Movie Diary 8/28/2022

My Old School (Jono McLeod, 2022). Documentary that recalls a flabbergasting true story from 90s Glasgow, the details of which should be left to the movie to unfold. Along with the recollections of some extremely good-humored Glaswegians who were in high school at the time (including the director), Alan Cumming is on hand to lip-sync the dialogue of the central figure in the story, who prefers to stay off camera. Also, Lulu – who does the voice of a teacher in the film’s animated flashbacks – sings the Steely Dan title song, which is something you might not have thought you wanted to hear, but you do. You will not regret watching this.

The Friday 8/26/2022

Daniel Kaluuya, Nope (Universal Pictures)

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

Nope. “Another Jordan Peele slow burn, and you sometimes wish it would hurry up a little.”

We’ve got a repeat episode of “The Music and the Movies” posted this week, titled “Scott Joplin and Company,” in which I talk about my lifelong love of Joplin’s music, and how it (and similar sounds) have been used in film. Listen at the Voice of Vashon website, and if the Joplin episode has slipped away, something else should be there.

Movie Diary 8/23/2022

Dean Martin: King of Cool (Tom Donahue, 2021). A more or less authorized bio (you can be sure nobody mentions the Nick Tosches book) about Dino, with affectionate testimonials and well-chosen footage. The film takes time to appreciate the song sequence from Rio Bravo, so I have no complaints.

Love & the Constitution (Madeleine Carter, 2022). Profile of Representative Jamie Raskin, who seems too intelligent and thoughtful and schlumpy to succeed in government, yet is doing so anyway.

Movie Diary 8/21/2022

A New Kind of Love (Melville Shavelson, 1963). Got curious about this while watching The Last Movie Stars, where it is held up as a grave Hollywood mistake for Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Which it certainly is. The attempt at conjuring up some Tracy-Hepburn situation comedy involves he-man womanizing reporter Newman and butch near-virgin fashion designer Woodward crossing paths in Paris. Through one of those plot contrivances that made me hate this kind of movie from a very young age, he mistakes her for a hooker (after she’s had a makeover and become, you know, feminine) and hires her as a way of getting an interview for a column. “Laborious” doesn’t begin to cover it. Shavelson tries oddball approaches, like putting sports play-by-play voiceover as the soundtrack to a love scene, or indulging in fantasy sequences, like a talking statue of St. Catherine, doling out romantic advice to Woodward. Thelma Ritter and George Tobias are the second leads, and whenever Eva Gabor swans into view it actually picks the movie up a little, which should tell you something about the general lack of oomph in the acting. Maurice Chevalier sings in one sequence. Edith Head did the main costumes, and earned her check as usual; some of the musical themes are by Erroll Garner. There are a few fun topical references: La Dolce Vita, My Sin, Castro. None of which changes the leaden vibe. Newman walks through it, and Woodward’s lack of comic zip reminds you how much Doris Day could bring to similar circumstances, and I don’t even like Doris Day. No idea whether Newman and Woodward were ever in Paris on the shoot, but their body doubles are seen frequently in longshot, which detracts from whatever travelogue pleasures one might have otherwise taken from this stiff.

The Friday 8/19/2022

Anne Heche, Harrison Ford: Six Days, Seven Nights

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

Six Days, Seven Nights. “Anne Heche is as sharp and alert as any movie actress her age.”

New episode of my radio show “The Music and the Movies,” this one focusing on the collaboration between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. An obvious choice, perhaps, but I wanted to do something favorite-like for the 50th episode. Find the link at the Voice of Vashon site, or listen to whatever is currently posted.

Movie Diary 8/15/2022

Black Phone (Scott Derrickson, 2022). There are many levels of disbelief to be suspended here, in a story that involves a rash of child kidnappings in the 1970s (it has to be a period piece, because cell phones would ruin the story). One is a telephone line that apparently connects to the next world, a premise that Stephen King might flip into the Reject file. Derrickson, who directed the dismal Day the Earth Stood Still remake and the pretty decent Sinister, gets a lot of genre flourishes right, like the abrupt fades-to-black whenever the kidnapper’s van swings into the vicinity of a victim, and the creepy design of an underground dungeon. Ethan Hawke plays the villain, with a menacing mask that owes more to Hollywood franchising than reality; he brings an actual performance, maybe more than the movie deserves. The unpleasantness of the subject – children in jeopardy and the hints about what happens to them before they are murdered – makes the going queasier than your usual horror-movie exercise.

Movie Diary 8/14/2022

Prey (Dan Trachtenberg, 2022). It is a Predator movie, with the alien setting up shop in the early 18th century in North America. Thus the action is filtered through the eyes of a young Comanche woman (Amber Midthunder), who comes upon the visitor while coming of age (she is trying to prove herself an able hunter-healer among the skeptical boys her age). The idea is clever, and it comes as a disappointment to remember that the movie is obliged to deliver a certain number of limb-lopping action sequences, including a collection of ably-staged “Look at the Predator rampant – is it not cool?” shots. In some of the big exterior shots, Trachtenberg niftily captures a sense of landscape that might just be afflicted by a mysterious presence, and early on he does a nice little Searchers moment as our heroine exits a teepee, the camera looking out at the world beyond as she goes to put her mark on it. In short, an okay genre exercise buoyed by the novel perspective. It might be good to watch this with the Comanche-dubbed language soundtrack; the English dialogue regularly clunks.

The Friday 8/12/2022

Chet Baker

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

Predators. “Maybe I was just in the mood for a simple, straightforward action flick, because this nonsense went down perfectly easily for me.”

I’ve got a new episode of “The Music and the Movies” this week, all about “Jazzmen Acting.” (Jazz women will get their shot in a future episode.) We consider the phenomenon of jazz musicians who play roles in movies, as opposed to just showing up as themselves for a concert appearance. So: Ellington at the piano with James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder, Armstrong showing up as “Wild Man Moore” and trading solos with Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier in Paris Blues, and Miles Davis in Dingo. You don’t remember Dingo? All is explained in this show, which can be found at the Voice of Vashon “M&M” page (and if its time there has expired because you’re reading this in future times, listen to something else).

Movie Diary 8/8/2022

They/Them (John Logan, 2022). You get the idea pretty quickly: The setting is a summer camp straight out of a Friday the 13th movie, but the monster isn’t a hockey-mask-wearing killer; the monster is the camp, which is devoted to gay conversion therapy. That’s a workable concept, and the movie has a little fun with the conventions of the slasher movie (freaky camp custodian lurking around; knife-happy opening sequence with killer in some kind of mask, if not hockey). Plus, Kevin Bacon (a Friday the 13th alumnus himself) gets to do a buttery, faux-sincere monologue as the camp director welcoming the latest group of LGBTQ teens to the place – and Bacon can do that kind of hey-I’m-just-a-regular-guy sort of menace very well. But the film is so intent on empowering its teens that it slips into corn pretty early, and Logan, a veteran screenwriter, doesn’t have much flair for the thriller stuff. Carrie Preston has a good scene as an unsettling psychotherapist, Theo Germaine and Anna Chlumsky fill out their roles effectively within the clumsy set-ups, and someone called Darwin del Fabro seems destined for a lengthy horror-movie career. Overall, though – nope.

Movie Diary 8/7/2022

Portland Expose (Harold D. Schuster, 1957). Fairly weird, dirty, low-budget crime picture directed by the guy who edited Sunrise. I think maybe Schuster has some boosters as a sub-Edgar Ulmer type, and there might be something to that: Despite the lousy dialogue and standard plot, the film regularly shows off a decent compositional eye from shot to shot. Oddball cast, too. Ed Binns and fearsome Virginia Gregg play an upstanding couple who just want to run a clean little roadhouse in the Oregon Portland, but the mob won’t let them be. Lots of pinball machines and jukeboxes. Many character actors around, plus Frank Gorshin as a hood with a pedophile streak. (You can sense him wanting to break into his Kirk Douglas impression.)