Movie Diary 6/13/2021

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965). Amicus omnibus (that’s fun) with five strangers sharing a train car, joined by a certain Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing, in Eastern European eyebrows). He reads the Tarot of each man, which means we get stories about werewolves and vampires and voodoo and weird man-killing shrubs. Christopher Lee sits next to Cushing for the Tarot sequences and features in a story about a snobby art critic who ends up getting bothered by a disembodied hand. The stories are skeletal, to be sure – not much more than a premise and a grabby ending – but Francis does stylish things along the way, as befits an Oscar-winning cinematographer. Cast includes Donald Sutherland (not much to do, alas, despite being one of the trainmen), Michael Gough, Jeremy Kemp (he studies the mutant plant and utters, “A brain? I was right”), Max Adrian, and Roy Castle as a musician who gets supernaturally cancelled for indulging in cultural appropriation. (That’s the voodoo story.) The last few minutes – without giving anything away here – suggest that the Coen brothers saw this movie at a tender age and filed it away for future use. Oh, and the cast has two people who would be on the cover of “Band on the Run”: Lee and singer Kenny Lynch.

The Friday 6/11/2021

Two Lottery Tickets
Two Lottery Tickets

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

Two Lottery Tickets. “The comic ideas must come from the confines of that squared-off screen space—and, indeed, the confines become a huge part of the comedy in at least a few set-ups.”

The new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” is called “Goldfinger and Company,” in which I talk about my childhood fascination with the soundtrack LP of a certain James Bond film, and trace its ripple effect through other kinds of movie music. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

The previous episode, on New Nordic Composers, remains online through this weekend.

Three vintage reviews posted at my Eighties blog, What a Feeling!, namely: Joel Zwick’s Second Sight, which paired Bronson Pinchot with John Larroquette; Lee Grant’s Staying Together, a relationship picture with Dermot Mulroney and Sean Astin; and Agnes Varda’s Kung-Fu Master!, a Jane Birkin vehicle that makes no concessions to anybody’s expectations or feelings.

Movie Diary 6/8/2021

Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978). A re-visit to an American classic. Watching it this time I was especially struck by how Burnett lets you discover what’s going on in a scene, who’s in the room and where, what the tension is, and etc. (oh, I get it now, that kid is ducking behind a piece of plywood because he’s in an empty lot playing war games). The movie has a great soundtrack of music, but is also an ingenious arrangement of sound itself – especially the dehumanizing white-noise (what a phrase, in this context!) roar of the slaughterhouse.

Mindwalk (Bernt Capra, 1990). Remember this one? Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, and John Heard, walking around Mont Saint-Michel and talking about physics and meaning. It couches its scientific and philosophical ideas in a wrapper that I find equally appealing, which is the idea of meeting a stranger and having a profound encounter on the spot – plus, the backdrop is awfully photogenic.

Movie Diary 6/7/2021

It’s Mental Work (Alex March, 1963). An hour-long episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre,” written by Rod Serling, originally scheduled for telecast on November 22, 1963 – but delayed. This was presented by UCLA as a streaming tribute to Serling, who adapted a John O’Hara story (adding a racial-prejudice angle along the way). Lee J. Cobb plays a weary bar owner, about to cash out to the syndicate but toying with the idea of selling to his salt-of-the-earth bartender (Harry Guardino, the show’s true lead). Gena Rowlands plays Cobb’s possibly-calculating girlfriend, Archie Moore is another barkeep, and Stanley Adams is an obnoxious middleman for the buyers. A very sharp piece, with lots of Serling-esque material about lonely souls, and a strong ending. March directed a lot of television, and a few features, including the inept The Big Bounce and the George Plimpton adaptation Paper Lion.

The Deadly Affair (Sidney Lumet, 1967). A John le Carre novel, with Lumet’s casual style working against the author’s precision – but still, there are interesting moments, and the overall dreariness now seems of-a-piece with Cold War stories. James Mason, pretty animated, plays the main spy, surrounded by people of various levels of trustworthiness: wife Harriet Andersson, friend/fellow spook Maximilian Schell, Holocaust survivor Simone Signoret, policeman Harry Andrews, with good bits for Lynn Redgrave and Roy Kinnear. Freddie Young shot it, in washed-out Cold War tones; music by Quincy Jones.

The Friday 6/4/2021

Paula Beer, Undine (IFC Films)

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

Undine. “It feels unfair to complain about a film that does what it wants to do very well.”

The new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” is called “New Nordic Composers,” and listens to music by the likes of Johann Johannsson, Hildur Gudnadottir, and Ludwig Goransson; their work includes Joker, Arrival, Sicario, and Black Panther. Tune in for some ear-bending sounds, produced by Voice of Vashon.

The previous episode, “Happy Movie Songs,” will be there to elevate your mood for another couple of days. New show Sunday night at 7 p.m.

I’m back for a two-year term on the Speakers Bureau at Humanities Washington, which sends people out to various parts of our state to talk. (At first we’ll be Zooming it.) My talk is called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” where I explore – from the perspective of mankind’s response to the pandemic – how movies gave us the tools to deal, if only we’d been listening. Check out the description here, and if you live somewhere in Washington and are interested in hosting the talk, get in touch.

At What a Feeling!, I’ve got three vintage examples of 1980s movie reviews. To wit: The Third Animation Celebration, an anthology including Svankmajer and Bozzetto, plus the first appearance of Ren and Stimpy; The XXII International Tournee of Animation, with some Plymptoons and the Oscar-winning Balance in the mix; and Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters II, the bloated sequel that reunites Murray & Co.

Movie Diary 6/2/2021

A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957). An overdue revisit to an uncanny movie – and yes, it has a new skin-crawling quality in our era. It’s an alarmed ’50s variation on a Capra picture, and along with similarities in the subject matter, it also moves along like a Capra film – once the opening sequences are finished, it really zips along. That might be down to Kazan, or Budd Schulberg, but the film was also edited by Gene Milford, who did Lost Horizon and Plantinum Blonde with Capra.

Undine (Christian Petzold, 2020). Reviewing it this week – more than a year after it played at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won Best Actress for Paula Beer, plus the FIPRESCI prize. (full review 6/4)

Movie Diary 6/1/2021

As You Like It (Kevin Branagh, 2006). Missed it the first time around. It sounds strange to say it, but Branagh still doesn’t quite trust the material. The Japan setting is strictly a design feature, but otherwise the film benefits from its strong cast, especially Kevin Kline as Jaques, Brian Blessed as the two Dukes, and David Oyelowo as Orlando. Alfred Molina and Janet McTeer are gratifyingly clownish, in the best Shakespearian sense. A pretty film – but would like to see Branagh steer away from the comedies, and back to something heavy.

Movie Diary 5/31/2021

The Quiller Memorandum (Michael Anderson, 1966). I had never seen this one, and I’m prepping a somewhat spy-related show for my next radio episode, and John Barry is on the case here. The movie has cool West Berlin location shooting (characters duck into a bar and suddenly you’re in a Fassbinder space), and some exchanges where you can tell the Harold Pinter screenplay was actually written by Harold Pinter. We also get Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow, and George Sanders playing the spy game, which involves the rise of neo-Nazis (or maybe they were just still Nazis). Senta Berger, too. The thing that knocks it off balance is George Segal in the lead role; I like Segal, but he seems to be there to add humor, and you sort of wish this story (weirdly straightforward for a spy picture) didn’t have humor. Also, Segal doesn’t seem to be a particularly good spy. There is no memorandum, as far as I can remember.

The Friday 5/28/2021

Tom Green: Freddy Got Fingered (20th Century Fox)

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

Freddy Got Fingered/Monkey Bone. “Films that made weirdness their fundamental raison d’etre.”

The new episode of “The Music and the Movies” is a pandemic-related collection of Happy Movie Songs, which I offer as a free mood-enhancer. Check that out here.

You can still hear my episode on the Film Noir Lounge, where I talk about and play various songs from the piano bars and road houses of noir. That’s online for another couple of days.

I’m back for a two-year term on the Speakers Bureau at Humanities Washington, which sends people out to various parts of our state to talk. (At first we’ll be Zooming it.) My talk is called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” where I explore – from the perspective of mankind’s response to the pandemic – how movies gave us the tools to deal, if only we’d been listening. Check out the description here, and if you live somewhere in Washington and are interested in hosting the talk, get in touch.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I have three more ’80s reviews this week, of: Marcus Zurinaga’s Tango Bar, with Raul Julia in a docudrama about tango; Glenn Silber and Claudia Vianello’s Troupers, a documentary about the San Francisco Mime Troupe; and John Hughes’ Uncle Buck, a John Candy vehicle that unforgivably wastes its star by sacrificing comedy for corn.

Movie Diary 5/25/2021

Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, 2000). “Blessed be the one who sits down.” This one is second only to Andersson’s You, the Living in his series of tableau-blackout films. Big bonus here is the DVD commentary track, which, unusually for such things, is actually worth listening to. (My review of Andersson’s latest, About Endlessness, is here.)