Movie Diary 12/13/2021

The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, 2021). A loner (Oscar Isaac) with a damaged background makes the rounds of casinos, bringing in just enough so that the management doesn’t mind his ability to count cards and reliably win. Schrader’s antiseptically neat style (which is flagrantly violated in flashbacks) fits his character, and the movie is compelling even when its ideas seem to fall into predictable channels.

C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills, 2021). New one from the director of Twentieth Century Woman and Beginners, which is another way of saying, a filmmaker on whose wavelength I almost never find myself. Thanks to the efforts of Joaquin Phoenix and Gabby Hoffman, plus the engaging kid actor Woody Norman, this one is more tolerable. It’s in black-and-white, for reasons that are obscure to me.

The Friday 12/10/2021

Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura: Drive My Car (Sideshow/Janus Films)

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

Drive My Car. “Moments bloom into radiant life.”

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, devoted to the pioneer of film composing, Max Steiner, the man who did King Kong and Gone With the Wind and scored a #1 hit on the Top 40 when he was 71 years old. Listen here.

Still a few more days to listen to an episode about the film music of 1971.

I’ll be introducing, briefly, the Paramount Theatre’s evening of “Silent Santa Shorts,” part of their ongoing Silent Movie Mondays program, at 7 pm Dec. 13. Then a few of us will talk after. Check the details here.

Three vintage 1980s reviews posted this week to my other blog, What a Feeling!: Mike Hodges’ A Prayer for the Dying, an IRA thriller disowned by Hodges and star Mickey Rourke; Christopher Cain’s The Principal, a school movie with Jim Belushi, Louis Gossett Jr., and Rae Dawn Chong; and David Burton Morris’s Patti Rocks, a pretty prominent indie at the time, with good roles for the married actors Chris Mulkey and Karen Landry.

Movie Diary 12/8/2021

Belfast (Kenneth Branagh, 2021). Being a wee lad in Northern Ireland in 1969, rendered in black-and-white snippets and Van Morrison songs (and, touchingly somehow, visits to the picture show to see movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). The film is eager to entertain, too much so, although if you think of the incidents as coming from the mind of a ten-year-old boy, this tendency becomes more forgivable. By comparison with John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, this is mostly a series of charming sketches.

Movie Diary 12/7/2021

The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, 2021). A really pretty lovely account of a few years in the life of a young woman, Julie (Renate Reinsve), as she navigates uncertainty and men in Oslo. The different sections of the film – a long sequence in which Julie crashes a wedding, for instance – are vivid and detailed, and if some things seem familiar, the approach makes them fresh.

The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, 2021). The first Souvenir was one of the best films of recent years, so if the second part feels short of that standard, that’s not a huge knock. This one takes up where we left off, and spends more time at film school as Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) struggles to make art in the wake of tragedy. Both movies are about young women named Julie, yes.

Movie Diary 12/6/2021

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021). A Western, of suspense. I hope to give this a proper review. I wish I’d seen it on a big screen.

The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021). Directing debut for the actress; Olivia Colman plays an academic on a working vacation in Greece, observing the goings-on around her and recalling her past as a young mother (where she’s played by Jessie Buckley). Two general thoughts: These flashbacks may be of more interest to Gyllenhaal than they are to the story, and the approach here seems literary more than cinematic, somehow – it’s based on a novel by Elena Ferrante.

Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, 2020). A regularly funny nightmare-comedy set mostly inside a single house, featuring a gallery of dead-on performances by youngish actors (notably Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon) and old pros (including Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) alike.

Movie Diary 12/5/2021

House of Gucci (Ridley Scott, 2021). Big and broad and silly, as advertised. Lady Gaga is absolutely in the spirit of that, a canny and amusing performance; by comparison, Adam Driver seems like he should be having more fun in this kind of thing (see below). It all pops along and yet leaves a rather sour aftertaste, which is understandable given the perpetual air of resentment that wafts through Scott’s films.

Annette (Leos Carax, 2021). I’m a Carax fan and I wish I liked this more, although the songs are often helpful. Not sure the blend of Sparks and Carax is all that simpatico, given the archness of the former and the ferocious sincerity of the latter. About Adam Driver, though: You have to admire the commitment of the performance, and the fearlessness to appear this unlikable, but what I miss is an actor’s joy in playing such a role. Driver seems focused on the grim task at hand, rather than any kind of Richard III-like relish in creating this kind of jerk.

The Friday 12/3/2021

Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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

West Side Story.

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, this one devoted to music from 1971 films. Listen to that one here. Produced by Voice of Vashon.

The previous show, on music from Marlon Brando films, remains online for a few more days.

Just one addition to my other blog, What a Feeling!, this week: a vintage review of David Jones’ Jacknife, a Vietnam-hangover movie with strong performances by Robert De Niro, Ed Harris, and Kathy Baker.

Movie Diary 12/1/2021

The Green Knight (David Lowery, 2021). Catching up with this one, a film from a director whose work I am usually immune to – this time, at least, there’s an intriguing world being created, and the lack of rush is very welcome. Dev Patel’s noble head carries us through a story that has many heads, and Lowery works in a few touches of humor, which, in a post-Monty Python world, you almost have to do. It’s an odd movie, though, and plays as though it has swallowed the original story without quite bringing it to the surface again.

Titane (Julia Ducournau, 2021). A whirlwind, for sure, from the director of Raw, full of invention and tenderness and violence. Gutsy performances by Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon. Part endurance test, part fever dream. I’m always up for this kind of thing, at the same time that I’m not sure I get it.

Movie Diary 11/30/2021

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (Will Sharpe, 2021), and The Dig (Simon Stone, 2021). Putting these together because they are both UK period pieces, seen in proximity, sharing a “lightly likable” quality and reliable British casts. In the generally middling circumstances, the term “reliable” here carries a lot of weight, and you appreciate – in case you have taken them for granted – that people like Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (in the former) and Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan (in the latter) are awfully valuable players. Even Olivia Colman’s Electrical Life narration is soothingly expert.