Movie Diary 2/27/2019

The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018). Another essay from J-LG, even denser than the recent ones, with a real sense that the “essay” is not in the words but in the collison of word, image, music, sound. It’s a little like the Stargate sequence in 2001 but with Godard muttering in your ear.

Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2019). The usual complaints about remaking foreign-language films notwithstanding, at least in this case you have Julianne Moore to justify the process – and Lelio gets the chance to expand on some of the visual ideas he explored in his original (and excellent) 2013 film. The final couple of minutes are screen acting (wordless variety) at its most splendid.

Movie Diary 2/26/2019

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi, 2018). The Oscar-winning Iranian director goes to Spain, for a film that uses genre (a kidnapping and its aftermath) in order to explore the tangled relationships in a small community. As is sometimes the case with Farhadi, everything is done with almost too-neat precision, but the storytelling is fascinating and novelistic. Farhadi’s ability with actors is superb; here, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem play former lovers whose bond remains charged (she’s gone off to Argentina and married a man there, played by Ricardo Darín). Those leads are strong, but even better are some of the supporting players, especially Bárbara Lennie and Eduard Fernández, plus there’s a wily role for the excellent José Ángel Egido as a former cop drawn into the case; he can do more by shifting his eyes from one spot in the distance to another than most actors can with a page of dialogue. (full review 3/1)

Movie Diary 2/25/2019

lailaLaila (George Schnéevoigt, 1929). Astonishing silent epic, a rich melodrama about a young Norwegian girl taken in by the indigenous Lapp (or Sámi) people. It has more twists than a Dickens story, and its source novel is apparently something like a Norwegian national saga (or was, for many decades). The physical production is huge, with lots of shots in snowy landscapes and deep fjords, including a series of how-did-they-do-that sequences: reindeer races, kayaking down rapids – the actors appear to be in serious danger at various points. The storyline is almost like an inversion of The Searchers or other abduction scenarios: Here, the lost girl is rescued by a mostly kindly but possessive Native “uncle,” then raised in the indigenous society; he must then let her go when white society (in the form of her family) re-appears. I guess the Jeffery Hunter character is the girl’s foster Sámi brother, an insipid type who isn’t much competition for the eventual white suitor. Racial politics aside, it’s easy to see why generations of girls would’ve been inspired by the plucky, resourceful heroine, who beats the men in reindeer-racing and sweeps her hand across the endless horizon while saying, “This is my home.” Screened at the Paramount, with a bravura performance by Tedde Gibson on the vintage Wurlitzer organ, bobbing and weaving through all 165 of the film’s minutes.

Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959). One of Buñuel’s best Mexican films, a tale of a Christlike priest (Francisco Rabal) whose actions frequently cause problems. Sparely told, yet with little jabs of strangeness – no one has quite captured the collision of the sacramental with the disgusting as Buñuel does in the moment a thirsty woman drinks bloody water. (Part of Scarecrow Academy’s series devoted to the films of 1959).

Oscar Dragon (This Week’s Movies)


How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Universal Pictures)

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

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. “This does seem like an actual ending, with a story that rounds itself off, instead of keeping strands hanging for the sake of an endless franchise.”

My annual Oscar predictions.

For the Scarecrow Video blog, I contribute a Seasoned Ticket column that recalls a 2007 interview with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose new film Never Look Away is nominated for Best Foreign Language film and Best Cinematography.

Movie Diary 2/20/2019

Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio, 2017). Catching up with one from last year, another solid film from the director of Gloria and A Fantastic Woman. The central trio of performances, from Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, are strong enough to justify what otherwise seems a fairly standard dramatic situation, and Lelio finds enough evocative ways of visualizing key moments – like the almost offhand discovery that one of the principals has spent a night sleeping on a couch – to keep the film compelling. Really curious about why McAdams hasn’t had the kind of career that Amy Adams or Kristen Stewart has made over the last few years.

Movie Diary 2/19/2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dean DeBlois, 2019). This trilogy – and it looks as though it’s consciously and definitively ending here – has been a very enjoyable Hero’s Journey saga, funny and smart in equal measures. Here, the characters have aged a little bit more, so that instead of recycling the same situations, we’ve upped the ante. Plus, there’s the realizations that dragons gotta dragon. (full review 2/22)

Movie Diary 2/18/2019

Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972). The Seattle Art Museum is doing a Bergman series and this one was up. And it was in 35 mm., no less – in the opening shots, Sven Nykvist’s camera was catching the light through mist in such a way you could see about eight different colors in it. The director’s work with actors seems even more concentrated here than it does elsewhere in his filmography, so that everyone on screen seems stirred by some almost supernatural force.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018). The only remaining nominee in the Best Foreign Language Film category left for me to see – hey, it’s 188 minutes long, it took a while to get around to it. I liked H.v.D.’s The Lives of Others, and figured The Tourist could be chalked up to studio interference or Hollywoodization or whatever. But there’s no excuse for this, the saga of a young artist (Tom Schilling) who grows out of the Nazi era only to be buffeted around by the oppressive East Germans and the trendy aesthetes of the West. Although it has lots of melodrama, it denies you the satisfactions of melodrama. Just not a good movie – and it’s 188 minutes long.

The ‘Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989). Hadn’t seen it in 30 years, but always meant to re-visit. Fun, silly, ably turned. Hard to beat the sibling duo of Henry Gibson and Brother Theodore. Was the Rick Ducommon role originally intended for John Candy? It feels that way. The movie doesn’t go all the way with what it seems to want to do.

North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959). Bulletin: It’s still great.

Alita Arctic Romantic (This Week’s Movies)


Mads Mikkelsen, Arctic (Bleecker Street)

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

Alita: Battle Angel. “A little too glib to be truly memorable and a little too top-heavy to be really fun.”

Isn’t It Romantic. “It scores with Pitch Perfect comedian Wilson’s shade-throwing persona, but generates a sour aftertaste in how often it pats itself on the back for being clever.”

Arctic. “The simplicity of writer/director Joe Penna’s approach and the magnificence of Mads Mikkelsen’s acting is more than enough to make this survival tale a gripping experience.”

Scarecrow Academy reconvenes Saturday Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. (a session postponed by last weekend’s snow) with Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. My favorite movie, as it happens. This is part of an ongoing series exploring the proposition that 1959 is the greatest movie year; more info here.

For the Scarecrow Video blog’s Seasoned Ticket entry this week, I look at a review of an underappreciated film, Lone Scherfig’s Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002), which affords a chance to nod in the direction of the great Mads Mikkelsen.

Movie Diary 2/13/2019

The Old Fashioned Way (William Beaudine, 1934) and Never Give a Sucker and Even Break (1944). Two with W.C. Fields. One goes for the isolated bits.

A Summer Place (Delmer Daves, 1959). Hadn’t seen it in a long time. Some very good adult 1950s subjects being bandied about, and Daves directs the hell out of a few scenes, but the movie loses its groove when it definitively tilts toward teen lovers Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue (who, in case you did not recall this, is a stiff). Of the adults, Dorothy McGuire is intriguingly sensitive, Richard Egan is single-note all the way, and Arthur Kennedy more than pulls his weight. And hey, didja know Max Steiner did the music? The movie won’t let you forget it.

Movie Diary 2/11/2019

Arctic (Joe Penna, 2018). Man against the elements: Mads Mikkelsen is the man, the frozen north provides the elements. Very neatly turned, and Mikkelsen is superb. Remember Chekhov’s dictum: If you introduce a polar bear in the first act, be assured it will go off by the end. (full review 2/15)

Isn’t It Romantic (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2019). Rebel Wilson in an anti-romcom that goes very meta on the subject. You can forget about any chance they’d include the Rodgers & Hart song. It has a few moments. (full review 2/15)