Movie Diary 12/30/2020

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2020). Riz Ahmed in a dead-on performance as a drummer who loses his hearing. The sonic possibilities of this scenario are fascinatingly explored, with strong supporting work by Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, and (unexpectedly) Mathieu Amalric.

French Exit (Azazel Jacobs, 2020). Michelle Pfeiffer as a glamorous Manhattan mother, Lucas Hedges as her son; their eccentric lifestyle has run its course (financially, at least). The movie is what happens when they go to a friend’s Paris apartment and a screwball comedy ensues, complete with zany strangers and Pfeiffer’s late husband living as a black cat (voiced by Tracy Letts). Yes, this is my kind of thing.

La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2019). Guatemala’s submission for this year’s International Feature Film Oscar. A despised dictator holes up in his mansion, alongside loyal wife, daughter, granddaughter, and longtime servant; the home may also be inhabited by a supernatural “weeping woman” of legend. Good mix of the political and the slightly horrific, from the director of Ixcanul, which I review here.

Saint Frances (Alex Thompson, 2020). The situations are generally familiar, but the variations are clever and spirited. A young woman, played by screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan, navigates the new challenges of casual boyfriend + pregnancy + job as nanny + headstrong child, along with the old challenge of not knowing what to do with life (now becoming more pressing at age 34).

Movie Diary 12/28/2020

Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020). Some of the early going is fun, as Nolan works out interesting ways to shoot action scenes and gives his protagonist some enjoyable lippiness. Other things weigh it down: the sheer effort required to try to understand what the hell’s going on, and the sense of actors wasting their time with typical Nolan exposition.

Bad Hair (Justin Simien, 2020). A funny and weird movie with roots in folk horror: an assistant (Elle Lorraine) at a Black MTV network (circa 1989) has strange reactions to a bad hair job, and to her own ambitions. This one’s an original, and does the period well.

Movie Diary 12/27/2020

It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946). The movie has become such a Kristmas Klassic that it is under-appreciated for its dynamic image-making (every shot is charged) and its remarkable rhythm (Capra knows just when to pause or let a shot be). A great film.

Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947), White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), and Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003). Annual viewings in the household. All are better than they might seem to be, if you know what I mean. Bing Crosby’s patter remains the gold standard for relaxed naturalistic movie acting.

The Friday (12/18/2020)

Atsuko Maeda: To the Ends of the Earth

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week.

To the Ends of the Earth. “It all feels a little like one of Wim Wenders’ wandering narratives, but not like the mighty early Wenders pictures—more like Lisbon Story, a gentle mid-career doodle where place and atmosphere might agreeably substitute for urgency.”

Movie Diary 12/16/2020

Palm Springs (Max Barbakow, 2020). Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, stuck in the same day in an endless time loop; J.K. Simmons is mixed in there, too. The movie’s pretty close to getting it right, although Samberg’s lightness and a frequent crudity of tone tend to undercut the good parts.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978). I hadn’t seen it in a long time, but I was once well acquainted with it. When a movie like this gets ingrained in your head at an early age, you always know your way around. It holds up nicely, has some funny throwaway lines, and contains a foundational Goldblum performance. A good San Francisco film, and a terrific 70s time capsule.

Movie Diary 12/15/2020

Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, 2020). Another fine one from the director of my #1 from a couple of years ago, The Rider. Frances McDormand plays a modern American wanderer, living in her van, going where the work is, staying in motion. The movie is made up of little bits gathered along the way, some polished, some not, all deliberately chosen.

The Forty-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, 2020). A very original and very amusing look at a once-promising playwright (played by the filmmaker) coming to grips with disappointments and compromises on the cusp of turning 40. Part of the pleasure of the movie is the sense of a “fresh new face” arriving, but with four decades of observations and experience built in.

Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020). A house party in the 1980s, which unfolds with the rhythm of an actual party and without the need for a great deal of storytelling. Some wonderful sequences powered by music. Probably the best movie McQueen has made, but I haven’t seen the other segments of his Small Axe series.

Movie Diary 12/14/2020

Catching up on the diary, after a few weeks of moving house. End-of-year arty-horror screeners to the fore:

Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020). Lots of antiseptic style on display here, in the story of a body-hopping assassin (Andrea Riseborough) occupying the form of a stooge (Christopher Abbott). His character is especially unlikely; a corporate drone dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of the CEO (Sean Bean). You may buy this exercise, which gets the job done, in its way; I did not.

The Lodge (Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, 2019). Riley Keough’s admirable commitment notwithstanding, this weekend-at-the-country-house horror picture is easy to predict. And the temerity of using a dollhouse in the wake of Hereditary! This is strictly going by the numbers.

Relic (Natalie Erika James, 2020). From Australia, creepiness inside a house where the matriarch appears to have dementia. I liked the spooky notes written to herself, and the final ten minutes are the makings of a strong short film. Almost everything else feels derivative, an interesting core idea in search of execution.

The Friday (12/11/2020)

Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung: In the Mood for Love

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week. Everything else is on hiatus during a move (which is in the settling-in/sorting phase).

An introduction to In the Mood for Love. (SIFF is offering an online selection of Wong Kar-Wai pictures right now.)

The Friday (12/4/2020)

Mads Mikkelsen: Another Round (Samuel Goldwyn; photo by Henrik Ohsten

My review for the Scarecrow blog this week. Other stuff on hiatus during a move!

Another Round. “Mikkelsen manages to imbue two syllables with a kind of terrible retreat from life, a despondent resignation masquerading as acquiescence.”