Movie Diary 4/19/2021

Street of Sinners (William Berke, 1957). Continuing my investigation into the films of William Berke, prolific B-movie maker. This is from his late period of independent crime pictures, and although it doesn’t have the New York atmosphere of The Mugger or Cop Hater, it’s got some interesting and/or flat-out weird scenes. George Montgomery plays a new, by-the-book beat cop, who inherits a notorious neighborhood run by tavern owner Nehemiah Persoff. (Either that, or a drugstore wooden Indian plays the cop; it’s hard to tell.) Montgomery’s flatfoot is so uptight you wonder whether some great neurosis is going to be revealed about him, but no, he just needs to become more realistic about his methods. And speaking of Method, Geraldine Brooks gives a high-powered Actor’s Studio performance as a lush who takes a liking to the cop, a twitchy, occasionally startling turn for a character doomed to end badly. Lots of juvenile delinquents and hot rods; the Wild One moment comes with the question “What’s wrong?” and the answer “The whole world.” The cast includes Marilee Earle, who also starred in Berke’s The Lost Missile and Island Women, Joseph H. Lewis’s Terror in a Texas Town, and Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers and basically nothing else. The well-traveled Stephen Joyce makes his film debut and leans heavily on James Dean’s ghost; also debuting is Andra Martin, soon to be immortalized in The Thing That Couldn’t Die. Overall, not exactly great, but there are some inventive shots, including a dangerous-looking stunt with an out-of-control hot rod.

Movie Diary 4/18/2021

Two more from the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival.

Love and Fury (Sterlin Harjo, 2021). The talented Native American filmmaker takes a documentary look at a group of Native artists, from a variety of disciplines. The movie doesn’t just rely on the sense of discovery, but brings an unusual amount of intimacy to its encounters with the artists, and it barrels along at just the right speed. Main drawback: The tendency of some artists to talk too much academy-speak instead of letting the art do its own talking.

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (Ana Katz, 2021). A droll, mysterious item from Argentina, about a young man whose life, over the course of a few years, includes the loss of a dog, the finding of a wife and child, and the arrival of a mysterious pandemic that occupies the air above the level of four feet. It’s in black and white, doesn’t bother to explain itself, and clocks in at 73 minutes. This movie has something going for it, something ultimately charming.

The Friday 4/16/2021

Poitier/Belafonte

Skipping a week on my contribution to the Scarecrow blog. Instead:

I am hosting a radio show. That’s right, not a podcast, a radio show. Produced by Voice of Vashon, it’s called “The Music and the Movies,” a weekly emanation in which I look at different ways music has informed film. Each show stays online for two weeks after its initial Sunday-night (7 p.m. Pacific Time) broadcast. Right now you can listen to my latest episode, on music related to the films of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte; and the previous one, about Bernard Herrmann’s music for fantasy/sci-fi films. On Sunday, that one disappears, and we debut a show about this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Score.

Tomorrow, Saturday 4/17, join us online at 2 p.m. Pacific Time for Scarecrow Academy, where we wind up our ten-week semester on “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director.” We’ll discuss Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly this time. Go to Scarecrow Academy and sign up for the free Zoom session, and do it now. Meantime, I introduce the movie here:

I’ve got more vintage 80s reviews at my other website, What a Feeling!, specifically: Jeff Bleckner’s White Water Summer, with Kevin Bacon tormenting Sean Astin in a teen Deliverance; Alex Cox’s Walker, a punk true-story Western with Ed Harris as the Oliver North of his day; Simon Langton’s The Whistle Blower, with Michael Caine in a spy picture; David Leland’s Wish You Were Here, which introduced Emily Lloyd in a widely heralded performance; and Carl Reiner’s Summer School, starring Mark Harmon as a laid-back teacher.

Movie Diary 4/13/2021

More from the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival.

There Is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof, 2020). Last year’s winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Four stories, linked by the theme of what capital punishment does to people involved, often against their will (because of military assignments), with administering the process. Rasoulof’s immense patience in telling this quartet of tales is extremely effective, even if there are times when various withheld revelations begin to feel overbearing. Each story has a distinctive setting – mundane life in the city, inside a prison, two very different country houses – and along with measuring the damage of capital punishment, the film beautifully depicts these different levels of Iranian life. Along with Rasoulof’s social conscience, this too leaves a lasting impression. The director was sentenced to a year in prison shortly after winning the Berlinale; this year he was on the jury for the festival.

Movie Diary 4/12/2021

More from this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, happening now.

Summer of 85 (Francois Ozon, 2020). It has the form of a remembered summer romance, but you would expect Ozon to run variations on this, and he does. (At the same time, Ozon isn’t so interested in deconstructing the form that he can’t take time to linger over the nude bodies of his lead actors during their summer idyll.) Those variations are intriguing, and they have less to do with doomed romance and a death-obsessed hero than with what makes a writer come into existence. It’s based on a novel, and I wonder whether the book had the film’s more cinematic moments in it; a scene in which the protagonist listens to Rod Stewart’s lugubrious “Sailing” on headphones while the rest of a nightclub is bopping to something faster, for instance.

Slalom (Charlene Favier, 2020). The issue of sexual abuse in sports is dealt with sincerely and straightforwardly in this story of a rising skier (Noee Abita) preyed upon by her charismatic coach (Jeremie Renier). Well acted and psychologically credible, with a few striking images (the sight of coach and student sitting in a ski lift at night, looking at a wolf in the snow below) and a strong sense of something awful playing out in an incongruously gorgeous landscape.

Movie Diary 4/11/2021

I hope to be checking out things in the current Seattle International Film Festival this week, all happening virtually. So far:

The Pink Cloud (Iuli Gerbase, 2021). Brazilian movie about unexplained pink clouds that gather over a city, cause instant death, and drive the population indoors … for years. The movie must’ve seemed like a really original idea when written and shot – how could the filmmakers have known it would come true by the time the film came out? Watching it in the shadow of the pandemic provides an uncomfortable number of too-close-to-home moments, and if Gerbase – this is her first feature – doesn’t hit all the possibilities in the situation (you may find yourself asking, Why is this scene here, and not that scene?), she certainly knows how to set and sustain a mood. It’s also one of those “limited perspective” films that finds clever ways to work within its space – in this case, a roomy condo with ample views.

Mogul Mowgli (Bassam Tariq, 2020). A showcase here for Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the screenplay with the director. The actor plays a rising but no longer young rapper, stricken with a mysterious ailment on the verge of a big chance at opening for a major star during a European tour. I’m not sure how thoroughly the movie blends the character study with the cultural issues of Pakistani Muslims assimilating into British culture, as a lot of things get raised without being deeply explored. But Ahmed is a powerhouse, never less than nervy and arresting, and the film – like The Pink Cloud – finds an ending that is both suspended in mid-step but also somehow the right moment to finish on.

The Friday 4/9/2021

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

A SIFF “What I Want to See” article.

Tomorrow, Saturday 4/10, join us at 2 p.m. Pacific Time for a free Zoom session in Scarecrow Academy. Our “Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director” series continues with a discussion of Joseph Losey’s The Prowler, a flat-out amazing film from 1951. Go to the Academy page to register. Here, I speak of the film:

Have you listened to my new radio show yet? I am hosting the program “The Music and the Movies,” a look at how music and film come together, with a different theme each week. Episode #1 is about Burt Bacharach, and will disappear from the website at end-of-day Saturday, so listen now. Ep. #2 is about Bernard Herrmann’s fantasy and sci-fi films. Check back on Sunday for the new one, which considers music from the films of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I corral a few vintage 1980s reviews on: Prince’s Sign o’ the Times, his musical recovery from Under the Cherry Moon; Claude Berri’s Jean de Florette, a huge French smash starring Yves Montand and Gerard Depardieu; Jill Godmilow’s Waiting for the Moon, a consideration of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; Leonard Nimoy’s Three Men and a Baby, a gigantic box-office hit with the Selleck/Guttenberg/Danson juggernaut.

Movie Diary 4/6/2021

Slightly Scarlet (Allan Dwan, 1956). Daft in its storyline (the plot has many “Why is this happening now?” moments) and smooth in its mise-en-scene, this florid color noir is based on a James M. Cain novel. John Alton photographs the certifiably insane houses on display; the first time we see the home of the humble secretary (Rhonda Fleming) to a politician, we know the film takes place in a completely imaginative realm – and this is before we see “the beach house,” another garishly decorated and impossible-to-live-in space. Arlene Dahl is Fleming’s klepto-nympho sister, who wields a spear gun like a toy – good company in a movie like this – and John Payne is an ambitious “bright boy” gangster who steps into the void when mob boss Ted de Corsia has to leave town. When it’s violent, it’s quite violent. Those who think the Fifties were boring should watch.

Movie Diary 4/5/2021

Godzilla vs. Kong (Adam Wingard, 2021). Expected more from the director of The Guest, but too bad. There are some thrills in the physicality of the big monster fights, in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Ang Lee Hulk, but surely it would not have been that difficult to have constructed the humanoid sections of the movie with a little foundation. Got a chuckle out of Kyle Chandler telling his daughter, “That podcast is filling your head with garbage,” as the new “That rock and roll is rotting your brain,” and Brian Tyree Henry is a champ. It is amazing how a movie like this can make actors like Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgard vanish. I review it here.

The Friday 4/2/2021

Michelle Pfeiffer, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges: French Exit (Sony)

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

French Exit/Godzilla vs. Kong. “A gliding wackiness that never seems labored, but isn’t without gravity, either.”/ “It was disconcerting indeed to watch this one on a TV set, where its point is pretty much lost. I thought the previous Godzilla picture was pretty awful, but at least it was bigger than you.”

And hey, join us for Scarecrow Academy on Saturday April 3 at 2 p.m. Pacific Time for another free Zoom meeting in “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director.” This week we’re talking about Gun Crazy, directed by Joseph H. Lewis, a delirious exercise in noir. I introduce the movie here:

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I line up five more vintage reviews from the 1980s: Henry Winkler’s Memories of Me, starring Billy Crystal and Alan King; Lezli-An Barrett’s Business as Usual, a feminist drama with Glenda Jackson – the only feature by its director; John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka, a big showcase for Shirley MacLaine; Jerry Belson’s Surrender, a stillborn comedy with Sally Field and Michael Caine; and Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me, a crime romance with Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers, and Lorraine Bracco.