Movie Diary 9/29/2010

Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010). Hmm, remaking a foreign arthouse film as a Hollywood arthouse film? Let’s see if the audience comes out for that. Can’t argue with the level of respect and gravity on display here, regardless. (full review 10/1)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen, 2010). You remember the time Allen fired the cast of a movie and shot it a second time with new people (September it was), not because the actors were bad but because it wasn’t working? I thought about that while watching this one. (full review 10/8)


Movie Diary 9/28/2010

Freakonomics (Seth Gordon et al., 2010). Different angles on the ideas offered in the big bestseller, and just about what you’d expect.

The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006). All right, I liked it more than the first time I saw it. Still bugged by some things. But it all folds into an upcoming talk on movies about the Victorian-era interest in the occult and the trickery behind it: details here.

Movie Diary 9/27/2010

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky, 1969). The Port Townsend Film Festival happened last weekend, and the special guest was Dyan Cannon; her tribute evening (yrs. truly acting as moderator) began with a screening of this movie. Gee, it holds up well. More about it later, perhaps. Cannon was an excellent guest, articulate and warm, and anyone hosting her for dinner should know that she really likes roasted eggplant.

Number One (Dyan Cannon, 1977). As an impromptu part of the PTFF, Cannon brought her Oscar-nominated short film (40 minutes long) to screen. It’s a pretty remarkable film about childhood – nobody could/would make it today because of its frankness – and its empathy for the kid-mindset (and the way adults have amnesia about childhood) is complete. If it had subtitles and had been made by a young French director instead of a Hollywood bombshell, it would probably have led to a substantial directing career. (Trivia: this was photographed by Frederick Elmes the same year he did Eraserhead.)

Obselidia (Diane Bell, 2010). And this was the winner of the festival’s Best Narrative Feature prize, an odd and mostly charming little thing about a man compiling an encyclopedia of the obsolete, and the woman who pursues him. The indie-quirk is kept to a tolerable ratio.

Cell 211 (Daniel Monzon, 2009). Gets into a few unlikely plot developments after its first hour, but this prison-riot picture keeps the screws turned reasonably well. (full review 10/1)

The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973). It was on TV during a lull, and I really hadn’t seen it since it came out. Some things are better left to fond adolescent memory. Scott Joplin rules.

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010). A film that takes the zeitgeist by the very neck and writes the story of our time large across the epoch….nah, it’s just an entertaining movie. (full review 10/1)

Sicilian Catfish Never Sleeps (Weekly Links)

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. “Like listening to a slightly crazy person tell you about five different subjects.”

Catfish. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Jack Goes Boating. “People moving along and trying to get better.”

Heartbreaker. “Works a cheat on the audience.”

The Sicilian Girl. “Crude can be effective.”

Bran Nue Dae. “Broad and silly and painted in eye-blinding colors.”

And on KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about whether satire ever changes the world, looking ahead to the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally. Listen here; the movie bit kicks in at 16 minutes in.

And a quick appearance on the Seattle Channel’s “Art Zone in Studio” with Nancy Guppy. That’s tonight at 8.

Movie Diary 9/21/2010

Waiting for “Superman” (Davis Guggenheim, 2010). Documentary about the state of education today, with some strongly-worded arguments from people you’ve probably seen on “60 Minutes” and elsewhere, such as Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee. It also follows a handful of kids trying to navigate through the messed-up system, all of whom are banking on a lottery to get into a good school – you can guess how the movie ends. (full review 10/1)

Movie Diary 9/27/2010

Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, 2010). Ryan Reynolds inside a wooden coffin, alone but for a cell phone. You had me at “the whole movie is set inside a coffin.” Somewhere Larry Cohen smiles approvingly. Even the opening credits are cool. (full review 10/1)

The Last of Sheila (Herbert Ross, 1973.) A larky script by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, enacted by some quintessential Seventies people in good form. A couple of the long, slow, talky denouement scenes look like something from a different century, in a good way.

The Anderson Tapes (Sidney Lumet, 1971). Lumet looks like he’s practicing for NYC movies to come; a heist movie with some rather sizable plot puzzlers.

Invaders from Mars (William Cameron Menzies, 1953). One’s memory dims how much stock footage and repeated scenes of “muTANTs” running through subterranean caverns there is in this picture, but the stuff that’s good is truly good, and memorable, with Menzies’ eye creating a convincingly nightmarish small town out of a few constricted sets.

The Sicilian Girl (Marco Amenta, 2009). A startling ending and an offbeat leading lady go quite a way toward lifting this TV-style exposé of a Mafia whistle-blower, based on a true story. (full review 9/24)

1946 Ten Best Movies

James Stewart, on the possibility of shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet.

I began giving over my Sunday mornings to this project in the first week of 2009, and now we’ve run out the string: ten-best lists for every year going back to 1919, beyond which I will need to do much more movie-watching to assemble something remotely respectable. After taking next Sunday off (the Port Townsend Film Festival looms, although “looms” isn’t quite the right word), I will begin writing Sunday Crop Duster entries on a “movie of the week,” the definition of which has yet to be, ah, defined.

The #1 for 1946 is a well-known picture that was once not well-known. When I began seeing It’s a Wonderful Life on late-night TV it was actually something of a cult movie, not having been re-discovered yet, which made it seem all the more unusual and unexpected and privileged: a cautionary note about the American Dream, despite the happy ending. Frank Capra’s fable is a painstakingly thorough and well-constructed picture (that newel post!) but almost seems out of his control at times. It’s a complicated movie, all about dreams and disappointments and seeing the here and now, and it shifts itself in interesting ways the older you get.

For the best of the rest, Hitchcock and John Ford merely contribute a couple of their finest pictures, and the Powell-Pressburger A Matter of Life and Death stands with the Capra film as a fantasy that uses a supernatural device to deliver a philosophical look at existence. Notorious is one of the most perfectly-realized movies ever made, but this time the riches of Capra and P&P rule the year. The ten best movies of 1946:

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)

2. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)

3. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)

4. My Darling Clementine (John Ford)

5. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)

6. The Stranger (Orson Welles)

7. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)

8. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)

9. Let There Be Light (John Huston)

10. The Murderers Are Among Us (Wolfgang Staude) and Paisa (Roberto Rossellini)

Let There Be Light is the war documentary, shot at a psychiatric hospital for returning WWII vets, that was banned for decades and is still difficult to see now. Shot to convey uplift about the success stories of soldiers getting treatment for psychological wounds, the film nevertheless gives an unflinching and unsettling look at the toll of combat (it is unforgettably narrated by Walter Huston: “Here are men who tremble…”). The Best Years of Our Lives also looks at returning veterans, and is one of those rare big Hollywood films that aims to capture its moment and succeeds.

The #10 slot are “rubble films,” shot in the remnants of real places: Staudte’s film is the fountainhead of East German cinema, Rossellini’s is a collection of war stories. (Apologies to Shoeshine, which I can’t really “place,” not having seen it since an adolescent viewing.) Just missing the cut is David Lean’s Great Expectations, an impeccable Dickens adaptation.

There are some noir films in the next rung of titles, including Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, George Marshall’s The Blue Dahlia, and Roy William Neill’s Black Angel. Not quite as keen on Charles Vidor’s Gilda as everybody else is, but it’s in there. And enjoyable works by a couple of continental sophisticates: Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown and Douglas Sirk’s A Scandal in Paris.

There must be a place for King Vidor’s (and Selznick’s) Duel in the Sun, as well as a much less heated western, Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage. Mark Robson’s Bedlam holds up the Val Lewton quality horror run, and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Utamaro and His Five Women points the way to subsequent classics from this director. A pair of delicious British mysteries from the team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, Green for Danger and I See a Dark Stranger, indicate a rich period for Brit-film.

That’s that. Enough with the list-making for a while. I can hear the bells of St. Mark’s Cathedral from my window, so I suppose an angel just got his wings. Thanks for reading these things – now if I can figure out a way to make them browsable in chronological order….