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by Richard T. Jameson

Contributor

Review: Innocent Bystanders

[Originally published in Movietone News 21, February 1973]

The Italian Job got past me but, from what I can tell from descriptions thereof, it set in motion a trend in Peter Collinson’s work that is continued in Innocent Bystanders. The potentially portentous title notwithstanding, this latest Collinson takes us far from the significance-laden likes of The Penthouse, Up the Junction, and A Long Day’s Dying into the region of closeup slambang for (commercially if not morally) pure purposes of entertainment. The government arms that manipulate poor, physically unsexed Stanley Baker and his fellow/rival espionage agents are unrelentingly portrayed as cold, inhumane entities staffed by inhuman types like Donald Pleasence (who manages to be amusing about it) and Dana Andrews, but this has simply become a convention of the genre these days and no longer counts as the subversive gesture it once was in the black and white morality plays of Fritz Lang and the crimefighting semidocumentaries of Anthony Mann.

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Review: The Tree of Wooden Clogs

[originally presented as a program note for the 1983 University of Washington film series “The Epic Tradition in World Cinema”]

“Those who are wretched are nearer to God.” A peasant woman speaks that line early in The Tree of Wooden Clogs, by way of chiding two of her numerous children for giggling at the simpleminded vagrant whose peregrinations intersect the course of the film from time to time. Taken in isolation, the line is open to dispute: are the random peasant types at the beginning of Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff, for instance, imaginably nearer to God than the self-sacrificing governor who places himself (and his family, as it turns out) in jeopardy in their behalf? By reverse token, the line might be invoked as the keynote of any number of kneejerk-liberal tracts, at once patronizing and self-congratulatory, that propose or presume the moral and spiritual superiority of the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Or it might be put in the mouth of a suffering peasant type for the purpose of irony—to nudge us toward an awareness of how religion can serve as “the opiate of the proletariat,” a formula of self-consolation that defangs the spirit of revolution and reform, and thus helps sustain corrupt sociopolitical systems.

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Review: The People vs. Larry Flynt

[Originally published on Mr. Showbiz December 20, 1996]

From Disraeli and The Life of Emile Zola, through Madame Curie, Lawrence of Arabia, and Funny Girl, to Gandhi and Michael Collins, the biopic has been among Hollywood’s most venerated genres — the means of conferring cinematic immortality on history’s superstars and, more often than not, Oscar glory on the enshriners. Also more often than not, the filmmaking has tended to be as stodgy as the subjects were august.

The People vs. Larry Flynt knocks both of those traditions for a loop (we nearly said “into a cocked hat” but, in the present context, that might have been in poor taste). No one could pretend that Larry Flynt — ex-moonshiner, ex–strip-club operator, and owner-publisher of the encyclopedically raunchy Hustler magazine — is a candidate for respectability. And no way would Milos Forman — who previously made the vibrant Amadeus — adopt a conventional, reverential style or tone in bringing Flynt’s life and often dubious achievements to the screen. Yet the surprising, deliciously problematical, and finally exhilarating truth is that Forman’s boisterous serio-comedy attains complexity and, yes, nobility beyond the grasp of most hagiographies. It also ends up persuading us that its outrageous subject has, too.

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Amadeus

[Originally published in The Weekly, September 19, 1984]

A dark street; equally dark Panavision screen. Snow falling; offcenter, a street lamp. The cry “Mozart!” and a startling chord of music. Somewhere behind a door in Vienna, a forgotten old man named Antonio Salieri lifts a razor to his throat because, he maintains, many years ago he murdered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Servants burst in, find him bloodied, bundle him off to a combination hospital and asylum. As he is bounced through the wind-whipped night streets, Salieri hears the music of his long-dead victim, brighter than the bright upper-story windows behind which a party of revelers dance and dance and dance.

The first thing to be said about Milos Forman’s new film Amadeus is that if you didn’t already know it was derived from a stageplay, you’d never guess it from watching the movie. It’s a vibrant, supple, splendidly cinematic thing—intimate, concrete, fluid, and wide-ranging in time and space as Peter Shaffer’s clever play could never have been in the most dexterous of stagings. At the same time, we must insist—since we are, after all, in such heavy-duty cultural territory—that the film goes about its business with a grace and assurance that seems cheeky only in seeming so effortless, so spontaneous, so … Mozartean?

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Quality up the Wazoo: ‘Hill Street Blues’

[Originally published in Film Comment, March-April 1981]

If my editor hadn’t called my attention to it, the premiere episode of Hill Street Blues would very probably have come and gone without my notice. Hundreds of television series have. But he knew I liked Lou Grant, and this show “from the producers of Lou Grant” (the hypesters’ phrase) was, on the basis of preview, similarly successful in “being funny when it wants to be funny, and dramatic when it wants to be dramatic” (his phrase), and maybe I should take a look. It was getting a modified miniseries sendoff as part of NBC president Fred Silverman’s last desperate bid to turn around his network’s ever-worsening ratings drift and save his job. Who could say whether, if the numbers failed to materialize, Silverman wouldn’t replace it with a jiggle epic, or his successors ashcan it in a combined spirit of slate-cleaning and revenge?

So I took the look. Hill Street Blues: Cop show. Thirteen series regulars identified up front, most of them unfamiliar and most of them frozen in slantwise TV grin. Handheld camera, Action News editing, and overlapping mutters on the soundtrack during the morning briefing that opens the show—manneristic bad signs for the jaundiced viewer, though they did seem to make for an appropriate grab-shot naturalism here. What the hell, give it a chance.

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Moments Out of Time 2017

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

* Dunkirk: lapping of leaflets as they fall in quiet street of a seaside town…
* Imperceptible bleed of newsreel and movie, Detroit…
* Post-first-kiss, Christine’s (Saoirse Ronan’s) milestone-marking scream in middle of suburban street, Lady Bird…
* Bobby (Willem Dafoe) fires up a cigarette; lights come on all over The Florida Project….
* Super Dark Times
: interior-lit plastic snowman, no snow, rain sheen on blacktop driveway…
* Ben Bradlee’s (Tom Hanks’s) voice changing on the single syllable “Jack” during a recitation of Presidents who have lied—The Post
* Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) going at each other hammer and tongs. Suddenly he coughs up a spray of blood and she says, “I know, baby!”…

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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: Steelyard Blues

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Steelyard Blues has occasioned the most dramatic instance of critical backlash in recent memory. Reviewers of contrary political persuasions (to the extent that political bent can be determined from film reviews) have proved to be up to here with the agitprop antics of Jane Fonda and, perhaps, her FTA compatriot Donald Sutherland. At any rate, Steelyard Blues has been pelted with the sort of abusive notice all those pointyhead libberulls once visited on The Green Berets. To one who took a look at the film anyway, the phenomenon is more than a little appalling. For, if Steelyard Blues is indeed, as Molly Haskell observed, so cinematically inept that one feels compelled to pick it up and take care of it, it’s nevertheless a thoroughly likeable, enjoyable, goodnatured event of a highly positive nature.

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Review: Sounder

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Nice. Safe. Inoffensive. These words adequately characterize Sounder and confirm the precise, if surely unintentional, irony of its pitch: “If you are the sort of person who sees only one movie each year, Sounder is the movie you should see this year.” Sounder has little to do with movies except in relation to those patronizing, sociologically oriented terms dear to the hearts of the Judith Crists and Richard Meyers of the world. There are strength, dignity, and a wealth of cinematic possibility in this carefully respectful and humane story about a black man who goes to jail in 1933 Louisiana for stealing food with which to feed his family, about the family that stays behind on their sharecropper spread and lives on and loves him, and about the eldest son (around 14) who becomes the focus of all their hopes, the one who may manage to do better than to survive by the received terms of life’s contract for their kind of folks in that time and place. Unfortunately, Martin Ritt’s realization of those possibilities is inadequate save in the painlessly assimilable mode of Playhouse 90 on the big screen.

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Review: Save the Tiger

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Save the Tiger is the sort of film that can give a well-intentioned film teacher nightmares. It’s so easy to imagine an equally well-intentioned, beginning student turning in a scene-by-scene breakdown of the narrative that faultlessly demonstrates as serious a thematic—indeed, didactic—purpose and as constant and consistent a stylistic application as one could ask to discover—all without realizing that the film itself remains dead, dead-ended, its conclusion foregone from the first. Producer Steve Shagan’s screenplay themes the viewer right into the ground with its highly unspontaneous collection of invocations of what we have lost as a nation: baseball played on real instead of plastic turf, oriental-dream movie palaces featuring The Best Years of Our Lives instead of skin flicks with selfrighteous, socially redeeming narration, garments cut by a master craftsman, Cole Porter, a sense of what World War II was all about (or even a memory that it was fought)….

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Review: The Train Robbers

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Burt Kennedy is one of those fitfully interesting but dreadfully unreliable minor talents whose films are saved—when they are saved—by (frequently unassimilated) quirks in his style and treatment. Hannie Caulder, that bizarre European-based western of last year, included a wealth of outrageousness that seemed to presage a return to grace and a renewal of promise for Kennedy the director: Raquel Welch strutting around the desert naked under a poncho, Robert Culp prancing auspiciously out of the wilderness in El Topo hat and granny glasses to teach her how to shoot; brothers Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam forming a manically inept criminal trio who nevertheless managed to be lethal for two of Hannie’s menfolk; Christopher Lee as a gaunt and happy gunsmith and family man living on the seashore; and a never-identified stranger in elegant black who materialized wordlessly now and again to collaborate in Hannie’s adventures.

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Review: The Ruling Class

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Any movie that runs two-and-one-half-hours-plus yet doesn’t have one glancing at his watch has to have something going for it. And The Ruling Class does, as long as deep thoughts about the medium don’t enter into it. The medium gets kicked about as freely as most other conventions: theatrical. social, familial, and the resulting film has the exuberance one might associate with a first-rate college revue. The collegians involved include some of the most reliable mainstays of the British stage and screen, and the genre is that mainstayingest of them all, the what-fun-it-is-to-roast-the-upper-classes genre that has made the fame and fortune of many a literary radical. The difference is that The Ruling Class shows itself to be aware of the implicit, frequently unacknowledged corollary: and-whom-could-we-pick-on-if-they-weren’t-around? The answer turns out to be: just about anybody.

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Review: Paris, Texas

[Originally published in The Weekly, December 19, 1984]

In John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln, a film employed to throw a cultural frame around Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities, a character says to Abe, “Never saw a man look at a river the way you do.” No filmmaker has ever looked at a road the way Wim Wenders does. He sees it in all its purity and directness of line, its beauty as a brave and silent sign of man’s efforts to impose coherence and continuity on the awful indifference of landscape; sees above all, perhaps, the beauty of its effective invisibility. We don’t really look at roads, even as we rely upon them absolutely as the arterials of modern life, the reminders that, as sedentary beings who live out most of our lives in place, we never entirely shake free of the atavistic allure of being a nomadic race.

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Review: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Curious that both films built around the legendary Judge Roy Bean, self-styled purveyor of Law West of the Pecos, should suffer so grossly from mode trouble. The Westerner, directed by William Wyler in 1940, featured one of the all-time great performances on screen in the presence of Walter Brennan (nominally a “supporting actor,” in which category he copped a richly merited third Oscar); Brennan’s irrepressible craziness as the lethal scoundrel with an unreasoning devotion to the beauty of Lily Langtry and an ill-advised sentimental tolerance of drifter Gary Cooper, who ended up killing him, almost saved this confused western that vacillated without conviction between freakishly comical behavioralism and socioeconomic sanctimoniousness about farmers in cattle country, and, visually, between the near-stereoscopic crispness of Gregg Toland’s realistic cinematography and some jarringly pointless and punk process work. John Huston’s new Roy Bean film has no problems as gross as that, but neither has it anything as potently good as Brennan’s characterization to recommend it. Paul Newman can’t resist waving his professional integrity like a flag, and this generally works for the worst (e.g., the hysterical and monolithically conceived WUSA); here integrity takes the form of flamboyantly trying on an unglamorous character part and, moreover, playing it in a single comic key. As George Roy Hill remarked in his documentary about the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Newman can play comedy successfully only when he doesn’t remember to tell himself he’s playing comedy. (There is, incidentally, an unforgivable Son of Butch Cassidy number involving Newman, Victoria Principal, a bear, and a song about the marmalade, molasses, and honey that keep falling on my head.)

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Review: The Thief Who Came to Dinner

[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]

The spectre of Blake Edwards hangs over The Thief Who Came to Dinner because two of his frequent collaborators worked on it and because Edwards himself might have made the film go, which Bud Yorkin hasn’t managed to do. Thief cries out for Edwards’s special knack of imparting a combined sense of cool, elegant modernity, subdued emotionality, and unpolemical bitterness that implies a previous history for the characters and a meaningful present-tense context for the generic games being played on screen. Yorkin and his screenwriter Walter Hill (who also worked on Hickey and Boggs and The Getaway) can’t decide whether to go for suspense, comedy, or romance (Edwards could have had all three with delirious simultaneity) and end by providing little of each.

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