Movie Diary 8/29/2018

First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017). I can’t think of anybody else who would make a film like this circa 2018. From the very first moments, you are watching an impeccably seen universe: a slow creep in on a historic church in upstate New York, the sort of camera movement that usually prepares us for a horror movie – and maybe that’s what’s happening. The horror, however, is the sort found in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest and Bergman’s Winter Light, two films that are explicitly referenced here. I am fascinated by this movie because on the one hand it very eloquently looks at the dilemma between living life and observing it, and on the other hand (although really it’s the same hand), it’s got something to do with cinema itself – it’s the summation of a certain kind of film that will, I think, no longer be made after this point. The generations that lived closely and intensely with Bresson and Bergman films are passing on, and from now on all of that will be a museum (as people describe the ill-attended church where pastor Ethan Hawke ministers to a dwindling flock – meanwhile, all the crowds are going to the multiplex – er, the megachurch – down the road, which in fact owns the quaint old churchhouse). The cast is superb, down to the smallest roles. Remarkable movie.


Movie Diary 8/28/2018

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976). A 4K-sparkling print on a big screen (courtesy Edinburgh Filmhouse) = a very satisfying experience. The way the movie begins as a straightforward revenge scenario and then gets sidetracked into a more expansive story about community feels somewhat ahead of its time (although the film definitely is of its time, as Bruce Surtees’ cinematography and Jerry Fielding’s score are echt-70s). Although planned and co-scripted by Philip Kaufman, who began the shoot as the director, this movie really feels like Eastwood, especially in its relaxed pace, which never feels poky.

The Rough and the Smooth (aka Portrait of a Sinner, Robert Siodmak, 1959). A completely bizarre storyline, like a film noir without a murder: breezy architect Tony Britton, about to marry the wealthy daughter (Natasha Parry) of a newspaper tycoon (Donald Wolfit), becomes hung up on a mystery woman (Nadja Tiller) who, as they say, toys with his emotions. The movie’s got things that very much look and feel like Siodmak, especially its European attitude about sex, which is pretty, well, European for 1959. We also get William Bendix, rarin’ to go as always, as Tiller’s platonic roommate.

Movie Diary 8/27/2018

Dusty Ermine (aka Hideout in the Alps, Bernard Vorhaus, 1936). A truly cuckoo plot, about an English counterfeiter (Ronald Squire), released from prison, who declines an invitation from a gang of forgers (whose contact person is played by Margaret Rutherford) only to see his nephew dragged into the scheme. The story shifts to an Alpine ski resort, where the forgers are lurking and the Englishman’s niece (Jane Baxter) takes up with a stranger (Anthony Bushell) who can ski. The location shooting is eye-filling, with some incredible stuntwork on the slopes; you get the feeling Vorhaus saw some German “mountain films” before making this. A very spirited thing all the way around, and Vorhaus again has a nose for interesting angles, a certain way of seeing.


Movie Diary 8/26/2018

This Week of Grace (Maurice Elvey, 1933). A knockabout comedy vehicle for Gracie Fields, as a factory worker who hauls her family to a castle when she is invited to take over the place for a year. It’s easy to understand the popularity of Fields, a music-hall performer who was one of Britain’s biggest stars in the 1930s; she’s broad and clownish but also operates in a smaller register, with muttered asides (sometimes within the phrasing of a song). The film has some of the loose-limbed feeling of It’s a Gift, with the zany family and quick standalone gags. The same year Elvey directed I Lived with You, an Ivor Novello vehicle, which also has a kooky syncopated energy.

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet, 2017). Emily Mortimer opens a small bookshop in an English town in 1959, but the town bigwigs (embodied in Patricia Clarkson) have other ideas. The opening reels suggest something cozy and inspirational, but this movie is not that. Billy Nighy has a plum role. I have liked Coixet’s films before, especially My Life Without Me and Elegy, and this not her best, but it has some authentic anger in it. (full review 8/31)

Support the ’98 (This Week’s Movies)


Dylan Gelula, Shayna McHayle, Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, AJ Michalka: Support the Girls (Magnolia Pictures)

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

Support the Girls. “Hall assumes full ownership of this warm and funny film. ”

For the Scarecrow Video blog, I throw in some thoughts on Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose new film The Third Murder plays at SIFF Cinema Uptown this coming week. Read that one here.

Parallax View is running some 20-year-retrospective reviews from its contributors; my 1998 review of You’ve Got Mail is in the mix, with more to come.

Movie Diary 8/22/2018

The Ghost Camera (Bernard Vorhaus, 1933). Cheeky and inventive, this British quota quickie is full of unexpected camera angles and bouncy storytelling. Delightful Henry Kendall (the lead in Hitchcock’s Rich and Strange) finds that someone has tossed a camera in his car; developing the roll of film inside, he thinks one of the images depicts a murder being committed. He tracks down the locations in the photos as well as a mystery woman, who happens to be Ida Lupino. Vorhaus has fans as a neglected auteur, and this movie would seem to be a prime piece of evidence (American-born, he worked in England for a decade before returning to Hollywood, where he did a few interesting noirs, such as The Amazing Mr. X, aka The Spiritualist). David Lean edited.

The Delavine Affair (Douglas Peirce, 1955). Another amateur-sleuth movie with another breezy hero, played by the amazingly coiffed Peter Reynolds. He plays a hotdogging freelance reporter who tries to solve the murder of a friend, occasionally with help from his droll wife, Honor Blackman. The movie really missed a bet by not have the future 007 consort Blackman in more scenes with Reynolds, because they’re very Thin Man-ish together, and the movie generally has an agreeable all-of-this-nonsense-is-an-excuse-for-good-fun vibe. Gordon Jackson plays a fellow who spends a lot of time with Blackman, and the movie’s got a lot of interesting folks in small roles. Cheap, but fun.

Movie Diary 8/21/2018

kissvampire.jpgKiss of the Vampire (Don Sharp, 1963). This Hammer horror title showed on “Nightmare Theatre” back in the ancient times, but under the U.S. TV title Kiss of Evil, with extra footage added for broadcast. So that’s the one I’ve seen before. Which means I saw an even slower movie than the original cut. But one assumes pokiness with Hammer (I do, anyway), and given that, Kiss generally does its job well. Two motorists (Jennifer Daniel and Edward de Souza) run out of gas near an old inn where the locals refuse to stay. The vampiric owner (Noel Willman, all bouffant hair and Gothic bric-a-brac) of a nearby castle invites them up for dinner and a big dance party with some groovy masks on display – this film was evidently an influence, or target, of Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires. Lots of zany design and plenty of obsessive color, especially a sickly green. Has its share of spellcasting and pentagram-drawing. Nutty climax with rubber bats – the only part I remembered from childhood.