Friday, May 18, 2018

Honoring Kidder and surfacing from the bottom

I probably wouldn’t have watched Superman II Wednesday night only to celebrate the life of Margot Kidder. Although I cherished her on some level, this was really the only movie I much remember her from, as I only saw the original Superman like three times (one of which was in the past few years) and I only just saw The Amityville Horror last year for the first time. I’d memorialized her on the blog on Wednesday and that was probably enough.

But there was also an interest in surfacing Superman II from the bottom of my Letterboxd list for rewatched movies.

I’ll explain.

I’ve kept track of my movie viewings for a long time, but one of the most recent was starting to make note of when I re-watched a movie. That started about 12 years ago, in July of 2006. The first re-watch I recorded was Ghostbusters. I don’t know why Ghostbusters prompted me to start recording rewatches, or whether I made the decision and Ghostbusters happened to be the first one I saw after that. But either way, I’ve consistently kept track of every movie I’ve rewatched since then.

They say the flesh is weak, but so is the Microsoft Word file, even though I’m an avid backer upper. So when I started on Letterboxd maybe seven years ago, I decided to transcribe my list of rewatches over there, and kept adding any rewatch in both locations. Call it a cloud backup of sorts. I’d put the date watched in the notes field, so that information was preserved too.

When you add new movies to a list on Letterboxd, they automatically go to the end of the list. I might be able to tweak that but I’ve never figured out how. The list was more interesting to me, though, with the newest entries first. So each time I add a new movie, I change its number in the list from 400-whatever to #1, then it jumps to the top. (I’ve rewatched over 650 movies, but about 200 of them were before I started keeping track of rewatches, and I have not watched them since so they aren’t on this list.) This means that the same movie is always last.

For a long time that was Ghostbusters. Every time I moved the newest addition to the top, I’d have to first go down and look at the bottom and see Ghostbusters there.

But then I watched Ghostbusters again in 2016. And because no movie can appear in a Letterboxd list more than once, it was moved to the top, with the latest rewatch date added to the existing rewatch date.

The new last film on the list? Superman II.

It’s been that way for nearly two years, and because I like to consider very inconsequential things (which offers an explanation for this entire post), I had been idly wondering when I would give Superman II another watch and surface it from the bottom of this list.

And that brings you up to Wednesday night.

Now that I’ve watched it again, the new last film on the list could stand awhile, unless I artificially watch it just for the purpose of surfacing it. That movie is The Matador, and though that’s a film I like quite a bit, a third viewing is not really fighting its way into existence. I may soon surface the second-to-last movie on the list, though. That’s Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, which I own and which I have been on the verge of popping into the DVD player for some time now.

I suppose I should actually devote some of this post to Kidder and Superman II, shouldn’t I?

I did appreciate Kidder in this movie, though I think I realized that I had slightly exaggerated just how charmed I am by her here. Although this is a childhood favorite that I thought was impervious to reevaluation upon multiple viewings, I had a number of small criticisms of the movie. I wouldn’t say that Kidder or her performance was one of them, though I didn’t feel the pang of nostalgia and sorrow I expected to feel when I watched it – that I feel when I watch Star Wars and see Carrie Fisher, for example. Ultimately it makes sense that Fisher would have had more of a sway over me than Kidder did, as she appeared in three beloved movies to Kidder’s one. The sense of sorrow is probably a bit greater as well as Fisher died before her work was really done, as she was going to appear in at least one (and probably only one) more Star Wars movie. (I should acknowledge also that Princess Leia in Jabba’s slave outfit was probably also working on my budding sexuality when I first saw it at age nine, and there’s no equivalent for Lois Lane – though if I had seen her turn in Amityville Horror there might have been.)

The interesting thing about Superman II on the whole was how hurried it felt to me on this viewing. You want a tight script to move you along in the action, but some of the jumps seemed downright nutty. For one, when the three Kryptonians first land in that hick town and start wreaking havoc, there is already talk on a concurrent newscast about the use of nuclear weapons being ruled out due to the risk to the population. Hasn’t the world only been aware of these three for like 15 minutes? Who’s talking about nuclear weapons? Sure, there was that incident on the moon, but at this point the powers that be are still likely trying to piece together what that was. When Zod takes the camera, he’s already asking if there’s no one on Earth to even challenge him. The very next scene, they’re changing the faces on Mt. Rushmore to their own. Isn’t that a little fast?

Then I was also reminded how little screen time there is between when Superman forfeits his powers and gets them back. It’s hard to say how much time is actually passing in the movie, but it couldn’t be more than a day or two, a week at most. The only scene outside the fortress of solitude is when he and Lois take a ride to a diner to get dinner and he has the fight with the local bully. He’s already walking back to the fortress (what happened to their car? And where did Lois go?) and already shouting in empty fury at his dead parents, telling them he “failed.” I should have timed it, but it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes of screen time.

Lex Luthor’s time with the Kryptonians also feels very hurried. Gene Hackman as Luthor is one of my favorite parts of the movie – he works so much better as comic relief than “the big bad.” But there’s barely any time between when he introduces himself and having to scurry to explain his relevance and avoid being killed. Both sides are shrewd enough and pragmatic enough for a feeling out period to be logical.

Still a favorite and I’ll still miss Margot Kidder.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

An evening with the recently deceased

I had a weird experience watching The Circle on Tuesday night. It was like I was watching a ghost, or rather, ghosts.

Because I was.

Emma Watson is the movie’s protagonist, and I’m quite happy to say that she’s alive and well.

The actors who played her parents? Not so much.

When Glenne Headley appeared as her mother, I thought, “Oh too bad, she just died.” It was on June 8th of 2017, actually, so nearly a year ago.

Then I looked at the man sitting next to her at the dinner table, playing her husband and father to Watson’s character. He was a bit bearded and scruffy, and he was playing a character with MS, making it difficult to immediately identify the actor. But then it finally happened and I thought, “Wait wait wait … is that Bill Paxton? Shit, he’s dead too!”

That happened on February 25th of 2017.

Paxton died about two months before the release of James Ponsoldt’s film. Headley died about two months after.

Both deaths were sudden. Paxton had a stroke and Headley a pulmonary embolism. Yikes. They were both heart related.

It’s not strange to see an actor who has recently died appearing in a recent movie, as many actors are working up until their sudden deaths. It is a bit strange to see it happen with two characters in the same movie, even if The Circle was only a posthumous release for one of them. And two characters who were married to each other in the movie, too.

I wonder how Emma Watson feels about all this.

I guess it’s been a pretty morbid week on The Audient with yesterday’s post about Margot Kidder’s death. Here’s hoping there are livelier days ahead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Two of my three princesses are now gone

Margot Kidder died on Sunday.

My Lois Lane -- forget Amy Adams or Kate Bosworth -- is now gone.

On social media it was heralded as something of a joke. Not really, but a friend on Facebook memorialized her thus: "RIP Margot Kidder. Pro tip: memorize the recent winning lottery numbers in case Superman spins the earth backwards again." I don't fully get the reference to the lottery numbers, but I suspect it has something to do with Kidder's "crazy" later years, which allowed her to go out as a "joke" rather than someone we loved.

That post got 15 likes, two laughs, and one crying emoji.

I was the crying emoji.

I won't say I'm "taking it hard" -- an actual friend I knew, not well, but a friend nonetheless died of cancer the same day, and that's much worse. She was only in her early to mid 40s.

But I did consider how this now means I've lost two of the three princesses I grew up with.

I kind of always associated Kidder with two other women from movies around the same time, one of whom preceded her in death by about 18 months. Those two women are Carrie Fisher and Karen Allen, otherwise known as Princess Leia and Marion Ravenwood from the Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They're all three brunettes, and they were all three love interests of seminal characters for me when I was growing up.

And two of them are now gone.

I never got to properly eulogize Fisher on this blog, as she died when I was on vacation in America and still had two weeks remaining of my stay. I don't think I wrote a single blog post the whole time I was gone. But I've felt her loss on numerous occasions, most notably, of course, when watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi (twice). So I'll make up for the oversight a little now.

You might think it strange to include Allen, as she appeared in only Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Well, she returned in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but you'd hardly consider that ten-year-old movie as part of my cinematic maturation.) But then again, Kidder only appeared in one movie that I watched with any regularity, which was Superman II, still far and away my favorite of those original movies, and the only one I've seen more than twice. (I've actually seen it more than ten times, as we owned it on VHS when I was growing up.)

The loss of Kidder struck me since the last time I saw her, she was so young. Last Halloween I finally saw The Amityville Horror, in which she's so young she's a downright sex object. Maybe not quite as young as the photo I've selected above, but young and vibrant, with her best years still ahead of her.

But only a few of them I guess. Kidder was gone from the Superman movies after Superman II, though I guess she did return in Superman IV for what I believe was only a cameo. Looking it up just now, I was surprised to discover that she worked pretty regularly for the rest of her life, but never in any roles that approached a signature role like Lois Lane. And to be honest, I couldn't name you a single thing she did without consulting IMDB.

But for a while there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she had "it," that unmistakable combo of beauty and spunk that makes someone a star. Her Lois Lane was a real spitfire, the type who wouldn't take no guff from no one. And though Lois Lane is kind of the prototypical "woman who must be saved," in Kidder's hands, she was never helpless. In fact, I just think about the balls she shows trying to cover terrorists strapping a bomb to an elevator in the Eiffel Tower, or fighting back against the Kryptonians who captured her, ultimately punching Ursa down a crevasse in Superman's fortress of solitude after Ursa loses her powers. ("You know something? You're a real pain in the neck.")

Taken in combination with Fisher's death in late 2016, it does leave me saddened about the loss of these women who played an early role in my understanding of a cinematic heroine. Sure, they were products of their time in some respects, but they also stood tall and proud. Princess Leia wouldn't take no guff from no one either, and Marion Ravenwood? Forget about it. She can drink you under the table too. In fact, I think the term "drink you under the table" was coined for Marion Ravenwood.

I hope I'll still have Allen for a few more years, though she does turn 67 in October. Unlike the others, she is in good physical and mental health. And much as I might like to see her on screen again, I kind of hope she sits out the fifth Indiana Jones movie.

As for Princess Leia and Lois Lane ... they're both princesses to me, and may they rest in peace.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Celebrating motherhood, without the schmaltz

Poor mothers.

Not only are they constantly taken for granted, but when there is a day designed to celebrate them, it can't help but seem too earnest by half. Similarly, a movie whose goal is to praise the everyday sacrifices of the female parent can't help but invoke thoughts of the Hallmark Channel, and other ideas of hopelessly precious schmaltz.

Fortunately, Jason Reitman's Tully is something of an antidote to all that.

For one, it doesn't actually characterize itself as a celebration of motherhood, though I don't know how you could get to the end of the movie and not see it as that. It doesn't actually say it, though, which is a useful distinction that helps the movie feel a bit less blatant in its intentions.

Then it has a bit of a high-concept element to it involving the impact of a night nurse on the life of Charlize Theron's main character, a mother who has just given birth to her third child. This is another layer of distraction from the fact that you're essentially watching a portrait of an everyday hero and the toll her everyday heroism takes on her.

Then it's written by Diablo Cody, a writer with a natural instinct for sarcasm who'd probably prefer to write dog food commercials than to deliver dialogue whose only layer of interpretation would be pedantic earnestness.

So in Tully you've got a movie that actually kind of starts out on shaky footing, that I actually thought was heading toward a negative review from me before I realized what it was up to, and how shrewdly it was up to it. And, as I said in my eventual review, it's the kind of movie that made me want to go home and do the dishes.

I'm not sure how Reitman pulled off, especially since he wouldn't deserve to actually tell this story under some of our more strict viewpoints of representation, but the movie comes off as a powerful reminder of what the women in our lives do for us, especially those of us husbands and fathers who are just trying to figure out how to pass the time until our games are on TV. We don't mean to be doing our jobs in a perfunctory way, but sometimes we do anyway.

Mothers can't afford to be perfunctory. They remember to enroll children in swim classes and after school programs. They know which foods you're not allowed to pack in a school lunch. They're aware of when all the forms are due and all the inoculations are needed. They instinctively understand which psychology is effective on a child and which is counterproductive. They get up in the night when the kids need something, because pretending they don't hear it and sleeping through it (as a dad will do) is just not an option.

I've been guilty of all types of benign neglectfulness as a parent, but my wife never has. That's because she's a great mother and because excuses don't fly when it's something as important as your kids.

Tully reminded me of all that without having to scold me about it, and it's one of those movies with the potential to have an actual profound effect on how I live my life. And how I help those closest to me, the ones who depend on me, live theirs.

Because though they depend on me, they need my wife. Without what she brings to our family, we'd all be lost.

So if you're reading this in the early part of the day on Mother's Day in the U.S., and you're wondering about a film that might bring you into the spirit of the day, Tully is your choice. And it's an easy one.

And it's not even necessarily a great choice for your wife. She'd nod along, sure, but she's lived it.

You? You need to understand how great she is, and Tully will help you do that.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Which vvitch? The one with subtitles

When I first added Robert Eggers' 2015 film to my various lists of movies seen, it was before it was released or even before a poster was available. To see what I had to use when I watched it in August at that year's MIFF, and then wrote about it on my blog, see this post. That's the very definition of "placeholder."

And so I alphabetized the movie in the W's, knowing no reason not to. If I happened to notice that the title was stylized with two V's when I watched the movie, it wasn't a thought that was still lingering with me after the credits ran.

If I watched it today for the first time (rather than Friday for the second time), I might consider the V section. Those V's are an essential part of the title, though it does present an interesting problem of only really working when the entire title is either capitalized or not capitalized. You can't call it The Vvitch because it does't really look right.

The version of the title is not what I'm interested in today, though. It's the version of the dialogue, as in, with an assist from the written word or not.

The first time I saw The Witch (easier I think) at MIFF, subtitles were of course not an option. And in a way that was key to the movie's charm. You felt truly immersed in the 17th century, as if you'd stepped out of a time machine and started eavesdropping on a bunch of religious fundamentalists who had banished themselves into the woods. If you were really there with them, you wouldn't catch half of what they were saying. Why should watching them from the third row of your local movie theater be any different?

But I did miss a lot, I think -- a lot whose gist could be understood in context, from inference, but missed material nonetheless. It's sometimes useful to know the nuances that cause a family to tear itself a part from fears that one or more of them have been corrupted by the devil.

And so this time, when it was available for streaming on Netflix, I availed myself of the subtitle option. Which made the film both better and worse.

Better because there were indeed misunderstandings and moments of ambiguity that led characters down certain paths from whence they could not return. I had wondered why some were so credulous to believe the worst of others, and knowing exactly what was being said allowed me to appreciate why things unfurled the way they did. Besides, when you've got this type of antiquated speech, seeing it in print allows you to appreciate its poetry and beauty on a literary level as well.

But worse because knowing exactly what was said and done seemed to be putting too fine a point on it. Poetic the written words may be, but rob the events of some of their mystery they do. The first time I watched The Witch, it seemed like inability to fully understand the language might have been part of the point, part of the confusion inherent in a situation involving a bewitching. Those characters don't understand what's happening to them any better than we do. Having some of that clarified inevitably reduces the disorientation that works in the favor of this film's tone.

Still, I'd do it again. I can get a lot of things from context, but I don't want to have to. The other night I started watching the French film Things to Come on Kanopy, but I had to stop because the quality of the stream would go fuzzy from time to time, and the subtitles would almost become illegible. Now, I took plenty of years of French so I can make out some of what they're saying anyway, and fuzzy English words usually look enough like themselves for you to work out what they must be, especially in the context of other unmistakable words in the sentence. But I don't want to have to do that (I stopped watching Things to Come), so The Witch (or THE VVITCH or the vvitch) with subtitles was ultimately the way to go.

Which doesn't mean I liked it any better, and in fact, I think I liked it a little bit worse. With some of the mystery stripped away and an ending that I still don't like, expressly because there is not enough mystery in it, the movie's just a bit more pedestrian than I'd like it to be. While still of course being a singular type of vision, and a great recreation of an era.

It'll be interesting to see vvhich vvay Eggers goes from here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Boy to man

Donald Glover is already having a big month of May, and Solo: A Star Wars Story hasn’t even come out yet.

One of the biggest viral phenomena in ages – if that’s the right way to refer to it – is Glover’s new song and video “This is America,” which already has nearly 55 million views on YouTube at the time I’m writing these words, a number that will likely increase by five million by the time I actually publish. And it only came out like five days ago.

It’s all anyone’s talking about, or so I assume, as I don’t hang out on Facebook like I once did or on Twitter like I never did.

Only 24 hours after watching it (three times) did I even realize that Glover was the artist on the song. In fact, I did not even know he rapped.

The song is released by Childish Gambino, a name I’d heard, as had my wife. Neither of us realized it was an alter ego for Glover himself. I saw Glover dancing in the video, and his mouth moving to the words – he grooves through a warehouse as all sorts of outlandish things happen, though I don’t need to tell you because you have no doubt already watched it. But I thought Glover was doing kind of a Christopher Walken in “Weapon of Choice,” not actually doing the rapping himself. I thought he was just putting a celebrity face on the lacerating lyrics that wrestle with the place of black people in today’s America, in a way that’s oblique enough not to be pedantic.

But no, that’s Glover, rapping and dancing and running for his life in the chilling final ten seconds of the video.

And getting a nation, even a world, talking.

That’s a long way to have come for the boy who started out as very much of a boy.

It was impossible to do anything other than infantilize Glover on Community, as he played a guy who was essentially a nerd despite his good looks and athletic abilities. He was best friends with Abad (Danny Pudi), a nerd so aggressively nerdish that he was either actually on the spectrum, or on it for all intents and purposes. Their interactions involved the fetishization of geek culture, and often consisted of role-playing, larping, or other activities traditionally associated with arrested development.

Glover’s years since Community ended have entailed a fairly rapid maturation toward adulthood.

I’ve only watched one episode of Atlanta, which I watched on a plane, hoping to be able to pick up the rest of the series at some point. That hope has ultimately gone frustrated, as I’ve never subscribed to the right services to easily find it (and didn’t like the one episode enough to go out of my way to pay for it). But I immediately noticed the change in Glover. Not only was this not a jokey role at all – the one episode I saw, anyway – but it reflected a conscious choice to trade in his nerd bonafides for something more clearly hip and stylish. The difference seemed to be how much he was “trying,” which also indicated his range as an actor. Troy Barnes was a very try-hard type of role, as the comedy in Community was broad, and everyone needed to play to the back row. Atlanta represented something entirely different – a human-scale rap drama (do I have that right?) in which Earnest Marks was the coolest cat on the screen. I’m sure Glover does more with that character than I’m suggesting, and I’d be able to tell you what it is if I’d seen more episodes. But either way it’s meant to be a compliment.

His movie roles have not been an abandonment of his geek affiliations by any means. One is a movie about male strippers, Magic Mike XXL, in which I should clearly have realized he has the ability to rap, as that’s what he does. (More spoken word, maybe, if I remember correctly.) But then it’s been The Martian and Spider-Man: Homecoming, both very genre, or at least genre adjacent. I actually don’t remember him in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but in The Martian he plays a bit of a frazzled genius trying to figure out how to save an astronaut stranded on Mars. It’s also a different role from Troy Barnes, a step toward adulthood, which was appropriate as he was in his early 30s at the time.

Lando Calrissian is kind of a mixture of both. Yes, being in a Star Wars movie obviously means Glover is still steeped in geek culture. However, even a young version of Lando is a debonair motherfucker. The charm of Lando is an inherently adult type of charm, and you wouldn’t cast someone in this role unless he was pretty capable of demonstrating a certain type of maturity. He looks pretty regal in that cape, or robe, or whatever it is.

The “This is America” video is really what made me sit up and take notice of how far Glover has come in the persona he projects. He may not be playing the role of a rapper in this video, as it turns out he is actually that guy, but he is playing a role. The choice of his outfit is meant to tell you what that is, as well as the gray in his beard, which might even be artificial (he could be a greybeard at 34, but probably not).

I’m a little hesitant to write this next paragraph because I’m concerned about being misconstrued. If I’ve misunderstood what Glover is doing in this video, it could make me part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But it seems to me that he’s playing a role defined by white America’s view of him, not his own self-perception or presentation of self. By choosing to wear his bear long and scraggly (with that fleck of gray), and by opting for no shirt, and by making that crazy expression he’s making in the shot featured above, Glover seems to be playing the role of “crazy drunk black guy a white cop might accidentally shoot.” He’s not the geek from Community. He’s not the hip and street smart producer from Atlanta. He’s a 54-year-old welfare recipient drunk on malt liquor. And it’s only one of the buttons he’s pushing in this engrossing and eminently rewatchable video.

Glover seems not to be so much rejecting his status as a boy, but rejecting the way he was once an easy pill for white America to swallow. It’s no secret that the fans of Community were largely white males, even with not one but two African-American main characters, which means it managed to exceed the requirements of tokenism. Glover’s involvement in the show, and particularly the role he played, made him a comfortable type of black person for whites to like. He was “one of the good ones.”

Now, Glover wants to show us he’s not that. He’s as much of a part of our conversation on race as anyone in the culture is. In fact, in very real and profound ways, he’s driving that conversation.

Which is a pretty damn adult thing to be doing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thank God I hated Pixels

Liking The Emoji Movie last year had a profound impact on my identity as a cinephile. When everyone else reserved nothing but their choicest vitriol for the movie, it made me question whether I truly lacked the critical faculties to differentiate between something with a legitimate heart and creative spark, and a moronic, cynical attempt to make some money by stealing somebody else’s ideas. I’d probably have to see the movie a second time to determine which one it is, but I dare not. At some point I will.

It’s dampened some of my enthusiasm for going back and seeing other movies widely heralded as turds from recent years. If I liked these movies too, I’d start to wonder if I were capable of rendering sound judgments about movies in general.

But Sunday night I faced that fear and watched one with some obvious surface similarities to The Emoji Movie: the Adam Sandler-starring, Chris Columbus-directed 2015 flop Pixels.

And I’m glad to say that I hated it.

“Hate” might be a strong word as the movie did not make me angry. But I did not laugh once, and I grimaced numerous times. “Srongly disliked” might be a better word as I decided that the movie warranted 1.5 stars rather than 1 or .5. You don’t truly “hate” a movie unless you give it one star or lower. But 1.5 stars is no kind of endorsement of Pixels, when you contrast it with the four stars (!) I handed out to Emoji Movie.

And boy did not liking Pixels feel good.

You shouldn’t go into a movie thinking you won’t like it or wanting not to like it, as that’s not giving the movie a fair shake. It’s also conforming to your preconceived bias, which is part of the very hivethink I loathe that led so many people not to like The Emoji Movie. And in fact I do feel like I went in with an open mind about possibly finding a surprisingly charming film that was widely misunderstood, like The Emoji Movie. Despite my acknowledged trepidations.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize that Pixels was DOA, flat in concept and execution, and unfunny. I was with it through the opening flashback sequence in which a young version of Sandler’s character is seen mastering numerous 1982 arcade games while Cheap Trick plays on the soundtrack. Promising enough. But the moment we thudded into the present day, with Sandler looking even older and more haggard than I think he was supposed to, the movie lost whatever potential liveliness it had. Learning that Kevin James was playing THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, a dim-witted childhood buddy of Sandler’s who can’t really read, pretty much squelched any hope. Even the arrival of one of our most charming actresses, Michelle Monaghan, and a true cinematic/TV treasure, Peter Dinklage, could not salvage the movie.

A paragraph’s worth of qualitative analysis of Pixels is all I care to give it at the moment, because that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t like all bad things. And that’s a good thing.

I did think it was funny to compare Pixels with a more recent cultural touchstone, Ready Player One. The similarities are rather striking – striking enough that I considered titling this post “Ready Pixels One.” Both movies deal with how an intimate/obsessive knowledge of 1980s culture proves key to saving the world. Knowing the right moves on a video game is actually key to both movies, though RPO expands that to include memorization of movies and other pop culture relics. Both heroes are men who devoted themselves to learning those things, though in the case of Pixels, it’s because he loved them, whereas it’s more a means to end in RPO (with love following as a byproduct). And both movies are ridiculous, with RPO perhaps only seeming more valuable because of its superior execution.

Now that I know I can see bad movies for what they are, maybe I’ll go on a little binge.

Or, maybe I’ll cleanse my pallet from Pixels with something good.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Last days of the undifferentiated stacks

While we were in Bali, my kids fell in love with Night at the Museum.

It was one of a half-dozen shiny new distractions brought over by my sister-in-law, who was looking after them while we were out of the country alongside my mother-in-law. Others included Rise of the Guardians, Fantastic Mr. Fox and a few others I'm not thinking of right now. But the clear winner of the bunch was the 2006 Ben Stiller vehicle. They've watched it at least three times, maybe four, which is a lot for just a few weeks' time.

When I told them there were two other movies in that series, well, acquiring the next one became priority #1.

But I figured this would probably be an owner, not a renter. Yeah, we could have seen if they had it at the library (I can't imagine they didn't), and we could have borrowed it for multiple periods of three weeks, but purchasing seemed to be the way to go.

However, you kind of have to be lucky to find a movie like this at a decent price. You might well find it in the two for $5 bin somewhere, but you're just as likely not to. And if it's filed properly on the shelf, it's going to be at least $10, possibly even $15. Australia hasn't fully caught on to discounting physical media to the level that the public actually values it, which is close to zilch.

So I decided to try a different kind of luck and go to the wacky used DVD store in nearby Moonee Ponds.

What's wacky about this store? Well, a lot. For one, it is both a cinephile's dream (it has tons of movies) and a cinephile's nightmare (it's almost impossible to find the one you're actually looking for).

I should start by saying that DVDs are not the only thing sold here. They also sell CDs, books, and video games I think. CDs and books anyway.

The thing they all have in common is that they are in undifferentiated stacks that clog and spill out the shelves, in no order whatsoever.

This store might have literally 5,000 DVDs. I would not be surprised if you told me it was twice that. But the only way to go through them is to scan their spines until you find the title you're looking for. Or really, to not look for a title at all, but to scan them until you find something you want.

So going in looking for a specific movie was set to be a treasure hunt indeed.

The older child can read, so I sent him off to one section of shelves. The younger one can't, but he seemed dutifully committed to the search as well. I handled the higher shelves that they couldn't reach.

It was slow going. Not only are the shelves full, but the shelves are deep enough to contain an outer later of stacked DVDs as well as an inner layer hiding behind them. No effort has been made to put the more attractive titles on the outside and bury the lesser titles behind. The owner and proprietor and sole worker at the store -- a bald man in his early 60s who looked cantankerous as hell -- had just acquired them however he acquired them and threw them up there wherever he could find a crevice large enough.

So I was picking up stacks of maybe 20 DVDs at a time, accordion-style, and reviewing their contents as well as the hidden stack behind them, before sticking them carefully back in place, sure to knock back any corners that stuck out and prevented the stack from sliding surgically back into its vacated opening. This went on for upwards of ten minutes, maybe closer to 15.

I'd figured the kids would be getting annoyed and bored, and would start creating havoc, and more to the point, that the grumpy bald man would be getting annoyed with them. But none of these things happened, so the search continued.

At one point I asked him if he has a way of knowing whether he has something or not, phrasing the question so it didn't seem like a judgment. He gave me kind of a pained look of hopelessness but asked for the title anyway. I gave it. Same look. "Even if I knew, you'd still have to go digging for it."

As it turned out, in the end, it was less a case of digging and more a case of ascending. I finally found Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian at the very top of a stack that was above my head but still within my reach.

It had a BluRay logo on it, but it was not in a BluRay-sized package. It also had Chinese writing all over the front. But it did not look patently fake. I did ask the guy if it was definitely in English, and he nodded in a kind of resigned but definitive fashion. (It ended up being almost certainly pirated, but decent enough quality that only adults would have known the difference.)

The kids were overjoyed, and I must admit I felt pretty satisfied to have gone into a haystack and actually found the needle. As we were checking out, I was still feeling the rush of victory and was in a generous frame of mind. So I said to them in a voice that was obviously intended for the owner to hear that it was wonderful to be able to still find a place like this at all in this day and age.

"And this one's only just hanging on," the man said. Now his previous hopeless misery was a bit more clear. "We just don't have the customers anymore."

I commiserated with him for a moment and felt the urge to extend the search and pick out maybe three more titles that I had seen in passing and would have been glad to own. I knew neither the $5 Battle of the Smithsonian cost me nor the $20 I might have given him for three more was going to save his business, but at least it'd make his day a little better.

But we were on something of a schedule, as we had a few more errands to run and still needed to get home in time to watch the movie during "quiet time," the hour-plus that precedes dinner on a weekend night. So we left with only the one purchase.

To give some indication of how much the man has already given up, he inexplicably charged me less than the price on the sticker. Knowing it was $5.50, I'd gotten out a $20 to pay with. But when he charged me only $5, I exchanged bills and gave him exact change.

I've purchased from this place before on a handful of occasions, and really don't want it to go by the wayside. But like all others of its ilk, its days are numbered. It's kind of a miracle it's still open at all, though maybe the used books help prop the business up. I doubt the CDs are doing much in that regard.

And even though you have to dive in without any idea if you'll find what you're looking for, it's amazing to have this many movies available in one location these days. It makes for a great last resort if you're having trouble sourcing something you need to see. You don't know if you'll find the movie, but you know that you can go for a long, long swim in those titles, holding out hope the whole time that maybe it'll be in the next stack behind the one you're looking at.

I couldn't help but wonder whether some quick and dirty alphabetization might -- well, not save his business, but at least extend it a bit longer. And I'm not talking about making sure that About a Boy and About Time appear next to each other and go on from there. All you really need is a shelf of A, a shelf of B, and so on. I even had a wild thought about going in there and volunteering to take 12 hours and do it for him.

But if that had been the kind of business this guy wanted to run, he would have done that a long time ago. No, he wanted to be surrounded by stacks and stacks of DVDs, CDs and books, like some hoarder trying to live among the detritus of a well-spent life.

And God bless him for being one of the last stubborn holdouts in an era that has moved on. Here's hoping he holds out a lot longer -- or at least, until the next time I want to take a deep, desperate dive for some title I can't otherwise source.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Bad parenting double feature

If my wife wasn't happy with the parenting in The Florida Project, I told her definitely not to stick around for Mom and Dad.

Both iTunes rentals were expiring within 48 hours on Saturday night, so I lined them up as a double feature. I'd already seen both, of course -- The Florida Project was my #8 movie of 2017, and Mom and Dad has thus far been occupying the top slot on my 2018 rankings (though Avengers: Infinity War is trying to muscle it out -- yes, I liked the 37th MCU movie that much. I'm still thinking about it).

Due to a weird quirk with iTunes, the 48-hour clock never started for Mom and Dad when I first watched it in early April, so I've had the entire 30-day rental period to potentially watch it again. And since it is currently so high on my 2018 chart, I figured I ought to give it another look to make sure I wasn't just smoking drugs the first time I saw it.

As for The Florida Project, I rented it as a 99-cent rental, but had been unusually lax about prioritizing my second viewing, and it almost expired without me even noticing.

I figured my wife was along for the ride on The Florida Project. She commented very early on how gorgeous it looked (in contrast to Sean Baker's iPhone-shot last feature, Tangerine, this was shot on film), and when I interrupted the film to point out that the characters were singing happy birthday -- something that wasn't legally possible in a film up until very recently -- she shushed me.

So you can imagine my surprise when she got up with about 15 minutes left to pause it and check the remaining time.

One of my initial complaints about The Florida Project -- the only one, I'm pretty sure -- was that it was possibly 15 minutes too long. This one would have done better around Tangerine's 88 minutes, rather than 110. But in terms of the content, I was loving everything.

Not so with my wife. She found it interminable not because there was one too many scenes that were essentially filler -- which I'd argue is key to this movie in some respects -- but because she hated the characters.

She HATED Halley, played by Brian Vinaite, but she didn't particularly like Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince, either. For disliking the latter she blamed the former. She just could not get emotionally invested in a film in which a parent is so neglectful of her child, a big dickhead shaping a little dickhead in her image.

It made me think. It wasn't that Halley did bad things, as almost any character in any film is more interesting if they're capable of bad things, and if indulging in them is part of their fatal flaw. My wife is the first to acknowledge and endorse that truth. But the character needs to have a heart. Her problem was that Halley did not.

I don't indict Halley's behavior quite as much as she does -- I pointed to a couple moments in which Halley's parental instincts emerged from a general cluelessness and irresponsibility -- but it did make me wonder if we'd all given the movie a bit of a free pass on this count. Although I think of Baker as a consummately liberal type -- you don't make a sympathetic portrait of transgender prostitutes otherwise -- she was concerned that the portrayal of Halley might even entail some misogyny on the part of the filmmaker.

Having a character be completely unsympathetic is usually a problem for me too, though I guess that's not how I see Halley. Let there be no doubt that she's a bad parent. But she does try a number of different methods for making money, shady though they may be, before she resorts to turning tricks. Each time one of these efforts dead-ends, you can see on her face the defeat. That look of defeat is the frustration of a legitimate effort, at least from her perspective. Her legitimate effort might not be yours or mine, but in her world, this is what passes for trying. Of course, her fatal flaw is then that she doesn't value the money she does make, taking Moonee on a 99 cents store shopping spree instead of saving the money she made from the stolen Disney bracelets, but that spree is also a demonstration of any parent's need to feel like a provider to their child.

I'm not saying my wife should have seen the things I saw in Halley, but I do think that her view is more clouded by being a parent than mine is. I've been developing this notion that as people go along in life, they acquire personal life experience that clouds their objective perspective on the themes in movies. It could be things they're born with, or it could be the result of trauma or strong political beliefs that cause them to be triggered by certain things they see up on screen. Parenting is such an important duty for my wife that this may now be the thing that reduces her objectivity.

If it sounds like I'm criticizing that, I'm not. I think it's kind of beautiful, and it's definitely a good thing for our kids, who will benefit from her commitment to that duty. For me, I just try to leave these complicating factors on the sideline, because of my role as a critic. I can't be triggered by anything, because I need to recommend or dissuade someone from seeing a movie based on its core qualities, not my own baggage about them.

I guess I don't have as much to say about the second feature in the double feature, which my wife did not watch, as I started it at around 10:30. Mom and Dad is actually the 88 minutes that The Florida Project could have been, so the 10:30 start was very reasonable. And this being a satire, the bad parenting here is of course over the top, the result of some kind of telepathic signal being sent through TV screens making parents want to kill their own (and only their own) children.

I do think the film examines parenting in serious ways too, though, which is why it's not just an outrageous genre movie with no business at or near the top of my early 2018 rankings. While there is a high concept explanation for the murderous intent of these parents, the movie demonstrates the ways parents sometimes feel like they actually do want to kill their children, and why that happens. There are some interesting passages in here that dramatize the ways parents feel reduced to shells of their former selves by the drudgery of parenting, the type of thing that leads to their mid-life crises. The film takes really thoughtful pauses from its violent and zany overall tone to consider why a parent would build and then destroy a pool table, as a symbol of his own sense of being stuck in the mud, and then an exaggerated response to that feeling.

And then it gets funny again, and boy is it funny.

When I told her I was going to make Mom and Dad the second movie, my wife told me we probably would have been better off watching that than Florida Project. I volunteered to delay my second viewing of Mom and Dad until Sunday night, as that would still get it in prior to the expiration, but she said she couldn't watch movies in which parents are awful to their kids on two straight nights. Fair enough. I might have even suggested that instead if the driving force of the evening weren't to watch Florida Project once before it expired, but instead to watch Mom and Dad twice.

Besides, I thought she'd like The Florida Project more.

When it comes to images of shitty parenting on screen, even ones I consider thoughtful like this one, you never know what will trigger whom.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Chopping a franchise off at the knees

Warning: This post contains major spoilers about Avengers: Infinity War.

I'll even include a line or two more of wasted space so that those of you who came here without having seen this movie can get out.

So ... get out.



Did you ever wonder if the rollicking good time known as Thor: Ragnarok would mean that they’d consider a fourth film in the Thor franchise?

Well you can forget about that. Avengers: Infinity War has seen to that right quick.

The opening of Marvel’s latest behemoth success story is all about stopping the Thor bloodline dead in its tracks. Not only does it kill off basically any remaining character from the Thor world – quite a sad outcome after they escaped as refugees at the end of Ragnarok – but for maybe 20 minutes, the movie tries to convince you it killed Thor, too.

What a way for the laughter we enjoyed in Thor: Ragnarok to die in our throats.

As you know if you keep up with the blog, my wife and I tried to watch this on our recent holiday, but the rental from iTunes was caught in some kind of no man’s land between iTunes stores from different countries. It’ll finally expire in a few days, at which point we can wipe the whole chapter from our memories.

But if we did somehow get a chance to watch it before the rental period expired, I don’t know how I’d be able to watch it with the same sense of unbridled joy it gave me the first time, knowing that the Asgardians were marching toward their deaths at the hands of Thanos and his minions.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have cared.

A year ago, I had only seen one Thor movie and found it a middling entertainment at best. I had not deigned to watch Thor: The Dark World because I considered it a probable waste of my time. I did eventually watch it as a precursor to the release of Thor: Ragnarok, which did excite me, just in case there was some important information I’d need to glean from the second movie in the trilogy. Didn’t want my anticipated viewing of Taika Waititi’s first MCU film to be compromised by a failure to grasp the nuances of the story.

I liked The Dark World better than I would have ever expected to, but it was Ragnarok that made me fall in love with the Asgardians, their place in the MCU and their heretofore unexplored great senses of humor. Having initial rejected Thor as “that Marvel series set in outer space,” I had found a deliriously fun spectacle that just missed my top ten of last year.

And now? Well, now they’re all dead.

Okay, not all of them. Although I’d thought that Thor and his people were all on one ship when they left the wreckage of Asgard, apparently, in a line of dialogue from the man himself, only “half his people” were killed by Thanos in the opening of Infinity War. The others? I guess they’re somewhere else. In another ship? We didn’t see Sif or Valkyrie, after all. Smart to keep Valkyrie around, as she was one of the best parts of Ragnarok.

But Loki? Heimdall? All your other rank-and-file Asgardians?

Dead, dead and dead.

Of course, the body count of characters we know and care about in Infinity War is in the double digits by the end. Everyone knows that the ones who turned into dust aren’t gone for good. But the ones who died deaths earlier in the film – like Loki, Heimdall, Gamora and Vision – could be irretrievably dead.

Then again, Thanos has an infinity stone that allows him to control time, so that will allow the writers to do pretty much anything they want.

But the death of Loki hit me particularly hard, in part because I feel that one, for sure, will not be reversed. Thor even prepares us for the possibility he'll come back by saying Loki’s been dead before, but I don’t think so. Tom Hiddleston is probably ready to do other things after playing Loki in five different movies, considering that he was always more of a thespian type and never figured to build his career on the backs of comic books.

But a year ago, I wouldn’t have given two shits. Loki? Thor? Their dad? The other characters, whose names I did not know at the time? You could have thrown them in the fire for all I cared.

This movie did throw them in the fire, and it made me sad.

But it also made me love this movie. Or it was one of the things, anyway.

I know there’s nothing that occurs here that’s truly irreversible, when you’ve got infinity stones that allow both time and reality to be warped, and when Dr. Strange can look forward to 14 million different outcomes for a battle that has yet to occur. These people are so powerful – too powerful, some would say – that death is not a permanent impediment to their character arcs.

But Avengers: Infinity War did as much as it could do, within the overall requirements of keeping these characters around to make money off them for years to come, to give us something we hadn’t seen before – stakes that really resulted in the real deaths of at least some of them.

And that opening, in which Thanos uses his oversized hand to squeeze the life out of Loki by the neck, perfectly set the tone for future tragedies to come. Finally, this was a Marvel movie unafraid to make the stakes important.

That’s an odd thing to say when nearly every movie involves the possible end of the world. But none of them involve the possible end of one of the characters. Seriously, in 18 (or whatever) Marvel movies, has an important character, with any type of long history in the comic books, died, ever?

Marvel has at last woken up to the core mentality of peak TV, in which unexpected deaths keep us on our toes, and are in fact the very things that make us love the TV shows we watch. There are certain shows where we are worried that truly no one is safe, and that’s both an enthralling and chilling feeling to have while watching something whose characters you care about. Now, we can have that feeling when watching a Marvel movie, which is pretty great.

No matter what deaths are reversed in the sequel to Infinity War, Marvel has delivered at least one fatal blow, and that’s to the Thor franchise. It can’t come back from this. It just can’t.

And though I’ll miss it – I’m surprised to say – I’m grateful to Marvel for having the guts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

This poster for Unsane

I’m recording a podcast tonight on Unsane, at which point I can finally hear what some other people think of it.

That has been a protracted experience, because first I didn’t want to hear anything about it prior to seeing it, which led me to skip their coverage of it on Filmspotting. Then I didn’t want to hear anything about it prior to reviewing it, so I bypassed that episode of Filmspotting on my way in to work the next day, before I’d written my review. Then I didn’t want to hear anything about it before podcasting about it, lest I inadvertently adopt another’s viewpoint on it, as would have also happened if I’d listened to it before reviewing it. Tomorrow morning, maybe I’ll finally get to listen to that episode.

But I did want to say that you’ll have multiple ways to hear me talk about it once the podcast is released, as there is already a link to my review on the right.

And since those multiple ways will exist, all I wanted to say in this post is: I love that poster.

For some reason I didn’t notice it before now, but walking back from lunch today, when I saw it on the marquee for the theater in the basement of the building where I now work (moved office locations about three weeks ago), I was immediately enthralled by it.

There’s not a lot new you can do to really explore the themes of a film in its poster art, as there have been approximately 1.7 million movie posters and they’ve thought of pretty much everything there is to think of. This one does something slightly new, and new enough to really be captivating. I mean yeah – when you’re feeling a little unsane, it’s like your face being dislocated from the rest of your head and being moved six inches to the left. With a single-world encapsulation of how you feel – UNSANE – shoving it aside.

Plus Claire Foy is awesome in this movie, so I just like looking at her face to be reminded of that.

Unfortunately, the world will probably not care how many different ways I will finally have of giving you my impression of this film, as it has pretty much tanked. The U.S. box office of $7.7 million is actually better than I thought it was, but it’s still nowhere near great for a director with the stature of Steven Soderbergh. And it’s $20 million less than Logan Lucky, which was also considered quite the failure (though may have had more traditionally box office friendly stars, like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig). Going only on circumstantial evidence, I was the only one in the theater when I saw it on Thursday, which was only the second night of its release.

Pretty great poster though.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Re-coen-sidering: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This is the second in a bi-monthly 2018 series in which I'm reexamining my feelings toward six movies made by Joel and Ethan Coen, five of which I did not care for the first time.

If I'm considering the matter as broadly as possible, I'd say that Joel and Ethan Coen have two tones they work in, both of which start with the letter M: madcap and melancholy. And that while both tones are present at some point or another in most of their work, I vastly prefer the films where melancholy predominates.

Of course, as soon as I said that I would immediately provide a staggering contradiction to that preference. My favorite Coen brothers movie, which is also my favorite movie of all time, is Raising Arizona, and most people would consider the madcap to far outweigh the melancholy in that movie. But then all you need to do is look at my next three favorite Coen movies to right the ship on my perspective. Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis and Miller's Crossing contain almost no madcap. (Though one of their movies with zero madcap, No Country for Old Men, falls in the bottom half of my Coen movies, so the system is nothing if not unpredictable.)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a movie where the madcap fairly suffocates the melancholy. The movie makes gestures toward melancholy, to be sure, but they always fall flat, in part because the madcap has done such a powerful job preventing us from really being introduced to our three main characters.

I don't know that I would have been able to put my finger on this as a contributing factor to my middling response to the movie the first time, but when I watched it a second time on Friday night, 18 years later, it was easy to identify. We are meant to take an immediate liking to Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) -- all great names by the way -- but the manner of their introduction really keeps me at arm's length. In short, they never are really introduced. Their first handful of scenes are very set piece heavy, and their reactions are often the reactions of three staring faces operating as one, leaving us little opportunity to differentiate between them. Broadly you'd be able to say "Oh, Ulysses is the handsome one and the other two are the hicks," but that, you will agree, is not really characterization. Belatedly we are given an idea what drives them in a scene by a campfire where they talk about their hopes for how to use the money, but this does not actually reveal as much about their characters as the movie thinks it does, plus it's too little too late.

The movie doesn't really have time to develop these characters because it's too fixated on producing the next madcap scene. And these scenes are madcap all right, full of the kind of mugging expressions that always made me feel this movie was more condescending toward its characters than it was loving toward them. (Whereas I feel like a movie like Raising Arizona stays on the other side of that divide.) It was Clooney's performance in particular that made me feel that, though the others bug out their eyes plenty as well. Nelson is the most credible, I suppose because he is the closest to the type of character he's actually portraying. Clooney and Turturro are hopelessly northern by comparison, which is not to say they can't do reasonable southern accents or inhabit their characters in other ways. It's just that they seem to be mocking these characters more than is good for the movie.

If I liked the set pieces a little more, I probably wouldn't have as much of a problem with it. But each set piece is anywhere from ten to 30 percent less satisfying than I feel like it should be. As just one example that illustrates multiple points I've made so far, I don't get the appeal of the scene where John Goodman beats up Nelson and Clooney with a branch he pulls off a tree. It's not that I don't get why he attacks them -- he's trying to rob them -- but I don't get why Clooney entirely fails to take evasive action. In the Coens' interest in cooking up some good slapstick, they've robbed all credibility from the characters by having Clooney sit there, without defending himself, after Goodman has already gone upside Delmar O'Donnell's head about three times. He's still sitting there saying he doesn't understand -- in that oh-so funny, linguistically aspirational, southern hick way -- when Goodman finally gets to him and goes all Babe Ruth on him as well (get it, Goodman played Babe Ruth). Goodman's also at fault here by having taken his time getting to Clooney without any worries that Clooney would defend himself. When you have unbelievable reactions by two different characters in the same scene, you have an unbelievable scene -- even in a movie where most of the scenes are supposed to be heightened and unbelievable in some way.

Speaking of unbelievable, I just don't buy that these guys would just waltz into a recording studio and record the year's (decade's?) biggest hit as a lark. These don't strike me as guys who could perform a song like this off the cuff, and only two days later I can't remember if the movie actually provides an explanation for their golden pipes. I should say, I was a man of constant distractions while watching this movie, as I was going down some internet rabbit holes while watching it. Don't worry, I did give it a fair shake -- I was mostly pausing it when I'd do this -- but I could tell early on that my impression of the movie was not likely to improve significantly, so I considered some level of distraction acceptable.

The recording studio scene does give the movie one of its two big ties to one of my favorite Coen movies, Inside Llewyn Davis. Probably the most obvious comparison between the movies is that they both make use of the structure of Homer's The Odyssey, this one explicitly (it credits Homer in the opening credits), the other a little less explicitly (the cat Llewyn loses is named Ulysses). But the more specific -- like, bizarrely specific -- thing they have in common is that both movies feature a musician or musicians recording a major radio hit, without having the foresight to profit from its success. Llewyn actually rejects the chance for long-term profit on "Please Mr. Kennedy" because he needs the quick influx of cash from doing a one-off job, and doesn't believe a song this vapid could have any legs. (Hence, engaging in his fatal flaw as he does repeatedly throughout the movie.) In another sign of the contrast in quality between the two movies, the Soggy Bottom Boys never even think to consider anything other than the $10 they get paid to record "A Man of Constant Sorrow" -- improbably record it, as I mentioned earlier. Although I suppose it's also part of their fatal flaws of being exaggerated, idiotic hicks.

I don't want to suggest to you there's nothing I like about O Brother, Where Art Thou? In fact, I had retroactively given in three stars on Letterboxd and would probably stick with that rating, or at least, bust it down no further than 2.5 stars. The things I enjoy most about it are its look -- the sepia tones were one of the earliest examples of digital color correction, and the Dapper Dan hair gel containers makes a great example of the production design -- and some of its small-scale visual gags. Like, I love the scene where Delmar looks over at Ulysses' body lying on the ground after their run-in with the sirens, and then looks over where we'd expect to see Pete's body, and there's just an empty shirt and pants. I like the way this establishes our expectations and then inverts them. The idea that Pete might have been turned into the toad is one of the ways I'll go along with their exaggerated hick-itude, even. Alas, the movie just doesn't have enough moments like this.

So now that I have re-coen-sidered O Brother, Where Art Thou?, I'd say that not only does my initial impression still hold, but I probably like it even a little bit less than I did then. It's still obviously the work of masters, and they're surely in command of the type of film they wanted to make. But that type of film is just not for me, in this case.

Next up in June: The Ladykillers.