Stalin Raider (This Week’s Movies)


Alicia Vikander: Tomb Raider (courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Links to my reviews pubished in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Tomb Raider. “Vikander holds it together. She’s too good an actress for a film this inane, but Tomb Raider definitely benefits from her presence.”

The Death of Stalin. “Comes close to perfectly balancing comedy and savagery.” (Herald link here.)


Movie Diary 3/14/2018

Unforgiven (Sang-il Lee, 2013). A Japanese remake of the Clint Eastwood film, staying close in some ways to the original but also veering off in some intriguing ways (including an ending that creates an arguably more stirring resolution). Ken Watanabe plays the Eastwood role, with appropriate restraint – obviously, the “retired samurai” idea substitutes for former gunfighter. The cast is strong all around, with Koichi Sato a standout in the Gene Hackman part – although they don’t give his character anything like the retirement house Hackman is building, alas. Great sense of place, especially an opening sequence that “does snow” like few movies are able to do snow. Was this ever released in the U.S.?

Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug, 2018). It helps to have a leading lady who is just a tad more down-to-earth than Angelina Jolie, and Alicia Vikander is that. As action flicks go, the nonsense factor  is high, but the enthusiasm for well-shot cliffhangers is admirable. (full review 3/16)

Movie Diary 3/12/2018

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017). The funnies surrounding the aftermath of the leader’s demise, a full-on, quick-slashing satire that truly cuts. (full review 3/14)

Yield to the Night (J. Lee Thompson, 1956). British bombshell Diana Dors in a de-glamorized role as a death-row inmate recalling the events leading up to her crime. Surprisingly, the movie spends more time in prison than on the flashbacks, focusing on the cruel minutiae of waiting for a possible reprieve. Dors is quite good, as is Yvonne Mitchell as a sympathetic prison matron. Evocatively photographed by Gilbert Taylor, who would knock off Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night, and Repulsion in the coming decade.

Gringo Submission (This Week’s Movies)


Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo: Gringo (courtesy Amazon Studios)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Gringo. “It’s got cynical zingers that presumably attracted the cool cast, but overall the many moving parts don’t quite mesh.”

Submission. “Acting is a precise craft but also a mysterious alchemy, and when you’ve gotten as good as Tucci has, a seamless performance like this can transform a so-so movie into a pleasure.” (Herald link here.)

Movie Diary 3/7/2018

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992). Well, there’s a good reason this is remembered as one of the better Best Picture Oscar winners. Eastwood conveys a strong sense of the film’s place in the mythology of the west, some of that contained through pure imagery – the early scene when Will Munny looks out at the horizon and sees the Schofield kid as a tiny image on the horizon, riding away, and you get that sense that Munny’s going to join him not so much for the money or the justice but for the need to be out there riding on the edge of the land.

Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton, 2017). An Australian Western, about an ill-treated aboriginal man (Hamilton Morris) on the run with his wife after a fatal encounter among the “whitefellas.” Very solid supporting work from Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, lending their iconic status in Down Under cinema, and lyrical moments combined with stunning landscapes. An intense movie – you feel it always knows exactly what it’s doing, even if there are no great surprises – and while it’s no Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, it achieves its purpose.

Movie Diary 3/6/2018

Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, 2018). Decent spy-movie doings, Jennifer Lawrence well cast (except as a ballerina in the early going, but we can accept that as a movie thing), and a handful of extremely welcome espionage players, including Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, and Charlotte Rampling. When Rampling, as the headmistress of a school where recruits are taught to seduce and sleep with targets, declares she prefers to be called “Matron,” your knees get a little shaky. Main problem is F. Lawrence is a designer more than a director, and the unseemly focus of this particular kind of spying can’t help but make the movie-watching experience pretty unseemly itself. (full review here.)

A Gunman Has Escaped (Richard M. Grey, 1948). British B-crime, very cheaply done, with robbery ringleader and incidental murderer John Harvey going on the lam with his skeptical collaborators. They end up doing chores on a farm, a peculiar choice of hide-out, and one of the robbers falls for the farmer’s daughter. Script by John Gilling; a pretty nonsensical plotline, but with quite a bit of violence.

Movie Diary 3/5/2018

Three Cases of Murder (David Eady, George More O’Farrell, Wendy Toye [and Orson Welles?], 1955). Are there Welles fans who have seen this very peculiar enterprise? It’s an omnibus film of three stories, with Welles in very large form in the final segment. The first is called “In the Picture” and has dandyish Alan Badel emerging from a mysterious painting in a museum – he is in fact the artist – and bringing a museum employee into the canvas, where an entire house exists in three dimensions (complete with objects pilfered from the galleries). It has a nice sinister wind-up, and Badel is glorious as the Oscar Wildean fop. Director Wendy Toye was a rare example of a women filmmaker in Britain at the time. The second segment, “You Killed Elizabeth,” is a solid twisty number about two men in love with the same woman (the extremely busy Elizabeth Sellars). Welles comes into the third piece, “Lord Mountdrago,” from a Somerset Maugham story; he plays a conservative lion of the British Parliament, whose contemptuous treatment of a Welsh colleague (Badel again) leads to a possible curse being laid on him. Welles’ character has bizarre, humilating nightmares and begins to doubt his sanity. It’s a chance for some comedy from OW, and there doesn’t seem to be much question – either from what you see on screen or from some testimonies about the production – that Welles directed or strongly guided some of the material. If this movie isn’t exactly Dead of Night, it’s awfully good.