Movie Diary 7/1/2020

The Truth (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2019). This European production from Kore-eda seems to have gotten a somewhat lukewarm reception on the festival circuit, but I don’t know why. Catherine Deneuve plays a grande dame of cinema, tolerating a visit from daughter and son-in-law (Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke) while acting in a sci-fi movie and publishing a memoir that leaves out a great deal of la vérité. The change in locale doesn’t appear to have thrown the director one bit. (full review 7/3)

Movie Diary 6/30/2020

Macbeth (Orson Welles, 1948). Even within the limited budget, there are many exciting moments in Welles’ grimy, studio-bound version of the play. The long take on the night of Duncan’s murder is fascinating to watch, not just for the technical bravura but for its neck-bending sense of disaster unfolding at dangerous angles. I can’t say this is one of Welles’ better performances, but his willingness to portray weak, overwhelmed characters is total.

Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971). The blu-ray is an eye-filling experience, from the dazzling opening shot on a beach to the final misty eternal-return ending. When it came out, people talked about how blood-soaked it was, but at least as notable is how Polanski tracks the play’s many references to time of day and season, catching the way day is always sliding into night or how dawn can fill a room with red light. Lots of eerie enchantments on display, not just with eyeless witches and the like but also the way thousands of soldiers suddenly manifest themselves on a distant hillside. Jon Finch and Francesca Annis somehow seem to recede from the action (although her spaciness is interesting), which fits the vision of the Macbeths as a rather pathetic pair of second-rate strivers.

Movie Diary 6/29/2020

comewanderwithme“Come Wander with Me,” The Twilight Zone (Richard Donner, 1964). The final TZ episode filmed (though not the last broadcast), with Gary Crosby, son of Der Bingle, as an opportunistic rockabilly singer visiting the backwoods to steal local songs. I’ve always had the impression that it’s not considered a great installment in the series, but I hadn’t actually watched it in a long time. So it turns out to be intriguing and atmospheric, and even Crosby, a generally annoying presence, is well-cast here and certainly no stiff. Also, allow me to blow your mind: I propose that “Come Wander with Me” found its way into the imagination of the Coen brothers, and sits somewhere in the mulch of Inside Llewyn Davis, with its folk-music backdrop and the inclusion of an eternal-return scenario. Crosby’s character, gifted with the awesome name Floyd Burley – a Coen moniker if ever I heard one – is constantly being told he’s been through this storyline before, always with the same outcome, which he could apparently change if he would only make a different choice along the way. Surprisingly, the show does not end with Burley’s story starting over, although one expects that to happen. “If it was never new, and it never gets old, it’s a folk song,” as Llewyn Davis has it. The spooky woodland lass who sings a haunting song is played by Bonnie Beecher, who married Wavy Gravy the next year and drifted out of acting. There’s also a cranky-geezer role for Hank Patterson, of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres renown. Writer Anthony Wilson had a long and fruitful career – he wrote the first episode of The Invaders and created the series Cade’s County and Banacek, both worthy star vehicles. He died at 51, but lives on in some time loop, or at least in the twilight zone.

Movie Diary 6/28/2020

fearmakersTraipsing through some low-budget quasi-noir over the weekend.

The Fearmakers (Jacques Tourneur, 1958). Dana Andrews comes home from a Korean War prison camp intending to resume his career as a public-relations man in D.C., only to find his business sold out and the new boss (Dick Foran, quintessential gray-flannel-suit operator) involved in crooked political lobbying. There’s a Red Scare bent to the plot, but if you remove that detail, the film is prescient on the issue of money and influence. In the opening sequences, it looks as though the movie is going to play with the possibility of Andrews being brainwashed – the term keeps coming up – but it doesn’t really go there. Some very, very odd scenes along the way, like Andrews’ stay at a boardinghouse run by fellow travelers. Leading lady Marilee Earle made a half-dozen films in two years and then bowed out. There’s a supporting role for Mel Torme, who does some amusing nerdy shtick while wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses. This was a year after Tourneur and Andrews did Night of the Demon, and this doesn’t rise to that level, but it has a level of pain that is unusual for a B-picture. Andrews looks pretty rough, but this adds to the character’s blown-out exhaustion – his preferred breakfast is a cigarette and coffee.

Time Table (Mark Stevens, 1956). An elaborate robbery on a train, with an insurance investigator (Stevens) tracking down clues. The twists are decent and Stevens makes for a dogged protagonist. The low-rent edges are visible, and the acting uneven; when Jack Klugman and John Marley come along in small roles, they really pick up the slack. Marianne Stewart has a forlorn, sad quality as Stevens’ wife; Felicia Farr, the future Mrs. Jack Lemmon, plays a sultry robber. There’s some good language (“do the Dutch” means commit suicide) and room for odd touches, like Stevens ordering a drink for a Mexican prostitute and then pouring the shot out on the bar. An interesting movie, catching some ’50s frustration in its genre gears.

Deadly Duo (Reginald LeBorg, 1962). Down-on-his-luck lawyer Craig Hill (not a good actor) goes to Acapulco at the behest of a wealthy tycoon (Irene Tedrow) to entice her widowed daughter-in-law (Marcia Henderson) to give up custody of a child. What makes it watchable is the widow’s twin sister, a floozy with a calculating slickster husband (Robert Lowery) of distinct sociopathic tendencies. In explaining her nasty behavior, the twin says, “I told you how much money meant to me,” which is admirably up-front.

 

The Friday (6/26/2020)

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Steve Carell: Irresistible (Focus Features)

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

Irresistible. “The political landscape has tilted, and the world calls for a different kind of satire—as though anything could keep up with reality, of course.”

The Seattle-film-oriented blog Parallax View today launches an ambitious project to look back at the films of the year 2000. It’s called 2000 Eyes, and will revive pieces from that year written by a group of Seattle film writers. We kick off today with my takes on Traffic and (but of course) Vertical Limit, Sean Axmaker on In the Mood for Love, and Richard T. Jameson on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Check that out here, and scroll down to read RTJ’s introduction to the project.

More 1980s reviews at What a Feeling!, my Eighties website. This week we’ve got vintage reviews of David Nutter’s Cease Fire, a forgotten film about a Vietnam vet (Don Johnson) returning to society; Blake Edwards’ Blind Date, which gave Bruce Willis his first movie leading-man role; Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, with zombies and Bill Pullman; the late Joel Schumacher’s Cousins, a remake of Cousin, Cousine; and Louis Malle’s Crackers, a tepid caper picture notable for an eccentric Sean Penn performance.

Movie Diary 6/24/2020

7500 (Patrick Vollrath, 2019). Skyjacking, seen entirely from the inside of the cockpit, where the co-pilot (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is forced to deal with the spiraling situation. It’s an exercise in limited-perspective suspense, and well-executed even if there are a few “Why didn’t he just do …” moments. A really interesting use of the video monitor that shows the outside of the impregnable cockpit, a monochrome screen that has a Rear Window-like effect. The director, a German, makes his feature debut here; a previous short was Oscar-nominated.

Movie Diary 6/23/2020

Irresistible (Jon Stewart, 2020). Big-time Democratic strategist (Steve Carell) goes to small-town Wisconsin to meddle in a mayoral race he thinks might have national implications. Stewart gives you just about what you’d expect here; you kind wish he might go a little more off-brand, as it were. Chris Cooper and Mackenzie Davis add value as father and daughter swept into the circus. (full review 6/26)

Too Funny to Fail (Josh Greenbaum, 2017). Documentary about Dana Carvey’s very short-lived variety show in 1996, a famously offensive debacle that horrified ABC, which put it on after Home Improvement. (You might recall the very first sketch: Carvey’s Bill Clinton genetically altered to begin lactating, suckled by babies and dogs.) The staff on the show included Steven Colbert, Steve Carell, SNL stalwart Robert Smigel, Louis C.K. (I still have no idea why everybody thinks this guy is a comic genius), and, somehow, Charlie Kaufman, who is not interviewed for the movie. The documentary has some very entertaining showbiz stuff, and will fill you in a little on whatever became of Carvey – whose briefly-heard Trump imitation is, not surprisingly, aces.

 

Movie Diary 6/22/2020

The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947). The movie partakes of various conventions of film noir – fistfights in dark places, courtroom scenes, moonlight embraces – but also seems to satirize them, as it cranks up the funhouse style. It is probably also about the movie business, with Rita Hayworth as Exhibit A; somehow her Elsa, a perfectly plastic product of the system, comes across as a victim in this scenario, even though she is a perpetrator. A movie like this exposes the bogusness of, say, Gilda, one of the era’s factory-made hits.

Movie Diary 6/21/2020

Border (Ali Abbasi, 2018). A couple of very strange-looking individuals find each other, but you know things are not as they seem, even though things already seem pretty far out. What’s memorable about this film is not just the various revelations that come along, but the palpable connection, or attempted connection, between our heroine (Eva Melander) and the natural world. She also works as a customs guard at a ferry terminal, where her animal talent for sniffing out contraband makes her a prized employee – an ingenious idea for a one-of-a-kind movie.

Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (Riccardo Freda/Mario Bava, 1959). The monster first bothered the Mayans 1300 years ago, and now stirs again. There are definitely some cool shots here, especially in the opening sequence, where you can discern Bava’s eye for grabby design, and the movie overall is pretty spirited. The female leads, Didi Sullivan and Daniela Rocca (from Divorce, Italian Style), are used mostly as decoration, but they would have been more fun in the lead roles than their male counterparts. The creatures are blobby, and can somehow burn the flesh off the bone.

The Friday (6/19/2020)

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Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace: Babyteeth (IFC Films)

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

Babyteeth. “A night Milla spends in Moses’ world morphs into a visit to a party, which on the one hand is a director’s opportunity to say ‘Look at what I can do with image and sound’ (the answer: quite a lot), but also a wonderful evocation of one of those youthful nights that just take off in their own ecstatic trajectory and become both ordinary and singular.”

Some of my writing about the films of the late Lynn Shelton is collected at Parallax View, a Seattle-based film website that is about to be rejuvenated. Give a look there, including this 2008 review of Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance.

Five new posts this week at What a Feeling!, my repository of 80s movie reviews. Take a look back at vintage reviews of: Nathaniel Gutman’s Deadline, a forgotten look at war-torn Beirut starring Christopher Walken; Glenn Gordon Caron’s Clean and Sober, with Michael Keaton in one of the period’s AA pictures; Anne Wheeler’s Bye Bye Blues, a Canadian film that copped an award at the Seattle International Film Festival; Michael Winner’s A Chorus of Disapproval, a muffed adaptation of an Alan Ayckbourn play with Anthony Hopkins and Jeremy Irons; and Tom McLoughlin’s Date with an Angel, a Splash variation with Emmanuelle Beart in the title role.