By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
Note: Nosh 108 will appear on Friday, May 11.
APPETIZER: Reviews of A Quiet Place and Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy.
A Quiet Place
Not until 37 minutes into the film does a human speak in normal volume in A Quiet Place. Until then, just sign language and whispers, along with hushed silence and tip-toe walking. It’s a world where speaking normally can make a scaly, leaping alien eat you alive. It’s Upstate New York, with few people still visible (eaten, or maybe trembling in the last of Nelson Rockefeller’s Cold War atom-bomb shelters). Lee (John Krasinski) and wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s actual spouse) and their kids are so vulnerably in harm’s way. Their youngest boy was devoured by a creep after brief, childish noise.
Krasinski directed, scripting with two other writers. Their work, a sort of Zen Amish Alien, is one of the most intimate and nerve-taunting of spook movies. Family values are packed into every fearful step and glance, each furtive gesture. The tensions widen in Blunt’s wonderful eyes (Krasinski, bushy-bearded, is also a fine eye actor). There is a wonderfully worried son (Noah Jupe), and a bright, gutsy daughter (Millicent Simmons) whose fear of the beasts merges with her anxiety that Lee loves her a bit less than the boys. Gender tropes achieve stark definition when Dad, clutching a rifle rather forlornly, looks for the lost kids while Mom, in advanced pregnancy but refusing to scream, must deal with a vicious critter in the house.
The film is beautifully paced and shot, with moody images of nature by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christiansen. But it’s the sounds and silences, abetted by Marco Beltrami’s emphatic but spare score, which certify the story’s primal essences. Millicent Simmonds is deaf, and her acting has the compelling resonance of her sign language and her vitally expressive face. Before long, like the predators (blind, yet with the hearing of super-bats), we are all ears. Instead of idiotic teens becoming psycho snack bait, a family fends off feral ferocity with mutual support. Their angel must be dear old Sylvia Sidney, song-smashing the Martians in Mars Attacks! with her Slim Whitman record.
Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy
Now for some really quiet places (but not always). Andy Goldsworthy has a quietly pensive voice in Leaning Into the Wind. His world-renowned art, some looking permanent as Stonehenge and some literally blown away by wind and rain, manipulates nature into art (and, seemingly, the reverse). Documentary maker Thomas Riedelsheimer broadened Goldsworthy’s fan base with Rivers and Tides (and also directed Touch the Sound, the terrific doc about the deaf, Scottish wizard of percussion Evelyn Glennie). He returns to the great modern artist and follows him to much of the world: to Morecambe Bay, England, where natural stone and surf first moved him to art in college days; to a Brazilian shanty with strangely beautiful clay floors; to San Francisco’s Presidio for a writhing sculptural installation of gorgeous woods; to a dense jungle structure of woven logs in Gabon, and to interlocking stone arches in St. Louis that are like primeval echoes for Eero Saarinen’s soaring metal arch.
Nobody else does quite this form of magic with yellow leaves, skinny branches or dappled water. Goldsworthy talks with a slightly elfin charm about learning from falls and failures, and his elation when nature cooperates for another masterwork (many are transient but survive in poetic films and photos). His whimsy is like a Victorian explorer’s. We hear rustling from a big hedge in Edinburgh and know the artist is inside, midway up, tunneling its length by hand and foot (his emergence is a Harry Potter moment). There are some late languid passages, but wonders keep coming, including the great scene of leaning into the wind.
SALAD (A List)
My 12 Favorite Scare Movies, in order of arrival:
Nosferatu (director Murnau, 1922), The Phantom of the Opera (Chaney etc., 1925), Island of Lost Souls (Kenton, 1932), Cat People (Tourneur, 1942), Eyes Without a Face (Franju, 1960), Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), Sssssss (Kowalski, 1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kaufman, 1978), The Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981), The Dead Zone (Cronenberg, 1983), Cronos (Del Toro, 1993) and In My Skin (De Van, 2002). And don’t forget two thunder-duds of dumb: Night of the Lepus (Claxton, 1972) and The Blair Witch Project (Sanchez-Myrick, 1999).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson Welles enjoyed jousting with French intellectuals, the auteurists who liked calling him a “baroque” artist. He fed their rhetoric, while snacking a side-dish of skepticism about it. “If there were other extremely baroque artists (in film),” he said in 1958, “I’d be the most classical film-maker you’ve ever seen.” But the essential truth, noted Peter Conrad, “is that the baroque was Welles’s instinct, not his choice. It matched both his psychological quirks and his intellectual temper.” And his voluptuary’s eye! (Quote from Conrad’s Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In 1968 Mel Brooks’s The Producers was “Mel’s deli, which had a great kosher pickle: theatrical giant Zero Mostel, in his one enduringly great movie role. The two pickled Adolf Hitler in the best satirical brine since Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in 1940. Zero +2 (Brooks, Gene Wilder) was a new math of mirth.” A flop on first release, it soon became a cult shrine and then a big Broadway hit. (Quote from Zero Mostel/The Producers chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available via Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Mitzi Gaynor, Taina Elg and the great Kay Kendall (center) vie for Gene Kelly in Les Girls (MGM, 1957; director George Cukor, cinematographer Robert Surtees).
For previous Noshes, scroll below.