The Friday 3/17/2023

Daniel Day-Lewis: My Left Foot

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

My Left Foot/The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

This post got up just a little late to actually make St. Patrick’s Day – apologies for some technical issues.

Movie Diary 3/15/2023

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945). This superb classic will be our subject in Saturday’s “Women in Trouble” online session, presented by Scarecrow Video. That’s 3/18 at 2 pm Pacific Time, and it’s free – register here.

Movie Diary 3/14/2023

The Kiss Before the Mirror (James Whale, 1933). A “crime of passion”: Paul Lukas shoots his adulterous wife Gloria Stuart, and lawyer-friend Frank Morgan takes the case as he discovers that his own spouse (Nancy Carroll) is straying. A very odd set-up/argument for a movie, leading to a long and fairly dull courtroom sequence. Whale and cinematographer Karl Freund go for some fluid camera prowling, and there’s an expressionist feel to the jailhouse material, thanks to what looks like the leftover Frankenstein sets. Lukas is in expressionist mode as well, staying at a disturbingly high pitch throughout. Not a success overall, but shot through with interesting touches, like a 360 pan in the courtroom and a pair of gay court reporters. Walter Pidgeon plays the lover in the opening scene – woodenly.

Movie Diary 3/13/2023

Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948). The recently restored print looks very, very good. Rat-a-tat rhythm, wonderful sideways dialogue, and a relentless focus on money as a destructive element. John Garfield has a distinctive physical presence (and he’s in motion through most of the thing) but also a memorable, brandy-toned voice. The scene where Garfield learns that his office phone is tapped is curiously forceful – as though Polonsky uncorked some reserve of paranoia in the air – and of course Polonsky would soon be blacklisted, not directing another feature until 1969.

Movie Diary 3/12/2023

The Oscars? Decent show, lots of blah winners. People who make movies do not always know how to watch movies.

Caught (Max Ophuls, 1949). A beautifully restored version. So densely rendered, and full of fascinating ways of shooting people in rooms. James Mason and Robert Ryan in top form, and while I can think of other actresses who might’ve been more dynamic than Barbara Bel Geddes, she does suit the rather unformed central role.

The Friday 3/10/2023

Catherine Clinch: The Quiet Girl (Super Ltd)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

The Quiet Girl/M3gan. “For a quiet person, the words ‘She says as much as she needs to say,’ resound like a bell of empathy. Those bells regularly go off during this heart-squeezing movie.”/ “Pleasing in its familiar, unsurprising lines, which are basically those of a Twilight Zone episode. I am not complaining.”

Tomorrow, Saturday 3/10 at 2 pm Pacific Time, we continue our free online semester in Scarecrow Academy, “Women in Trouble: Great Melodrama in Film.” The subject this week is Mildred Pierce, that fierce blend of “women’s picture” and film noir, with Joan Crawford in full flower, directed by Michael Curtiz from a James M. Cain novel. Register here.

I’ve written an article describing my End-of-the-World-Movies talk for Humanities Washington, published in their blog; read that here.

Movie Diary 3/8/2023

Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945). Women’s picture, film noir, and American Dream movie, this one’s also about Joan Crawford – plenty to talk about at Saturday’s free online session of Scarecrow Academy, where you are expected to join us at 2 pm Pacific Time. The registration info is a click away here.

Movie Diary 3/7/2023

M3gan (Gerard Johnstone, 2023). I guess that’s how you have to spell the title. An A.I. companion-doll causes havoc, as expected, and if there’s nothing especially new in this one, at least the execution is smart. There are a handful of set-ups that prove somebody had an idea of how to provoke a scare through purely visual means, and the movie certainly re-affirms that an inanimate object can be supremely creepy depending on how it is perched on a bench.

Movie Diary 3/6/2023

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979). Saw the movie a few times in a theater when it first came out (well, specifically the Ridgemont in Seattle) and a few times since. So there aren’t many surprises left, but there are still a lot of welcoming moments, and if it meant something to you 44 years ago, it probably still means something to you. The movie is in the ranks of the problematics, for reasons you know, and I can live with that without it getting in the way of the film itself. One new thought: The film is a bridge from Allen’s reliance on cutting within scenes (the first dialogue scene at Elaine’s, which cuts back and forth among the four people at the table and finds a busy, close rhythm) to his later reliance on uncut shots, which works fine when the players are on the ball but not so well when they aren’t (and doesn’t give you the chance to cut out the awkward stuff). Here, though, the balance between those two styles is ideal.

Movie Diary 3/5/2023

Till (Chinonye Chukwu, 2022). Catching up with ’22 stragglers. The story is a straightforward account of the brutal murder of Emmett Till and his mother’s fight for justice, and the cast, led by Danielle Deadwyler, is strong. Director Chukwu, who did the rather arty Clemency, does not take the kind of drab this-is-for-the-historical-record approach you might expect with the material, instead opting for a busy visual strategy using frames that crowd the screen, a design that culminates in several powerful moments – for anybody who watches movies for their formal attributes, anyway.

Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978). Hadn’t seen the Woodman’s first “serious” picture in many years, and it does not hold up especially well. In particular, the dialogue tends to be about exactly what it is about, with little variation on the spectacle of people moving around rooms declaring their resentments. There is one gag in the picture, the cutaway to the minister at the wedding ceremony, awkwardly holding a champagne glass and looking on. I suppose the movie is the extension of the material about Annie Hall’s Gentile family in that movie, but without the humor. But without the humor. Who needs that in a Woody Allen movie?