The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 29

Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘The Father of My Children’

‘Tis the season, apparently, for new issues of film journals, which are arriving at a fast clip. The new issue of Alphaville, focused on women and media in the twenty-first century, Gina Marchetti considers the portrait of Hong Kong prostitution in a pair of collaborations between director Herman Yau and writer Elsa Chan (“Chan and Yau, in fact, gravitate toward the salacious with an eye toward social change and political critique”); Fiona Handyside finds unacknowledged trilogies on the themes of girls coming of age in the first three films apiece by Sofia Coppola and Mia Hansen-Løve (“Coppola and Hansen-Løve’s respective decisions to envisage their explorations of girls growing up as trilogies enable the films to take their time exploring the subtleties of girlhood, as the directors have the luxury of cinematic duration”); and Amy Heckerling’s two most recent, neglected films get sympathetic readings from Frances Smith (“Both I Could Never Be Your Woman and Vamps retain a playful ambivalence towards the two primary attitudes to the ageing process, namely acceptance and manipulation”). Among other highlights in the issue, Fiona Clancy analyses Sylvia Martel’s use of sound and image to portray a “crisis [that] is less one of biological motherhood than of its spirit—of motherliness”) and Beti Ellerson reports on the various options African women have before them to make themselves presences on screens that have heretofore failed to represent them (“the digital age is indeed a turning point for African women working in film and screen media”).

The new Offscreen is devoted to Theo Angelopoulos, with fittingly long articles analyzing the director’s tracking shots as moral choices from Elie Castiel (“The Angelopoulosian long take, then, encompasses the idea of integration, logical assembly of many visual and narrative elements in a single shot; a unity of thought. Is this choice not ideological?”) and as time machines opening up history for Olivier Bélanger (“The long take allows him to extract “pure time” from his film, and to return the past to the present”). Alain Chouinard considers how Ulysses’ Gaze avoids the pitfalls of stereotypical attitudes usually imposed upon its Balkan subjects (“the film’s very specific representation of historical cyclicality, and its original presentation of involuntary memory re-historicize the Balkans by foregrounding an indivisible conception of temporality and historical continuity”); Donato Totaro has more measured praise for Angelopoulos while considering The Suspended Step of the Stork (“In any case, Angelopolous belongs to a once rare breed of film stylists that has grown considerably over the last thirty or so years: directors whose pacing and sense of movement is appreciably slower than most (and in some cases, slower than life as we feel it)”); and Betty Kaklamanidou dusts off an interview conducted with Willem Dafoe after working with Angelopoulos on The Dust of Time (“I love this thing about the little story next to the big story. When I watch his movies I experience things in a profound way. People walking through mud, people in the most simple chaste embrace, people running for a train, things like that… boats coming to you very slowly. You experience those in a way that you take it on personally because you get in the context and you identify with how these people are dealing with the big history and how they’re influenced by it. And that’s exhilarating to me. It philosophically engages me in a kind of dialogue about how strange and beautiful life is.”)

Ulysses’ Gaze

Finally, desistfilm’s latest contains Victor Bruno on Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, which he finds masterpiece enough to justify an uneven career (“But The Silence of the Lambs has something that neither Stop Making Sense, or Citizens Band, nor Married to the Mob nor any of his previous films had: the first is a very cohesive narrative development, something that will explode on the disturbing last act of the film and will justify the nerve-wrecking sequence of Buffalo Bill’s death. The second thing—and this is way more important—that none other of his previous films has is the touch of Grace”); Lauren Bliss on the restoration of propaganda cinema by Indonesian film co-operative Spider Lab (“In this way perspective is returned to the people who should possess it”); and Luke Scerri on the powerful use of one track, “Fake Ophelia,” from Barbieri’s soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris (“Perhaps one can’t deny that it still sounds like some evening in some dimly lit city, and therein lies the expected romantic atmosphere, which is then so powerfully and aggressively tackled by Bertolucci’s take on the themes of sexuality and human expression”).

“As a marriage reconstruction drama, Phoenix is stingingly ironic: we hope that Nelly and Johnny can truthfully reconnect with each other only so that she can ultimately punish him.” Michael Koresky looks at how Christian Petzold’s unique use of melodrama—and literally his use of song, namely the Weill/Nash “Speak Low” that becomes a refrain—grounds what should be a ridiculous story.

Phoenix

Private Property’s ability to shock has come and gone; there’s no gore, zero nudity, and no profanity either. (At one point Duke exclaims “What the flop?” in one of the more hilarious f-word euphemisms I’ve encountered.) But the slow, simmering dread remains.” Farran Smith Nehme looks back at Leslie Stevens’s 1960 thriller Private Property, once thought lost, recently rediscovered in all its sweaty, hypersexualized glory.

“The overused term DIY doesn’t capture the eccentric craftsmanship of a filmmaker who starts from the most basic features of cinematic material: film stock, perforations, light. Everything else, even the frame, can be treated as an add-on. These films are hand-made with a vengeance.” David Bordwell offers an introduction of sorts to the experimental filmmaker Paolo Gioli, whose barrage of imagery embraces everything the most primitive means of exposing film to light and some cutting-edge theories on eyesight and color perception.

“We played chess now and then. He’d slaughter me. Some people were scared of him because he could make or break a career. Not Jack [Nicholson], though. Jack called him Stan to wind him up. You could call him Stanley, Mr Kubrick or Guv, just not Stan. But they liked each other.” Bob Tanswell, an electrician on the set of The Shining, offers this week’s perspective on working with Stanley Kubrick—obsessive, eccentric, but “a fair guvnor”—to Candice Pires.

Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick on the set of ‘The Shining’

“The clock ticking, I flew to Hong Kong in August 2014 to start interviewing him. I had failed to reckon with one thing: Wong is the Usain Bolt of delay. His films are notorious for their seemingly endless shooting schedules and their constantly postponed release dates. Wong himself freely admits that he finds it hard to get cracking on a project until he feels under the gun. Only then can he truly concentrate; only then will his best self emerge. Until that point, well . . . “ If you’ve ever wondered in your idle moments what it would be like to collaborate with Wong Kar-wai, wonder no more; John Powers, who co-wrote a book on the director’s life, tells the tale, from the innumerable procrastinations to the final, generous devotion of time and self. Plus, what the director really thinks of Quentin Tarantino’s real-life monologuing.

“‘There’s this phrase, she can really handle a close-up,’ Gerwig says when we talk about the physicality of her work as an actor. She’s frequently seen dancing, running, or pacing in films, with a loose flexibility that belies the precision of her movements; her physical comedy owes more to Pina Bausch than it does Lucille Ball. ‘I feel like for me, it’s she can really handle a wide. I get scared when the camera is too close, not out of vanity, but out of feeling like I don’t have’—she gestures downwards—‘my whole tool kit.’” Haley Mlotek talks with Greta Gerwig, one of the best current examples of the invaluable sense of physical control dance training can give an actor. Via David Hudson.

Dazed and Confused was about the rebellion against oppressive forces in your life as a teenager, when you’re a high school student: the institution of school, of family. Then you cut loose from that, and you’re voluntarily in college. And then if you want to get a job, you quit. You don’t have to do it. I remember being exhilarated by that freedom, but also anxious too, because every decision you make, everything you do, every class you take…you’re making these choices that might affect who you become or who you are. Maybe you don’t know who you are yet. It’s a transitional time of self-exploration and self-discovery and it seemed very poignant. It never ends, by the way.” Richard Linklater discusses the overlaps and distances between Daze and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, and the importance of Megan Ellison picking up a level of filmmaking the studios have abandoned, with Adam Nayman. Via Criterion.

J. William Myers ‘ original artwork for ‘Nashville’

“[Altman] said ‘Give me a logo that we can use for the movie, the ads, and everything else.’ I studied graphic design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. It was very sophisticated international design that I learned, so I just thought I’d design all these really elegant, handsome, beautiful type treatments to use. They were all really nice, but when Bob looked at them he hated them all. He said, ‘These pieces are all wrong! You should just go to Nashville to see what a junk hole it is. Everyone’s just fighting and backstabbing to get ahead in the music business!’ And I said, ‘Well, just let me see the movie!’” Art of the Title’s Will Perkins talks with title designer Dan Perri and illustrator J. William Myers about the faux-commercial opening credits to Nashville, and clears up the little mystery of why the Paramount logo used in the film is so worn and distressed.

Obituary

Madeleine Sherwood

Canadian-born actress Madeleine Sherwood made her name on Broadway, where she appeared in 18 original productions, including Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. She made her film debut in Baby Doll (1956), reprised the roles she created on Broadway in the screen versions of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), and appeared in Hurry Sundown (1967), The Changeling (1980), and Teachers (1984). But to most American audiences, she’s best known as the Mother Superior in the sixties sitcom The Flying Nun. She passed away at age 93. Sam Roberts for The New York Times.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker.

Seattle Screens: Chantal Akerman, Seijun Suzuki, and ‘Purple Rain’

Purple Rain

SIFF announces the line-up for SIFF 2016 on May 3. SIFF members can buy advance tickets beginning May 4, non-members on May 5.

The Chantal Akerman retrospective continues at NWFF with the West Coast premieres of the documentary Chantal Akerman, From Here (2012), featuring a length interview with the director, and Akerman’s final film Down There (2016), plus her 1993 film From the East. Dates and showtimes here.

NFFTY 2016 continues with screenings and events at SIFF Uptown through Sunday, May 1. Complete schedule his here.

SIFF Cinema presents a tribute to Prince with a screening of Purple Rain on Tuesday, May 3 at the Uptown. Admission is $5, free to SIFF members. Tickets here.

The Seijun Suzuki retrospective continues with screenings of Yumeji (1991) at Grand Illusion on Saturday, April 30 and Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Carmen from Kawachi (1966) at NWFF on Wednesday, May 4.

Max et les Ferrailleurs (1970), directed by Claude Sautet and starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, plays on Thursday, May 5 at Plestcheeff Auditorium. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.

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.

Blood Guilt: 12 Movies about Healing After Heinous Crimes

My Nazi Legacy

Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter are the adult children of high-ranking Nazi officers. As we learn in My Nazi Legacy, their fathers sent tens of thousands of people to their deaths, and Niklas and Horst spent decades dealing with the legacy of that birthright, though not in the same way. While both men speak out against the Nazi atrocities, Niklas holds his father responsible for his complicity while Horst insists that the “good character” of his loving father fought against the Nazi machine, all evidence to the contrary. He’s not a Holocaust denier, mind you. He merely denies his father’s part in the Third Reich’s heinous crimes.

The intersection of the personal and political gets complicated when faced with the crimes of a loved one, a colleague, even a culture. Evidence can be overcome by emotion. How can a doting father be responsible for barbarous crimes? How can a government have lied to those who followed its every command? Is it possible for true believers to acknowledge the crimes they committed in the name of a corrupt ideal, or simply to survive a brutal culture? Here are a few documentaries and feature films that explore how some people come to terms with such actions — their own and others — while others simply cannot or do not.

The Holocaust and the Legacy of Nazism

Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988): Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie was branded the “Butcher of Lyon” for the atrocities committed under his command, yet he escaped prosecution and lived free for almost three decades in Bolivia before he was extradited to France to stand trial for war crimes. Filmmaker Marcel Ophuls’ profile of the man and his crimes reveals a culture uneasy about dredging up the past and people trying to hide their complicity in shielding one of the most notorious war criminals of the 20th Century. Their justification? He was such a warm, likable man. How could he be guilty?

Continue reading on Independent Lens

Review: ‘Papa: Hemingway in Cuba’

Adrian Sparks and Joely Richardson

Ernest Hemingway has been broadly and almost constantly mischaracterized since the first copy of The Sun Also Rises rolled off the presses, which is what happens when a writer’s larger-than-life personality eclipses the writing itself. A radical prose stylist and an intensely perceptive observer, Hemingway is still lazily peddled as an exemplar of outmoded machismo, an image that doesn’t ring true if you actually read the writing.

Movie portrayals of Hemingway have been less misleading, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been good. A few films have gotten flavor from the Lost Generation Hemingway of Paris, including Bruce McGill’s feisty turn in Jill Godmilow’s unfortunately forgotten Waiting for the Moon (1987) and the amusingly intense Kevin O’Connor in Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns (1988). It’s been a tough slog otherwise.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray/DVD: Son of Saul

SonofSaulSon of Saul (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) drops the viewer into the horror of the Holocaust with its first images. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Sonderkommando, chosen from the prisoners of a concentration camp to work in the gas chambers, and we are plunged into his crushing routine: moving the prisoners through the dressing rooms, sifting and sorting the belongings after they are locked in the gas chamber, then dragging the bodies out and clearing way for the next group. Serving as a Sonderkommando didn’t save the men from death, it only postponed it, and Saul knows he hasn’t long.

But Son of Saul doesn’t linger on the horror. Rather Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes shoots it entirely in close-up, with a handheld camera uncomfortably close and constantly in motion as it follows Saul through the grind of his routine. We remain locked on Saul throughout the film. Nemes shoots in a squarish format, similar to the pre-widescreen era of movies, with a short lens that keeps only Saul’s face and his immediate orbit in focus. Everything else is blurred and indistinct if not completely out of frame, suggested more than seen. It’s not just to keep us from seeing it clearly, but it suggests his own state of mind: detached out necessity, numb and exhausted, going through the motions of living, focused only on the activity.

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Picture People (2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

WILLIAM WYLER: The Authorized Biography. By Axel Madsen. Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 456 pages. $9.95.
CECIL B. DeMILLE. By Charles Higham. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 280 pages. $10.
LIGHT YOUR TORCHES AND PULL UP YOUR TIGHTS. By Tay Garnett, with Fredda Dudley Balling. Foreword by Frank Capra. Arlington House. 347 pages. $9.95.
A SHORT TIME FOR INSANITY: An Autobiography. By William A. Wellman. Foreword by Richard Schickel. Hawthorn Books, Inc. 276 pages. $10.

Books on directors’ oeuvres are nothing new, and neither are interviews with film directors, booklength and otherwise. But it’s only recently that directors’ lives have struck publishers as likely material. Undoubtedly the popularity of Frank Capra’s The Name above the Title has been the most persuasive argument. Recently I’ve read four new additions to the genre, two biographies—one living subject, one deceased—one as-told-to autobiography, and one of the real McCoy, a personal document that in its idiosyncratic way is as valuable an addition to film literature as Capra’s. The order is that of the above titles, and I’ll talk about them in the same sequence.

***

The virtues of Axel Madsen’s William Wyler tend to become more evident after one has read Charles Higham’s Cecil B. DeMille. Both seem to be job books. Madsen gets off to a limp start condensing the erratic history of Mulhouse, the Alsace town where Willy Wyler was born in 1902, and dreaming up trite images like Leopold the father “sitting on the veranda and watching his blue cigar smoke disappear into the night” shortly before World War I became a neighborhood reality. As soon as his subject is of an age to store up his own memories for recounting five decades later, the narrative improves. Mulhouse (then Mülhausen) changing hands—and switching from German to French time—four times during August 1914; Willy following his elder brother Robert (later his producer, and a director in France) to school in Lausanne, and Robert following him to Paris; experiences with haberdashery and whores; and finally, an offer of employment from cousin Carl Lämmle—in America, Laemmle—head of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. His film career began in New York, toting interoffice memos and cans of film, but he and fellow expatriate Paul Kohner soon established Universal’s foreign-language publicity service translating into German and French publicity stories written in the Hollywood offices and, when necessary, making up their own.

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Picture People (1)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

THE GREAT MOVIE STARS – THE GOLDEN YEARS. By David Shipman. Crown Publishers. 576 pages. $10.
THE GREAT MOVIE STARS – THE INTERNATIONAL YEARS. By David Shipman. St. Martin’s Press. 568 pages. $15.
JAMES CAGNEY. By Andrew Bergman. Pyramid Publications. 156 pages. $1.45 (paperback).
THE FILMS OF JAMES CAGNEY. By Homer Dickens. Citadel Press.249 pages. $9.95.
CAGNEY. By Ron Offen. Henry Regnery Company. 217 pages. $6.95.
THE FRED ASTAIRE AND GINGER ROGERS BOOK. By Arlene Croce. Outerbridge & Lazard, Inc. 191 pages. $9.95.

A favorite movie moment of mine comes in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt: Joseph Cotten, playing Uncle Charlie “the Merry Widow murderer,” eludes two detectives and then makes a longdistance phone call. He asks the operator for “Santa Rosa … Santa Rosa, California” and Hitch dissolves to shots of a lyrically peaceful small town. The movie is one of the director’s very best, but the special moment I’m thinking of now is produced largely by Cotten’s way of saying the name of a town. Cotten’s voice reflects the lyrical mood of the shots that follow, but it also brings an element of longing, of regret, of lost illusions, of nearly irretrievable memories. It is all very appropriate for the character, a man subtly but permanently warped by a traumatic initiation into the violence and vulnerability that he associates with the big city in particular and the modern world in general. But the moment is also something that is unmistakably Joseph Cotten: It is enhanced by a definitive part of his screen presence, that unique mixture of a modest nobility and a weakness which is quiet, refined and fatal. And this presence in turn is, for me, a function not just of Joseph Cotten at a particular moment, but also of the Joseph Cotten I remember from Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Love Letters, Duel in the Sun, The Third Man, September Affair, etc.

I mention all this partly because of my delight in discovering that an actor whom I’d almost always found “good” has taken on a meaning that transcends questions of acting skill. Now I look forward to future viewings and reviewings of Since You Went Away, Portrait of Jenny, Niagara and others with a passion that exceeds my merely professional interest in the work of John Cromwell, David Selznick, William Dieterle, Jennifer Jones, Henry Hathaway and Marilyn Monroe. Above all, I have begun to see Joseph Cotten as a kind of auteur, as a creative force in his own right, as a film artist who has brought his own personal style to the movies (or, if not that, found it there) and who has created something lasting and genuine for which he may deserve as much credit as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, William Dieterle, King Vidor, Carol Reed … all of whom, of course, have great merits of their own.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of April 22

Roberto Rossellini directs ‘Cartesius’

The new issue of Comparative Cinema explores the engagement of cinematic auteurs with television, wondering whether the results work as cinema, TV, or some new beast. A selection of historical documents and interview excerpts sets the scene, with figures such as Rossellini plugging for the pedagogical advantages of the younger medium, Chris Marker tracing the spiritual origins of television back to Medvedkin (“shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed”), Fassbinder admitting that Berlin Alexanderplatz would have been completely different as a movie, where its audience would be more primed for a challenge, and Peter Watkins complaining the medium’s industrial structure automatically forecloses any dissenting voice.

Past the historical material, Jordi Balló and Xavier Pérez run through ten key artists who tackled serial television production in their varied ways (“The hidden objective is to use the small screen as a platform to radicalize one of the central strategies of Hitchcockian art: the control of the audience”); Surveying the television work of Renoir, Pialat, Lynch, and Welles, Fran Benavente and Glòria Salvadó argue for a serialized utopia that was never realized, where the “filmmaker as a television author sees a possible experimentation space and rehearses a way of adapting his writing on the basis of the specific strengths of the medium”; Carolina Sourdis looks at Godard and Miéville’s Sonimage TV productions, finding in them Godard’s use of the medium as a “vehicle and a base to question aspects of cinema from its margins: of cinema transformed into the audiovisual”; and the unique pop energy of Spanish director Iván Zulueta—perfectly suited to television, exported to cinema when his series were cancelled—are explored by Miguel Fernández Labayen (“Zulueta used television in his films during the 70’s in two main ways: as a social and aesthetic escape mechanism, but also as an object capable of abducting the mind and the boy [sic] of anyone watching in front of the screen”). Then much of the preceding theorizing gets scuttled by the optimistic pragmatism of Lodge Kerrigan, interviewed by Gerard Casau and Manuel Garin on making the transition from film to television directing (“And I think the trick is: can you structure something that works in the thirty-minute or the hour but then can also point to one continuous piece? So I think of it just more like another dimension to the problem or to the puzzle. If you can solve that, which is slightly more complicated than just writing a feature, or just writing a TV show, if you can actually solve that so it can play as an episode but also play all together, then I think it’s completely free”).

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Seattle Screens: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman

The legacy of filmmaker Chantal Akerman, who took her life in 2015, is celebrated in a brief retrospect co-sponsored by SIFF and NWFF. It begins on Friday, April 22 at SIFF Film Center with screenings of No Home Movie, a personal documentary on her mother, a Holocaust survivor sharing her memories with her daughter, and I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, a documentary by Marianne Lambert. They play in rotation for a week, and then the series shifts to NWFF for single screenings of three more films.

NFFTY 2016 marks the 10th anniversary for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. It launches on Thursday, April 28 with an event at the Cinerama, which is already sold out, but the festival continues with screenings and events at SIFF Uptown through Sunday, May 1. Complete schedule his here.

Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days plays for a week at NWFF. Showtimes and tickets here, and read Robert Horton’s review at Seattle Weekly.

As Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some opens wide, Dazed and Confused (1993) comes back for a midnight showing at the Egyptian on Saturday, April 23.

Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) screens on Tuesday, April 26 at NWFF to mark the 17th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre and the 9th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting with a pre-screening discussion with Professor Frederick P. Rivara, MD.

SIFF Uptown presents encore screenings of four films from the Wim Wenders retrospective—The American Friend (1977), Paris, Texas (1984), Wings of Desire (1988), and Until the End of the World: Director’s Cut (1988)—playing through Wednesday, April 27. Schedule here.

The Seijun Suzuki retrospective continues with screenings of Ziguernerweisen (1980) on Saturday, April 23 and Kagero-Za (1981) on Sunday, April 24 at Grand Illusion and Tattooed Life (1965) on Wednesday, April 27 at NWFF.

Fathom Events presents On the Waterfront (1954) on the big screen in select theaters across the country for two nights this week: Sunday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 27. You can find participating theaters in your area here.

The Things of Life (1969), directed by Claude Sautet and starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, plays on Thursday, April 28 at SAM’s Plestcheeff Auditorium. It’s the first of five films by Sautet featured in the series. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis.

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.

Review: My Golden Days

Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet

Paul and Esther are young and in love—or at least in love with the idea of love. They’re in an art museum, contemplating a painting. Something about the image stirs Paul to an especially heated appreciation of his beloved, and he begins singing her praises, culminating in the words, “Your features contain the meaning of the world.” This is the way people should speak in real life, but too rarely do. Thankfully, we have French movies to fill in the gaps.

My Golden Days is a typically ardent example of the French coming-of-age film—maybe too typical at times, although it has surprises in store. Director Arnaud Desplechin arranges the picture as three remembrances of youth, recalled by middle-aged anthropologist Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric). One episode is relatively brief, a childhood vignette in which young Paul’s mother dies and he learns how not to feel pain. The next section is the most unexpected—basically a mini-spy movie, in which Paul (played in youth by Quentin Dolmaire) goes on a high-school trip to the Soviet Union, and agrees to secretly carry cash to a group of oppressed Jews in Moscow.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: ‘Green Room’

Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat in ‘Green Room’

“When you put people in extreme situations,” says Jeremy Saulnier, “it can be scary, or tragically pathetic, or even funny to watch them flail and try to acclimate.”

Blue Ruin, Saulnier’s Kickstarter-aided 2013 calling card, managed to ring the cherries on all of the options above, fashioning a diabolically inventive revenge movie that repeatedly headed down unpredictably satisfying avenues. The writer/director’s larger-budgeted follow-up, Green Room, gathers up that earlier promise and just goes sick with it, taking an intentionally stripped-down premise and jacking it up to ferocious speeds. As ruthlessly pedal-through-the-floor efficient as it is, the narrative also manages to find space for the director’s growing assortment of decidedly unheroic heroes—who somehow remain weirdly endearing while their hastily thought-out plans fall to bloody pieces. “What I do,” says Saulnier, “is revel in the details and minutia that bog people down. I account for ineptitude.”

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Blu-ray/DVD: The Revenant

RevenantThe Revenant (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K, Digital HD) has been called a revenge movie, which is true enough. Leonardo DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, a real-life 19th century mountain man and guide whose story inspired legends, books, and at least one previous film (Man in the Wilderness with Richard Harris). Left for dead by a particularly mercenary member (Tom Hardy) of the hunting party he guides through the mountain wilds, against all odds he literally rises from his grave to pull himself from certain death and claws his way back to what passes for civilization for revenge against the man who murdered his son and buried him alive. Vengeance makes for a primal motivation but The Revenant is really a tale of survival: the settling of America as an odyssey of mythic dimensions in an untamed wilderness determined to kill all who fail to respect it.

It’s 1823 in the still unexplored (by white men at least) frontier and an expedition of fur trappers are on the run after being attacked by a local Indian tribe searching for a maiden abducted by white explorers. The assault is swift and brutal and filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu sends his camera gliding through it in a rush of fluid long takes, a mix of mesmerized observer and panicked victim. Losing their canoes and most of their supplies in their escape, the few survivors have to hike out through the frozen mountains, where Glass is attacked by a mother grizzly bear protecting her cubs. It’s one of the few digital effects in a film that prides itself on its physical realism but it feels disturbingly authentic thanks to DiCaprio’s intense performance and the naturalism of the CGI bear, clearly based on behavioral observations of wild creatures. It’s like a natural history study let loose in a wilderness drama.

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Review: That’s Entertainment

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

There is a group of films which are meant to be entertaining, are seldom noteworthy, and are usually G-rated. They can be termed entertainment films and customarily offer nothing for something. It is their habit to stay clear of anything that anyone might consider controversial. So extreme is this fear of controversy that they often end up virtually without content. Technical expertise is not generally one of their assets…. With all this on the debit side, it’s surprising that they ever succeed. But successful entertainment films of a special variety were turned out by one studio with remarkable consistency. The studio was MGM. The special films were musicals. To succeed where others failed, MGM had a formula involving two basic elements: use the best talent available, both in front of and behind the camera.

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Review: Blazing Saddles

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

The first wave of reviews said it was hilarious; the second, that it wasn’t that funny. I caught it on the third wave and it was almost that funny—assuming, that is, that you have a stomach for unrelenting bad taste, dirty jokes, and goodnatured, let’s-be-egalitarian-and-offend-everybody racist references. That wasn’t structured as a putdown—I have one of those stomachs myself. But halfway through Blazing Saddles I suddenly realized I’d guffawed good and hard at quite a few things along the way, but I could call almost none of them to mind. Like Friedkin and Blatty in their department, Mel Brooks tends to shock and run. I’d probably laugh a second time at Slim Pickens’s riding up and demanding “Whut in th’ wide wide world uh sports is goin’ on here?!” because, although it’s a dumb joke, it and Pickens were both funny the first time and Pickens would still be delightful the second. I wouldn’t be caved in a second time when John Hillerman pretentiously invokes Nietzsche and David Huddleston responds, “Ah, blow it out your ass, Howard!” with a ten-gallon scowl, because that gag lacks even the whimsy of “wide wide world of sports” and depends purely on surprise to work at all. Both Hillerman and Huddleston have done fine comic turns in the past (for Bogdanovich in What’s Up, Doc? and Newman-Benton in Bad Company, respectively; and there was also Hillerman’s truly menacing job as the sheriff—and his bootlegger brother—in Paper Moon), but Brooks encourages them to turn in only the broadest, most insubstantial, TV-variety-sketch performances.

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Blu-ray/DVD: Only Angels Have Wings

OnlyAngelsBDOnly Angels Have Wings (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – If you love movies, I mean really love the glory of Hollywood moviemaking and star power and the joys of wondrous stories, then you love Howard Hawks. And if you love Howard Hawks, then you must love Only Angels Have Wings (1939), the quintessential Hawks adventure of male bonding and tough love in a world where there may be no tomorrow. If you haven’t fallen for it yet, it may be that you simply have yet to discover it.

Cary Grant is Geoff Carter, the charismatic, uncompromising leader of a fledgling air mail service in a South American port town, a business run on rickety planes and the nerves of its pilots. They call him Papa. He lives out of a bar, never lays in a supply of anything, and never sends a man on a job he wouldn’t do himself. Jean Arthur is Bonnie, the spunky American showgirl with a “specialty act” who gets a crash course in flyboy philosophy when a pair of pilots (Allyn Joslyn and Noah Beery Jr.) swoop in as she steps off a ship docking for supplies. Her first contact with Geoff creates sparks, the kind you get when a runaway car scrapes the wall of an alley. He’s all arrogance and lust when he sends Beery off on a mail run and moves in on Bonnie with a smile like a fox finding a hole in the henhouse. She’s outraged and appalled. Of course they are meant for each other, which is news to Geoff, who’s only interested in the moment and has no use for romantic commitment.

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