Blu-ray: ‘Trans-Europ-Express’

23 July, 2014 (16:59) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Alain Robbe-Grillet is best known as an experiment novelist in the nouvelle roman movement of the fifties and as the screenwriter of Alain Resnais’ elegant yet conceptually daring French nouvelle vague landmark Last Year at Marienbad. But Robbe-Grillet was also a filmmaker in his own right. He directed ten features in a career that spanned over 40 years. Until this year, only two of those films had been released on disc in the U.S.: the 1983 La Belle Captive (from the now defunct Koch Lorber label) and his final feature Gradiva (from Mondo Macabro). Now Kino Lorber, in partnership with the British label Redemption, has announced a slate of six Robbe-Grillet films for release on Blu-ray and DVD. Trans-Europ-Express is one of the first releases from this collection.

A lighthearted play with spy movies, erotica, and storytelling from 1967, Trans-Europ-Express is the director’s second directorial effort and his most popular success and audience-friendly production. It opens on a trio of movie folk–a director (played by Robbe-Grillet himself), a producer (actual film producer Paul Louyet), and a secretary / script supervisor (Catherine Robbe-Grillet–you get the idea)–boarding a train (the Trans-Europ-Express, naturally) and brainstorming a story for a film about drug trafficking between Paris and Antwerp. When the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (fresh from furtively picking up a bondage magazine at the station newsstand) briefly ducks into their cabin, he’s recognized by the filmmakers and quickly cast as their main character, Elias, a smuggler involved in a big score with a shady criminal. Their sketchy, silly little plot (initially illustrated in a gag sequence right out of a silent movie parody) suddenly gets a face and a grounding. As much as a film that is constantly rewritten and revised can be said to be grounded.

Think of it as Robbe-Grillet’s Breathless, a pulp story refracted through the director’s own distinctive take on narrative deconstruction and sexual perversity.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Review: ‘Capone’

23 July, 2014 (09:53) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

While the gangster genre has its fair share of anti-heroes portrayed as psychotic delinquent types (perhaps a fair working definition of the cinematic hood), and while those types help define an aspect of the genre, they certainly aren’t confined to the set boundaries of its form and indeed have indicated new directions for movies that deal with organized crime and the people whose lives revolve around it. Not too surprisingly, then, Corman’s (and Carver’s) Capone is loosely related to Coppola’s Don Corleone (Gazzara even stuffs his jowls with padding), but he might, in conception at least, bear a closer resemblance to Scorsese’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets—a “gangster” story that shares the traditionally mythic elements inherent in the genre while managing its own very personal working-out of the meanings of both violence and friendship. That Johnny Boy is comparatively peripheral in Mean Streets may suggest the uniqueness of Scorsese’s film in its relationship to movies in which the alienated hood stands in a position to manipulate perspective by ensconcing himself at the metaphysical core of his cinematic universe, but Johnny Boy’s gangland genealogy traces back in a psychologically straight line to Hawks’ Tony Camonte, and there is little doubt that Corman, Carver, and screenwriter Browne at least had Scarface in mind during the making of Capone.

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Videophiled: ‘Transcendence’ and ‘Sabotage’ fail

22 July, 2014 (18:36) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

TranscendenceTranscendence (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Cable VOD) marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, Oscar-winning cinematographer to Christopher Nolan. His visual intelligence, however, doesn’t transcend the dead weight passing as a script in this confused science fiction thriller starring Johnny Depp as a computer science genius whose mind is uploaded to an experimental computer program with the potential capabilities of artificial intelligence. Sure enough, once the program loads, the intelligence is off and running through the interwebs, escaping the lab and making a fortune in the markets, enough to fund a secret site in the middle of the desert where… well, this is, after all, a film that opens with the end of the world as we know it, a technology dead zone where the human race becomes squatters in the husks of desolate cities, and flashes back to the events that brought us to this point.

Rebecca Hall stars as Depp’s nearly-as-brilliant but more socially-adept wife who embraces the cyber-Depp, whose voice seeps out of every corner of the wired world and whose digitized face emerges from screen, as if Depp 2.0 is still her husband but in digital form, not really taking over the world, just trying to fix it up to make her dreams of a better world come true. If that’s the case, you gotta give the guy points for going the distance to impress a girl. But the film itself isn’t so much ambiguous on the AI’s real’s identity and motivation as simply sloppy and lazy, straddling flat cliché and unconvincing sentiment without making either convincing. This virtual being of seeming unlimited power, which can sends bazillions of nanobots into the atmosphere and pull the strings on dozens of enhanced human soldiers in a guerrilla war, is faced with a dilemma that confirms that the screenwriter ran out of ideas early on in the screenwriting process. Pfister provides some really arresting imagery as the revolution is fought with nanobots and human drones and technology so advanced that it looks like magic to us, yet fails to make any of it interesting, let alone compelling. Even a solid cast – Paul Bettany as the best friend and nominal point-of-view figure, Kate Mara as the possibly mad anti-technology terrorist, Morgan Freeman as the Morgan Freeman character – can’t make us care what happens to anyone here. Suddenly, the idea of just shutting it all down and starting all over again doesn’t sound so bad.

Blu-ray and DVD, with the featurettes “What is Transcendence?” and “Wally Pfister: A Singular Vision.” The Blu-ray Combo Pack adds two addition featurettes (“Guarding the Threat” and “The Promise of A.I.”) and three viral videos, and includes bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies. Also available on Digital and VOD.

SabotageSabotage (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Cable VOD) is strange creature, a violent cop thriller from David Ayer that combines the gritty urban sensibility and revenge-movie doom of Ayer’s excellent End of Watch with a high-concept corruption plot and a clumsy star-vehicle lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is tasked with playing a papa bear leader to a team of adrenaline-junkie specialists in a DEA tactical unit with military skills and firepower. Their discipline ends when the mission is over, which makes them dangerous and unpredictable. And not particularly likable either, though Mireille Enos is awfully fun to watch as the team’s sole female warrior and most out-of-control element. The rest of the team members are less memorable despite the casting of such genre veterans as Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard and Max Martini, and they are certainly less memorable as characters than murder victims.

The film opens with them making off with a drug lord’s fortune during an official police raid and soon afterwards the money disappears and the team members get hunted down and murdered in splattery fashion. This isn’t the spectacular, oversized kind of violence of “Red,” where everything is just a little tongue-in-cheek or at least comic-book unreal. This is all about the meat left behind a death-by-train, the spatter of a bullet wound, and the spewing exit viscera of a head shot, all of it photographed in dripping detail. It all gets pretty numbing, just like Schwarzenegger’s one-dimensional performance. And that love scene with Olivia Williams? I hope she got hazard pay for it.

Blu-ray and DVD with a short, promotional-style “Making Sabotage” featurette, deleted scenes, and two alternate endings. The Blu-ray also includes bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies. Also available on Digital and VOD.

More new releases at Cinephiled

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Blu-ray: ‘Performance’

22 July, 2014 (08:37) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Festivals | By: Sean Axmaker

To many fans, Performance (1970) is legendary as the dramatic feature film debut of Mick Jagger. Though released in 1970, the film–about a short-fused punk of a London gangster named Chas (James Fox) who hides out from the cops and the crooks alike in the basement flat of a reclusive rock stars’ (Jagger) dilapidated mansion–was shot in 1968, at the height of Jagger’s bad-boy infamy. The Rolling Stones had released “Between the Buttons,” “Their Satanic Majesty’s Request,” and “Beggar’s Banquet,” and Jagger and Keith Richards had been arrested and convicted on drug charges in 1967. By the time the film was released he was the poster man-boy of rock decadence and the devil’s music, dangerous and seductive, and he became a sexual icon in a way the Beatles could never be. But Jagger has less screen time and a far less central role in this drama than you might guess, given the way his presence transforms the film.

Performance opens as a crime thriller steeped in London gangster machismo. Chas, an angry, vicious young thug always on the edge of spinning out of control, is the young enforcer for mobster Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon), an old school gang leader making his play to consolidate his control over his section of London. The problem is that Chas likes his work far too much and has a tendency to overreach his orders, especially when they call for restraint. Chas is an artist of destruction. Which of course comes back to bite him. His zeal threatens Harry’s new alliance and puts him in the crosshairs of the underworld and the cops alike.

Performance is the directorial debut of both cinematographer Nicolas Roeg and artist / writer Donald Cammell, who teamed up to co-direct. It’s a heady brew from the opening scene, which stitches two seemingly disconnected storylines with aggressive editing that seems to rewrite the script as it weaves scenes together.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Mad Rooms: Shot Composition in Two Films of Bernard Girard

21 July, 2014 (07:12) | by Robert C. Cumbow, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

MAD ROOMS
Shot Composition in Two Films
of Bernard Girard

-Main Title-

For nearly three decades, Bernard Girard has been one of the invisible men of the American cinema. Briefly lionized for his independent feature A Public Affair (1962) and hesitantly applauded for Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), he has remained otherwise unrenowned if not altogether unknown. In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris begins Girard’s career 18 years late (of twelve films in which he was involved between 1948 and 1966, Girard wrote nine and directed five) but properly assesses an aura of bleakness in the director’s approach:

Bernard Girard has made an interesting debut as writer-director of Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, but it is difficult to imagine where he can go from here. Dead Heat seems complete and definitive as the expression of a chilling sophistication in the treatment of the big caper genre. There is something so inhuman in the directorial attitude revealed that Dead Heat seems like a dead end.

The following year, reviewing Girard’s The Mad Room for The Village Voice, Sarris came closer to defining that bleakness: “The point in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round is that we are all more or less crooked, and in The Mad Room that we are all more or less crazy, two considerable half-truths that require plots of more originality than Girard has thus far availed himself.”

In fact, originality or none, Girard is a director who has done his most memorable work trying to breathe fresh life into old genres. Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round and The Mad Room, which remain his two most-seen films, are built on the respective foundations of the bank-caper gimmick and the horror-of-personality idea. If he has not had the success that many other genre-oriented directors have enjoyed, it is due largely, I think, to an inability to establish an effective relationship between plot development and montage. Girard simply is not a montage director; and—odd for a screenwriter—he is not an especially literary one, either. His films just don’t hold together well enough, either sequentially or thematically (although, in this regard, his objections to producers’ final cut of The Mad Room should be recalled).

But what impresses me consistently about Girard is the occasional brilliance of his mise-en-scène. He possesses a painterly sense of composition which, though it emerges only now and again, enables him admirably to fit an entire story into his frame and still leave room to breathe. This sensitivity for composition extends not only to framing but to camera movement as well; Girard’s shot composition becomes, at its best, a kind of kinetic painting. And, lest it be objected that the composition could be the work of a competent cinematographer, since Girard himself seems mediocre in all other aspects, I must hasten to point out that similar compositional techniques of the highest quality may be observed in both Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round and The Mad Room, products of two different cinematographers (Lionel Lindon and Harry Stradling Jr., respectively).

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Blu-ray: ‘The Big Gundown’

20 July, 2014 (10:15) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Westerns | By: Sean Axmaker

Sergio Leone is unarguably the godfather of spaghetti westerns. He directed its first international smash of the genre, defined the spare, savage style and mercenary sensibility, and made stars of journeymen actors Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. But he was far from the only director who made his mark in the genre. Among the filmmakers who carved out their own style in the genre were Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani, Enzo G. Castillari, and Sergio Sollima, whose trilogy of films with Tomas Milian take a more politically charged approach to the brutal tales of greed and betrayal and revenge that ground most spaghetti western scripts.

The Big Gundown (1966), Sollima’s first spaghetti western, stars Lee Van Cleef in a rare heroic role as Jonathan Corbett, a dogged lawman without a badge who applies an unwavering sense of justice. Fresh off For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Van Cleef was an instant icon of the genre; the American posters even promoted the film with a reference to his Leone success: “Mr. Ugly is back.” (Never mind that he was actually “the bad” man of the trio.) Sollima casts him as an unusual kind of hero who hunts down wanted men yet refuses to collect the bounty on their heads. His code is honorable (he literally hands a ragged band of outlaws a chance to go out shooting rather than face the rope) but unforgiving, an Old Testament angel as gunslinger passing judgment on the wanted men of his promised land of Texas. His lean features, windblown face, and hard, piercing eyes makes him stand out in the cast of Italian and European actors standing in for American settlers and Mexican peasants.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Blu-ray: ‘The Wind and the Lion’

19 July, 2014 (17:17) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

John Milius occupies a curious place in the culture of American filmmakers of the seventies. In the age of new, young, maverick voices, he’s the rugged American individualist with conservative politics and iconoclastic heroes. He’s fascinated with military culture and imperialist adventure, caught up in the tension between American isolation and intervention, in debt to the romantic ideals of honor and duty idealized in John Ford’s cavalry films, and celebratory of the glory of battle, whether in war, on a surfboard challenging waves, or swinging a sword in the age of barbarism. In an era of secular liberalism, he’s the wildman conservative of mythical heroes and combat veterans, but he’s also more than that, as David Thomson notes in his Biographical Dictionary of Film: “He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur….”

The Wind and the Lion (1972), the sophomore feature of the film school-trained screenwriter turned director, takes on a romantic tale of rebellion and response, honorable ancient codes and modern military might, and the first stirrings of the United States of America, the modern, maverick young country in a political culture dominated by the history-seeped empires of old Europe, as a world power. And it does so in a cagily budget-minded take on the sweeping military epics and colonial adventures of the 1950s and 1960s, a sensibility appropriated in the opening seconds of the film as Jerry Goldsmith’s grandly dramatic score plays under the credits etched into the handsome parchment of a yesteryear Hollywood frame.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Blu-ray: ‘The Man From Laramie’

19 July, 2014 (12:15) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

James Stewart roughed up his all-American nice guy image in five westerns he made with director Anthony Mann, the best of the seven films they made together in the 1950s, most of them for Universal Studios. The Man From Laramie (1955), their final collaboration, was made for Columbia and it was the first film that Mann shot in the still novel CinemaScope anamorphic widescreen format, which debuted just a couple of years earlier. It was a natural for Mann’s kind of western filmmaking, where the landscape and environment is a defining part of the drama and an integral element of the film’s tone and sensibility. For The Man From Laramie, Mann shot in the high plains and the ribbons of ridges of New Mexico, stretched far across the widescreen canvas. It’s lovely but forbidding, a mix of inviting green and forbidding desert and rock, and it is far from any other settlement, right in the heart of Indian country.

Into this beautiful but isolated land rides Will Lockhart (Stewart) and the wagon train of his freight company. He also has personal business in the territory and it has something to do with the charred remains of a wagon train they pass along the way. Stewart eases up on the neurotic edge he brought to earlier Mann films Winchester 73 and The Naked Spur and is even quite charming when he first arrives in town and meets Barbara (Cathy Downs) with his wagonloads of freight. When she offers him tea, he smiles at the thought of so civilized a break from the trail and watches her bustle about with an appreciation for the feminine presence in his life, no matter how fleeting. But he’s a hard, driven man as the dark expression that passes over his face at the massacre graveyard communicates.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 18

18 July, 2014 (10:28) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Sean Axmaker

Jean-Pierre Léaud in ‘Out 1 ‘

The new (and newly re-designed) Senses of Cinema offers plenty to explore, including Stuart Bender on how Gravity’s sound design convincingly fakes reality and, sticking with Cuarón, Ben Ogrodnik trying to free Children of Men’s narrative use of the camera from overly politicized critical readings; Marc Saint-Cyr describing the humanist sympathy for the underclass that unites two A. K.’s generally considered incompatibly maximalist (Kurosawa) and minimalist (Kaurismäki); Daniel Fairfax praising Jean-Pierre Léaud’s crucial, daringly raw performance in Rivette’s Out 1 (with Léaud’s own anecdotes from the film as given at a 2013 screening); a clutch of articles of Švankmajer (on Faust, Jabberwocky, Conspirators of Pleasure, and Little Otik); and Sam Littman doing the honors of placing Kelly Reichardt in the journal’s folio of Great Directors. (Jumping the gun? I don’t think so, but even if you do, c’mon, her seat’s been saved since the last frames of Old Joy, at least.)

“Saint Paul will suffer martyrdom in the middle of the bustle of a suburb of a large city, modern to the breaking-point, with its suspension bridges, its skyscrapers, its immense and crushing crowd, which passes without stopping in front of the spectacle of death…. But in this world of steel and cement, the word ‘God’ resounds (or starts to resound).” Pasolini’s unfilmed scenario St. Paul, which would have updated the saint’s journeys to the modern world while maintaining the textual fidelity of his St. Matthew, were recently published in English by Verso. Mubi offers an excerpt, and one from Alain Badiou’s forward to the volume, which explains how the atheistic, political Pasolini found religious stories valuable for providing a “poetic and historical paradigm of the possibility of scathing confrontation.”

RWF

Riffing off a fine photo of Rainer Fassbinder, his shirt emblazoned with his favorite football franchise, Ian Penman fills in the history swirling behind The Marriage of Maria Braun’s climactic radio broadcast of a World Cup match; associations that might be lost to those sketchy on European history or indifferent to soccer. No judgment, my fellow Americans. Via David Hudson.

Surveying the current crop of genre filmmakers such as The Purge’s James DeMonaco and Cold in July’s Jim Mickle, Clark Collis finds John Carpenter consistently cited as a primary influence. Carpenter’s response to the kind words is precisely the wry one you’d expect:  “I love it…. But I just wish they would send me money. It doesn’t have to be much—just a couple bucks.” Via Movie City News.

The movie distributor’s eternal goal of getting butts in seats has changed dramatically in the last few years—as in, does it matter whether the seats are in a theater or at home? Radius-TWC, a division of the Weinstein Company, has been experimenting with nearly day-and-date Video on Demand to some success, as Calum Marsh reports, getting some independent directors to chime in pro (Joe Swanberg) or con (Alex Ross Perry). And Bilge Ebiri notes the company’s about to take its biggest gamble yet, releasing Snowpiercer to VOD even as it expands to theaters across the nation. So those who love bemoaning change, start preparing your nostalgic reveries over the loss of the theatrical window.

The late, great jazz bassist Charlie Haden didn’t leave behind a filmography of note; but, as Glenn Kenny remembers, it does offer the curious sight of Haden playing drums in the background of a scene from Quine’s evangelical Synanon. Check the comments for a lovely remembrance of the musician from Kent Jones.

Walter Hill

“…I always felt that genre film-making was going to be my home, but I also understood that you couldn’t go on making them the way they used to do—there’s no challenge. If you were just gonna go at it the way the old guys did, then you were going to run up against the fact that they did it better than you ever could—not surprising, since they had invented the genres themselves. My generation found you had to use the old genres in new ways, pull them inside out.” Walter Hill, talking with John Patterson, reflects on what he learned from the old masters while humbly deflecting his right (earned absolutely) to claim his title as a current one.

“The full death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been officially published at 230,000. But in actual fact there were over half a million dead. And even now there are still 2,700 patients at the Atomic Bomb Hospital waiting to die from the after-effects of the radiation after 45 years of agony. In other words, the atomic bomb is still killing Japanese.” David Hudson also spots and passes on a pair of wonderful historic interviews. First, Kino Obscura posts excerpts from a 1990 conversation between Gabriel García Márquez and Akira Kurosawa, the concerns of his then-filming Rhapsody in August heavy on the director’s mind.

“Each studio seemed to pick up a coloration, or style, of its own, and was known for it. Warners was supposed to be hard-driving, speedy. They played softball at Paramount and had refrigerators in the writers’ buildings. Metro was the top, the Bank of England—the posh English writers, Joe Pasternak’s talented Hungarians, the Broadway playwrights in New York City.” While at The Paris Review Aram Saroyan prints for the first time the 1989 interview he conducted by mail with novelist and screenwriter Daniel Fuchs, which Fuchs withheld over copyright concerns.

?????

“CHESTBLONDELL as DONDIE” David Cairns presents a terrific gallery of frames from Warner Brothers credits caught mid-wipe, the two actors frozen into Janus-headed beasts.

If you live in a 90-year-old house in Vancouver, think about ripping up your floorboards. One homeowner did so for a renovation and found a marvelous cache of silent movie posters, used during construction as cheap flooring material. Via Adam Cook.

Video: Vadim Rizov offers video of Richard Linklater recalling a screening of Out of the Blue, after which Denis Hopper took the audience along to a racetrack to witness him surrounding himself with sticks of dynamite and setting them off. It’s the sort of tale that sounds apocryphal—ok, maybe not so much with Hopper involved. But no need to wonder, since the video goes on to footage of the event itself.

Elaine Stritch in ‘September’

Obituary

Elaine Stritch made her name on Broadway and she continued performing on stage well into her 80s, but she also appeared on the big screen and the small screen. On TV she starred in the 1960 series My Sister Eileen and the seventies British sitcom Two’s Company but is surely most familiar to modern audiences for her recurring role on 30 Rock. On the big screen she co-starred in the 1957 A Farewell to Arms and the 1987 senior citizen gala Cocoon: The Return and was featured Woody Allen’s September (1987) and Small Time Crooks (2000). Arguably her best film role was playing herself in the documentary Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me, currently available to stream on Netflix. She passed away this week at the age of 89. More from Charles Isherwood at The New York Times.

Tom Rolf, the Swedish-born film editor who worked with Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, New York, New York), John Frankenheimer (The French Connection II, Black Sunday), Paul Schrader (Blue Collar, Hardcore), Ridley Scott (Black Rain) and Michael Mann (Heat) and earned an Academy Award for editing The Right Stuff (1983), died at the at 83. He edited over 40 features in his career. In addition to his Oscar, he won the ACE Eddie award (given by fellow profession film editors) for WarGames (1983) and received nominations for The Right Stuff and Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer. Carolyn Giardina at The Hollywood Reporter.

Seattle Screens

Framing Pictures is back at Northwest Film Forum on Sunday, July 20. Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, and Bruce Reid will be discussing (among other topics) the concept of the guilty pleasure, Richard Linklater’s long-gestating Boyhood, and Eric Rohmer’s long-arriving A Summer’s Tale. The talk begins at 5:30 pm, it’s free, and you are encouraged to join the discussion.

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 Purge: Anarchy’

18 July, 2014 (08:42) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Zoe Soul and Carmen Ejogo

We can pick away at the merits of last year’s thriller The Purge (my big problem was that the characters had to do stupid things to keep the plot moving), but the movie definitely had a wild idea. For one night every year, the U.S. government sanctions lawlessness, allowing citizens to purge their baser instincts and thereby creating peace the remaining 364 days of the calendar.

That film was set mostly inside a single well-barricaded home. The sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, lets the concept out in the streets and goes crazy with it. It’s a big improvement on the original. The same writer-director, James DeMonaco, is at the helm, but it’s as though the looser format allowed for more inventiveness.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: Wish I Was Here

18 July, 2014 (08:39) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Pierce Gagnon, Joey King and Zach Braff

In the long-lived sitcom Scrubs, Zach Braff proved his comic timing and a willingness to be silly. And like so many actors who succeed with comedy, it seems Braff cannot stop wanting to be serious. He wrote and directed the 2004 indie hit Garden State, which captured a moment for millennial viewers. In that one, the funny stuff was funny, and the serious stuff played like someone wanting to be taken seriously.

Braff’s return to directing is Wish I Was Here, and again, comedy is not enough. In this one he stars as Aidan Bloom, an L.A. actor (that is, he auditions for parts he doesn’t get) whose life is frittering away.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: ‘As Is It in Heaven’

17 July, 2014 (07:15) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘As It Is in Heaven’

The new spiritual leader of a small religious sect in the American South has received the word. That is, the Word. And the Word is that the group must become purified to be sufficiently prepared for the final days, which—according to their own in-house prophet—will arrive about a month hence. Along with their usual rounds of preaching and praying, this will mean intense fasting. That sacrifice will get them back up to speed for the deliverance to come.

This setup provides not only the countdown structure of As It Is in Heaven but also its style. This low-budget indie is itself purified, stripped bare, and ornament-free.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘A Summer’s Tale’

17 July, 2014 (07:13) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Amanda Langlet and Melvil Poupaud

The movie of the summer in 1996 should have been A Summer’s Tale, a wise and bittersweet romance by then-septuagenarian filmmaker (and French New Wave co-founder) Eric Rohmer. But it didn’t get a chance to be. While the film did enjoy a regular release in Europe and was seen at festivals, for some reason it never actually opened in the U.S. for a regular run. This absurd oversight is finally rectified, as the movie is enjoying a proper arthouse go-round at last.

A Summer’s Tale, or Conte d’été, was the third film in Rohmer’s four-seasons cycle. (Somewhat confusingly, Rohmer’s 1986 Le rayon vert was titled Summer for the English-language market.) This one’s about a would-be musician named Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) who travels to the Brittany seaside for a summer break before his grown-up duties beckon.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: ‘Le Secret’

16 July, 2014 (10:50) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Le Secret bears a 1974 copyright and yet it seems much more dated than that. The films of Costa-Gavras notwithstanding, political paranoia thrillers feel so endemically American that this rather nondescript French movie comes across mostly as a by-the-numbers emulation of the U.S. model—just as contemporary French films noirs recall not such honorable homegrown predecessors as Carné–Prévert and Clouzot but rather the classic American noirs of the Forties and Fifties. This guy, Jean-Louis Trintignant, throttles a guard and escapes from this semi-medieval dungeon somewhere in the French night—a half-hour’s drive from Paris, as he and we learn. “They” had been slipping him the old Chinese water torture there, he tells a handily available ladyfriend of short-term acquaintance, because he accidentally learned a secret “they” can’t afford to have anyone know; and now “they,” of course, will be looking for him. OK. By means not narratively disclosed, Trintignant quits Paris and turns up in some woodsy terrain where he hopes to go to ground in a certain shed. Said shed having burned down—or so he is told by a jovial Philippe Noiret he encounters on a hillside—he accepts the shelter of Noiret’s own bucolic retreat for the night, and several ensuing days. The problem posed to Noiret and wife Marlène Jobert, as well as to the audience: is he a paranoiac or just someone who damn well is being persecuted? In either case, which way do they jump next?

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Videophiled: Scarlett Johansson gets ‘Under the Skin’

15 July, 2014 (18:08) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

UnderSkinUnder the Skin (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Cable VOD) isn’t a film that wants to make things easy for the viewer. The experience is not unlike that which I suppose its unnamed protagonist, an alien reborn in the body of a human host (Scarlett Johansson), goes through as it (she?) settles in to its new body and the emotions and impulses surging through it that collide with its mission. That mission has something to do with driving around Scotland and picking up men that it appears to devour in a pool of lightless liquid. That’s my best guess—there’s no exposition or explanation to clue you in to what it all means—but it’s all quite strange and beautiful and weird.

This is the first feature from Jonathan Glazer since Birth (a film that had its share of critics but has grown to almost cult stature in some circles since its 2004 release) in part because he did not want to compromise his vision. The film opens on abstracted sounds, like a human voice learning its sonic possibilities, and enigmatic imagery, and Glazer expects us to create our own meaning from the clues we take in along the odyssey. The defining color is black, the inky night of her nocturnal hunts and the deep, bottomless dark of her alien retreat. The characters seems to float untethered in these scenes, as if they’ve slipped into another reality.

Glazer is less interested in the what and the why than in the texture of the experience, the intensity of the imagery, the sense of adaptation and alienation as this alien starts to connect with her victims. Johansson delivers a performance like she’s never given, slipping between a focused, unreadable blankness and the easy charm of a young Scottish woman chatting up the men she picks up in her van, a part she keeps perfecting as she gets a feel for the culture of Glasgow at night. (Some of the scenes were shot with a hidden camera as civilians were picked up by Johansson in character, like a reality show in the Twilight Zone, and Johansson is not only game for the stunt, she’s quite adept at it.) This is a film of sensations best experienced in an immersive environment; watch this on the biggest screen you are able to, with the lights out and distractions kept to a minimum, to best fall under its spell.

On Blu-ray and DVD, with “The Making of Under the Skin,” a 42-minute collection of brief featurettes covering various aspects of production. The production is as unconventional as the film story and direction and these featurettes share some of the process. The Blu-ray also includes an UltraViolet digital copy. Also available on Cable On Demand.

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