TV on Disc: HBO’s ‘Show Me a Hero’ and the politics of blind anger

Show Me a Hero (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD), a six-hour HBO miniseries developed by David Simon (The Wire) and William F. Zorzi from the non-fiction book by Lisa Belkin and directed by Paul Haggis (with a subtlety and nuance I didn’t know he had in him), stars Oscar Isaac as Nick Wasicsko, a city councilman who became the mayor of Yonkers in 1988 with an anti-public housing campaign at a time when resentment to the court-ordered low income housing was so fierce it bordered on hysteria.

A drama on public housing policy and city politics may not sound like the makings of compelling drama but Show Me a Hero showcases what Simon does best: exploring real-life events and issues through a dramatic lens that puts politics, economics, and social justice in personal terms.

Wasicsko runs an underdog campaign against a five-term incumbent by riding the wave of anger over the city’s “capitulation” to the court (after delaying for years through failed appeals). When the last of the appeals is rejected, Wasicsko resigns himself to the inevitable but the middle- and working-class white population that elected him sees it as a betrayal of their support and he suddenly finds himself in the impossible position of negotiating a deal that will pass the city council and meet the legal obligation, or face crippling contempt fines that could bankrupt the city in a month. He does the right thing for the city and is punished for it, destroyed by the very anger he stoked to get elected. The politics of denial drives the city elections and the city council meetings for years to come.

Sound like any political culture we know?

While Wasicsko is at the center of the story, he is only one character in an expansive canvas that encompasses not just the politicians but the white homeowners resisting change (Catherine Keener, whose bedrock civility gets carried away by the mob passions) and the folks struggling to make a life for themselves in the crime-ridden projects, from a health-care worker going blind from diabetes (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) to a single mother from the Dominican Republic whose best option is leave her children back in the DR while she supports them from Yonkers. The superb cast also includes Bob Balaban, Jim Belushi, Jon Bernthal, Alfred Molina, Peter Riegert, and Winona Ryder.

The tragedy evoked in the show’s title (the complete quote by F. Scot Fitzgerald is “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy”) is Wasicsko’s obsessive quest to get back into elected office. While others are able to accept change and evolve their understanding, Wasicsko becomes a political junkie who needs the affirmation of election and he betrays friends and former colleagues along the way.

Simply put, this is one of the best TV productions of 2015 and a startlingly relevant portrait of the politics of anger and opposition at all costs.

And don’t skip the end credits: pictures of the real-life people are shown side-by-side with the actors, a reminder that this fiction comes from real life.

The Blu-ray and DVD editions include the featurette “Making Show Me a Hero,” somewhat misleadingly described as “an extended look at the series’ production” but is, at just over six minutes, more promotional short than documentary.

More TV on disc at Cinephiled

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 12

‘Blackhat’

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is unrolling a Michael Mann retrospective, which, as such unapologetically visual filmmaking will, has resulted in some good reads. Isaac Butler looks back at Thief and finds Mann’s status as America’s action auteur already in full bloom, even as the director making his feature debut wanted to emphasize his writing. (“Thief introduces us to Mann’s fixation on stopwatches, water, love at first sight, prison, postcards where his protagonists store their dreams, tough guys, big scores, cars gliding at night, beginnings in medias res, and synthesizers. It also introduces the hallmarks of Mann’s writing: a heightened hardscrabble lyricism, often devoid of contractions and rooted equally in classic gangster cinema and real life vernacular; episodic plot structures made out of sequences that feel like the chapters of a novel; and storytelling through implication instead of exposition.”)

Daniel Kasman finds the cyber-denizens of Blackhat as the ultimate statement on the unnerving freedom enjoyed by Mann protagonists and the intimidations it offers the rest of us (“Theirs is a kind of honed hyper-existence, which, unconventionally, does not recognize what it lacks and instead always tries to peer into the horizon to satisfy the longing and unrest. They peer into and desire to go onward toward that horizon.”); while Kenji Fujishima reports on the director’s cut of the film that premiered at the festival, which replaces the tense scene that opened the theatrical version with (less crowd-pleasing, more thematically relevant) a bit of Wall Street trading as originally intended, and otherwise does what you’ve come to expect of Mann’s re-edits: trims some of the dialogue.

And Bilge Ebiri sits down with Mann for another of his intellectually stimulating interviews. (“When people are bombarded with as much content as we are now, audiences come to impute, fill in blanks, extrapolate, and project. So the requirements for plot specificity, for example, reduce. I mean, if you’re living in the late Middle Ages in a peat bog, and you go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England one time in your life, the religious story told by that piece of architecture, with its towering nave and stained-glass windows, will blow you away. That’s one story in a lifetime. We encounter 20 stories in a day. That’s what I am interested in. How should stories work next?”)

‘The Emigrants’

“At the end of The Emigrants, Karl Oskar and his family feel as if they have arrived somewhere, and that’s the way Troell wants an audience to feel when one of his films is over. In this case, though, the story isn’t really finished, because the end of the Nilssons’ journey to America is also the beginning of something; there’s always more work to be done for these hardworking people.” Terrence Rafferty situates Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land as not merely epics of immigration, but another in the director’s career-long examination of marriage as the true plunge into uncharted territories.

“Generally, there are two kinds of folks who are still interested in movies like Air Hostess. The first are people who grew up with the films, often in diaspora communities; the second are academics and film scholar types, who can’t resist the aspirational escapism that defined Cathay’s output. Every one of these movies is like a box marked “ready to unpack.”” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s new series of articles on “the misfits, underappreciated gems, and underseen classics of film history” praises the gleaming artificiality of Evan Yang’s 1959 Hong Kong musical, and its iconic star Grace Chang.

‘Air Hostess’

“That night he did not take the customary comfort in his monthly shipment of books from London.” Carrie Rickey praises Scorsese’s adaptation of The Age of Innocence, even though the director admits his prime influence was less literary than, of course, cinematic, working his way into the story via Visconti. This for the Library of America series on adaptations of work they’ve published, which began with Last of the Mohicans; surprisingly, the press seem not to have put out Upton Sinclair, so this might be the end of the Daniel Day-Lewis streak (they do have Lincoln’s collected writings but that seems a stretch).

“The numerous ways in which films can bid farewell to us as viewers is a topic worthy of long study by scholars, for it is a scarcely understood or appreciated area of cinema aesthetics—and yet, at the same time, something that all good filmmakers already know well, intuitively or otherwise. (Such, in a nutshell, is the history of film in relation to film criticism!)” Adrian Martin considers some of his favorite movie endings, from De Palma’s teasing, slow-zoom revelations to Taste of Cherry’s “breathtaking transition from one level of reality to another.” Via David Hudson.

“In the biography Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger recount Richard Burton’s bafflement, acting alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the splendidly overwrought Cleopatra (1963), over her seeming lack of technique: “ ‘She’s just not doing anything,’ he complained to [Joseph L.] Mankiewicz.” But the director pulled him aside and showed him footage “that took his breath away.” Burton, Kashner and Schoenberger explain, “was struck by Elizabeth’s absolute stillness,” and learned from her “how to tone down the theatrical performances for the camera’s cool eye.” I’ve often wondered if Keanu’s costars ever think the same thing, since he has a similar transfixing stillness.” Angelica Jade Bastién speaks up for those of us who’ve long considered Keanu Reeves the most underrated actor of the times, showing how his ability to capture loneliness, and his remarkable physical control that marries masculine explosiveness with a feminine delicacy, reach their apotheosis in John Wick. Via Shannon Gee.

“[Lucas] said that he had been thinking of people who could replace him. She thought he was asking her for suggestions. The job carried tremendous responsibility. Not only would whoever he picked to succeed him inherit the responsibility for all things Star Wars, but he or she would also be running the storied special-effects shop Lucas had created, called Industrial Light & Magic, as well as the Camelot-like postproduction facility, Skywalker Ranch, in the hills of Marin County. Recalling the lunch, Kennedy continued, ‘I started to mention a couple of people, and he immediately said, “No, no, no. I’m thinking about you doing this.”’ She was taken aback but quickly came around. ‘You know, George, I actually might really be interested in that,’ she remembered telling him.” Sarah Ellison profiles Kathleen Kennedy, who with her taking control of Lucasfilm and shepherding the future of Star Wars has gone from one of the key behind-the-scenes figures of the past twenty years to arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood; pace Megan Ellison.

On the other end of respectability in the movie business (though I’m sure analogues could easily be found in Hollywood offices), Jake Adelstein reports on the revelations about Yakuza control of Japan’s talent agencies that are coming out from Ikumi Yoshimatsu’s accusations of harassment and criminal activities against an executive as the agency that handles Ken Watanabe, among others. Via Movie City News.

“Yeah, well I get my ideas while watching movies. It’s very relaxing and very stressful at the same time. Gives me a lot of space to think. The worse the movie, the more I think.” Matt Zoller Seitz talks with Mark Rappaport about his role as one of the founders of the video essay, and projects that should be taken up by fellow filmmakers/essayists.

Mark Rappaport

“’It was war,’ Lee recalls in a voice still full of righteous anger despite her 87 years. ‘It was war, and which side were you on? There was certainly no choice in my mind over who were the really stupid bad guys and who were the good guys.’” Interviewed by Tom Bond, Lee Grant looks back at her 12 years under Hollywood’s blacklist.

Now that every other movie is based on a comic book, David Filipi offers a gallery from the golden age of comics (particularly those published by Dell) that adapted movies, with vivid fidelity for the likes of The Naked Prey, and something closer to a travesty wrapping up The Searchers with happily-ever-after brusqueness.

Obituary

Tommy Kelly made his screen debut in the lead role of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), picked by producer David O. Selznick from thousands in an open audition. He went on to star in Peck’s Bad Boy with the Circus (1938) and had a small but memorable role in Gone With the Wind (1939). He appeared in a few other films, including a small role in Irene (1940) and the lead in the low budget Military Academy (1940) before enlisting and serving in World War II. He appeared a few films after the war before leaving show business to teach and then work for the Department of Agriculture. He passed in late January at the age of 90. Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.

Tommy Kelly with Ann Gillis in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’

British screenwriter Norman Hudis wrote over a dozen British B-movies before he helped launch the hugely successful “Carry On” series with Carry On Sergeant (1958), followed by the next five sequels, before leaving the series. He wrote episodes of The Saint and Secret Agent and then went stateside to write for American TV, scripting episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, It Tales a Thief, Marcus Welby, MD., and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Along the way he wrote plays and an autobiography. He died at age 93. More from the BBC.

American screenwriter Dan Gerson co-wrote Monsters Inc., Monsters University, and Big Hero 6, among other films, and contributed to Cars and Meet the Robinsons. He passed away at age 49, from brain cancer. Mike Barnes and Cheryl Chang for The Hollywood Reporter.

Seattle Screens

Johnnie To’s acclaimed 3D corporate thriller musical Office plays one night only at The Uptown, on Monday, February 15. Details here.

‘Office’

Premiering this weekend at NWFF is Phillipe Garrel’s new film In the Shadow of Women, also three days only. Showtimes here.

The Oscar-nominated animated feature Boy and the World, from Brazil, opens at The Egyptian, and the documentary Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words opens at Sundance Cinemas.

This weekend is “Witches Brew,” four features on the theme of witchcraft and the supernatural—Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Craft (1996), Witchfinder General (1968), and the uncut UK version of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971)—followed by a sneak preview of The Witch with filmmaker Robert Eggers in attendance. The screenings are at SIFF Film Center and The Uptown and are free for SIFF members. Details here.

NWFF is showing a new 35mm print of Chocolat (1988), the first feature by Claire Denis, for three days only this weekend. Showtimes here.

A new restoration of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) screens for Valentine’s weekend at The Uptown. Showtimes and tickets here. Also screening over the weekend is Harold and Maude (1971).

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 and Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

Review: Where To Invade Next

Michael Moore

Michael Moore is a nudger. Rarely content to let facts speak for themselves, he can’t resist sticking his elbow in your side as he makes his points. One reason Moore was at his most effective with his roaring 2004 polemic Fahrenheit 9/11 was that he kept himself offscreen for much of the film’s furious second half. In general, though, his weakness for broad-brush tactics and heavy-handed jokery hampers his documentary portraits of America gone wrong. Leaving well enough alone isn’t in his makeup—but then he wouldn’t be Michael Moore if he could leave well enough alone.

Moore’s latest is Where to Invade Next, a misleadingly titled look overseas.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Deadpool

‘Deadpool’

Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds’ second crack at Marvel’s most in-your-face character (following a forgotten appearance in the misbegotten X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is a terrifically faithful adaptation of some awfully obnoxious source material. If you’re a pre-existing devotee, the film’s nonstop assortment of cartoony assholes and elbows to the ribs might very well make your head pop off in a paroxysm of joy. (Seriously, the employees at the crammed preview screening I attended probably wished they had put down plastic beforehand.)

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Blu-ray / DVD: Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Crimson Peak’ brings back the Gothic

CrimsonPeakGuillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) has been described, incorrectly, as Gothic horror. This is Gothic romance with notes of horror, bathed in the unreal and magical colors of a giallo and brought to life by Guillermo Del Toro’s beating heart of compassion in the face of evil.

As lush and atmospheric a film as the American cinema has created in years, Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska (whose wide eyes and open face evokes the gothic heroine incarnate) as a smart, passionate American heiress, the daughter of a self-made man (Jim Beaver as the model of paternal affection and American responsibility) and a writer with a romantic streak and an unsullied innocence, and Tom Hiddleston as the dashing suitor from overseas, a handsome aristocrat with a haunted soul whose mystery captures the American’s heart. His calculating sister (Jessica Chastain), however, who dresses in blood red and death black gowns that give her the spiky presence of a predatory insect, has all the warmth of vampire. Suddenly orphaned and swept away to the desolate hinterlands of rural England, she moves into the most haunted manor you’ve ever seen in the movies, a rotting mansion that lets the snow and rain and bitter cold in through the collapsed spire of the roof and literally bleeds red through the floorboards and down the walls. That it is explained away as a geological phenomenon, the churning red clay of hill seeping into the house as it sinks into the hill, doesn’t make it any less ominous. It’s the seeping of that same clay into the winter snows that gives the hill its name.

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’69: A Good Year (for movies…)

Rummaging in cartons on the top floor of our house—a process that has gone and will go on for years—I recently found two crumbling pieces of newsprint that mark, among other things, the beginning of what became “Moments out of Time.” The “Moments” stuff comes at the end, the entries for any given film clumped together. Only a few anticipate the way such things would be composed in later years. Still, I’d like to enter them into the Parallax View record.

While I’m at it, please indulge the year-end remarks which precede them. (The venue was the counterculture weekly Helix, which expired not long afterward.) Seattle film year 1969 was a remarkably rich time, not least for the fact that it included some local and/or personal premieres from the preceding five decades of cinema. And happily coincident with a landmark restoration this current film year is my top choice for 1969, the year it first played in the greater Seattle area. —RTJ

[Originally published in Helix, January 15, 1970]

’69: A GOOD YEAR (for movies…)
by Dick Jameson

It’s a few minutes past Ten Best time again, and while I’m usually champing at the bit preparing tentative lists as early as November, this year I held off. Not that movies were less interesting in Seattle in 1969. Movies were too interesting. Trying to cull ten titles out of the wealth of fine films making their first appearance in Seattle last year is a hellish prospect, and maybe a leetle bit impossible.

So I sympathize with Johns Hartl and Voorhees of the Times, who made it easier on themselves by limiting eligibility only to released-in-1969 pictures. That does make things a lot easier; I can manage that standing on one hand:

1. TRUE GRIT (Henry Hathaway)
2. THE WILD BUNCH (Sam Peckinpah)
3. STOLEN KISSES (François Truffaut)
4. IF… (Lindsay Anderson)
5. BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (Paul Mazursky)
6. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger)
7. CASTLE KEEP (Sydney Pollack)
8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone)
9. A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH (John Huston)
10. I AM CURIOUS—YELLOW (Vilgot Sjoman)

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Moments Out Of Time 2015

‘It Follows’

It Follows: A classroom reading of “Prufrock”—”and in short I was afraid”; old woman seen slowly approaching across schoolyard…
• In Bridge of Spies, Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) instructing CIA man Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) on what makes them Americans: “the rule book”…
• The head-scratching guys, Spotlight: Marty (Michael Keaton) post-golf and Mike (Mark Ruffalo) post-run, beginning to have a sense of how big the story might get…
• Indian stepping straight out of dark screen into firelight, The Revenant
Timbuktu: walking through haze glare of sun while getting away from the suddenly dead Amadou…
Carol: steam off the road caught in headlights at night…
• A fetal form curled up in bright green grass, the little boy (Jacob Tremblay) who has just fallen out of his Room into a great ocean of world…
• An exquisitely manufactured Eve (Alicia Vikander) contemplates iterations of her own visage, displayed on her creator’s wall in Ex Machina….
• Tour-de-force directing and acting in Clouds of Sils Maria: Maria (Juliet Binoche) running lines with Valentine (Kristen Stewart), the two slipping back and forth between the dynamics of the script and their relationship, between roleplaying in and for Oliver Assayas’s movie and acting out as themselves…
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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 5

‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’

Rivette tributes arrive at a rapider rate (if not a greater length) then the filmmaker’s own masterpieces. Film Comment reprints a classic 1974 interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Lauren Sedofsky, and Gilbert Adair on Celine and Julie Go Boating and Out 1. (“We began by elimination: we didn’t want to make a serious film; we didn’t want to make a film about the theater because we’d done that too often; we didn’t want to make a film about current events or politics. But we did have the desire from the very beginning to do something close to comedy, and even frankly commedia dell’arte.”)

The same year and films feature in Sight & Sound’s reprinting of a magnificent interview with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky that functions as Rivette’s clearest mission statement (“There is a persistent idea of a cinema partitioned off in tiers: first you look for a subject, then you write as detailed a script as possible, on the basis of which you find someone to put up the money, for which purpose you pencil in the names of certain actors opposite fully defined characters. Once you have got all the elements together, often compromising some of your original ideas in the process, comes another stage: the actual shooting. You shoot little bits here and there, as meticulously as possible, and then you stick them together, and you’re pleased if you end up with something that corresponds to what was described more or less in your two hundred typewritten pages. Personally I find all this a dreadful bore.”); and Rosenbaum, again, reviewing the films (rather Out 1: Spectre, all that was available to view at the time). (“And if the scepticism towards fiction in Spectre leads to transparent actions playing over a void, Céline et Julie is like a game of catch played over the same void, with the ball tossed back and forth remaining solid as long as it is kept in motion.”) While Out 1’s continued relevance, and relative monstrosity, is testified to by David Thomson’s account of introducing the film to a dozen Norwegian spectators (making, plus him, an audience of 13) this past January. (“There is something about Out 1 that admits, or permits, the lifelike habit of missing a few things here and there. After all, we can be making love to someone, or even murdering them, and not quite hear what they say or catch the expression on their face. Movies seem to be arrangements of attention, but Rivette was one of those directors who saw that in passing time some things could pass by, precious in the dark, not so much unnoticed as missed.”)

At MUBI Evelyn Emile considers Love on the Ground’s many teasing references to who, ultimately, is the author (or dreamer) of the play-within-the-film we’re watching. (“Is this love or is it empty intimacy, powerful anxiety, fear of death? These are such violent and terrible things, as we know. But Rivette gives us no consolation. Even if one were to ask, ‘Am I dead or not?’ the verdict is spoken simply and with a smile: ‘That’s for you to decide.’”) While Kino Slang reprints two examples of Rivette’s criticism—on Truffaut at the start of his career and Ivan the Terrible as the “culmination” of Eisenstein’s—that in hindsight say less about the two men than they do about the writer whose work arguably surpassed them both. (“The whole film mounts toward this moment, and little by little sloughs off time in order to rejoin duration….”) And if that isn’t enough—for many of us, of course, it isn’t—the 1977 collection Texts and Interviews turns out to be available online, courtesy (but of course) of Rosenbaum. Many of these via David Hudson.

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Review: ‘Son of Saul’

Geza Rohrig (right) in ‘Son of Saul’

Saul is temporarily alive. A Hungarian Jew at Auschwitz, he has been designated a Sonderkommando; instead of being killed upon arrival, he was made part of a detail that aids Nazi guards in the process of murdering people at the extermination camp. By the time we are introduced to Saul, he has been at this for some time, so his eyes are already vacant and his soul already battered. Whatever thin crust of humanity he has left is about to express itself in a gesture that is almost entirely pointless. Except to him.

This specific horror is portrayed in Son of Saul, a film that—in its own claustrophobic way—is as astonishing as the big-as-all-outdoors spectacle The Revenant.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

It can’t happen there: film (non)publications in the land of the frogs

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

Please forgive me if I begin with a rather farcical personal story, which will hopefully illustrate a point. A little over a year ago a friend and teacher of mine, the French critic Raymond Bellour, asked me to redo a piece (on a Howard Hawks film) which I had once written for him for a book on the American cinema he was to edit. It was to be an anthology on American film with a special section on close analysis of representative films, generally from a semiotic point of view. (I must apologize again; textual analysis of film is more or less my specialty—I have no excuse for this except that I find it rather interesting.) After much trauma and typing I produced a version of my text which, with a final set of revisions, was ready for the book—then almost a year behind schedule due to a particular disease known well among writers, procrastination. Most of the other people to contribute (the rest of them writing directly in French, hence burdened with fewer problems than I) were in various stages of work on their pieces when we all received a cheery little photocopied note from the publisher: due to economic difficulties the book would not, after all, come into being.

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Review: The Internecine Project

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, August 1974]

The Internecine Project seems to be biding time on theater screens until a place can be found for it on the CBS Late Night Movie (it’s hardly likely any network would want to waste prime time on it). Everything about it promises negligibility, and the promise is kept: a less-than-super star (Coburn), a female lead whose potential has scarcely ever been fully realized (Lee Grant), some character actors who stopped getting—or making—good parts some time ago (Andrews, Hendry), a forgettable British sub-leading man who muffed his one big chance (Jayston—Nicholas of Nicholas and Alexandra), an anonymously pneumatic foreign blonde (Christiane Kruger), an English hack with conspicuously unimaginative pretensions to distinction (Hughes), and above all the tiresomely formulaic genre in which doublecrosses are so taken-for-granted by the audience that no degree of geometric complication can do more than increase the boredom. Geoffrey Unsworth unaccountably signed on for it, but his frosty images hold no surprises, and between Hughes’s dully tricky direction and the gross miscasting of Grant as an intellectual glamour girl (more filters and soft-focus are used on her than on Lucy in Mame), he is sunk with the rest of the crew. Indeed, one almost suspects a destructive round-robin behind the scenes keeping pace with the one onscreen.

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John Ireland Remembered

[The O Canada Blogathon runs February 1-5]

The first time I saw John Ireland must have been in Little Big Horn (Charles Marquis Warren, 1951). My dad was a sucker for movies about the US Cavalry, and made me one too. The film had a profound impression on a five-year-old me—mainly for the stunning moment when Lloyd Bridges gets tattooed straight up his right side by three arrows in quick succession (a special effect whose timing and execution are still stunning 65 years later)—but also for the face and bearing of John Ireland. Even if it would be a while longer before I learned his name, I’d point him out as “that guy” whenever he showed up in something else I was watching.

Ironically, he’d already done his best-known work by then; but I’d be well into adulthood before the benefits of film societies, rep houses, videotape, and eventually digital redistribution would afford me the opportunity to catch up with the films of his meteoric rise: A Walk in the Sun (Lewis Milestone, 1945), My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946), Railroaded! (Anthony Mann, 1947), Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), I Shot Jesse James (Samuel Fuller, 1949), All the King’s Men (Robert Rossen, 1949). Not a bad first five years.

Look at him in Red River as Cherry Valance, comparing pistols with Montgomery Clift’s Matthew Garth, two vital young screen actors trying each other out in a scene suggesting a future confrontation with Garth (and with Clift) that never comes. Lurking in the background of the film, fall guy for a fake set-up, Ireland’s Valance transfers his animus to John Wayne’s Tom Dunson, calling Dunson out at what he alone thinks is the climax, only to get the barest flyswat of a gunshot from Dunson, who whirls, shoots, and turns back to his relentless march toward Garth without ever breaking stride. We don’t even know whether Valance is killed or only wounded, so peremptory is his dismissal. But the strength and dignity of Ireland’s investment in Valance remain among the most remarkable features of this most remarkable film. (Of course, offscreen, he’s the one who married Tess Millay—well, Joanne Dru—his second marriage, and it lasted eight years, 1949-57.)

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Blu-ray: Richard Lester’s ‘The Knack’ and more

KnackWhy isn’t Richard Lester more celebrated? An American who made his home in England, Lester earned an Oscar nomination for The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959), a lark he made with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and others, made his reputation as a fresh, innovative filmmaker with Beatles rock and roll romp A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and proved his versatility with the acidic drama Petulia (1968), the comic swashbucklers The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), and the melancholy Robin and Marian (1976).

Kino Lorber has just released three of Lester’s British film on Blu-ray for the first time on their Studio Classics label, including one of his best.

Fresh from the playfully exuberant A Hard Day’s Night, which set the bar for rock and roll cinema and inspired the modern music video, Richard Lester continued the same acrobatic, tongue-in-cheek style in The Knack… and How to Get It (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray), his adaptation of Ann Jelico’s lightweight play “The Knack,” creating a delightfully frivolous take on swinging London and the sexual revolution.

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

“Mann himself thinks that he has turned his back on Cooper. What he’s really done, perhaps, is to liberate Cooper from himself. Hawkeye’s and Cooper’s admiration for the Mohicans’ way of life—their blend of pragmatism and chivalry, and their genius at warfare, hunting, and navigating their environment—emerges stronger than ever in Mann’s version of the tale.” Michael Sragow praises Michael Mann’s “iconic and iconoclastic” take on The Last of the Mohicans; this inaugurates a series of articles on films related to works published by the Library of America, so more attention than usual is spent on the film’s relationship to its source novel, and Mann’s own disdain for Cooper’s “whitewash of land grabs and cultural imperialism.” Via Matt Fagerholm.

‘Last of the Mohicans’

Gilda is not meant to be clear. It is meant to plunge the audience into an atmosphere so emotionally claustrophobic that even Johnny’s voice-over can’t provide escape or enlightenment. In fact, his voice-over drops away in the final section of the film, so that Johnny’s feelings about Gilda in the last scenes are never revealed. Most noir voice-overs provide backstory and explanation. Not Johnny’s. There are some things that are buried too deep. The only characters in the film who have any perspective are the washroom attendant and the police detective. The leads have none.” Sheila O’Malley revisits Gilda, with particular focus on the understated (thus underappreciated) direction of Charles Vidor and the dazzling entrance of Rita Hayworth—not just in the film, but into legendary stardom.

Steven Mears compares the climaxes in two versions of The Letter, Bette Davis’s famous reluctance to bring cruelty to the moment coming off as “pillow talk” next to Jeanne Eagels’s roaring take on the material. Also at Film Comment, Marc Walkow’s account of how the Lady Snowblood films came to be made makes you regret we’ve never gotten to see Meiko Kaji play the scene, which might have been definitive.

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Review: 45 Years

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in ’45 Years’

It might be grounded in kitchen-sink reality in many ways—here is a small English town, here are its unglamorous citizens, here are the everyday habits of two people who have been married a long time. But my favorite film of 2015 has an undercurrent of the fairy tale about it, as though a touch of dark magic were animating the crisis at the movie’s heart.

This is Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years—now you know how long the couple has been married—and maybe it’s more ghost story than fairy tale.

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