The Friday (5/22/2020)


Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon: The Trip to Greece (IFC Films)

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

The Trip to Greece. “Retreats to the usual formula—pleasant enough, if a little tired.”

At What a Feeling!, my website of 1980s movie reviews, I dug up five pieces that includes bits of interviews with visiting actors. To wit: Trevor Nunn’s Lady Jane, with comments from Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes; Thom Eberhardt’s Gross Anatomy, with Daphne Zuniga; Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, with Rick Ducommun; Mel Damski’s Mischief, with Kelly Preston, Catherine Mary Stewart, and Chris Nash; and Andrew Davis’s The Package, with Gene Hackman, who was up in Vancouver shooting a movie and came to Seattle to crack wise about working to pay his ex-wife’s lawyers.


Greed Onward (This Week’s Movies)


Steve Coogan: Greed (Sony Pictures Classics)

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

Onward. “Pixar has given the world many indelible images since the first Toy Story movie in 1995. I guess we can add ‘the gelatinous cube’ to the list.”

Greed. “Coogan, one of the world’s leading experts in conveying fatuousness, is very comfortable here. With his perma-tan and blindingly whitened teeth, he’s a walking advertisement for narcissism.”

Do join us at Scarecrow Academy on Saturday, March 7, for a session devoted to Howard Hawks’s 1951 classic The Thing from Another World. The theme for this semester is “The Art in Horror: Horror and the Director,” and the event is free. That’s 2 p.m., Scarecrow Video.

My blog post for the Scarecrow website this week is a look back at Michael Winterbottom’s 1999 film Wonderland; the director’s new one, Greed, opens this weekend. Read it here.

More 1980s reviews this week at What a Feeling!: Roland Joffe’s Fat Man and Little Boy, the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona, Fred Schepisi’s Roxanne, and James Ivory’s A Room with a View.

Five Star Trip Man (This Week’s Reviews)

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, our Shelley and Byron: The Trip to Italy

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, our Shelley and Byron: The Trip to Italy

Reviews I wrote this week, published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The November Man. “A straight-up spy picture with distinct attractions.” (In case of Herald paywall, here’s the Weekly link.)

The Trip to Italy. “For all the laughs present – and there are many – the movie is a study in masculine uncertainty.”

Five Star Life. “Something subtly heroic here.” (Link to Weekly version here.)

Moebius. “Blithely dallies in multiple outrages and borderline-unbearable horrors.” (Link to Weekly version here.)

On successive Thursday nights, September 4 & 11, I’ll be leading a workshop at the Northwest Film Forum called “Cinematic Space and Sound.” The first will concentrate on the evocative use of screen space, the second on masters of sound. More information here.

At the Overlook Podcast, I talk with Steve Scher about Alive Inside and whether movies themselves can achieve the mysterious power of music, as Kubrick intended for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Listen to us go on about it here.

I drop by the “Mark Rahner Show” in KIRO radio again; here’s the link to our talk about Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, plus a session of the exciting “Focus Group.”

The most recent installment of Framing Pictures is now online and watchable here. In this one I join Richard T. Jameson and Bruce Reid for a conversation about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale, and a few confessions on the subject of Guilty Pleasures.

The Well Rises (Weekly Links)

Bale and Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald this week, and etc.

The Dark Knight Rises. “Muscular and sometimes dazzling.”

The Well Digger’s Daughter.

By Robert Horton

The sun is strong and the grass is tall as it waves in a gentle breeze: the opening shot of “The Well Digger’s Daughter” grounds us firmly in the countryside of southern France, a location we are not allowed to forget about for the rest of the movie.

Nor would we want to. This is an idealized place, a lovingly-remembered countryside out of the past—if it ever existed at all.

The story comes from Marcel Pagnol, the celebrated French novelist-filmmaker who made the original version of this film in 1940. His great setting was his childhood home of Provence, a connection he shares with Daniel Auteuil, the French actor who makes his directing debut here.

The central situation might have come from folklore: the well-digger’s daughter, Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), is quickly romanced by the well-to-do son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) of a wealthy merchant. The lingering aftermath of their single night together is the movie’s central issue, as Patricia’s father (Daniel Auteuil), a hard-working, old-fashioned widower with five daughters, is shocked by his perfect angel’s affair of the heart. There might not be anything especially surprising or new about the drama that follows, but there is much to savor, including the well-observed codes of honor and behavior that these foolish mortals stubbornly follow.

Auteuil is earthy and subtly humorous as the proud father, and Jean-Pierre Daroussin and Sabine Azema, both veterans of French cinema, are exactly right as the merchant and his melodramatic wife. Even better is Kad Merad, as the well-digger’s bald, amiable co-worker, whose essential decency allows him to gracefully recover from Patricia’s polite rejection of his romantic overtures.

The Second World War comes along to touch the lives of these rural folk, yet it never overshadows the important topics of family and responsibility—the war is another dramatic complication, not the main point of all this. Auteuil resists the urge to add edge to the tale, or to try to bring modern techniques to bear. Not a lot of hand-held camerawork here. Instead, we get a calm, squared-off appreciation of very specific types—and a very specific, eye-filling landscape.

Trishna. (link dead; review below)

By Robert Horton

The idea of importing a 19th-century novel to a 21st-century setting has all sorts of issues attached to it, but one of the big ones is how a modern audience is going to handle a female protagonist whose behavior feels rooted in a different time.

This is something “Trishna,” Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of the great Thomas Hardy novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” gets a little stuck on. The setting may help explain the passive nature of its heroine, and there’s something to be said about how the treatment of women remains unjust, but the movie itself is a tough slog.

That setting is present-day India, where Trishna (played by “Slumdog Millionaire” star Freida Pinto) labors for her poverty-blighted family. Coincidence—and her beauty—brings her into the world of Jay Singh (Riz Ahmed), son of a wealthy hotel-owner (Roshan Seth, nailing a brief performance). Trishna’s path leads from her small-town home to the stately hotel to the modern bustle of Mumbai, a city where she actually, somewhat surprisingly, thrives. But not for long, as readers of Hardy’s tragedy will anticipate.

The most radical change from the book is not necessarily the shift in locale (Winterbottom sensed the class system in India today might approximate the social structures and prejudices of 19th-century Britain). No, the most interesting alteration is the movie’s combining the two main male characters into the single person of Jay. Maybe this picks up on the sense in Hardy’s novel that the two apparently different men aren’t so different when it comes to how they treat women, or it reinforces the idea that the men in Trishna’s life tend to see her as something less than a complete human being.

That might be a valid point. Dramatically, it makes the movie monotonous. Add that to a style that feels casual, almost accidental, and a tendency for actors to improvise their lines in a way that makes scenes tend to dribble off into nothing, and you’ve got a flat experience.

Casting Riz Ahmed, who starred in the scathingly funny “Four Lions,” works reasonably well: he comes across as completely modern, a shallow son of privilege who has the luxury of chasing dreams of Bollywood and keeping a mistress.

Freida Pinto is more problematic; an actress can fill in the soul of a passive character, but Pinto hasn’t developed that much as an actress yet. The exception in her performance is her dancing: Trishna harbors secret dreams of being a dancer, and the sequences when she loses herself in movement are touchingly liberated.

Perhaps the dancing is meant to stand out in an otherwise dreary existence. That doesn’t excuse the lifelessness of so much of the rest of the movie.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about the two very different approaches to literary adaptation seen in Trishna and The Well Digger’s Daughter. The talk is archived here; the movie section begins at the 20:45 mark.

At What a Feeling!, another week of Eighties reviews rounds out with a problem film, Jonathan Demme’s Swing Shift.

Sunday July 22, I’ll present “Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s,” a free talk in the Humanities Washington speakers series, at the Woodinville Library, in Woodinville, WA, at 2 p.m. Details here.