The Friday 5/27/2022

Ray Liotta: Narc

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week and etc.

Ray Liotta interview, 2003.

I have a new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” which will be archived online for another 10 days or so. This one’s about music from movies involving cats – and cat people, cat burglars, and supervillains who dress up like cats. Listen to it at the Voice of Vashon M&M page (or, if you’re looking at this in the future, see what’s currently on tap).

Movie Diary 5/25/2022

Part 2 of my listing of movies I’ve watched for a jury at this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival, without critical comment.

Leon’s Fantasy Cut (Josh Caras, Jonathan Valde, 2021, USA). Brothers (played by the co-directors), Ukrainian-Americans in Brooklyn, are failing at their various schemes of success.

Signs of Love (Clarence Fuller, 2022, USA). Crisscrossing some mean streets in Philly, a sad-sack drug dealer (Hopper Jack Penn) tries to keep it together as responsibilities toward a nephew and a new girlfriend suggest ways of growing up.

Stag (Alexandra Spieth, 2022, USA). A bachelorette party goes seriously awry when the bride’s estranged friend shows up, although much weirder things are going to unfold at at the remote setting.

Wake Up, Leonard (Kat Mills Martin, 2021, USA). One day in the life of an aspiring actor (Nigel DeFriez) in L.A. as he thinks the universe frowns, then smiles, then frowns at him again.

Welcome, Violeta! (Fernando Fraiha, 2021, Brazil). At a writers’ retreat, set at an Andean lake compound, the cultlike atmosphere begins to gnaw at one promising attendee.

Movie Diary 5/24/2022

I’m on a jury for the Brooklyn Film Festival again this year, watching 12 competition movies; as in previous years, I thought I’d list them without making evaluative comments here (the festival begins on June 3, and we haven’t voted yet).

Balloon Animal (Em Johnson, 2021, USA). A coming-of-age tale for a circus performer, a young woman whose father runs the circus. Is there life after being a magician’s assistant and a purveyor of balloon animals?

Dreamlife (Melvin Moti, 2020, Netherlands). A man submits to a sensory-deprivation experience deep in a cave, a situation that allows the movie to utilize a battery of disorienting effects.

Learn to Swim (Thyone Tommy, 2021, Canada). A Toronto jazz musician navigates various difficulties in a non-linear portrait that plays with surrealism.

Pour l’amour (Andrzej Mańkowski, 2021, Poland). A woman in an unhappy marriage with a drunken husband finds little help from the local clergyman – but the internet offers an escape, of sorts.

Ragged Heart (Evan McNary, 2021, USA). In the music scene of Athens, GA, a promising young singer dies, leaving her burned-out father and others to what to do with their loss – and the song she left behind.

Shambala (Artykpai Suyundukov, 2021, Kyrgyzstan). The vagaries of a fatherless childhood, in this case set in the midst of a stunningly beautiful foresty countryside.

Movie Diary 5/23/2022

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Tom Gormican, 2022). Very easy to enjoy the B-movie Adaptation vibe coming through here, and it’s generous of Nicolas Cage, in a movie where he plays himself, to allow Pedro Pascal to steal scenes from him. Cage sends up the dark-night-of-the-soul moments very skillfully (his monologue about renouncing acting is aces), and any movie that leads off with a Joseph L. Mankiewicz reference – the kids should love that one – is doing all right. Watching this for an upcoming talk about Mr. Cage, details to come.

Movie Diary 5/22/2022

Prisoners of the Ghostland (Sion Sono, 2021). Prepping for something to do about Nicolas Cage, which will be revealed soon. This zany outing will have its place in a discussion about Cage’s recent wilderness years, because whether the film is your cup of magic-mushroom tea or not, it has its own oddball integrity.

The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983). For what it looked like in ’83, see my review. Also, a re-visit establishes that David Clennon was the first person to say “push the envelope” in a movie.

The Friday 5/20/2022

Fred Ward

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

Fred Ward: Uforia/Management/Farewell.

I have a new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” this week. In this hour we look at music in film specifically calculated to keep you in…suspense. Some Benny Herrmann, of course, but I also hope to surprise you with a favorite-but-obscure Jerry Goldsmith score. Check it at the Voice of Vashon site, along with whatever else might be up at the moment (the episodes vanish after two weeks online).

I was on a jury at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in Dubuque, Iowa, in April. Here’s a festival report from that, considering a few documentaries at JDIFF.

Movie Diary 5/16/2022

Secretul lui Zorillo (Robert Eugen Popa, 2022). From Romania, a comedy set during the Roman occupation, when three bumbling idiots get involved in a plot to impersonate the visiting Emperor Hadrian. The slapstick that ensues is laced with many breakings of the Fourth Wall (asked to justify a story point, one character explains that “that’s what it said in the script”) and product placement is cheerfully offered, whether or not it violates the era. Actually, there are smart phones and rockets in this ancient land, leading to the conclusion that the film is not so much interested in involving us in the zany slapstick of its narrative, but in opportunities for satirical social-comment zingers (which inevitably have more to do with present-day Romania than with ancient Dacia). The whole thing has a tumbling momentum that suits the tone, buoyed by the delightfully played trio of schemers, who would not be out of place in the busy Roman circus of Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or a Monty Python sketch.

Movie Diary 5/15/2022

Moontide (Archie Mayo, 1942). Arty Fox project (begun by Fritz Lang) with Jean Gabin as a sailor who fetches up at a little floating bait shack in California, with Ida Lupino as a despondent girl he saves from suicide one night in the surf. Incredible set, built in a water tank. The film has a very attractive sense of a little community of disparate people coming together, including Claude Rains’ philosopher (his name is Nutsy) and Jerome Cowan’s wealthy boat owner, who can learn a thing or two from poor people. Chester Gan plays the owner of the bait shack, and he leans on the comical Chinese for sure, but Victor Sen Yung plays his son as an agreeable slang-slinging youth of today, complete with Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. The outlier is Thomas Mitchell as Gabin’s old friend, a cruel type whose personality appears to stem from his unrequited crush on his pal (Mitchell’s idea of fun is slapping Nutsy with a wet towel in the shower). Gabin doesn’t sound too comfortable in English, but his physical presence and facial expressions are choice. The film also has Thomas Mitchell turning down a drink not once but twice, which feels like a violation of what we expect from our character actors.

Out of the Fog (Anatole Litvak, 1941). Based on an Irwin Shaw play, with lots of gentle lefty sentiments strewn along the way (which fits it neatly into the mode of a Warners picture). On the Brooklyn waterfront, minor thug John Garfield presses two modest fisherman (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) for protection money, and sweeps Mitchell’s daughter (Ida Lupino), who dreams of romantic things, off her feet. Garfield is like a wind-up monkey, all swagger and plastic grin, clearly representing not so much the gangster ethos as capitalism itself – he’s got his bankbook neatly laid out, his “it’s just business” spiel in place.

The Friday 5/13/2022

Anamaria Vartolomei: Happening (IFC Films)

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

Happening. “There’s nothing cautionary about this brutal, deeply empathetic movie; it is a horror film rooted in everyday reality.”

No new episode of my radio show “The Music and the Movies” this week, but we have a repeat of one of my favorites, a look at how the accordion figures in movie soundtracks.

Movie Diary 5/11/2022

Happening (Audrey Diwan, 2021). France in the early 1960s: Abortion is outlawed, and a student is pregnant. I’ll review this tomorrow, and try to talk about more than just its astonishing timeliness.

The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1969). This impressionistic film was restored a few years ago in an incredibly sharp, vivid rendition – an absolute wow. I wish I’d seen in on its first release – it’s timeless, for sure, but also stylistically of its time.

The Thirteenth Chair (Tod Browning, 1929). Early-sound adaptation of a whodunit stage play. Creaky, weird as hell, but interesting to watch, not least because Bela Lugosi plays an inspector who comes in and really galvanizes the action. Lugosi unleashes some very practiced, athletic gestures, and his voice is commanding, even if he wrestles with the accent – at one point he declares, “My words are perfectly plain!” and you have to grin a little.