Movie Diary 1/31/2012

Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012). Possibly one “found footage” movie too many, although the idea of the crane shot as telekinesis has some mileage, and there are some crazy-go-nuts flying scenes that were just waiting for film to discover. (full review 2/3)

Big Miracle (Ken Kwapis, 2012). Save the whales: what’s not to like about that? Nice cast, good vibes. (full review 2/3)

T-Men and Raw Deal (Anthony Mann, 1947 and 1948). Quintessential noir material from Mann and shooter John Alton, the unusually hard edge still standing out. The two DVDs come from the same company, but T-Men‘s transfer is notably terrible.

At What a Feeling!, we reel in the years – the 1980s, to be exact – with reviews of Zalman King’s Two Moon Junction and Penny Marshall’s Big, both of which, oddly and coincidentally, hinge upon encounters at carnivals.

Margaret on Grey (Weekly Links)

J. Cameron-Smith, Anna Paquin: mourning Margaret

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

Margaret. “A remarkable film.”

The Grey. “Begins like just another testosterone-filled hunk of implausibility and somehow finds its way toward, well, if not existential resonance, at least major coolness. Maybe both.”

Man on a Ledge. “Increasingly hard to believe.”

Albert Nobbs. “Scaled at just the right size.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk briefly with Steve Scher about Margaret and its Oscar shutout, then about other mistakes the Academy voters made. It’s archived here; the movie part rolls out at the 18:50 mark.

At What a Feeling!, the 1980s callback is for Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.

Sunday afternoon, I introduce a DVD screening of Victor Erice’s Quince Tree Sun at the Frye Art Museum at 2 p.m.; the event is free (and re-scheduled from a snow day a couple of weeks ago).

Tuesday night, I’ll bring “Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s” to Horizon House in Seattle at 7 p.m. This is a free talk through the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau. More info here.

Movie 1/26/2012

24 City (Jia Zhangke, 2008). Sad, reflective, beautifully shot look at the way a new transition is taking a group of longtime factory workers away from their homebase when the factory is shuttered to make way for a new planned community. And hanging behind all this is the original transition, when hundreds of workers were displaced to arrive in Chengdu in the late 1950s upon Chairman Mao’s decision to build a new arms factory in a rural area.

At What a Feeling!, a fave Eighties picture is recalled, Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns, which was something of a Midnight in Paris with a shake of bitters added.

Movie Diary 1/25/2012

The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953). Interesting to watch this movie from a slightly different angle and appreciate how money enters into almost every conversation, and certainly every significant point of debate. “Depends where the money came from.” That says it.

At What a Feeling!, I tried to find my review of Landscape in the Mist, the 1988 masterpiece by Theo Angelopoulos, who died earlier this week after being struck by a motorcyclist. Couldn’t find it. Will keep looking. In the meantime, the vintage reviews include the lighter fare of the ten-director omnibus picture Aria,  and George Roy Hill’s Funny Farm.

Movie Diary 1/23/2012

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011). Who cares how this movie was made, or how long it took? What’s good is that it’s here. (full review 1/27)

Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, 2011). Shakespeare’s plays have a way of resurfacing when they’re needed, and Mr. Fiennes is very wise to tap this one for our moment (somebody should’ve gotten a movie done of Troilus and Cressida ’round about 2003 or so – that one was dying to be heard right then). Lots of actor’s close-ups, as you might expect, although Vanessa Redgrave demonstrates how certain actors can dominate from any distance. (full review 2/3)

The Narrow Margin (Richard Fleischer, 1951). This movie never gets tired. So much ingenuity, on many different fronts. And you’d think that nobody could find a new way to shoot on and around a train, but Fleischer does.

Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke, 2002). Prepping here for an upcoming talk at the Frye, and catching up with a movie that I missed the first time around. Watching this movie, you could be forgiven for thinking the apocalypse had already happened.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey, 2011). Maybe a little too much of the social-issue-psychology angle at loose here? But Ramsey’s extremely talented, no doubt about it, and that Tilda Swinton is pretty good too. (full review 2/3)

At What a Feeling!, a hanging curve in the form of Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham, from 1988.

Extremely Haywire (Weekly Links)

Gina Carano, Haywire

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

Haywire. “She sprints through alleyways like the ground is on fire.”

Red Tails. “Operates at a TV-movie level.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. “It’s the contrived premise itself that makes the movie falter.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about snow movies. Did the show remote, over the phone. We talk about the weather, too. Did I mention it snowed this week in Seattle? The show is here; the movie stuff begins around the 21:20 mark.

At What a Feeling!, the Eighties lookbacks include reviews of Ridley Scott’s Legend and Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

See you Saturday afternoon at the Kirkland Library, where I will deliver “Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s,” a talk in the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau program, at 2 p.m. It’s free.

Movie Diary 1/18/2012

Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia, 2011). It might not entirely be a movie, but still a good amount to admire here, especially with a large cast bustling about – all of them very sharp operators. (full review 1/27)

The Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1947). I have now watched this for the second and final time in my life. What sounds like it ought to be a useful approach, as a stylistic device – a Raymond Chandler whodunit seen literally through the eyes of Philip Marlowe, with subjective camera throughout – just does not work. Audrey Totter and Jayne Meadows are the main sources of life.

At What a Feeling!, the original release, severely-cut version of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America gets a 1984 review.

Movie Diary 1/17/2012

Red Tails (Anthony Hemingway, 2012). You can tell a lot from a movie by the first two minutes, but don’t completely judge this one on the incredibly ham-handed opening here, which brings back chilling memories of executive producer George Lucas’s Radioland Murders. The story’s about the Tuskegee Airmen during their WWII sojourn in Italy, and overall it’s about as cautious as you’d expect. (full review 1/20)

At What a Feeling!, enter the frosty world of Michael Apted’s Gorky Park, and see if William Hurt’s accent troubles you as much as it did me in 1983.

Movie Diary 1/16/2012

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951). Holding up pretty well, especially in its noirish elements. The Cold War looms large, as does the robot.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Fred F. Sears, 1956). Time to give this another look, just to see whether it might have improved in the last couple of years. Nope. Not only do these two films have saucers and aliens and Washington, D.C., in common, but they even share a few shots. And, of course, the ineffable Hugh Marlowe.

Quicksand (Irving Pichel, 1950). Not bad, if you can squint past the public-domain print and give leeway to characters doing stupid things. Mickey Rooney gets caught in a downward spiral; the ending is fumbled.

At What a Feeling!, consider another Rob Lowe sports movie, as Oxford Blues, which is in fact worse than Youngblood, is revisited.

And: because of snow in Seattle, the Frye Art Museum was closed early and the scheduled showing of The Quince Tree Sun was postponed. Will post the new time as soon as possible.

Iron Carnage (Weekly Links)

Unholy quartet: Carnage

Reviews I wrote this week for the Herald, and etc.

Carnage. “The way people stay in their cages, even when the exit is open.”

Contraband. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

It didn’t take too long for the first dumb-but-fun movie of 2012 to arrive: “Contraband” is a Mark Wahlberg vehicle with many ludicrous aspects but quite a bit of lively, headlong appeal. It’s a remake of a film from Iceland called “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” those locations replaced in this case by New Orleans and Panama City. Wahlberg plays a former smuggler, now apparently retired and nestled in the suburbs with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids.

He’d like to stay legit. But when his sniveling brother-in-law gets on the wrong side of a lowlife gangster (Giovanni Ribisi), Wahlberg must work crew on a cargo ship and bring in counterfeit money from Panama in order to settle the ledger with the bad guys.

The film begins as a straight, cornball, this-time-it’s-personal crime drama. Wahlberg keeps blathering on about how this is “family,” and how he will set things right by pulling off this last illegal job. But when he and his co-conspirators get to Panama, the movie goes agreeably crazy. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, and with the clock ticking, Wahlberg and boys improvise madly to fine alternate sources of income. Of course, back home, Ribisi’s sleaze-drenched hood is showing up at Wahlberg’s home, reminding the wife of the stakes. Big mistake. Because this is about family, man.

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, who produced the original version of this story, doesn’t miss many clichés when it comes to dialogue and character. But the plot twists are inspired, and just crazy enough to keep you involved.

Wahlberg’s steady, imperturbable presence is also welcome. Ben Foster (late of “The Mechanic” and “The Messenger”) plays his best bud, Diego Luna turns up as a Panamanian crime lord, and J.K. Simmons is the bellowing captain of the cargo ship. Beckinsale can’t do anything with a nothing part, and doesn’t seem to try. Giovanni Ribisi goes for broke, in a ridiculous performance as a 1990s-style villain, the kind of tattooed, coke-snorting fiend that should have been killed off permanently by Sam Rockwell’s parody of same in “The Sitter.” But there he is.

“Contraband” isn’t great, but it scratches an itch for a certain kind of jumpy, crazy action picture. It has fewer wisecracks and less glamour than “The Italian Job,” and in this case, that’s just fine.

The Iron Lady. “The political episodes exist only to demonstrate Thatcher’s toughness.”

El Sicario, Room 164. “The scariest 60 Minutes episode you never saw.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about political biographies, nudged by the Iron Lady release. The talk is archived here; the movie part rolls in at the 17:55 mark.

See you this evening at the Northwest Film Forum, where we sit down for a “Framing Pictures” conversation at 5 p.m. with NWFF Program Director Adam Sekular and sometime film critic Bruce Reid.

And see you at the Frye Art Museum Sunday afternoon for a DVD screening of Victor Erice’s The Quince Tree Sun, at 2 p.m., free.

At What a Feeling!, a week of 1980s reviews rounds off with Christopher Cain’s (and S.E. Hinton’s and Emilio Estevez’s) That Was Then…This Is Now.