Movie Diary 7/30/2018

Psyche 59 (Alexander Singer, 1964). Where to begin. Patricia Neal has been blind for a few years, following a traumatic fall. Husband Curt Jurgens is a cad, her sister Samantha Eggar is unstable, and family friend Ian Bannen hangs around to catch whatever is falling. They all go off to a country house. The film seems conceived as an “adult” look at sexual tension of the sort that usually had a good murder or something to carry it along, except there’s no murder here. Somebody had studied the work of Ingmar Bergman, and probably grown-up fare like The Pumpkin Eater (although that came out the same year, so maybe not). The whole thing is wildly arty, with tortured compositions that are sometimes fun to track, thanks to DP Walter Lassally (he had shot Tom Jones and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner the year before). Director Singer is a curious story; a classmate to Stanley Kubrick, he served as Associate Producer on The Killing, directed a few serious features along the way, but mostly racked up an incredible number of TV episodes (everything from The Monkees to Knots Landing to Hill Street Blues and various Star Trek spinoffs). This film is pretty dead in the water, although Neal scores her share of strong moments.

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Movie Diary 7/29/2018

giantgilamonsterThe Giant Gila Monster (Ray Kellogg, 1959). Some hot-rodding teens find their lives disrupted by the arrival of a giant Gila monster, which is in fact played by a Mexican beaded lizard, photographed slithering its way through miniature sets. The movie is packed: stupefied line delivery from most of the actors, rock and roll as tangy as Bisquick, slices of hot-rod culture that feel more authentic than the subject as seen in Hollywood films, a local deejay schlepping his patter, and a relentless attempt to make dreamboat leading man Ken Sullivan a star. Check out Sullivan’s annus mirabilis, 1959: not just this movie but also The Monster of Piedras Blancas, The Rebel Set, and Jerry Warren’s Teenage Zombies. For some reason, he then got out of the movie business, settling on becoming (per IMDb) “one of the top cosmetic chemists in the hair industry.” It kinda makes you love the world. Sullivan died in January 2018. The film was shot around Dallas, in tandem with The Killer Shrews; both were produced by Ken Curtis, of Sons of the Pioneers/John Ford stock company (also the man’s son-in-law)/”Festus” on Gunsmoke fame.

Half-Human (Ishirô Honda/Kenneth G. Crane, 1958). The English-language release of a Honda yeti film, with John Carradine in the new scenes, narrating the Japanese footage. It’s pretty awful, although some of the Japanese material is scenic. Carradine is amazingly professional about the whole thing, really leaning into his nothing-but-exposition scenes.

Generation Wealth (Lauren Greenfield, 2018). New documentary from the Queen of Versailles director; this one casts a wider net around the subject of conspicuous consumption, although the net widens to include the filmmaker herself.

The Axe of Wandsbek (Falk Harnack, 1951). Potent East German title about a struggling Hamburg butcher (GDR everyman Erwin Geschonneck) who takes a one-time gig as an executioner for a group of imprisoned communists – the year is 1933. The regular executioner is unavailable, and Hitler won’t visit Hamburg until after the prisoners are dead. After a successful release, the film was banned by East German authorities because audiences clearly felt some sympathy for the butcher, an ideologically impure, but nevertheless human, reaction.

Impossible Filmworker (This Week’s Movies)

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Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames; Mission: Impossible – Fallout (courtesy Paramount Pictures)

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

Mission: Impossible – Fallout. “If a scene calls for people to parachute onto a building from 30,000 feet, why not throw in a lightning storm?” (Weekly link here.)

Filmworker. “A fascinating study in movie lore and human psychology. ”

For my Seasoned Ticket series at the Scarecrow Video blog, I revived a 2000 interview with John Frankenheimer (whose splendid return to form Ronin is playing at the Grand Illusion in Seattle). He talks about the time Sinatra pulled out a $2 million check, and about identifying with the professionalism of the De Niro character in Ronin. Read it here.

Movie Diary 7/25/2018

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018). A difference between this film and its predecessor: In the enjoyable Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise frequently adopted a “can you believe what I’m going to do now?” expression, which lightened his presence and gave the film an engagingly comic feel. In Fallout, there’s quite a bit less of that, but what you get in exchange is a strong throughline about morality on an individual and global scale. That’s a pretty big leap, but it works. All the other big leaps work rather well, too.

Movie Diary 7/24/2018

The Hoodlum (Max Nosseck, 1951). A very gloomy noir with Lawrence Tierney as a completely sociopathic ex-con who tramples all over his family’s hopes when he plots a bank robbery. The low-budget atmosphere is authentically sordid, and of course Tierney is not redemptible by any plot machinations. There’s melodrama piled high, with an especially big deathbed aria from Tierney’s mom (Lisa Golm), and most of the ideas and attitudes are derivative of countless Warner Bros. crime pictures. Nosseck, an escapee from Nazi Germany, directed Tierney in Dillinger. Co-starring is Edward Tierney, brother of Lawrence, a definitively dull presence.

Movie Diary 7/23/2018

The Flaw (Terence Fisher, 1955). Okay, back to Brit B-movies. Here’s a nutty piece about a ne’er-do-well (Dean Martin-smooth John Bentley) whose plan to keep fleecing his rich wife (Rona Anderson) runs afoul when her ex-suitor (Donald Houston) calls him out. Time to dispatch the suitor with a flawless murder plan. Or is there a flaw? Extremely far-fetched, but not badly rendered. Also, this movie has a moment that predicts the big shocker in Audition – seriously.

Murder on the Campus (Michael Winner, 1961). Back near the beginning of Winner’s career, when the Death Wish movies were merely a pipe dream. Winner also scripted, and the whole thing is like a parody of a really awful film in which every single dialogue exchange exists only to provide the basic information needed to get to the next plot point. But it’s not a parody. Adding to the surreal quality is the fact that everything moves very quickly, which makes Terence Longdon’s brusque style (he’s investigating the mysterious death of his brother, on the campus, which is Cambridge) even more laughably bullheaded. Despite all the exposition, I actually have no idea what happens in this film, or how, or why.

Movie Diary 7/22/2018

More from the 9th Odesa Film Festival, which closed Saturday night.

Our FIPRESCI jury gave two awards, announced on Friday. We gave the FIPRESCI prize for Ukrainian feature to Oleksandr Techynskyi’s Delta, a superb documentary about life in the watery countryside of the Odesa Oblast. Our prize for Ukrainian short film went to Ihor Hanskyi’s The Magnetic Storm, a hilarious 8-minute vignette with a strong, simple cinematic idea. For a picture of the jury announcing its winners, click here, although you’ll have to translate the accompanying text. My fellow jurors are Sanjin Pejkovic (from Sweden) and Sergii Vasyliev (from Ukraine).

The Trouble with You (aka En Liberté, Pierre Salvadori, 2018). The only problem with going to a film festival where you have responsibilities is you don’t get to see everything because of timing. So I missed acclaimed new films by Kore-eda and Chang-dong Lee, for instance, to say nothing of the 230-minute An Elephant Sitting Still, which sounds pretty cool. Saw Salvadori’s film, however, based on fond memories of his 2006 film Priceless, a well-turned Lubitschean comedy with edge. This one doesn’t live up to that level, and its concept is fairly tiresome, but at least there’s Adele Haenel (late of BPM) in the lead role.

When the Trees Fall (Marysia Nikitiuk, 2018). A Ukrainian film that won the Best Acting award from the National Jury, for Anastasia Pustovit. Her performance is probably the best thing about this lively, well-shot, but somewhat disconnected film.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant, 2018). I generally like it, even with the conventions of the inspirational biopic lodged in place. It doesn’t unfold like the usual thing, and the performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Jack Black, and – gloriously – Jonah Hill provide ballast.