Movie Diary 3/4/2018

Submission (Richard Levine, 2017). Based on Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel, which plays with the Sternberg-Dietrich film in its telling of a professor brought low by a dalliance with a student, this film is arriving at either just the right time, or – given our sympathy for the professor – just the wrong time. Either way, this is a gift for Stanley Tucci, who is superb. (full review 3/7)


Sparrow Party (This Week’s Movies)


Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas: The Party (courtesy Picturehouse Cinemas)

Links to my reviews posted this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Red Sparrow. “Not enough fun to counterbalance the very grim nature of this stolid piece of work.”

The Party. “A nasty little gem.”

Oh, and the annual Oscar predictions, coming Sunday. Update: And here they are!

Movie Diary 2/28/2018

Coco (Lee Unkrich, co-director Adrian Molina, 2017). A really skillful Pixar outing, swift-moving but never rushed, and expert at keeping its many characters distinct. Pixar has always been strong at bringing the reality of death into its stories, and this one simply foregrounds that subject (being set in the Land of the Dead, on Dio de las Muertes). But one of its best strokes is its critique of hero-worship, which becomes clear with a terrific mid-point revelation that’s really quite unusual and disturbing. Also: This movie sounds great, especially with its frequent clattering of bones in empty space.

Movie Diary 2/27/2018

faceofanotherThe Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966). This is the film Teshigahara made after his haunting international success Woman in the Dunes, which, amazingly, got him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. It’s about a man, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, whose face is completely destroyed in an industrial accident. After trying out the Claude Rains bandaged-head approach for a while, he accepts an artificial face, and ponders the possibility that his new mask may be changing his personality. In the largest narrative idea, he decides to seduce his wife with the new face, after she had recoiled from his post-accident advances. Kobo Abe’s script doesn’t always know when to cut off the discussions about how the new face will change the man, and a side story (about a young woman with a facial disfigurement) is allowed to puzzlingly play out on its parallel track. Teshigahara’s visual approach is busy and eye-filling, especially the doctor’s mod, see-through office, where technicians take pieces of artificial skin and stretch them like Silly Putty. There’s also a magnificent early scene: the hero explaining his situation, seen entirely as an X-ray, his skull chattering away like a high-tech gargoyle.

Movie Diary 2/26/2018

Shooting Stars (Anthony Asquith, A.V. Bramble, 1928). This British silent explores a love triangle in a movie studio. Star player Mae (Annette Benson) is married to hunky cowboy actor Julian (Brian Aherne), but is carrying on with the studio’s slapstick star (Donald Calthrop), who wears a brushy mustache and checked pants for his comic on-screen character. Putting aside the idea that Mae has interesting preferences in her men, this leads to some melodrama played out during the actual shooting (in both senses) of a suspense film on the set. This is a remarkable film, with a collection of expansive shots covering the entirety of the two-tiered studio, shots that are stunning on their own but also set up a long, expressive final sequence that seems to draw from a combination of Murnau and Chaplin. Just a terrific film, seen courtesy of Edinburgh’s Film Guild, founded in 1929.

The Party (Sally Potter, 2017). To say that I haven’t always liked Potter’s films is an understatement, but this comedy is a welcome dash of vinegar: the political and the personal, served up by a razor-sharp cast (among them Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cherry Jones, and Patricia Clarkson). (full review 2/28)

Fantastic (This Week’s Movies)


Daniela Vega: A Fantastic Woman (courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

A Fantastic Woman. “Every contradiction furthers the movie’s argument that what we have here is a densely complicated human being.”

Here’s another interview I did for Film Comment at the Camerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in November: A talk with cinematographer Denis Lenoir, who helped develop Olivier Assayas’s distinctive style and also photographed Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come. Read it here.

In a slightly different mode of writing for me, here’s a paper I delivered at the 2016 international Shakespeare conference in Iasi, Romania, now collected in the academic journal LINGUACULTURE, published at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi. I got to visit Romania for three weeks, thanks to the Fulbright Specialist Program. Here’s the issue; my piece, on Orson Welles and Chimes at Midnight, is clickable.

Movie Diary 2/21/2018

House of Strangers (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949) and Broken Lance (Edward Dmytryk, 1954). Same story: A father’s domineering hold of the family business makes life miserable for his four sons. In the Mankiewicz, the talk is virtually non-stop, but it’s punchy and snappish and superbly delivered by Edward G. Robinson and Richard Conte, both on their game here. Nice role for Luther Adler as the eldest son, who gets passed over in his father’s affection because Conte is obviously the dynamo (Adler’s got the Fredo Corleone role, always a beat behind the action). The Dmytryk picture is a Western with Spencer Tracy as a rather more likable patriarch; it’s got much less dialogue and a lot more action, as befits the genre. Robert Wagner is no Richard Conte, let’s just say that. The film adds quite a bit of psychology and an entire layer of racial tension (Wagner is the “half-breed” son of Tracy and his second wife, an Indian played by Katy Jurado). CinemaScope was in its early blush and the movie looks very handsome. Richard Widmark plays the Luther Adler role and, of course, nails it.