The Friday 7/30/2021

Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche: Les amants du Pont-Neuf

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

Les amants du Pont-Neuf. “Guess what? It’s a landmark of French cinema.”

I’ve got a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, this one devoted to the accordion in film music. Listen without prejudice, and embrace this much-maligned instrument in a show that travels from Leos Carax to Werner Herzog to Lawrence Welk.

Still running: The M&M episode on Quincy Jones’ film music.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, we have two vintage 1980s reviews posted this week: David Mamet’s Things Change, with Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna in a mob comedy; and Frank Kerr’s True Blood, a crime thing with Jeff Fahey, Chad Lowe, and Billy Drago.

Movie Diary 7/27/2021

The Empty Man (David Prior, 2020). This under-publicized film has gotten its share of enthusiastic notices. James Badge Dale carries the movie – and ably, too – as a loner drawn into a storyline that sounds like an urban-legend teen horror flick: Think about “the Empty Man” while standing on a bridge and blowing into an empty bottle, and the fearsome apparition will manifest itself over the course of three days. That dopey-but-what-the-hell-it’s-a-horror-movie idea sits uncomfortably with the mysterious angst that Dale’s character brings with him, and somehow it’s all connected with a long prologue set in Bhutan 25 years earlier, which Dale never mentions even though you keep waiting for him to. The film drags in as many modern horror conventions as it can (huh, look at that coven of black-clad worshippers chanting around a bonfire in a field at night), sometimes to eye-rolling effect. And yet, the film’s supporters aren’t completely wrong; there’s something afoot here, even though the reliance on contrived scares and sub-Shyamalan mood is overdone. There’s a good weird-teen performance by Sasha Frolova, a fine turn by Stephen Root as a cult leader, and an absolute knockout single scene from Phoebe Nicholls (of the longform Brideshead Revisited all those years ago) as a subliminally sinister nurse.

Movie Diary 7/25/2021

Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel, 2015). Missed this one during its initial run, and it’s about the end of the world, or the post-apocalyptic part of it, so I needed to check it off the list. Margot Robbie has survived the disaster and is living her own hillbilly elegy in a miraculously protected valley (cf. Roger Corman’s The Day the World Ended) when engineer Chiwetel Ejiofor comes along. The place appears to be West Virginia, but by way of New Zealand, where it was shot. Third survivor Chris Pine appears, and we’re not sure how the math is going to work out, but surely it should be more interesting to add up than what we get here. A few grown-up moments happen, and the music by Heather McIntosh adds a lot. The final ten minutes are effective, and sinister, and give a good indicator of why the movie wasn’t more successful.

The Friday 7/23/2021

Ivan Trojan: Charlatan (Strand Releasing)

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

Charlatan. “Holland has the character remain opaque, despite the stabs at explaining him, to the point where the final reels are almost excruciating in their depiction of a man who will not yield to our expectations of redemption or enlightenment. This is interesting.”

Tomorrow (that’s 7/24) at 11 a.m. Pacific Time I’ll be leading a Zoom discussion called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” as part of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau. This is presented by the Upper Skagit Library system, specifically the Concrete branch. The talk is free, and there’s more info and a link to register here.

The new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” is devoted to movie soundtracking by Quincy Jones. We look at how quickly Jones took to scoring films in the 1960s, and the second half of the show has considerable funk. Listen here.

You can also check in my show on 1980s neo-noir movie music, or the Beach Party craze. These are produced by Voice of Vashon.

Two vintage 1980s reviews posted to my other website, What a Feeling!: Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, a saucy early work from the director; and Ron Underwood’s Tremors, which I realized was actually released in January ’90 only after I typed it out, so there.

Movie Diary 7/21/2021

Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland, 2020). A difficult protagonist and handsome historical re-creation of late-50s Czechoslovakia mark Holland’s latest effort. It’ll play through SIFF’s revenue-sharing streaming thing starting tomorrow (when I will review properly).

Movie Diary 7/19/2021

Little Joe (Jessica Hausner, 2019). Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with scientists raising plants that will make people happy. Admittedly, this is up my alley, but even so it’s a striking movie, chillingly designed and spookily scored (using music by Teiji Ito). Hausner made Lourdes and Amour Fou; she is Austrian and meticulous, almost to a fault. She has a very good eye for – I don’t know how else to put this – the human, which is what the movie is about, after all, particularly as it resides in two female characters, the lead scientist (Emily Beecham), who is prickly and awkward, and a dog-loving researcher (Kerry Fox, quietly excellent), whose past history of mental illness is used against her. This is unnerving viewing, due to Hausner’s measured sense of timing and the deadpan way the action unfolds (there’s a brilliant scene where Beecham’s kid and his girlfriend seem to blurt out the whole nefarious plot, only to sarcastically take it back). With Ben Whishaw, David Wilmot, Kit Connor.

Movie Diary 7/18/2021

Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, 2021). Outdoor concerts in Harlem, from the summer of 1969, seen in footage that was set aside for decades. Perhaps it will not surprise that the performances are wonderful and that the music is tied to activism. Is there too much talk over the music? Maybe, and one would like to see entire sets at DVD extras. But what’s here is lovely.

The Friday 7/16/2021

Kim Min-hee, Song Seon-mi: The Woman Who Ran (Cinema Guild)

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

The Woman Who Ran. “Completely beguiling. Like Gam-hee’s manner (Kim Min-hee is a master of body language, squinching her gangling frame into a variety of chairs and tables, as though nonverbally asking, ‘Do I belong here?’), this movie looks casual, but something urgent and human is at stake.”

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” this one dedicated to “Eighties Neo-Noir,” the music of which ran from classic John Barry to synthesized Tangerine Dream. That’ll be online for the next ten days or so.

The previous episode, on the music of the Beach Party films and related phenomena, will be up for a few more days.

I’m a member of the 2021-23 Speakers Bureau for Humanities Washington, and I’ll give a talk for the Concrete Library, via Zoom, on Saturday, July 24, at 11 a.m. The talk is called “This Is the End: How the Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” in which I look at end-of-the-world films and how they predicted our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sign up here and join us.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I’ve added three vintage 1980s reviews. Namely: a twofer review of Beth B’s Salvation! and Philip Saville’s Shadey, the first a televangelist satire that brought together Viggo Mortensen and Exene Cervenka, the latter British whimsy with Antony Sher; Roger Young’s The Squeeze, an adventure-comedy with Michael Keaton and Rae Dawn Chong; and Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which has whales in it.

Movie Diary 7/14/2021

Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967). A completely random choice, and a good time. I had remembered that Alan Arkin dominated more, but he seems to have less screen time than Richard Crenna. Much of what Young does is standard-issue play adaptation, tweaked with the occasional faux-Hitchcock raised camera angle. There are some splendidly staged moments, including the beat when Audrey Hepburn realizes what’s going on, played not in close-up but in a suggestive middle-distance shot, the space around her newly charged with uncertainty. Arkin’s beatnik act seems way ahead of the rest of the old-fashioned movie, like a Nichols & May routine dropped into a Doris Day-Rock Hudson picture.

The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, 2020). Saw a lot of documentaries last year, but managed to miss this study of the truffle business in Italy. It is indeed engrossing, and easy on the eyes, stuffed with memorable characters and evocative landscapes. And yet you still want to know: How did the filmmakers get access to some of these moments?

Movie Diary 7/13/2021

Mirage (Edward Dmytryk, 1965). Only had a vague memory of this from the local-TV afternoon movie. Maybe that’s apt for a movie about amnesia, but it also says something about the film’s nondescript palette, and its generally less-than-urgent mood. The opening is cool: A Manhattan office tower blacks out, and Gregory Peck emerges with very little recollection of what he’s been doing there for two years; DP Joe MacDonald gets nice things going with some very pitch-black silhouettes, and the feeling is suitably disorienting. Diane Baker meets Peck in the dark, making veiled references to past events, and Jack Weston follows him to his apartment. After that, things slow down. The script is by Peter Stone, a couple of years after he wrote Charade, and there are snappy lines that sound like that world – but oh, what a distance there is between Cary Grant/Stanley Donen and Greg Peck/Eddie Dmytryk. There are kooks around: George Kennedy as a bespectacled heavy, Kevin McCarthy as a corporate man apparently escaped from a Billy Wilder movie, and Hari Rhodes as a sardonic cop. You could say Walter Matthau steals the movie, as a shambling private investigator on his first case, but the show is set up to let Matthau run away with his section of the picture (and of course he does), so it’s hardly theft. At one point Weston is talking about movies, and says, “Now that westerns have gone psycho…” which is a pretty awesome throwaway. The music is by Quincy Jones, who conjures up some avant-garde sounds justified by the story’s topsy turvy story. Overall, much flatter-footed than it should be, and Peck and Baker look like they come from completely different movie universes.

The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sangsoo, 2020). Another one of these. But I like that about Hong – they just keep coming. (Full review on 7/16)