Movie Diary 9/27/2021

It’s Scarecrow Academy time again – I will be leading another “semester” of online discussions for Seattle’s nonprofit Scarecrow Video, this time Part 2 of “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director,” which begins Saturday, Oct. 2, at 2 pm Pacific Time and continues for eight weeks in the same slot via Zoom. It’s free! See the Scarecrow Academy page, or check the poster below. And now, allow me to introduce the series:

Movie Diary 9/26/2021

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950). I will lead Scarecrow Academy again for its fall session, beginning Saturday Oct. 2 at 2 pm Pacific Time (Zoom meetings, that is), about which more to come. Our first discussion, though, will be about this dark classic, a film about Hollywood and compromise and violence.

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956). Which made me want to watch this film again, for the first time in many years. The two movies seem connected, both very hothouse experiences, this one alive with color and widescreen dynamics, set against a society that makes people sick – or at least one that doesn’t allow them time for anything other than the business of making money.

The Friday 9/24/2021

Jesmark Scicluna: Luzzu (Kino Lorber)

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

Port Townsend Film Festival titles.

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, on the subject of “Scott Joplin and Company.” This is a way of expressing my affection for the American genius, not just by playing a few cuts from The Sting but finding Joplin (and Joplinesque things) elsewhere in cinema. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

The previous show, “Experiments in Space,” is also still online. If those links have expired by the time you read this, you can access my VoV page and see what’s current.

Speaking of Voice of Vashon, I was interviewed on that station’s REALtalk show by host Susan McCabe, speaking partly of my Humanities Washington talk, and partly of the state of movies today. Check that here, if you wish.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, I’ve got three vintage 80s reviews to consider: Costa-Gavras’s Missing, with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in an example of big-studio more-or-less political filmmaking; Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill’s Soldier Girls, an excellent documentary from early in the careers of those filmmakers; and Robert Towne’s Personal Best, the track-and-field romance that really captured my heart at a tender moment.

Movie Diary 9/22/2021

Funeral in Berlin (Guy Hamilton, 1966). Michael Caine’s second film as Harry Palmer, flippant British spy. The film opens with a lively, colorful montage of life in West Berlin, followed by a series of bleak, depopulated shots of the East. So that’s how we got all those images in our heads. Evan Jones, who wrote a bunch of things for Joseph Losey (and also that disturbing Australian semi-classic Wake in Fright) adapted Len Deighton’s novel, with an uncertain tone but a satisfyingly twisty plot. Some interesting character actors in the mix, and Oscar Homolka hams it up as a potential defector.

Black Power: A Story of British Resistance (George Amponsah, 2021) and Subnormal: A British Scandal (Lyttanya Shannon, 2021). Two documentaries that overlap with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, as though providing the evidence for those narrative films. The first is a rapid-fire account of the various civil-rights groups in Britain (including the case that became the film Mangrove), narrated by Daniel Kaluuya; the second is about the insidious 1960s program that blithely shunted immigrant kids into schools for the “subnormal,” the background for McQueen’s Education. McQueen is also the producer of these documentaries.

Movie Diary 9/20/2021

Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997). Maybe it’s the reckless blend of comedy and violence, but this movie holds up pretty well. Armitage’s touch, a certain kind of jumpiness and screwball timing, gets into the film in various ways, including Minnie Driver’s performance, which has a scattershot feel appropriate for a character whose reactions can’t really be explained in a realistic context. It has a lot of the signposts of the American 80s film, but it’s also a commentary on the American 80s film. Watching John Cusack in his youth brought back the era more than any of the costumes or set design; from 1985 to 2000, his face was attached to a particular idea of a young leading man (or, because Cusack himself seemed to chafe at the idea of being an ideal, sometimes it was a criticism of the idea of a young leading man). Here, he lets other people act up around him, and in truth his performance seems a little vague, but maybe Cusack guessed that fit the character. In any case, as Cusack has slipped out of leading-man status, his run during this period is era-defining – not the movies themselves, you understand, but the face, and the quizzical, searching manner.

Movie Diary 9/19/2021

More documentaries.

A La Calle (Maxx Caicedo, Nelson G. Navarette, 2020). An explainer on politics in Venezuela, although not always with the background one might want. Witnessing clips of Nicolas Maduro telling change-minded voters they have “made a mistake” by voting against him, or dressing down a journalist for telling the truth, is a useful reminder (not that we craved one) of the universality of tinpot fascists at loose in the field.

End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock (Shannon Kring, 2021). The oil-pipeline protests in North Dakota, with a focus on the Native women standing in the way. Some very gratifying defiance in this one.

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, 2021). An illustrated lecture on the topic by Jeffrey Robinson, a lawyer and a canny storyteller. You will hear a lot about it.

The Friday 9/17/2021

Riz Ahmed: Mogul Mowgli (Strand Releasing)

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

Mogul Mowgli/Freeland/My Name is Pauli Murray. “Erupts with serio-comic scenes”/”Smokin’ a bone by the roadside”/”An utterly fascinating life.”

I have a new episode this week of my radio show “The Music and the Movies.” This one is called “Experiments in Space,” and in it we explore the way space movies allowed composers to create the music of the spheres, and of the theremin, computers, and other avant garde coolness. Check it here.

There’s also a show about Happy Movie Music, still up for a few more days. Or check the Voice of Vashon M&M page for whatever might be posted at any given time (each show must vanish after two weeks online).

Be there for another round of Scarecrow Academy, where I will be leading an online course called “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director Part 2.” Don’t worry if you missed Part 1 earlier this year. It goes for eight weeks starting October 2, Saturday afternoons at 2 pm, and is free. Look at the lineup and poster here and sign yourself up.

At my other blog, What a Feeling!, I posted three vintage reviews, one by mistake: Georges Lautner’s My Other Husband, a silly French comedy topline by Miou-Miou; Michael Cimino’s The Sicilian, a gangster epic with Christophe Lambert; and (I was sure it was an 80s flick, but I left the post up anyway for this 1991 picture) Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver’s He Said, She Said.

Movie Diary 9/14/2021

More documentary watching for a critics-group committee.

The Lost Leonardo (Andreas Koefoed, 2021). Somebody discovered the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci a little more than a decade ago – or, more precisely, somebody identified a painting of that name as actually being by Leonardo, rather than a student or imitator. A few years later it sold at auction for $450 million, allegedly to Mohammed bin Salman – yes, that MBS. But is the piece actually a Leonardo, or is this a fantastic tale of art-world delusion/greed? We’ve got a heckuva story here, full of shifty personalities and good insider dirt.

Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James (Sacha Jenkins, 2021). A chronicle, from James’ early years as a Toronto bandmate of Neil Young to his late-coming success to his drug-addled dark time, and his eventual re-emergence as a Dave Chappelle punch line.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (Mariem Perez Riera, 2021). Approaching 90 as the documentary is being shot, Moreno reflects back on a life devoted to showbiz. A spritzy profile that pretty much hits the expected marks, with the insistent drumbeat of how Moreno’s career was held back by Hollywood stereotyping.

Movie Diary 9/12/2021

The People vs. Agent Orange (Alan Adelson, Kate Taverna, 2021); and Missing in Brooks County (Jeff Bemiss, Lisa Molomot, 2020). Still on a documentary committee. These are two lacerating features about infuriating policies, the first about the effects and after-effects of Agent Orange and its chemical components (not merely as used in Vietnam but also in Oregon), the second about people dying in the Texas deserts after crossing the Rio Grande. Both films have a steady, dogged pulse, presenting evidence and human stories to make the case. “If you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you,” someone says in the latter film about the “illegals” coming to America, a line that could be the mission statement of a certain kind of documentary film, of which these two are sterling examples.

The Friday 9/10/2021

This Is the End (see below)

Skipping my Seasoned Ticket column this week. But here’s some etc.:

At 8 pm on Tuesday night, Sep. 14, I’ll be presenting my Humanities Washington talk “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” via Zoom. Scarecrow Video is the host. We’ll look at end-of-the-world movies and kick around ideas about how they warned us about our response to the pandemic. The talk is free; just sign up via Scarecrow or Humanities Washington.

No new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, but check out the M&M page at Voice of Vashon for recent shows.

Two vintage reviews posted this week at my other blog, What a Feeling!, namely these 1980s titles: the Taviani brothers’ Kaos, a three-hour omnibus of Pirandello stories; and Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda, the hit comedy brainchild of the great John Cleese.