Movie Diary 6/17/2020

Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, 2019). Unpredictable Aussie indie about a collection of odd people dealing with various issues. That could describe most Aussie indies, but Murphy and a sterling cast make this film fresh. Eliza Scanlon, Beth from Little Women, plays the central role, and the fine unit includes Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis (from The Babadook), and Toby Wallace. (full review 6/19)

Movie Diary 6/16/2020

Light of My Life (Casey Affleck, 2019). Affleck also wrote and stars in this post-plague movie, in which most of the world’s female population has perished; he roams the land (British Columbia as location) with his pre-adolescent daughter (Anna Pniowsky). She dresses as a boy to avoid the predatory focus of strangers. The film is effectively nerve-wracking for its duration, almost to the point of being sadistic about it, and it slips into conventional solutions at times. But it’s compellingly shot and scored, and the two lead actors are superb. Did this not get released at all? I guess not, but it’s a worthy film.

Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951). Not in my top 12 for Hitchcock, but a good one for teaching, with more set-pieces than you can shake a stick at. Was there this much humor in the Patricia Highsmith novel? It’s been a long time since I read it, but I don’t think so. Some of the jokes keep the movie from going too deep, but Hitchcock gets some weird mystery going on between Farley Granger and Robert Walker.

Movie Diary 6/15/2020

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A Muse (Jimmy Bontatibus, 2020). Two narratives, connected by a young Romanian artist named Adrian (Rares Andrici), run along parallel lines. One is in Romania in 2015, where Adrian tries on documentary filmmaking with a girlfriend, Bianca (the excellent Miriam Rizea), who is left puzzled by Adrian’s disappearances. The other line is in Hamburg in 2018, where Adrian, now “disappearing” into a murky art project involving Tinder dates, is abetted and interrogated by the Bosnian-born Mia (Mersiha Husagic), who acts in his collective art project. Adrian may be the common character, but the perspectives are from the two women, which allows the movie to elude any kind of conventional Portrait of the Artist familiarity – even if the many scenes of videotaped (is that still the right term?) conversations/interviews have perhaps an overly familiar air about them. Another connective tissue is Yves Klein Blue, a color that Adrian and Bianca experiment with and which the movie allows to wash over its images at times; Adrian uses Klein as another muse (documentary footage of Klein threads through the movie, the way it would through the mind of a young artist grasping for inspiration). A Muse was written and directed on a low-budget film by a former Seattle filmmaker who emailed me the link and told me he came to talks I gave at the Frye Art Museum earlier in the decade (when he was in high school!), including one on Chantal Akerman, so I felt obliged to watch his movie. I’m glad I did. It’s gorgeously and searchingly shot, and delivers the spectacle of young Europeans living what David Lynch calls the art life. Until June 12 it’s free on Vimeo, here.

 

Movie Diary 6/14/2020

Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles, 1970). The fact that it looks like an episode of The Brady Bunch and is edited with a hatchet only adds to the subversive qualities of this comedy, a true one-of-a-kind. Godfrey Cambridge plays a white insurance salesman who turns black one night; Estelle Parsons is his well-meaning but puzzled wife. Raucous jokes and loud slapstick follow, including gags that really draw blood. Among the many fascinating things going on here is that the satire is not just race-related; before he turns black, the main character is a horrible sexist pig at the workplace, too. The final few scenes are really something – what a 1970 movie! Also, “Althea, I’m havin’ a nightmare about my sun lamp” is one of the funniest lines since the Marx Brothers. The following year Van Peebles did Sweet Sweetback outside studio influence.

The Friday (6/12/2020)

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Willem Dafore: Tommaso (Kino Lorber)

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

Tommaso. “In a basic way Tommaso is about being an artist, and the trade-offs and negotiations that go along with that.”

More of my 1980s reviews posted at What a Feeling! this week: a double review of two whimsical colonial comedies, Cary Parker’s The Girl in the Picture (starring Gregory’s Girl leading man John Gordon Sinclair) and Nadia Tass’s Malcolm; Gene Saks’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, the first one in Neil Simon’s stage trilogy; Maria Luisa Bemberg’s Miss Mary, with Julie Christie; Paul Morrissey’s Beethoven’s Nephew, which is not really in the tradition of Amadeus, despite the tagline on the poster; and John Milius’s Farewell to the King, a curious misfire with Nick Nolte.

 

Movie Diary 6/10/2020

Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016). Zombies on a train speeding through South Korea. I don’t know why I missed this the first time around, but it’s fun. The key is the zombies themselves: crazed, frantic, fast-moving, able to execute mass attacks.

The Snake Woman (Sidney J. Furie, 1961). Some real folk horror here. A convoluted storyline that involves snake venom used as a medicinal tool (not a good idea, in this case), a snake-girl raised by a hermit in a small Northumberland town, and a rash of deaths by snakebite when the kid reaches adulthood. She responds to “Carmen” played on an exotic flute. There are villagers with torches. It gets talky when people sit down to talk, but otherwise delivers the goods in 68 minutes. This was near the beginning of Furie’s long career.

Movie Diary 6/9/2020

Tommaso (Abel Ferrara, 2019). Willem Dafoe as an American filmmaker living in Rome, staying sober and navigating a wife and child. Ferrara’s autobiographical stuff mixes freely with fantasy (which I assume is equally autobiographical), and the film finds a beguiling groove even when the protagonist is being insufferable. (full review 6/12)

 

Movie Diary 6/8/2020

The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2019). At times it feels like a student film (the screenplay has an uncanny knack for having characters ask questions they’d never ask just so a catchy reply can be voiced), but the way this film looks and sounds makes up for the rough spots. It’s small-town New Mexico in 1958, and a curious audio transmission has a couple of locals on edge. The concept is wrapped with a Rod Serling-esque transmission. The director – who does not take a directing credit, which seems bit much – has a cinematic way of seeing, and this is good. The film was apparently rejected by many major film festivals, which confirms my theory that a lot of gate-keepers in this land do not know how to watch movies.

The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940). Teaching again. This is quite a movie to watch in June 2020.

Movie Diary 6/7/2020

The Gamma People (John Gilling, 1956). Sci-fi Cold War oddness with a comedic tone. Paul Douglas is an American blowhard journalist and Leslie Phillips his English pal, stranded across the border in a Communist country when their train car is separated from its engine. We get a bunch of Mouse That Roared-style humor in the tiny country, then the revelation that a crazy scientist (Walter Rilla) is experimenting with gamma rays, and creating a hit-or-miss population of geniuses and cretins. Eva Bartok is the doctor’s assistant, who seems to run a kind of art studio. The zombies are called “goons.” It was shot in Austria and contains great location stuff, plus footage of a weird local festival. There’s a lot with children, as the creepy-kid vibe looks forward to Village of the Damned, and also back to Hitler Youth. IMDb says the story idea traces back to Robert Aldrich.

The Friday (6/5/2020)

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Michael Stuhlbarg, Elisabeth Moss: Shirley (Neon)

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

Shirley. “It’s hard to think of better casting for the mid-20th century couple than Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg.”

At my 1980s blog What a Feeling!, we’ve posted five reviews from the era: Janet Greek’s underrated horror pic Spellbinder; Richard Marquand’s hit legal thriller Jagged Edge; Norman Jewison’s crazy-nun drama Agnes of God, from the Meg Tilly moment; Bob Rafelson’s Black Widow, the sleek neo-noir matching Debra Winger and Theresa Russell; and John G. Avildsen’s Lean on Me, with Morgan Freeman as an inspirational teacher.