Monday, November 22, 2021

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, HBO Max, Hulu, TCM, YouTube.]

Two by Pedro Almodóvar

‌Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980). A cop spots pot plants on a windowsill, refuses an attempted bribe, and rapes Pepi (Carmen Maura), who then schemes to take away the cop’s wife Luci (Eva Siva). It turns out that prim, proper Luci is a masochist, a detail that Pepi and her lesbian punk-rocker friend Bom (Alaska) turn to their advantage. But can they compete with Luci’s husband? Funny and gonzo, with desire run amok: it’s as if John Waters moved to Madrid. ★★★★ (HBO Max)

The Human Voice (2020). A short film for pandemic times, based on Jean Cocteau’s La voix humaine. After a introductory moment of retail therapy in a store with an imposing display of axes, we wander a beautifully furnished, dazzlingly colorful apartment and the empty stage that surrounds it, watching a woman (Tilda Swinton) neaten her books, try out her axe, and speak a desperate telephone soliloquy to a now-gone lover. A charming dog, all black and white, also waits for his now-gone master. And then it’s time for this woman to forget the phone and send smoke signals. ★★★★ (HBO Max)


No Way Out (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950). In his first credited role, Sidney Poitier plays Luther Brooks, a brand-new Black doctor in a busy hospital, given the ugly assignment of tending to Ray and Johnny Biddle, two racist brothers shot in a robbery. When Johnny dies, Ray (Richard Widmark) claims that Brooks killed him. This movie contrasts scenes of vicious hatred (Widmark was reportedly pained by lines he had to speak) with scenes of familial love and loyalty (Brooks with his family, complete with a portrait of a dead patriarch on the wall) and one remarkable conversation in which Johnny’s widow Edie (Linda Darnell) begins to recognize a Black woman’s humanity (Amanda Randolph). Randolph goes uncredited; and though it’s Poitier’s story, he, as a newcomer, gets fourth billing, after the three starring names: Widmark, Darnell, and Stephen McNally. ★★★★ (YT)


Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931). Spectacular sets. A weird imaginary Europe. Boris Karloff’s mastery of gesture and noise. Happy Halloween. ★★★★ (TCM)


Two by Anatole Litvak

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). There are several spies, most notably those played by Francis Lederer, Paul Lukas, and George Sanders. Edward G. Robinson is the G-man tasked with finding them. A troubling film to watch in 2021, when those who would destroy democracy are ever at work, and the institutions meant to defend democracy seem adrift. Secret meetings, allegiance to a god-like leader, mob violence — well, here we are again. ★★★★ (TCM)

Sorry, Wrong Number (dir. Anatole Litvak, 1948). A great performance by Barbara Stanwyck as an invalid who, because of a glitch in the phone lines, hears two men plotting a murder. She soon realizes that she is the intended victim. I’d forgotten how much backstory the film (unlike the radio drama) involves, with flashback upon flashback. Genuine suspense, with every ring of the phone and every call to the operator adding to an increasingly desperate situation. ★★★★ (YT)


Black Widow (dir. Nunnally Johnson, 1954). CinemaScope and DeLuxe Color, with enough blue and tan clothing to fill the men’s and women’s sections of a fine department store. The story seems to me a dark variation on (the already dark) All About Eve: an aspiring writer (Peggy Ann Garner) gloms onto a Broadway producer (Van Heflin), and various forms of havoc ensue. Ginger Rogers is woefully miscast as a catty actress; George Raft is wonderfully miscast as a police detective. The movie’s appeal lies, I think, in its depiction of messy, expensive lives. ★★★ (CC)


Boomerang! (dir Elia Kazan, 1947). Drawn from an incident in the career of one-time prosecutor Homer Cummings, and filmed in Stamford, Connecticut, in semi-documentary style, with Reed Hadley’s narration. When a beloved minister is murdered, suspicion falls on a wandering vet who recently left town. Lee J. Cobb is the police chief who forces a confession; Dana Andrews in the prosecutor who has doubts: it’s a conflict that anticipates Cobb vs. Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. Though some political scheming adds darkness, it’s a legal procedural, not film noir (despite what the Internet may say). ★★★★ (CC)


Old Enough (dir. Marisa Silver, 1984). An unlikely summer friendship on the Lower East Side between Lonnie, an eleven-year-old child of affluence (Sarah Boyd), and Karen (Rainbow Harvest), a building super’s fourteen-year-old. Karen introduces Lonnie to the joys of petty theft and the confessional; Lonnie brings Karen with her to a snooty school dance (yes, Karen’s world is much more interesting, and the movie spends much more time there). As the summer nears its end, the mysteries and dangers of sexuality (Karen’s father, her older brother, a sexy upstairs neighbor) begin to complicate the new friendship. One scene (the bike ride) threatens to push the movie into Afterschool Special territory, but the many echoes of The World of Henry Orient add value to this poignant picture of kids who will soon be leaving kidhood. ★★★★ (CC)


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (dir. Robert Ellis Miller, 1968). John Singer (Alan Arkin), a silver engraver, deaf and mute, is at the center of the story, as he tries to care for an institutionalized friend and former roommate (Chuck McCann), comes to the aid of a self-destructive drunk (Stacy Keach Jr.), translates to and from ASL for a Black doctor (Percy Rodriguez), reconciles the doctor and his daughter (Cicely Tyson), and develops an awkwardly intimate friendship with the teenage daughter (Sondra Locke) of the family he rooms with. Locke is terrific; Arkin is extraordinary. But I never knew quite what to make of this movie: for every moment of emotional profundity, there’s a bit of dumb comedy or Touched by an Angel sentiment. I don’t know Carson McCuller’s novel, so I’m not sure what this adaptation (set in the 1960s) adds or removes. ★★★ (CC)


Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word Is Power (dir. Nancy Lang and Peter Raymont, 2019). Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid conversation with Margaret Atwood prompted our household to watch this documentary. Now and then it’s revealing, as when we hear Atwood’s commentary on The Handmaid’s Tale and Harvard and get glimpses of her handwritten notes. But there’s more here about the writer as celebrity than I can use — I hit a limit at the sight of Atwood and a procession of handmaids at a literary event. Like many documentaries, this one is overly long: the IMDb says 0:52, but the version we watched clocks in at 1:33 (and feels even longer). ★★★ (H)


Diary of a Mad Housewife (dir. Frank Perry, 1970). Carrie Snodgress gives a brilliant performance as Tina Balser (Smith, Phi Beta Kappa), housewife, mother, and personal assistant to her hypercriticial, status-seeking, self-obsessed man-child husband (Richard Benjamin). She seeks — what? — something in an affair with another man, a writer (Frank Langella) who’s merely a louche, sexually charismatic version of her husband. It’s funny and painful to watch: Tina puts up with so much. I wonder if she read A Doll House at Smith. ★★★★ (CC)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Geo-B said...

Re "Old Enough," IMDB's bio of Rainbow Harvest (real name: Rainbow Harvest) begins, "Little is known about the lovely actress who appeared in films from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s." (We are so used to having access to all information, it is uncommon when someone is unknown, when a book just isn't available anywhere, or, for me, that very rare but strangely exciting feeling I have when sitting in a theater about to watch movie I know absolutely nothing about.)

Michael Leddy said...

I did some searching and am guessing that her name changed (marriage? a wish for some anonymity?). There’s just no trace of her online aside from the details of her film and TV appearances.