Movie Diary 6/30/2011

The Big Uneasy (Harry Shearer, 2011). A methodical breakdown of some very dispiriting revelations that came out after Hurricane Katrina, all of which lead eventually back to, inevitably, our corrupt Congress. Shearer goes full 60 Minutes on the culprits. (full review 7/8)

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011). Well all right then. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s what it should be. (full review 7/29)

At What a Feeling!, a look back at the Burt Reynolds comeback that never was: Heat, from 1987.

Movie Diary 6/29/2011

Monte Carlo (Thomas Bezucha, 2011). Yes, I see this kind of movie at noon on a Wednesday before it opens, a schedule that does reduce the amount of time required to have the film in one’s head. Gals in Europe, mistaken identity, three coins in the fountain, and giant robots from space. (full review 7/1)

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, 1988). This does not require an explanation.

At What a Feeling!, an Eighties review of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, an example of Canadian slasher cinema.

Movie Diary 6/28/2011

Sarah’s Key (Gilles Paquet-Brenner, 2010). Genuinely old-fashioned story with roots in the Holocaust. Kristin Scott Thomas is the star, effortlessly. (full review 7/29)

Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks, 2011). Middle-aged life changes, with director Hanks being very casual about the whole thing. He does let loose some of that crazy-ass energy Julia Roberts generally saves for talk-show appearances. (full review 7/1)

At What a Feeling!, the much-beloved pairing of Tom Selleck and Paulina Porizkova is recalled, with a review of Her Alibi.

Movie Diary 6/27/2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay, 2011). Among other things, Bay has moved from his embrace of montage to a more Bazinian philosophy of the integral shot as the dominant mode of discourse. Seriously: instead of the incoherent chop-chop-chop of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, this movie has some kind of amazing shots of crazy giant robots flailing around on freeways while going 100 miles and hour, all contained in sustained takes. And Bay sure works his ass off. (full review 6/29)

Destination Moon (Irving Pichel, 1950). Wrote something about it here.

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times (Andrew Rossi, 2011). Not so much the inner process as a few interesting backstage things, but still, pretty entertaining. Of course, we’re all doomed. (full review 7/1)

At What a Feeling!, a review of Howard the Duck, which is very far from being the worst movie ever made.

Destination Moon (The Cornfield #34)

The astronauts wear color-coded spacesuits on their trip to the moon: explained as a way for them to tell each other apart, it also lets the audience to do the same. This is typical of the pleasures that come from the practical-minded method of Destination Moon, which takes a sober, this-is-how-this-might-actually-happen approach to its tale of spaceflight. The movie patiently explains the principles of rocket science and gravity and how energy should be deployed in various phases of a moon shot.

The picture rips right along: from a rocket failure in the opening sequence to a liftoff in less than a year (an illegal liftoff, because the authorities are racing to stop the voyage because of their piddling concerns about a possible atomic accident). The film has an explicitly anti-government agenda: the scientists and businessmen backing the moon voyage are agreed that government can’t be trusted to handle such a large project, so the barons of free enterprise will have their way. Luckily, the atomic-reaction gizmo doesn’t blow up, although to be fair to our scofflaw heroes, they did have the local population move ten miles away from the blast site as a precaution.

Destination Moon was inspired by a Robert A. Heinlein story, and Heinlein worked on the adaptation, along with a couple of other credited writers. (IMDb gives such a poignant, unadorned account of stray Hollywood careers, as clicking on the pages for this film’s other writers will attest. What was life like for Alford “Rip” Von Ronkel, who weathered his nickname enough for eleven official career credits, including a “Wagon Train” episode and a Zero Mostel movie, Once Upon a Scoundrel, made nine years after Von Ronkel’s 1965 death? Or James O’Hanlon, who wrote Ziegfeld Follies, a Spanish movie about Christ, and the should-be-cult surf movie For Those Who Think Young?) George Pal produced the film, and its success led him to create other science fiction triumphs, including The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. Director was Irving Pichel, who probably did have an interesting life, between being an offbeat actor and director. Pal and Pichel have a number of ingenious  scenes that are basically solutions to problems, such as weightlessness and lift-off.

Speaking of lift-off, there’s a long countdown (all the way from “thirty”) for the Earth departure. But they use the term “countoff” rather than countdown, one of the rare things this movie doesn’t accurately predict. (The countdown itself, by general consensus, was invented by another movie, Fritz Lang’s Woman on the Moon.) The countoff is delivered by Dick Wesson, the comic actor who performs the tiresome “Hey, I’m just a guy from Brooklyn” role; the other astronauts are a scientist (Warner Anderson, who would be in the TV show and movie The Lineup), the CEO of a Boeing-like aeronautics company (John Archer) and a general (Tom Powers, who played Barbara Stanwyck’s jerk of a husband in Double Indemnity).

Almost no women in the film, except for the scientist’s wife. There is a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, which is shown to the project’s investors as a way to explain how rockets work. In a way, this sequence is prescient too, for how it demonstrates the way corporations will produce elaborate film-related pieces meant to illustrate or sell an idea in  a boardroom. It is lucid in its description of rocket power, although it has Woody Woodpecker, thus raising the question, is there anyone anywhere who ever actually liked Woody Woodpecker? Why was this awful character ever popular?

Destination Moon has sequences that not only seem to have influenced Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke when they went about preparing 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that appear to have been taken as raw material on which to play variations: the color-coded suits, and also an entire spacewalk sequence in which one astronaut gets separated from the ship and begins drifting away. (But then this movie probably influenced every spaceship picture that followed, as it was almost the first one out of the gate in the sci-fi renewal of the 1950s.) 2001‘s immortal Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester), he of the mysterious blandness and dubiously morale-beefing-up speeches, even resembles John Archer’s CEO, physically and otherwise.

NASA had the last laugh, pulling off the actual moon landing only 19 years after this film scoffed at government’s capacity for such a thing. Credit the movie with providing the blueprint, but overvaluing free enterprise.

Buck Cracks Cars (Weekly Links)

Buck Brannaman

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald this week, and etc.

Cars 2. “Everybody’s fallible.”

Buck. “Hard to resist.”

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. “O’Brien’s compulsion to riff comes across as surprisingly naked and surprisingly needy.”

Cracks. “Nobody would make a movie about a private English boarding school if everything went fine and the students all got along.”

Bride Flight. “The movie’s cup runneth over.”

And an interview with Buck Brannaman and Cindy Meehl, subject and director of Buck. Read Brannaman’s words with something very close to Sam Elliott’s voice in your head.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I survey the Cultural Moment with Steve Scher, including the futuristic notion of politicians trademarking themselves and a rock band of Mike Huckabee enthusiasts re-writing Cee-Lo’s “F*** You.” The talk is archived here; the movie bit kicks in at the 14:10 mark.

At What a Feeling!, more Eightiesness with a vintage review of Steve Miner’s House.

Sunday night, June 26, I’ll be sitting in judgment of a dance marathon at the Nectar Lounge, in the company of Nancy Guppy, Joe Guppy and assorted others, for a “Dance Your Cash Off” fundraiser on behalf of the literacy group 826 Seattle. More about this entry in the “How Did I Get Into This?” file here.

Movie Diary 6/23/2011

Aelita, Queen of Mars (Yakov Protazanov, 1924). Soviet sci-fi involving a rather charged Earthly melodrama and an outer-space journey that culminates in a proposal for the Martian Soviet Socialist Republic. The crazy designs on Mars are the big draw, but casual views of Moscow in winter are also awesome.

A Useful Life (Federico Veiroj, 2010). A completely charming, elliptical black-and-white number from Uruguay, about the efforts involved in keeping a Montevideo cinematheque in business, but also about getting a haircut and asking someone out on a first date in middle age. (full review 7/1)

At What a Feeling!, the traipse through my original 1980s reviews continues. Let us catch up with Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge, Paul Newman’s Harry and Son, and Tony Richardson’s The Hotel New Hampshire.