Movie Diary 9/3/2018

No Love for Johnnie (Ralph Thomas, 1961). Peter Finch is a member of Parliament, a man of shallow ambition, whose wife leaves him just as his upstairs neighbor (Billie Whitelaw) makes her interest clear. But he is distracted by another woman (Mary Peach), and his political career suffers accordingly. Or does it? A grown-up, if somewhat dull, stab at making serious cinema around the time the new adult films were coming in Britain. In some ways it fails to come to life because Finch plays the role so neutrally – maybe the part needs someone we know in his heart is lousy. You know, like Laurence Harvey.

No Subway in the Sky (Muriel Box, 1959). Truly offbeat yarn about an American military doctor (Van Johnson) who must hole up in his own Berlin apartment – currently being rented by a very surprised cabaret singer (Hildegarde Knef) – when he is suspected of dealing drugs. At least I think that’s what’s going on; the labored plot was never entirely clear, just that an Army investigator (Cec Linder, obnoxious) keeps lurking around Knef’s pad. Not a lot of oomph here, and Knef and Johnson make one of those classic no-way-these-two-get-together mismatched couples. Knef does a song, in her way, which is to say a certain Teutonic Marlene Dietrich tradition of nightclub crooning.


Movie Diary 9/2/3018

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018). Utter madness as forest-dwellers Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough are beset by a cult of loonies, led by demented self-appointed god Linus Roache. It’s all rendered in LSD-tinted colors and a smothering soundtrack. In short, I liked it.

Bookshop Searching (This Week’s Movies)


John Cho: Searching (courtesy Screen Gems)

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

Searching. “It’s possible this movie might work better streamed on your own laptop, as the windows-within-windows effect gets multiplied. ” (Herald link here.)

The Bookshop. “Everyone should burst into tears over Dandelion Wine.”

For Scarecrow Video’s blog, I sort through the archives for material on Ethan Hawke, the once-callow actor who has turned into an invaluable resource in recent films. Some musings here.

Movie Diary 8/29/2018

First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017). I can’t think of anybody else who would make a film like this circa 2018. From the very first moments, you are watching an impeccably seen universe: a slow creep in on a historic church in upstate New York, the sort of camera movement that usually prepares us for a horror movie – and maybe that’s what’s happening. The horror, however, is the sort found in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest and Bergman’s Winter Light, two films that are explicitly referenced here. I am fascinated by this movie because on the one hand it very eloquently looks at the dilemma between living life and observing it, and on the other hand (although really it’s the same hand), it’s got something to do with cinema itself – it’s the summation of a certain kind of film that will, I think, no longer be made after this point. The generations that lived closely and intensely with Bresson and Bergman films are passing on, and from now on all of that will be a museum (as people describe the ill-attended church where pastor Ethan Hawke ministers to a dwindling flock – meanwhile, all the crowds are going to the multiplex – er, the megachurch – down the road, which in fact owns the quaint old churchhouse). The cast is superb, down to the smallest roles. Remarkable movie.

Movie Diary 8/28/2018

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976). A 4K-sparkling print on a big screen (courtesy Edinburgh Filmhouse) = a very satisfying experience. The way the movie begins as a straightforward revenge scenario and then gets sidetracked into a more expansive story about community feels somewhat ahead of its time (although the film definitely is of its time, as Bruce Surtees’ cinematography and Jerry Fielding’s score are echt-70s). Although planned and co-scripted by Philip Kaufman, who began the shoot as the director, this movie really feels like Eastwood, especially in its relaxed pace, which never feels poky.

The Rough and the Smooth (aka Portrait of a Sinner, Robert Siodmak, 1959). A completely bizarre storyline, like a film noir without a murder: breezy architect Tony Britton, about to marry the wealthy daughter (Natasha Parry) of a newspaper tycoon (Donald Wolfit), becomes hung up on a mystery woman (Nadja Tiller) who, as they say, toys with his emotions. The movie’s got things that very much look and feel like Siodmak, especially its European attitude about sex, which is pretty, well, European for 1959. We also get William Bendix, rarin’ to go as always, as Tiller’s platonic roommate.

Movie Diary 8/27/2018

Dusty Ermine (aka Hideout in the Alps, Bernard Vorhaus, 1936). A truly cuckoo plot, about an English counterfeiter (Ronald Squire), released from prison, who declines an invitation from a gang of forgers (whose contact person is played by Margaret Rutherford) only to see his nephew dragged into the scheme. The story shifts to an Alpine ski resort, where the forgers are lurking and the Englishman’s niece (Jane Baxter) takes up with a stranger (Anthony Bushell) who can ski. The location shooting is eye-filling, with some incredible stuntwork on the slopes; you get the feeling Vorhaus saw some German “mountain films” before making this. A very spirited thing all the way around, and Vorhaus again has a nose for interesting angles, a certain way of seeing.


Movie Diary 8/26/2018

This Week of Grace (Maurice Elvey, 1933). A knockabout comedy vehicle for Gracie Fields, as a factory worker who hauls her family to a castle when she is invited to take over the place for a year. It’s easy to understand the popularity of Fields, a music-hall performer who was one of Britain’s biggest stars in the 1930s; she’s broad and clownish but also operates in a smaller register, with muttered asides (sometimes within the phrasing of a song). The film has some of the loose-limbed feeling of It’s a Gift, with the zany family and quick standalone gags. The same year Elvey directed I Lived with You, an Ivor Novello vehicle, which also has a kooky syncopated energy.

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet, 2017). Emily Mortimer opens a small bookshop in an English town in 1959, but the town bigwigs (embodied in Patricia Clarkson) have other ideas. The opening reels suggest something cozy and inspirational, but this movie is not that. Billy Nighy has a plum role. I have liked Coixet’s films before, especially My Life Without Me and Elegy, and this not her best, but it has some authentic anger in it. (full review 8/31)