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by Kathleen Murphy

Contributor

Parallax View’s Best of 2018

Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. First Reformed
2. The Rider
3. Roma
4. Leave No Trace
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Private Life
7. Burning
8. BlackKkKlansman
9. Hereditary
10. Zama

A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria

Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.

First Reformed – Photo credit: A24

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

Best DC non-theatrical Premieres:
An Elephant Standing Still
Family Tour

Singular Blessing:
The Other Side of the Wind

And the 11 best of the rest, listed alphabetically
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Claire’s Camera
First Reformed
Happy Hour
Loveless
Madeline’s Madeline
Private Life
Roma
Sorry to Bother You
Wormwood

The Other Side of the Wind
Peter Bogdanovich, John Huston in Orson Wells’ “The Other Side Of The Wind”

Robert C. Cumbow

The Top 10

(DisclaimerThe list of important 2018 films I have not yet seen is embarrassingly long—so many movies, so little time—and is included here for context: If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; Black Panther; Transit; Other Side of the Wind; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Eighth Grade; Mid-90s).

Of the ones I did see, the ones I enjoyed most:
First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Hostiles (Scott Cooper; technically 2017 but released in Seattle—scantly—in 2018)
The Party (Sally Potter)
The Old Man and the Gun (David Patrick Lowrey)
The Endless (Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson)
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; year’s best example of telling a story in sound design)
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
First Man (Damien Chazelle, whom I still don’t like, but I can’t deny how much this film affected me)
Green Book (Peter Farrelly)
Annihilation (Alex Garland)

A Little Respect (because it’s actually been a pretty good year for movies):
Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.)
The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
The Wife (Björn Runge)
Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke)
The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Rider (Chloé Zhao)
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio)
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)
A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper—a few things about this movie made me like it a lot more than I expected to, and persuaded me that Cooper has a directorial eye and instinct to be reckoned with)

2/3 of a Good Movie:
Vice
Hereditary
BlacKKKlansman

1/3 of a Good Movie:
Sorry to Bother You

Music:
Justin Hurwitz, First Man
Max Richter, Mary Queen of Scots

Too many great performances this year to list favorites, so I’ll just mention Cynthia Erivo, a compelling presence in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, whose name should be a household word by this time next year.

First Man – Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Jim Emerson

Favorites of 2018
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen)
2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
3. The Rider (Chloé Zhao) / The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)
4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
6. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
7. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
8. Bird Box (Susanne Bier) / A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) / Mid90s (Jonah Hill) / Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)
10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Photo credit: Netflix

John Hartl

1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. Fair Game (director’s cut)
4. Springsteen on Broadway
5. Three Identical Strangers
6. Love, Gilda
7. The Death of Stalin
8. A Moment in the Reeds
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Outside In

Also recommended: We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Return to Mount Kennedy, On Chesil Beach

Leave No Trace – Photo credit: SIFF

Robert Horton

(as published in the Seattle Weekly)

1. The Rider
2. Support the Girls
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Lean on Pete
5. First Reformed
6. Roma
7. Hereditary
8. Zama
9. You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace
10. First Man

My Top 10 honorable mentions would have the slow-winding Korean gem Burning; the psychotropic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy; Bo Burnham’s very funny coming-of-age tale Eighth Grade; the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is as much about loneliness as literary scandal; the cutting British comedy The Death of Stalin; the torrid black-and-white romance of Cold War (opens locally in January); Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked comedy The Favourite; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s prizewinner Shoplifters; Alex Garland’s sci-fi puzzler Annihilation, with a strong Natalie Portman performance; and Charlize Theron’s postpartum workout in Tully.

Support the Girls – Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Richard T. Jameson

1. Roma
2. First Reformed
3. Leave No Trace
4-12 alphabetical:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Border
Burning
The Death of Stalin 
Hereditary 
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Rider
Shoplifters 
You Were Never Really Here 

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma – Photo credit: Carlos Somonte

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
Paddington 2
The Rider
Roma
Shoplifters
Widows
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A splendid second 13: BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Disobedience, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Incredibles 2, Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Searching, A Star Is Born, Where Is Kyra?, Whitney, Wildlife

Shoplifters – Photo credit: Magnolia

Kathleen Murphy

Most Memorable Movies (2018)
1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Roma
5. Shoplifters
6. Burning
7. You Were Never Really Here
8. The Rider
9. Support the Girls
10. If Beale Street Could Talk
Documentary: Struggle: Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Burning – Photo credit: Well Go

Amie Simon

1. Suspiria
2. Revenge
3. Apostle
4. Hereditary
5. Mandy
6. Sorry To Bother You
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
8. Eighth Grade
9. Love, Gilda
10. Black Panther

Hereditary – Photo credit: A24

Andrew Wright

1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
2. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
3. Hereditary
4. Paddington 2
5. You Were Never Really Here
6. First Reformed
7. Roma
8. The Rider
9. Mandy
10. Cold War

You Were Never Really Here – Photo credit: Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios

Filmmakers and film programmers

Brian Alter (programmer, Grand Illusion)

Best gut-punch ending: BlacKkKlansman
Best film about millennials: Never Goin’ Back
Most depressing film: First Reformed
Best weird film: Mandy
Favorite repertory screening: AGFA’s restoration of Godmonster of Indian Flats

Megan Griffiths (filmmaker, Sadie, The Night Stalker, Lucky Them)

You Were Never Really Here (d. Lynne Ramsey)
Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham)
The Rider (d. Chloé Zhao)
Minding the Gap (d. Bing Liu)
Destroyer (d. Karyn Kusama)
Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón)
Madeline’s Madeline (d. Josephine Decker)
Outside In (d. Lynn Shelton)
Leave No Trace (d. Debra Granik)
Sorry To Bother You (d. Boots Riley)

Jennifer Roth (producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

Cold War
Shoplifters
Zama
You Were Never Really Here
American Animals
Land of Steady Habits (self-promotion aside)
Can You Ever Forgive Me
Roma
Private Life
The Rider

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2018 awards; you can find them here.

Cold War – Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Polls / Lists

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

Other lists

2018 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1928
Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2018
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2017

Remembering those we lost in 2018

Parallax View’s Best of 2017

Welcome 2018 with one last look back at the best releases of 2017, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations. (In reverse alphabetical order, just so you don’t have to see your intrepid managing editor at the top of the list every single year.)

Andrew Wright

1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Brawl in Cell Block 99
3. Ex Libris
4. Soul on a String
5. Okja
6. Phantom Thread
7. The Florida Project
8. Lady Bird
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. The Girl With All the Gifts

Amie Simon

A quick list of my fave 2017 films (in alphabetical order):
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Big Sick
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Cult of Chucky
Get Out
It
Jim & Andy
John Wick: Chapter 2
The LEGO Batman Movie
Logan
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman
XX

Bruce Reid

The Florida Project
Detroit
A Quiet Passion
A Ghost Story
Marjorie Prime
Personal Shopper
Nocturama
Wonderstruck
Gerald’s Game
Dunkirk

Kathleen Murphy

1.  Best war films: “Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan), “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow)
2.  Best films about mortality, memory, human connection: “Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas), “Marjorie Prime,” elevated by the magnificent Lois Smith (Michael Almereyda), and most especially, “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery)
3. Best Distaff Revenge (and much more) films: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh) and “In the Fade” (Fatih Akin). Frances McDormand (“Billboards”) and Diane Kruger (“Fade”) kill.
4. Richest evocation of a poet’s place, time, character, art: “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies). Cynthia Nixon shines.
5. Best growing-up film: Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” a Petri dish—place, time, family dynamics—where a passionate misfit and artist-to-be takes form. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf rule.
6. Best films about sharing ground with the Other: “Mudbound” (Dee Rees), “The Other Side of Hope” (Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Best Big Movies: Patti Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” (Gal Gadot!); “War for the Planet of the Apes,” Gotterdammerung demise—well-deserved—of Homo sapiens as master species (Matt Reeves); “Logan,” the genuinely poignant passing of an aging superhero (James Mangold)
8. Best evocation of the eloquent patience of beasts vs. surpassing cruelty of Homo sapiens: “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho)
9. Best down-and-dirty cinematic energy, celebration of genre, Vince Vaughan performance: “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (S. Craig Zahler)
10. Five good, not-great, movies well worth a second viewing: “Split” (M. Night Shyamalan), “Good Time” (Benny and Josh Safdie), “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan), “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray), “Super Dark Things” (Kevin Phillips)

TV I could not quit, from standouts to guilty pleasures: “Mindhunter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Big Little Lies”; “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Leftovers” (final seasons); “The Deuce,” “I Love Dick,” “Fargo,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Longmire,” “Godless”

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
The Big Sick
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Mudbound
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Step
Their Finest

Richard T. Jameson

(Order of 3-10 in alphabetical order)
MINDHUNTER
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
Detroit
Dunkirk
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Lady Bird
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Mudbound
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Twin Peaks: The Return
2. Phantom Thread
3. Get Out
4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. A Quiet Passion
6. The Lovers
7. Detroit
8. The Shape of Water
9. Personal Shopper
10. Logan

John Hartl

Five Came Back
Battle of the Sexes
The Other Side of Hope
Call Me by Your Name
Land of Mine
Lady Bird
Frantz
The Crown
Get Out
The Post

Runners-up: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I Am Jane Doe, The Killing Fields of Dr. Hang S. Ngor, Feud: Bette and Joan, Whose Streets?, A Journey Through French Cinema, The Farthest, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Nuts!

Jim Emerson

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)

Robert C. Cumbow

I don’t know from “best” and “worst” but here’s a list, in no particular order, of the ten films of 2017 that I most enjoyed watching, thinking about, and discussing with friends. [NOTE: I have not yet seen The Last Jedi or The Shape Of Water.]

The Lost City Of Z
A Ghost Story
Logan Lucky
I, Tonya
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Wind River
Atomic Blonde

David Coursen

1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. Get Out
3. Faces Places
4. Neruda
5. The Florida Project
6. Lady Bird
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. The Other Side of Hope
9. After the Storm
10. A Quiet Passion

Honorable Mention: Jackie, The Workshop, In the Fade, Paterson

Sean Axmaker

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayass)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villenueve)

10 more films (alphabetical): Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler), In the Fade (Fatih Akin), Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017), Get Out (Jordan Peele), Logan (James Mangold, 2017), Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig), The Lost City of Z (James Gray), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Filmmakers and film programmers

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the WaterExpiration DateThe Millennials)

Favorite Ten of 2017 (really favorite 11 since his amp goes to 11), in no particular order:
Wonder
Wonder Woman
Wonderstruck
Call Me by Your Name
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Get out
Lady Bird
I Tonya
Coco
The Greatest Showman

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

1. The Phantom Thread
2. The Square
3. I, Tonya
4. Get Out
5. The Meyerowitz Stories
6. Call Me By Your Name
7. Baby Driver (Because I love a good musical)
8. 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri
9. Good Time
10. Mudbound (shameful plug, I know)

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)

1. Get Out
2. Sami Blood
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Beach Rats
5. Detroit
6. Wonder Woman
7. The Shape of Water
8. The Florida Project
9. Lane 1974
10. First They Killed My Father

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

Top 10 in no particular order:
Call Me By Your Name
I, Tonya
Get Out
Lady Macbeth
The Square
Lady Bird
Jane
Faces Places
Beach Rats
The OA

More Seattle lists:

Scarecrow’s Top Ten

1. Get Out
2. Logan
3. Moonlight
4. Twin Peaks: Season 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Shin Godzilla
7. The Handmaiden
8. Wonder Woman
9. Raw
10. Arrival

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2017 awards; you can find them here.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice (annual film poll comes out later this week)
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com (compilation list and individual lists)
Indiewire (critics list and filmmakers list)
Film Comment

Other lists

2017 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1927
David Hudson Remembers Those We Lost in 2017
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2016

Review: The Heartbreak Kid

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

It’s possible to see The Heartbreak Kid as a kind of funhouse mirror reflecting the foibles and delusions we all share to some extent. A glance into such a mirror may provoke healthy, rejuvenating laughter or the kind of wearily hip sniggering which passes, in some circles, for wisdom. Elaine May, Neil Simon (screenwriter), and Bruce Jay Friedman (who wrote the original story) have all been guilty in their time of making shallow incisions in the human psyche and calling these forays major surgery. Perhaps this is an occupational hazard for those who work within the purlieus of the sick joke, the genre of black humor, or the kind of New York–spawned drama that is too often slickly, pseudosophisticatedly dependent upon the diminution of human beings to the level of pathetic, momentarily amusing insects. The Heartbreak Kid is frequently pervaded by a certain nastiness, albeit the well-meaning nastiness of a child methodically taking a butterfly apart to see how it works—or a director pushing her characters to such extremes of behavior that they cease essentially to be human and become one-dimensional butts of cruelly extended jokes.

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Review: Jeremiah Johnson

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

It is not my wont to criticize a film by comparing it unfavorably with the novel, short story, or play from whence it came. If the source material suffers a directorial sea-change and becomes something rich and different, a viable entity in itself, so much the better. But it is most disheartening to happen upon a novel which fairly begs to be filmed, to wait impatiently for its announced appearance on the screen, and then to be confronted with a film which does irreparable violence to those very qualities, scenes, characters, that made the source ripe for cinematic treatment. Guy Green’s adaptation of John Fowles’s metaphysical mystery The Magus was such a disappointment, and so is Sydney Pollack’s screen version of Vardis Fisher’s Mountain Man (with additional material from two short stories whose titles and authors I lack), Jeremiah Johnson.

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Video: Framing Pictures for August 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid dive into two new films: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Then, Jeanne Moreau’s recent passing sparks a conversation about the love of film, the love of talking about film, and why cinema captivates us.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Video: Framing Pictures for July 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss the “B” movies–Baby DriverThe Bad Batch, and The Beguiled–and the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock (spurred by the release of Hitchcock’s breakthrough film The Lodger on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD).

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The next conversation convenes at 7pm on Friday, August 11.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Scarecrow

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

Scarecrow, the latest film by Jerry Schatzberg (Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Panic in Needle Park), is a warmly authentic and unselfconscious examination of a highly unlikely friendship between two misfits whose respective stances vis-à-vis life seem, at first glance, totally incompatible. Al Pacino turns in an understated performance, mannered yet unpretentious, as Lion, a diminutive dropout from the school of hard knocks—hard knocks being what you get if you stand still, allow people to get too close, get serious; in short, if you grow up. Instead, Lion chooses to stay on the move: five years at sea to dodge the scary stasis of matrimony and fatherhood, a current trip as a constantly clowning naïf whose jokes block blows and caresses with a desperate lack of discrimination. On his way back to claim his son, Lion picks up a father of sorts, an unpredictable bear of a man named Max (Gene Hackman). Max, unlike the cowardly Lion, gets in the way of hard knocks—as well as less hostile strokes—as often as he can, indeed more often than he should, since he frequently ends up in jail after one of his enthusiastic rough-and-tumbles. He is a man willing to mark and be marked by the men and women whom his life touches in his peregrinations about the country. Though at first Max comes off as much the less “practical” or survival-minded of the two friends, it soon becomes clear that the reverse is true. Lion’s comic camouflage and strategic withdrawals ultimately result in the loss of his son (and by implication his own adulthood) and, ironically, all contact with the world he tried too hard, too successfully, to keep at bay.

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Review: The Hireling

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

The Hireling is, I believe, Alan Bridges’s first film. Aside from rather too frequently belaboring the contrast between indifferent wealth and pathetic poverty in the early part of the film, Bridges manages to pretty much avoid the stylistic excesses to which debuting directors are often prone. However, his muted, somewhat eviscerated approach works both for and against this adaptation of an L.P. Hartley novel (Hartley also wrote The GoBetween which Joseph Losey brilliantly translated to the screen). Bridges’s tone is occasionally just right for this enervated tale about the relationship between a neurasthenic aristocrat (Sarah Miles, whose performance won her a special citation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) and her stolidly correct hired chauffeur (Robert Shaw), but cumulatively it begins to wear on one’s nerves like a too precisely, albeit tastefully, furnished room. Too much order, too little deviation from a predictable pattern—but admittedly, the style recapitulates the theme. For Leadbetter the chauffeur, with all of his emerging middle-class virtues—manliness, discipline, common sense–hasn’t got a prayer of playing Mellors to Lady Franklin’s Constance Chatterly, or of disturbing in any felt way the insulated world in which his lady lives, if not thrives. Fresh out of a sanitarium, Lady Franklin is still whey-faced and rheumy-eyed with grief over her husband’s untimely demise. What she needs, and what she gets from Leadbetter, whose car and company she hires, is human contact without threat or expectation, the kind of unjudging acceptance that only therapists and servants of a certain era can provide. As she violates class convention after convention in her pursuit of sanity and begins to bloom with renewed health, the disorder of passion enters the doggedly disciplined life of Leadbetter, who turns gradually sick with jealousy and desire. What feels to him like the intimacy of shared experience between man and woman is merely the intimacy one may cultivate with a favored, though ultimately invisible, servant.

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The Light That Failed: George Romero’s “Dead” Rock On

[Originally published in Queen Anne News, July 5, 2005]15

“Send some flowers to the cemetery,” growls the head honcho of a zombie-killing expedition at the beginning of George Romero’s Land of the Dead.

“Land of the Dead” zombie squad: John Leguizamo, Simon Baker and Robert Joy

Then scarlet fireworks bloom in the sky and every shambling corpse in what used to be a Smalltown, USA—complete with rotting park bandstand and picket fences—turns his/her/its milky eyes upward, mesmerized by … what? Images that trigger a half-remembered Independence Day, when American history and holiday pleasures were surely celebrated in that very park? Or do those bursts of light simply mirror the random, involuntary firing of synapses that so mysteriously reanimate the dead in Romero’s cemetery movies (previously, Night of the Living Dead, 1968; Dawn of the Dead, 1978; Day of the Dead, 1985)?

The zombie-maker’s movies have always operated as a kind of termite art, chewing away at the surface fictions that make it easy for us to coast happily through our July 4th, secure in Fortress America, full of faith in family values and the belief that the disenfranchised can always be “rendered” harmless. Romero flays our pretty pictures to the bone, exposing nasty stuff like racism, class warfare, Darwinian appetite, unbridled materialism. And on the spiritual front, Romero’s erasure of death as an ending or transition undermines the promise of something more than solitary, eternal confinement in flesh, perpetually driven by the need to consume.

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Review: High Plains Drifter

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

As a director, Clint Eastwood cannot be simply written off as mindlessly imitative. He is far too intelligent in his eclectic appreciation of what works in the films of Sergio Leone, Don Siegel, and Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, Eastwood has not yet subsumed what he has learned from his mentors into a coherent vision of his own. Thus, High Plains Drifter, like Play Misty for Me, occasionally promises more than it cumulatively delivers. Eastwood’s main problem here—both as director and as actor—is that he never quite gets together how he wants to come at a story which must wed a Leone-like revenge motif with a scathingly satirical examination of a town inhabited by rejects from High Noon. Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name carried within his very character implicit hints of more-than-human motivation, so that at times he resembled nothing so much as a warrior Christ. Eastwood clearly had his former role in mind when he made High Plains Drifter, but that doesn’t save him from alternately overemphasizing his demonic hero’s supernatural origins and almost completely losing sight of them as he begins to focus more and more on his blackly humorous exposure of the town of Lago’s communal sins and deceits.

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Video: Framing Pictures for June 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss Wonder Woman, David Lynch’s return to the Pacific Northwest Gothic of Twin Peaks, and home video releases of two classics: Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Five Sleazy Pieces

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

Recently I encountered a phenomenon—I refuse to call it a book—labeled The Only Good Indian and coauthored by Ralph and Natasha Friars. Its specific sins against the English language and any recognizable form of ratiocination are catalogued elsewhere in this issue. I mention this pseudo-scholarly study of the American Indian’s martyrdom by cinematic slings and arrows only because it exemplifies a particularly cavalier attitude towards product and consumer alike, an attitude rampant not only in selfrighteous critical tracts like the Friars’, but also in an increasing number of current films. People like the Friars don’t have to make sense (either stylistically or thematically), don’t have to work at selling their shoddy wares even on the level of persuasive polemic. Why? Because their readers are pre-sold, previously primed to ingest that which already constipates their thinking. Not, admittedly, a new process—this recycling of pap that effects no change, no growth, only a mild to offensive case of intellectual flatulence. Still, recent movies like The Last of Sheila, The Harrad Experiment, and most particularly Badge 373, Harry in Your Pocket, and The Legend of Hell House impel one to speculate about a spiraling trend towards just this sort of bland diet in the cinema.

***

The Last of Sheila cashes in on the audience’s putative taste for the games (rich) people play, not to mention psychic stripping, a spectacle many in our group-therapy-ridden society have come to relish in and for itself with or without any therapeutic payoff for the individual involved. Broadway composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim—who, with close friend Tony Perkins, wrote Sheila‘s screenplay—is reputedly hooked on the puzzle-game habit himself. Perhaps as a result, the film retains the half-thought-out, initially grabby but ultimately flabby quality of a neat idea cooked up by old buddies with shared interests over late-night scotches.

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Video: Framing Pictures – April 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss Raw, the first offering by French director Julia Docournau, and offer a master class on veteran filmmaker Walter Hill and his new thriller, The Assignment. Also, get to know Emily Dickinson in the Oscar contender A Quiet Passion.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

 

Review: Raw Meat

[Originally published in Movietone News 26, October 1973]

I must confess to being one of those horror film addicts who occasionally even resort to the ozoners in search of the one sleeper that will justify all those wasted hours spent in the scurrilous company of Aztec mummies, moth-eaten werewolves, and green slime. Which is how I came to see Raw Meat—despite its title and the American-International imprimatur. Actually, the presence of Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee, not to mention obvious parallels—in what little I knew of the plot—to the notorious Night of the Living Dead, did nothing to shore up what little resistance I manage to maintain against a seemingly insatiable appetite for the usually tasteless additions to this genre.

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Review: Lady Ice

[Originally published in Movietone News 26, October 1973]

Tom Gries has at least one unpretentiously good film to his credit in Will Penny; if reports of Lady Ice‘s production troubles are accurate, then Gries, as the third director assigned the project, cannot be held entirely responsible for the myriad failures of this sloppily assembled pastiche of dubious leftovers from the slushfund of slick caper-cum-competitive-couple movies. Reverse the Dunaway-McQueen roles in the disastrous The Thomas Crown Affair so that Donald Sutherland gets to play insurance investigator to Jennifer O’Neill’s rich (and therefore) risk-hungry diamond thief, throw in an off-the-wall Bullitt-style car chase, and leaven the whole lumpen mess with some pathetically phony allusions to the trials and tribulations of an intelligent, emancipated female surrounded by dopey male chauvinists—and you’ve got the less than appetizing recipe for Lady Ice. Jennifer O’Neill rates only contemptuous yoks as she lays claim to superior feminine sensibilities while coming on like the original tanned plastic Barbie Doll ever ready with vapid visage and mindless giggling. One hopes in vain for Sutherland, who’s turned in some madly fey performances in his time, to contribute some subversively ironic distance from the ongoing embarrassments of Lady Ice, but he manfully pretends to be titillated by O’Neill’s nonexistent challenges and lopes gracelessly through his assigned paces as a Columbo of the insurance circuit.

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