Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nosh 61: 'Julieta,' 'Personal Shopper' & More



By David Elliott
                                             

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.


APPETIZER: Reviews of Julieta and Personal Shopper

Julieta
Pedro Almodóvar, directing his 21st feature, is again riding a feminine carousel. Julieta has Julieta doubled. The very attractive, middle-aging woman of Madrid is played with subtle verve of nerves by Emma Suárez. In her written (and flashbacked) memories her younger self is played by Adriana Ugarte as a sensitive blond bombshell who loves the Greek classics. Ugarte is probably the Spanish master’s best wow since Penélope Cruz. And then there is Julieta’s daughter Antia, played as child and teen by several engaging girls. And the flinty housekeeper acted by Rossy de Palma, Pedro’s Gothic gargoyle of Spanish pride (no man of La Mancha can stand against her).

Once again, los hombres are harem accessories. Pedro, famously gay, displays the buff appeal of Daniel Grao as Xoan, the stud fisherman (hints of Ulysses) who fathered Antia. On the side Xoan pleasures Ava (Inma Cuesta), a strong, sexy sculptress of Greco-macho nudes. Gentlemanly Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) comforts the mature, often depressed Julieta. In el mundo de Pedro the males are on hand mainly to pay attention, cast some seed and pick up broken crockery. It’s the females, singly, in pairs, in triads, in generations, who cause and inhabit the Iberian weather of feelings. Soap opera? If so, closer to opera than soap.

Almodóvar compacted three short stories of Alice Munro, now Hispanicized (it was once planned in English for Meryl Streep). In this seamless narrative people still write letters and notes, and emotions find the flamenco cadence of Castilian speech. The axis, of course, is Julieta, who surrenders her teaching dream for motherhood. Her idyll is upended not only by Xoan but willful daughter Antia. No point in spelling this out, though “spoilers” mean little when a director makes each scene pregnant from the last, giving birth to the next. Hurt and guilt become Julieta’s new, Homeric sea, churned less by Catholicism than tides of desire and fidelity, though there is a holy trinity moment of young Julieta with her baby and her aging mother.

Buffs will relish the surrealism of a stag, running alongside a train, and doesn’t a suicidal passenger echo Luis Buñuel’s great actor Fernando Rey? In a Hitchcock overlay, the stars playing Julieta recall the two sides of Kim Novak in Vertigo, with Ugarte looking a lot like Novak’s “Madeleine.” Rich stuff, but less strategic than Almodóver’s fluency of moods and décor-in-depth (emphasis on red, blue and yellow). The crucial role of Antia could have used more development, but Julieta is Julieta. Having dreamed of ancient Greeks, she finds herself in a Spanish life suspended between tragedy and melodrama, consecrated to the compulsions of Pedro. In a word: Viva!

Personal Shopper
Kristen Stewart made a smart jump away from the Twilight Saga movies by playing a personal assistant in Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). It is less smart to go from the artistic to the arty, as Stewart and Assayas have done with Personal Shopper. The slender, elegant actress plays Maureen, the American scootering round Paris as “personal shopper” of clothing and jewelry for a celebrity fashion totem, a woman of almost Trumpean shallowness. Maureen is told to never wear the garments. Of course she does, covertly. On this flimsy hanger, Assayas suspends two vapid attempts at mystery.

The vaguely psychic Maureen sleuths the ghost of her twin brother, which leads to a spooky old house where (she notes) a phantom “vomits ectoplasm.” And Maureen is stalked by a man, often through creepy texting, which leads to a grisly murder (not hers). The pieces scarcely connect, unless you wish to be pious about auteurist intentions. Even when you thicken the gravy with Stewart half-nude (twice), a Victor Hugo séance, and Marlene Dietrich singing in Angst Deutsch, you’re still stuck with a meatloaf of murk. It took the mise-en-scène prize at Cannes, which means the elegant gravy can’t save the under-cooked meat.  

SALAD (A List)
The Ten Best Almodóver Movies (with stars and year):
Volver (con Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, 2006), All About My Mother (con Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, 1999), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (con Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Rossy de Palma, 1988), Talk to Her (con Javier Cámara, Roserio Flores, 2002), Julieta (con Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, 2016), Broken Embraces (con Penélope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, 2009), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (con Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, 1990). Live Flesh (con Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Liberto Rabal, 1997), Law of Desire (con Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, 1987) and Kika (con Verónica Forqué, Peter Coyote, Victoria Abril, 1993).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles tried to diet his grand bulk in later years, but the gourmand in him was never silent. As when, lunching, he extolled the kiwi: “It’s the greatest fruit in the universe! But it’s ruined by all the French chefs who cut it up into thin slices. You cannot tell what it tastes like unless you eat it in bulk. Then it is marvelous, and it has the highest vitamin content of any fruit in the world.” (Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom, My Lunches With Orson.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
While not a flop, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was not the big  1948 hit its later legend implied: “Women largely ruled the box office and Treasure lacked wide appeal. Males mostly took it as an odd, exotic Western (swell bandits, not enough horses and gunplay). Ballyhoo included theater managers staging ‘treasure hunts’ for tickets, with fake gold bars on display under armed guard. One puff shot showed Bogart talking into the ear of a burro. Fortunately, the film was spared its ‘love song’ by Dick Manning and Buddy Kaye: ‘For you are the treasure of Sierra Madre / And your love is the gold that I tenderly hold’.” (From the Humphrey Bogart / Treasure of the Sierra Madre chapter in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, yours from Amazon, Nook or Kindle).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) faces another colorful crisis in Volver (El Deseo/ Sony Pictures Classics, 2006; director Pedro Almodóver, cinematographer Ester García).

For previous Noshes, scroll below.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nosh 60: 'Neruda' & More


By David Elliott


Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.


APPETIZER: Review of Neruda
Quite recently (see Nosh 49 below) Chile’s brilliant director Pablo Larraín made Jackie. He didn’t remove Jacqueline Kennedy from her fabled and tragic pedestal as a presidential widow. Instead, with Natalie Portman at her best, he put a living woman on  the pedestal, full of personal fury and anguished perplexity.

With more playfulness, and with a Latin flair for magical myth, Larraín revamps our sense of a great poet in Neruda. Back in 1994 Il Postino: The Postman starred Philippe Noiret as a wry, sage Neruda and Massimo Troisi as the simple Italian postman who falls in love with Neruda’s work. The endearing film sparked a big revival for Neruda’s love poems which, along with his radiant odes to basic and simple things, are the foundation of his popularity. But he was also a great political poet. True, as a devout Marxist he wrote some rhetorical rubbish, Stalinist boilerplate. But Neruda’s best political works, including most of the Canto General, have kept his name and verse sacred to idealists of the Left.

Larraín’s Neruda, contrived with writer Guillermo Calderón, is a pudgy peacock, a romantic egotist. It’s 1948, and Neruda is a leading Communist senator in Chile, The regime is falling into line with the new CIA’s Cold War thinking (the President is played by Alfredo Castro, wonderful as the insane criminal hooked on Saturday Night Fever in Larraín’s Tony Manero). Neruda goes into rather flamboyant hiding, then escapes over the mountains to Argentina. That really happened, but in Larraín’s take Neruda has a pursuing nemesis: the government’s fierce young agent Oscar.

He is played by Gael García Bernal, superb in Larraín’s political docu-drama No. Oscar is (or claims to be) the bastard son of a prostitute and a famous police chief. García Bernal makes his proven, zestful charisma neurotically potent, and seems to merge Inspector Clouseau with Jean-Louis Trintignant’s robotic Italian fascist in  The Conformist.  

A movie that salutes Neruda by opening with him urinating while denouncing his nearby, fellow senators as Yanqui stooges, and which has him fleeing from his lover’s most tender offer, to get drunk in a bordello, is not polishing a statue. Larraín has trifurcated Neruda: a brilliant troubadour of the dispossessed, a narcissist constructing his legend, and a sly, conspiratorial jester whose “act” thrills even Oscar. We begin to see Oscar as a bravura facet of Neruda’s grand, Whitman-wide imagination, as the guilty noir shadow leaking from Chile’s darkness, chasing Neruda’s flight to solar fame and glory.

The ending, in the high Andean snow, is as poetically vivid as Warren Beatty’s snowy exit in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. With splendid help from García Bernal and, as Neruda, Luis Ghecco (best known for comedy), and Delia del Carril as Neruda’s proud, artistic lover, and also Grieg and other composers, Larraín has fashioned a terrific movie. His vision of postwar Latin America (using ace imagery, urban and rural, by Sergio Armstrong) is irresistible. If you pay attention to credits, you may notice that the film’s “prop master” is Salvador Allende – the name of Neruda’s Marxist friend and president, martyred in 1973 by a CIA coup.

SALAD (A List)
A Dozen Dramatic Movies About Real Writers (star, subject, year): Oscar Wilde (Robert Morley as Wilde, 1960), The Belle of Amherst (Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson, 1976), Tales of Ordinary Madness (Ben Gazzara as Serking/Charles Bukowski, 1981), Dreamchild (Ian Holm as Lewis Carroll, 1985), My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown, 1989), An Angel at My Table (Kerry Fox as Janet Frame, 1990), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (Jennifer Jason-Leigh as Dorothy Parker, 1994), Before Night Falls (Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas, 2000), Adaptation (Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman, 2002), Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, 2005), Bright Star (Ben Whishaw as John Keats, 2008) and Trumbo (Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, 2015).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson Welles is seldom thought of as an intimate entertainer, more like a master of the powerful effect. But his most popular success was in radio, where he “wanted to eliminate the ‘impersonal’ quality of most programs, which treated the listener like an eavesdropper. The radio, he recognized, was an intimate piece of living room furniture, and as a result the ‘invisible audience should never be considered collectively, but individually.’ This, incidentally, was an idea that FDR had understood better than any politician of his era.” (From James Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In a little country restaurant, in Alice Adams, Katharine Hepburn’s performance as Alice “pressures Pauline Kael’s remark that Hepburn ‘has always been too individualistic, too singular for common emotions.’ Here she is giving fairly common emotions an uncommonly stylish clarity. Words arrive emotionally liquid, tempo ebbs and flows, candor teases out truth. It’s a lesson in ‘good breeding’ beyond the social game.” (From the Katharine Hepburn/Alice Adams chapter in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Nook or Kindle).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Pernell Roberts (left) and Randolph Scott found a Western pinnacle in Ride Lonesome (Columbia/Ranown 1959; director Budd Boetticher, cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr.).

For previous Noshes, scroll below.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Nosh 59: 'The Red Turtle,' 'Land of Mine' & More


By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.


APPETIZER: Reviews of The Red Turtle and Land of Mine

The Red Turtle
It opens with immense ocean waves, surging. You might lift your chin above the water, even though you’re in a dry theater seat. A bobbing head is seen – a drowning sailor, of course. He is swept to an island – one without people, of course. He must survive, of course. But dangerous tests of endurance, one involving a hidden pool and huge rocks, are so beautiful that it feels like Robinson Crusoe illustrated by Georgia O’Keefe in a Zen spell.   

The Red Turtle, almost wordless, seems to raft upon screen, driven by sea and sky and tropical vegetation. Its saturated washes of light and shadow are almost abstracted, and the sensuality has a primal grip. The sailor meets a grand turtle, much less a man Friday than a feminine Forever. Instead of the specific, amusing humanity of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, there is a purified aura of archetype, as if Adam the sailor is floating in the sea of Eve.

This is a Studio Ghibli production, yet not from Japan. Many French animators worked on  Michael Dudok de Wit's first feature. Hasao Miyazaki, Ghibli's famous master, saw animated shorts by the Dutchman and said if they ever needed a foreign director, it would be De Wit. His partner, the late Isao Takahata, went to Paris to produce. They result is a hybrid, like Lautrec's absorption of Japanese prints. The binding force is love of nature (plus a little cuteness: four perky sand crabs).
 
The Black Stallion loses a little magic when the boy and horse are rescued from the enchanting island (Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr and a race provide fine compensation). This story loses some of its primal purity by reaching for Jungian, magical-realist symbolism. But there is always the epic horizon, and the crimson shell of the sea beast has a similar curve of poetry. As a Euro-Ghibli vision, The Red Turtle makes Ninja turtles seem like very tame terrapins.      

Land of Mine
Using a feeble word-play title for a horrific story, Land of Mine is a film about captive German soldiers, forced to clear land mines from Danish beaches in 1945. If these were S.S. men and hardened brutes, we’d say: tough luck. But these 14 “Krauts” are scared boys drafted into the Wehrmacht at war’s end. When you see these adolescent children sifting the sands with pitiful tools and no protection, it is a harsh test of Danish morality, one from which even Soren Kierkegaard might have flinched.

Denmark’s WWII was almost a picnic next to Poland’s or Russia’s, but we can understand the cynical bitterness of Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Meller), a Dane working for English officers even more hardened than himself. The boys try to man-up, though they know the mission has a steep slope of destruction. Rasmussen comes to see them not as Nazi guilt ciphers (they never express a political idea) but as individuals bound by fear. They deserve the food that he steals from military supplies, and his growing sympathy. Tagging along are Rasmussen’s dog and a neighboring little girl.

Land of Mine doesn’t ratchet fear quite like  Ten Seconds to Hell (1959), in which Jack Palance leads a POW team in defusing unexploded bombs (I sweated blood for that one). While director Martin Zandvliet isn’t much of a stylist, the boys facing terrible pressures are touchingly vulnerable. At film’s end we learn that of the two thousand war prisoners made to de-mine Denmark, many were juvenile. About half were killed or maimed in 1945, which Germans call Year Zero.

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Good End-of-WWII Films (nation, year, director):
Rome Open City (Italy, 1945, Roberto Rossellini), The Best Years of Our Lives (US, 1946, William Wyler), Germany Year Zero (Italy-Germany, 1948, Rossellini), The Search (US-Germany, 1948, Fred Zinnemann), Decision Before Dawn (US-Germany, 1951, Anatole Litvak), The Last Ten Days (Germany, 1955, G.W. Pabst), The Burmese Harp (Japan-Burma, 1956, Kon Ichikawa), Ten Seconds to Hell (US, 1959, Robert Aldrich), The Bridge (Germany, 1959, Bernhard Wicki), The Truce (Italy, 1997, Francesco Rosi), The White Countess (Britain-China, 2005, James Ivory) and The Sun (Russia-Japan, 2005, Alexander Sokurov).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles disliked the “type” for which he was often cast: “Many of the big characters I’ve played are various forms of Faust, and I am against every form of Faust, because I believe it’s impossible for a man to be great without admitting that there’s something greater than himself, whether it’s the law, or God, or egotism … (but) in playing Faust, I want to be just and loyal to him, to give him the best of myself and the best arguments that I can find for him … our world is Faustian.” (Welles to Peter Bogdanovich, in This Is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“While in this book we lose the rapid, sensual engulfment of actually viewing (the movies are all out on disc), we experience what happens more discerningly. No voice can ‘say it all’ about films, so I have recruited other lovers of these movies and I hope the quotations have a fugal effect (‘A fugue has need of all its voices’ – Aldous Huxley).” (From the Intro to my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, dandy in The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros. 1941; director John Huston, cinematographer Arthur Edeson).



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Friday, March 31, 2017

Nosh 58: 'Kedi,' 'The Sense of an Ending' & More


By David Elliott


Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of Kedi and The Sense of an Ending

Kedi
Anyone familiar with domestic cats knows that they simply meow our world onto their own planet. They also receive enough love to pretend to be pets, coughing up the occasional hairball to remind us of their superiority. The people most enslaved are old ladies, living in fragrant intimacy with 40-plus cats and frozen fish-heads. Although the Proustian pungency of litter and cat piss arouses no  purr in me, I do relish my daughter’s beloved kitty, Caspian.

Kedi (Turkish for cat) is an Anatolian valentine to cats, some almost feral, in the fabled port city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). Their ancestors often arrived on foreign ships, and they live in an old waterfront district densely throbbing with  atmosphere. The starring critters include Duman, a lordly beggar at a deli; Gamsiz, a ferally proud and pouncing tom; Psikopat, who has mental “issues” and fierce claws, and Bengu, a tirelessly protective mother. Most have trained humans to provide them some food and shelter. The people, including a humble boatman with a mystic feeling for cats, are thrilled to be of service.

Director Ceyda Torun, now a New Yorker, loves her childhood city, and Istanbul is so vitally present that we, too, can roam and sniff, scratch and meow. Invaluable were editor Mo Stoebe, composer Kira Fontan and photographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann. This urban nature documentary has charm, depth, humor and magnificent cat eyes, gazing upon their very own Catstantinople. Plus a thrill from my youth: multi-lingual Eartha Kitt, singing “Uska Dara” in fluent Turkish. Kitt, one fierce puddy-tat of a chanteuse, was also Batman’s best Catwoman.   

The  Sense of an Ending
Only senior viewers will probably care about the morsels of furtive memory and autumnal suspense, dropped like tea bags into The Sense of an Ending. Jim Broadbent does what he can with retired, divorced Tony, a Londoner both grumpy and amiable. His past comes to “haunting” life with a sudden bequest, rousing memories of a much-desired college lover and a Camus-reading, suicidal friend. Charlotte Rampling is barely employed as the aged and unsentimental ex-love. Most effective is Harriet Walker as Tony’s acerbic but generous former spouse.

Adapted by Nick Payne from the Booker-prized novel by Julian Barnes, directed for snacky chips of rueful remembrance by Ritesh Batra, the tease-along movie is a soaper. Not soap opera but soapy chamber music, like a weary, nostalgic cello ruminating its notes. Downton Abbey fans will savor two fairly minor players, humming along in a good English way: Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on Downton) as Tony’s pregnant daughter, and Matthew Goode (Mary’s second husband) as a college instructor. If only they could have gotten together here, but it’s an elegy for elders.

SALAD (A List)
Ten Movies With Great Roles for Cats, in order of arrival: The Black Cat, 1934; Cat People, 1942; Lady and the Tramp, 1955; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1962; Harry and Tonto, 1974; Adventures of Milo and Otis, 1986; Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, 1993; Duma, 2005; A Cat in Paris, 2010, and Kedi, 2016.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Some parties are more fit for heaven than Hollywood, like the July, 1939 gathering for Aldous Huxley’s 45th birthday at his rented home in Pacific Palisades. Present with Orson Welles were astronomer Edwin Hubble, Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Christopher Isherwood and Charlie Chaplin, who “delighted the group by performing his hilarious balletic globe dance from (the not yet released) The Great Dictator.” Huxley “teased the crowd with hints about his new novel (After Many a Summer …), whose main character was inspired by William Randolph Hearst … and his mistress.” (Quotes from Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
With your gracious permission, I will not plug my own book this week but instead tout playwright Jim Shankman’s recently published novel Tales of the Patriarchs. A fervent yarn of silent Hollywood, rich in rude laughter and frantic ambition, Tales centers on the driven Jewish visionaries who founded Paramount and MGM. The book would be a fine companion to Neal Gabler’s classic An Empire of Their Own, and Shankman’s prose has some romantic obsession and magical realism. A terrific sendup salute to Erich von Stroheim, famously Prussian but actually Jewish (and a genius), includes this yeasty passage about the smash impact of his Blind Husbands:

“All across America single men, fat and bald, round and hairy, began to prance and preen and speak with German accents … Duels were fought with sabers or pistols at dawn in parks on the edge of towns throughout the Old South. Sales of spear-top Prussian helmets went through the roof. Metro prospered.” (The novel’s sales may never rival Gore Vidal’s Hollywood, but those with primal movie fever will gladly find it on Amazon, and the author’s site is www.jimshankman.com).  


DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Erich von Stroheim flashes the good old Hun charisma in Blind Husbands (Universal, 1919; director Von Stroheim, cameraman Ben Reynolds).



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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Nosh 57: 'Kong: Skull Island,' 'Logan' & More


By David Elliott


Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
Note: Nosh 58 will arrive on Friday, March 31. 


APPETIZER: Reviews of Kong: Skull Island and Logan

Kong: Skull Island
In the not exactly lyrical Kong: Skull Island the star gorilla could polish off an entire planet of the apes for breakfast. Science visionary John Goodman wants to get to Skull Island, a Pacific paradise gone to hell. He does not anticipate Kong and the prehistoric lizard creeps the ape feeds upon. He is not meteorologically bothered that epic storms keep circling the island but oddly leave it alone. And in the Watergate era he is no prophet: “Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington.” Don, send him a tweet.

I try to think about the war fever of Major Samuel L. Jackson, bitter but still gung-ho after losing Vietnam, thrilled to settle for slaughtering exotic animals. Also, thinking about how Tom Hiddleston demurely slips the fine blade of his Britness into the pulp script, nailed to the screen by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. And about how photographer Brie Larson is the new Fay Wray, wowing the ape, although few in a young crowd would recall Wray’s great damsel in distress in King Kong (1933). That movie saved RKO, this one saved its nostalgia kit:  old planes, uniforms, Nam choppers, ’70s rock songs, a Nixon bobble-head.

The best collectible is John C. Reilly as a downed WWII pilot stuck on the island for 28 years, still patriotic, still a Cubs fan, and maybe the funniest role for Reilly since his dopey porn slob in that better ’70s time capsule, Boogie Nights. As an extravagant mash-up of King Kong, Apocalypse Now, Swiss Family Robinson and Valley of Gwanji, this new Kong offers the biggest primate ever, vivid jungles and a bloody showdown (ape vs. lizard) that could make you yearn to be a parakeet in a nunnery. Maybe Reilly can rally his old Boogie buddies and star in Thong of Kong: The Total Package.

Logan
I probably missed a few delicate threads of Logan, not being a ritual fan of the X-Men franchise. But “delicate threads” hardly define a massively expensive action film, harvesting giant income as it climaxes the saga of mutant Wolverine (or Logan). He has a startling heir apparent, Laura, a Swiss army knife of a lassie, extruding deadly blades from her hands. Her feral stare will one day make kid actor Dafne Keen one hell of an imposing woman. This is not the Little Rascals, and director James Mangold knows how to grease his adrenaline grinder: many violent climaxes, with enough dead goons to be the meat supply of a small country.

The film’s heart is not hairy, aging Logan (Hugh Jackman), who is prone to nodding off. It is lethal but loveable Laura. And Logan’s dying teacher, Charles (Patrick Stewart, reaching for wit and pathos, sometimes finding a little). A loving black family is inserted to tenderize the plot and then, naturally, pay an awful price. Fugitive X-kids live like Peter Pans atop a mountain refuge, cheerful despite their wretched upbringings. Mad scientist Richard E. Grant is destined for brutal dispatch – surrounded by big muscle men, he’s like a floating doily.

What else? Nostalgic clips of Shane. Horses in a highway panic. Mute Laura suddenly speaks, bilingually. Logan needs bifocals and hates comic books. A burial cross is shifted to become an X (what will evangelicals say?). An impressive, rotting water tower. Dialog so urgent with vim (very insistant messages) that the native X-tongue must be Twitter jabber. In sum: another loud Marvel spectacle at the plexes.

SALAD (A List)
Best 12 Movies About Disturbing Critters (critter, director and year): Jaws (shark, Steven Spielberg 1975), Forbidden Planet (Krel monster, Fred Wilcox 1956), King Kong (gorilla, Cooper-Schoedsack 1933), Cat People (ghostly cat, Jacques Tourneur 1942), Jurassic Park (dinosaurs, Spielberg 1993), Ssssss (snakes, Bernard Kowalski 1973), The Naked Jungle (army ants, Byron Haskin 1954), The Fly (man-fly, David Cronenberg 1986), Tremors (giant worms, Ron Underwood 1990), King Kong (gorilla, John Guillermin 1976), Arachnophobia (spiders, Frank Marshall 1990) and Mighty Joe Young (gorilla, Ernest Schoedsack 1949).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson’s beloved but cursed South American project, It’s All True (1942), withered to a wet, pathetic end: In 1944 “Welles signed a promissory note for $197,000 and took possession of 375,000 feet of Technicolor film, 90,000 feet of black-and-white. He paid $17.50 a month storage fee in Salt Lake City … In 1946 RKO sued him and repossessed … when the hoard of film was passed on to Desilu Productions and then Paramount, some of it was destroyed and some dumped, they say, into the Pacific.” O fateful dreams! (Quote from Frank Brady’s Citizen Welles).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The personal factor cannot be left out of filmgoing. Those who rejected The Cruise in 1998 were mainly rejecting its subject, tour guide Tim Levitch, as a crackpot, “and the skeptics who questioned my own enthusiasm were asking, in essence: Do you really like Levitch? I certainly do. The finest validation is from 1945, in Michael Powell’s splendid I Know Where I’m Going! Joan (Wendy Hiller): ‘A little odd, isn’t he?’ Torquil (Roger Livesey): ‘Who isn’t?” (From the Timothy Levitch/The Cruise chapter of my book Starling Rising: Acting Up in Movies, obtainable from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



Buster Keaton strikes a vampy pose in The Navigator (MGM 1924; directors Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp; cinematographers Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley).



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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nosh 56: 'Paterson' & More


By David Elliott


Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Review of Paterson
It opens with a dream, as Paterson’s pretty partner tells of dreaming about twins. Shaking off sleep, he replies in his wry, subdued way, “One for each of us.” Paterson is one for all of us, a dream of a poem of a movie.

It is about Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, N.J. He’s a rather dreamy driver, mulling his poems. He lives with cheerful, artistic Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), excited by her new and almost Picasso-styled guitar, and also with their willful, grumpy bulldog, Marvin (whose notion of urban poetry is a long walk with a thousand sniffs). The movie is nested into old Paterson, a working-class town (pop. 145,000) of weary but enduring brick, many streets interlaced by streams and falls of the Passaic River – and by the flowing legend of Dr. William Carlos Williams, whose epic poem is “Paterson.” Poetry sprouts wings when Paterson, walking to work, spots a haiku-worthy waterfall through the open backside of an abandoned building. Later he will meet a Japanese tourist who loves water, poetry and Williams.

As Paterson, tall, sober Adam Driver is the driver this movie needs. He has one of those forget-me-never faces like Jeff Goldblum, John Turturro, Paul Giamatti (and like them a line-biting voice). Driver was shunted to a side-spur of Scorsese’s Silence. He doesn’t reach for stardom here, but he is central, dominant and even winsome (without cutes). Paterson speaks pensively and recites cleanly; his sly, gentle verses were written by Ron Padgett. His relations with lovely Laura and burly Marvin, with a veteran bartender (Barry Shabaka Henley) and a heartbroken Romeo (William Jackson Harper), arrive as segments of soul. Nothing is overdone, including the poems printed on the screen image. The only “melodrama” involves a toy gun, and the dog adds a segment of suspense. This could have all been wistful and precious, an arty doily. Not so.

Flawlessly in command is writer and director Jim Jarmusch (now 64 – hard to believe!), once an ’80s indie-movie prince with Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train and others. He seemed to take a long hiatus, springing back with the elegant vampire reverie Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013. With alert simplicity, Jarmusch  absorbs old Paterson and visually feasts even on a box of matches, along with David Lynch's great cinematographer Frederick Elmes. A movie that celebrates the working-stiff demographic without dumb populism, that salutes both Petrarch and comic Lou Costello, that honors poet Williams without becoming pedantic – it all add up to what I think is  Jarmusch’s best film.

When Paterson hears a solitary rapper, practicing in a laundromat, he backs out of sight to demurely listen (he’s always listening, looking, pondering). Like its hero the film can seem shy but is creatively no wimp. Each month of this cold, wet winter has brought an artistic keeper: Aquarius in November, Rules Don’t Apply in December, Jackie in January, The Salesman in February. And now Paterson. As Henry Gibson’s Haven Hamilton said and sang in Nashville: Keep a-goin’.

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Impeccably Poetic Movies, in order of arrival (director, year): Ménilmontant (Dmitri Kirsanov, 1926), L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934), Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1949), Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954), The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1955), Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus, 1960),  L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1963),  The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung, 1993),  The Cruise (Bennett Miller, 1997), Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002), Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (Steven Shainberg, 2006) and Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson’s casual moviegoing never achieved cinephile purity, for in youth he often walked into a film after it had begun: “We’d leave when we said ‘This is where we came in.’ Everybody said that. They didn’t cost that much, so if you didn’t like one, it was ‘Let’s do something else, go to another movie’ ... walking out of a movie was what for people now is like turning off the television set.” He never saw the Internet’s omni-plex of perusal. (Quote from My Lunches With Orson by Welles and Henry Jaglom, editor Peter Biskind.) 

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In Dallas Buyers Club, hustling conniver Ron Woodroof “fits into the populist-pest tradition of Ernie Kovacs, subverting military orders in Operation Mad Ball; Paul Newman, rousing the chain-gang rubes of Cool Hand Luke; Jack Nicholson, sabotaging medical fascists in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Julia Roberts, finger-flipping the law in Erin Brockovich. His rude, crude sanity is tonic for the afflicted.” (From the Matthew Conaughey / Dallas Buyers Club chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Kindle, Nook.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Nadia Sibirskaya in the silent, surreal Paris of Ménilmontant (France, 1926; creator Dmitri Kirsanov).


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Friday, March 3, 2017

Nosh 55: 'I Am Not Your Negro' & More


By David Elliott



Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.


APPETIZER: Review of I Am Not Your Negro
Despite its almost funereal roots – in writer James Baldwin’s proposed, never-written book about his three martyred friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. – the  documentary I Am Not Your Negro has an amazing life presence. The undertow of tragic sadness cannot depress the enduring legacy of those slain heroes. At the film’s core is another charismatic star: little Jimmy Baldwin, with his huge, sad-owl eyes, radiant smile of gapped teeth, and a voice so eloquent that we are spellbound by his sincerity.

This tribute is overdue, Baldwin having died at 63 in 1987. In 95 minutes Raoul Peck’s movie packs in the era of The Movement, when civil rights was America’s internal Vietnam. Baldwin was back from Paris, his expat refuge from the racial pressure cooker of American life. We hear his thoughts (voiced without jive by Samuel L. Jackson) gleaned from his work, including the book proposal. And we hear Baldwin speaking, as in the quiet, meditative thunder of his presentation at a Cambridge Union debate (his opponent, unseen in the clip, was William F. Buckley Jr.). There are many heroes, not only the three gunned-down leaders but also Harry Belafonte (more eloquent than I recalled), the brave teen Dorothy Counts who faced down brutal taunting, and fearless playwright Lorraine Hansberry (whose meeting with Baldwin and Robert F. Kennedy is a startling element).

Peck, a Haitian, directed Lumumba, the moving 2000 film with Eriq Ebouaney’s great performance as Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba. Peck’s key collaborator is editor Alexandra Strauss, cross-pollinating clips from news shows, TV chats, race kitsch, songs, ads, forgotten movies like Dance, Fools, Dance (Joan Crawford’s sexiness dazzled young Baldwin) and They Won’t Forget (Clinton Rosemond’s terrorized black janitor became a lasting memory). It is surely time to give Stepin Fetchit a long rest, and the view of Doris Day is shallow, but there is a surreal, oddly menacing (in context) episode from The Pajama Game, of a union picnic giddy with colors and music but everyone is so cheerfully white.

This is not a Baldwin bio-pic, but we could stand to get more on the writer’s broken family, his abiding love of black church speech and music, his deep friendships with Marlon Brando and Nina Simone and his gayness (only mentioned in an FBI report). Still, we get riches. Baldwin was not a mover and shaker, but he had soul-true connections and he knew how to think, write and talk about them without losing any nuances. He felt almost crucified by his belief that black America is caught on a treadmill of white entitlement and forever fated to be Other and Under, sacrificed to a Caucasian race obsession bleached by fear and guilt. Billie Holiday’s “strange fruit” hangs on a white tree.     

SALAD (A List)
Twelve Major Documentaries About Remarkable Americans (subject, director, date), in order of their arrival: Hail, Hail, Rock ’n Roll! (rock musician Chuck Berry; Taylor Hackford 1987), Let’s Get Lost (jazzman Chet Baker; Bruce Weber 1989), When We Were Kings (boxer Muhammad Ali; Leon Gast 1996), The Cruise (brilliant guide Timothy Levitch; Bennett Miller 1997),  Frank Lloyd Wright (the architectural genius; Ken Burns, Lynn Novick 1998), Tesla: Master of Lightning (science wiz Nikola Tesla; Robert Uth 2000), My Flesh and Blood (super-mom Susan Tom; Jonathan Karsh 2003), My Architect (architect Louis Kahn; Nathaniel Kahn 2004), Buck (horse master Buck Brannaman; Cindy Meehl 2011);  The Internet’s Own Boy (computer prodigy Aaron Swartz; Brian Knappenberger 2014), Magician (film master Orson Welles; Chuck Workman 2014) and Finding Vivian Maier (the obscure photographer; John Maloof, Charlie Siskel 2014).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Biographer Charles Higham hurt Orson Welles by proposing an unconscious “fear of completion” which hobbled his career. Barbara Leaming put the opposing case well: “If indeed Orson feared completion, why would he have tried to finish It’s All True at his own expense? Why would he have subsidized his films with his own acting money? And how does one explain the struggle to finish Othello at such great personal cost?” In his late years, Welles even sought to film a new ending for The Magnificent Ambersons. Alas, no way. (Quote from Orson Welles by Barbara Leaming.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Diane Arbus had (furrier father) David’s eyes and, said her mother, ‘didn’t just look at you. She considered you.’ The cosetted girl would lament being ‘treated like a crummy Jewish princess.’ Jewish only on holy days, to please grandparents, Diane escaped anti-Semitism and in time photographed American Nazis who were ‘charmed by her’ … Her eyes equally devoured the Metropolitan’s paintings and afflicted people on the streets (but) ‘I didn’t inhabit my own kingdom for a long time.” (From the Nicole Kidman/Fur chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, obtainable from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Jack Nicholson and his wounded nose visit Catalina Island for Chinatown (Paramount Pictures 1974; director Roman Polanski, cinematographer John Alonzo).


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