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by Kathleen Murphy

Contributor

In Black & White: The Women (Pt 2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

POPCORN VENUS: Women, Movies & the American Dream. By Marjorie Rosen. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. 416 Pages. $9.95.

Marjorie Rosen begins her fat (416 pages) study of women, movies and the American Dream by simultaneously putting down the cinema’s penchant for illusion and setting up the silver screen as a mirror in which “society’s porous [sic] face” may be exposed—thereby illustrating the main premise of Popcorn Venus, that movies can do anything and everything, but are admirable for practically nothing. Predictably, Rosen exhibits her critical credentials by nostalgia-tripping, sharing in a manner mostly maudlin her cherished cinematic memories and illusions, all couched in the confessional style of an ex–closet (or ex-prom) queen. But Rosen’s seen the light, so to speak, and has written a book which, more than anything else, seems to represent an attempt to exorcize all those seductive dreams spun out of movie-theater darkness by means of a holy war on behalf of cinematically wronged womankind.

Rosen’s weaponry includes a familiar array of selfrighteous clichés and stylistic ploys, the usual arsena1 of the writer who’s got a Cause but hasn’t a clue as to what constitutes good writing or critical fair play, and lacks sufficient knowledge of the enemy to even pitch a significant battle. Fundamentally, her pathetic (and self-aggrandizing) fallacy centers on the notion that Hollywood, movie moguls, men have engaged in an ongoing, conscious conspiracy against women since movies were first invented. Time after time, Rosen conjures up images of smoke-filled backrooms in which sinister plots were hatched by “Hollywood” to further subjugate or degrade women. That Hollywood (a place, not a person), at any given time, consisted of diverse elements, conforming and dissenting modes of direction, acting, even production, never seems to occur to her, in much the same way a freshman English student never seems to wonder about the real identity of that convenient scapegoat “Society.” Thus:

“For the men making movies in the twenties, ridicule (ergo, humor) shielded them and their masculine audiences from inevitable feminine demands for equality, social and otherwise. It squelched a treacherous usurping of their positions in the boudoirs and boardrooms, in the factories and on the campuses. Since the female uprising had to be put down, what a pleasant discovery that humor was at least as effective a method as pious moralizing.” (page 127)

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In Black & White: The Women (Pt 1)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. By Molly Haskell. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc. 416 pages. $10.

Too often, one of the nicest things about having a Cause is that it provides cookie-cutter categorizations for almost every occasion. Human beings can be swiftly shuffled into suits of fascism, racism, male or female chauvinism, or whatever other convenient –ism lies at hand. Given the proper brand of cookie cutter, one can avoid confronting practically anything on its own terms—or in terms which stubbornly transcend or evade easy compartmentalization. The world becomes a neater place, less cluttered with complexities and nagging ambiguities when the brandished talisman of a single point of view sends all of disorderly reality scurrying into a series of carefully labeled cubbyholes.

Critics of the arts find cookie cutters particularly helpful in their craft. Art, you know, has that nasty habit of bursting the seams of the most rigorously contrived critical straitjackets—so much so that it’s still a sneaking suspicion of mine that the best response to a work of art is an eloquent silence. Film critics are not immune to the cookie-cutter syndrome—quite the contrary. The German film historian and theoretician Siegfried Kracauer was already drawing on a time-honored set of assumptions when he laced his tome on the cinema, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, with variations on a monolithic theme, that being the motion picture camera’s absolute lust for reality and concomitant abhorrence of the fantastic or surreal, anything but the bare, unvarnished Truth. (So much for Méliès and his successors!) It didn’t require much of a critical leap to arrive at the notion that the masses, the salt of the earth, had cornered the market on reality and truth. Social consciousness, documentary verity, became the sine qua non of the great film for many commentators.

Whatever the theory, the best kind of critic approaches a film with an open mind, a willingness to allow its reality to resist the framework of his critical parameters. The bad critic loves his cookie cutter more than that which it seeks to contain and will ruthlessly shape and name the work under discussion to fit the Procrustean bed of his theory. Example: Several years ago, in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael attacked four films—Dirty Harry, The Cowboys, Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orangefor their unwarranted and immoral use of violence. Once Kael started wielding that cookie cutter of hers, whole arms and legs of cinematic reality were amputated, discarded as irrelevant; plot and character were distorted, reshaped so as to support her point of view.* On the other side of the fence, auteurists are not always exempt from such solipsism: nondirectorial contributions to a film may be lopped off and ignored so that the lineaments of a distinct and all-encompassing directorial personality may emerge in highest relief. God knows it’s an ongoing battle to approach anything or anyone in that state of vulnerability and receptiveness that permits, even invites, the Other to operate autonomously, to surprise us with its own unique reality. So much safer to go armed with a quiver full of preconceptions with which the most recalcitrant of realities may be “fixed with a formulated phrase.”

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Review: Buster and Billie

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

It’s come to be almost a given that American communal life is pervaded with violence, contained or at large. Those filmmakers who aren’t examining contemporary urban jungles from vantage points of nihilistic glee or despair turn to the American rural past to disprove any vestigial illusions we might have had about the noble savage or the pastoral innocent. From Mean Streets to Badlands, from Bad Company to Thieves like Us, from Payday to Buster and Billie, the lay of the land remains the same: brave new worlds gone wrong, gone brutal, gone back from innocence either by accident or in cold blood. America, the home of hillbilly and ghetto crazies, killers pure in heart, traveling city streets and country backroads, dwarfed by skyscrapers or the prairie, always caught, mostly dead—the last American heroes.

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Films and Feminism

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Jan Haag is forever associated with my first conscious commitment to film and feminism. A decade or so ago, she and I spent much good time arguing passionately about The Pumpkin Eater and The Golden Notebook, the world of movies and the lives of women, with enough heat to permanently temper the directions we would take in the future. Jan was one of those multi-talented women—artist, actress, filmmaker, writer—who seemed permanently trapped and limited by the role of faculty wife, the interesting, but necessarily dilettantish, adjunct to her husband’s real profession. Fortunately, for herself and other women, Jan managed finally to “come out,” to emerge from that safe, and therefore stifling, cocoon into her own real professional world. It’s redundant to say it wasn’t an easy or even very direct route, but she eventually found where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. After serving as an American Film Institute intern during the filming of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, she was appointed head of the Internship Program, and later became director of the AFI’s Independent Filmmaker Program.

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Film Review: The Visit

The Visit

Alfred Hitchcock liked to punch holes in the everyday, to find devouring swamps where maps showed solid ground. He channeled how desperately the child in every grown-up craves and fights for the familiar and explicable, putting his/her faith in people and places seemingly secure from ruptures in normalcy. When such a rupture occurs, as in The Birds, Tippi Hedren’s lacquered blonde, gang-raped by nightmare beaks, regresses to gibbering girl-child.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit focuses on a couple of actual children for whom life goes all Caligari-cattywampus. Working Hitchcockian elements of existential terror into a grotesque Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, Shyamalan has delivered a satisfyingly scary old-school hair-raiser that’s smart, funny, and deeply disturbing. Even as The Visit ruthlessly erodes faith in the reliability of family, it eats away at our trust in movie-frame space to contain some kind of rational design, its boundaries proof against sudden fracture.

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Film Review: ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ (1)

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

One summer evening, while visiting the shooting set of Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend, I found myself chatting with John Hurt, never a knockout in looks but always a terrific actor. The easy banter, the charming way he leaned to light my cigarette, the suggestive slide of his eyes—suddenly there was a spotlit place where an ordinary encounter had been heightened into the possibility of dramatic story and character. Then he was summoned by his director, to disappear from view behind a poolhouse door. As he emerged, pointing a gun, it was as though that door frame had been a camera wipe. Hurt was Other, lethal and hard, a slight man moving with the weight of his own history and the terror of the moment. Not sure how to convey how astonishing this alchemy was; Hurt had transubstantiated, shaping how he would be seen by the camera.

Acting is authentic mystery. Sure, you can say it’s just putting on a face and pretending to be somebody, something you’re not. A matter of craft, in the word’s positive and negative meanings. But beyond consummate liars and confidence men, there are those capable of unforgettable transformation. Such protean players look like magicians, able to access other selves, body and soul. Are they vampires—like Liv Ullmann’s hollowed-out actress in Persona? Do they dredge truth out of the dark well of their past, tap into collected memory, to illuminate characters that look and feel like us? And what’s the cost to the chameleon? Does it sear like flaying, or is there ecstasy in becoming wholly Other?

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Review: The Gambler (2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

The Gambler is a curiously cerebral film in which the play of ideas (particularly literary assessments of the American experience) is transferred from the incestuous séance of the academic seminar to green baize gambling tables. There, those ideas are raised, not as ghosts, but as the highest stakes a man can wager. In California Split Robert Altman used gambling as an excuse for getting at the marginalia, the milieu, rather than as a metaphysical metaphor. Director Karel Reisz and screenwriter James Toback (a professor of English) are clearly after bigger fish—say, about the size of Moby Dick. For like Ahab, Reisz’s gambler bets on himself, his own power or will, to make some impression, to impose some meaning on … what? Perhaps that which resists will: fate or chance, the existential territory that refuses to be enfeoffed by the central “I-am.”

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Belle de jour

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Belle de jour is a circular film, curving its way surely and urbanely through fantasy, memory, and whatever reality one can distill from Buñuel’s surrealist solution. Probably the first bone of contention among critics of the film is how much reality, how much fantasy, and where each sector is located in this suave Buñuelian landscape. Depending on the reading, Catherine Deneuve’s Séverine/Belle de jour may have fantasized the whole of the film with no anchors in reality, she may be engaged in an act of exorcism which finally leads her to a kind of normality, or she may have ultimately ruptured the fragile barriers between her conscious life and the world that shapes itself out of the darkness behind her brain. Whether Buñuel is hypnotist or mesmerizer is moot; whether he has plunged his heroine into the darkness of insanity or caused a sunrise, a coming to terms with reality, is also open to question. Considering the bland banality of Séverine’s “reality,” itself a kind of madness which Buñuel has never ceased to send up with a discreet but nonetheless devastating charm, can acceptance of such a life be considered enlightenment? Her fantasies may be kinky but they’re certainly more fun, more richly devised and experienced, than anything that home, hearth, and hubby can provide. Perhaps what Buñuel has mesmerized Séverine (and us) into is a serenely crazy delight with the complete dissolution of distinctions like reality and fantasy into a rich warm soup blended of both. Buñuel knows what kind of spell movies may cast, and that we as viewers are not unlike Mme. Anaïs’ clients who buy the opportunity to frame and move and light their most private, cherished fantasies. Like Séverine, we turn from the peephole and exclaim in righteous disgust, “How can anyone sink so low!,” a half-smile of perverse fascination playing about our lips. We should not feel diminished for all that, for Buñuel’s discreet and amiable charm is all-encompassing; he subjects no one’s fetish to contempt, only to the goodnatured amusement of an old roué who is surprised by nothing, but is endlessly delighted with the conventions of bourgeois perversity. Consequently, we do not move from scene to scene in Belle de jour impelled by a sense of urgency that Séverine “get well” or go crazy with a vengeance; rather, we are satisfied with permission to participate in the picaresque sexual adventures she either fantasizes or realizes in her pilgrimage from neurotic innocence through exotic sin to that ambiguous endgame played within her mind.

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SIFFtings 2015 – Week Three

A few short takes on SIFF offerings for the third weekend of the biggest, longest film festival in the United States.

PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2014; 98 minutes)
Fresh from Auschwitz and extreme facial reconstruction, Nelly returns to the noirish backstreets and bars of bombed-out Berlin, looking for what’s left of herself—and the husband whose memory helped her survive hell. Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) doesn’t recognize this gaunt, shell-shocked stranger as his once-glamorous wife, but plots to use her in a scam to inherit wealth left by Nelly’s gassed relatives. Sure to turn up on year-end Ten Best lists, this brilliant film plumbs the nature of identity, post-WWII guilt and denial, death and resurrection—and showcases a shattering performance by Nina Hoss. – KAM
Sunday, May 31, 7:15pm, SIFF Uptown Theater

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SIFFtings 2015 – Opening Weekend

A few short takes on SIFF offerings on the debut weekend of the biggest, longest film festival in the United States.

SPY (Paul Feig, USA, 2015; 120 minutes)
Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) parlays Melissa McCarthy’s sly likeability and pratfalling genius into a dumb, feel-good spoof of the secret agent genre. When the jolly fat lady—an underappreciated computer-surveillance whiz, deskbound in a rodent-infested CIA basement—is suddenly thrust into the field, she sows useful, sporadically funny mayhem wherever she goes. Hailed by some folks as “feminist” comedy, Spy tickles our funny bone by targeting a heroine so armored up—by poundage and sweet denial—she’s proof against any humiliation. (With Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale) – KAM
SIFF Opening Night, Thursday, May 14, 7pm, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

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Love Among the Ruins: 1975 in Review

[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]

“We might pass this way again”—the line from the song recurs throughout Stations, Roger Hagan’s exquisite documentary that stood out at this year’s Motion Picture Seminar of the Northwest and later graced a Seattle Film Society showing of Antonioni’s Cronaca di un amore. I seem to be passing this way again whenever a yearly assessment of the Seattle film experience falls due in January. 1975, like other recent years we’ve lived and watched through, didn’t feel in the present the way a lot of years look in the past, like a (to compound as many metaphors as possible in this silly season) cornucopia of good movies clamoring to light our way to eternity. Which is not to say that getting up a Ten Best List has been especially difficult for me, or that 1975 has failed to generate many more movies than ten that I want to pay my addresses to.

The little films, for instance, those small-scale endeavors that make no pretensions for themselves and seem ready in advance to kid any pretensions we might make for them; not award-winners or even likely nominees, not Ten Best types as long as “Best” implies more than a conviction that one will fondly remember them. But film years, and film consciousness, don’t get fleshed out without the likes of Rafferty and the Gold-Dust Twins (Dick Richards, Alan Arkin, Sally Kellerman, Mackenzie Phillips), Rancho Deluxe (Tom McGuane, Frank Perry, William A. Fraker, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Slim Pickens, Elizabeth Ashley, Clifton James, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (Burt Reynolds, Art Carney, Thomas Rickman, John G. Avildsen), and A Boy and His Dog (L.Q. Jones, Harlan Ellison, Don Johnson, Tim McIntire, Blood). In some private last analysis I prize such movies above the more generally noticeable and certainly commendable likes of Jaws, The Return of the Pink Panther, and Farewell My Lovely because it requires no last analysis to make me uneasy about, respectively, empty manipulation, however proficient, or betting a sure thing, however accomplished that sure thing may be, or gilding a generic lily even when the gilding is as affectionate and surprisingly unpretentious as Richards’ (director of Farewell as well as Rafferty).

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The Salvation: Color of Old Blood

‘The Salvation’

In Dogme director Kristian Levring’s harrowing 2000 film The King Is Alive, a clutch of mismatched folk variously afflicted by modern-day angst are stranded in the great void of an African desert. For distraction, they decide to perform King Lear, Shakespeare’s wrenching tale of despair and madness. For these lost souls, it’s the narrative containment of the play’s spiritually corrosive content that looks like something they might hold on to.

The Salvation, Levring’s strangely numinous Danish take on the American western, displays a similar faith in the power of fiction, to show and contain chaos and horror, ceremonially, artfully. That power in some fashion saves us—like the ritual of consuming a god’s blood and body. The ambiguous salvation promised in the movie’s title may well refer to the good work art can do for us.

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Moments Out of Time 2014

[Originally published in Keyframe, January 14, 2015]

We perpetrated the first “Moments Out of Time” in ecstasy over the cinematic splendors of 1971—The Conformist, The Last Picture Show, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry, et al. It ran in our Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News (“The trees creaking in the wind: the murder in The Conformist…“), where it became a much-anticipated annual feature ’til the journal wrapped in 1981. We’ve missed memorializing a few years since, but have enjoyed at various times the hospitality of Film Comment, American Film, Steadycam, Movies/MSN, and Cinephiled. A comprehensive “Moments” library is maintained at Parallax-View.com.

‘Cold in July’
  • Under the Skin: disembodied face lies in a lap, gazing upward, its eyes blinking…
  • SQÜRL’s banshee screech, “Funnel of Love,” over the first ravishing images—including turntable as flat circle of time—of Only Lovers Left Alive
  • “I was once considered a great beauty,” confides Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), concierge extraordinaire, The Grand Budapest Hotel….
  • A dollhouse town and the relentless cheer of a minister’s wife (Meryl Streep), on the edge of the crazy-making emptiness of the American frontier, The Homesman
  • What to say, politely, to an Iraqi woman after your team has burst into her Fallujah home? “Hello….” Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, American Sniper
  • Birdman: After Mike (Edward Norton) blows up the performance, Riggan (Michael Keaton) storms offstage snarling, “Get him out of here!” Annie the P.A. (Merritt Wever) softly asks, “How do you want me to do that?”….
  • Threesome rocking out to “Gloria” on car radio: a rare communal moment of joy in Two Days, One Night
  • The Better Angels: Abraham Lincoln’s second mother (Diane Kruger) balances on one foot, wavering over a fallen tree trunk, the sun blazing a bright halo around her head….
  • In Exodus: Gods and Kings, a tiny white stallion, rearing beneath a heavens-high curve of tsunami….
FOXCATCHER
‘Foxcatcher’
  • Foxcatcher: To celebrate her dying, John du Pont (Steve Carell) drives his mother’s stable of prized horses out into the cold….
  • Roads in mist, Blue Ruin
  • As Force majeure’s vacationers trek down an alpine highway, their long walk imperceptibly morphs out of the everyday into a Bergmanesque pilgrims’ progress….
  • Mocking fellow painter John Constable’s fussing over a tiny brushstroke of red in a packed canvas,Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall) casually rubs a smear of scarlet into the merest suggestion of a buoy in one of his impressionistic seascapes….
  • On some other planet, what looks like a towering cliff becomes a frame-filling wall of water bearing down on Interstellar’s astronauts….
  • J.K. Simmons’s hotwired muscularity in Whiplash
  • The abiding, ever-so-slightly pixilated serenity of Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), Jersey Boys
  • Under the Skin: the first time the shiny black floor turns liquid, and the guy’s calm descent…
  • “America for Me,” Alex Ebert’s perfect bluesy coda to A Most Violent Year
  • Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) soft-voiced crooning of “The Hanging Tree”—the closestMockingjay, Part I gets to something like genuine feeling, even if the performance is “propaganda”…
  • Longtime lovers and newlyweds John Lithgow and Alfred Molina serenade each other—“You’ve Got What It Takes”—in Love Is Strange….
  • Only Lovers Left Alive: Giving Eve (Tilda Swinton) a tour of Detroit, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) points out Jack White’s home. She: “Little Jack White … nice.”…
  • Hilarious chest-baring, acrobatic hoofing all over a picturesque waterfall, by a pair of princely twits (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) warbling about the “Agony” of love, Into the Woods
SKELETON TWINS
‘The Skeleton Twins’
  • The Skeleton Twins: the decisive moment when Maggie’s—and by all means Kristen Wiig‘s—lips begin to twitch, and she gives herself up to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” as joyously lipsynched and boogied to by brother Milo (Bill Hader)…
  • In Inherent Vice, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) watching “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) work a Fudgecicle…
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: Zero (Tony Revolori) penciling on his lounge lizard mustache….
  • At the grand party in Magic in the Moonlight, Sophie (Emma Stone) “makes a rather surprising entrance” in Twenties headband….
  • “She just quit by accident.” Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) accounting for Dena’s (Dakota Fanning) exit fromNight Moves
  • Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) contemplating a curl of cream in a cup of coffee, The Theory of Everything
  • Guy Pearce bringing it as The Rover: Is he gonna shoot that old woman in the face? … No, he wouldn’t … wouldn’t shoot that old woman in the face … Oh good, he’s putting the gun away … Oh. Just changing hands…
THE ROVER
‘The Rover’
  • Conferring elbow to elbow with Monsieur Jean; Jude Law and Jason Schwartzman early in The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • An old seadog (Michael Parks) spins a wicked-strange story about an intimate encounter with a walrus, in Tusk….
  • The visceral horror of Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) rape-castration: stumps where wings once grew…
  • Headboard as gravemarker for eleven-year-old girlchild, tilting over in the middle of nowhere, The Homesman
  • Under the Skin: in a backcountry Scottish town, a girl (Scarlett Johansson) in maroon shirt walking down grey road made perpendicular by perspective…
  • Into the Woods: “I’m in the wrong story!” protests baker’s wife Emily Blunt, finding herself hotly wooed by Cinderella’s Prince Charming…
  • Penny Dreadful: Sudden sundering of Dr. Frankenstein’s gentlest creature (Alex Price as Proteus)
  • In Get On Up, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and his backup singers costumed in red-and-white Christmas sweaters, with snowflakes: “I’m in honkie hell now!”…
  • Winking Groot-sprout, happy survivor of Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Eminem in The Interview: “I pretty much just been leaving a breadcrumb trail of gayness.”…
  • “I can hear your pants growing.” Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) over the phone to Doc, Inherent Vice….
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
  • After the last slippery coming and going of “Dr. Faust” (Tom Hiddleston’s Adam) at the hospital blood bank, Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) opines, “Cat gotta be from Cleveland.”—Only Lovers Left Alive
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) chilling transformation, in closeup, from ethereal elf into berserker-demon…
  • Leviathan: Outside the window that has landmarked so much of the film, beyond a kitchen table still cluttered with homely dishware, the bucket of a steam shovel rises into view, swings with the languor of a grazing cow, and demolishes a home, the last vestige of shattered family, and any relic of what passed for social order….
  • Heartstopping materialization of a giant arachnid in Enemy‘s toxic-yellow world…
  • The Homesman: Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank), bending to slip naked into George Briggs’s sleeping bag: “Don’t make me lose any more of my dignity.”…
  • Coitus interruptus, in Under the Skin, when a not-entirely-human (Scarlett Johansson) leaps to aim a flashlight between her legs, shocked to discover a way something might get inside her…
  • The startling apparition of an avenging angel (Sam Shepard), filling the driver’s-side car window, inCold in July
  • A couple of war-weary soldiers (Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman) breakfast with two German women, the moment of fragile community soon shattered by a tribe of savages, in Fury….
  • Two Days, One Night: Despairing, Sandra (Marianne Cotillard) leans way too far out her car window, until the buzz of a seatbelt alarm pulls her back….
  • A woman falls out of a window, into the common grave that is Ida….
  • Midway through Birdman, the rapport of two fallen angels (Emma Stone, Edward Norton), perched on a roof-edge above Broadway and lit from below by marquee light, quietly trading hard truths about themselves…
  • A Most Wanted Man: Annabel (Rachel McAdams) has given up smoking. “Good luck with that”—Philip Seymour Hoffman….
A MOST WANTED MAN
‘A Most Wanted Man’
  • Hercules: soothsayer Ian McShane’s insouciant shrug when it’s clear his death, which he’s predicted at every turn, just isn’t happening…
  • Mr. Turner: Without looking, the seated J.M.W. (Timothy Spall) places his hand flat on his hovering housekeeper’s (Dorothy Atkinson) breast, as though settling a horse….
  • 3 Days to Kill: Needing to get into nightclub, Dad (Kevin Costner) reaches behind him and shoots bouncer in foot….
  • After an old-school hitman (Willem Dafoe) engineers his own bloody demise to avoid prolonged torture, his erstwhile tormentor (Michael Nyqvist) applauds, “Well played, old friend”—John Wick….
  • Nightcrawler: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) enters the murder house minutes after the crime, and finds himself right at home….
  • Study in beige: Scarf drawn across lower half of her face, Eve (Tilda Swinton) walks down a Tangier street, owning the night—Only Lovers Left Alive…
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: A prison guard looking for concealed contraband cannot bring himself to ruin an exquisite Mendl confection….
  • Selling sunshine (The Homesman), mining the dark (Into the Woods)—Meryl Streep casts her spells….
  • Eva Green in excelsis, as Vanessa Ives in mortal combat with Lucifer, Penny Dreadful
  • Empty Fifties roads under robin’s-egg-blue sky, Big Eyes
  • Cold in July: blood spatter on the beyond-bland painting that hangs over Michael C. Hall’s couch…
  • Amid snowfall reducing the known world to white-on-white, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) achieves perfect chaos—Fargo….
  • The bullet across the curve, Snowpiercer
  • Night Moves: From their rowboat on the lake, the would-be dambusters watch as headlights enter the parking lot where their car sits alone….
  • Aural climate throughout Under the Skin; what bone-deep Otherness sounds like…
  • Pacing paving stones slicked by rain, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) worries he won’t have time to get his tomb built. Behind him, curtains billow in a wet breeze, portending worse weather to come inExodus: Gods and Kings….
  • “The sun is God.” Amen, Mr. Turner….
  • In American Sniper, sudden red flag as Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) breaks bread with a friendly Iraqi family: the host’s scraped-raw elbow, marking him as a fellow sniper…
  • Out on the American frontier, a little girl walks in the woods, a book on her head—The Better Angels….
  • That precocious little Lorelei Linklater vamping and singing “Oops, I did it again!” at her disgusted younger brother (Ellar Coltrane), in Boyhood
  • The power of doggie love, fueling The Rover, John Wick, The Drop
JOHN WICK
‘John Wick’
  • Mockingjay, Part I: During the mutual jamming of video signals, Peta’s and Katniss’s signals crackle over each other and the separated lovers both call out, as if each felt the other passing….
  • Swapping funiculars, The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • “Exterminate! Exterminate!”: Hawkings goes Dalek, The Theory of Everything….
  • The start of Fury: lone German officer riding a white horse through gray, cratered wasteland…
  • Mad hornet motorcyclist buzzing tinily over the Highlands, Under the Skin…
  • Something corpsey-white sliding under thinnish ice, soon to be the death of Thorin Oakenshield inThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies…
  • The Guest’s (Dan Stevens) amused appreciation of the impact his super-buff torso is having on the teenaged daughter of the unsuspecting family he’s moved in on…
  • Enemy: the shadow of the doppelgänger under the hotel room door…
  • Jax (Charlie Hunnam) fires a bullet into the back of his mother’s head, as Gemma (Katey Sagal) lingers in a rose garden. The last act in a long-running Jacobean tragedy called Sons of Anarchy
  • Rape and fiery death in a Palestinian prison, terrorist theater in which everyone is playing a role except The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal, magnificent throughout)…
  • Boyhood: A guy who once worked on her septic line pops up in a restaurant to thank Mason’s mom (Patricia Arquette) for her life-changing advice years ago….
  • Sliding through Detroit’s deserted yellow-gold streets, Only Lovers Left Alive; Henry Ford’s factory that became the palatial Michigan Theater that became a car-park…
  • The doctor’s (Aidan Gillen) awful parable of the human condition, flaying a priest (Brendan Gleeson) who’s just fallen off the wagon, in Calvary
  • Tom Hardy as Locke: “You don’t trust God when it comes to concrete.”
  • “L’aire de panache,” Gustave H.’s shield against mortality and bad manners—The Grand Budapest Hotel…
  • Late in Edge of Tomorrow (now commercially retitled Live Die Repeat), the general (Brendan Gleeson) and the audience more or less simultaneously catch on that Cage (Tom Cruise) and Rita (Emily Blunt) have been here before….
  • Birdman: Starting to play mad scene after finding his wife in bed with a guy, Riggan notices Mike has a raging hard-on. Theater audience notices, too….
  • Unbroken: after the strafing, underwater view of life rafts against the sky, light showing through bullet holes…
  • What happens on that beach, Under the Skin, and the kinds of sense it doesn’t make…
  • Blue Ruin: color horizontals of a carnival at night…
  • Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), spread out on his recliner, reminiscing about the days when he was somebody—The Drop
THE DROP
‘The Drop’
  • The long fall of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Scritchy plastic couch contributing to the year’s most distinctive and unsettling sex scene, inInherent Vice
  • Love Is Strange: Aging lovers, too long apart, spoon in the bottom deck of a bunkbed….
  • Boyhood’s gutsy mom (Patricia Arquette) abruptly overwhelmed at life passing her by: “I thought there would be more.”…
  • George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) and other assorted dregs jigging to fiddle music on a river-raft, slowly swallowed up in darkness, The Homesman
  • In Only Lovers Left Alive, Adam and Eve lean in the doorway of a Tangier dive, drinking in Yasmine Hamdan’s unforgettable performance of Moroccan blues….
  • Monsieur Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel: “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”…
  • Under the Skin: small quick blaze in snowy woods…

Kathleen Murphy has written about movies for most of her life (Movietone News, Film Comment, Steadycam, MSN/movies.com, et al.), curated film festivals (Women and Cinema, Irish Cinema) and taught film at University of Washington. 

Veteran film critic Richard T. Jameson served as editor of the journals Movietone News (1971-1981) and Film Comment (1990-2000). 

Moments out of Time 2014

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

We perpetrated the first “Moments Out of Time” in ecstasy over the cinematic splendors of 1971—The Conformist, The Last Picture Show, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry, et al. It ran in our Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News (“The trees creaking in the wind: the murder in The Conformist…“), where it became a much-anticipated annual feature ’til the journal wrapped in 1981. We’ve missed memorializing a few years since, but have enjoyed at various times the hospitality of Film Comment, American Film, Steadycam, Movies/MSN, and Cinephiled. A comprehensive “Moments” library is maintained at Parallax-View.com.

‘Cold in July’
  • Under the Skin: disembodied face lies in a lap, gazing upward, its eyes blinking…
  • SQÜRL’s banshee screech, “Funnel of Love,” over the first ravishing images—including turntable as flat circle of time—of Only Lovers Left Alive
  • “I was once considered a great beauty,” confides Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), concierge extraordinaire, The Grand Budapest Hotel….
  • A dollhouse town and the relentless cheer of a minister’s wife (Meryl Streep), on the edge of the crazy-making emptiness of the American frontier, The Homesman
  • What to say, politely, to an Iraqi woman after your team has burst into her Fallujah home? “Hello….” Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, American Sniper
  • Birdman: After Mike (Edward Norton) blows up the performance, Riggan (Michael Keaton) storms offstage snarling, “Get him out of here!” Annie the P.A. (Merritt Wever) softly asks, “How do you want me to do that?”….
  • Threesome rocking out to “Gloria” on car radio: a rare communal moment of joy in Two Days, One Night
  • The Better Angels: Abraham Lincoln’s second mother (Diane Kruger) balances on one foot, wavering over a fallen tree trunk, the sun blazing a bright halo around her head….
  • In Exodus: Gods and Kings, a tiny white stallion, rearing beneath a heavens-high curve of tsunami….

Continue reading at Keyframe

Parallax View’s Best of 2014

Welcome 2015 with one last look back at the best releases of 2014, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

My list this year is light on foreign movies, largely because I didn’t get out to as many festival screenings as I have in past years, and because many of the foreign language films placing highly on other lists have not opened in this corner of the world.

1. Boyhood (Richard Linkater, US)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, US)
3. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)
4. Gone Girl (David Fincher, US)
5. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, US)
7. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
8. Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
9. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, Iran/US)
And because this film turns it up to 11. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, US / South Korea / France / Czech Republic) – high concept science fiction thrillers are always best when serving as metaphors for sociopolitical commentary. Amiright?

More honorable mentions (in alphabetical order: Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden), The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, US), The Immigrant (James Gray, US), John Wick (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, US), Locke (Steven Knight, UK), A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, US), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, US), Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, US), The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher, Germany), We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodyson, Sweden), What Now? Remind Me (Joaquin Pinto, Portugal)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Village Voice Film Poll, Keyframe
Also: Best of 2014 on Blu-ray and DVD

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Birdman
2. Foxcatcher
3. Mr. Turner
4. The Immigrant
5. Two Days, One Night
6. Leviathan
7. Nightcrawler
8. Force Majeure
9. Get on Up
10. Winter Sleep

Jim Emerson

(as presented at Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
4. Calvary (John Michael McDonaugh)
5. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
6. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
7. Happy Valley (Amir Bar-Lev)
8. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
9. The Immigrant (James Gray)
In a realm of its own, circling above the calendar year considerations: A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer, 1995; first US release, 2014)

Robert Horton

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
4. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) and The Rover (David Michôd) (tie)
8. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
9. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
10. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Richard T. Jameson

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Two Days, One Night
6. American Sniper
7. Birdman
8. Mr. Turner
9. Ida
10. The Better Angels

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)
1. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Ben Russell and Ben Rivers)
3. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
4. The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
8. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
9. Story of My Death (Albert Serra)
10. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
11. Like Father, Like Son (Kore-Eda Hirokazu)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)
(in alphabetical order)
Birdman
Boyhood
Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Life Itself
Like Father, Like Son
Love Is Strange
Mood Indigo
Selma

Brian Miller

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. Birdman
2. Boyhood
3. Ida
4. Whiplash
5. Frank
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Force Majeure / Gone Girl (tie)
8. National Gallery
9. Snowpiercer
10. The Homesman

Kathleen Murphy

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Ida
6. Mr. Turner
7. American Sniper
8. Two Days, One Night
9. A Most Violent Year
10. Force Majeure

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Andrew Wright

1. Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong)
2. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
3. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
8. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
10. Cold in July (Jim Mickle)

Lists of lists:

Village Voice (poll and lists)
Roger Ebert.com
Keyframe Best Feature Films of 2014
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2014 Index

Polls
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Keyframe
Roger Ebert.com
Sight and Sound
Time Out London

Other lists
2014 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1924
New York Times Year in Culture