Water for Cats (Weekly Links)

Links to movies I reviewed for the Herald this week. Eh, sorry for the delay, the Crop Duster is on Spring Break. Posting will be spotty.

Water for Elephants. “Almost ancient.”

African Cats. “Disney Fashion.”

Bummer Summer. “Slouching toward a plot line.”

Zero Bridge. “Stuck in Kashmir.”

Circo. “The faded tinsel of the circus life.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about our absurd interest in the British royal family, fueled by the many movies that chronicle such nonsense. It’s archived here; the movie bit probably kicks in around 15 minutes in.

At What a Feeling!, a Euro-Eighties week concludes with a highly tasteful offering from Rainier Werner Fassbinder called Querelle.

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Movie Diary 4/20/2011

Water for Elephants (Francis Lawrence, 2011). The circus, a bareback rider, a devilish ringmaster – I know this movie is set in 1931, but was it also made then? (full review 4/22)

At What a Feeling!, a review of Zanussi’s Ways in the Night, which might have been shown on Polish TV in 1979 and didn’t play in the U.S. until 1984. So we’re calling it an Eighties movie.

Movie Diary 4/19/2011

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010). A strutting thrash-metal Jesus lands in the home of a grieving family, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the intruder role, and Natalie Portman as a nerd. You should be at least sort of intrigued. (full review 5/13)

Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010). Even if you don’t care about fashion as much as I don’t care about fashion, this portrait of the longtime New York Times photographer will have appeal, not least for its intense New York love. (full review 4/29)

Ceremony (Max Winkler, 2011). The children of Rushmore – they walk among us. (full review 4/29)

The Bang Bang Club (Steven Silver, 2011). A group of real-life news photographers in South Africa, dramatized with some very familiar journo-romance. (full review 4/29)

At my other site, What a Feeling!, the 1980s pass by with a vintage review of And the Ship Sails On.

Movie Diary 4/18/2011

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948). Have you ever read the Hans Christian Andersen story? It’s pretty crazy, a nerve-jangling depiction of a manic episode that never ends. P&P made it specific to artistic ecstasy, and that’s the film’s triumph. Side note: if you never noticed before what a master of cutting Powell was, you will with this movie – not just the ingenious dance sequences, but almost every edit seems superbly thought-out in advance.

Zero Bridge (Tariq Tapa, 2008). It’s easy enough to say this Kashmir-filmed neorealist study is the same old thing in a new setting, but the same old thing isn’t all that easy to do well, and this one is done awfully well. Secret weapon: nonpro leading lady Taniya Khan is a movie star without knowing it. (full review 4/22)

Bummer Summer (Zach Weintraub, 2010). It’s the water? A film from Olympia, and much in the vein of Northwest experimentalism but thankfully with a formal rigor that keeps it distant from mumblecore. (full review 4/22)

African Cats (Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill, 2011). Big cats on the savannah. The winners get cute Disney names; the losers remain anonymous, and are eaten. (full review 4/22)

At What a Feeling!, a week of European films commences with Alpine Fire, an obscure but haunting Swiss film.

Ruthless (The Cornfield #26)

It was a mistake to watch this on a public domain DVD, as the movie looked like something photographed from a VHS tape that had been unspooled onto a dirty floor and trampled on, complete with mysterious ellipses and sudden shifts in time (the disc clocked in at under 90 minutes, IMDb has the complete version at 104; it looks like the Netflix streaming version is the long one, and a much better print). Playing computer catch-up on the longer version filled in some blanks.

A fable of pure ambition, Edgar G. Ulmer’s Ruthless tracks the success of Horace Woodruff Vendig (Zachary Scott) as he claws his way to millionairehood; the movie is obviously influenced, in theme and frequently in style, by Citizen Kane, although it also seems to be an answer to the ideas of people like Ayn Rand in its portrait of self-interest and the toll such a philosophy takes (The Fountainhead was published five years before Ruthless came out, and was a hit, and Rand was peddling her ideas in magazines and such). Vendig’s big mansion in the opening sequence evokes Xanadu, but its interiors have the strange airiness of a fascist political rally, especially in Ulmer’s architecturally-minded visual treatment.

Vendig, an old man, is announcing his great financial giveaway for the cause of peace; extensive flashbacks will reveal his true nature. Boyhood friend Vic Lambdin (Louis Hayward) is on hand to provide a skeptical response to Vendig’s generosity, and also to rub his friend’s nose in the fact that he has taken up with a younger woman who freakishly resembles the woman they both loved in their youth. Both roles are played by Diana Lynn, a curious choice for the role but a welcome actress at any time.

The female roles are interesting and well-acted: Martha Vickers plays a socialite who takes up Vendig in college (he’s now known as Woody, the better to capitalize on a vaguely respected family name of his past and add a bit of Ivy League Jazz Age sass); when he finishes using up her connections and family influence, there’s Lucille Bremer, as the wife of a corporate monster (Sydney Greenstreet, very human here). When Vendig struggles to best the Greenstreet character in a bit of capitalist chess-playing, he goes after the wife for romance and insider information, exploiting her position in his customary manner.

People describe Ruthless as a low-budget Kane, but it also looks influenced by The Magnificent Ambersons, especially in the early sequences of old houses and faded family names. Vendig the youth is played by Bob Anderson, the kid who played George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the George that has his sore ear slapped by Mr. Gower. The lad goes to visit his father, who now lives in a saloon/whorehouse with a large aquarium; dear old Dad is played by Raymond Burr in Gay 90s garb and mustache, a huge man who gets pushed around by his slatternly girlfriend. With various visions of what people become, Vendig can be somewhat forgiven for his super-achiever attitude.

Ruthless is missing something, even in its more complete running time. It has no “Rosebud,” for one thing, and wide-eyed Zachary Scott, such a fine cad, looks a little more overwhelmed than overwhelming here. Maybe that works, in a funny way, for the film: Vendig is carried along in the current of a corrupt system and gets destroyed, just like all the little people.

Super Scream Conspirator (Weekly Links)

Angelica, a strange case

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald this week:

Scream 4. “How many times can a snake swallow its own tail?”

The Conspirator. “Undernourished.”

Rio. “Thoroughly fun.”

The Strange Case of Angelica. “A ghost may or may not be on the loose.”

Super. “The flavor of a 1970s film.”

Winter in Wartime. “The appeal of a well-crafted yarn.”

Potiche. “Even the little forest creatures respond to her blond glow.”

No KUOW appearance this week; bumped by a presidential speech. The man loves my time slot.

At What a Feeling!, the 1980s reviews roll on with Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers and Another Country, two films that have never been mentioned in the same breath in the history of the world.

Movie Diary 4/13/2011

Scream 4 (Wes Craven, 2011). They haven’t missed a beat, as it turns out, although this much self-reflexivity is bound to implode on itself. (full review 4/15)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2011). Herzog and 3D inside a prehistoric cave, with flashlights dancing on the wall and the voice of the ‘Zog in your ear. Does it get any better? (full review 4/29)

Super (James Gunn, 2011). Unexpected throwback to Taxi Driver in a vigilante-superhero movie, with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page treading a delicate tonal line. (full review 4/15)

At What a Feeling!, there’s more Eighties wonder, with reviews of the ineffable American Anthem and All the Right Moves.