Movie Diary 6/29/2022

Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948). The debut of the future director of From Russia with Love and Wait Until Dark is bonkers, a gothic costume drama about a woman (the highly peculiar Edana Romney, who also co-wrote the screenplay) falling under the spell of an artist (Eric Portman). He must have been successful as an artist, because his mansion is a vast repository of items he has made/collected that keep him living in the past, where he is most comfortable; he thinks he’s the re-incarnation of a Renaissance dandy, and that she is the raven-haired lady from a 15th century painting he owns. It’s not bonkers enough to stay interesting, unfortunately, despite all the heavy-breathing weirdness. Cast includes small roles for Christopher Lee (his feature debut), Lois Maxwell, and Thora Hird. Auteurist note: The first five minutes include a rendition of “Three Blind Mice” – as does the opening of Young’s Dr. No. You’re welcome.

Movie Diary 6/28/2022

Tahara (Olivia Peace, 2020). An afternoon of grief counseling at a Jewish high school, rendered with formidable attention to detail and a screen shape that goes even narrower than academy ratio. I’ll review it on Friday, when it opens at Seattle’s Grand Illusion.

Jigsaw (Val Guest, 1962). British procedural film, and we do mean procedural: After an opening sequence – a prelude to murder that demonstrates an interest in Hitchcock and Psycho – the film is a relentless parade of investigation and interrogation. The pace never flags, and the use of real locations (in and around Brighton) is convincing. For all of the Dragnet-style doggedness and the manly joshing of the cops (the leads are Jack Warner and Ronald Lewis), the two most striking characters and performances are female: the victim, played by Moira Redmond, and a lonely near-victim, played by Yolande Donlan, an American actress who was married to Val Guest; they create poignant snapshots of lost, overlooked souls, caught up in the process of crime.

Movie Diary 6/27/2022

Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Coppola, 1986) and Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990). Two re-watches in preparation for last week’s Nicolas Cage program. Neither film is among the greatest of its director, but watching Cage in these two can still give you the charge of something new happening on screen.

Grand Isle (Stephen S. Campanelli, 2019). A stab at Southern noir, with Cage and KaDee Strickland as a couple in a poisonous marriage, briefly joined by a handyman who shares a hurricane-inflected night at their mansion. The film is not good, and it gets worse as it reveals the horrible secrets contained within the house.

Movie Diary 6/26/2022

And Then There Were None (Rene Clair, 1945). A sustained directorial playfulness boosts this Agatha Christie adaptation (thankfully not filmed under the novel’s original UK published title). The cast, led by Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston, is on point, and the whole matter skips along pleasantly. Glad I caught up with this. Which is more than I can say for….

Death on the Nile (Kenneth Branagh, 2022). Even hokier than Branagh’s previous Christie show, this computer-generated whodunit begins by giving Hercule Poirot a psychological backstory, which is about as welcome here as Sam Mendes’ 007 films exploring the emotional history of James Bond. The movie’s flashes of modern humor sit awkwardly next to that impulse, and the cast, despite the team of Jennifer Saunders & Dawn French showing up, is underwhelming, to put it mildly. I guess the boat looks cool – though a cartoon, like everything else here, save for occasional glimpses of what appear to be actual location shots in Egypt, which stick out for their luxury and “placeness” next to the frictionless digital fantasy-scape. Not sure an “unraveling the mystery” scene has ever been this little fun.

The Friday 6/24/2022

Austin Butler: Elvis (Warner Bros.)

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

Elvis. “A showbizzy Passion Play stuffed with sequins.”

I have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” this one a “Movie Dance Party.” My previous handful of shows had been rather downbeat in subject, so it was time to collect some frug-able selections from movies about house parties and club visits. Faves from the likes of Animal House, Boogie Nights, Lovers Rock, plus a chance to talk about a scene from the 1981 film Strange Behavior that has stuck in my mind for years. Listen here; the show will vanish online in a couple of weeks, so act now.

Movie Diary 6/22/2022

Last week I was on the FIPRESCI jury at the Guadalajara Film Festival, a true life experience for which I am grateful. Here’s a list of the movies, all Mexican, the jury watched, with the winner listed first.

Coraje (Courage, Ruben Rojo Aura, 2022). We gave the award to this study of an actress, now losing her sight, in rehearsals for Mother Courage; her 50-something alcoholic son moves into her apartment in what we assume is a periodic attempt at re-setting his fumbled life.

El reino de Dios (The Realm of God, Claudia Sainte-Luce, 2022). This film won some festival awards, too, including a Best Actor prize for its young protagonist, a boy at loose ends in the countryside.

Goya (Pablo Orta, 2022). Two brothers have a series of misadventures after determining to save a dog that’s been abandoned by a neighbor. Am I wrong, or is there a mild parody of the opening of Roma at the beginning of this film?

Guadardo, Hermano (Brother, Kept, Jorge Ivan Sanders-Ortega, 2021). Another film about brothers, one disabled, in a small town where a cartoonishly weird doctor holds sway.

Celeste Soledad (Alex Arguelles, 2021). Two sisters this time, completely mismatched, thrown together after a family disaster. The film steers wildly through different modes, from naturalistic family comedy to giallo.

Cuando cae la noche (When the Night Falls, J. Daniel Zuniga, 2022). Observational documentary peering into the lives of three lonely men, each involved in his daily rounds.

Lejos de casa (Far from Home, Carlos Hernandez Vazquez, 2022). The children who wait in asylum shelters in Tijuana, separated from family and uncertain of the future – also a documentary, as are the next two.

Mama (Xun Sero, 2022). A portrait of the filmmaker’s mother, including the story of his own origins – a troubling and frank account of the place of women in certain pockets of society.

Plegaria (Roberto Olivares, 2022). In a small town, a man takes over the job of being the purveyor of various mystical/supernatural rites – prayers, blessings, card-readings, etc. Looming over this is a political threat to the position: His predecessor was murdered.

Movie Diary 6/20/2022

Wednesday night, 7 pm Pacific Time, free via Zoom. Stab it and steer.

Register here.

The Friday 6/17/2022

VP: The Masque of the Red Death

On the road: no piece for the Scarecrow blog this week.

I do have a new episode of “The Music and the Movies,” this one devoted to music (and a couple of voices) from films adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Karloff & Lugosi, Roger Corman employing Vincent Price, Fellini losing his head – it’s all there, plus a few obscurities. Listen at the Voice of Vashon website, where it will live for another week or so.

And we have the second quarterly installment of Zeitgeist 22!, online talks from Scarecrow Video. Our subject is “International Treasure: The Massive Talent of Nicolas Cage,” in which I consider the actor’s singular career. That’s Wednesday night, June 22 at 7 pm Pacific Time, online and free. Register here.

Movie Diary 6/15/2022

Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022). Oh, I’ve got stuff to say about this one. But I think I’ll hold off until reviewing it next week. I saw it at the opening night gala at the Guadalajara Film Festival, where I am on a critics’ jury. I was three rows back, giant screen, huge sound. Which is either the only way to see a Baz Luhrmann film about Elvis or the wrong way.

The Friday 6/10/2022

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

Two with Nicolas Cage: Next and Ghost Rider.

The second online Zeitgeist 22! event from Scarecrow Video is on the calendar for Wed. June 22 at 7 pm Pacific Time: “International Treasure: The Massive Talent of Nicolas Cage,” a look at a singular career. The event is free; register here, please. And we have a poster.