SIFF 2014: Cinescape to the Opening Night Film ‘Jimi: All is By My Side’

22 April, 2014 (15:27) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Festivals | By: Sean Axmaker

The Seattle International Film Festival announced this week that it will kick off the 40th Seattle International Film Festival with a screening of Jimi: All is By My Side, John Ridley’s film about the early years of Jimi Hendrix in England before his breakthrough, on the Thursday, May 15 opening night gala at McCaw Hall. Director / writer Ridley, an Oscar winner for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, is expected to attend.

The film, which debuted at Toronto last fall and made its American debut at SXSW in March, stars Andre Benjamin as Hendrix, who was born in Seattle and rests at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, and co-stars Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots as the women in his life as he played his way through the London club scene in the 1960s.

SIFF also released its 2014 promo. The theme is “Cinescape.”

The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival runs from May 15 through June 8 in multiple venues across Seattle. The official festival website is here.

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Videophiled: ‘Bettie Page Reveals All’

22 April, 2014 (08:44) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

BettiePageBettie Page Reveals All (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) doesn’t quite live up to its title, at least not when it comes to delving into the darkest days of her turbulent life.

Bettie Page was the good girl and the bad girl all wrapped up in one package, the girl next door in a bikini and bangs who managed to look innocent and sweet in hundreds of 1950s bondage photos and film shorts, and a model who made nude shots look natural and innocent. She disappeared from the public eye in 1957 but became a celebrated icon and sex symbol when her image was rediscovered in the 1980s by artists and fashion designers. The title is a harmless double entendre that refers to her career baring all in both amateur camera club sessions and professional shoots with Bunny Yeager, which landed her a spot as a Playboy Playmate, and to the film’s most interesting dimension: it is narrated by Page herself through frank and forthcoming audio interviews conducted before her death in 2008. It is audio only for she would not let herself be filmed or photographed in the last decades of her life.

Director Mark Mori clearly loves his subject and seems to be protective of her, even after her death. She fearlessly discusses the dark episodes of her life – neglected by her mother, abused by father, sexually assaulted as a young woman in New York, bad marriages, and her struggles with depression and schizophrenia that resulted in 10 years of psychiatric care in mental institution late in her life – with the same matter-of-fact openness of discussing her happy times. “I never had any bad feelings about posing in the nude or semi-nude outfits. I found I could make more money in two hours than I made all week.” Mori, meanwhile, offers a familiar mix of biographical detail, adoring commentary by experts and witnesses, and illustrative photographs (both clothed and nude) and clips of super-8 fetish and bondage shorts and 16mm cheesecake films from her career as a model.

What the portrait misses is any depth in its exploration of her life. Her first-person narration offers a great glimpse into what kind of person she was but the commentators (who include Hugh Hefner, modern burlesque artist Dita von Teese, cult actress Mamie Van Doren and fifties stripper Tempest Storm) repeat the familiar line of her charm and sweetness and impact as an icon before her time and Mori reports on her life without really exploring it, never sifting through contradictions or even acknowledging them. Page reportedly yelled “Lies!” at a screening of The Notorious Bettie Page (the 2006 feature starring Gretchen Mol as Page) but the film doesn’t take it any further: what upset her, what did she think the film get so wrong, and does Mori agree with her. If anything, Bettie Page Reveals All keeps the real Bettie Page an enigma and leaves the viewer interested in learning more about this woman who inadvertently became an icon.

The DVD also includes bonus archival footage of Page, audio interviews with Page, and other supplements.

More New Releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of April 18

18 April, 2014 (09:35) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

‘Raw Deal’

“Using light or steam to kill seems slyly self-referential: these are cinematic deaths, almost death by cinematography.” Imogen Sara Smith tracks Anthony Mann’s progress through three genres he embraced successively—the documentary-inflected policiers; the noirs, which sank the straight-arrow posturing of cops-and-robbers under a moral murk; and the wracked emotional landscapes of the ‘50s westerns—showing how the director adopted different methods to always return to his core obsession, “the truth that the past can never be erased or corrected, a truth that leaves [Mann’s heroes] not cleansed but broken.”

Also at Moving Image Source, David Cairns writes astutely on that great cinematic exploration of man and machine and essential precursor to “the biomechanical passion of H.R. Giger or J.G. Ballard, which makes no distinction between flesh and metal,” the factory sequence in Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Neal Gabler recounts how Carl Laemmle managed (either personally or by cajoling friends) to extricate 300 Jews from a Germany spiraling into genocidal madness; an effort that would shame Laemmle’s contemporaries more if it weren’t such an extraordinary example to set.

“Why don’t you just go home?” “Pal, I’ve been asking myself that all night.” In their second audiovisual essay for MUBI, Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin explore the frenzied energies of After Hours, a film “full of tiny, complicated patterns: networks of exchange, spirals of circulating objects, hallucinatory substitutions. It’s The Earrings of Madame de … (1953) gone berserk, off its leash.”

‘Under the Skin’

With Under the Skin and Only Lovers Left Alive (whose director Jim Jarmusch Ebiri also interviews; see below) in theaters, Bilge Ebiri charts their lineage in the “art horror” genre, movies from Nosferatu to Vampyr to The Shining, from Lewton to Lynch to Skolimowski, whose measured pace and hypnotic mood don’t merely traffic in the genre’s “great theme [of] the unnatural and uncanny” but which deliberately unfold unnaturally and uncannily themselves.

“Patrick? Is that you?” “No Luis. It’s not me. You’re mistaken.” Tasha Robinson agrees that asking whether or not American Psycho’s crimes are actually occurring or merely Patrick Bateman’s fevered imaginings is an interesting one, with each answer dramatically impacting how the film should be read. But thinking you’ve read the clues and sorted out the answer is a fool’s game, and arrogant to boot.

Susan Doll notes the real-life echoes, from WWII battles to deported mobsters, gathering before the storm in Key Largo.

Revisiting Sorcerer Adam Nayman finds Friedkin trying too hard to “inflate something which is at its core lean and mean into an overbearing statement about crime and punishment” to make the film hold up outside its handful of celebrated scenes. But oh man, those scenes. Via Adam Cook.

Jordan Cronk surveys the career of J. P. Sniadecki, associate of the Sensory Ethnographic Lab, who for over a decade has been chronicling daily life in China in a series of acclaimed but little-known films.

‘Demolition’

Vadim Rizov has found a new position as managing editor of Filmmaker Magazine; which I consider good news both for him and selfishly, as it means another venue for me to keep up with the intriguing, otherwise overlooked news items about international cinema that Rizov has a gift for hunting down. Like this one, on the crackdown in the Philippines of buses showing unrated movies.

“I am having somewhat fewer ideas. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting older and being aware that the market for medium-budget and low-budget films, which is of course what I spent most of my life making, has diminished. And maybe the quality—I don’t know if quality is the right word, I meant to say quantity; you can figure out later the Freudian reason for saying that—maybe the quantity of ideas has diminished a little bit.” Jonathan Demme, filling in the titular role for Interview Magazine, catches up with his old friend and mentor Roger Corman.

“So, editing is where I really build the film. And I don’t just shoot the script, I shoot a lot of things and I’m not sure which scenes will end up in the film necessarily. But the thing is, the beauty of cinema is to walk into a room and be taken somewhere where you don’t know you’re being taken. And if you wrote it and shot it, that quality is removed for you, so I personally have trouble always being analytical or seeing my films.” Jim Jarmusch, who can even make anti-Stratfordian rubbish sound charming and cool, talks Only Lovers Left Alive with Bilge Ebiri. Related: Jarmush’s star Tilda Swinton has one of her inimitably laid-back sitdowns with Anna Peele. (“Well, I would find it strange for anybody to say that they didn’t feel like an alien. Do you not feel like an alien? Did you never feel like an alien?”)

“Everybody imitates work that I’ve done, but for that one I haven’t seen an imitation yet.” In the second installment of Art of the Title’s three-part interview with the designer, Pablo Ferro (and his son Allen) discuss his work on Bullitt, Citizens Band, and (referenced above) the trailer for A Clockwork Orange. They also relate a pretty riveting bit of behind-the-scenes drama, initiated when Pablo was accidentally shot in the neck and culminating in his brother trying to scam the company out from under him.

Old posters can come across our path in so many ways; for Adrian Curry, he discovered Nicola Simbari’s marvelous U.K. quad for The Horse’s Mouth when he read about the discovery of posters in a closed-off station of London’s underground. He passes along the story, and some other fine examples of Simbari’s art.

David Hudson spots the latest exhaustive cataloging effort from Roland-François Lack, a collection of every painting (in Godard’s case, often postcards) hung on the wall in New Wave films.

Gabriel García Márquez

Obituary

Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away this week at the age of 87. His 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude elevated him to the world stage and he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Many of his short stories and novels have been adapted to the screen, including Erendia (1983), which Marquez himself scripted for Brazilian director Ruy Guerra, and the English-language Love in the Time of Cholera (2007). More from The Guardian.

Seattle Screens

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

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Film Review: ‘Transcendence’

18 April, 2014 (08:43) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Johnny Depp

Inside Transcendence is a 1950s B-movie, desperately trying to get out. A tale of a scientist poisoned by radiation, his brilliant mind passed on to survive after his death? That could easily be the plot of an atomic-era cheapie.

This movie, however, is distinctly of the 21st century. And expensive. The scientist is Will Caster (Johnny Depp), and he’s been working on a way to upload the human brain into a computer system. With the help of his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend (Paul Bettany), both scientists themselves, he achieves this goal. Because of the terminal illness, the experiment turns to Caster’s own brain.

The film makes a stab at big subjects: There’s a “neo-Luddite” group running around trying to stop technology, and a giant complex out in the desert for the machines needed to handle cyber-Caster’s new artificial intelligence. Can this entity become a new god on the Earth, capable of healing the sick and joining together all life at the cellular level? And can it do anything about the cable-TV monopolies?

Alas, these questions are less enthralling than they might sound.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film review: ‘Joe’

18 April, 2014 (08:40) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Nicolas Cage and Jonny Mars in ‘Joe’

Nicolas Cage has been garnering a lot of approving notices for his title performance in Joe, and it’s easy to see why. He’s backed away from some of the tics that dominate his wilder turns, and at age 50 he’s seasoned, with a face that looks lived-in.

But let’s not say he’s mellowed. Never that.

Still, Cage is not the best part of Joe. He’s solid, but the movie itself is strongest at creating a sense of place, a strange subculture found off the main road. Credit for that goes to director David Gordon Green, a native Arkansan who can work in near-plotless form (All the Real Girls) or in multiplex comedies (Pineapple Express). The place is rural Texas, which is depicted as just remote and insular enough for a guy like Joe to quietly disappear.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Videophiled Classic: ‘Cry Danger’ Restored and ‘Used Cars’ Revived on Blu-ray

17 April, 2014 (14:57) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Noir, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

CryDangerYou can thank The Film Noir Foundation for the rediscovery of Cry Danger (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), the independently-produced 1951 film noir developed by star Dick Powell as a follow-up to Pitfall (1948). Like a lot of films made outside of the studio system, it fell through the cracks and was only recently restored by UCLA and The Film Noir Foundation, who searched for the best materials available and created a new negative and 35mm prints for screening. That restoration is the basis of this disc debut.

Dick Powell is in fine sardonic form as Rocky, a guy released from prison after serving five years for a bank heist he didn’t commit, thanks to a witness who verifies his alibi, and goes in search of the real criminal to spring his buddy, who is still serving time. Richard Erdman is the witness Delong, a Navy vet just off his last tour of duty, and he hitches himself to Rocky to see if he’ll find the loot. Rhonda Fleming is the buddy’s wife, but before that she was Rocky’s girl. Her affections are rekindled but there is more rapport between the low-key, unflappable Powell and Erdman, whose injured vet is a drunk and makes no bones about it. Erdman is even funnier and drier than Powell and has an inspired courtship with a blonde pickpocket in the trailer park, a young cutie who keeps robbing him as if theft was a form of flirtation.

Robert Parrish made his directorial debut with this film and it is terrific: efficient, tight, well-paced and full of attitude and dry humor. He shoots most of it on location in Los Angeles and the key location, a dumpy little trailer park on a hill that looks down upon the city, gives the film a great sense of character and location: they can see the dream below them as they mark time in their cramped trailers. There’s a dark heart under the snappy surface like the best low-budget noirs. William Conrad co-stars as the signature heavy, a gang leader by the name of Louis Castro that Rocky believes is the real mastermind behind the heist, and Regis Toomey is the tough cop with a wary respect for Rocky.

Olive doesn’t go in for supplements—they offer well-mastered discs at low prices—but this is one disc I’d love to see get the special edition treatment. Co-star Richard Erdman is still alive and well and sharp as a tack (he’s the world’s oldest college student in the TV sitcom Community) and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller has provided a lot of commentary tracks and interviews for other film noir releases on disc. A little background on the film and its production would have been very nice, but when it comes down to it, it is all about the film and the quality of presentation and this is top notch given the rescue job performed by UCLA.

UsedCarsUsed Cars (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – Robert Zemeckis made some of the most famous blasts of American pop culture cinema—Back to the Future and Forrest Gump among them—but none has his films root about the cynical underside of the American dream with the gleeful anarchic pleasure of this satirical cult classic from 1980. Kurt Russell is the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises, aided ably by his superstitious buddy Gerrit Graham. The outrageous stunts (such as illegally jamming the Superbowl with a guerrilla commercial and hiring strippers to bump and grind on the cars like a Vegas sideshow) are more than simply high concept gags: Zemeckis and Bob Gale squeeze the limits of bad taste out of these lemons for a deliciously tart cinematic lemonade. The R rating is for foul mouthed tirades and nudity that would be at home in a risqué burlesque farce. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is none other than Alfonso Arau, the ubiquitous character actor and director of Like Water for Chocolate.

The Blu-ray debut includes the commentary recorded for the earlier DVD release and the talk from director Zemeckis, co-writer and producer Bob Gale, and star Kurt Russell is almost as much fun as the film itself. “We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, except he’s totally corrupt,” is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of the story. Kurt Russell laughs back: “So you cast me!” These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Also features four minutes of outtakes and along with Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score is a bonus score track with the unused score. Also includes an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

More classic releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Alan Partridge’

16 April, 2014 (13:16) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge

Between the showbiz parodies of SCTV and the anchorman toolishness of Ron Burgundy, there is a missing link of media satire—missing for Americans who don’t frequent British TV, that is. This step on the evolutionary scale goes by the name Alan Partridge, a broadcast personality with a remarkably unctuous, maladroit style. As embodied in Steve Coogan’s reptilian performance, Alan combines an unshakable and unwarranted vanity with a staggering level of self-interest. He’s a man who’d gladly throw elbows in the direction of women and children who happened to stray into his path to the lifeboats.

Hatched over 20 years ago as a radio character, Alan’s had his shot as a national TV host (which, among other mortifications, resulted in his killing a talk-show guest). At the present stage of his well-traveled career, he’s a DJ at a small-time radio station in Norwich.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Videophiled: Ralph Fiennes is Charles Dickens in ‘The Invisible Woman’

15 April, 2014 (11:56) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

invisiblewomanThe Invisible Woman (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand) is a refreshingly mature adult drama of love and passion and society in 1880s England from director / star Ralph Fiennes. He plays Charles Dickens and Felicity Jones is the young actress Nelly Ternan, who became his mistress in a long-term love affair played out in the margins between private and public life.

This isn’t melodramatic or flamboyant and it doesn’t lean on the scandal. It’s about the people and their lives and feelings, including the hurt and humiliation suffered by Dickens’ wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), a dowdy woman who bore him ten children but remains a bystander in his very public life. For his part, Fiennes shows Dickens as a lively social creature, thriving on public attention as both famous author and stage actor, but the story is really about Nelly, who was 18 years old when she first met Dickens but tells her story decades later. As a music teacher at a boy’s school, she’s emotionally protective and only reluctantly tells the story of her past, a turbulent life that left her emotionally knocked about and far more worldly than her husband (easily the weakest character in the film).

It’s a handsome film, to be sure, but Fiennes is more interested in the complexity of characters and relationships, the social world of the time, and the maturity with which all of these characters deal with adult relationships. The maturity, of course, doesn’t prevent people from getting hurt. Tom Hollander is Dickens’ friend and fellow author Wilkie Collins and Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent as Nelly’s mother, a worldly woman who gives her consent to the relationship. Not because she thinks it will advance anyone’s career, but because she sees how happy her daughter is with Dickens.

The Blu-ray+DVD Combo release features commentary by and an interview with director / actor Ralph Fiennes and actress Felicity Jones (the interview is from the “Screen Actors Guild Foundation Conversations” series and runs 26 minutes). Also includes the “Toronto International Film Festival Press Conference” (21 minutes) and “On the Red Carpet at the Toronto Premiere” (16 minutes).

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

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MOD Movies: ‘The Big House,’ ‘5 Fingers,’ ‘Roadblock

13 April, 2014 (11:26) | by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Noir, Film Reviews, Pre-code Cinema | By: Sean Axmaker

BigHouseTripleThe Big House: Triple Feature (Warner Archive) is a special edition for the MOD (manufacture-on-demand) line.

The 1930 The Big House, directed by George Hill, is the original men-in-prison drama in terms of the way it established the conventions. There’s the pecking order of tough guys behind bars, the culture of loyalty, the sniveling snitches, the prison reform speech from the tough but committed warden (Lewis Stone, who is indeed tough), an inmate protest, a prison break and a riot. And through it all, Hill shows us the overcrowding, the regimentation of routine, and the numbing, soul-crushing oppression of the experience, from the processing of a newly-convicted prisoner (Robert Montgomery as a privileged kid completely unprepared to take care of himself here) to the predatory society within. Chester Morris is the leading man here as Morgan, a kind of underworld aristocracy thanks to his reputation as a criminal mastermind, and he comes off as a slightly darker, tougher, and more wooden Richard Barthelmess, the square guy rolling with tough breaks. Wallace Beery is the prison-yard bully Butch, who isn’t too bright but defers to Morgan, and Montgomery is nervous and sweaty as the wide-eyed fresh meat who ignores good advice and turns snitch, illustrating the warning given by the warden in the first scene: “Prison doesn’t make you yellow, but if you are already yellow, prison brings it out.” I guess we know his predilections.

The story is basically a roll call of what will become prison movie clichés but the presentation is striking. The mess hall scene presents mealtime in purgatory, with the inmates lined up in rows and columns with regimented precision, and the image is echoed at chapel, where the prisoners file in out of duty rather than faith. Meanwhile Hill contrasts the surface of resignation to the routine with the covert dealings below the table tops as inmates pass weapons and messages out of sight of the guards. The soundtrack keeps returning to the lock-step trudge of marching feet instead of music. And the warden responds to the occupation of a cell block by prisoners with overwhelming force: he calls in the tanks! It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor (Wallace Beery) and won Oscars for the sound and France Marion’s screenplay.

Chester Morris and Wallace Beery in ‘The Big House’

The Big House was previously released as a stand-alone movie on the Warner Archive line. The “special edition” of this release comes in the other two films of the triple feature: the French language version, directed by Paul Fejos and starring Charles Boyer as Morgan, and the Spanish language version. Both are shot on the same sets and utilize the same crowd shots, special effects, and even shot-lists and set-ups. The compositions are almost exactly the same, like an assembly line cranking out the alternate versions on a timetable, and the biggest difference is in the variations of characters brought by the actors and dramatic direction. Fejos seems constrained by the structure here—see his striking Hollywood work in the Lonesome disc set Criterion released last year (a triple feature in its own right) to see his eye for setting scenes and moving the camera—but he and Boyer turn Morgan into a much more charismatic figure, less hard-boiled, smoother and cooler, with a sense of authority that comes from confidence and ease. The Spanish version, from journeyman director Ward Wing (a sometime actor with a couple of shorts and documentaries to his credit as a filmmaker), hasn’t the same strength of character (Jose Crespo is a bland, unimpressive Morgan but Juan de Landa makes a strange mix of childlike clown and psychopathic bully as Butch) but the production value and the momentum keep it rolling along.

Three films on two discs. The print has seen wear and the contrast fluctuates a bit but it looks quite good considering the age and the era. The French and Spanish versions are not quite as well preserved but perfectly watchable and acceptable. The English subtitles are actually close captions and include notations on sound effects.

5Fingers5 Fingers (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives), a smart 1952 espionage thriller directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, features James Mason in a superb performance as the contemptuous valet to the British Ambassador to Turkey during World War II. A career servant, he decides to make his fortune selling British military secrets to the Germans and enlists a penniless French countess (Danielle Darrieux), a woman he once served and still desires, to help him hide his money and provide a safe house. Based on real events from World War II, the 1952 film reworks the story and the players to make the valet, who is given the code name Cicero, a bitter, resentful British man determined to break through the class barriers. Mason plays him with smooth arrogance and cynicism, beholden to nothing but money and power. While he’s nakedly obsessed with class and status, everyone else is simply more subtle about it—this almost invisible valet is never once suspected by either side of being the leak in the embassy—and the Germans are so afraid that he’s actually a double agent that they never act upon the intelligence. Even the agent sent from London to find the leak (Michael Rennie) discounts him from his investigations.

The direction is low key, with a focus on the culture of the city of Ankara during the war (Turkey did not choose sides and Allied and Axis powers both had a presence in the city), the script full of sharp wit and clever dialogue, and the story is filled with delicious ironies. Mankiewicz did not receive screenplay credit but some of the dialogue surely came from his pen, such as the Countess saying to a civil servant: “Please don’t look at me as if you had a source of income other than your salary.”

The Fox Archive release has not been mastered in HD and it looks only slightly better than laserdisc quality, but it’s a good source print and is perfectly watchable.

RoadblockRoadblock (Warner Archive) opens with a set-up that promises a femme fatale siren thriller and a heist picture, and in its own way it defies both genres, or at least it takes a different twist. Charles McGraw is the hardcase of an insurance investigator, an incorruptible agent who earned the name “Honest Joe” but falls hard for a chiseling dame (Joan Dixon) looking to score a rich husband: “You’re a nice guy, honest Joe, but you’re not in the right league. I’m aiming for the World Series.” So he trades his integrity in for a crooked payday and ends up investigating the very robbery he masterminded while his partner (Louis Jean Heydt in soft-spoken conscience mode) starts to suspect him.

The 1951 picture is a film noir by definition, with its corrupted characters and mercenary femme fatale and atmosphere of a noose tightening around our anti-hero. Director Harold Daniels is no visual stylist and there’s a slackness to many of the scenes, but he comes to life in a nighttime murder scene that he transforms into a model of noir violence, an urban street fight in the dark of the empty city picked out in shards of light (credit likely goes to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, RKO’s crime movie vet), and the screenplay co-written by Steve Fisher has a bite of irony in its twists. And give the film credit for making a heist film work where we never see the heist; we’re checking in from McGraw’s honeymoon, which is also his alibi. The gravel-voiced McGraw carries the rest of the film with his working class integrity and moral judgments twisted into self-destructive panic when he becomes everything he despises just to impress a girl. Print quality is good.

More crooks, cops, and spies on MOD from Warner and Fox at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Draft Day’

12 April, 2014 (08:16) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner

Now that March Madness is over, that annual ritual in which everybody goes nuts about filling out a bracket with teams they don’t actually know very much about, we need another obsessive- compulsive sports-related activity to occupy our minds. That’s where the NFL draft comes in. Who can resist guessing which players we don’t actually know very much about will go to which team? (I can’t. This stuff is high drama. And if the Seahawks don’t take an offensive lineman this year, they’re crazy—you can get a wide receiver in the second round.)

However, the NFL draft is a month away. In the meantime we have Draft Day, an entire film built around the wheeling and dealing of football’s big countdown. The day dawns with Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) being handed a stick of dynamite: The Seahawks want to trade him the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a barrel of future picks.

Continue reading at The Herald

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of April 11

11 April, 2014 (10:58) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Orson Welles directs ‘Too Much Johnson’

Joseph McBride provides the best writing yet on Too Much Johnson, showing how the footage looks back to Welles’s love of silent film and forward to the sexual frankness of his later films. He also speculates on how the film went “missing” all those years; which, considering McBride’s the one who rediscovered The Hearts of Age and saw first-hand Welles’s reaction to the news, is probably closer to the truth than most theories.

The Hollywood Reporter provides some excerpts from the new collection The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, bracing, compulsively forthright missives on salvaging Streetcar from the Breen office (“Frankly, Charlie, I have no intention of giving in on a damn thing that I consider essential to the honesty of this story.”), the appeal of James Dean (“Most kids who become actors at nineteen or twenty or twenty-one are very callow and strictly from N.Y. Professional school. Dean has got a real mean streak and a real sweet streak.”), and the letter to his wife detailing his affair with Marilyn Monroe (“I’m awful sorry I hurt you. I am human though. It might happen again.”).

Lumière’s massive, invaluable dossier of Allan Dwan essays, published last year in multiple languages, is now completely translated into English.

“Oh, do you write, Mr. Faulkner?” “Yeah. What do you do, Mr. Gable?” John Meroney looks back at William Faulkner’s career in Hollywood, with particular attention paid to two collaborations that ended badly: the planned war epic Battle Cry, which Howard Hawks couldn’t get off the ground, and Faulkner’s affair with Meta Carpenter. With a gallery of photos to set the scene.

Spinning off the LA County Museum of Art exhibit dedicated to Agnès Varda, Lauren O’Neill-Butler surveys the fruits of Varda’s two extended stays in Los Angeles, from the improvised drama Lions Love to documentaries on the Black Panthers and the city’s wealth of murals.

Jacob Lillemose reminds us of Lars von Trier’s 1996 theatrical experiment Psychomobile #1: The World Clock, 53 actors roaming through 19 rooms of an exhibition space, their scripted interactions altered at random by the movements of ants in a cage. A quintessentially von Trier move, Lillemose observes, for how it takes a theatrical format historically aimed at Utopian gestures and makes a chaotic purgatory instead. Via David Hudson.

“At first she’s a breathless schoolgirl, her hair a mass of bobbing golden curls. She would look ridiculous if she weren’t Dietrich.” BAMcinématek’s retrospective of the Sternberg-Dietrich films allows Stephanie Zacharek to consider all the ways the actress’s currently “unfashionable” desire to please her man, and the variety of costumes she donned to do so, allowed her more creative input into the greatest pairing in movie history than such submissive statements might suggest.

Great movies are always relevant, true, but contemporary events can press their meanings more urgently upon us. Such a time has come for Chahine’s Cairo Station, argues Anthony Kaufman.

“He was uniquely able to actualize the audience’s itch to play those same angles, to grab a handful of that easy money, to flout those shiny post-war promises that most of them had missed out on anyway.” And it’s precisely that quality of Dan Duryea’s that Mark Fertig finds makes him the perfect choice for the redemptive journey of the lead in Endfield’s The Underworld Story.

Chris Bell tells of the latest contender for Worst Movie Ever Made, Richard Driscoll’s Eldorado, a post-apocalyptic rip-off of The Blues Brothers that got its writer-director-star thrown in prison for defrauding Britain’s filmmaking incentive program. It’s not the incoherent story, awful musical numbers, or shameful waste of stars like Michael Madsen, Darryl Hannah, and Peter O’Toole that make the result so floridly bad, though; it’s that Driscoll wasn’t in it just for a money-making scam, but to create a legitimate work of art. Via Matt Singer.

Of course just because you write something off as terrible doesn’t mean it lacks any interest whatsoever. Writing of the insanely prolific (perhaps 300 films in a 40-year career) skid-row director Sam Newfield, Jim Knipfel points out that freedom from the studios meant trying things they wouldn’t. Which led to Westerns with all-midget casts, sure; but also ones starring African-Americans, and a willingness to declare Hitler the bad guy in 1939.

Pablo Ferro, 1961

“Two weeks after I finished with everything, [Kubrick] and I were talking. He asked me what I thought about human beings. I said one thing about human beings is that everything that is mechanical, that is invented, is very sexual. We looked at each other and realized—the B-52, refueling in mid-air, of course, how much more sexual can you get?!” In the first of an announced three interviews to range over his career, title designer Pablo Ferro tells Ian Albinson about his beginnings in the design and advertising game, and how he came up with Dr. Strangelove’s iconic credits.

“And for me, when I was a teenager, I would have these extreme floods of feelings and it would be pretty wild and out of control and might cause me to do something. I’m more used to those feelings—now that I’m all sorted and grown up and know how to do life perfectly. [laughs]” Interviewed by Adrian Rapazzini, Mica Levi describes the method behind her score for Under the Skin.

Dazed Digital celebrates Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s exhibit at London’s Anthony Reynolds gallery with a wealth of material, including Matt Mansfield’s interview with the director on the effect of censorship on his work (“At home I started to question the relevance of what I do, and I feel that there are certain things that I cannot talk about, or I have to flip to another mode of expression because of censorship and all these other things, so I’m getting more interested in the idea of escape, and of living in another dimension.”); a gallery of photographs; and extracts from the exhibit’s videos. Via Adam Cook.

Mickey Rooney

Obituary

Mickey Rooney was the top box-office star in America for three years running, from 1939 to 1941, at the height of his 90-year career in show business, a has-been just a few years later as he aged out of juvenile roles, bankrupt in the sixties, and the comeback kid in 1979 when he co-starred in The Black Stallion and made his Broadway debut in the nostalgic revue Sugar Babies with Ann Miller. He made over 200 films, was awarded Oscars and Emmys, and earned and lost millions of dollars over the course of his turbulent career, and was back in front of the cameras, filming a role in Night in the Museum 3, when he passed away at the age of 93, of natural causes, barely a week after his film debut Mickey’s Circus (1927), for decades a lost film, was just rediscovered in an Amsterdam film archive. More from Aljean Harmetz at The New York Times, and a personal remembrance from Olivia de Havilland at Time magazine.

Author and naturalist Peter Matthiessen, the only writer to win the National Book Award in both fiction and non-fiction, died after a long illness at the age of 86. His short story “Travellin’ Man” was the basis for Luis Bunuel’s English language film The Young One (1960) and At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991) was based on his most famous novel. More from Carolyn Kellogg at Los Angeles Times.

Richard Brick taught film for three decades at Columbia and produced features (including Hangin’ with the Homeboys, 1991, and Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, 1999) and documentaries, was also cheerleader for film production in his hometown of New York City. As the head of the city’s office of film, theater and broadcasting in the early 1990s, he brought Hollywood productions back to the city. He died this week at the age of 68. Bruce Weber at The New York Times.

Swiss filmmaker Peter Liechti, whose films spanned documentary, performance art, essay, autobiography, and experimentation, passed away at the age of 63. Report via David Hudson at Keyframe.

V.K. Murthy, one of the most celebrated cinematographers in Indian cinema and a master of black and white cinema, died at the age of 91. Reported by The Hindu.

Seattle Screens

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

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Film Review: ‘The Unknown Known’

10 April, 2014 (07:49) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Donald Rumsfeld

The conceptual appeal is unmissable: Having won an Oscar for his 2003 The Fog of War, a study of Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara, documentary giant Errol Morris would naturally turn to another controversial U.S. Secretary of Defense for a bookend project. The subject here is Donald Rumsfeld, who held the job during the commencement of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Rumsfeld became famous for his loquacious (at times downright hammy) press conferences, when the sound of his own voice would lead him through ever-expanding circles of rhetoric—a Yogi Berra elevated to a position of life and death. Thus his classic formulation: “There are known knowns . . . There are known unknowns . . . But there are also unknown unknowns.”

I always thought that was one of the more sensible of Rumsfeld’s puckish quotes. But—at the risk of sounding Rumsfeldian—it does give a glimpse into a mind in which even uncertainties are something to be certain about.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘The Raid 2′

10 April, 2014 (07:45) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Julie Estelle in ‘The Raid 2′

When The Raid 2 bowed at Sundance earlier this year, it triggered an instant-analysis debate along a narrow spectrum. Was it the greatest action movie ever made, or merely the most violent? Considering the film’s target audience, that’s a win/win argument. Gareth Evans’ sequel to his culty 2011 The Raid: Redemption, which was set primarily within a Jakarta high-rise, considerably widens the canvas this time out. Returning hero Rama (Iko Uwais) has survived that adventure only to be tapped for an undercover operation as unlikely as it is brutal. He’s spent two years in jail earning the trust of an Indonesian gangster’s son (Arifin Putra), the better to infiltrate the gang when he gets out. The aim is to gain information about police corruption and smash the syndicate, but Evans seems less interested in the intricacies of storytelling than he is in devising one flabbergasting action sequence after another.

This he does, with utter confidence, for two and one-half hours. This is far too long by ordinary standards, but not too long if you a) have an appetite for unbridled mayhem, or b) curiosity about the spectacle of a director playing can-you-top-this with himself.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Exhibition’

10 April, 2014 (07:42) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Viv Albertine in ‘Exhibition’

Form follows function in this modernist house on a quiet street in London. Stacked in clean, streamlined boxes, its floors are wrapped in glass. It is home to two artists, who work in different sections of the house and communicate through an intercom. We don’t have to watch long to intuit that the house is like their marriage: compartmentalized but comfortable, hiding its share of secrets despite the great views in every direction.

The home, a real place designed by architect James Melvin, is the primary location for this new film by British director Joanna Hogg.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Videophiled: ‘The Hobbit’ meets Smaug, Claire Denis’ ‘Bastards’ and ‘A Touch of Sin’

8 April, 2014 (16:30) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Hobbit2BDThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line, Blu-ray 3D Combo, Blu-ray Combo, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) – “What have we done?” asks hardy hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in the final seconds of the second film in the Hobbit trilogy. If by “we” he means Peter Jackson and company, then “we” have reimagined J.R.R. Tolkein’s storybook odyssey of a modest hobbit finding the courage and cleverness to help a band of dwarfs reclaim their kingdom from a usurper as a sweeping spectacle that transforms the delightful adventure fantasy into a blood and thunder epic. Suddenly it’s no longer a lively fantasy adventure but the prequel to Lord of the Rings with new stories and characters woven through it. The seeds of Sauron’s rise now sprout in the margins of the story, every battle seems to be a personal grudge match, and Bilbo is reduced to a supporting character in what is supposed his story. It’s a mistake as far as I’m concerned but at least it works better in this film than it did in the first chapter, ironically enough in part because of a new character who is nowhere to be found in any of Tolkein’s fictions: elf warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who brings some much-needed passion to a film filled with characters reduced to stock types.

The dragon Smaug, who makes his entrance late in the film, is a beautiful creation, slithering through his scenes both physically and verbally (thanks to silky voicing by Benedict Cumberbatch), but Jackson can’t resist turning the battle of wits between Bilbo and Smaug into yet another theme-park ride of a spectacle. To give credit where it is due, Jackson is very good at this sort of thing—the barrel-ride escape from the elves is really quite fun if utterly unnecessary—and there are audiences who want just that. I’d prefer Jackson simply tell a story.

It’s released in multiple formats. All of the disc editions feature the behind-the-scene documentary Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set, the featurettes “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2,” “Introduction to Pick-Ups Shooting,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 1,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 2? and “Music Scoring,” and “Live Event: In the Cutting Room,” a recording of the March 2013 Q&A and studio tour hosted by Jackson and streamed live in the web.

BastardsBastards (IFC, DVD, Digital HD) may be the bleakest drama yet from Claire Denis, a filmmaker with her share of dark portraits. Vincent Lindon is a cargo ship captain who returns home after decades for reasons that don’t become clear until much later. His sister is mess and his niece (her daughter) in the hospital, the victim of terrible sexual abuse. Their story comes together slowly in fractured flashbacks as we struggle to understand how everyone is connected, including the woman next door (Chiara Mastroianni), divorced from a powerful businessman with some shady business. What comes together most clearly is the rot in the family line and reason Kindon left it all behind. In some ways it’s like a warped version of Chinatown with an even more black-hearted backstory and insidious ending. This is a tough one, but it’s worth the investment. The score by Tindersticks adds a haunting atmosphere to the journey. French with English subtitles.

TouchSinJia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) takes four true stories of life in the modern China economy and weaves them into an unsettling portrait of the country, where the runaway growth takes its toll on the citizens racing to simply survive. Jia isn’t known for a sense of humor and this film, with its stories cleverly woven together in subtle ways, has a mercenary edge to it—there’s murder, predation, and bureaucratic indifference to the ordeals of citizens just trying to get by—but there’s a dark humor to its satire as well. Welcome to the modern economy where everything is for sale and human capital is just another commodity. Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles.

More New Releases at Cinephiled

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