I Could Talk (This Week’s Movies)

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KiKi Layne, Stephan James: If Beale Street Could Talk (courtesy Annapurna Pictures)

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

If Beale Street Could Talk. “If Beale Street Could Talk is all mood — and despite the film’s uneven effects, that mood is convincing.” (Weekly link here.)

Best Films of 2018. (I’ll set up a separate post for this, with the list.)

For Scarecrow Video’s blog, I’ve got a Seasoned Ticket post on the subject of Lars von Trier, whose new film The House That Jack Built plays at the Grand Illusion. Read it here.

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Movie Diary 1/2/2019

This Is the Night (Frank Tuttle, 1931). Pre-Code sauciness about a married woman (Thelma Todd) wanting a Venice vacation with her boyfriend (Roland Young); for a variety of reasons, he must manufacture a fake wife (Lili Damita) when Todd’s husband suddenly returns to the scene. The latter is played by an engaging chap called Cary Grant, in his first movie; he’s still got some baby fat, as befits a character who’s an Olympics-level javelin thrower. (Some pretty good jokes about javelins along the way.) The movie packs a lot in over the course of 80 minutes: an opening sequence that’s mostly sung dialogue, a batch of risqué jokes, the almost complete superflousness of the Charlie Ruggles character, except to get Charlie Ruggles into the movie. Grant has some good physical moments.

Thirty Day Princess (Marion Gering, 1934). Two years later for Cary Grant, and in the meantime he’d worked with Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. This will change a man. The slapstick here revolves around Sylvia Sidney, in a dual role as a princess visiting America and an American gal who impersonates her. Grant is a skeptical newspaper publisher, Edward Arnold is the businessman who hatches the scheme. This movie’s a good argument in favor of the auteur theory, in a reverse way: The script has many authors, but first-billed is Preston Sturges, and their are a number of lines that sound very Sturges-like; but most of them just lie there, flat, because the pace and the actors’ attitude lacks the  necessary tautness to make them pop – Grant being the exception. The movie’s also got Vince Barnett doing shtick as the heavily-accented and idiotic royal suitor, a bit that looks like a warm-up for Sig Arno’s role in Sturges’ Palm Beach Story.

A Family Tour (Ying Liang, 2018). A thoughtful look at a Chinese director – currently exiled to Hong Kong for making a movie disliked by Chinese authorities – visiting a Taiwan film festival as a ruse to see her mother, who’s on a bus tour of Taiwan. Mannered in its style, including the puzzling lead performance, but skillful in presenting a view of the human cost of oppression.

Movie Diary 1/1/2019

The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles*, 2018). No way of knowing what Welles’ version of this project would have looked like, so this is a special event with an asterisk rather than an Orson Welles film. But I’m grateful for its existence. The editors have created something close to the disorienting vibe that Welles apparently wanted, and some of the cuts are extremely close to the kind of hodgepodge jitterbug editing in movies like Othello and Chimes at Midnight. The frantic style has the effect of limiting certain performances that might be on an intriguing track; certainly John Huston is variously zonked and fascinating (there are moments when he looks at people and you get a flash of what a scorpion Huston reportedly could be in real life). The film is so beautiful to look at (bravo to heroic cinematographer Gary Graver, who visited Seattle 30 years ago when Tom Keogh and I brought him to town, armed with some of the rough-cut footage), especially the pseudo-arthouse sequences of the film within the film, that you kinda want to see what Welles could do if he decided to make a straight Antonioni movie and leave it at that. The way Oja Kodar dominates the arthouse film but recedes into the margins of the larger story is curious; obviously Welles gravitates toward the charged relationship between the directors played by Huston and Peter Bogdanovich, but maybe Welles didn’t want to risk Kodar being seen as his Cybill Shepherd or something? All things considered, there may have been legit artistic reasons on Welles’ part that he never finished the project (I know there were many logistical and legal obstacles, of course), as he evidently considered the movie an experiment, a way to try something he’d never tried before. It’s never not a thrill to watch.

Movie Diary 12/30/2018

Catching up at the end.

Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018). Wonderful observations throughout, terrific lead performance, seemingly effortless swings through comedy and drama. Manages to be “of its era” without making a fuss about it. Refreshing tendency to leave some things unexplained.

The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery, 2018). Not being a fan of this director, I was pleasantly surprised by the easy feel and grainy texture of this one. The nagging doubt is an almost complete absence of consequences regarding the old man’s chosen profession (robbing banks with a gun); the film is too intent on creating a feel-good milieu for that. Redford coasts a little, but then he’s Redford; his scenes with Sissy Spacek are full of pleasing rhythms. High point, though, is when Redford’s cheeky thief crosses paths with Casey Affleck’s shuffling detective, a lovely passage that forgets the story for a moment and goes for sheer delight.

Mid-90s (Jonah Hill, 2018). Another good surprise, a clear-eyed view of skateboards and adolescence. The title is unfortunate, as it pretends to some generational statement rather than the granular street-level portrait we actually get.

Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018). Some people still want to make Woody Allen movies, as proved by this story of a couple (Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti) desperate to conceive. The performance from the usually inspired Hahn could almost have come out of an Allen film, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018). People can’t look at the monsters, or they go crazy. One could make this premise work, but maybe only in a novel. I think Sandra Bullock is trying to do something with her performance, but it’s hard to tell in the overall hard-breathing.

Sex Vice (This Week’s Movies)

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Felicity Jones: On the Basis of Sex (courtesy Focus Features)

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

Vice. “The Big Short worked because it had a big target — the 2008 financial collapse — and relentless satirical bite. Vice is all over the place, as though changing its mind every few minutes.”

On the Basis of Sex. “It’s too bad the movie paints the opposing lawyers as such single-note chauvinist pigs in order to pump up the drama, because the case itself is engrossing.”

Second Aqua Poppins (This Week’s Movies)

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Emily Blunt: Mary Poppins Returns (courtesy Walt Disney Studios)

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

Mary Poppins Returns. “Crisply executed and refreshingly old-fashioned.” (Herald link here.)

Aquaman. “There aren’t enough drumming octopi to make this movie memorable, an observation I thought I’d never have to make.” (Herald link here.)

Second Act. “An excellent commercial for J. Lo’s upcoming beauty-care line.”

My Seasoned Ticket post for the Scarecrow Video blog is an interview I did with Viggo Mortensen in 2004; a thoughtful fellow he was, and not at all the loudmouth lout you meet in Green Book (a terrific performance, as it happens). Read that here.

Movie Diary 12/19/2018

Aquaman (James Wan, 2018). Gigantic mechanism with a series of wacky touches; the tonal inconsistencies are a little hard to forgive with a project this huge. Wan aims for the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the thing has the uncanny aroma of a mid-80s Raiders knock-off (looking at you, Jake Speed).

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018). A classic sci-fi premise given a smart treatment by the director of Ex Machina, featuring a committed performance by Natalie Portman. The movie keeps hinting around at ambitions of the Tarkovsky variety, but doesn’t really have the reach for that. It looks and sounds extremely cool, though.

The Hate U Give (George Tillman, Jr., 2018). An overstuffed collection of hot-button issues, some of them compellingly dramatized – but the effects gets lost in the torrent of expositional and educational talk talk talk, which extends the film to an unwieldy 133 minutes. Admirable performances by Russell Hornsby and Amandla Stenberg.