The Friday 8/12/2022

Chet Baker

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

Predators. “Maybe I was just in the mood for a simple, straightforward action flick, because this nonsense went down perfectly easily for me.”

I’ve got a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, all about “Jazzmen Acting.” (Jazz women will get their shot in a future episode.) We consider the phenomenon of jazz musicians who play roles in movies, as opposed to just showing up as themselves for a concert appearance. So: Ellington at the piano with James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, Armstrong showing up as “Wild Man Moore” and trading solos with Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier in Paris Blues, and Miles Davis in Dingo. You don’t remember Dingo? All is explained in this show, which can be found at the Voice of Vashon “M&M” page (and if its time there has expired because you’re reading this in future times, listen to something else).

Movie Diary 8/8/2022

They/Them (John Logan, 2022). You get the idea pretty quickly: The setting is a summer camp straight out of a Friday the 13th movie, but the monster isn’t a hockey-mask-wearing killer; the monster is the camp, which is devoted to gay conversion therapy. That’s a workable concept, and the movie has a little fun with the conventions of the slasher movie (freaky camp custodian lurking around; knife-happy opening sequence with killer in some kind of mask, if not hockey). Plus, Kevin Bacon (a Friday the 13th alumnus himself) gets to do a buttery, faux-sincere monologue as the camp director welcoming the latest group of LGBTQ teens to the place – and Bacon can do that kind of hey-I’m-just-a-regular-guy sort of menace very well. But the film is so intent on empowering its teens that it slips into corn pretty early, and Logan, a veteran screenwriter, doesn’t have much flair for the thriller stuff. Carrie Preston has a good scene as an unsettling psychotherapist, Theo Germaine and Anna Chlumsky fill out their roles effectively within the clumsy set-ups, and someone called Darwin del Fabro seems destined for a lengthy horror-movie career. Overall, though – nope.

Movie Diary 8/7/2022

Portland Expose (Harold D. Schuster, 1957). Fairly weird, dirty, low-budget crime picture directed by the guy who edited Sunrise. I think maybe Schuster has some boosters as a sub-Edgar Ulmer type, and there might be something to that: Despite the lousy dialogue and standard plot, the film regularly shows off a decent compositional eye from shot to shot. Oddball cast, too. Ed Binns and fearsome Virginia Gregg play an upstanding couple who just want to run a clean little roadhouse in the Oregon Portland, but the mob won’t let them be. Lots of pinball machines and jukeboxes. Many characters actors around, plus Frank Gorshin as a hood with a pedophile streak. (You can sense him wanting to break into his Kirk Douglas impression.)

The Friday 8/5/2022

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

Mr. & Mrs. Bridge. “An exquisite, very sad American story, in which time and survival are main characters.”

A repeat episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, devoted to “Experiments in Space.” That is to say, space-age movies that create innovative soundtracks, from Forbidden Planet to 2001 to Planet of the Apes to Solaris. And beyond. Listen to the Voice of Vashon website here.

Movie Diary 8/2/2022

The Last Movie Stars (Ethan Hawke, 2022). The documentary method is unorthodox here, as Hawke gathers comments and voice work from his fellow actors as a way of bringing life to the story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The genesis of the project was with Newman family friend (and Rachel, Rachel screenwriter) Stewart Stern, and his interviews with Newman, Woodward, and their various associates for a proposed Newman biography that never actually happened. (If you lived in Seattle after the mid-1980s and met Stern at some point, you probably heard about this project.) Newman burned the actual tapes of those interviews, but Stern had transcribed them, so Hawke’s actors – including George Clooney as Newman and Laura Linney as Woodward – give them voice. It works very well: Not only are the testimonies interesting and often unsparing, but the whole thing feels very much in the spirit of the Method world that birthed Newman & Woodward, a kind of intense psychological investigation, an urge to understand and keep going deeper, an actors’ workshop conducted over Zoom. And like a Method workshop, it threatens to become self-indulgent, but Hawke’s commitment to and enthusiasm for the project is unwavering, and self-aware. In the final episode, The Last Movie Stars also turns into a rather moving meditation on the mysteries of marriage. The use of film clips can come dangerously close to making facile links between the onscreen personas and the stuff of real life, but sometimes – as with Hawke’s use of Torn Curtain footage as we hear about Newman’s period of trouble isolation – it’s inspired, too.

Movie Diary 8/1/2022

Not Okay (Quinn Shephard, 2022). The touch is a tad off in this satire of an online influencer (Zoey Deutch) and her rise/fall: the jokes are frequently broad-ish and the performances (except for the unerring Deutch and Mia Isaac) just a little pitched toward being funny. Still, the needle is well-aimed, as Deutch’s antiheroine milks public sympathy from surviving a terrorist bombing she was nowhere near. One nice nuance: Deutch’s actual goal is to be a writer – being a popular influencer is merely a means to come to the attention of the gatekeepers so that she can write. Which seems like an accurate observation. On Hulu, the film is preceded by a warning notice that, among other things, the film has “an unlikeable female protagonist,” an amazing way to prep an audience for complexity in our brave new world.

Here Before (Stacey Gregg, 2021). Kudos to the location manager who found a semi-detached house at the end of a long Belfast street, where this exercise in creep takes place. (The house looks real, anyway, rather than CGI.) This one’s worth it for Andrea Riseborough, as a wife & mother whose daughter died in an accident; her attention drifts from her husband (Jonjo O’Neill) and unruly son when a family moves in next door, a family with a little girl who seems to know too much. I wasn’t entirely clear about the resolution of this one, but it’s a well-executed feature directing debut, and maybe suggests how wide Jonathan Glazer’s influence has been.

The Friday 7/29/2022

Ben Affleck: Deep Water (Claire Folger, 20th Century Studios/Hulu)

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

Deep Water. “It’s all very slick, ideal for a 30-second cigarette advert, if people still made those.”

We have new episodes coming, I swear, but in the meantime here’s a “Music and the Movies” re-run, devoted to Western theme songs. Listen to the Voice of Vashon “M&M” page, where something will live even if the Western show has expired.

Movie Diary 7/27/2022

Picture Mommy Dead (Bert I. Gordon, 1966). Gaudy color (fun to look at, in other words), dopey storyline, paycheck-collecting performances. Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, and Maxwell Reed are conniving after a fortune in different ways, but the key rests with Ameche’s daughter, who is played by Bert Gordon’s daughter Susan, and she is off her rocker. Zsa Zsa Gabor plays the dead mother, and she is very Zsa Zsa; Wendell Corey has one scene as a lawyer, and he looks like he’s in very bad shape (he would be dead in two years, at 54). There’s a falcon that does its job very well, presumably shoehorned in because Gordon had seen The Birds. Uninspired overall except for the interiors of the house, and at least Martha Hyer seems to understand the kind of horror-melodrama they’re making. Is this the earliest use of “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out” in movies?

Movie Diary 7/25/2022

Historieta amarga (2021), Daydreaming (2021), ¿Te puedo llamar? (2020), Mal viaje (2019), Marea alta (2019), Adiós(2018), all directed by Leopoldo Muñoz. I recently watched this batch of short films from the Chilean filmmaker and critic. Taken together, the films chronicle a collection of wandering souls, viewed with curiosity and empathy, but also with a frankness that doesn’t allow for sentimentality (even when the subject might lend itself to sentiment, such as Adiós, in which a man sinks into melancholy after suffering a loss). They’re especially good at exploring isolation and the yearning for connection. Sometimes in a director’s early short films you see an interesting eye or an inquisitive mind; in this case, you have both, and even the films that seem to float along on a reverie contain visual coups that display a real filmmaker at work. Muñoz, who works in Santiago, is preparing his first feature.

Movie Diary 7/24/2022

The Innocents (Eskil Vogt, 2021). Children with extrasensory powers, making various levels of mayhem in a housing development. There are some tired ideas in the thing, but it’s hard to deny Vogt’s skill at mounting certain creepy effects, or his ability to lock us into a child’s perspective. Overall, though, an unsavory experience. Vogt is the co-writer of Joachim Trier’s films.