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by Robert Horton

Contributor

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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)

Review: A War

‘A War’

Much of the first half of A War takes place in the dust and blood of Afghanistan, as the members of a Danish platoon try to make sense of the chaos of battle. Much of the second half is set inside a military courtroom back in Copenhagen, where the clean lines and empty backgrounds call to mind an IKEA-only design concept. Director Tobias Lindholm makes his point: In the cold light of a military tribunal, things seem relatively clear-cut. In the middle of a firefight, it isn’t so easy to make the right call.

That contrast is typical of the film’s straightforward approach to dilemmas. A War, an Oscar nominee in the best foreign-language feature category (representing Denmark), doesn’t so much bring new ideas to light as confirm our worst suspicions.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Eisenstein in Guanajuato

Elmer Bäck as Sergei Eisenstein

Fictional maps, invented histories, and baffling bird-related mayhem marked the early, experimental work of Welsh-born mischief-maker Peter Greenaway. The Falls, for instance, is a peculiar kind of movie masterpiece: a three-hour illustrated inquiry into a series of unfortunate events, all regarding our feathered friends. It’s like an avant-garde answer to Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Then, curiously, Greenaway became popular. In the ’80s, movies such as The Draughtsman’s Contract and the outrageous The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover made Greenaway a brand name on the international arthouse circuit. As though scornful of this popularity, Greenaway has been stubbornly non-commercial for the past two decades.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Where To Invade Next

Michael Moore

Michael Moore is a nudger. Rarely content to let facts speak for themselves, he can’t resist sticking his elbow in your side as he makes his points. One reason Moore was at his most effective with his roaring 2004 polemic Fahrenheit 9/11 was that he kept himself offscreen for much of the film’s furious second half. In general, though, his weakness for broad-brush tactics and heavy-handed jokery hampers his documentary portraits of America gone wrong. Leaving well enough alone isn’t in his makeup—but then he wouldn’t be Michael Moore if he could leave well enough alone.

Moore’s latest is Where to Invade Next, a misleadingly titled look overseas.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: ‘Son of Saul’

Geza Rohrig (right) in ‘Son of Saul’

Saul is temporarily alive. A Hungarian Jew at Auschwitz, he has been designated a Sonderkommando; instead of being killed upon arrival, he was made part of a detail that aids Nazi guards in the process of murdering people at the extermination camp. By the time we are introduced to Saul, he has been at this for some time, so his eyes are already vacant and his soul already battered. Whatever thin crust of humanity he has left is about to express itself in a gesture that is almost entirely pointless. Except to him.

This specific horror is portrayed in Son of Saul, a film that—in its own claustrophobic way—is as astonishing as the big-as-all-outdoors spectacle The Revenant.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly