Funny Soul Loop (Weekly Links)

Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week.


Soul Power: Miriam Makeba

Funny People. “Can’t be accused of committee thinking.”

Soul Power. “Great, sweltering stuff.”

In the Loop. “Profanity into an art form.”

Shrink. “There’s something vain about letting yourself look this bad.”

Movie Diary 7/30/2009

Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009). Spending the warmest part of the late afternoon/early evening in super-air-conditioned Pacific Place sounded like a good idea, so I went back to give this another look. On second viewing the film has more of a compulsive flow, and it really does kick into shape in the second half. But my original reservations still stand. All kinds of cool scenes and moments, and the hot-vid look of that whip-moving Wisconsin farm shootout is like nothing else. But I don’t know what the unifying idea of the movie is; I don’t know what it thinks about its main characters, except for the vague idea that maybe there shouldn’t be a federal Bureau of Investigation because J. Edgar Hoover was a public-relations twit. Also: Depp’s performance seems wrong – he goes low and smooth when the character’s high-flying, fast-living philosophy suggests a nervier personality (but James Cagney isn’t around anymore). Depp lays back instead of bringing the appetite.

Shrink (Jonas Pate, 2009). Crossing lives, in the Biz and out of it, with Kevin Spacey as a psychiatrist in L.A. It doesn’t really work, but a bunch of decent people are in it, providing a reminder that Dallas Roberts keeps threatening to break out and including a good role for Jack Huston, latest in the family dynasty that goes back to Walter. (full review 7/31)

Movie Diary 7/29/2009

Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009). Yes, it was 102 degrees today. This is not what I meant at all. Plenty of security people to “wand” moviegoers as we filed into the theater and to peep through infrared goggles at the audience during the film, but not enough manpower to fix the air conditioning, although it worked fine in the other rooms of the theater. (And what an audience – it really is something to see a film in 2009 with a group that apparently has not seen a movie before.) This screws up the whole beautiful plan of how an evening like this could roll out (see previous posting). This will not do. As for the movie, when it is not about Julia Child, it is about how awesome it is to be a blogger. (full review 8/7)

Movie Diary 7/28/2009

Funny People (Judd Apatow, 2009). Thank god publicists make press come at least 45 minutes early to screenings; thank god Apatow makes long movies; thank god this one was in a new theater with well-running air conditioning. They say tomorrow is going to be 101 degrees, which it has never been before in the recorded history of meteorology in Seattle. We are not built for 101 degrees, people. I would very much like to see a ten-hour Hungarian film at Pacific Place starting at noon tomorrow. I would like ten hours of anything at Pacific Place tomorrow. But thank you, Judd Apatow.

Movie Diary 7/27/2009

The Long Night (Anatole Litvak, 1947). Hollywood remake of Le jour se leve, with a few all-grown-up situations and good performances by Henry Fonda and Ann Dvorak. Just by coincidence, also watched a film by the director of Le jour. Port of Shadows (Marcel Carne, 1938): Heavily stylized noir mood, lotsa fatalism and gestures, easy on the eyes.

Herb and Dorothy (Megumi Sasaki, 2008). This plays for three days only at the Northwest Film Forum this weekend, but well worth a look. The Vogels accrued an enormous collection of contemporary art thanks to a good eye and great passion for the subject; they were aided by their vast personal fortune (Herb was a postal worker; Dorothy a librarian). Kidding about the money: this is a nice lesson in not needing the big bucks to put something good on the wall. The film affords a close look at many of the Vogels’ now-pricey artworks, as well as their modest, cramped New York apartment.

1992 Ten Best Movies

unforgiven2It was still possible to say “The Western is back” in 1992, when Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven became one of those periodic consensus Best Picture Oscar winners and a solid box-office success. Dances with Wolves had scored the Oscar two years earlier and Lonseome Dove had been a TV smash, prompting the same kind of hopeful comments. But these were isolated, high-profile events, not a return of a once-ubiquitous genre, and nobody thinks the Western is coming back any time soon except as a one-off, a star vehicle, or a new angle.

Which makes Unforgiven seem even more like a summing-up now than it did then. That moment when Eastwood’s character, a professional gunman named William Munny, stands under a lone tree and speaks the words that describe what really happens in the slaughter that fuels so many action films (“It’s a hell of a thing, killing’ a man – take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have”) is the quiet Bodhi-tree revelation toward which an entire huge section of film history has been moving.

The ten best of 1992:

1. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood)

2. The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch)

3. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)

4. The Best Intentions (Billie August)

5. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann)

6. The Player (Robert Altman)

7. Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrmann)

8. The Visitor (Satyajit Ray)

9. Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambety)

10. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino) and Hard-Boiled (John Woo)

That last slot might suggest a contradiction of Unforgiven‘s sober account of the price of violence, but…movies live where they live. They even live in low-budget, 60-minute forms, such as The Hours and Times, Munch’s brilliant, generous speculation about a vacation spent by John Lennon and Brian Epstein in Spain. Neil Jordan and Michael Mann each had one of those okay-this-is-where-I-put-it-all-together moments, while Altman’s film is casual and impertinent as it says, “Comeback? What comeback? You people haven’t been paying attention.”

The Best Intentions is a magnificent Ingmar Bergman script that I think is underrated as a film achievement, a devastating portrait of his parents’ “life-fiasco” of a marriage. The Visitor (also called The Stranger) is Satyajit Ray’s final film, and it comes on quietly, with no fuss, just the plainness of an artist who isn’t trying to impress anybody anymore. No so Hyenas: this is a brazen, wickedly funny, politically charged film that transfers the storyline of Durenmatt’s The Visit to an African village. Senegalese filmmaker Mambety completed only two more short films (one of which, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun, is superb) before his death at 53 in 1998 – a huge loss for African cinema.

Lots of interesting movies in the also-rans, including slim but potent things from Kaurismaki (The Match Factory Girl) and Kiarostami (And Life Goes On), plus the Merchant Ivory crew nailing Howards End.

Next week: 1935.

Movie Diary 7/25/2009

hiskindHis Kind of Woman (John Farrow, 1951). Prime Mitchum in a mad story, which for the first hour at least pokes around like Waiting for Godot at a Mexican resort, except in this case Godot is Raymond Burr. Already weird, the movie goes off its hinges in the late going, thanks to re-shoots ordered and supervised by producer Howard Hughes; the ping-ponging between light comedy (Vincent Price as a ham actor quoting Shakespeare) and sadism (Mitchum getting belt-flogged) is head-scratching. Jane Russell and Mitchum look like they’re in on a secret.

Hindle Wakes (Maurice Elvey, 1927). An enlightened stage drama from 1912 expanded out into a pretty wonderful movie, with lots of location shooting in the boardwalk atmosphere of Blackpool (including great stuff inside a huge dance hall). The melodrama of the plot’s midsection gives way to a remarkable conclusion that wipes away the usual conventions.

The Orphan Truth (Weekly Links)


A really, really bad seed.

Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week.

Orphan. “A single-minded bad seed.”

The Ugly Truth. “Brings in the raunch.”

The Girl from Monaco. “Two different movies wrestling around inside the same sack.”

Lake Tahoe. “Laid-back and summery.”

The Country Teacher. “Even talented filmmakers can stumble across trite situations.”

The Windmill Movie. “A tortuous if admittedly fascinating look at a tortured soul.”

Movie Diary 7/23/2009

The Ugly Truth (Robert Luketic, 2009). There must be a new way to do this. Making it Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl is a start, and setting it in Sacramento is surely a stab at something. Some skillful screenwriting, too – but still, no new way to do this. (full review 7/24)

Movie Diary 7/21/2009

Orphan (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009). A creepy-kid movie that doesn’t hold anything back on the horror, with Vera Farmiga once again excellent as a mother unnerved by the little one (but Joshua was a much better movie). (full review 7/24)

The Country Doctor (Bohdan Slama, 2008). Even if the material is somewhat shopworn (in this case, a tale of a Prague schoolteacher who retreats to the country to sort out his homosexuality – a story that seems to belong in a European film of, say, 1971), there’s something about Czech filmmakers that apparently gives them a birthright to supple camera movement and graceful narrative flow. (full review 7/24)