Ready Dogs (This Week’s Movies)

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Isle of Dogs (courtesy Fox Searchlight)

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

Isle of Dogs. “Anderson’s style becomes overbearing when deployed in a precious world populated by animated talking animals.” (Herald link here.)

Ready Player One. “While Spielberg revels in this stuff, he’s also playing the role of concerned elder, cajoling these crazy kids to go outside and get some fresh air. Maybe that’s why the movie’s relentless fun feels just a little conflicted.”

A little Q&A with yours truly for the Herald.

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Movie Diary 3/28/2018

The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960). Stately horizontal compositions, landscape as a stripped-down backdrop for strategy, a sense of doom and resignation hanging around the fun of assembling a team. Along with being a beloved classic, this really is a good film. The inspired casting and Elmer Bernstein’s peerless Western score are key to its success, needless to say. Steve McQueen gives a little master class on how you can convey personality even while sharing screen time with a crowd of actors. It looks much better on a big screen than on a small TV, I can tell you that. Also, did anybody ever have a better time acting than Eli Wallach?

Movie Diary 3/27/2018

The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945). A lovely British wartime film, although as a prologue makes clear (the haunted camera prowling through a now-empty RAF base), it was not released until just after the European war had ended. John Mills arrives at the base as an inexperienced pilot, shown the ropes by a veteran (Michael Redgrave), whose marriage to a local hotelkeeper (Rosamund John) is in the offing. The hotel becomes the other main setting for the action; as the years pass, the Americans roll in to take over the base. The script is by Terence Rattigan and Anatole de Grunwald, and it has a lot of Rattigan’s feeling for suppressed emotions – there are some marvelous, rich relationships based almost entirely on that, including the chaste but subliminally passionate friendship between John and a friendly U.S. pilot (Douglass Montgomery, in an unusual and touching performance). Basil Radford and Stanley Holloway provide humor, David Tomlinson has a great scene imitating the way Americans talk (there’s a lot of choice stuff about how the British perceive Americans), and Bonar Colleano gives one of his best performances. Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons have small roles. The US release was titled Johnny in the Clouds.

Movie Diary 3/26/2018

Striving (aka Fen Dou, Shi Dongshan, 1932). Attended the delightful Hippodrome Silent Film Festival in Bo’ness, Scotland, on Saturday, where this recently re-discovered Chinese film had its European premiere. This one’s a fascinating cultural artifact, with the early action set almost entirely within an apartment building, where a young woman (Chen Yanyan) is abused by her adoptive father, courted by a neighbor (Zheng Junli), and increasingly bothered by the neighbor’s roommate (Yuan Congmei). Halfway through, the patriotic demands of China’s response to Japanese military aggression kick in. That’s a pretty weird shift, but it allows for a few haunting glimpses of battle. A fine live score, with lots of booming drums during the warfare, was provided by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius.

The Treasure (aka Der Schatz, G. W. Pabst, 1923). Pabst’s first feature is about the rumor of hidden treasure within a bellmaker’s household, and what the rumor does to the people within the house. A house, by the way, that is splendidly bent and bowed in the Expressionist style. The most obsessed of the seekers is played by Werner Krauss, lately Dr. Caligari himself, whose zonked-out performance here makes him look like a sleepwalker. At the Hippodrome festival, the scintillating electronic score by Alois Kott was largely pre-recorded and partly played live (on electric double-bass) by the composer.

Movie Diary 3/25/2018

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018). Stop-motion animation, with fairly grim subject matter, done in the whimsical Anderson style. Grand Budapest Hotel was my #1 film of 2014; will Anderson repeat this year? No. (full review 3/28)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, 2018). Not objectionable for the first hour or so, when some well-played table-setting is the order of the day. Then it’s all fights between giant robots, in the customary digital manner.

Tiger by the Tail (aka Cross-Up, John Gilling, 1954). Larry Parks, then blacklisted, stars in this Brit noir about a breezy American reporter assigned to the London bureau. He takes up with a mystery woman (Lisa Daniely) and they come face to face with murder. Startling scene, actually. The woman’s secret diary holds the clue to a much larger story, which lands Parks in jeopardy. Parks’s character is abrasive – frankly so is his performance – and the guy makes so many stupid decisions it becomes difficult to root for him. The story does trot along, however, and has some decent villains. Constance Smith plays the news agency Girl Friday, the woman Parks should really be interested in, but he can’t be bothered because she wears glasses.

Love Uprising (This Week’s Movies)

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Nick Robinson: Love, Simon (courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

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

Pacific Rim Uprising. “After its enjoyable first hour, Uprising descends into a series of giant robot fights, which are as numbing here as they are in most Transformers movies.”

Love, Simon. “As bland as vanilla pudding. But unless you’re completely vanilla-phobic, the movie’s unforced good feelings are easy to enjoy.” (Herald link here.)

And, if you can stand the me, me, me-ness of posting it, here’s something about my election to the National Society of Film Critics, from Herald writer Sharon Salyer.

Movie Diary 3/21/2018

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954). Hard to imagine the patience required to shoot a movie this elaborate, with so many small scenes and tiny moments that fit into the whole (to say nothing of the giant-scale action sequences). And yet every single scene bristles with invention and life.

Broken Journey (Ken Annakin, 1948). Plane crash in the Alps; tension on board; lots of frosty second-unit footage of mountains. I like this kind of movie, and the melodrama doesn’t disappoint. Unusual wrinkle: One of the passengers is in an iron lung. Pleasant cast, including James Donald, Phyllis Calvert, Guy Rolfe, and David Tomlinson and Raymond Huntley as ill-matched brothers.