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by Richard T. Jameson

Contributor

Review: Under the Volcano

[Originally published in The Weekly, July 8, 1984]

Ah, the past has filled up quicker than we know, and God has little patience with remorse.

—Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Adapt a novel of consequence to the screen and you’ll damn well answer for it. At best, your pride of achievement will have, quite properly, to be shared with the author of the original work. At worst, you will be taken to task, by those who cherish the book, for any deviation from it. In the muddled middle range of opinion, reviewers can sound learned and play it safe at the same time by suggesting that, honorable and sporadically admirable as your adaptation may be, it somehow misses the essential imaginative core of the artistic experience. It isn’t …well, heck, it isn’t the novel.

This problem becomes tetchier still with a novel so relentlessly novel-ish as Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. The main portion of Lowry’s book, dealing with the drunken peregrinations of the ex–British Consul in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on the Day of the Dead 1938, is tacitly a flashback. It’s also a dense, roiling stream-of-consciousness piece with both the hyperclarity and level-shifting instability of a fever dream. Symbols and allusions—cultural, literary, historical, geographical, political—pile up to create a veritable poetic and spiritual analogue of Western consciousness, an updated Waste Land for the generation after T.S. Eliot. (Lowry worked on the book from 1938 through 1946.)

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Chasing the Hat

[This article first appeared in the September-October 1990 issue of Film Comment. It was reprinted in the National Society of Film Critics anthology They Went Thataway: Redefining Film Genres (1995).]

Ice dropping into a heavy-bottomed glass: cold, hard, sensuous. The first image in Miller’s Crossing hits our ears before it hits the screen, but it’s nonetheless an image for that. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) has traveled the length of a room to build a drink. Not that we saw him in transit, not that we yet know he is Tom Reagan, and not that we see him clearly now as he turns and stalks back up the room, a silent, out-of-focus enigma at the edge of someone else’s closeup. Yet he is a story walking, as his deliberate, tangential progress, from background to middle distance and then out the side of the frame, is also a story – draining authority from the close-up Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who’s come to insist, ironically enough, on the recognition of his territorial rights.

The place is a story, too, which we read as the scene unfolds. A private office; not Caspar’s, but not Reagan’s either – it’s city boss Liam “Leo” O’Bannion (Albert Finney) who sits behind the camera and his big desk, listening. An upstairs office, we know from the muted street traffic (without stopping to think about why we know). Night outside, but sunlight would never be welcome, or relevant, here. A masculine space, green lampshades amid the dark luster of wood, leather, whiskey. A remote train whistle sounds, functional and intrinsically forlorn; the distance from which it reaches us locates the office in space and in history. This room exists in a city big enough to support a multiplicity of criminal fiefdoms and a political machine that rules by maintaining the balance among them, yet it is still a town whose municipal core lies within faint earshot of its outskirts. Urban dreams of empire have not entirely crowded out the memory of wilderness, of implacable places roads and railroads can’t reach, even if one of them has been wishfully designated Miller’s Crossing. Hence we are not entirely surprised (though the aesthetic shock is deeply satisfying) when the opening master-scene, with its magisterial interior setting and dialogue fragrant with cross purpose, gives way to a silent (save for mournful Irish melody) credit sequence in an empty forest. And then to a title card announcing, almost superfluously, “An Eastern city in the United States, toward the end of the 1920s.”

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Moments Out of Time 2018

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

* At the movies, Roma: German slapstick on screen in deep distance, a pair of lovers in closeup silhouette in left of frame, gray ranks of anonymous filmgoers in between. The space is familiar, auspicious, yet somehow fraught. Camera does not move, but things come undone….
* “I felt like I was Jacob wrestling all night long with the angel, fighting in the grasp. Every sentence, every question, every response a mortal struggle. It was exhilarating.” Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke), First Reformed…
* Leave No Trace
: the myriad intonations and valences Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie can get into “Dad”…
* Pirandellian rewrite: At the outset of The Other Side of the Wind—begun 1970, completed 2018—Peter Bogdanovich speaks with old-age voice….
* The Death of Stalin: body tumbling down stairs in background as Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) makes his rounds…
* Hereditary: rooms that suggest dollhouse miniatures, and may be…
* Filial love in You Were Never Really Here: Joe’s honk honk honk mock hammering of Mom; Joaquin Phoenix and Judith Roberts
* The endless, obscuring, occasionally decapitating frames of civilization in Zama; maddening protocols and deflections…
* The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest/Robert Redford’s “yeah it’s for real” shrug after slipping note to bank teller…
* The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Wingless Thrush (Harry Melling) catching snowflakes in his mouth…
* Lisa (Regina Hall) almost falling asleep in the midday sun—Support the Girls…
* Widows: Dog in arms blinks as Veronica (Viola Davis) enters husband’s workshop….
* If Beale Street Could Talk: moving “furniture” in the loft…
* Bohemian Rhapsody: cats in window watching Freddie’s limo leave for the concert…
* Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) petting a rabbit while having her hair brushed—The Favourite…
* Michael Myers mask rising out of car trunk—Halloween…
* Border: yearning through windowglass—werewolves in love?…
* A Quiet Place: Creature that can’t see and one who can’t hear pass in the night….
* “Being dead” up on the roof, Roma…
* “Go for a cruise,” the horseman proposes, and his steed breaks into fluid glide, camera tracking right along. Brady Jandreau, The Rider

Brady Jandreau in ‘The Rider’

* “Shoot her before him and make sure he sees it.” Beria’s instructions for disposition of politically superfluous married couple—The Death of Stalin…
* Recurrently in First Reformed, the sound of footsteps on bare wooden floors. Such sense of place, community, ethos…
* Private Life punctiliousness: “The seltzer comes from one place, the syrup from somewhere else.”…
* Blake Lively to Anna Kendrick post-sudden-kiss, A Simple Favor: “You’re OK. You wanna order pizza?”…
* The Little Drummer Girl: in mid-interrogation, need 50p to turn lights on again…
* The Favourite: “Must the duck be here?”…
* Film freak: “I’m Marvin P. Fassbinder!” Jake Hannaford/John Huston: “Of course you are.” The Other Side of the Wind…
* Bad Times at the El Royale: Far across rainswept parking lot, Jon Hamm’s glasses reflect lightning….
* Small plane like a dragonfly over arctic waste, Hold the Dark
* November, an Estonian ghost story: flying skull carries cow over treetops…
* The reservoir and what might be in it—Burning…
* Dying man singing along to ambient music; his killer lying down beside him and joining in—You Were Never Really Here
* Hereditary: papers blowing out through backseat window just before … you know…
* Bird Box: Woman steps into blazing car and takes her seat….
* Les Affames/Ravenous: cow eating lawn along suburban street…
* Zama: squeak of native-operated wood fan behind ambiguous flirtation…
* Candles on railing of borrowed porch, Leave No Trace…
* BlacKkKlansman: Flip (Adam Driver) and other cops turning as they hear Ron (John David Washington) on the phone listing all the types of nonwhite Americans he hates…
* Motherhood is hard. “I am so sick of that face on your face!” Toni Collette, Hereditary…
* “So grandma only wanted their money, not me?” Could be, kid. Then again, what’s family anyway? Shoplifters…

Shoplifters

* Roma: Seriously stressed Galaxie pulls into frame below Aztec entablature….
* All the good doctors in Moscow having been liquidated, how to get medical assistance for Stalin? Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) rationalizes: “If he recovers, then we got a good doctor, and if he doesn’t recover, then we didn’t, but he won’t know!” The Death of Stalin settles that….
* Night Eats the World: man contemplates suicide, nods off, accidentally discharges shotgun in his sleep….
* The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: creak of Leone windmill that isn’t there…
* Gray church, gray sky, gray dusk—First Reformed…
* The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest, horseback on hilltop, watching caravan of cop cars on road below…
* Torch-bearing riders spread into the night, The Favourite….
* Pact under red umbrella, If Beale Street Could Talk…
* “I can take fuckin’ up all day but I can’t take not trying”—Support the Girls values…
* The Sisters Brothers: riding through cemetery of discarded luggage on seashore…
* A scattering of rocks in a green graveyard: rough memorials for Border’s deformed dead…
* The Rider: Cat Clifford’s talking prayer by campfire…
* The food no one ever gets to eat in You Were Never Really Here, until someone does…
* “Kentucky Fried Chicken—in Kentucky! When’s that gonna happen?” Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) open to delight, Green Book…
* Llama kibitzes at dashing of Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) hopes…

Daniel Giménez Cacho in ‘Zama’

* Vigil in rain with two geese—Happy as Lazzaro…
*
The grandmother at the beach, setting about dying. The late Kirin Kiki, Shoplifters…
* John Carroll, Norman Foster, Tonio Selwart; shades tenderly at large in The Other Side of the Wind…
* Burning
: The bewitching Haemi (Jun Jong-seo) slips out of her shirt to dance in the warm light of a setting sun; two young men watch (Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun), curiously impassive….
* The towering blond distraction of Elizabeth Debicki, Widows…
* Kayli Carter’s misconstrued “OK,” Private Life. (Watch this young actress. And, to be sure, Thomasin McKenzie.)…
* The Favourite: Emma Stone’s imposing lexicon of sniffles, snorts, head wags…
* Zoe Kazan as Miss Longabaugh … Has Sarah Vowell seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs?…
* Cabiria-like, the unsought power to balance on one foot: Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) at the martial arts field, Roma
* Night run through corn shocks, A Quiet Place…
* Leave No Trace: Truck driver (Art Hickman) who has to know he’s doing the right thing…
* The Armstrongs’ laughter at “kinda neat,” First Man…
* Touching the nose, A Star Is Born…
* Ants crawling over head as oblivious motorists drive past, Hereditary…
* Elder doctor pursued across white plaza, The Death of Stalin…
* Rooftop sleepwalk under full moon, November…
* The Quake: shattered skyscraper like a tyrannosaur profile…
* Nocturnal greeting from/to reindeer, Border…
* Cold Skin: mermen climbing down off lighthouse in first rays of sun…
* First Man: Pre-launch, bird flies past porthole….
* “You’re starting to harsh both of our mellows”—Sorry to Bother You…
* “You know you’ve missed me.” The return of Frank Underwood. Kevin Spacey on YouTube. OMG….
* Zama: coy menace of Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele)…
* Ron’s karate-chop war dance in front of Records counter, BlacKkKlansman…
* The Old Man and the Gun: Tom Waits’s reminiscence about why he hates Christmas…
* Bad Times at the El Royale: Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and the right/wrong jukebox tune: “you’re just too good to be true”…
* The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Impresario (Liam Neeson) walking back from the gorge…
* “She died. Or maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she just moved back to the suburbs.“ Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) can’t be expected to remember everything. Can You Ever Forgive Me?…

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

* Eighth Grade: Dorky father (Josh Hamilton) wants to “say one thing.” She (Elsie Fisher): “Dad, this is more than one thing.” He: “It’s a chunk of things.”…
* “Same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me”—Leave No Trace….
* Dog running out to chase truck, Les Affames/Ravenous. Life goes on, even in zombie apocalypse.
* The Favourite: hand job disquisition on realpolitik…
* Avengers: Infinity War: Dr. Strange saying douchebag…
* Brotherhood of the toothbrush—The Sisters Brothers…
* In Support the Girls, stormin’ Cubby (James LeGros) popped in stomach. Did not see that coming….
* Hold the Dark: Offered soup, sorely wounded Slone (Alexander Skarsgard) asks, “What kind?”…
* President Pierce’s accommodation to change, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
* Park Chan-wook’s red and green rooms, The Little Drummer Girl…
*
What rough beast sinks into the depths with its tender burden—You Were Never Really Here
* A Star Is Born: Ally’s final, hieratic closeup; Lady Gaga indeed…
* Wig? No wig? Sharon (Regina King) calculates her best approach in Puerto Rico. If Beale Street Could Talk
* “Has anybody got a Swiss Army knife?”—First Man…
* Somewhere Don Gabriel Figueroa smiles: in Roma, thundercloud light on cactus as mommy drives her family home from vacation….
* Schrader’s use of the classical 1.33:1 format in First Reformed: initially startling; effective at setting the tone of austerity; then disconcerting as, what, the whole film is going to be in this shape? Yes, and rightly so….

First Reformed

* Hulk towering darkly above parkway, bisecting Scope frame—You Were Never Really Here…
* Cliff fall without end—Happy as Lazzaro…
* Zama: ambush by red-painted phantoms amid the long grass…
* Outlaw King: apples rolling in the road under horses’ hooves…
* Molly Shannon murdering roast turkey, Private Life…
* Daniel Kaluuya, stone cold malevolence in Widows…
* “First time?” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs…
* Hereditary: house swallowed in night, silver tree trunks shining above…
* Atavistic thrill of that music coming on as Michael Meyers once again walks the streets of Haddonfield—but there’s still only one Halloween
* Border: smelling smartphone…
* Cellphone call among tombstones, First Reformed…
* Kid in hospital to fellow survivor of 22 July: “Cigarettes would be nice … except I don’t smoke.”…
* Hold the Dark: Vernon reclaiming cigarette from windowsill after killing rapist…
* Erramentari: torment by chick pea…
* Apostle: the silhouettes around “the purification”…
* Car painted pink by neon sign, Bad Times at the El Royale…
* Suicide in white lake amid white trees, November…
* Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani) appears to have won approval of zombie Alfred (a new frontier for Denis Lavant)—Night Eats the World….
* The Death of Stalin: breathtaking precision of comedic ensemble…
* Unsettling, unexpectedly heartbreaking memento mori: in The Favourite, Olivia Colman’s final closeup, the Queen’s voice the slurry growl of a stroke victim…
* “Cut” (The Other Side of the Wind). “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (Roma). Things Netflix didn’t want you bothered by…
* Apollo 1 mission: the two shots of the cockpit hatch—First Man…
* Ferocity of the Cheeon shootout, Hold the Dark (Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon)…
* Emily Blunt cocking a pump shotgun, A Quiet Place…

Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in ‘A Quiet Place’

* Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Parting after dinner, the shy dynamics of Lee (Melissa McCarthy) and Anna (Dolly Wells) wordlessly wondering what this might lead to…
* Burning: The cat with no name has one….
* Queen passing offstage, leaving the screen to the vast crowd. Bohemian Rhapsody…
* You Were Never Really Here: suicide skip on the check. “Have a nice day.”…
* Profile, pirogue, endless carpet of green—Zama…
* Seahorse frond, Leave No Trace…
* “Whistle for him when you walk away, please”—The Rider….
* The Death of Stalin: furtive glances of the next men in line who suddenly, inexplicably, just avoided getting executed…
* The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reaches its destination, the prairie precursor of the Hotel Earle….
* Roma’s transcendent final shot. Stay for the last plane….

RTJ wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Kathleen Murphy to this year’s edition.

Copyright © 2019 Richard T. Jameson

Relive past “Moments” at Parallax View here…

Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in ‘Leave No Trace’

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

Review: Return to Paradise

[Originally written for Amazon in 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

In Malaysia, three young Americans with little else in common are united in a shared enthusiasm for beer, women, and righteous hashish. Eventually, “Sheriff” (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) head back to New York. Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), a spacey but good-hearted sort, stays on with the notion of helping save the orangutans. Two years later, a brassy lawyer (Anne Heche) shows up in Manhattan with the news that her client, Lewis, has spent the interim in Penang prison. Arrested for a prankish misdemeanor they all shared in, he’s taking the rap for something worse:the dope stash they left him holding was a fatal few grams over the limit. Unless his fellow Americans return voluntarily to (literally) share the weight, in eight days Lewis will be hanged as a drug trafficker.

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Bernard Bertolucci’s ‘Partner’

[originally written for NoShame Films, August 27, 2005]

Our subject is primarily life, but if you feel that life’s missing something, steal a camera and try to give life a style.

Partner, Bernardo Bertolucci’s third feature film, has always been one of the most elusive of the director’s endeavors: a forthrightly experimental work—”a film that comes from the head,” in Bertolucci’s own phrase, “a totally deconstructed film”—that willfully declines to satisfy audiences’ conventional expectations regarding narrative and emotional identification with characters. Nominally based on the Dostoevsky novella The Double, the movie centers on—and largely transpires in the imagination of—a rather priggish young drama teacher in Rome played by Pierre Clémenti. Clémenti also plays the wilder, looser alter ego who begins to share the teacher’s life and, to an extent, identity; both go by the name of Giacobbe (or Jacob, in English-language commentaries).

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Chained for life: Bertolucci regrets rien in ‘The Dreamers’

[Originally written for Queen Anne/Magnolia News, 2004]

There is a moment in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution when the protagonist, the scion of an Italian noble family, learns that a friend has taken his own life. He had been speaking with the young man only hours before and declined his fervent proposal that they go again to see Howard Hawks’s Red River. Bertolucci cranes up and backs off from his hero; then his camera pivots on the young man’s figure, slowly describing 90 degrees of arc around him as he looks out at a changed world.

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Review: Luna

[Originally published in The Weekly (Seattle), October 30, 1979]

Cinema comes so naturally to some filmmakers. Bernardo Bertolucci once revealed that he dreamed camera movements years before laying hands on a camera. But even without this confessional nudge, his aptitude for the medium, his kinesthetic thrall with luminosity, surfaces, colors, trajectories, is apparent in the films he has made. Opera has been a frequent touchstone in his work, existentially and aesthetically, but he doesn’t need it as a brief for grandiosity or vividness of style: it is as natural for Bertolucci to soar as it is for others to walk.

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Review: Firelight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, September 4, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

 “What is it about this house? The moment I walk in, I want to kill myself.” The speaker (that entertaining old blusterer Joss Ackland) is not an important character in Firelight, and he’s half-kidding, but we take his point. The Goodwin estate, somewhere in the mid-nineteenth-century English countryside, is a pretty glum place. Nobody ever looks comfortable, or even at home there. The master of the house (Stephen Dillane) even hazards a joke about it: “All these huge rooms and we live our lives within three feet of the fire.” But then, that’s because screenwriter and first-time director William Nicholson has determined that no scene in the movie should lack a visual—and almost always verbally underscored—reference to his movie’s title and wishfully poetic central image. 

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Review: Primary Colors

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 20, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

It will be fascinating to see what Primary Colors, Mike Nichols’s smart, creepy, scrupulously ambivalent movie inspired by a certain 1992 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, plays like in two months. And six months. And next year. Likewise, it wouldn’t have seemed quite the same movie if it had been released two months ago, before l’affaire Lewinsky. And surely it’s not quite the same film that Nichols, screenwriter Elaine May, et al. thought they were going to make after buying the screen rights to the 1996 roman à clef by veteran political reporter Joe Klein—even if it’s still, word for word and shot for shot, the movie they envisioned at the time.

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Review: The Spanish Prisoner

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, April 3, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

Put aside any thought of the Inquisition, or revolutionary political cabals, or Spanish Civil War martyrs rotting in a Fascist jail. “The Spanish Prisoner” is the name for a classic confidence game. Once you know that, you’ll have little trouble appreciating why it’s an apt title for the latest movie written and directed by David Mamet, whose fascination with brazen bluffs and seductive scams has dominated House of Games and Glengarry Glen Ross and glancingly energized such screenplays as The Untouchables and last year’s The Edge.

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Review: Psycho (1998)

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, December 4, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

Is there anybody on this planet who doesn’t know Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror-suspense classic Psycho? Or hasn’t been exposed to its sundry bastard offspring (name any slasher movie), hommage-y imitations (the collected works of Brian De Palma), and sequels (none of them Hitch’s); or the hundreds of jokes it has inspired; or the earnest insistence of any number of aunts, neighbors, or co-workers that, no sirree, they haven’t felt comfortable taking a shower ever since. So there won’t be lots of folks who’ll wander innocently into a theater where Gus Van Sant’s virtually line-for-line, shot-for-shot remake is playing, experience the story of Marion Crane, Norman Bates, and the dark doings at the Bates Motel as something brand-new, and say, “Heavens to Betsy, that took me by surprise!”

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Review: The General (1998)

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, December 18, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

John Boorman has been a great filmmaker for more than thirty years now, but also a most unpredictable one. He’s made such classics as Point Blank, Excalibur, and Hope and Glory, only to turn right around and perpetrate fiascoes like Exorcist II: The Heretic and Where the Heart Is—though all those films have their admirers, and even Boorman’s sappiest endeavors reflect the fervor and grandeur of a true visionary. Following the (undeserved) commercial and critical failure of Beyond Rangoon and the long, fatal illness of a daughter, Boorman reestablished himself with a new, Dublin-based production company and a new family. The General, which he financed himself, is one of Boorman’s winners. Indeed, it won him the Best Director award this year at Cannes.

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Review: Twilight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 6, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

Twilight is a pretty good movie that will give steady pleasure to some viewers while probably leaving others restless for more aggressive stimulation. Put it another way: the new collaboration between Robert Benton, Paul Newman, and Richard Russo—the team behind the excellent Nobody’s Fool—is less a movie than an idea for a movie, a meditation on ways in which movies have been soothing and satisfying in filmically better times. In particular, it is a meditation on the private-eye genre, on the codes of honor and human connection that that genre has explored, even defined, and on Paul Newman himself—a solid actor for more decades than many of today’s moviegoers have lived, and a beautiful man who has, at last and inevitably, grown old.

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Review: A Price Above Rubies

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 27, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

It was a distant early warning sign that A Price Above Rubies began life as A Price Below Rubies. Did its makers suffer a change of mind, or did somebody belatedly check the Old Testament and discover, “Hey, we got it wrong: it’s ‘A woman of fortitude, who can find? For her price is far above rubies’”? The answer is lost in the sands of time, along with the hope that this wishfully feminist fable might achieve anything resembling power, mystery, or dramatic conviction.

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