Movie Diary 6/28/2021

Jimmy the Gent (Michael Curtiz, 1934). Ridiculous storyline, in which the title’s promise (a roughhouse Cagney character does a self-Pygmalion as he tries to class himself up in the eyes of Bette Davis) is basically left offscreen – and yet the milieu, the crackling lingo, the dynamics of Curtiz’ direction, and especially the zingy Cagney performance all combine to make it a hoot. JC runs an office that tracks down lost heirs, sometimes manufacturing them and splitting the proceeds; Davis works for a rival investigator (how many people are in this business?), played with satisfying unction by Alan Dinehart. Alice White provides gum-chewing comedy as a tootsie drawn into one of JC’s wild schemes, and Mayo Methot (Mrs. Bogart to you) handles a couple of scenes with alarming fierceness. In short, terrif.

The Friday 6/25/2021

Vin Diesel: F9 (Universal Pictures)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

F9. “when the characters step outside of plot and talk about their feelings (which they do with surprising regularity), these moments feel like commercials interrupting the flow of a network TV show, little advertisements selling you moronic notions about love and comradeship and, of course, ‘family.'” 

No new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” the radio show I host for Voice of Vashon, but we’ve got two “Encore Presentations” currently up and running: A couple more days to hear a show on Burt Bacharach’s movie career, and another week or so of life for a program about Bernard Herrmann’s work in fantasy films. Check those if you haven’t already. New episode next week.

Three vintage 1980s reviews posted this week at my other website, What a Feeling!: on Michael Hoffman’s Some Girls, a neurotic romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey; John David Coles’ Signs of Life, a low-key Maine tale with Vincent D’Onofrio, Mary-Louise Kelly (her film debut), and Arthur Kennedy; and a twofer review of films from the colonies, Sam Pillsbury’s Starlight Hotel, a Paper Moon-like tale from New Zealand, and the collectively-directed A Winter Tan, a Canadian drama about Maryse Holder, with a brave performance by Jackie Burroughs.

Movie Diary 6/22/2021

F9 (Justin Lin, 2021). I saw a movie in a theater. Details on 6/25.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese, 2011). Had never seen this documentary profile, which uses a bunch of stuff from Harrison’s archive. There are some gems there, even if the movie overall does not seem revelatory; a few big omissions (the whole “My Sweet Lord” plagiarism case, for instance) are puzzling.

The Friday 6/18/2021

Russell and Ron Mael: The Sparks Brothers (Jake Polonsky/Focus Features)

My piece for the Scarecrow blog this week, and etc.

The Sparks Brothers/Les Nôtres. “The stuff of their uncompromising career has lots of color (and great source material in the music, of course), but the thread of artistic integrity makes it almost irresistible.”/”Works committed variations on the respectable-community-with-dirty-secrets scenario.”

I’m back for a two-year term on the Speakers Bureau at Humanities Washington, which sends people out to various parts of our state to talk. (At first we’ll be Zooming it.) My talk is called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” where I explore – from the perspective of mankind’s response to the pandemic – how movies gave us the tools to deal, if only we’d been listening. Check out the description here, and if you live somewhere in Washington and are interested in hosting the talk, get in touch.

No new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies” this week, but we’ve revived Episode #1, on Burt Bacharach, and that’ll be online for the next week or so. And for this weekend, you can still check out the show called “Goldfinger and Company,” where I look at the effect a 1964 soundtrack album had on my imagination, and on other movie music.

Three vintages reviews posted this week at my other website, What a Feeling!: Robert Davies’ Saturday Night at the Palace, a South African apartheid drama starring John Kani; Lewis Gilbert’s Shirley Valentine, a starring vehicle for Pauline Collins; and Jane Campion’s Sweetie, the Australian director’s wacko feature debut.

I was on a jury for the 2021 Brooklyn Film Festival, and we gave our Best Narrative Feature award to Marcelo Brennand’s Corral, a strong Brazilian film about a political campaign and its repercussions.

Movie Diary 6/16/2021

Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011). Re-watched it for an upcoming lecture on end-of-the-world movies. Mm-hmm. To say that it “holds up” from the perspective of 2021 is an understatement, and it’s pretty damned eerie to watch the parallels unfold – I’m extremely glad I didn’t watch this eight months ago, when everything was worse. You wish that reality had had germ-hunters like Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle around (and Elliott Gould, too), although maybe we did. Soderbergh’s direction is very shrewd, mostly consisting of people talking in rooms but with a sure-handed flow that keeps it all coursing along through the bloodstream.

Movie Diary 6/15/2021

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, 2013). When I reviewed it in 2014 I said, “every inch of this film is delivered with such unapologetic verve that you probably won’t worry over bizarre shifts in tone or continuity issues.” Watching it again while prepping for a talk on end-of-the-world movies, I am still not worrying about these things – even less so. Slightly bummed to watch it on a TV screen – and it makes me wonder whether train movies in particular suffer from stepping down from big screen to small. Something about a train’s momentum, maybe. The one note I still don’t quite get: the horror of peeping into the vat making the food for the have-nots. The finished product is unappetizing, but surely the production of eatables from insects is a logical and nutritious idea. Obviously, one would also want to have the chicken and sushi at times, but still.

Movie Diary 6/14/2021

Ouanga (George Terwilliger, 1936). Voodoo and zombies, on a West Indian island; the plot is driven by interracial passion, as Black woman Fredi Washington (she played the light-skinned daughter trying to pass as white in Imitation of Life) vows to snag the white plantation owner she’s previously had a thing with – he’s now planning to marry a “respectable” white woman. Fascinating as a curio, creakily written and played except for Washington, with an occasional spectacular shot. Some of it was made on location in the Caribbean, and there are voodoo scenes that have a kind of nighttime ethnographic credibility about them – but maybe they’re nonsense. The climax involves an astonishingly gigantic tree, with a white woman hanging from it. The Black local who wants Washington for his own is played by … Sheldon Leonard. (Screened online in a UCLA event.)

Movie Diary 6/13/2021

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965). Amicus omnibus (that’s fun) with five strangers sharing a train car, joined by a certain Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing, in Eastern European eyebrows). He reads the Tarot of each man, which means we get stories about werewolves and vampires and voodoo and weird man-killing shrubs. Christopher Lee sits next to Cushing for the Tarot sequences and features in a story about a snobby art critic who ends up getting bothered by a disembodied hand. The stories are skeletal, to be sure – not much more than a premise and a grabby ending – but Francis does stylish things along the way, as befits an Oscar-winning cinematographer. Cast includes Donald Sutherland (not much to do, alas, despite being one of the trainmen), Michael Gough, Jeremy Kemp (he studies the mutant plant and utters, “A brain? I was right”), Max Adrian, and Roy Castle as a musician who gets supernaturally cancelled for indulging in cultural appropriation. (That’s the voodoo story.) The last few minutes – without giving anything away here – suggest that the Coen brothers saw this movie at a tender age and filed it away for future use. Oh, and the cast has two people who would be on the cover of “Band on the Run”: Lee and singer Kenny Lynch.

The Friday 6/11/2021

Two Lottery Tickets
Two Lottery Tickets

My piece this week for the Scarecrow blog, and etc.

Two Lottery Tickets. “The comic ideas must come from the confines of that squared-off screen space—and, indeed, the confines become a huge part of the comedy in at least a few set-ups.”

The new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” is called “Goldfinger and Company,” in which I talk about my childhood fascination with the soundtrack LP of a certain James Bond film, and trace its ripple effect through other kinds of movie music. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

The previous episode, on New Nordic Composers, remains online through this weekend.

Three vintage reviews posted at my Eighties blog, What a Feeling!, namely: Joel Zwick’s Second Sight, which paired Bronson Pinchot with John Larroquette; Lee Grant’s Staying Together, a relationship picture with Dermot Mulroney and Sean Astin; and Agnes Varda’s Kung-Fu Master!, a Jane Birkin vehicle that makes no concessions to anybody’s expectations or feelings.

Movie Diary 6/8/2021

Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978). A re-visit to an American classic. Watching it this time I was especially struck by how Burnett lets you discover what’s going on in a scene, who’s in the room and where, what the tension is, and etc. (oh, I get it now, that kid is ducking behind a piece of plywood because he’s in an empty lot playing war games). The movie has a great soundtrack of music, but is also an ingenious arrangement of sound itself – especially the dehumanizing white-noise (what a phrase, in this context!) roar of the slaughterhouse.

Mindwalk (Bernt Capra, 1990). Remember this one? Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, and John Heard, walking around Mont Saint-Michel and talking about physics and meaning. It couches its scientific and philosophical ideas in a wrapper that I find equally appealing, which is the idea of meeting a stranger and having a profound encounter on the spot – plus, the backdrop is awfully photogenic.