Movie Diary 9/14/2021

More documentary watching for a critics-group committee.

The Lost Leonardo (Andreas Koefoed, 2021). Somebody discovered the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci a little more than a decade ago – or, more precisely, somebody identified a painting of that name as actually being by Leonardo, rather than a student or imitator. A few years later it sold at auction for $450 million, allegedly to Mohammed bin Salman – yes, that MBS. But is the piece actually a Leonardo, or is this a fantastic tale of art-world delusion/greed? We’ve got a heckuva story here, full of shifty personalities and good insider dirt.

Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James (Sacha Jenkins, 2021). A chronicle, from James’ early years as a Toronto bandmate of Neil Young to his late-coming success to his drug-addled dark time, and his eventual re-emergence as a Dave Chappelle punch line.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (Mariem Perez Riera, 2021). Approaching 90 as the documentary is being shot, Moreno reflects back on a life devoted to showbiz. A spritzy profile that pretty much hits the expected marks, with the insistent drumbeat of how Moreno’s career was held back by Hollywood stereotyping.

Movie Diary 9/12/2021

The People vs. Agent Orange (Alan Adelson, Kate Taverna, 2021); and Missing in Brooks County (Jeff Bemiss, Lisa Molomot, 2020). Still on a documentary committee. These are two lacerating features about infuriating policies, the first about the effects and after-effects of Agent Orange and its chemical components (not merely as used in Vietnam but also in Oregon), the second about people dying in the Texas deserts after crossing the Rio Grande. Both films have a steady, dogged pulse, presenting evidence and human stories to make the case. “If you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you,” someone says in the latter film about the “illegals” coming to America, a line that could be the mission statement of a certain kind of documentary film, of which these two are sterling examples.

The Friday 9/10/2021

This Is the End (see below)

Skipping my Seasoned Ticket column this week. But here’s some etc.:

At 8 pm on Tuesday night, Sep. 14, I’ll be presenting my Humanities Washington talk “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” via Zoom. Scarecrow Video is the host. We’ll look at end-of-the-world movies and kick around ideas about how they warned us about our response to the pandemic. The talk is free; just sign up via Scarecrow or Humanities Washington.

No new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, but check out the M&M page at Voice of Vashon for recent shows.

Two vintage reviews posted this week at my other blog, What a Feeling!, namely these 1980s titles: the Taviani brothers’ Kaos, a three-hour omnibus of Pirandello stories; and Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda, the hit comedy brainchild of the great John Cleese.

Movie Diary 9/6/2021

Watching documentaries for a committee. Are some of these embargoed? Don’t know. I shall try to be discreet.

Val (Ting Poo, Leo Scott, 2021). Portrait of Val Kilmer, made up of his own ridiculously extensive home movies, plus footage of him living his current cancer-affected life. To say that Kilmer is rather childlike is to understate it, which makes it all the more intriguing to wonder where his best performances came from. Now, can we see the feature-length doc made entirely of footage from The Island of Dr. Moreau, please?

The One and Only Dick Gregory (Andre Gaines, 2021). Good profile of the remarkable comedian-turned activist. The early-60s stuff is especially fine in reminding us of how Gregory had developed a public presence – smooth, confident, droll – that in itself spoke as loudly as his jokes.

My Name Is Pauli Murray (Julie Cohen, Betsy West, 2021). The life of a notable civil-rights figure, historically significant as “the first Black woman” to achieve a variety of notable accomplishments (even if, in her later years, she stubbornly clung to “Negro” as the hard-won descriptor of respect), newly of interest as someone whose gender identification would likely find fuller expression today. A very good person to know about.

Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman (Herb Stratford, 2021). Yet another bio, of the designer. It was that kind of weekend.

The Friday 9/3/2021

Mariana Di Girolamo: Ema (Music Box Films)

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

Ema. “It was refreshing to spend time with a movie that feels like it came from another era, one in which puzzling the audience was an acceptable gambit for moviemaking. “

I’ve got a new episode of my radio show “The Music and the Movies,” this one trotting along to Western movie theme songs. We run the gamut from High Noon to Blazing Saddles, and hear vocal stylings from Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Glen Campbell, and – Bob Mitchum?

The previous episodes, on 21st Century film composers who are not men, is still up, too. If these have vanished when you’re reading this in the future, check out the M&M page to see what’s current. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

Tuesday, September 14, at 8 p.m., I’ll be presenting a Zoom talk called “This Is the End: How Movie Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” through the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau program. The host is Scarecrow Video, and you can find more information here.

Two vintage 1980s reviews revived for my other website, What a Feeling!, this week, both directed by Bertrand Blier, both made up of beautifully-cast romantic triangles: My Best Friend’s Girl, a three-way with Isabelle Huppert, Thierry Lhermitte, and Coluche; and Too Beautiful for You, with Josiane Balasko, Carole Bouquet, and Gerard Depardieu.

Movie Diary 9/1/2021

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971). Culty folk horror with its share of effective scenes, and an overall approach of disconnected sensations. IMDb says that the project was originally conceived as separate stories, but were blended together at some point, and that’s what it feels like, all right – storylines are dropped, and the creepy kid coven doesn’t seem to come into the movie until well after it should be established. Evocatively photographed by Dick Bush, who would do Tommy and Sorcerer later in the decade. The opening bit, about a young man who brings his bride-to-be to his country manor, where she experiences Something Awful in the night, is like a good little M.R. James story unto itself.

Ema (Pablo Larrain). New one from a director who is piling up the credits this last dozen years: Tony Manero, No, Jackie, and the upcoming Spencer (the one with Kristen Stewart as Lady Di). Will review this one Friday.

Movie Diary 8/30/2021

Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997). As before, a solid movie, based on a fine sci-fi idea, if a little schematic. Curious about what went on with Niccol, whose films Anon and Good Kill were not well distributed (I have seen neither).

Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004). Still hits the marks.

Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973). I was surprised to learn, by searching through the Crop Duster, that I had watched this as recently as ten years ago. Had forgotten that completely, and I’m not sure if that says more about the movie or me. At that time, I said that the movie displays two of Lumet’s best attributes, his feel for NYC locations and for fresh, oddball actors. True enough, although it also displays his tendency to indulge actors so that scenes become very emotional very quickly, in ways that seem to serve the actors a little more than the characters.

The Friday 8/27/2021

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Candyman (Universal Pictures)

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

Candyman. “It reminds you how infrequently, even in horror, movies today are willing to take a main character and make him wildly unsympathetic.”

I have a new installment of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” up this week. Our subject this time is “21st Century Film Composers (Who Are Not Men),” a look at exciting film-scoring work from female and non-binary composers. Expect to hear stuff from Mica Levi (Under the Skin), Hildur Gudnadottir (Joker), Anna Meredith (Eighth Grade), and others.

The previous episode, on the great Miklos Rozsa, will be online for a few more days. And if these links are dead when you read this in the future, you can go to my page at Voice of Vashon and see what’s live.

Two vintage 1980s reviews posted at my other blog, What a Feeling!, this week: Michael Almereyda’s Twister, a wacky family cult thing with Harry Dean Stanton; and Jeff Kanew’s Troop Beverly Hills, another stab at making Shelley Long a movie star.

Movie Diary 8/25/2021

The Gunfighter (Henry King, 1950). Gregory Peck and a mustache, in an early so-called “adult” western. Plays out mostly in interiors, wonderfully photographed by Arthur Miller. It feels very much of its era now, which is interesting; this is a smart, lean chamber-piece, and the weariness it conveys is persuasive, even if there’s maybe something slightly academic and studied about the whole thing. Good supporting cast, including those young-buck assholes Skip Homeier and Richard Jaeckel.

Candyman (Nia DaCosta, 2021). Will review tomorrow.

Movie Diary 8/24/2021

Whale People: Protectors of the Sea (2018). A 13-minute multi-screen film that surrounds a 3,000-pound whale totem carved by members of the Lummi people, a traveling exhibit that currently sits outside the Vashon Heritage Museum. The film features striking shots of the ocean and of man’s environmental footprint. The killer whale features most prominently, gliding by hugely in a way that gives a whole new meaning to “immersive.” There is also something damned eerie about hearing tribal elders talk about the “blackfish” as the people who live beneath the surface of the water.

Arthur (Steve Gordon, 1981). Periodic re-see of a Horton household fave. One thing to appreciate: how completely “in the mode” Liza Minnelli is here – full of showbiz snap, and in the spirit of 30s-era screwball, but believable as the blue-collar gal that the story needs (or believable at least as far as we suspend disbelief for glamorous people in those kinds of genre parts – think Cher in Moonstruck, too).