Movie Diary 1/30/2022

The Spy in Black (Michael Powell, 1939). A model of taut filmmaking and also a distinctive Powell (and Pressburger too) picture, with its almost unthinkable sympathy for a German character (WWI U-Boat captain Conrad Veidt) on an undercover mission in the Orkney Islands. A startling film in many ways, including its occasional flashes of violence.

The Friday 1/28/2022

Penelope Cruz, Milena Smit: Parallel Mothers (Iglesias Mas/Sony Pictures Classics)

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

Introduction/Parallel Mothers/Flee. “Enough cigarettes burned in the film to fill a three-hour epic” / “It seems clearer than ever that all the handsome design is an embrace of style as a defiant and even courageous wedge against oppression, conformity, and whatever else you can name that threatens the spirit” / “Consistently engaging and sometimes nail-biting.”

I’ve got a new episode of my radio show, “The Music and the Movies,” this week. It’s Part One of our four-part look at The Beatles and film, focusing on John Lennon. (We get to Paul on Sunday night at 7pm on the Voice of Vashon.)

Each show stays online for a couple of weeks. You can still catch our episode on Happy Movie Songs, too.

Three vintage reviews posted this week at my other blog, What a Feeling!: Uli Edel’s film of Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr.’s just-about-impossible-to-film book, with Jennifer Jason Leigh in a brutal but brave role; David Saperstein’s A Killing Affair, an obscure backwoods noir with Peter Weller and Kathy Baker; and John Dahl’s Kill Me Again, an enormously fun neo-noir starring Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.

Movie Diary 1/26/2022

Ticket of No Return (Ulrike Ottinger, 1979). This was on the Criterion Channel, and I’d never seen it. The surreal chic on display must’ve been amusing coming in the teeth of the other West German cinema emerging in the 70s, as it threads a needle between Fellini, agitating avant-garde theater, and what would become the “cinema du look.” Ottinger follows an elegant, unspeaking drunkard (Tabea Blumenschein) as she moves through West Berlin, rubbing elbows with various strata of denizens and breaking glasses along the way. Seems like something that probably moved around the international film-festival circuit a lot, where people could either shake their heads at the preciousness of it all or just groove on all the pretty nonsense. There are cameo appearances by Nina Hagen and Eddie Constantine.

Movie Diary 1/24/2022

The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948). This is certainly a Hollywood movie, no doubt about it (specifically, it’s one of those Fox postwar pictures that attempt an adult approach to social issues), and it has a conventional character arc at its center. But still, it’s pretty disturbing, from the details of life in a mental hospital to Olivia de Havilland’s willingness to go out there. The film has a curious movement, too, kind of jangled and abrupt; surely it’s missing some scenes, especially involving the character played by Celeste Holm, who seems important in the early going but then disappears. Even beneath the scenes depicting normal life and domesticity, there’s something strange and desperate going on – a feeling that ends up being more memorable than the kind psychiatrist played by Leo Genn, and his confidence in the talking cure.

Movie Diary 1/23/2022

Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980). It doesn’t mind-bend you in the way it did in theaters (I saw it more than once that way), I think mostly because of the incredible sound design, but this is still a fine argument for derangement as a movie-making method. But at the same time, Russell’s focus on shapes and light ain’t entirely primitive, either. John Corigliano’s music is key to the whole thing. This was a helluva way to meet William Hurt.

The Friday 1/21/2022

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

Bastards/Strayed (RIP Michel Subor and Gaspard Ulliel).

Hey, I’m giving my free talk for Humanities Washington online on Thursday, January 27, at 6:30 pm Pacific Time. It’s called “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” and I talk about doomsday movies that predicted our response during COVID-19. It’s more fun than that might sound. More description and a link to register here.

No new “Music and the Movies” radio show from me this week (got a big four-part opus coming up, please stay tuned), but you can hear, for a few days, repeats on The Film Noir Lounge (see photo above) and Happy Movie Songs.

Three reviews posted to my other website, What a Feeling!, this week: vintage takes on Hugh Hudson’s Lost Angels, a kids-in-trouble thing with a starring role for the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz; Michel Deville’s La Lectrice, a good French oddity starring Miou-Miou; and Amy Heckerling’s Look Who’s Talking, a hit comedy with Bruce Willis as the voice of a wise-crackin’ baby. So you liked the 80s, did you?

Movie Diary 1/19/2022

Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948). Even with its limited success, this movie strikes me as more than a mere technical experiment. The anxiety of being “found out” is clearly under Hitchcock’s skin, and drives everything that happens – the movie feels that very keenly. And the section where the camera re-traces the final movements of the murder victim’s life conjures up an actual sense of absence, an example of technique meeting emotion. Also: It’s strange that people still casually refer to this movie as having no obvious cuts, when there are a handful of deliberate, unmasked cuts at key moments.

Movie Diary 1/18/2022

The Last Wave (Peter Weir, 1977). Holds up pretty well, with lots of dark portents and inexplicable omens. Dick Chamberlain’s natural frostiness is a good match with the civilized hero who must come to terms with being a conduit to a less rational world. David Gulpilil is on form, and Nandjiwarra Amagula, in his only film role, contributes the unforgettable scene where his tribal elder looks at Chamberlain and begins softly intoning, “Who are you? Who are you?” over and over. Eventually the movie has to explain some things, and of course that’s the part that falls short, but until then Weir creates a persuasive mood, especially through sound.

Movie Diary 1/17/2022

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen, 2021). Saw this at a movie theater – the Rose in Port Townsend, Washington – so I suppose grade inflation is possible. But it’s a compelling, stripped-down version (so stripped-down I would actually like to hear more language), composed in abstract black-and-white spaces. The movie feels like an exercise, like a film school project on the topic of “directing,” but with top-line talent all around. Still, the places where Coen (feels weird not to say “the Coen brothers”) puts the emphases are interesting; the killing of Duncan is a relatively quick event here, but the obsession with succession is the big problem. Sort of becomes just another example of Coen characters being their own worst enemies and screwing things up. Denzel Washington is very good; he tamps down his tendency to go big, in favor of a weariness that makes his kingly bluster look like, well, bluster. (There’s something strangely beautiful about his delivering the “Tomorrow” speech while descending a staircase.) Frances McDormand does a lot with little furtive glances, which is how Lady Macbeth would probably get through the world. Plus – as you will hear – the witches are a standout, all played by the unnerving Kathryn Hunter.

The Friday 1/14/2022

Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman: Licorice Pizza (Melinda Sue Gordon/MGM)

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

Licorice Pizza/Don’t Look Up/Encounter/Red Rocket. “Many expectations are violated”/”the thing doesn’t work without it being clobberingly obvious”/”limited”/”the silted-over flow of American mythology.”

I don’t have a new radio show for “The Music and the Movies” this week, but our episode on Cole Porter is still online. (Due to a tech snafu, the track with Jimmy Stewart singing is lacking one crucial element: Stewart’s voice!) You can also listen to a repeat appearance of the Film Noir Lounge episode.

Early notice: I’ll be giving my free Humanities Washington talk, “This Is the End: How Movies Prepared Us for the Apocalypse,” online on Jan. 27 at 6:30 pm Pacific Time; this one is presented by the Spokane Public Library. Sign up for the Zoom session here.

Catching up on some posts to What a Feeling!, my blog of vintage 1980s reviews: Aki Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys Go America, a deadpan account of Finnish rockers on tour; and Christine Edzard’s Little Dorrit, a six-hour Dickens adaptation that deserves to be remembered.