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by Robert Horton

Contributor

Review: The Lobster

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in ‘The Lobster’

During his preliminary interview upon arrival at the program, David is asked the big question. If he does not fall in love with someone during his 45-day stay, what animal would he like to be transformed into? David chooses the lobster. His reasons are fully thought-out: Lobsters live for 100 years, they remain fertile, and they have blue blood, like aristocrats. Plus, he likes the sea. He’s been swimming for years.

The Lobster is like this: full of specific detail, but coy about saying what the hell is actually going on. It’s the first English-language film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose 2009 Dogtooth was a fine exercise in making skin crawl. Like that film, The Lobster comes on like a vaguely sinister George Saunders story, where it takes a while for the actual parameters of this self-contained world to disclose themselves. So we’ll tread lightly on blowing the plot.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

SIFFting Throught SIFF

‘Captain Fantastic’ – shot partly in Washington State, featured at SIFF 2016

The Seattle International Film Festival long ago embraced its role as a kind of floating civic carnival. For 25 days—25 days—the fest spreads itself out over multiple venues, luring people indoors during what I have been told is a beautiful time of year. There’s a kind of madness at loose here, from the sheer number of films (something in the neighborhood of 250 features this year, from 85 different countries) to the variety of events involved: visiting filmmakers, tributes, panel discussions, live music events, sing-alongs, and many parties. People spend their vacation time to attend the nation’s largest film festival, bagging as many movies as they can according to some staggering mathematical algorithms (most movies are screened two or three times). Inevitably, the films range from good to bad to indifferent, and given a festival this size, there are a discomfiting number of indifferents. Can we make some generalizations about the behemoth that is SIFF 2016?

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Review: The Meddler

Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne

For a movie so conventional in its generational humor, The Meddler has some first-rate incidental jokes—throwaways that make its huggy conclusions much easier to tolerate. For instance, why does a psychologist have a rabbit hutch next to her office chair? It is never explained, nor even mentioned. It is just there, as it somehow must be. And in the opening montage that introduces us to the title character, we listen to sexagenarian buttinsky Marnie (Susan Sarandon) describe her new life as a widow in L.A. At some point we realize she’s leaving a typically verbose message for adult daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), which includes the news that she’s unpacking “all my artwork” (we see a painting of Kermit the Frog) and “that doll that I had made of you” (we see—wow, that looks like a humanoid toy resembling a mummified child). We never hear about that creepy doll again, but the tossed-off gag lets us understand that Marnie has a somewhat overenthusiastic concept of parental commitment.

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Review: Captain America: Civil War

The scheduling for the Marvel movies is so meticulous, we know the exact days its next nine titles will open, through 2020.But for a globe-conquering pop-culture phenomenon that will dominate movie screens for years to come, the Marvel Comics universe sure flies by the seat of its pants. Each new movie in this blockbuster saga throws in a batch of new wrinkles, many of which seem to be forgotten about or seriously revised by the time the next installment comes out. For instance, red-and-gold billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), also known as Iron Man, was clearly bowing out of the Avengers at the end of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the superhero crew rejiggered its starting lineup.

Well, forget that. Captain America: Civil War has plenty of Stark. Downey’s contract negotiations were reportedly of the hardball variety, and his once-diminished role here has been beefed up accordingly. And out of nowhere—well, Queens, actually—the movie finds room for Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the rights to that character having been snapped up by Marvel (now owned by Disney) when previous Spidey contract-holder Sony suddenly decided to cut a deal. All right, fine—at least these incongruities add a little volatility to the Marvel long-term strategic corporate plan.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – April 2016

Richard T. Jameson, Bruce Reid, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on April 8, 2016 for the April edition of Framing Pictures. Over the course of the evening they discussed Cutter’s Way (newly released on Blu-ray; RTJ’s original review on Parallax View here) and declared Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings the greatest movie ever made.

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

Review: ‘Papa: Hemingway in Cuba’

Adrian Sparks and Joely Richardson

Ernest Hemingway has been broadly and almost constantly mischaracterized since the first copy of The Sun Also Rises rolled off the presses, which is what happens when a writer’s larger-than-life personality eclipses the writing itself. A radical prose stylist and an intensely perceptive observer, Hemingway is still lazily peddled as an exemplar of outmoded machismo, an image that doesn’t ring true if you actually read the writing.

Movie portrayals of Hemingway have been less misleading, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been good. A few films have gotten flavor from the Lost Generation Hemingway of Paris, including Bruce McGill’s feisty turn in Jill Godmilow’s unfortunately forgotten Waiting for the Moon (1987) and the amusingly intense Kevin O’Connor in Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns (1988). It’s been a tough slog otherwise.

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Review: My Golden Days

Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet

Paul and Esther are young and in love—or at least in love with the idea of love. They’re in an art museum, contemplating a painting. Something about the image stirs Paul to an especially heated appreciation of his beloved, and he begins singing her praises, culminating in the words, “Your features contain the meaning of the world.” This is the way people should speak in real life, but too rarely do. Thankfully, we have French movies to fill in the gaps.

My Golden Days is a typically ardent example of the French coming-of-age film—maybe too typical at times, although it has surprises in store. Director Arnaud Desplechin arranges the picture as three remembrances of youth, recalled by middle-aged anthropologist Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric). One episode is relatively brief, a childhood vignette in which young Paul’s mother dies and he learns how not to feel pain. The next section is the most unexpected—basically a mini-spy movie, in which Paul (played in youth by Quentin Dolmaire) goes on a high-school trip to the Soviet Union, and agrees to secretly carry cash to a group of oppressed Jews in Moscow.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Criminal

Kevin Costner in ‘Criminal’

Criminal is the kind of movie where characters have names like Jerico Stewart and Quaker Wells—big comic-book names meant to impress us with their cleverness. The story that surrounds them is as implausible as their monikers: A dying secret agent’s memory is transplanted into the brain of a hardened criminal, who is then expected to summon the lost memories and lead the authorities to a big bag of money and some dangerous nuclear codes.

Farfetched as it is, I don’t have a problem with the plot. Brain-switching and nukes? Bring it on. That’s not what makes Criminal a bad movie. What makes it bad is the flabbiness of the execution, the absence of storytelling logic, and the spectacle of gifted actors struggling to get something—anything—going.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Born to Be Blue

Ethan Hawke in ‘Born to Be Blue’

The first shot of Born to Be Blue is a close-up of a trumpet, laid on the dirty floor of what turns out to be a ratty jail cell. The notorious jazz musician Chet Baker is in the clink, presumably for one drug offense or another. He’s on the dirty floor, too. Baker’s horn sits there, gaping at him. He can never fill its maw, never plug up the emptiness, never satisfy his various cravings. Just then a big black spider crawls out of the trumpet’s bell.

Hmm. Maybe Baker has the DTs, or maybe the film is telling us not to take everything here literally. Writer/director Robert Budreau underscores his approach with the next sequence: Baker (played by Ethan Hawke) has been rescued from his lockup and plunked into a Hollywood film project of his own life.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Midnight Special (1)

Jaeden Lieberher in ‘Midnight Special’

We need to talk about Alton. Nice boy, bright, well-behaved. But it seems strange that his eyes sometimes shine like the demon kids’ peepers in Village of the Damned, and that he occasionally speaks in unison with the deejay on the Spanish-language radio station—even when the radio isn’t turned on. Little things like that.

Alton’s peculiarity is at the heart of Midnight Special, the fourth feature written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud). As the film begins, we are mysteriously in the middle of the action: Eight-year-old Alton (played by Jaeden Lieberher, the boy from The Confirmation) is being transported across Texas by his father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy’s state-trooper buddy Lucas (Joel Edgerton). The authorities are after them, but we don’t know why. Meanwhile, a religious patriarch (Sam Shepard), who seems to be the leader of some sort of apocalyptic cult, orders his deputy (Bill Camp) to find the kid at all costs.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – March 2016

Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, and Bruce Reid sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on March 11, 2016 to discuss talk Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, and remember Vilmos Zsigmond (1930-2016), cinematographer on McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Seattle-shot favorite Cinderella Liberty, and more recently TV’s The Mindy Project, and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette.

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

Review: Krisha

Krisha Fairchild in ‘Krisha’

“Off-kilter” is one way to describe the feverish approach of Krisha, the feature debut of writer/director Trey Edward Shults. As a stylistic choice, off-kilter ain’t easy to pull off. This movie opens with one long take, as a 60-something woman parks on a blandly suburban street and pulls her wheeled luggage to a big anonymous house. She’s our title character, as we learn when the door opens and various members of her family welcome her inside. But we already sense this is not a regular Thanksgiving reunion. Krisha has been angrily muttering to herself, in the manner of people who are just barely holding it together, and her family’s greetings are cautious, as though there are eggshells scattered around the house ready to be trampled on. This long shot has a funky, uncomfortable rhythm, as the camera finds strange places to perch and the soundtrack takes on the odd quality of tinnitus.

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Review: Knight of Cups

Christian Bale and Natalie Portman

One of the many beautiful women in the screenwriter’s life turns to him and says, “It’s time for you to tell me something interesting.” I suppose this line in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is included as a measure of the screenwriter’s empty world, his material success in Hollywood having come at the cost of spiritual blankness. But for a moment, the viewer might quicken to the possibility that something is going to happen in this movie—that the hero might say something definitive, or begin a story, or blurt out a need to visit the men’s room. But he will not, and the moment passes, as all the moments in the film pass—like sands through the hourglass, or tears in rain, or whatever other greeting-card profundity you want to offer.

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Review: ‘The Club’

Marcelo Alonso and Roberto Farias

If you weren’t raised in Catholicism, one revelation the reporters of Spotlight stumble upon might have come as a surprise: The Church maintains facilities where wayward priests are sent, places to practice penance and prayer for inappropriate behavior. Sometimes these priests are recycled back into parishes and schools. In the new Chilean film The Club, we are introduced to one such facility, a brightly painted house perched above the seacoast in a small town. But this place isn’t intended to rehabilitate or to put priests back into the population. This is the end of the road.

Inside the house live four sidelined clergymen and one defrocked nun.

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Oscar predictions from Robert Horton

This year, a coronation will be held during the Academy Awards ceremony. It happens periodically: An actor has waited an eternity to win an Oscar, and then a year comes when his or her performance is so undeniable (and, maybe, the competition not as strong as usual), and suddenly it’s the moment.

That’s why King Leo the First will be crowned at Sunday’s Oscar event. For years now Leonardo DiCaprio has worked his keister off in a variety of ambitious, ultra-serious roles. He’s been a pretender to the throne before, nominated for The Wolf of Wall Street, The Aviator, and a couple of other roles. But his physically exhausting stint in The Revenant will likely put a statuette up on his mantelpiece.

Aside from that sure thing, there are some toss-ups in the Oscar race this year. Best Picture remains a tantalizing guess: Will the Oscars go with the momentum of The Revenant, or reward the social-issue punch of Spotlight? Or does the political satire of The Big Short catch the mood of the moment?

Continue reading at The Herald (paywall alert)