Movie Diary 11/29/2021

West Side Story (Steven Spielberg, 2021). I plan to review this one. It has some ecstatic moments, which have little to do with Spielberg’s reputation as a Born Entertainer and everything to do with Spielberg’s genius for how movies live. There are also puzzling stumbles. The casting is sharp, with one mystifying, stupefying exception. (full review 11/10)

A Hero (Asghar Farhadi, 2021). A typical Farhadi ball of knots, about a man, stuck in a Dickensian debtor’s prison, whose potential way out is loaded with white lies. “You’re either very smart or very simple,” someone says to him, and yes, that ambiguity keeps the movie going. A Capra picture with a fascinating (fascinating in part because of its everyday-ness) modern-Iran backdrop.

The Friday 11/26/2021

No piece for the Scarecrow blog this week. It is Thanksgiving.

I’ve got a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, devoted to music from the films of Marlon Brando.

Last week’s show will be online for a few more days: a look at 70s neo-noir.

On Wednesday, Dec. 1, I’ll be giving my Humanities Washington talk online: “The End Is Near: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse, which ties together apocalyptic movies with our Covid-19 response. It’s hosted by Walla Walla Community College Library; more info here.

Two vintage 1980s reviews uploaded to my other website this week: Jonathan Kaplan’s Immediate Family, a pregnancy drama with married couple Glenn Close and James Woods; and Andrew Solt’s documentary Imagine: John Lennon, which served as a kind of riposte to Albert Goldman’s 1988 bio of Lennon.

Movie Diary 11/22/2021

Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021). I hope I’ll be writing about this at some point – the second film this year from its director, after Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. This one is similarly enchanting.

Agnes (Mickey Reece, 2021). A tale of possible demonic possession in a nunnery, told in an elliptical, sort of blocky fashion. Some familiar tropes are deployed, but never quite in the way you expect them. It felt a little like a Abel Ferrara picture, with an intense concentration on a few scenes, and stuff left out. Odd collection of actors, too. It works, whatever it is.

Mass (Fran Kranz, 2021). Also very concentrated: The story of four people gathering in an agreed-on neutral place (a nondescript anteroom in a church) to hash out … something. The opening 20 minutes are effective partly because you don’t know what the subject is, so we’ll leave it unsaid here – in fact, the edgy buildup is so well orchestrated that there almost can’t help but be a letdown when the cards are on the table. Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd have the best chances, and they do not disappoint, with Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney in capable support; Breeda Wool makes the most of her comic openings as a chipper church lady.

Movie Diary 11/21/2021

Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodovar, 2021). A story of two women (Penelope Cruz, Milena Smit) sharing a hospital room on the day they both give birth, and also a story of unresolved issues from the Spanish Civil War. The combination of these two, and the usual visually luscious Almodovar approach, makes me wonder about the ways that this director of marvelous taste can also be a director of bad taste. Haven’t resolved that yet, but the film is consistently compelling.

Old (M. Night Shyamalan, 2021). Another director with good taste/bad taste issues, even if in a very different mode. The premise here makes the movie preposterous enough to be a source of ridicule for many, and I take it the film was that, but if you notice small matters such as mise-en-scene, you might occasionally be thrilled.

The Tomorrow War (Chris McKay, 2021). Or, you could just watch something really dumb.

The Friday 11/19/2021

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?

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

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? “Koberidze’s film is my idea of why cinema exists.”

I have a new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” this week: 70s Neo-Noir. We listen to the moods of Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, Night Moves, and other re-imaginings of noir. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

Also still up: movies and music and Paris.

Scarecrow Academy, the online discussion series presented by Scarecrow Video in Seattle, concludes its semester on “The Art in Noir: Film Noir and the Director,” on Saturday, 11/20, at 2 pm Pacific Time, with a conversation about Ivan Passer’s 1981 film Cutter’s Way. It’s free, via Zoom – join us, hmm? I intro the thing below:

Three vintage reviews posted this week at my other blog, What a Feeling!: Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal, an arthouse hit from Canada by way of the gospels; Laszlo Pal’s Journey to Spirit Island, a kids’ adventure shot in the San Juan Islands; and Eric Weston’s The Iron Triangle, a Vietnam-from-the-North-perspective with Beau Bridges and Haing S. Ngor.

Movie Diary 11/16/2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Michael Showalter, 2021). I am now officially in “catch up on 2021” mode. It may be impossible for any film to navigate the balance of sympathy and hilarity required to address the clownshow that was the Jim and Tammy Bakker extravaganza, and this movie doesn’t get it right. But it has a number of inspired moments, and a few funny ones, and in general joins the list of Showalter’s almost-but-not-quite movie projects (these include The Big Sick and Hello, My Name is Doris). Andrew Garfield easily takes on the buttery grin of the vapid Jim, and Jessica Chastain is superb as Tammy Faye – Chastain makes Tammy Faye’s automatic giggle come to seem a desperate reflex against everything going bad, or a guard against the devil. Also, Vincent D’Onofrio plays Jerry Falwell as an imperious, sexist, craven asshole – yup, that checks out.

The Friday 11/12/2021

Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Film Movement)

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

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. “This is a glorious movie, one of the year’s best.”

I’ve got a new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” this one devoted to the way cinema has imagined Paris. Includes appearances by Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker, and my anecdote about being pickpocketed on the steps of Sacre-Coeur. Listen here.

Scarecrow Academy, a free online discussion series presented by Scarecrow Video in Seattle, continues “The Art in Noir” on Saturday Nov. 13 with a conversation about Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Check the Scarecrow Academy page for info about how to sign up. I introduce the film below.

Newly posted to my other blog, What a Feeling!, this week: vintage 1980s reviews of Krzysztof Zanussi’s A Year of the Quiet Sun, a lovely work from the Polish director, with fine roles for Scott Wilson and Maja Komorowska; and Keenen Ivory Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, the blaxploitation spoof that really launched the Wayans world.

Movie Diary 11/10/2021

Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1966). I have always dug this film, going back to its airings on the “Big Money Movie” on local-TV afternoons, where it must have puzzled quite a few viewers. The sequence of Oskar Werner sitting down to read for the first time (“Chapter One – I Was Born”) is a favorite movie scene. The shots of the books burning up are like no one else would do them, and the way Truffaut sees the pages of David Copperfield as Werner reads, cutting to slightly closer views of the words as he proceeds, is the mark of a true bibliophile – no, a fetishist. And if you don’t have a little streak of that in you as an artist, forget it.

Movie Diary 11/9/2021

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974). If you wanted a starting place for the movie’s greatness, you might compare it to the other period films of the era – The Great Gatsby; The Sting; Farewell, My Lovely – and measure how each film uses top-drawer studio craft, yet the others look pretty and cartoony next to the way Chinatown lives and breathes.

And just by the way, we will talk about Chinatown in Saturday’s meeting of Scarecrow Academy, a free online course on “The Art in Noir,” presented by Scarecrow Video. That’s Saturday Nov. 13 at 2 pm Pacific Time; the sign-up link is at the Scarecrow Academy page. I introduce the movie below.

Movie Diary 11/8/2021

Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021). Documentary, animated except for newsreel material, about one man’s escape from Afghanistan years ago, and the reasons he needs to talk about it now. Compelling on every level, especially in describing the terrors of extra-legal immigration.

Attica (Stanley Nelson, Tracy Curry, 2021). Interviews with survivors of the 1971 uprising punctuate a staggering amount of news footage, and the movie builds its portrait of a disaster with immense patience. By the time you reach the footage of the law-enforcement officers celebrating the siege of the prison uprising and they start shouting “White power!”, it seems like the expected culmination of everything that’s come before.