Victoria Made (This Week’s Movies)

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Tom Cruise: American Made (courtesy Universal Pictures)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

American Made. “This is a black comedy, and irony isn’t Cruise’s most natural mode, yet by playing Seal as a slightly dimwitted cheeseball on the make, he gets into the movie’s you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff spirit.”

Victoria & Abdul. “It’s content to allow the queen to be cute and cranky, and Abdul to be charming. We receive the film’s timely lesson about how a Muslim person of color might teach something to the lily-white British elites, and it’s all very tidy and self-satisfied.”

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Movie Diary 9/27/2017

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The Command (David Butler, 1954). The first ‘Scope western, apparently, about an inexperienced cavalry sawbones (Guy Madison) tapped for command when a wagon train needs an escort through Indian territory. A solid outing with all the conventions in place, some exciting stuntwork, and even a few stabs at mentioning the toll of the white move west (in the form of regretting that Native Americans are going to get exposed to smallpox). Samuel Fuller is credited with the “adaptation” of a story by James Warner Bellah, author of the tales that became John Ford’s cavalry trilogy. The laid-back Madison – who looks like he drifts off in the middle of a line reading – is good casting, because he indeed looks outmatched and out of place, especially standing next to an actor with energy like James Whitmore. Joan Weldon, from Them!, is the leading lady.

The Invaders (prob. Francis Ford, 1912). Dandy early western, produced on an impressive scale by Thomas Ince, in which the natives are clearly being screwed over by the white railroad surveyors. Many fabulous shots contained here, including a moment when a surveyor wants to flirt with an Indian girl and stands astride a small stream, as though embodying Manifest Destiny in his blank confidence.

Custer’s Last Fight (Francis Ford, 1912). On a much cruder level, a docu-drama re-creation of the Little Big Horn, with G.A. Custer (played by director Ford, John’s older brother) treated in unqualified heroic terms; Sitting Bull is depicted as a coward. The “You Are There” approach is interesting, despite the propaganda. (This triple bill was the first salvo in a 12-week series of cavalry films, which is how I’ll be spending my Wednesday afternoons here in Edinburgh in the near future.)

Golden Status Request (This Week’s Movies)

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Channing Tatum, Halle Berry; Kingsman: The Golden Circle (courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Brad’s Status. “This is a signature role for an actor we tend to take for granted.”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle. “I was finally won over by this movie’s endless parade of zany ideas and ridiculous gadgets.”

Friend Request. “If the story is standard teen-horror material, Verhoeven plays honestly by it, laying out the scares in crisp fashion and building a few genuinely WTF moments, if not much LOL.”

Movie Diary 9/21/2017

Brad’s Status (Mike White, 2017). A signature role for Ben Stiller – and that’s saying more than you might think, given that Stiller has perfected an American male of his era in the same way Jack Lemmon did in the early 1960s. The film itself is more in the vein of U.S. literature of the Cheever-Updike-Roth variety than with today’s societal concerns, so it will be dismissed accordingly. (full review 9/22)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Matthew Vaughn, 2017). The glibness of the violence is indefensible, so I won’t try to do that, but if you are susceptible to sheer absurd cleverness detonating at least once every three minutes, this movie has a surfeit of silliness. (full review 9/22)

Movie Diary 9/19/2017

La Silence de la Mer (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1949). Melville’s haunting first film, a fascinating piece about a Nazi soldier (Howard Vernon) billeted with an elderly Frenchman and his niece during the occupation; the film consists mostly of the officer’s monologues, and traces his slow disillusionment with his country’s cause. The mute resistance of the French characters is not the only note Melville plays on the subject, and the minimalist style is spellbinding. It played at the Edinburgh Filmhouse as part of a Melville centenary celebration (they do things like that here) and was preceded by a 1946 short film, A Day in the Life of a Clown, which is a rather amazing piece (the title is literal).

Movie Diary 9/18/2017

mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017). People who love it love the way it’s “open to interpretation” and about many things, but I dunno – it sort of seems to be about just exactly what it’s about. Not a lot of true mystery here. I certainly had fun with it, to a certain point, but a few basic things nag at me – for instance, how I have no idea what the layout of the house (the interior of which holds 99 percent of the film’s action) actually is, or why a great actor like Javier Bardem gives a performance so uncertain and thin.

Rye mother (This Week’s Movies)

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Kevin Spacey, Nicholas Hoult: Rebel in the Rye (courtesy IFC Films)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

mother! “At one point the house becomes a kind of theater for all the chaos of modern life: terrorism, protests, religious fanaticism, militarization run amok. Did we mention this movie is pretentious?”

Rebel in the Rye. “A well-meaning but ham-handed attempt to get at Salinger’s mystery.”

For Film Comment’s “TCM Diary,” I contributed an appreciation of King Vidor’s Ruby Gentry, a film that stirs some swampy cinephilia. Read that here.