Movie Diary 5/9/2018

Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, 2017). There’s something reassuring, I guess, in the way that Claire Denis has no intention of making it any easier on us as she goes along. At first look I think this film is maybe a little small compared to some of her other titles, but Juliette Binoche contributes some extraordinary things, and the final sequence, featuring Gerard Depardieu, is just wonderful.

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Movie Diary 5/8/2018

Once a Jolly Swagman (Jack Lee, 1949). Dirk Bogarde as a rootless young blue-collar man who takes up “speedway” racing (motorcycles) in pre-WWII Britain while his more committed brother goes off to fight the fascists in Spain. (Director Lee’s brother was Laurie Lee, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and wrote a series of much-loved autobiographical novels.) For a while, his success gives him a swelled head, and a natty little mustache. Happily, the war knocks some sense into him. The formula is strong here, but the details are often flavorful. It’s early in Bogarde’s career, but he makes it look effortless. Renee Asheron plays the nice girl who waits for Bogarde to come ’round, and Moira Lister is fun as the ritzy lady who takes up with him at the height of his fame. Bonar Colleano and Bill Owen are fellow drivers, both given opportunities to shine, and Sid James is the no-nonsense team owner. The title is a somewhat curious connection to “Waltzing Matilda,” which is used on the soundtrack (and was apparently played at speedways, because of the sport’s history in Australia?). Of course, the film was retitled for the U.S.: Maniacs on Wheels.

Movie Diary 5/7/2018

The Party’s Over (Guy Hamilton, 1965). An unusual movie, shot by Hamilton before he went off to make Goldfinger, but held up for release by UK censors. A young American woman (the purposely affectless Louise Sorel) has fallen in with a group of London “beatniks,” prompting a visit from her fiancé (Clifford David – surely you remember him as Beethoven in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), an upwardly mobile bourgie who works for her wealthy father. That’s Eddie Albert, turning up late in the film (a nicely-written proto-Trump part, a blowhard who asks other people questions and then talks over their replies). Oliver Reed plays the ringleader of the anything-for-kicks beatniks, and as usual with Reed you can’t stop wondering what he’s going to do next. The movie has its sentimental touches but it surprises, too, and some of the storytelling is Rashomon-style conflicting recollections. Screenplay by Marc Behm, whose name is on Help! and Charade. The music, some of it Bond-ish, is by John Barry, with a title tune sung by Annie Ross. Their names aren’t in the credits, but supposedly the film was partly produced by Peter O’Toole and Jack Hawkins.

Movie Diary 5/6/2018

colossusThe Colossus of Rhodes (Sergio Leone, 1961). The power of movie imagery: I saw this sword ‘n sandals picture on daytime TV when I was eight years old-ish and some of its moments (including the demise of the mighty statue) stayed with me, with utter vividness, through the years. Then I saw it again, on Saturday afternoon, in a 35 mm print at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. A cool experience, and the movie itself is crammed with things that would delight a young film-watcher: arrows through the neck, boiling oil dumped on a ship from a chalice held by the Colossus, lots of secret passageways. Some of the torture is rather intense (how’d they do the burning-acid-dropping-from-the-ceiling-burning-guys-on-the-back trick, anyway?). You can see some of Leone’s behavioral stuff too, especially in the way men get along (or compete) with each other. Rory Calhoun is the lead, and darned if he doesn’t come off pretty well as a roguish Athenian. The large musical score is by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, whose career includes spaghetti westerns as well as Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight and Othello.

The Woman Eater (Charles Saunders, 1958). Considering the mad-scientist possibilities, it is surprising that George Coulouris doesn’t vamp it up more in this lead role; the onetime member of Welles Mercury Theatre (and Mr. Thatcher in Citizen Kane) plays the part mostly in a low-sinister vein. He’s developing a life-after-death serum, after visiting the jungle and returning with a many-limbed tree that devours attractive young women, thus somehow producing a regenerative potion. Yeah, it’s pretty lame. The woman who sings a voodoo song in the jungle sequence, Marpessa Dawn, snagged the lead role in Black Orpheus a year later.

Summer Tully (This Week’s Movies)

tully

Charlize Theron: Tully (courtesy Focus Features)

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

Tully. “Conceals a tender heart within an outer skin of sandpaper.”

Summer movie preview. For a shorter Weekly take, here’s this.

This week I inaugurate a new (if I can do it right, weekly) column for the blog of Scarecrow Video, where I am a board member. The idea is to note something of worth that’s playing on local screens, and see what Scarecrow might have on its shelves that relates to that movie. Or something like that. Here’s the first one.

Movie Diary 5/2/2018

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (Jared Moshé, 2017). Bill Pullman shines as a grizzled Old West sidekick, lovingly tolerated by his pardner (Peter Fonda), not so lovingly by the pardner’s wife (Kathy Baker) now that her husband is going off to prestige and the U.S. Senate. Things unfold that will force the sidekick to become the hero of this story, a quite wonderful premise that works out in ways that are not always expected. Along with the leads, there’s a spectacular supporting turn by Tommy Flanagan, and a superbly-judged performance by Jim Caviezel, as the governor of Montana.

 

Movie Diary 5/1/2018

Ismael’s Ghosts (Arnaud Desplechin, 2017). The past won’t leave us alone in Desplechin’s latest, a curious blend of storylines and moods. Mathieu Amalric returns to the director’s self-referential world, as a film director whose new relationship with an astrophysicist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is interrupted by the reappearance of his wife (Marion Cotillard), presumed dead for 20 years. This apparently dominating premise must share space with the rocky production of the director’s latest film – a suspense picture featuring a fictional version of his brother (Louis Garrel) – and the tribulations of the “dead” wife’s father (Laszlo Szabo). The movie is alive in the ways that Desplechin’s best films are, although this one seems to me more mystifying than the glories of How I Got Into an Argument… or Kings and Queen. It especially misses Gainsbourg’s sane presence when she slips away from the center of things; the look on her face when Cotillard dances around to “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” is a great piece of reactive acting.