Movie Diary 10/14/2019

Honey Boy (Alma Ha’rel, 2019). A film written by Shia LaBeouf, evidently about his life as a child actor (played by Noah Jupe) as recalled by a young adult (Lucas Hedges) going through rehab. LaBeouf plays the boy’s hapless ex-con father, who makes a living by being the kid’s onset minder (after his own career as a rodeo clown was derailed by addiction and bad decisions). As a writer, LaBeouf has an extremely good ear for talk; as an actor, he presents an unsparing portrait, laced with remarkable sympathy. (full review 11/7)

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Movie Diary 10/13/2019

And Soon the Darkness (Robert Fuest, 1970). Two English girls bicycle through the French countryside, one (Michele Dotrice) disappears, the other (Pamela Franklin) tries to enlist Francophone help to find her. An extremely slow item that relies on character behaving in truly dumb ways to keep the story going. The revelations are telegraphed far in advance. The only slight surprise is how willing the film is to go all the way; it plays like a British public-service announcement about the dire consequences of traveling in Europe. The handful of flat, featureless locations take on a nightmare-like quality – or they would, if the movie would move along a little quicker. Fuest then got hired to direct the Dr. Phibes pictures, plus that crazy satan pic, The Devil’s Rain.

Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley, 2019). It makes its share of missteps, for sure, but Natalie Portman is strong and there’s a welcome willingness to be weird. Review here.

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993). The accumulation of details is impressive, as is the portrait of a man who talks a good game but fails to act much.

Gemini Sky (This Week’s Movies)

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Will Smith, Will Smith: Gemini Man (Paramount Pictures)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald, and etc.

Gemini Man. “There is a story underneath all this gimmickry, although Lee doesn’t seem terribly interested in it.”

Lucy in the Sky. “Another fine turn for a terrific actress, even if the film itself has a tendency to bump its tail on terra firma.”

Where’s My Roy Cohn? “Doesn’t generate much sympathy for the devil, but it does confirm that Cohn’s direct influence is still being felt today.”

Notes on Howard Hawks’s The Thing from Another World, which revives this week at Seattle’s Beacon, for the Scarecrow blog.

Movie Diary 10/8/2019

Gemini Man (Ang Lee, 2019). Lee’s new tech-advance is apparently shot in high-frame-rate, but we didn’t see it that way at the Seattle screening. So who knows? This is the one with Will Smith as himself and a younger version of himself, which at this point in our digital evolution has very little wonder to it. (full review 10/10)

Movie Diary 10/7/2019

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019). Two men on a rock in the ocean; black and white; Academy ratio; storms and booze. A daft exercise with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe completely invested in the craziness. (full review 11/1)

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Henry Hathaway, 1935). Very well-managed corn set among the British in India, featuring Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, and dewy Richard Cromwell. The photography by Charles Lang is almost as handsome as Coop, who engages in nonstop manly love with Tone’s teasing newcomer. One of those movies with vivid moments if you catch it in childhood, images that last a lifetime: a cobra getting snake-charmed, torture involving bamboo shoots under the fingernails – that kind of thing.

Joker for Life (This Week’s Movies)

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Joaquin Phoenix: Joker (Warner Bros)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald, and etc.

Joker. “A sour, incoherent jumble, redeemed only by Joaquin Phoenix’s astonishing performance in the central role.”

Chained for Life. “Pearson radiates personality and humor, and his presence lifts the movie into interesting territory. ”

So I’ve done a Lazarus act on my Eighties movies website, What a Feeling!, and begun publishing vintage reviews there again. What’s a six-year layoff among friends? This week I looked back at what I thought about Lyndall Hobbs’ Back to the Beach, Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice, for starters.

For the Scarecrow Video blog, I look back at a couple of projects by Takashi Miike, whose new film First Love opens this week. I have thoughts on Gozu and Miike’s suppressed Masters of Horror episode (read it here).

Movie Diary 10/2/2019

The Weight of Water (Michael Brown, 2018). Documentary portrait of Erik Weihenmayer, the blind adventurer and activist whose past exploits include climbing Mount Everest. In this outing, Weihenmayer takes up kayaking and ventures into the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon, which seems like a level of terror considerably advanced beyond even the challenges of Everest. The process we see is fascinating: Weihenmayer’s helmet is wired with microphone and headphones, so he can get directions from his team as he navigates the rapids. The movie’s full of hi-tech crispness, with tiny ultra-sharp cameras placed all around the kayaks and kayakers, a You Are There accomplishment that plunges us right into the experience. But for all the visceral thrills of that kind of adventure moviemaking, the film’s best aspect is one of the oldest in cinema: the close-up. At times (invariably just after somebody has muttered something about how gnarly the next set of rapids is going to be), director Brown allows his camera an intimate look at Weihenmayer, whose anxiety and sometimes remarkably open fear is written across his face. (One almost wants to say you can read his emotions “in his eyes,” even though that may not literally be accurate here.) Brown had directed Weihenmayer in a feature-length account of the Everest trip, Farther Than the Eye Can See (2003), which presumably has something to do with the amount of trust evident between filmmaker and subject.

The Weight of Water is cannily arranged around the journey, so that we’re already on the water before it’s five minutes old; we catch up on Weihenmayer’s life story via flashbacks as we move along. There’s even useful comic relief, in the form of a second blind kayaker (yes, this is becoming a thing), a rowdier fellow named Lonnie Bedwell, who provides a good counterpoint to Weihenmayer’s more reflective personality and also lets in some bro-bonding along the way.

At one eerie moment, in the middle of a nasty piece of water, Brown allows the screen to go black for a few moments, as we experience only the roar of the elements in a fraction of the way Weihenmayer must have experienced them. The panic you feel may be your own. (Screened at Port Townsend Film Festival.)