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by Andrew Wright

Review: The Villainess

The once-vibrant South Korean action movie movement has slowed. What was a steady wave of semi-righteous vengeance sagas has reduced down to a trickle of straight-to-video exports. On the bright side, when one of them does still manage to make it to American theaters, they’re usually worth the ticket price.

The absurdly flashy The Villainess takes a sure-fire exploitation premise—a female assassin attempts to start a new life, while also reluctantly continuing to thin out the world’s thug population—and goes for absolute, ridiculously overt broke.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: The Ghoul

Movies that worm their way into a disturbed character’s head can be a discomfiting experience, especially when they’re done really well. (I firmly believe that Lodge Kerrigan’s Clean, Shaven is a great film. I also believe that you’d have to work pretty hard to get me to ever watch it again.) The British import The Ghoul is a clever, deceptively chilly example of narrative unreliability, presenting an increasingly askew perspective in a way that’s somehow both off-putting and absorbing. It lingers.

Writer/director Gareth Tunley wastes no time in establishing the basis for an intriguing psychological thriller: As a favor to his former partner, an off-duty cop (Tom Meeten) poses as a depressed patient in order to covertly gather information on a murder suspect from a psychiatrist.

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Review: Wind River (2)

Actor Taylor Sheridan certainly came bolting out of the gate as a screenwriter, with his scripts for 2015’s Sicario and last year’s Hell or High Water displaying a firm grasp of pulp storytelling dynamics and an eagerness to explore the darker aspects of the human condition. (That both films had terrific directors in charge, with Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie respectively, definitely didn’t hurt.)

Wind River, Sheridan’s first attempt at directing one of his own scripts, is a similarly tough, intelligently elevated B-movie, bolstered by unexpectedly deft novelistic touches and an exceptional, contents-under-pressure lead performance by Jeremy Renner. It’s got a kick.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: 13 Minutes

Downfall, director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s exploration of Adolf Hitler’s final days, succeeded by going deep, fully acknowledging its subject’s unimaginable monstrousness while also locating an aggrieved peevishness that made him fascinatingly, horribly relatable. (Can a zillion YouTube parodies be wrong? Well, yes, but not in this case.) 13 Minutes, Hirschbiegel’s return to the time frame, unfortunately can’t quite manage the same burrowing feat. Although its depiction of courage under titanic pressure is both harrowing and heroic, it never really pinpoints the central character’s defining moment.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Review: Dark Night

No subject should be off-limits for filmmakers willing to take a plunge. The degree of difficulty, however, tends to increase sharply with the weightiness of the premise. Dark Night takes an extremely provocative topic—a seemingly random mass shooting—and applies a heavy layer of arty artlessness to the material. Despite a number of striking images (Hélène Louvart’s camerawork is never less than severely beautiful), it rarely feels like it’s been thought through enough to really jell.

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PIFF Notes: Portland International Film Festival

Okay, quick show of hands: Has sitting in the dark and temporarily saying goodbye to reality ever seemed like a better idea? Whatever your leanings may be, the Northwest Film Center’s 40th Annual Portland International Film Festival has you more than covered. Featuring over 160 features and shorts, this year’s PIFF lineup offers healthy, yuge doses of compelling fiction, strange facts, and pure escapism.

The positives begin on opening tight, with the terrific Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Review: Emily

In movies about relationships, the small details need to ring true. Emily, the feature length debut from director Ryan Graves, takes a tiny-by-design story and earnestly goes deep, exploring the destructive impulses, badly timed stabs at nobility, and increasingly mixed signals of a couple on the brink. Without showy declarations of intent or roof-raising histrionics, it captures how people can be perfect together, until they aren’t.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: Notes on Blindness

Visually depicting sightlessness is a tough task for even the most inventive of moviemakers. (Derek Jarman’s 1993 film Blue, in which Tilda Swinton and others talk over a hypnotically static shade of the title color, remains the experimental gold standard.) The re-created documentary Notes on Blindness takes a distinctly proactive approach to this dilemma, utilizing a steady array of clever effects to depict the rapidly deteriorating vision of its subject. While the film’s other device of having actors lip-synch from existing tape recordings may seem clunky in theory, the sounds and images come together beautifully in practice.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Parallax View’s Best of 2016

Welcome 2017 with one last look back at the best releases of 2016, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
2. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
4. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
5. Sully (Clint Eastwood)
6. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
7. Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
8. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
9. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
10. Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
Could have made the list on another day: Arrival, Don’t Think Twice, Hail, Caesar!, Jackie, La La Land, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Moonlight, The Neon Demon, The Witch

Pure moviegoing joys of the year: Sing Street (John Carney), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

Performance of the year: Isabelle Huppert in Elle

Worst film of the year (in a year when I managed to skip most of what everyone else has branded as terrible): Nocturnal Animals

Also a list at Village Voice, plus lists of Best Restorations / Revivals of 2016 and Best Blu-ray/DVD Releases of 2016

Sheila Benson

1. Moonlight
2. Paterson
3. Toni Erdmann
4. Manchester by the Sea
5. I, Daniel Blake
6. Elle
7. Loving
8. The Handmaiden
9. A Bigger Splash
10. Aferim!
Also a list at Village Voice

David Coursen

It includes only films screened in D.C in 2016. Numbers 5-7 were shown only once; the others had more extended runs.
1. Manchester by the Sea
2. Mountains May Depart
3. No Home Movie
4. Moonlight
5. The President
6. Sieranevada
7. Behemoth
8. Little Men
9. Remember
10. Sully
Honorable Mention: Mustang, Certain Women, The Handmaiden

No D.C. venue saw fit to screen the monumental Out 1: Noli me Tangere, so it’s not included. But even in the diminished format of a Netflix streaming and with all the ludicrous writhing and moaning, it’s such a grand and heroically ambitious muddle that I likely would have made it a rather incongruous neighbor of Moonlight.

John Hartl

Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Indignation
13th
Captain Fantastic
The Lobster
Hell or High Water
A Man Called Ove
The Innocents
La La Land
A second 10: Florence Foster Jenkins, A War, Love & Friendship, Family Fang, Take Me to the River, Arrival, Weiner, Southside With You, Snowden, Sparrows.

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Aquarius
2. Our Little Sister
3. The Fits
4. Cemetery of Splendor
5. Things to Come
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
7. Sully
8. Paterson
9. Green Room
10. Aferim!
Runner-ups: My Golden Days, The Lobster, American Honey, Les Cowboys, Certain Women, Disorder, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, The Love Witch, Love & Friendship.

Richard T. Jameson

I have some key 2016 releases to catch up on, so this alphabetical listing simply celebrates ten films I liked a lot.
American Honey
Aquarius
Arrival
Cemetery of Splendor
Elle
Green Room
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Paterson
Sully
Things to Come

Oh … that’s eleven.  OK, so it’s eleven.

Jay Kuehner
(originally published on IndieWire)

1. Toni Erdmann
2. Cemetery of Splendor
3. Aquarius
4. Kate Plays Christine
5. Neon Bull
6. Happy Hour
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. Homeland: Iraq Year Zero
9. Certain Women
10. Moonlight

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Arrival
Fences
The Handmaiden
Hell or High Water
The Innocents
La La Land
Loving
Maggie’s Plan
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Other movies I loved, any of which might have made the first list on a different day, were L’Attesa, Certain Women, Christine, Dark Horse, Don’t Think Twice, Finding Dory, Little Men, Love & Friendship, Our Little Sister, Southside With You, Tower.

Andrew Wright
(originally published in Salt Lake City Weekly)

1. Paths of the Soul
2. The Fits
3. Shin Godzilla
4. Elle
5. Hell or High Water
6. Green Room
7. The Witch
8. Tower
9. Manchester by the Sea
10. Arrival
Also a list at Seattle Screen Scene and links to reviews of select films here

Filmmakers

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)
(originally published in The Talkhouse)

1. Moonlight
2. American Honey
3. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell
4. Uncle Kent 2
5. Free in Deed
6. 13th
7. Captain Fantastic
8. Manchester by the Sea
9. Lamb
10. The Lobster

John Jeffcoat (director, Bingo: The Movie, Outsourced, Big in Japan)

This is one bizarre list. It shows I have kids and I didn’t get out much in 2016! And that TV continues to stay strong (sorry I cheated with the TV shows).
Captain Fantastic
Deadpool
Storks (biggest surprise, I may have been drinking)
Doctor Strange
Cameraperson
Minimalism
Rogue One
Goliath
Silicon Valley
Stranger Things (my favorite)

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Blood Father)

Alphabetical order because I kind of liked them all equally.
Certain Women
Gimme Danger
Green Room
Hell or High-water
I, Daniel Blake
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Paterson
Sing Street
Weiner

Lynn Shelton (director, Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, Laggies)

There were many films that I didn’t get a chance to see this past year so this list comes from a limited survey. That being said, I feel very strongly about every one of them.
Moonlight
13th
The Lobster
Victoria
Arrival
American Honey
Moana
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Atlanta *
*this is not a movie, it is a TV show on FX, but it is so anti-television in its cadence and cinematography and writing that I felt a very strong urge to include it in this list.

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the Water, Expiration Date, The Millennials)

La La Land
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Fences
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Love & Friendship
The Lobster
Silence

Programmers

Beth Barrett (Interim Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

In no order, here are 10 works that really affected me in 2016:
Tower
La La Land
Stranger Things
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Tickled
Kedi
Midnight Special
Arrival
The Handmaiden
Every year I resolve to see more, champion more unknowns, and challenge myself more. Going into 2017, I resolve to make sure that the stories of the world keep getting seen.

Courtney Sheehan (Executive Director, Northwest Film Forum)
(originally published on Seattle Screen Scene)

1. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
3. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
4. A Rendering*
5. Los Sures (Diego Echeverria)
6. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)
7. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
8. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
9. Crumbs (Miguel Llansó)
10. Tower (Keith Maitland)
Not yet released: Lily Lane, Ma, Rat Film, The ChallengeKino OtokThe Black PinMy Own Private WarStarless Dreams
Recalling 2015’s best unreleased films, all of which subsequently played Seattle in 2016 except for The EventAbove and BelowCemetery of SplendorMen Go to BattleUncle Kent 2, My Golden Days, A War, The Event
*The only short on this list, by LIMITS, or Seattle-based choreographer/dancer Corrie Befort and sound artist/musician Jason E. Anderson. Video shot and edited by Adam Diller.

More Seattle lists:

Mike Ward has been polling Seattle film critics for the Seattle Film Awards for a few years. The winners for 2016 will be announced in early January. UPDATE: Winners announced January 5.

Seattle Screen Scene invited film critics for their own compilation.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com
Indiewire
Film Comment

Other lists

2016 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1926
A Year of Loss (David Hudson remembers those we lost in 2016)

Review: Elle

Paul Verhoeven’s American phase was too nasty to last, really, with movies like RoboCop and Starship Troopers giving the audience what they initially thought they wanted, and then cranking up the vulgarity to hysterically uncomfortable levels. (Even Hollow Man, the Dutch director’s weakest project, had a main character who pervs out immediately upon receiving superpowers.) Verhoeven’s films outside of the states, however, tend to swap the 2×4 for a stiletto. Elle, his first feature since 2006’s Black Book, is a breathtakingly twisted piece of work, utilizing a tremendous central performance by Isabelle Huppert that bridges some markedly taboo fault lines concerning power and sexuality. And somehow the damned thing is also funny, usually at the least opportune moments.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: Ixcanul

Watching people simply go about their business can somehow be one of the most fascinating things in the movies. The Berlin Award–winning Ixcanul (Volcano), Guatemala’s entry for last year’s Oscars, is an absorbing, unpretentious look at a culture not often shown, whether capturing how the characters can carry a forest’s worth of firewood on their heads without missing a step, or witnessing them getting their pigs drunk on rum in hopes of speeding up the mating season. By the time someone nonchalantly remarks on the unpleasant smell of their snake repellant, the sense of transportation is complete.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: Demon

Watching another culture’s horror movies can provide a fascinating glimpse into what makes them collectively tick. The Polish Demon offers an intriguing, deceptively comedic spin on the dybbuk legend, while also exploring an unthinkable whopper of a party foul. While the second half’s tendency towards small-scale conversations may occasionally betray the script’s origin on the stage, late director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s talent for whipping up barely contained group hysteria is really something special.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury

Review: American Honey

American Honey, the first movie set in the States by British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank), finds the director working with some fairly ludicrous self-imposed hindrances: a largely untrained cast, Shia LaBeouf at his most methody-bedraggled, and a nearly three-hour running time. That she makes these all meld together beautifully feels like some kind of weird alchemy, really.

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Review: Morgan

Morgan
Morgan

As we slide into the late-summer multiplex doldrums, movies with neurons to spare are especially welcome. The clinical cautionary tale Morgan happily fits into the latter category, moving past some early familiarity to become a smart, sneakily ambitious thriller.

Set in the not too distant future, the story follows a no-nonsense corporate troubleshooter (Kate Mara) sent to a secluded forest compound to assess the status of a rapidly developing artificial humanoid (The Witch’s terrifically spooky Anya Taylor-Joy). As she and the swiftly dwindling team of scientists—including Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a perfectly assholish Paul Giamatti—soon discover, the experiment has some significant gray areas.

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Review: Ben-Hur (2016)

Ben-Hur

The trend towards perpetual remakes and reboots is a growing pox upon Hollywood. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, someone taking another crack at Ben-Hur isn’t the worst idea in the world. Although William Wyler’s 1959 Oscar magnet (itself a remake) certainly has its gargantuan virtues, it also features more padding than any unimpeachable classic can be expected to bear.

While this new version tightens things up, it unfortunately suffers from both a curiously passive central character and the faith-based dramatic flattening that seems to be a hallmark of producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. (Jesus, a compellingly enigmatic, barely glimpsed agent of change in other versions of the story, is a bit of a screen hog here.) The plot still has enough juice to work, but only just.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury