the people behind the slaughter, and we root for Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotel manager who protects some thousand refugees while deflecting the efforts of those committing genocide. It's all fairly straightforward ... Rusesabagina does not ask to be a hero, but he rises to the crisis.

Cheadle's brilliant performance further embeds his character into the hearts of the audience. If that was all there was to Hotel Rwanda, it would be easy to say "9/10". But there has been controversy over the film's presentation of Rusesabagina, with some claiming he wasn't as selfless as the movie suggests. For me, this doesn't detract from the power of the film, but it does give pause when evaluating the movie after the fact.

The film was nominated for three Oscars, including Cheadle for Best Actor (he lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray). #696 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.


revisiting the 9s: dunkirk (christopher nolan, 2017)

[This is the tenth 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. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

When I first saw Dunkirk in 2018, I wrote:

Dunkirk is a success in almost every way.... here, I think [Christopher Nolan] uses his bag of tricks not just to show off, but to help the audience along, which turns out to be an excellent idea.

There are three basic stories in this telling of the Battle of Dunkirk, land, sea, and air. The sea is the most famous part of the story ... the civilian boats coming to rescue the troops are iconic reminders of the event. The troops waited on land ... meanwhile, aircraft provided cover for the boats. Nolan's structure for telling those stories is fascinating and effective.

A second viewing helped me realize that one of the best things about Dunkirk is the way it defines heroism. Too often, even an anti-war film gives us heroes to believe in who are essentially good at war, so we're rooting for people who go against the movie's theme. Nolan mostly bypasses this problem, perhaps because the story of Dunkirk isn't a story of victory, but a story of successful evacuation. The most memorable heroes, exemplified by Mark Rylance as Dawson, one of the civilian sailors called on to save the day, are steadfast, but their job isn't a gung-ho slaughter of the enemy, but rather to pull off a rescue operation.

The tremendous special effects (not CGI) truly bring home the horrors of war. Dunkirk is an amazing technical achievement. I don't know that I'm ready to give it the treasured 10/10, but it wouldn't bother me if someone did so.

Hans Zimmer's score is tremendous. I liked this video so much that I included it in my original post, and I'm going to include it again here.


david attenborough: a life on our planet (alastair fothergill, jonathan hughes, and keith scholey, 2020)

New technology (better to say  "new-to-me technology") is problematic, at first, precisely because it can be so impressive. I spent so much time enjoying the quality of the 4k picture on A Life on Our Planet that I often forgot to pay attention to the message David Attenborough was trying to get across. Which is no criticism of Attenborough, who is a veteran of explaining nature to us. The irony is that, while I am admiring the new-to-me technology, part of me can't wait for the inevitable moment when I will no longer consciously notice the improvements over past technologies.

It's not that Attenborough tells us something new in this 2020 film. Our world is in danger, or rather, while nature always abides, the changes we are making to it could lead to the extinction of human beings. He refers to the film as his "witness testimony" ... he's been there and done that, and his presentation of nature here is personalized. He carries an authority with him that is convincing, and there is a sadness as he describes the ways we are screwing up. But the final section of the film is more positive, for Attenborough doesn't think it is a lost cause, at least not yet. There are things we can do, starting immediately, that will help restore nature to an earlier state, one that will lead to balance, a place with room for humans. It's effective, because his list of problems are believable, and then he carries that believability over to his proposed solutions. Of course, humans still have to act on those solutions, and there's no guarantee that will happen.

Meanwhile, the beauty of nature in the film makes you want to preserve it, to rebuild it. That beauty is in some ways the film's best argument in favor of nature.


what i watched

The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan, 2020). Someone recommended this to me, although I admit I have no idea who that person was. I doubt I would have seen it if the mystery person hadn't suggested it. It's written and directed by Evan Morgan, who is new to me, and stars Adam Brody, who I know little about. There were a couple of That Guys in the cast (Tzi Ma, Peter MacNeill), and Sophie Nélisse, who impressed me as the younger version of Melanie Lynskey's character in Yellowjackets. Morgan plays around a bit with the detective genre, and things move along nicely. It's a good enough way to spend 100 minutes, but I suspect in six months, I'll have forgotten I saw it. Here are the first nine minutes:

Geezer Cinema: Downton Abbey: A New Era (Simon Curtis, 2022). This one is easy to summarize: if you loved the show, you'll love the movie (and you've likely already seen it). If you know nothing about Downton Abbey, you don't need to watch this movie. Curtis and creator/writer Julian Fellowes take care of the fan base from the start. If you are a fan, you'll enjoy seeing all of the characters get their moments, and of the new cast members, there's Dominic West and Nathalie Baye to enjoy. I've been with Downton Abbey since the beginning, and while I have my problems with its representation of the class structure, it does suck you in.


geezer cinema: rush (ron howard, 2013)

At this point, reviews of Ron Howard movies write themselves, i.e. I can just cut and paste from earlier reviews and it will make perfect sense. He has made movies I liked OK (Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon) and movies I really didn't like (Apollo 13), but I've never loved any of them. I once wrote of Howard, "Ron Howard is the great disappearing director of our times. He doesn't make bad movies, he doesn't make great movies. He makes movies that get 6 out of 10 and he makes movies that get 7 out of 10. In other words, I don't have the slightest idea what Ron Howard brings to a movie." And about Cinderella Man, the story of boxer James Braddock, I wrote, "When asked why he fights, Braddock says it's to keep milk on the family table, and there's Ron Howard in a nutshell ... while this movie has tiny pretensions towards statements about poverty, they are overwhelmed by sappiness, and the sap is never, ever balanced with even a bit of knowing irony ... Ron Howard believes in that glass of milk."

Not all Ron Howard movies are sappy, and as I say, once in a while he makes a good movie. But there is no way to tell in advance, because Ron Howard's directing is anonymous.

Rush is about the rivalry between two Formula One drivers in the 1970s, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I admit I knew nothing about either driver, or about Formula One racing in general, which actually helped in a way ... I didn't know how the rivalry would turn out, so that aspect of the film had suspense for me. The movie centers on their relationship more than it does on the racing ... the racing is the background for the relationship, rather than the other way around. Hunt and Lauda are different kinds of people striving towards the same goal, and those differences drive the film (no pun intended) in good ways. The racing scenes seem realistic, although we're constantly being told by a track announcer what is happening, because it isn't always clear the way it is during a horse race. There are some women characters, but they are very secondary ... this isn't about them, except as they fit into the lives of the racers. Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth give appropriate performances as not-too-perfect heroes. The editing of Dan Hanley and Mike Hill is effective, as is the score by Hans Zimmer.

There is no reason not to see Rush. It's appealing, it's not boring, it's got Thor. It's just that I've about given up hope that a Ron Howard movie will ever be better than "no reason not to see it".